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Two Edged Sword

Hebrews  4

One of the common metaphors for the word of God (in either sense) is that of a sword. In the time this was written, all would know that the Romans conquered the known world with discipline, patience – and a sharp short sword. Even today we are familiar with the weapon, if only from the movies. We meet this concept again in today’s lesson.

God’s Rest

In the passage that follows, you should know that there are two Greek words which are translated rest. They have specific meanings, and the use of these two words to portray the same concept is a deliberate one on the part of the author. By using two words, he ties them together to give you a more complete understanding.

  • Kautapausis means something like “to be settled down.” The Hebrew equivalent is familiar to us: “Noah.” Think of the Ark coming to rest on the mountains. In this sense, it means to cease wandering around and settle down in a good place. This word is found in verse 1.
  • Sabbatismus means a Sabbath day rest, such as the Jew of that time would perform on Saturday. This word is found in verse 9.

Combining these two words, we have the concept of “rest” meaning both settled down and ceasing from labor at God’s command.

(You should also know that the word “Joshua” in verse 8 can also be translated “Jesus” – they are the same in the Greek.)

1Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.£ 3Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“So I declared on oath in my anger,

‘They shall never enter my rest.’ “£

And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. 4For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.”£ 5And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

6It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. 7Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts.ӣ

8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Promised Rest

One of the difficulties in reading the Bible in English is the constant use of the present tense to describe the future. For God, who is eternal, this is not a problem. All times are “today” to him. But for those of us who occupy space and time, it can be a puzzle. Does he mean “today” or in the future? Or both?

Compounding the problem is this: much of what God wants to tell us must be told in pictures. The concept of “rest” – when our Lord returns – is pictured in the Old Testament in a number of ways, but primarily these two:

  • It is pictured in the Creation as the seventh day – which is later applied to the seventh day of the week. Does the Sabbath day rest really make a difference? Seen as a picture of the rest to come, it is a weekly reminder to the Jew: God will provide rest for the faithful
  • It is also pictured in the history of Moses and the people of Israel – especially in that the Promised Land is pictured as the place of rest.

It is a consistent theme of the Scriptures: there will come a glorious time when death shall be no more, all labors cease, and God will be in close companionship with man. But note the conditions: this is promised only to the faithful. Note the word faithful – those who continue in obedience.


I do not own yesterday. No matter how bright or how terrifying my memories are, I cannot do anything yesterday. I do not own tomorrow. It slips constantly out of my reach, becoming today. Indeed, I do not know for certain that I will live one more day. The only time which is mine is “Today.” Right now. It is for this reason that Christ tells us that we should “take no thought for the morrow, for sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Today is the only time I have; Today is the only touch I have with eternity.

We have seen that we must continue in obedience all of our lives, to the very end. How can we do that? Do we have any idea what will come to us? No – nor do we need such a vision. The way we can remain obedient to the end is to be obedient Today – and every day. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you remain obedient all your life? One day at a time.

The temptation is to look ahead and say, “I just don’t see how I could do that.” That’s a sign of the hardened heart – for the hardened heart takes stock only of its own capability. The tender heart is open – and therefore can know the power of God, flowing through it.

How to remain in the faith

Our writer gives us a positive and a negative example. It is well to remember that nothing is ever a total loss – it can always be used as a bad example. Consider the generation that came out of Egypt with Moses. All but two failed to make it to the Promised Land. After seeing so many miracles, they came up short in obedience. How? They tested God. After seeing their redemption, they demanded more. They spoke to Him as if he were a trained animal to jump at their command.

That’s the wrong attitude. What’s the right one? “Make every effort…” God knows that you are not perfect; he knows that you cannot do it by yourself. But if you are serious about pleasing him, you must do what you can. Be obedient. Today. Then be obedient for all the Todays he will give you in the future.

Two Edged Sword

12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,£ Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

Despite the Hollywood tradition that all swords are made for slashing, the metal version of this sword was primarily a stabbing weapon. It’s hard to keep a weapon so sharp that it can deal with tanned leather, for example. But keeping the point sharp to penetrate is relatively easy. That’s the word of God: penetrating. Here, from my experience, is how it seems to work:

  • The Word goes right to the source of sin – no matter how deeply that is buried within me. This is not a cosmetic. The Spirit reaches the heart of the matter on the first stab.
  • Often, I see this in the effect one passage has on me. My daily reading has in it a passage from Proverbs; it often stabs me. It lays me open to His reproach.
  • Sometimes, the penetration is so deep that I did not know about the problem. Usually I noticed “something wrong” but didn’t quite want to dig down that deep. The Spirit has no such limitation.
  • The effect of all this? In a word, repentance. God is concerned with turning you around.

