Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The word of God is living and active...

So along with, I guess, many people, until yesterday I'd thought that Hebrews 4:12-13 were a couple of verses I could add to my systematic theology on the nature of Scripture.

The verses are these:

For 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. 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.
Many of us will probably have sat in Christian meetings when these verses were quoted about Scripture; maybe positively, pointing to the incredible power of Scripture when sharpened by the Spirit. And that, of course, is true. But it is unfair to the context of Hebrews 1-4.

What the writer has been demonstrating is that Jesus is the supreme revelation of God (superseding the Old Testament, as I wrote about here). At the beginning of chapter 3, the writer began to apply this. Jesus is like Moses (in that through both clear revelations of God were made), but Jesus' revelation is qualitatively greater than that of Moses. He isn't just a servant of God - he is God himself. Therefore, to ignore Jesus is to ignore God himself.

Ignoring Jesus comes at great cost. If, as chapter 3 puts it, ignoring God's revelation coming through Moses brought with it death in the desert, ignoring God's even clearer revelation through his Son is a fearful thing. Ignoring God's word - supremely the living Word - is very dangerous. It is to ignore God himself. To do so is to reject the opportunity of entering what Hebrews calls God's 'rest' (very similar to 'life' in John's Gospel), life as it was created to be.

How we respond to God's word, then - in particular, how we respond to God's Word, Jesus, is crucial. All this reminds me of what God the Father says at the Transfiguration. Peter wants to ignore Jesus when he says he must suffer and die, but God the Father says, "No! This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" To listen to Jesus, supremely, is to listen to his diagnosis on our hearts and to trust that only his cross can bring us to God.

And that is what Hebrews 4:12-13 is about. Rejecting God's word has always carried death. And so Hebrews 4:12-13 is only about listening to the written word, Scripture, in as far as it is saying that we should listen to the living Word, Jesus. We ignore him at our peril. We cannot ignore Christ and simultaneously think that we are treating God rightly. In that respect, God's word carries life and death, as our response to Jesus carries life and death consequences.


Chris said...

I tend to take that part as a fulfillment of Joshua's taking of the land - "we enter God's rest" not by the Joshua's sword but by Jesus' (s)word.

Joshua's sword both cleared out enemies & cleared the land for rest.

Jesus' word both judges the thoughts of our hearts and claims our hearts to enter his rest

ps do you think "word of God" has incarnation overtones?

Chris said...

(in hebrews that is)

Chris said...

is it a bit like 1 john 1 intro -
is it "that which" or "him who"?

so the word of God (who?/what?) is living and (what?) penetrates...everything is uncovered before the eyes of him (who?) to whom we must give account.

I see less equivocation in Hebrews.

peterdray said...

Chris - thanks for your comments. I think that all of chapters 3-4 are about the dangers of responding to God's Word wrongly.

The beginning of chapter 3 speaks of how Jesus is our 'apostle', even greater than Moses. He was 'faithful in God's house', like Moses (i.e. declared God's Word very clearly) - yet he is even greater than Moses.

The warning then comes: if disobeying God's word given through Moses carried such grave consequences, then unbelieving Jesus' words is even more grave. I think it could be incarnational (at least indirectly), but fundamentally I think this passage speaking about Jesus' own teaching. Tp ignore Jesus' words - the word of God presented in clarity like never before, because of its embodiment - is devastating.

Chris said...

his teaching? I'm wondering if we're not overly systematising? I'm thinking more of "his blood"...

ch 12 is feeling increasingly relevant.

You've got the "don't miss/refuse *it*" warning:

"15See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected"

then the comparison with Moses:

"18You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." 21The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear."

22But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

then the personal warning: "don't refuse *him* who speaks

25See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens."

PostTenebrasLux said...

Thanks for sharing your exposition of those verses. Fitting them into the context of "Christ, the Supreme Messenger" has given me great difficulty lately. As I continue preparing my notes on Hebrews, I'm definitely going to take this into account. Let's chat about this on Tuesday as well!

peterdray said...

Chris - yes, you're probably right. I've maybe focused too much on Jesus' spoken words. The whole 'listen to him' thing at the Transfiguration ties together Jesus' teaching, atoning work and supreme reign.

Zac - look forward to it on Tuesday!