How would you describe the Bible? Is it just an ancient book, portions of which were written between 2,000 -4,000 years ago? Perhaps you’d even add that it’s well documented? There are more copies and fragments of the Bible that date closer to its original composition than any other ancient text. Now, that’s pretty amazing to consider!
It might be that your description of the Bible wouldn’t be so flattering. You might describe it as archaic, just an old document written about times and places in the distant past and seemingly irrelevant, unable to address the concerns of modern humanity.
I would prefer to liken it to a fountain pen. Initially, I penned these words with one that I use on almost a daily basis. A fountain pen could be described as “old technology.” It was a vast improvement over the quill pen, but not as advanced as a ballpoint pen. However, a fountain pen is just as useful today as it was when it was invented. It accomplishes its purpose, writing, with surprising clarity, and even prompts the writer to be more purposeful with each stroke, and careful to use it properly. Far from being a dead, useless instrument, it is completely capable of doing its work in a fantastic fashion, with utmost clarity!
With those thoughts in mind, let’s consider Hebrews 4:12-13:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.”
In this passage, God’s word is described in a way that is anything but archaic and irrelevant. Notice first of all the tense of the verb in the first sentence: “the word of God is,” not “was,” “has been,” or even “will be,” but simply “is,” present tense. That alone describes the magnitude and profound influence of God’s word. Just as the divine name given to Moses “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14) speaks of God’s continual presence in our lives, so also by saying the word of God “is,” we realize God’s word is a present, continual force in the world.
This naturally leads us to the first of three descriptions joined by the word “and” in our passage. The word of God is “living.” Far from being archaic and irrelevant, God’s word is present and alive. It’s not dead words penned thousands of years ago on a page gathering dust. It’s words that once uttered were given life. Second Timothy 3:16 says, “Every scripture is inspired by God,” or “God-breathed” (NIV). Think of the comparison that when God breathed into man the breath of life, he became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). Likewise, when God breathed into the word, it became a living document (1 Peter 1:23).
Far from just being words on a page, the second description joined by “and” in Hebrews 4:12 tells us God’s word is “active.” Isaiah 55:11 says, “My word (that is God’s word) gone forth will not return to me void.” God’s words are measured and chosen to accomplish his purposes. They are a means to an end, and will accomplish what he intends. The word “active” creates the picture of God’s word being at work against the opposing forces of evil, prompted by the devil. Just as he “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), God’s word is actively at work in the world, waging war against Satanic forces and overcoming them on a daily basis. Whereas the devil is limited by his lack of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, the word of God has all the divine characteristics breathed into them!
The third descriptive term in verse 12 joined by the word “and” is rather lengthy:
“sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.”
Based on archaeological finds, we know the two-edged sword evolved over time from the much shorter dagger. Early swords were much more like the mid-eastern scimitar, a single-edged blade wielded in warfare. But, by the time of the Iron Age, two-edged swords had become formidable weapons, used by nearly all armies, and certainly those of the conquering forces of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Persian, and Roman Empires.
So, exactly what does God’s two-edged sword, his word, do? It thoroughly dissects our inmost being and discerns the very intentions of our hearts. Like a scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon, God’s word is used to discover and remove the cancerous thoughts of our inner person.
How does that leave a person feeling? Vulnerable. There are aspects of our inmost thoughts that we would like to keep to ourselves, because we’re not proud of them. In fact, they are shameful. This predicament goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Do you recall what Adam and Eve did after they, prompted by Satan, ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? First, they attempted to hide their shame, their nakedness, from each other by sewing fig leaves together to make clothing. Then, they attempted to hide from God in the bushes! That would be a humorous picture, were it not so sad.
Now, all that we have learned in this passage leaves us very uncomfortable. It’s unnerving to realize our predicament when faced with the knowledge that God’s word is living, active, and thoroughly capable of probing into our inmost thoughts. It’s like being on trial, sitting in the witness box, and having a prosecutor who can read your mind!
That’s why it’s so important that we not stop here, and in our next lesson we’ll look at Hebrews 4:14-16 and learn that our Advocate is standing by our side, coming to our defense, and giving us the aid we so desperately need.