on Hebrews 4 :12
For the word of God is quick, and powerful - Commentators are greatly divided concerning the meaning of the phrase Ὁ λογος τον Θεου, the word of God; some supposing the whole of Divine revelation to be intended; others, the doctrine of the Gospel faithfully preached; others, the mind of God or the Divine intellect; and others, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is thus denominated in John 1:1, etc., and Revelation 19:13; the only places in which he is thus incontestably characterized in the New Testament. The disputed text, 1 John 5:7, I leave at present out of the question. In the introduction to this epistle I have produced sufficient evidence to make it very probable that St. Paul was the author of this epistle. In this sentiment the most eminent scholars and critics are now agreed. That Jesus Christ, the eternal, uncreated Word, is not meant here, is more than probable from this consideration, that St. Paul, in no part of his thirteen acknowledged epistles, ever thus denominates our blessed Lord; nor is he thus denominated by any other of the New Testament writers except St. John. Dr. Owen has endeavored to prove the contrary, but I believe to no man's conviction who was able to examine and judge of the subject. He has not been able to find more than two texts which even appeared to look his way. The first is, Luke 1:2 : Us, which - were eye witnesses, and ministers του λογου, of the word; where it is evident the whole of our Lord's ministry is intended. The second is, Acts 20:32 : I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace; where nothing but the gracious doctrine of salvation by faith, the influence of the Divine Spirit, etc., etc., can be meant: nor is there any legitimate mode of construction with which I am acquainted, by which the words in either place can be personally applied to our Lord. That the phrase was applied to denominate the second subsistence in the glorious Trinity, by Philo and the rabbinical writers, I have already proved in my notes on John 1, where such observations are alone applicable.
Calmet, who had read all that either the ancients or moderns have said on this subject, and who does not think that Jesus Christ is here intended, speaks thus: "None of the properties mentioned here can be denied to the Son of God, the eternal Word; he sees all things, knows all things, penetrates all things, and can do all things. He is the ruler of the heart, and can turn it where he pleases. He enlightens the soul, and calls it gently and efficaciously, when and how he wills. Finally, he punishes in the most exemplary manner the insults offered to his Father and himself by infidels, unbelievers, and the wicked in general. But it does not appear that the Divine Logos is here intended,
1. Because St. Paul does not use that term to express the Son of God.
2. Because the conjunction γαρ, for, shows that this verse is an inference drawn from the preceding, where the subject in question is concerning the eternal rest, and the means by which it is to be obtained.
It is therefore more natural to explain the term of the word, order, and will of God, for the Hebrews represent the revelation of God as an active being, living, all-powerful, illumined, executing vengeance, discerning and penetrating all things. Thus The Wisdom of Solomon 16:26: 'Thy children, O Lord, know that it is not the growing of fruits that nourisheth man, but that it is thy word that preserveth them that put their trust in thee.' See Deuteronomy 8:3. That is, the sacred Scriptures point out and appoint all the means of life. Again, speaking of the Hebrews who were bitten with the fiery serpents, the same writer says, 16:12: 'For it was neither herb nor mollifying plaster that restored them to health, but thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things;' i.e. which describes and prescribes the means of healing. And it is very likely that the purpose of God, sending the destroying angel to slay the firstborn in Egypt is intended by the same expression, The Wisdom of Solomon 18:15, 16: 'Thine almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into a land of destruction, and brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and, standing up, filled all things with death.' This however may be applied to the eternal Logos, or uncreated Word.
"And this mode of speech is exactly conformable to that of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 55:10, Isaiah 55:11, where to the word of God, spoken by his prophets, the same kind of powers are attributed as those mentioned here by the apostle: For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my Word Be that Goeth Forth Out of My Mouth: it shall not return unto me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. The centurion seems to speak a similar language, Luke 7:7 : But say in a word, (αλλα ειπε λογῳ, speak to thy word), and my servant shall be healed." This is the sum of what this very able commentator says on the subject.
