When the New Testament describes the ‘word’ of the Lord as ‘living’, ‘active’, and ‘potent’, it is by no means staking claim to a new truth. Rather, it aligns itself with the Hebrew Bible’s insistence that YHWH reveals his own heart and mind by speaking.
The biblical tradition privileges speaking and hearing as the principal means—though not the exclusive way—by which the Creator discloses himself to his creatures. Frequently, we are told that those who would hear face the daunting task of developing, disciplining, and refining their powers of audition. God speaks, one might say, but not everyone hears.
Proverbial wisdom places rather less emphasis upon the speaking Creator and relatively more on the capacity of the observant learner to trace his ways in creation. So it is a little surprising to find, near the end of the biblical anthology of Proverbs, this nearly prophetic assurance and warning:
Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Arguably, this counsel comes into our hands as legacy of the non-Israelite ‘Agur’. It may be significant in this light that the word translated as ‘God’ is not the ordinary Hebrew expression (Elohim) but rather than less common Eloah. Perhaps a ‘pagan’ sage addresses Israel with a truth that familiarity may have obscured.
Every word spoken by God is without defect. His word—or, better, the speaking God—becomes for the attentive listener a secure hiding place in a world where both words and deeds too often prove hostile and even lethal.
The speech of this conversational Creator is so valuable, so sure—elsewhere we are told that it is also sweet like honey—that modification of it should not be risked. We blabber-mouthed humans too quickly add to it our accretions, bend it into our shape, make it sound like we sound when we talk.
Agur the outsider knows how dangerous such verbosity becomes when the most important thing is to listen, to hear, to be taught, in the midst of the luxury that it is to live before a God who speaks.