Lesson 6: The Word & The Priest

Israel was unable to enter the Lord’s rest because of their unbelief (3.19), but a rest remains for the faithful (4.9). However, before moving on the author wanted his audience to understand a crucial point: everything depends on how you treat the word of God. Psalm 95 has figured prominently in this discussion and recall that David gave this exhortation: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me…” (Psalm 95.7-8; Hebrews 3.7-8). In other words, pay attention to what God says because our ancestors did not! The Hebrew author is making the same appeal. Israel didn’t enter God’s rest because they did not receive the Lord’s word with faith (Hebrews 4.2). And if we aren’t diligent, the same will be true of us (Hebrews 4.11).

For this reason, the author gives this sobering reminder of the power of God’s word: 

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4:12–13 (NASB95)

The Word (Hebrews 4.12-13)

  • is living and active: God’s word brought good news to Israel and also pronounced judgment on their unfaithfulness. His word has not lost any potency through the years. It is alive, it is active. Thus David exhorted his generation to heed God’s word (3.7) and the Hebrew author does the same.
  • sharper than any two-edged sword: “As his primary weapon a Roman legionnaire would carry a gladius, a double-edged sword about twenty inches long, strapped to his right side. This weapon was designed for slashing and thrusting in close, hand-to-hand combat.. This “sword’s” ability to cut deeply is seen in its penetration to a person’s inner life.” (ZIBBC). Describing God’s word as a weapon is significant as it was His word of judgment which resulted in Israel perishing in the wilderness (see 3.11). Significantly, when Israel tried to escape God’s oath that they would not see the Promised Land, they died by the swords of the Amalekites and Canaanites (see Numbers 14.43-45). 
  • piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow: it does not seem that the author is trying to give a definition of what composes man (body AND soul AND spirit?). Rather, “however we term the inner recesses of a human… God’s word sees that.” (Will Dilbeck). 
  • able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart: note, God’s word doesn’t just judge our actions, but our thoughts and even our intentions. He knows if we actually believe in Him or if we are acting out of tradition or even compulsion. “What the author is saying is that God’s Word can reach to the innermost recesses of our being. We must not think that we can bluff our way out of anything, for there are no secrets hidden from God. We cannot keep our thoughts to ourselves. There may also be the thought that the whole of man’s nature, however we divide it, physical as well as nonmaterial, is open to God.” (Leon Morris, Expositors Bible Commentary)
  • “there is no creature hidden from His sight…” God’s word reveals His will to us, but it also reveals much about us. Do we receive it with faith? God sees that. Do we hear His word, but disobey? God sees that too. Because His word has come to all, none are hidden from His sight!

The High Priest (Hebrews 4.14-16) 

The omnipotence and omniscience of God’s word is a frightening prospect, so much so that we may wonder what hope we have of entering His rest. If His word sees our times of doubt and when our intentions aren’t what they should be, how are we any better off than the wilderness generation? And this is when we return to the main point of the book: Jesus is better. Specifically, He’s a better high priest… and thus we have hope!

  • He has passed through the heavens: “The Jews sometimes thought of a plurality of heavens, as in Paul’s reference to “the third heaven” (2 Cor 12:2) or the Talmud’s reference to seven heavens (Hagigah 12b). The thought is that Jesus has gone right through to the supreme place.” (Leon Morris, Expositors Bible Commentary)
  • He can sympathize with our weaknesses: Some may think that Jesus’ sinlessness makes Him less sympathetic to we who sin, but the exact opposite is true. “We give in before the temptation has fully spent itself; only he who does not yield knows its full force.” (Ibid).
  • He provides mercy and grace in our time of need: given our failures to keep God’s word, we are certainly in need of mercy. And we continue to need His gracious promises and help. And with Jesus as our High Priest, these needs are supplied! Thus, we can draw near to the throne with confidence, not because of what we have done, but because of what He has done!

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