In Dr. Dodd's collections we find the following: -
"The word of God, which promises to the faithful, an entrance into God's rest in David's time, and now to us, is not a thing which died or was forgotten as soon as it was uttered, but it continues one and the same to all generations; it is ζων, quick or living. So Isaiah says: The word of our God shall stand for ever; Isaiah 40:8. Compare Isaiah 51:6; Isaiah 55:11; 1 Esdras 4:38; John 3:34; 1 Peter 1:23. And powerful, ενεργης, efficacious, active; sufficient, if it be not actually hindered, to produce its effects; effectual, Plm 1:6. See 2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13. And sharper than any two-edged sword; τομωτερος ὑπερ, more cutting than. The word of God penetrates deeper into a man than any sword; it enters into the soul and spirit, into all our sensations, passions, appetites, nay, to our very thoughts; and sits as judge of the most secret intentions, contrivances, and sentiments of the heart. Phocylides has an expression very similar to our author, where he says, of reason, 'that it is a weapon which penetrates deeper into a man than a sword.' See also Isaiah 40:4; Ephesians 6:17; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 2:16.
"Piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. - When the soul is thus distinguished from the spirit, by the former is meant that inferior faculty by which we think of and desire what concerns our present being and welfare. By spirit is meant a superior power by which we prefer future things to present, by which we are directed to pursue truth and right above all things, and even to despise what is agreeable to our present state, if it stand in competition with, or is prejudicial to, our future happiness. See 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Some have thought that by the expression before us is implied that the word of God is able to bring death, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira; for, say they, if the soul and spirit, or the joints and marrow are separated one from another, it is impossible that life can remain. But perhaps the meaning of the latter clause may rather be: 'It can divide the joints and divide the marrow; i.e. enter irresistibly into the soul, and produce some sentiment which perhaps it would not willingly have received; and sometimes discover and punish secret, as well as open wickedness.' Mr. Pierce observes that our author has been evidently arguing from a tremendous judgment of God upon the ancient Israelites, the ancestors of those to whom this epistle is directed; and in this verse, to press upon them that care and diligence he had been recommending, he sets before them the efficacy and virtue of the word of God, connecting this verse with the former by a for in the beginning of it; and therefore it is natural to suppose that what he says of the word of God may have a relation to somewhat remarkable in that sore punishment of which he had been speaking, particularly to the destruction of the people by lightning, or fire from heaven. See Leviticus 10:1-5; Numbers 11:1-3, Numbers 16:35; Psalm 78:21. All the expressions in this view will receive an additional force, for nothing is more quick and living, more powerful and irresistible, sharp and piercing, than lightning. If this idea be admitted, the meaning of the last clause in this verse will be, 'That the word of God is a judge, to censure and punish the evil thoughts and intents of the heart.' And this brings the matter home to the exhortation with which our author began, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 3:13; for under whatever disguise they might conceal themselves, yet, from such tremendous judgments as God executed upon their fathers, they might learn to judge as Moses did, Numbers 32:23 : If ye will not do so, ye have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out." See Hammond, Whitby, Sykes, and Pierce.
Mr. Wesley's note on this verse is expressed with his usual precision and accuracy: -
"For the word of God - preached, Hebrews 4:2, and armed with threatenings, Hebrews 4:3, is living and powerful - attended with the power of the living God, and conveying either life or death to the hearers; sharper than any two-edged sword - penetrating the heart more than this does the body; piercing quite through, and laying open, the soul and spirit, joints and marrow - the inmost recesses of the mind, which the apostle beautifully and strongly expresses by this heap of figurative words; and is a discerner, not only of the thoughts, but also of the intentions."
The law, and the word of God in general, is repeatedly compared to a two-edged sword among the Jewish writers, חרב שתי פיפיות chereb shetey piphiyoth, the sword with the two mouths. By this sword the man himself lives, and by it he destroys his enemies. This is implied in its two edges. See also Schoettgen.
Is a discerner of the thoughts - Και κριτικος ενθυμησεων και εννοιων καρδιας· Is a critic of the propensities and suggestions of the heart. How many have felt this property of God's word where it has been faithfully preached! How often has it happened that a man has seen the whole of his own character, and some of the most private transactions of his life, held up as it were to public view by the preacher; and yet the parties absolutely unknown to each other! Some, thus exhibited, have even supposed that their neighbors must have privately informed the preacher of their character and conduct; but it was the word of God, which, by the direction and energy of the Divine Spirit, thus searched them out, was a critical examiner of the propensities and suggestions of their hearts, and had pursued them through all their public haunts and private ways. Every genuine minister of the Gospel has witnessed such effects as these under his ministry in repeated instances.
