To The Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews

Cecil N. Wright

  Text (ASV): "12. For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do."

  These verses are the climax of an urgent exhortation for Christians, under Christ, not to make the mistake that Israel had made under Moses, and by disobedience to the word of God forfeited the prospect and promise of entering Canaan with its rest from Egyptian bondage and the rigors of their wilderness journeying, which was a type of the rest in the heavenly Canaan for all the faithful children of God -- of which the weekly Sabbath given to fleshly Israel was also a type.

  Verse 12 deals with the subjective influence of the word of God with reference to our hearts if we allow it proper access and operation. Verse 13 describes a comparable objective function of the part of God himself with reference to ourselves -- which ought to be a strong motivation for allowing his word to hold sway in our lives.

  1. "The word of God." Here the phrase obviously refers to the word of God as spoken through prophets (1:1). Angels (2:2), and his Son (1:2; 2:3), and not to Christ as the Word incarnate, as in Rev.19:13 (cf. Jno.1:1,14; 2: Jno.1). But the introductory word "for" makes its specific application have to do with the "Sabbath rest for the people of God" (4:4), and particularly as to whom may or may not enter it, as spoken through Moses (3:5) and David (4:7) and here through Christ's inspired spokesman, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (3:7 - 4:11), and no doubt through others of his spokesmen as well (see 4:1-2,11).

  2. "Living, and active." That is, God's word is applicable and binding and effectual -- as much so today under and through Christ as ever in times past -- and in some respects even more so (see 2:1-4; 10:26-31).

  Christ is mediator of a better covenant, with better promises, than the old covenant with fleshly Israel, of which Moses was the mediator (8:6). While God gave fleshly Israel the seventh day, his day of rest from creation, as a weekly Sabbath, was a "shadow" of something better yet to come through Christ (Col.2:16; cf. Heb.8:4-5; 9:11; 10:1).

  The weekly Sabbath is not binding on Christians -- because the covenant requiring its observance was abrogated at the death of Christ ("He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second," 10:9) and weekly Sabbath observance was not enjoined under the new covenant mediated by Christ.

  As already stated, it was a "shadow" of something better to come through Christ -- a shadow of the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God (4:6) -- a better rest for the faithful of fleshly Israel of times past as well as of spiritual Israel of these last days. It will be entered when we rest from our works on earth as God rested from his work of creating the heavens and the earth and its inhabitants (Heb. 4:9-11; cf. Rev.14:13).

  And it is for the ones "obedient" to the "living, and active" word of God of all earthly dispensations, but not for the "disobedient of any dispensation.

  3. "Sharper than any two- edged sword" -- the most penetrating kind. In Eph. 6:17, the word of God is called "the sword of the Spirit," used in spiritual combat. The word of God is contemplated here, however, in relation to its ability to penetrate and expose to introspection the inward being of each individual.

  4. "Piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow."

  "Soul" and "spirit" are often used interchangeably for the "inward man" versus the "outward man" (2 Cor.4:16). But when they are distinguished from each other, "soul" (psuche) has reference to physical animation which man has in common with the animal creation, and "spirit" (pneuma) refers to that part of man created in the image of God, which makes man akin to God in a way the animals are not.

  "Joints" are mostly where bones are so fitted and joined together as to facilitate movement in relation to each other. And "marrow" was used figuratively of the depth of the soul, as by Euripides in the 5th century B.C., in Hippolytus 225, "to form moderate friendships, and not to the deep marrow of the soul" (Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament).

  So, the above phrase is a figurative expression for the depths of the inward man, penetrated by the word of God and its parts laid open as it were, for introspection -- not that it separates the "soul" from the "spirit" or the "joints" from the "marrow" -- but that it penetrates to the "dividing" of all these parts, figuratively speaking.

  5. "Quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart." This further and more literally expresses and defines the foregoing, except that "quick to discern" does not seem to do justice to the verbal adjective, kritikos, in the Greek text, which means skilled or able in discerning or judging. (Our English word "critic" comes for it.)

  "The word carries on the thought of dividing. From krinein to divide or separate, which runs into the sense of judge, the usual meaning in the N. T., judgment involving the sifting out and analysis of evidence. In kritikos the ideas of discrimination and judgment are blended." (Vincent, Word Studies.) With proper access to an operation within the human heart, the word of God lays bare to the individual himself the character not only of his conduct but also of "the thoughts and intents of the heart" -- his own heart.

  "In addition this (kai), the inward operation of the word finds its counterpart in the searching, inevitable inquisition of God himself with whom we have to do" (Marcus Dodds, in his commentary on "Hebrews" in The Expositor's Greek Testament). That additional fact is stated in the next verse, as follows:

  6. "13. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: BUT ALL THINGS ARE NAKED AND LAID OPEN BEFORE THE EYES OF HIM WITH WHOM WE HAVE TO DO" -- or to whom we have to give account.

  Hence, among all other things, God knows even our innermost reactions and attitudes toward his WORD, even if we succeed in keeping them secret from many or all of our fellow men. And this ought to be a most POWERFUL motivation for GLADLY allowing it to hold FULL SWAY in our lives, so as not to forfeit the prospect of the Sabbath rest promised to all OBEDIENT children of God after our labors and lives on earth are ended.