The Power of Scripture as a Savor of Death unto Death: Hebrews 4:12

The book of Hebrews was written to religious people who were in the process of marginalizing Jesus Christ and returning to an earlier and less robust iteration of OT Jehovah worship. They were not departing from an historic religious tradition, one established by Moses after returning from Mt. Sinai, but from the fullest and final revelation of the Father in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, Heb. 1:1-2. This drifting back (Heb. 2:1) is warned against in Hebrews 10:21, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Once Christ was revealed, there was no other way. He alone was the way, the truth, and the life. One might imagine the historic strength of this path to apostasy. “Are we to leave the long-established tradition handed down by Moses on the word of a young rabbi who only taught for a little more than three years?,” they might ask. Miracles like soundbites are soon forgotten or chalked up to enthusiastic tales. Besides, terrible persecutions befall the followers of Christ. “I have a living to make and a family to feed. If I confess Christ, I will not only ostracize my Hebrew support base, but I will endanger my family. Believing the words of Jesus is too high a price to pay.”

And then Paul writes this letter. The Holy Spirit’s words convict the hearers of the weakness of their faith and the deadly, eternal consequences of departing from the faith once delivered unto the saints. “Christ alone” was on their lips as Christianity was propelled out to the 1st century by faithful believers who suffered in unimaginable ways as describes in Hebrews 11. And why? Because they knew, the words of Jesus conveyed by his Apostles, were the words of God. They could not deny their Lord.

In Hebrews 4:12 the Word of God is the weapon that wages war with the deceitful and desperately wicked hearts of man. The message is a savor of life unto life and death unto death, 2 Cor. 2:15-17, but in this passage, it deals with the Word as something that takes life – a sword.

Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Quick — The Word of God is alive. Scripture’s design is to have a dynamic impact on the hearer. The Word will produce an effect in your life because it is God’s word. It is not dormant. Nothing can be hid from the probing impact of God’s word upon the heart and mind.

“Men living in the flesh are universally impotent, perishing, limited; God, on the contrary (ch. xxxi. 3), is omnipotent, eternal, all-determining; and like Himself, so is His word, which, regarded as a vehicle and utterance of His willing and thinking, is not something separate from Himself, and therefore is the same as He.” Keil, Delitzsch, Isaiah, 143. For the comparison of man with flowers and grass see Isa. 37:27, Job 8:11-12, and 14:2, Psalm 90:5-6

Powerful — Its power is seen in the awakening guilt in the conscience for wrongs done, cf., Romans 7. Of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin: Acts 5:33, “And when they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.” Of Stephen’s defense: Acts 7:54, “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on them with their teeth.” Acts 7:57, “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord.” Of Paul in the Jews in Corinth: Acts 18:6, “And when they opposed themselves and blasphemed, he shook his raiment.” Of Paul in Jerusalem: Acts 22:22, “Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live.”

Scripture’s power is recognized exposing fears in the mind to damnation and judgment; exposing secret feelings of the heart; “I really don’t like the direction my life is going” leading to repentance; causing the sinner to tremble with the knowledge of the coming judgment.

Sharper than any twoedged sword – Isa. 49:2, “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword.” Rev. 1:16, “And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword;”

The metaphor is to show that the word can reach the heart, the very center of action and lays open the motives and feelings of the man.

Piercing even to the dividing asunder – the Word penetrates to divide. This is what swords do.

Of soul and spirit psuche and pnuema – the life principle and the eternal spirit of man. To separate the one from the other is, therefore, the same as to take life. This is the idea here, that the word of God is like a sharp sword that inflicts deadly wounds by exposing the sinfulness of man. For example – Genesis 2:17, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Deuteronomy 30:19, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” John 3:18, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

And of the joints and marrow — The metaphor of the sword taking life is continued. Swords take life. Such a sword would seem to penetrate even the joints and marrow of the body. It would separate the joints, and pierce through the very bones to the marrow. A similar effect, Paul says, is produced by truth. It penetrates to the inner part of man

And is a discerner of the thought and intents of the heart – what are you thinking and what do you intend to do with those thoughts. Men then are made to look upon their motives as they had never done before. Scripture illuminates their hearts feelings whose existence they would not have suspected if it had not been for the light of the truth. Many a man has a deep and fixed hostility to God, and to his gospel, who might never be sensible of it, if the truth was not faithfully proclaimed.     The particular idea here is, that the truth of God will detect the feelings of the hypocrite and self-deceiver. They cannot always conceal their emotions, and the time will come when truth, like light poured into the soul, will reveal their unbelief and their secret sins.

The power of truth is fitted to lay open the secret feelings of the soul. It is fitted to expose the hearer to spiritual death to the end that they might accept the gift of spiritual life through Christ. Exposing spiritual hostility to Christ in the heart and this hostility’s end in spiritual death is the way the Scriptures produce believing faith. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17

“All the great changes in the moral world for the better, have been caused by the power of truth…and, if we may judge of its power by the greatness of the revolutions produced, no words can over-estimate the might of the truth which God has revealed.” Albert Barnes

Have things changed that much since the 1st century? Is Christ alone enough? Is His word enough or must we seek an earlier, less robust iteration? Is trusting Christ’s words too high a price to pay?

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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