But while this effect of the word or true doctrine of God is acknowledged, let it not be supposed that it, of itself can produce such effects. The word of God is compared to a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, Jeremiah 23:29; but will a hammer break a stone unless it is applied by the skill and strength of some powerful agent? It is here compared to a two-edged sword; but will a sword cut or pierce to the dividing of joints and marrow, or separation of soul and spirit, unless some hand push and direct it? Surely, no. Nor can even the words and doctrine of God produce any effect but as directed by the experienced teacher, and applied by the Spirit of God. It is an instrument the most apt for the accomplishing of its work; but it will do nothing, can do nothing, but as used by the heavenly workman. To this is the reference in the next verse.
on Hebrews 4 :12
For the word of God - The design of this and the following verse is obvious. It is to show that we cannot escape the notice of God; that all insincerity, unbelief, hypocrisy, will be detected by him; and that since our hearts are perfectly open before him, we should be sincere and should not attempt to deceive him. The sense is, that the truth of God is all-penetrating and searching, and that the real thoughts and intents of the heart will be brought to light, and that if there is insincerity and self-deception there can be no hope of escape. There has been a great variety of opinion here about the meaning of the phrase "the Word of God." Some have supposed that it means the Lord Jesus; others, the whole of the divine revelation; others the gospel; others the particular threatening referred to here. The "Word of God" is "what God speaks" - whether it be a promise or a threatening; whether it be Law or gospel; whether it be a simple declaration or a statement of a doctrine. The idea here is, that what "God had said" is suited to detect hypocrisy and to lay open the true nature of the feelings of the soul, so that there can be no escape for the guilty. His "truth" is adapted to bring out the real feelings, and to show man exactly what he is. Truth always has this power - whether preached, or read, or communicated by conversation, or impressed upon the memory and conscience by the Holy Spirit. There can be no escape from the penetrating, searching application of the Word of God. That truth has power to show what man is, and is like a penetrating sword that lays open the whole man; compare Isaiah 49:2. The phrase "the Word of God" here may be applied, therefore, to the "truth" of God, however made known to the mind. In some way it will bring out the real feelings, and show what man is.
Is quick - Greek ζῶν zōn - "living." It is not dead, inert, and powerless. It has a "living" power, and is energetic and active. It is "adapted" to produce this effect.
And powerful - Mighty. Its power is seen in awakening the conscience; alarming the fears; laying bare the secret feelings of the heart, and causing the sinner to tremble with the apprehension of the coming judgment. All the great changes in the moral world for the better, have been caused by the power of truth. They are such as the truth in its own nature is suited to effect, 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.
Sharper than any two-edged sword - Literally, "two-mouthed" sword - δίστομον distomon. The word "mouth" was given to the sword because it seemed to "devour" all before it. It consumed or destroyed as a wild beast does. The comparison of the Word of God to a sword or to an arrow, is designed to show its power of penetrating the heart; Ecclesiastes 12:11, "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies;" compare Isaiah 49:2. "And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword;" Revelation 1:16, "And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword;" Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:16; Revelation 19:15. The comparison is common in the classics, and in Arabic poetry; see Gesenius, on Isaiah 49:2. The idea is that of piercing, or penetrating; and the meaning here is, that the Word of God reaches the "heart" - the very center of action, and lays open the motives and feelings of the man. It was common among the ancients to have a sword with two edges. The Roman sword was commonly made in this manner. The fact that it had two edges made it more easy to penetrate, as well as to cut with every way.
Piercing even to the dividing asunder - Penetrating so as to divide.
