Next week we will begin digesting Zephaniah’s book bite by bite. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it! This journey with you has already been so rewarding. I can’t wait to learn more!
Today we pause between ending the background work and beginning the detail work. In this space, this breath, we settle on the awesome, holy nature of the Bible.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
– Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)
These words, nestled between a commentary on the need to submit to God in order to enter into rest and a beautiful exposition on how the work of Christ in His identification with and salvation of humanity enables that rest, grab our attention. God’s word is alive? God’s word is a sword? What does this mean?
…a sharp word of discernment, which penetrates the darkest corners of human existence.
The author describes God’s word first of all as “living and active.” The former adjective stands at the head of the verse, perhaps for emphasis, and asserts that that word, rather than being outdated, a “dead” speech-act of a bygone era, still exists as a dynamic force with which one must reckon. “Active” proclaims the word as effective in carrying out God’s intentions. The same word that at creation set the elements of the cosmos to their appointed tasks and still governs the universe toward God’s desired intentions (1:2–3), has the ability to effect change in people. It is not static and passive but dynamic, interactive, and transforming as it interfaces with the people of God.
The sword imagery emphasizes that while God’s word is a word of promise to those who would enter God’s rest, it is also a discerning word of judgment. Verse 12 asserts that like a sword that cuts and thrusts, the word penetrates and divides, being able to reach into the depths of a person’s inner life. In listing the parts of a person on which the word acts—“soul and spirit, joints and marrow”—the preacher simply proclaims the word’s ability to break past a surface religion to an inner, spiritual reality. Rather than dealing with externals such as religious observance, the penetrating word “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Lest one think carelessly about the extent of God’s discernment, the author assures us through verse 13 that “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.” The word translated “uncovered” (gymnos), which normally communicates nakedness or having a lack of adequate clothing, was also used figuratively of being helpless or unprotected. In the context of God’s penetrating word, the concept calls to mind a complete inability to hide anything from God’s gaze. Those who have not responded to God’s word in obedience are spiritually naked, vulnerable before his awesome gaze. A similar imagery is evoked by the participle translated “laid bare,” which means “exposed.” This theme of complete exposure and vulnerability of all creation before God was common in Jewish theology of the era. (1)
God has not ceased speaking. The book you hold in your hands or the words you read on the screen have not lost their importance or meaning or immediacy. What was true for Adam and Eve remains true today.
The world rejects metanarrative, or one overarching “big story.” The Bible stands against this rejection. It declares that God exists. Truth is not relative. Sin is a real condition and a real problem. There is only one way to remedy that condition and problem. Every “little story” fits within that simple yet deeply confrontational declaration of dependence.
Zephaniah’s voice rises with the other Divinely-inspired prophets and authors in praise of the True Lord. He points up, to the One who sits on the throne. He joins in exposing the willful blindness and the depth of darkness found within each and every human being. He pushes the reader toward the light, toward a breaking point. Choose God and live. Anything else is disaster.
This is the message of the Bible.
- Consider the fact that God sees all and knows all. With that in mind, carve out some time to pray. Is there anything you need to confess to Him right now? Anything you need to deal with? (Prayer doesn’t need to be eloquent or long-winded. Just talk to Him as a child would a loving father).
- Think about your approach to the Bible. Do you understand the power in the words you read? Do you understand that you need to cultivate an attitude of worship and reverence?
- The point of Bible study is not to gain more head knowledge, but to develop an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Where are you at right now? Close to Him? Far away? Confident? Unsure? Where do you want to be? Why?
- Many Christians have trouble reading anything in the Old Testament beyond the creation account in Genesis. We assume that it doesn’t really matter for us today. Read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. How much of Scripture is useful? How much is relevant?
- Think about everything you’ve learned so far. What do you want to know now? What do you hope to gain from studying Zephaniah?
Until next time.
(1) NIV Application Commentary (under the “Study This” tab)
For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.