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, Because St. Paul does not use that term to express the Son of God.
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, Philemon 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; Psalms 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, פיפיות שתי חרב 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.