Father Boylan’s Commentary on Hebrews 4:12-16
Posted by Dim Bulb on January 12, 2013
Heb 4:12 For living is the word of God, and energizing, and keener than any two-edged sword, and penetrating even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and a judge of the thoughts and opinions of the heart.
The ‘word’ here is not directly the divine Logos, the Second Divine Person (scholars debate this point). It is the word of revelation and promise given to men by God. As the word of the living God it is itself living — the living and vivifying breath, as it were, of God, living like the light that streams from the sun, or , the lightning that flashes from the skies. It is not a mere sound, but a productive, creative force. It brings grace and favour, or condemnation — for it is a two-edged sword. A material sword cleaves material things, but the sword of God’s word cleaves even, to that mysterious point where soul and spirit are fitted together: it reaches the division of joints and marrow, penetrating thus the most hidden depths of our being. It reaches also into the most secret recesses of our souls, discerning the emotions and the tendencies of the heart. No thought, even the most hidden, can escape its light.
Heb 4:13 And no creature is hidden before Him: everything is revealed and laid bare before the eyes of Him to Whom we must give reckoning.
A word powerful like this cannot be evaded; it must produce its effect; it must be fulfilled. If naught can be concealed from the penetrating power of the word of God, and it becomes a judge of our inner being, that must be still more true of God Himself.
(14) Since we have, then, a High Priest who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the confession.
(15) For we have not a High Priest who is unable to realise in Himself our weaknesses, but rather one who hath been tried in every way like us, without sin.
(16) Let us, therefore approach with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy, and find grace unto help in due season.
The theme of Jesus as High Priest is here resumed. It will occupy the greater portion of the remainder of the Epistle. As the Jewish High Priest passed through the Tabernacle on the feast of Atonement, so Jesus has passed through the heavens, into the presence of the Father. It is our duty to hold firmly to our loyalty towards such a glorious High Priest. Even though this High Priest is the Son of God He is not cold and distant towards us. Rather is He full of sympathy for our needs. From His, own experience He has learned how miserably weak men are, but He has, of course, learned this apart from sin. Since He was our comrade in grief and suffering, He has compassion on us, and, therefore, He opens up for us the way to the throne of grace, where He, the great High Priest, secures for us mercy and favour when we need them.
Hence we are not like the Israelites of old who approached the Lord in fear and trembling: we can approach to the throne of God with confidence; for the throne of justice has become a throne of grace, since Christ has taken His seat at the right hand of the Father.
The thought of Jesus as High Priest must have been a familiar one in the early Church, and particularly, among the readers of the Epistle. One can imagine that among the Jews the dignity of the High Priest was respected as almost divine. Here, as throughout the Epistle, the writer has mainly in view the functions of the Jewish High Priest on the Atonement Day when he contrasts the position and functions of the new High Priest with those of the old.
The “temptations” of Jesus were such as might arise from external things or normal disturbances of His inner self, but never such as arise in us through concupiscence. No temptation in Him was in any way due to sinful tendency. It is possible to take χωρις αμαρτιας (“without sin” ver. 15), as a limitation of κατα παντα (“in every way”), or of καθ ομοιοτητα (“like us”). The throne of grace is obviously the throne of God, not the throne of Christ. ευκαιρον (“in due season”) suggests that the help will be given when needed — in the hour of temptation and struggle.
προσερχωμεθα (“approach”) is a favourite word of the author: cf. Heb 7:25; Heb 10:1, Heb 10:22; Heb 11:6; Heb 12:18, Heb 12:22 (often translated “come” in these passages).