“Is not My word like as a fire?…and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29), kjv.
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged 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” (Heb. 4:12).
The three images of fire, a hammer, and a sword are used to forcibly convey to our understanding a truth that to some is comforting, but to others is terrifying! What truth? The assurance that God’s Word is not “bound” (2 Tim. 2:9) by people nor by circumstances; is not restricted by opposition nor unbelief; cannot be imprisoned by kings and princes; and is not diminished by the passing of time. The Lord Himself guarantees: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from the heavens, and does not return there, but waters the earth, and makes it bring out and bud, and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be, which goes out of My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall certainly do what I sent it to do” (Isa. 55:10-11).
Further the Lord Jesus clearly stated, “The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Mt. 24:35; Mk. 13:31; Lk. 21:33). Indeed what a blessed truth it is that “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isa. 40:8).
God’s Word penetrates, pier-ces, convicts, and persuades whenever and wherever He so desires, and none can “stay His hand” (Dan. 4:35) for it is accomplished by His own mighty power.
Sin hardens the heart and sears the conscience, producing an ever deepening downward spiral of disobedience, unbelief, deceit and wickedness. The result is a mind which is at enmity with God, which does not, nor indeed cannot, submit to God (Rom. 8:5-8); an understanding that is blinded, corrupted, darkened, and which does not receive the things of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4); and a nature captivated by Satan (Eph. 2:2-3). To rescue and change people thus requires nothing short of the Lord’s miraculous intervention, using the penetrating, persuasive power of His inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word to break, melt, soften, and expose the sin-scarred, polluted heart.
Let us pause to examine each of these illustrations of fire, hammer and sword in turn, that we may gain a fuller understanding of this persuasive and penetrating power.
Fire can be both constructive and destructive. It can save one’s life by giving warmth and light, yet it can devour and destroy; it can be both friend and foe. It can soften wax, and harden clay, reduce paper to ashes, but temper iron to a useful strength. It consumes the dross, but purifies the gold. The Word alive in the believer is to some a “savor of life unto life” while to others it is a savor “of death unto death” (2 Cor. 2:16). Those who reject it are judged by it. Those who receive it rejoice in the “wonderful words of life.”
The people to whom the OT prophet Jeremiah preached were spiritually cold and hard-hearted (Jer. 5:23). But the Lord promised His spokesman, “I will make My words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (Jer. 5:14). Even so, after some time, discouragement set in, and the weary prophet wanted to give up on the work which God had given him to do because the task seemed too difficult, the opposition too stiff, and the response too meager. But God’s word did its work even within the reluctant man of God. He found that it was “in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I became wearied with holding in, and I could not” (Jer. 20:9). He had to declare God’s word!
As the two walked on the Emmaus road they conversed about the past few days in Jerusalem, and the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection (Lk. 24). A Stranger drew near and entered into the discussion. “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk. 24:27). After their eyes were opened to realize that it was none other than Jesus Himself, they exclaimed, “Was not our heart burning in us as He spoke to us on the way, and as He opened the scriptures to us?” (Lk. 24:32).
It is recorded in his journal that on the night of John Wesley’s conversion (May 24, 1738), as he sat under the teaching of God’s Word:
About quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed! I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Wesley’s years of struggle, doubts, and searching were brought to an end, and he was soundly saved. Indeed, “Is not My word as a fire? saith the Lord.”
Although there are few direct references in Scripture to this picture, it warrants our attention as a vivid illustration of that same persuasive, penetrating power. Matthew Henry comments on Jeremiah 23:29,
It is compared likewise to a hammer breaking the rock in pieces. The unhumbled heart of man is like a rock; if it will not be melted by the Word of God as the fire, it will be broken to pieces by it as the hammer. Whatever opposition is given to the Word, it will be borne down and broken to pieces.
David’s heart was hardened, for after committing adultery with Bathsheba and arranging the murder of Uriah (2 Sam. 11), he was not repentant. God sent His prophet Nathan to David. Nathan skillfully used God’s word as a hammer on David who emerged crushed and broken from the encounter. As a result David penned Psalms 32 and 51, in which His repentance is starkly visible.
In the NT we see Saul of Tarsus vehemently opposing the gospel of Jesus Christ, but eventually falling to the power of God’s word. He then experienced great opposition and persecution as he served the Lord faithfully in many places, and could testify that despite the hardness and rebellion, “the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:9) but rather it “effectively works” (1 Thess. 2:13). The book of Acts records that the word of God “spread” (Acts 6:7), “grew” (Acts 12:24), and “mightily grew and prevailed” (Acts 19:20), overcoming all obstacles.
Many since then could testify of having had a heart hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, of a will stubborn and rebellious, refusing to give consideration to the precious gospel. But then God in grace used His Word to wear down excuses and arguments, eventually breaking the sinner open, exposing his pride and the folly of self-dependence, bringing him trembling to the foot of the cross, acknowledging Christ alone as Saviour from sin and hell. Indeed, they have first-hand knowledge of God’s Word being “like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.”
The Word is also like a sword. A sword has varied qualities and abilities: it can defend or attack; it can even kill. Two principle passages of Scripture are often quoted in this regard: Hebrews 4:12 and Ephesians 6:17.
In the latter passage we are told to “take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” This is the only offensive piece mentioned in Paul’s discussion of spiritual armor which God has provided for the believer. Note that though it is the sword of the Spirit, the believer is instructed to “take” it and wield it. It is His; it comes from Him; it is only effective through His working; but we are to use it. What is this sword? The spoken use of His instructions, warnings and promises as recorded in the Bible.
It was with this weapon that the Saviour met the tempter in the wilderness (Mt. 4); it is only by this that Satan can now be met. Error and falsehood cannot overcome temptation; nor can we hope for victory, unless we are armed with truth. Thus we should be diligent in the study of the Bible that we may know and understand what the truth is. Further, we should memorize Scripture texts—hiding them in our heart to meet the various forms of temptation. And we should not depend on our own reason, or rely on our own wisdom. A single text of Scripture is more powerful to meet a temptation than all the philosophy which the world contains. Satan will retreat under threat of that sharp, double-edged sword.
When the believer is under trial, pressure or persecution, the needed comfort, help, strength, sustenance and protection is found in one place only—God’s Word. It cuts through the gloom and darkness and brings in the assurances of the precious promises of God, reminding us of who He is and His love and care over us. When stressed, anxious or fearful, it is the Word of God which must challenge our unbelief and drive us back to trust in Him with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding. When we have lost our way, straying from the path of righteousness, the Word is always needed to bring us to our senses, convicting of sin and disobedience, and providing a lamp for our feet and a light upon our pathway.
This sword is sharp, to be sure, and any who dare attempt to seize it in opposition find that the double-edged sword cuts deeply! Any who love it and feel constrained to declare it to others in preaching and teaching find that it not only pierces the hearers to their hearts (Acts 2:37), but also has its influence on the bearer of it! (In fact, how often it is that the preacher is the one most convicted after declaring God’s Word.) Oh, how vulnerable it leaves us—naked before the searching glance of the holy God (Heb. 4:12). Everything—even the most intimate thoughts and innermost feelings—are analyzed and laid bare. Like a faithful, skilled surgeon the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to wound His own in order to heal.
Even in these last days, the Word of God is as powerful as it ever has been, and is still well able to penetrate, persuade, melt, purge, break, crush, and wound as the Lord intends. He declares, “I will hasten My word to perform it” (Jer. 1:12). So let us “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Tim. 4:2).