Here’s a word association quiz. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “sword”?
Chances are you think of those huge, two-handed weapons that knights used to duel with in hundreds of movies — like Excalibur in the tales of King Arthur and his knights.
But what did the Ephesians and Hebrews think of when Paul (and the writer of Hebrews if that wasn’t Paul), think of when he used the word “sword” in his letters to refer to the Word of God?
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
Chances are they thought of the gladius, the Roman sword. (Remember, the entire area of Paul’s ministry was within the Roman Empire. Roman troops were stationed in large cities and no doubt were a common sight around their barracks, on patrol and traveling to and from their posts.)
The gladius was much shorter than the swords seen in movies, no more than two feet long. Soldiers didn’t swing it around, either, although it would certainly do damage when used that way. It was primarily used for stabbing.
A Roman soldier began a charge with a shield in his left hand and a pike or spear in his right. He would throw his spear, and then rush the enemy, grabbing his sword from his scabbard (which hung at his right side so it could be drawn without interference from the shield). He would attempt to knock his opponent’s weapons and shield up with the edge of his own shield then stab with his sword. It wouldn’t be used defensively to deflect blows — that’s what the shield was for.
The blade had a flattened-diamond cross-section, with sharp edges down either side. When thrust forward by a muscular, trained soldier who was running toward his opponent, it could do a great deal of damage. This puts a revealing perspective on the second half of Hebrews 4:12: … piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The Bible isn’t passive. It slices right into every area of life, revealing our innermost secrets, including our thoughts and intentions.
The Word of God isn’t dead letters on a dead page. Hebrews 4:12 says it is quick (which means “alive”), powerful and sharp. It isn’t simply what God had to say over 2,000 years ago. It’s what God is saying to you, now, today.