Second Reading: Hebrews 4:12-13

Sacrifice as Judgment

Popular Translation

12 God’s Word is alive and acting now! It is sharper than any sword. For it can cut between our soul and our spirit, between our bones and our joints. It can cut into our hearts to clearly see our most private thoughts and decisions. 13 Everything is visible to God. It is all bare and clearly laid out. So, his Word either lives among us. Or, it makes judgments against us.

Literal Translation

12 For the word of God (is) living and action-filled, and sharper than any two-edged sword thoroughly piercing until (there is) a division of soul and spirit, both joints and marrow, and critical of thoughts and (moral) reflections in the heart. 13 Before him, no creation is invisible, but everything is naked and laid open throated in his eyes, to whom (there is) the word for us.

4:13 “laid open throated” evoked the image of a priest who had the sacrificial victim on the altar, holding its throat, ready to cut. One can see weakness and power in the image. An equivalent English phrase would be “to have someone by the throat.”

“to whom the word is for us.” is an ambiguous phrase. The word “for” can also be translated “against” or “among.” In other words, the subject discussed (the “word”) can be God’s judgment against us (“to whom there is a word against us”). Or, it can be our worship, prayer, and faith sharing about God (“to whom there is the Word among us”). In the context of the Word as a two-edged sword, both meanings are probably implied (see the “Popular Translation” for an example).

When we look at God, we see an active, dynamic deity. These few verses from Hebrews portrayed God’s activity in terms of salvation and judgment. His “Word” (in this case, another name for God himself) cut to the heart of the matter (to borrow the analogy used in 4:12). No matter what the person did or said, God knew his or her real intent. And God would judge accordingly.

The analogy of the sword in 4:12 and laying out the victim by the throat in 4:13 led up to the image of Christ as High Priest in 4:14-5:10. The images of Christ crucified and the Second Coming pointed to the End Times. The author of the Hebrews made a unique contribution to these images by placing them in the context of worship. In other words, salvation itself was an act of sacrifice Jesus made to the Father. But, since the believer tied him or herself to Christ crucified in Baptism, the believer joined Christ as the victim. The Word of God was ready to strike. The coming judgment/salvation was the ultimate sacrifice to the Father. That sacrifice began on the cross and continues today.

How have you joined yourself to Christ on the cross? How does God judge you with Christ on the cross? Away from Christ on the cross? Explain.