A Penetrating Word for Our Times

The Word of God is sometimes comforting, sometimes convicting but always relevant to life’s perplexities. Listen to what Hebrews 4:12-13 claims:

For the word of God is alive 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. Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

When Kathleen and I read this passage together during morning devotions recently I was arrested by that word “penetrating.” What makes the word of God so potent? It is a worthy question because the expression occurs 41 times in the New Testament.

It was nearly four centuries after the death of Christ that nearly all of the 27 books of the New Testament (the gospels, apostolic letters, Acts of the Apostles and Revelation) were gathered under one cover. Thus, the author of the Hebrew letter must have drawn this term “the word of God” from the Old Testament — the Bible for the Jews.

That is, the Old Testament was the only Bible the early Christians had. Jesus himself, when tempted by the devil in the Judean wilderness replied: “It is written [in the Old Testament]: Thou shalt not live on bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

We emphasize: the term “the word of God” as later used in the New Testament church was already a settled expression in the Old Testament. We note further that these records of God’s word came from the mouth of God himself. They were recognized as authoritative.

Jesus quoted from an Old Testament that was dynamic in its revelation and known as the Jewish Bible. It was revered. We can assume that Jesus was taught from this Old Testament when he was absorbing scripture as a lad.

The importance of the word of God manifests itself early. In fact, as early as Abraham’s time we read “the word of the Lord came to Abram” (Genesis 15:11). And the psalmist declares: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:5). The author of this latter resolution appears to have believed that the word of God was indeed powerful.

Elsewhere, the prophet Isaiah declares: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

Still, the word of God was at times hidden from his people. In an eighth-century Israel, known for its wealth and corruption, the prophet Amos prophesied: “People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:12). It should be noted that God’s word can be in effect withdrawn for a time from the stubbornly disobedient. In Amos’s time when out of need they sought its message they found it had been temporarily closed to their awareness, leaving them panting for refreshment.

Some leaders in modern churches today are recommending that the Old Testament be disregarded in worship in favor of the New Testament. To that suggestion, the passage from Hebrews speaks for itself. It says, “The word of God is alive and active.” Neither Old nor New Testaments is a museum piece. The energy of both by the Spirit is current. Both testaments are still speaking God’s penetrating word.

But it is the Apostle John who puts the word of God in its fullest and clearest light, reflecting both Testaments. He writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word of God is eternal. The Word of God is incarnate in Jesus our Lord.

In Bible times, the sword was the weapon carried by those who enforced the law as it is applied to the disobedient and lawless (Romans 13:4). The sword also symbolized the weapon of spiritual warfare, when energized by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).

This analogy of a  double-edged sword shows how inwardly the word of God can penetrate both thoughts and intentions to separate soul and spirit; joints and marrow. How sobering to know that it can even judge “the intents and attitudes of the heart. Nothing 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” (Hebrews 4:13).

How needed by nations of the world today. Unrighteousness is putting a deep blight on our era — the dishonesty, the deception, the lawlessness in government, the violence, the brokenness of family life, the confusion of what marriage is.

For those of us yearning for a spiritual reawakening, we look afresh at what place the Scriptures are given in our lives: in pastors’ studies as they prepare and serve; in our pulpits; and in our family and personal times of devotion.

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Photo credit: (Søren Niedziella via flickr.com)

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