||The Lord said
to him . . . Elisha will put to death any who
escape the sword of Jehu.’
(1 Kings 19:15-17)
|One word from God can
release so much blessing! Elijah could never have
survived the drought, let alone the hostility of Ahab
and Jezebel, had the Lord not told him step by step what
It gives the Father great joy to communicate with
His children. The still small voice that so refreshed
Elijah in the cave reminds us of the importance of these
brief, but far-reaching, encounters the Lord granted his
servant. They reassured him of His presence, challenged
his faith and imparted fresh direction and authority.
Many of the words the Lord spoke to Elijah were clear
and simple commands. Others were more complicated in
their outworking. Elisha, for instance, would not put
anyone to death himself. The word was a true one, but
the details require unravelling.
If we examine the way the Lord Jesus speaks in the New
Testament, or indeed in our own lives, we will find that
much of what He says is elliptical, and requires further
clarification. ‘Jesus spoke the word to them, as much
as they could understand. He did not say anything to
them without using a parable. But when He was alone with
His own disciples, He explained everything.’ (1)
Sometimes we strive too hard to find a literal
interpretation for a word or picture, when the Lord is
simply showing us a type or an example. You could say
that Paul’s vision of the Macedonian man calling to him
across the water turned out to be Lydia! The images in
the Book of Revelation, likewise, are symbols capable of
many different interpretations.
From time to time, God changes His way of communicating
with us. Had the disciples continued to look for Jesus
to appear to them in bodily form after the Ascension,
they would have been disappointed. It was not that the
door of heaven had swung shut on them, but simply that
the Holy Spirit intended to communicate the will of the
Lord Jesus to them from then on by new methods.
Understanding Dark Speech
In their perceptive book ‘The Elijah Task,’
John and Paula Sandford go into some detail regarding
what they term ‘dark speech:’ these less direct ways in
which God speaks to us.
|At its simplest,
‘dark speech’ occurs when we think God is saying
one thing to us, only to find out later that He
was actually speaking about something rather
A parable talks about one subject (such as fish, or a
lost sheep) but its real meaning lies elsewhere.
Clearly, we need the key if we are to understand
this type of teaching. Unlike the disciples, who
were privileged to have ‘face to face’
understanding of the secrets of the Kingdom,
Jesus taught the crowds almost exclusively by
means of parables. They were both a helpful
teaching aid and a fulfilment of the Messianic
||‘I will open
My mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings
from of old.’ (2)
Long ago, in the golden
age of Greek philosophy, Socrates realized that people
learn more by finding things out for themselves than by
being told what to do. He developed a technique of
asking people questions in such a way as to make them
see the truth of a situation for themselves. This kind
of teaching has been known as ‘Socratic’ ever since.
Jewish teaching traditions ran along similar lines. The
Lord Jesus helped His disciples to come to a deeper
understanding of who He was more by pointers, parables
and analogies than by direct proclamation. His memorable
illustrations stimulated the imaginations of His
hearers, and prompted them to reason and understand for
|The gift of tongues is another example of dark speech.
We build ourselves up in the Lord by using it, but we
may have no idea what mysteries we are proclaiming, or
What is only partially clear on earth has
its full realisation in heaven.(3)
Now we see dimly, as
in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.(4)
The way we look at images in a mirror reverses our
We see the right on the left and the
left on the right, but we quickly learn to interpret the
images the right way round.
Similarly, the Hebrew word
translated ‘dark speech’ or ‘dark saying’ (chidah)
literally means a ‘knot’. I
t is a particularly
appropriate expression since we often have to unravel
what God is saying to us.
At a major cross roads in
his life, a man heard the Lord say to him, ‘Probation’.
Concluding that the Lord was calling him to the
Probation Service, he applied for a training course.
Before taking up the post, the Lord directed him to
check the word ‘probation’ in his dictionary. When he
discovered that the word could also refer to a ‘time of
testing in a religious context’, he realised that God
had wanted his willingness, but actually had other plans
in mind for him. In due time, the Lord opened the way
for him instead to become the leader of a thriving
I can recall many occasions when I felt the Lord telling
me to go and visit someone, only to find that they were
out. Because I was on the move, however, I was in the
right place to meet someone else – which was what God
had intended all along. In retrospect it is clear why we
were led as we were, but it can be puzzling at the time.
God prompts us into one course of action, and then takes
over by His sovereign initiative.
Dark Speech develops Dependency
Why does God use dark speech? Perhaps it is because,
if we knew too much in advance, and could always be sure
of hearing clearly, pride would puff us up (or fear
would fill our hearts). We would be in great danger of
abusing our knowledge by trying to make events work out
in our own strength. Therefore the Lord uses dark speech
to keep us dependent. He speaks as much, or as little,
as He needs to, and then looks for a response of faith
Similarly, He does not always rebuke us openly, but
allows circumstances to work out in such a way as to
bring us first to a clearer understanding of a
situation, and then, as needs be, to a deeper
In the whole realm of listening to God there will
inevitably be times of disappointment and confusion,
when we mishear, or misinterpret what we thought we had
heard from God. Perhaps it has to be this way. If our
hearing were more accurate, people would come to rely on
us rather than learn to listen to God for themselves.
The miracle is that He manages to overcome our sinful
self-centredness to be able to speak to us at all.
If we hold back on trying to listen because we have made
mistakes in the past, we are no wiser than the person
who vows never to get into a car again after being
involved in a car accident. John and Paula Sandford
remind us pertinently that nobody graduates in the
school of listening with their pride intact!
When Paul declared that he had been prevented from being
able to cross over into Macedonia, he made it clear that
this was not through any lack of prayerfulness
concerning the decision in the first place.(5) Unlike so
many of us, he refused to allow unexpected setbacks and
changes of plan to diminish his trust in the Lord.
True, we do well to examine our mistakes carefully, to
see if there are areas where we are particularly
susceptible to error. Misjudgements in the past may be a
pointer to some ‘structural’ weakness. Providing there
is no fundamental deception in our hearts, however, God
will always make sure that enough of our hearing is
right in order to fulfil His purposes.
|Try and recall occasions when you have felt the
Lord leading you in one direction, only to discover
later that He had something quite different in mind.
What does this have to teach us about His sovereignty –
and our need for step-by-step obedience?
Lord, help us to recognise Your leadings
trust what You are saying to us.
Grant us courage first
and then to act on what You show us.
You that You grant us further help
as and when we need
In Jesus’ name,