Hebrews 4:12–Ehud and the Double-Edged Allegory

“For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” -Hebrews 4:12-13

Let’s cut to the chase.  In the next several paragraphs, it is my endeavor to convince you that this very familiar and beloved passage is in fact an allegory drawn from the story of Ehud, the left-handed assassin of Judges 3.  This fascinating quest will open your eyes to the delicious creativity of the preacher in Hebrews 3, and it will make you think twice if you believe allegory has no place in Scriptural interpretation.

The Logical Progression of the Author.

Multiple times in the book of Hebrews, the author’s argument moves chronologically through portions of salvation history.  For instance, Hebrews 6:13-19 uses the narrative of Abraham to establish the surety of God’s promises.  However, as Abraham’s life chronologically intersects Melchizedek’s life, the author drops Abraham and begins to argue for Christ’s supreme priesthood in the basis of Melchizedek in Hebrews 6:20-ff.

In Hebrews 11, the author moves through the characters of Genesis, then to Moses, then briefly to Joshua, again traveling chronologically through Scripture.  After the events of the book of Joshua, the author summarizes, “And what more shall I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets…” (Heb. 11:32).  Notice that he was ready to move into the Judges in detail after Joshua, but space did not permit.

The argument of Hebrews 3 begins with Moses’ story and continues into the wilderness where Israel becomes an example of disobedience.  This disobedience prevented the people from experiencing the Lord’s rest.  This leads chronologically from the wilderness to the conquest of Joshua: “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on…” (Heb. 4:8).  Just three verses later we have our text, “For the word of God…” which seems relatively out of place in a discussion about Sabbath rest.  What may not immediately make sense topically does make sense in the mind of the author chronologically.  His teaching is not merely constrained by strict topical categories.  His logic progresses under the guidance of salvation history, from Moses, to Joshua, to–as I am arguing–the period of the Judges.

Word Connections.

Double-Edged Sword:

Let us first survey the narrative of Ehud.  I will not recount the whole story (Judges 3:12-30), but suffice it to say Ehud was one bad dude who made an assassin’s double-edged dagger and slew the fat king Eglon.  The story centers around the weapon Ehud fashioned in verse 16:

חֶ֗רֶב וְלָ֛הּ שְׁנֵ֥י פֵיֹ֖ות (BHS, “a sword, and to it were two edges”)

μάχαιραν δίστομον (LXX, “a double-edged sword”)

There are only three other places in the Bible where these Greek words appear: Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16; 2:12.  The two passages from Revelation present the Risen Christ coming with a double-edged sword (the Word of God) proceeding from his mouth.  Clearly, the metaphor is congruent in the mind of the writer of Hebrews and John the Revelator.

Word of God:

A second semantic connection comes in Ehud’s clever double entendre:

Verse 19:

וַיֹּ֕אמֶר דְּבַר־סֵ֥תֶר לִ֛י אֵלֶ֖יךָ הַמֶּ֑לֶךְ (BHS, “and he said, ‘A secret word have I for you, O King!'”)

καὶ εἶπεν Αωδ Λόγος μοι κρύφιος πρὸς σέ, βασιλεῦ. (LXX, “and Ehud said, ‘A secret word from me to you, O King'”)

Again, in Verse 20:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵה֔וּד דְּבַר־אֱלֹהִ֥ים לִ֖י אֵלֶ֑יךָ (BHS, “and Ehud said, ‘A word of God have I for you'”)

καὶ εἶπεν Αωδ Λόγος θεοῦ μοι πρὸς σέ, βασιλεῦ· (LXX, “and Ehud said, ‘A word of God from me to you, O King'”)

The situational irony is rich in Judges 3.  דְּבַר means “word”, but it is often used to mean “message/matter/thing”.  So, when Ehud tells the King he has a “secret word of God”, we know he is referring to the “secret thing” strapped to his leg–his double-edged sword.  However, the slow-witted King Eglon believes he is about to receive privileged information–a secret message from God.  In different senses, both are right.  The important thing to realize is that in Judges 3, Ehud uses the specific phrase “word of God” to refer to his double-edged sword.  These two very tight connections convince me that the writer of Hebrews is relishing Ehud’s double entendre, expanding the allegory of Ehud’s witty pun.

Situational Similarity.

Finally, Ehud’s assassination is quite bizarre.  He crafted a dagger about the length of his forearm, much shorter than a battlefield sword.  The amazing girth of King Eglon (which the text goes out of its way to emphasize) creates a rather comical and gory finish for the wicked king:

“And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.  And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out.”

-Judges 3:21-22

ehudEhud’s sword literally pierced to Eglon’s heart and disappeared.  Surely it is no coincidence that the double-edged sword of Hebrews 4:12 is described as: “…piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  The writer of Hebrews is allegorizing Eglon’s slaughter.  The double-edged Word of God also pierces deep into the heart of man.  It goes so deep into a man as to divide soul and spirit.  Just as Eglon lay exposed on the floor of his private roof, the Word of God in Hebrews 4:13 leaves all “naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”


Like it or not, allegory is a staple of Hebrews.  Consider the author’s comments about Melchizedek: “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”  Resemblance.  That word sums up most of the writer of Hebrews’ argument.  Moses resembles Christ.  Melchizedek resembles Christ.  The tabernacle resembles the Heavenly places.  The Levitical system resembles Christ’s sacrifice.

What I am arguing is that this same resemblance theology is taking place in Hebrews 4:12.  As he preaches, the author moves from Moses to Joshua, and as his mind moves chronologically through Judges, he hits on a pertinent resemblance: Ehud’s sword and God’s Word.  He chooses to allegorize the story, presenting the familiar hero story as a picture of what Christ does with the word of his mouth (a la Revelation 1:16, 2:12).  The Word of God is double-edged, bringing judgment to the disobedient but salvation to those who obey Christ.

(photo credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

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