Growing up in the church I frequently heard the phrase “God’s Word won’t return void.” Although often met with hearty amens and an almost magical expectations by the congregation, I found myself pondering, why does it occasionally seem like I don’t see the results that the people invoke this phrase expected. I was forced to ask myself, “Does God’s Word Return Void?”
What I discovered was that my understanding was flawed. I never once considered my heavenly Father’s perspective on this matter. As a result, when He didn’t answer in accordance with how the masses thought He should answer, I feel betrayed! Through humility and investigation in the Scriptures, I realized this phrase was used more like an incantation and less as a prayer of faith. We need to examine both sides of the coin of the effects of the Word of God upon the hearers!
The Word Shall Not Return Empty
Let’s start with the oft ill-recited verse.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
The word empty here is the commanding thought. Like a jar that needs to be filled, the Word of YHWH will either be a blessing or a judgment. What is often not taught is that the hearer is 100% responsible for what will be “filled-up”. The Father’s heart is that people who receive His Word with meekness and bear much fruit. But in the event that a nation or an individual refuses the Word, the Bible is clear that they are storing up for themselves judgment and wrath, not blessing.
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
Yeshua, while on earth, told His hearers that He didn’t come to judge and the reason is that they already had a judge! If the people received His Word, they received eternal life, but if they rejected His Word, they received judgment. Either way, the Word of God accomplished His purpose.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
Prophetic Warnings Won’t Return Empty
We can look historically at the condition of Israel to gain insight into this reality. When the nation would sin, YHWH would send a prophet to turn them from their iniquity. You need to consider these prophetic warnings as His kindness, as Romans states. Yet in spite of YHWH’s kindness, Israel refused the words of the prophet Jeremiah for over two decades. As a result of the hearer’s hard-heartedness, God’s Word couldn’t return void, so instead of bringing the blessing of repentance and restoration to the covenant nation, the Word brought righteous judgment.
The LORD has done what he purposed;
he has carried out his word,
which he commanded long ago;
he has thrown down without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you
and exalted the might of your foes.
Let those words sink into your heart. Israel refused the kindness of God in the form of prophetic warnings. They did not repent. So YHWH did what He purposed and carried out His word by plucking up the entire nation and casting them into exile.
God’s Word does not return void, that is clear through the Scriptures. What is less clear amongst man is our willingness to accept that the outcome of what God’s Word brings is most often dependant upon the willingness of the hearers to listen and obey! May we have ears to hear and repent, for the kingdom of God is near!