It is a well known principle that those who judge themselves in this life – and take action – head off judgment when our Lord returns. But because our civilization now has so much trouble in believing, I put the point this way:

  • God is fair. He has established a standard of right and wrong which comes from his own character. This standard is not “everything’s relative” or “if it feels right it can’t be wrong.” It exists even if you think it doesn’t.
  • The best revelation of this standard is found in the Scriptures. As Paul tells us in Romans, we can observe God’s righteousness in the world around us – but there are those of us who like to get our truth from the source.
  • Since you know judgment is coming, and you are one who knows the Gospel, the warning must be made to you with more force and vigor – for you will be held to God’s complete standard, His Word.
Everything bare before God

Let me tell you about a young lady I once knew. Her name was Colleen. She was not given either a fantastic figure or a beautiful face. In fact, if she took no effort in clothes and cosmetics, you would describe her as rather plain. But I have never met another woman who took so little and, with careful makeup and an eye to her wardrobe, produced an image that was so attractive. (Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, put it simply: “We don’t sell cosmetics. We sell hope.”)

Many of us are like Colleen; we are trying to hide what we really look like. Most Christians will acknowledge that God knows and sees all – and then will act like they can hide things from him. Why do we act this way? Because we want to hide our faults, misfortunes and plainness from others. We value the good opinion that others have of us.

Isn’t that rather short sighted? We know the judgment is coming. We know that God sees and knows all. We know we should repent Today. And still we spend our time, our effort and treasure “looking good.”

But all is not lost; we have help.

Our High Priest – an introduction

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,£ Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.


Notice the first word: “therefore.” It is a key word telling us that here we have a logical argument. Because this is true, we therefore should do that. In this instance, the first item is that we have a great high priest – Jesus, the Son of God. The argument is rather like this:

  • Christ has succeeded where Moses failed. Moses didn’t make it to the Promised Land (metaphorically, God’s “rest.”); Christ did. This implies his superiority over Moses – but it also means that the one who is like us has now ascended to the highest place.
  • We have, in effect, one to plead our case. Because we now have standing in the court of God, we can now hope for grace and mercy.
  • This is true only when we continue in the faith. Note the phrase “the faith we profess.” It is something we are to tell the world – and firmly.
One like us

One of the frequent questions about doctrine is “why?” Why would I study the Bible and learn the doctrines of Christ? Wouldn’t practical experience be much better?

Suppose you wanted to buy a sailboat and sail around the world. You would certainly need a lot of practical sailing experience. You would start with lessons and work your way up, taking longer and longer practice voyages. But when you started out on your trip around the world, wouldn’t you take along charts which showed the seas through which you sailed? Doctrine is the chart of the Christian’s journey home.

The doctrine here is this: that Jesus Christ is fully human, just as you and I are. What, then, is the practical use of this doctrine?

  • Being both fully human and sinless, he has overcome all the temptations we face.
  • Therefore, he’s in a position to help us do likewise.

Think of it this way: we have a great Friend in high places.

Approach the throne boldly

Have you ever written your Congressman? How much better it would be if you could walk into his office and be greeted as an old friend! Even better if you could walk into the White House and have the President greet you that way – right? But you know that he’s not a personal friend. Going up to him and asking a favor would take a lot of chutzpah.

So what would it take to approach the throne of the God who rules the universe; the one who spoke and the worlds began? If talking directly to a President is chutzpah, talking directly to God is an act of extreme daring.

But we can do it. Why? Because we have a friend in the highest place: Jesus, our Lord and Savior. We can be daring because we know him.

But do not come without thinking it through; you are still approaching the throne of God. You should know what to ask for. Our writer tells us here:

  • Grace. From the Greek charis, meaning “gift.” We get our words “charisma” from this, as in gifts of the Holy Spirit. Grace is the free gift of God to all who will call on his Name.
  • Mercy. The original meaning is that of compassion on those who are miserable. Mercy implies that justice is due – but that someone Else has paid the price.

My father told a story about the island on which I was born, Adak. There is no form of recreation on Adak; it is a rather boring place. My father roomed with two other officers, one a Catholic, the other a Jew. Having nothing better to do, all three went to each others’ religious services. His Jewish friend learned, therefore, about Jesus Christ. He put it this way: “You Christians have an advantage over us Jews. We have to come to God’s judgment and argue our own case. You have an Attorney to argue yours.”

We have a friend in the court from which there can be no appeal. By his work he has provided us grace; by his pleading we have mercy. All this is ours, if we continue in the faith.

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