Hebrews 4:12

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

The verse now begins with “For.” Actually, in the Greek, it says, “Living (is), for, the word of God…” Thus it stresses the thought of “living.” But the word “for” is used to build upon a previous thought. That takes the reader all the way up to verse 4:2 which said, “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them.” At that time, it was explained that the word “gospel” should read, “good news.” Further, “the word which they heard” literally reads “the word of the message.” That was referring to the word of God which promised rest.

After that came the intervening verses which explained God’s rest in great detail, including quotes from Psalm 95. This context explains the word “For.” The “word of the message,” meaning the word of God, was preached to those before, and it made its judgment. The same word of God still speaks to the Hebrew audience, awaiting a response.

The term, “the word of God,” here was thought by the church fathers to be speaking of the Person of Jesus. This is not the author’s intent. Outside of John’s writings, the term is not used in relation to Jesus, nor is it hinted at in the book of Hebrews. Rather, it is speaking of the word of God, meaning His utterances – in whatever manner they come. They may come through prophets, or through Scripture. His word also came through Jesus as He spoke out the word of God. It is this word of God which the author now says is “living and powerful.” As noted, the word “living” is in the emphatic position.

It is not a dead word, but one with vibrancy. It is not a weak word, but one which has power to produce an outcome. As Vincent’s Word Studies notes, “The message of God which promises the rest and urges to seek it, is no dead, formal precept, but is instinct with living energy.” Just as a living body accomplishes actions, so the word is capable of the same. There is power which comes forth from an animate being, and that is true with the word of God. There is almost a personification of the word in the author’s mind.

He next says it is “sharper than any two-edged sword.” The word “two-edged” is distomos. It signifies “two mouthed.” The symbolism here comes directly from the Old Testament where “the edge of the sword” is literally, “the mouth of the sword.” It is a devouring instrument, consuming that which it comes in contact with. Being a mouth, it is then likened to a drinker of blood. Being two-mouthed, it is a consumer of blood. No matter which side is presented, its effect remains the same. And so, the sword is used to describe destruction throughout the Old Testament, and even into the New. Jesus uses the terminology of the sword to describe the fate of the Hebrew people in Luke 21:24 –

“And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

The passage in Luke uses the same imagery, the “mouth of the sword.” Why would this come upon the Jewish people? Because He knew they would reject the word of God. Thus, this living and active, devouring instrument would actively consume them. So effective is it that it is capable of “piercing even to the division of soul and spirit.”

The Greek word used here for “piercing” is unique in Scripture. It means “coming through.” thus, it wholly penetrates even to the division of soul and spirit. This is not intended to mean that the “soul and spirit” are divided one from another. The word “division” does not refer to the point of division, but the act which occurs. The word is only used elsewhere in Hebrews 2:4. There it speaks of the “gifts” or “distributions” of the Spirit. The spirit is One, without division, but there are many gifts. Understanding this, and to confirm it as well, the author then says, “and of joints and marrow.”

Joints and marrow don’t have contact with one another where it can be said that they can be so divided. Thus, this is an explanation of “soul and spirit.” It is not a point of division, but the act. Similarly, “joints and marrow” are likewise to be taken figuratively, not as actual joints of a person, or the marrow of the bone. Again, Vincent’s Word Studies explains the terminology –

“The form of expression is poetical, and signifies that the word penetrates to the inmost recesses of our spiritual being as a sword cuts through the joints and marrow of the body. The separation is not of one part from another, but operates in each department of the spiritual nature.”

“Soul and spirit” are joined in the words as an example of that which is inmost spiritually. “Joints and marrow” are joined in the words as an example of that which is inmost physically. Thus, though there are two groupings, they are four individual things – “division of soul, of spirit, of joints, of marrow.” The word of God pierces everything about the individual, and nothing is hidden from its all-consuming, devouring mouth. This is so much so that it is even “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

The word “discerner” is also unique in Scripture. It is an adjective which also implies division. It means “able to judge,” or “critical.” It separates things through an evaluation process. Thus, it separates thoughts of the heart. Those things which the heart ponders and deliberates upon are known and separated by the word of God, sorting them out for judgment. It also separates the intents of the heart. These are the things which have been settled out, such as opinions and attitudes. A person may be a conservative or a liberal. They have settled out their opinions, and that is where they stand on the issues. The word of God will look at these things and evaluate them.

As a real-life example, a person may be either against abortion or for it. The word of God discerns the matter and judges it. It separates the two (or any middle ground such as “in certain cases”) and it makes the determination as to which is acceptable and which is not.

The entire tenor of the words of this verse are geared towards the attitude of the people concerning God’s rest. The word of the message (verse 4:2) is given. The people will be evaluated based on the word of God. Will they be diligent to enter that rest? This is the question, and the word of God will sort out the truth of that matter from the very fiber of their being.

Life application: There is no part of us that is not known to God. There is no thought that we have, no opinion that we are settled upon, and no attitude that we display which is not able to be evaluated, completely and entirely, by the word of God. We are open and exposed in our lives and actions as if we stand naked before Him. Let us not attempt to cover our faults, failings, and faithlessness with fig leaves. But rather, let us adorn ourselves with the covering of Christ. Nothing else will suffice when we come before God for our evaluation.

Lord God, Your word shows that there is no part of us which is not exposed before You. Your word stands as a discerner of every thought, motivation, and settled opinion which we possess. We are as naked before You as our first parents were when they were created. Should we attempt to cover ourselves with the leaves of fig trees? Rather, shouldn’t we be found covered by the righteousness of Christ? Only in His perfection can we stand before You cleansed and pure. May we be wise and discerning about what judgment before You means. And may we choose the good covering of Christ in preparation for that day. Amen.

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