John 1:1 reads, “In the beginning was the Word (logos; λόγος), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word, says John, existed “in the beginning” and, eventually, “became flesh and dwelt among us” in the Messiah (1:14). Yet the Gospel writer also notes that this Word “in the world” (en to kosmo; ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ) prior to Jesus (1:10), and those who “received” the Word before the Incarnation were called “children of God” (1:12). So when did the Word of God come into the world before the advent of the Messiah, and who received this Word according to Israel’s Scriptures?
God’s initial interaction with the prophet Samuel is a good example of the Word in the Hebrew Bible. As the young Samuel serves as an apprentice under Eli the priest at the Temple in Shiloh, the Lord calls to him several times. At first, Samuel thinks that Eli is calling him, but the priest tells him that it’s actually the voice of God (see 1 Sam 3:4-9). After three divine calls, God appeared physically to Samuel when “the Lord came (bo’; בוא), and stood (yatsav; יצב)” before the boy (1 Sam 3:10).
Just a few verses later, we learn that God makes these kinds of physical appearances through the Word: “The Lord continued to appear (l’heraoh; להראה) at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself (niglah; נגלה) to Samuel at Shiloh by the Word (bi’devar; בדבר) of the Lord” (1 Sam 3:21). Thus, the meetings between God and Samuel support John’s claim that the Word came into the world of ancient Israel and that Israelites like Samuel received the Word. For John, it would be this same Word who would one day become flesh in Yeshua the Messiah.