Perhaps the most famous passage in Hebrews is 4:12-13.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Why put these verses here? They seem out of place. They come at the end of a passage talking about entering the rest of God. The author's point has been to convince his readers that they must strive to enter the rest of God. He has a Sabbath rest waiting for his people. We just need to get there. These verses immediately following feel disjointed. But they are, in fact, brilliantly used by this literary genius.
These verses are reminding us of the circumstances embedded in Psalm 95. Psalm 95 reminds us of the grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness. It highlights their unbelief. They could have had the promised land if they had just listened to God. But they refused, and as a result, wondered in the desert for 40 years. I think no one summarizes the point better than William Lane.
“The sharp warning in verses 12-13 supplies a supporting reason for diligence. Here the pastor appeals to the character of the word of God as “living and effective.” Once more he draws attention to the experience of Israel at Kadesh, when he describes God’s word as “sharper than any double-edged sword.” God has said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter the land.” But the people, in essence, said to Moses, “We have made a tragic mistake. Let’s take up our weapons and enter the land. We are now prepared to believe God” (Num. 14:39-40). Moses warned them not to go. Entrance into the land now would be an act of presumption, inviting defeat: “You will fall by the sword of the Amalekites and Canaanites” (Num. 14:41-43). But they disregarded his warning and entered the high hill country, unaccompanied by Moses or the ark of the covenant. There they fell by the double-edged sword of the Amalekites and the Canaanites (Num. 14:44-45).”
“The description of God’s word as “sharper than any two-edged sword” in verse 12 is a sober reminder that these Christians were not dealing with Amalekites and Canaanites, but with God. When we are confronted by God’s word we are confronted by God himself.”
When we open the Bible, we are confronted not just with words on a page but a person speaking through a page. We are confronted by God himself. To read the Bible is a risky thing. We cannot read it, put it down, and claim ignorance. We have been enlightened through the Scriptures to the reality of God. To open the Bible is to expose ourselves.
This sounds terrifying. And, in many ways, it is. But it’s also terrifying in a wonderful way. We need to be exposed. We need to stand naked before God. We cannot hide there. He knows all. It’s what he does with that knowledge that surprises us. We think, like the Israelites who were afraid of the Amalekites and Canaanites, that God will slay us quickly and mercilessly. But that’s not what he does. He does wound but only to bind. He does hurt but only to heal. To be exposed before God is not to lose face with God but to gain peace with God. He saves through exposure, like a surgeon who must cut to get the tumor out.
So how does this help us with unbelief and striving toward rest? The more we are exposed to God the more assurance we will have of both his reality and the hope of rest. We tend to think our lives will be best if we don’t think too much about the future. But the Bible says we need to think about the future far more often. It is there, in the hope of glory, that we find the hope we need for today’s difficulties.
We’ve talked about hearing God, but what are we to hear? Look at verse 2, “good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” What is the good news? It is the gospel! The Israelites heard the gospel – the grace of God coming to them – but did not believe it. The message they heard did not benefit them. They didn’t listen. So the question for us: are we listening?
Today we have an opportunity to enter God’s rest. So hold fast. Strive to enter his rest. Keep listening. Keep believing. Keep pressing on. When we get there, we will find not only rest for our weary bodies but God himself, Rest personified.