As we begin to conclude our study of the warning in Hebrews 3:7–4:13, let us consider what separated those Israelites who did not enter the promised land from those who did: only their response to the Word of God. Joshua and Caleb went in, after all, and they were in the same position as those who failed. The Israelites who failed, along with Joshua and Caleb, had been liberated from Egyptian slavery through the mighty acts of the Lord. They were not privy to any less a revelation of the Lord than Joshua and Caleb. They enjoyed the same advantages as the two faithful men.
No, what separated Joshua and Caleb from the others was that they believed God’s word of promise to give Canaan to Israel (Num. 13:1–14:38). And Hebrews 3:7–4:13 certainly does stress the importance of God’s Word. The basis for the warning comes initially from Psalm 95, which is not merely a composition of a human psalmist but a verbal command from God the Holy Spirit (see Heb. 3:7–11). The rest of the text assumes knowledge of the old covenant Word of God in its references to Joshua and others (e.g., 4:8).
In light of the prominence of God’s Word, the author of Hebrews makes it a point in today’s passage to stress the power of God’s Word as the means by which we strive to persevere in faith until the end and enter the fullness of the Lord’s rest (Heb. 4:11–12). God’s Word, we read, is “active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” As one commentator notes, this means that Scripture cannot fail to cut just as a double-edged blade cannot fail to slice through things. Or, to put it as Isaiah 55:11 does, the Word of God never returns to the Lord “empty” or void. It has an inherent ability, vivified as it is by the Spirit, to accomplish every purpose our Creator has for it. Sometimes this purpose is to save, and sometimes it is to harden (Mark 4:11–12), but whether it is accepted or rejected, the Word achieves what the Lord wants for it. John Calvin comments: “God’s word pierces, or reaches to the dividing of soul and spirit, that is, it examines the whole soul of man; for it searches his thoughts and scrutinizes his will with all its desires. And then he adds the joints and marrow, intimating that there is nothing so hard or strong in man, nothing so hidden, that the powerful word cannot pervade it.”
The purpose God intends for His Word is revealed in how people respond to it. If we believe His Word and persevere, then we know that we have been chosen from all eternity for salvation.