In the infancy stories of Jesus recounted in Luke and Matthew God actively directs events to preserve his Son and to inform participants about the significance of these occurrences. For example twice in Matthew 2 God reveals (chrēmatizō) “by dream” his divine decree to the Magi and to Joseph. In the case of Joseph this expression parallels the employment by God of “the angel of the Lord appearing in a dream” (Matthew 1:20; 2:19) to give him instructions. In the case of the Magi, God used the special star to guide them. Luke tells us (Luke 2:26) that God “had revealed (ēn…kechrēmatismenon) to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he should see the Lord’s Messiah.”
The verb chrēmatizō occurs 9 times in the New Testament. In broad Hellenistic usage it generally signifies to negotiate or have dealings with, often in a business setting or with reference to an official responding to a petition for help. When a deity is involved, then there are overtones of revelation, i.e. an oracle given in response to a petition. The sense of official declaration comes to be used in contexts where a person or a group is named or given a title.
The most frequent usage of chrēmatizō in the New Testament defines occasions when God issues decrees or gives direction. This is its usage in the Gospels. Josephus employs the verb similarly. For example, he tells the story of the Jewish high priest Jaddūs and his encounter with Alexander the Great. The high priest feared what Alexander might do and so asked God for direction. Josephus describes how Jaddūs fell asleep after making a sacrifice and “God spoke oracularly (echrēmatisen) to him in his sleep” and told him what action to take. When Josephus retells the story of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7), he says that Joshua asked God what he should do and God responded (chēmatisantos) with clear instructions.
In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, the prophetic revelations of God to Jeremiah often are described by this verb (at least 8 times). For example, God tells Jeremiah (33(26):2) to stand in the temple courtyard and declare (chrēmatieis) to the Judeans everything that God had commanded him. This verb occurs in the Greek Old Testament almost exclusively in Jeremiah. However, the translation of 1 Kings also used it when translating Elijah’s jibes against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. As they petition Baal to send fire on their sacrifice, Elijah wonders whether Baal “is meditating or else perhaps he is preparing an answer (chrēmatizei) or perhaps he is asleep and is to be awakened.” The translator of Job also employed it to describe God’s dealings with Job (40:3(8)).
Luke similarly used this verb to define an angel’s interactions with Cornelius. In Acts 10:22 he narrates how messengers went to Peter’s abode and told him how Cornelius “had been directed (echrēmatisthē) by a holy angel” to send a message to the apostle. We discover similar usage in the epistle to the Hebrews. Both Moses (8:5 kechrēmatistai) and Noah (11:7 chrēmatistheis) received divine direction – Moses with respect to the construction of the tabernacle and Noah with respect to the coming judgment by flood. Finally, the author of Hebrews warns his audience not to ignore the divine warnings contained in the Gospel (12:25 chrēmatizonta), warnings coming from heaven itself.
It seems clear that God from time to time and in different ways has made his plans known to human beings. This verb chrēmatizō communicates God’s directives. Sometimes his messages are warnings, sometimes they are promises, and sometimes they are plans. In every case God acts to carry forward his program. Paul uses the cognate noun (chrēmatismos) in Romans 11:4 to describe the ‘divine utterance’ in response to Elijah’s complaint (1 Kings 19:18). God assures Elijah that he is not the only believer left in Israel.
In Acts 11:26 Luke uses this verb to define the action of attaching a title or name to a group, to publicly identify them in a specific way. “The disciples were first called (chrēmatisai) Christians at Antioch.” This same usage occurs in Josephus when he tells us that “the Roman emperors also, who from their birth are known (chrēmatisantes) by other names, are called Caesars, receiving this title from their princely office and rank,…” Paul uses it similarly in Romans 7:3 to describe the case of a woman who marries another man while her husband is alive. He says that “she is called (chrēmatisei) an adulteress.” This becomes her public title.
God is able to make such divine pronouncements and utter these warnings because of his omniscience. He knows what human beings are planning and He knows what his own plans are. So He acts to ensure that his “will is done on earth as it is in heaven.” Sometimes this requires Him to speak directly to human beings. The verb chrēmatizō describes this activity that communicates divine injunctions. It also speaks of God’s care and concern for his own people. Whether Moses, Noah, Simeon or Cornelius, or even with reference to us today (Hebrews 12:25), God wants us to know what is coming and respond so that we are saved.
- We know that God has shared Himself with us through revelation. However, to think that God would work so specifically with individuals to warn, promise and advise is truly remarkable. Has He done this for you?
- God is aware of what is happening in history – even our personal history. He acts graciously to order events and opportunities so that our personal history becomes part of his agenda and program.
- What we do with God’s warnings, promises and advice is another question. Between the resurrection and the return of Jesus God has given us his Holy Spirit to guide us. Perhaps Simeon’s experience of the Holy Spirit’s direction will be ours too.
- 1. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XI. 327. 1
- 2. Ibid., V.14.
- 3. III Reigns 18:27.
- 4. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities VIII.157.
- 5. Philo uses this verb to describe a wife who formally claimed divorce or separation from her husband. She "declares a separation (apoleipsin.chrematizein)." However, he uses this expression metaphorically to describe a foolish person who refuses to listen to good instruction. In his essay "The Worse Attacks the Better" he describes an uneducated person as one for whom "instruction and pupilage have executed a deed of abandonment (apoleipsin.chrematisei)" (Quod Deterius 143). Just as a wife may divorce her husband, so learning has divorced itself from the uneducated person