Soul and spirit - The animal life from the immortal soul. The former word here - ψυχή psuchē - "soul" - is evidently used to denote the "animal life," as distinguished from the mind or soul. The latter word - πνεῦμα pneuma - "spirit" - means the soul; the immaterial and immortal part; what lives when the animal life is extinct. This distinction occurs in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, "your whole spirit, and soul, and body;" and it is a distinction which we are constantly in the habit of making. There is the body in man - the animal life - and the immortal part that leaves the body when life is extinct. Mysteriously united, they constitute one man. When the animal life is separated from the soul, or when the soul leaves the animated body, the body dies, and life is extinct. To separate the one from the other is, therefore, the same as to take life - and this is the idea here, that the Word of God is like a sharp sword that inflicts deadly wounds. The sinner "dies;" that is, he becomes dead to his former hopes, or is "slain" by the Law; Romans 7:9, "I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." This is the power referred to here - the power of destroying the hopes of the sinner; cutting him down under conviction; and prostrating him as if a sword had pierced his heart.
And of the joints and marrow - The figure is still continued of the sword that takes 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 seems to penetrate the very essence of the soul, and lay it all open to the view.
And is a discerner of the thoughts - It shows what the thoughts and intentions are. Prof. Stuart, Bloomfield, and some others, suppose that the reference here is to "God" speaking by his word. But the more natural construction certainly is, to refer it to the Word or truth of God. It is true that God searches the heart, and knows the thoughts, but that is not the truth which is prominent here. It is, that the thoughts and intents of the heart are brought out to view by the Word of God. And can anyone doubt this? see Romans 7:7. Is it not true that people are made to see their real character under the exhibition of the truth of God? That in the light of the Law they see their past lives to be sinful? That the exhibition of truth calls to their recollection many long-forgotten sins? And that their real feelings are brought out when the truth of God is proclaimed? Men then are made to look upon their motives as they had never done before, and to see in their hearts feelings whose existence they would not have suspected if it had not been for the exhibition of the truth. The exhibition of the truth is like pouring down the beams of the sun at midnight on a dark world; and the truth lays open the real feelings of the sinner as that sun would disclose the clouds of wickedness that are now performed under cover of the night. 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. They who are cherishing a hope of salvation, therefore, should be on their guard lest they mistake the name for the reality. Let us learn from this verse:
(1) The power of truth. It is "suited" to lay open the secret feelings of the soul. There is not an effect produced in awakening a sinner; or in his conviction, conversion, and sanctification, which the truth is not "adapted" to produce. The truth of God is not dead; nor suited to make people "worse;" nor designed merely to show its own "weakness," and to be a mere occasion on which the Holy Spirit acts on the mind; it is in its own nature Fitted to produce just the effects which are produced when it awakens, convicts, converts, and sanctifies the soul.
(2) the truth should be preached with the feeling that it is adapted to this end. Men who preach should endeavor to understand the nature of the mind and of the moral feelings, as really as he who would inflict a deadly wound should endeavor to understand enough about anatomy to know where the heart is, or he who administers medicine should endeavor to know what is adapted to remove certain diseases. And he who has no belief in the efficacy of truth to produce any effect, resembles one who should suppose that all knowledge of the human system was needless to him who wished to perform a surgical operation, and who should cut at random - piously leaving it with God to direct the knife; or he who should go into a hospital of patients and administer medicines indiscriminately - devoutly saying that all healing must come from God, and that the use of medicine was only to show its own weakness! Thus, many men seem to preach. Yet for aught that appears, truth is just as wisely adapted to save the soul as medicine is to heal the sick; and why then should not a preacher be as careful to study the nature of truth and its adaptedness to a particular end, as a student of the healing art is to understand the adaptedness of medicine to cure disease? The true way of preaching is, to feel that truth is adapted to the end in view; to select what is best suited for that end; to preach as if the whole result depended on getting that truth before the mind and into the heart - and then to leave the whole result with God - as a physician with right feelings will exert all his skill to save his patient, and then commit the whole question of life and health to God. He will be more likely to praise God intelligently who believes that he has wisely adapted a plan to the end in view, than he who believes that God works only at random.
on Hebrews 4 :12
4:12 For the word of God - Preached, Heb 4:2, and armed with threatenings, Heb 4:3. Is living and powerful - Attended with the power of the living God, and conveying either life or death to the hearers. Sharper than any two - edged sword - Penetrating the heart more than this does the body. Piercing - Quite through, and laying open. The soul and spirit, joints and marrow - The inmost recesses of the mind, which the apostle beautifully and strongly expresses by this heap of figurative words. And is a discerner - Not only of the thoughts, but also of the intentions.