Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Heb. 4:12a “For the Word…”
The writer of Hebrews used scripture as the basis for his discussion of God’s rest, because we can know nothing of God’s rest apart from the Bible. “Rest, this treasure, is found in Scripture. There it is deposited, revealed, declared, and laid up safe for the edification of the church in all ages” (Owen). To find rest, we must search the Scriptures. Thus, our writer emphasizes the importance of the written word.
Heb. 4:12b “…of God…”
Throughout Hebrews, our writer mentions God as the Speaker in Scripture. This divine inspiration, God speaking in and by the penmen of Scripture is the foundation of our faith. We must greatly reverence the Bible, as truly spoken by God.
Some read the Bible casually, but its greatest pearls are found by reading it with a sense of urgency and eagerness. The blessed man is one who “delighteth in the law of the Lord, and meditateth in it day and night” (PS 1:2). This attitude is found only in those who believe that God would “open his eyes, that he might behold wondrous things out of his law” (PS 119:18). The Psalmist knew God spoke in the written word, and therefore he knew he was assured of finding wondrous things therein.
When we accept Scripture as coming from God, we have no trouble believing it will be sufficient for our every need. Only then will we be able to say with the believer of old, “I adore the fullness of Scripture.”
Spurgeon said, “If, when I come to Heaven, God should say, “Spurgeon, I want you to preach for all eternity,” I would say, “Give me a Bible, Lord; this is all I shall need.”” We all need a great appreciation for the Bible. In the Word we find all we need. It is sufficient, for it is the voice of God.
Heb. 4:12c “…is quick and powerful…”
“Quick” means “living.” The Bible is alive, communicating the life of its Author to lifeless hearts. “Powerful” translates the Greek word “energes,” from which we derive our word “energy.” The Word of God is active. It is not like a piece of furniture. It contains energy and supplies power, which can help us in every aspect of daily life. When you feel lifeless and weak, get close to the Bible, it provides life and power.
T.W. Hunt, a Southern Baptist prayer warrior, says reading the Bible is more important than praying, because God speaking to us is more important than our speaking to Him. Do not think Bro. Hunt is calling for Bible reading to the exclusion of prayer. He is simply reminding us that our speaking to God springs from His speaking to us. His words take priority over ours, because His words provide life and power for the words of our prayers.
Heb. 4:12d “…and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow,…”The Word slices to the essence of life. It is sharper than the most formidable weapon of earthly warfare. The Roman sword was, up to its time, the most formidable instrument ever made for a close fight. It was a short, straight, steel weapon with a sharpened point and two cutting edges.
The Word of God is also a sword with two edges. It has no blunt side, but it a cutting edge all over. The Bible cuts both this way and that, piercing every part of man.
To lay bare our secret thoughts, the Word pierces the soul, that is, the ego or personality, the seat of self-consciousness. To reveal whether or not we are truly seeking God’s rest, the Word pierces the spirit, the highest part of man, and the seat of God-consciousness. To reveal whether or not lower desires are dominating us, the Word pierces to the inward recesses of our body, the seat of sense-consciousness.
The Word pierces man. It slices the spirit, slices the soul, and slices the body. No part of our being is untouched by the Word. No wonder Coleridge said of Scripture, “It finds me.”
Heb. 4:12e “…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
These words explain why the Word pierces us. It penetrates in order to analyze. The word is a discerner, or more literally, a critic (Greek, “kritikos”) of the secret thoughts of our heart.
“It is significant that with all that is heard today about Biblical Criticism, the passage suggests the Word of God as the critic of our lives, and it is more than probable that if we allowed the Bible to “criticize” us more, we should “criticize” it a great deal less” (Griffith-Thomas).
The Word of God pierces us, performing surgery. Not satisfied with external appearances and professions, the Word seeks to destroy sin at the roots. Scripture dissects deep within us, because what a man thinks and intends in his heart, is exactly what he eventually becomes.
The Word checks ugly thoughts before they are articulated in words. It thwarts evil intents before they become actions. The Word sifts sinful plans and causes them to vanish. Germs of mischief are detected and destroyed before they start and epidemic.
Heb. 4:13 “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
The transition from speaking about the Word of God to speaking about God is made smoothly, because the two go together. The Word represents its Author, and acts in the power of Him whose Word it is. It penetrates because He penetrates. God searches hearts, using His word as the Surgeon’s scalpel to probe deeply.
Nothing escapes God’s scrutiny. No secret of the heart is impenetrable. Every disguise is stripped away. Our natures are dissected, brought into full view, and laid bare for God’s inspection. None can hide from God. We live under His microscope. Linnaeus, mindful of this, wrote over the door of his library, “Live innocently, God is present.”
Our hearts are so laid open before God that He knows better than we do what is in our hearts. To let us see what He sees, God has given us the Bible. “The Word will turn the inside of a sinner out, and let him see all that is in the heart” (Henry). The Word allows us to see ourselves as God sees us.
Seeing ourselves as God sees us is of utmost importance, for in the final analysis, men reckon not with man or conscience, but with the living God. It is perilous to be mainly concerned with what we think of ourselves, or what others think of us. God renders final judgment. Thus, what He thinks is all that matters.
However painful the process, let God and His word do their surgical work within. Let me see myself as I really am; let the ugly sin be revealed, that the Great-Physician may amputate it.
David Livingstone was fascinated by the Bechuanas of Africa. They were excellent patients who never winced. They sat unmoved through operations, and talked as if they felt nothing, while having a tumor, an inch in diameter, cut from their flesh. They said, “A man like me never cries, they are children that cry.”
These dry-eyed stoics met their match, though, when they came under the scrutiny of God and His piercing Word. When told of their sins, and of a gracious God who died in their place, the Bechuanas melted. As conviction fell in the church service, men would hide their faces with their garments to keep others from seeing their tears. When that no longer hid their emotion, they rushed from the service, running with all their might, and crying as if the hand of death were behind them. It felt like death, but was actually God’s way of giving them life.
God’s probe is sharp, the process humbles and hurts, but nothing is more wholesome. There is no rest apart from God’s two-edged sword. If we desire God’s rest, His knife is good news.
Pleasing God is what we want, and if it required a piercing knife, so be it. We accept it. Unbelief hates examination, and shirks it at all cost. Faith welcomes it, and kisses the blade.