After urging believers to enter God’s “rest,” the section concludes with a description of the powerful word of God, then returns to the subject of Christ’s priesthood. Believers must strive to enter His “rest” while the opportunity remains - “TODAY, hearken to His voice.”
Because Israel refused to believe the words of Yahweh, Joshua could not lead that generation into the Promised Land.
But the quotation from the 95th Psalm that summons God’s people to enter His “rest” remains open. There yet remains “a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God.” Israel may have failed, but the promise of God has not.
For this reason, the reader must “give diligence to enter into that rest” lest he descends into the same kind of obstinacy.
THE PENETRATING WORD OF GOD
“For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight, but all things are naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do” – (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Here, the “word of God” refers, in the first place, to the passage cited from the Hebrew Bible. The example of Israel’s failure should motivate believers to engage in serious soul-searching and self-correction. But also in view is the final “word” of revelation that God has “spoken in Hs son…upon these last of the days.”
The term “word” or machaira refers to a “knife,” or possibly to the short sword carried by Roman troops. The latter was used for thrusting and stabbing rather than slashing, an image that fits well the description of God’s word as “piercing” and “dividing…joints and marrow.”
And it divides “soul and spirit.” A man's sharpest knife cannot sever soul from spirit, but God's knife can. This is one of the more comprehensive statements about the human soul and spirit in the Bible, and one that has no exact parallel elsewhere.
Nevertheless, the letter does not explain the difference between “soul” and “spirit,” let alone how they interact with each other, and the reader should not make hasty conclusions about human nature from this statement.
The intent is not to describe humanity’s “tripartite nature,” but to stress that, not only does God’s word penetrate and reveal a man’s innermost thoughts but also that He alone has the power to destroy an individual, including all his or her constituent parts.
The reference to “joints also and marrow” further illustrates the point. However closely united a man’s “soul” and “spirit” might be, God’s word is able to penetrate his innermost thoughts, and if necessary, cut the ties between his soul and spirit. As Jesus warned, God is well able to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.
GREAT HIGH PRIEST
“Having then a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast the confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to have fellow feelings with our weaknesses, but one tested in all respects, by way of likeness, apart from sin. Let us, then, be approaching with freedom of speech, unto the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and may find grace for seasonable succor” – (Hebrews 4:14-16).
As our “High Priest,” Jesus has “passed through the heavens.” This pivotal transition was hinted at when the letter described how Jesus, “having achieved the purification of sins,” sat down at God’s right hand.
Here, the participle is in the Greek perfect tense, signifying a completed action. And its sense is to pass through and beyond something. Jesus is not in the “heavens.” Instead, he has passed through them to the very throne and presence of God, where he now fulfills his role as our High Priest.
The statement anticipates the detailed discussion in chapters 8 and 9 on his priesthood, sacrifice, and covenant - (“we have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” – Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 9:11).
“Let us be holding fast the confession.” The Greek verb is in the present tense, signifying an ongoing action. And it is a strong verb with the sense of “grabbing hold, grasping, cleaving to.,” Clinging to our “confession” is a daily task and necessity for the earnest disciple.
The “confession” of the saints was referenced at the start of the literary section as part of the description of his priesthood. It occurs here to bracket the entire section that began in chapter 3.
The Greek word rendered “confession” is from the noun homologia, to “profess together.” This speaks to more than an individual saint’s beliefs. The idea is the collective confession of faith professed by the entire congregation - (“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1).
And this reiterates a basic exhortation and theme of the letter, one that is repeated several times in one form or another, a word of warning already heard in its first three chapters against abandoning the faith:
“Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that were heard, lest haply we drift away.”
“But Christ as a son, over his house; whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness and the glorying of our hope firm unto the end.”
“For we become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end.”
The solidarity of Jesus, our sympathetic High Priest, with his “brethren” was declared at the end of the second chapter of the letter in the first explicit reference to his priesthood - (Hebrews 2”17-18).
APPROACHING HIS THRONE
His priesthood is “great,” not only because he is the Son who reigns from God’s right hand, but also in contrast to the old Aaronic priesthood. His word, name, sacrifice, covenant, and high priesthood are all “better” than those of the Levitical system.
“With freedom of speech.” The Greek noun means not simply “boldness,” but especially boldness or “freedom of speech.” And this is fitting since the emphasis is on approaching him to find help in times of need.
The disciple has “grace for seasonable succor.” The term rendered “succor,” boetheia, is derived from a verb with the sense of “making outcry.” The idea is the succor we need for avoiding disaster, deliverance just prior to or at the time of a catastrophe. The verbal form is used in Hebrews 2:18, “he is able to succor them that are tempted.”
The word rendered “seasonable” means “well-timed,” “opportune season”; in other words, help and deliverance in the nick of time.
Having demonstrated the superiority of the Son over angels and even the Great Lawgiver, Moses, the letter will now begin to explain his high priesthood in detail.