By chance, one of the great reformations in the Old Testament began. Josiah, the young king of Judah, had entrusted Jerusalem’s crumbling temple to Hilkiah, the high priest. Josiah appears to have been driven by genuine religious zeal.
He was undoubtedly troubled by how the building’s dilapidated state mirrored the nation’s spiritual illness. However, tidying up the structure could only provide beneficial effects, but workmen discovered something inside the temple that promised to do much more.
“I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord,” Hilkiah reported to Josiah’s secretary (2 Kings 22:8).
Despite the fact that it appeared to be an accident, there was a great providence at work. Josiah sought to bless God by repairing the temple, and God rewarded him by bestowing upon him the most powerful force in the world for reformation and revival, hope and joy, peace and salvation. The Lord had brought back to Jerusalem what had been lost, the very Word of God (Hebrews 4:12).
Josiah began reading the Bible that the workers had discovered, and he soon tore his clothes in mourning for what had been missing from Israel’s life for so long. He gathered the most godly people to study God’s Word.
Then they put what they had read in the scriptures into practice, and the result was a renewal of the covenant with God and the restoration of the blessings that come from faith in him.
What Josiah and Jerusalem discovered so many years ago is something that the godly have been discovering ever since. It is the subject of 1 Peter 1:23–25, which was written by the Apostle Peter.
The Living Word of God
This interpretation of the scriptures is prominent in Hebrews. The writer implores his readers to hold fast to their faith in the midst of adversity in the long exhortation that runs through chapters three and four.
He asserts vehemently that failing to believe the message of Jesus Christ means foregoing the great salvation that God has provided. He consistently backs up such claims with the authority of God’s Word from Psalm 95.
Psalm 95 was written about a thousand years before the book of Hebrews by King David. David was also eager to encourage his readers. He did so by reflecting on the unbelief of the exodus generation, which had led to their destruction four hundred years before.
Drawing on that example, David wrote in Psalm 95:7-9. These are the words that the author of Hebrews addresses to his generation. In doing so, he assumes — indeed, boldly asserts — that David’s words not only have relevance, but also authority over those who read them in his own time.
These readers were experiencing the beginnings of persecution; they may have lost their jobs or even their property as a result of their faith in Christ.
David’s words are the living and active Word of God, and your destiny is bound up in them through either belief or unbelief. That is the point made by the opening words of Hebrews 4:12: “Because the word of God is alive and active.”
How is this possible? How can David’s words, after all, which are the words of a man, be alive and active? The reason is evident throughout Hebrews: they are also God’s words.
The words spoken through David and written down on paper are not primarily David’s own words, but rather the Word of God.
So, how exactly is the Bible God’s Word? This was a critical question for the apostles because they regarded the Old Testament writers as authoritative for their readers.
Perhaps the most well-known statement is that made by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16–17. The words of the Bible are not inspired by men, but are the expired, out-breathed words of God given through them.
God himself teaches, rebukes, and corrects us through his Word, trains us in righteousness, and equips us for every good work.
When you come to God’s Word in faith — when you open your heart and mind to the teachings of the Bible, whether as it is preached or read — that Word comes alive within you because it was sent by God himself for that purpose. Through his living and active Word, he lives and acts in you.
Paul gives us a very clear description: Scripture is God’s out-breathed Word, but he doesn’t explain how this is so.
Fortunately, 2 Peter 1:20-21 provides more information. Peter does not simply mean future prediction when he says prophecy, but the entire prophetic revelation of God’s teaching (2 Peter 1:21).
This is why we can say that God’s Word is “alive and active.” The Bible should be read as God’s Word to us.
It is not only timely, but also authoritative and binding on us, just as it was on the original readers. It is timeless and alive because it is the Word of the living and eternal God (2 Peter 1:19).
God’s Permeable Word
The writer of Hebrews has more to say about God’s Word, continuing to explain how it works (Hebrews 4:12). The image of the Word as a sword appears frequently in Scripture, such as in Ephesians 6:17 in Paul’s description of God’s armor.
According to John’s vision of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ, “from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16).
This image depicts the penetrating or piercing power of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12). The Word penetrates against all odds to grasp the entire man, not just one aspect of his personality.
Furthermore, we are told what the Word does once it enters our hearts: “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word enters us and discerns, evaluating our attitude toward the one who sent it.
But when it is accompanied by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, it does more: it convicts us of our rebellion against God and subdues us; it leads us as sheep to the Good Shepherd. This is how we are reborn.
We hear God speak to us, we read in Scripture about the perfect demands of the law as well as God’s sure judgment, we recognize our peril, we surrender, and we fall before the Lord in confession of sin.
We learn in Scripture about a Savior who has taken our sins away by dying and rising for us, and we rush to embrace, worship, and follow him.
The All-Sufficiency of God’s Word
The final point we discover in Hebrews 4:12 is that God’s Word is sufficient for our every need in matters of faith and godliness.
This is demonstrated in Hebrews 4:12, where a comparison is made between God’s Word and earthly weapons. It is said to be “sharper than any two-edged sword.”
God’s Word is not only a sword, but it is also sharper than other weapons. Because God’s Word is “living and active,” it is more powerful than any other weapon.
Verse 13 adds to the evidence that God’s Word is sufficient for our needs: “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must account.”
God’s Word is alive and active; it penetrates and probes, and nothing is safe from it. Interestingly, the writer of Hebrews compares God’s Word to God’s eyes in this passage.
According to Gospel Witness, “it uncovers every heart, every act, every intention, every thought, and desire and brings them before the penetrating gaze of the living God.”
Consider the issue of Christian solace. Do you weep or suffer? Have you been tempted and tried? Do you desire assurance of salvation and the peace that it brings?
Then turn to the Bible, which speaks of a God who is sufficient for your salvation, who is capable and eager to save and keep you (Romans 8:32).
This is what godly men and women have done throughout history; people like King Josiah recovered God’s Word and used it to restore an entire nation. God has assigned great promises to his Word (Isaiah 55:10).
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