Many people know that chapter and verse divisions were not part of the early translations of the Bible. In the original Greek, from what I understand, there were no word breaks or punctuation either (imaginetryingtodiscernthetruthwhenyouarehavingtroublediscerningthegrammar). A couple of people attempted to add chapter breaks in the Scriptures, but finally in the 13th century Archbishop Stephen Langton’s divisions were adopted. If you’ve ever really paid attention to the chapter breaks in our English Bibles, which are based on Langton’s divisions, you have to wonder just how psychotic and haphazard the previous ones were. Our current chapter system cuts off single thoughts, breaks up stories and narratives, and in general does some strange things at time.
The verse breaks were not adopted at the same time as the chapters. Again, more than one person attempted this task, but about two centuries after the widespread acceptance of chapters, the basic verse layout was adopted that we still use today. Robert Estienne was responsible for this helpful referencing tool. But is was William Whittingham that translated the first English language Bible with verse breaks a few years later. Incidentally, Whittingham was just about as Reformed (Calvinist) as you could get. He was close friends with John Knox and he was married to John Calvin’s sister…it was obviously predestined.
I walk briefly through all of that somewhat trivial history to call attention to one verse in one chapter of one book in the Bible. In the midst of Ezekiel’s account of his own story, a sentence appears that I would not have divided, but apparently that’s why God didn’t call me to insert the verse breaks in the Bible.
And the word of the Lord came to me:
This short verse is just the introduction and context to a longer sentence. The verse ends with the colon that is connecting the sentence together. But about 500 years ago a man say down, perhaps under a bank of candles, and began wrestling with this sometimes difficult book of the Bible. There are other places that he could have dropped verse dividers in that are similar to this, but he didn’t. It was here that my eyes rested this morning because of the verse division.
The broader context (v 13) is about a sinful nation acting faithlessly and God’s dedication to bring justice to that land. But before that is ever communicated, before the judgment is levied and the hail stones fall from the skies, one of the most stunning realities about life emerges in the text: God speaks to us. Ezekiel said that the “word” came to him. Maybe he sought it out maybe he didn’t, but the truth was that God spoke to this prophet, put His words in his heart and mind.
Maybe it’s enough today just to be reminded that God speaks. No grand theological mystery, no doctrinal revelation per se, just the knowledge that He is not always silent. He speaks to us in times of sorrow, in times of joy,and in times of confusion. He brings His word to our hearts when we grow forgetful or weary. He bellows out His majesty to us when we grow too great in our own eyes. He sings, He asks, He talks, He answers, He reasons, He commands, He inspires, He directs, He promises, He comforts, He laughs…He speaks.
Don’t be surprised today if He speaks to you. It’s what He does. He speak to His children like a good Father, and He speaks through His children like a King sending a message to a foreign land. How often does the Bible not record the mundane travels of Jesus and His disciples? How many normal conversations did they have with the Son of God? Are we so stoic that we believe Jesus walked silently with His head down until He had a crowd of thousands? He spoke, He brought His word to His followers, He told stories, He laughed, He cried, He consoled.
Friends, our God is not silent. And this morning, I have Robert Estienne and William Whittingham to thank for that reminder.