He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
I have no idea what a plowshare is. I understand the point of the Scripture passage above, but I don’t really know what you do with those beaten swords. I assume it has something to do with plowing, of course. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with a pruning hook either.
But it sounds great. I get the idea — the one whom we wait for during Advent will usher in a new era when weapons of mass destruction will be turned into instruments of agriculture and prosperity. Or in our time, we might speak of AK-47s being melted down into tractor parts.
There’s one little catch, though. Both sides have to agree to dismantle their arms supply at the same time, right? Wouldn’t it be a disaster if one country turned their weapons into farming implements, and another didn’t? That could have catastrophic implications.
The only time you can afford not to learn war, is when the enemy is also not learning war, true?
Or is it?
In fact, I believe Jesus taught just the opposite. And lived it out. The time to put aside violence is now. Regardless of what the enemy does.
That’s the point of Jesus’ well-known sayings in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says, “You’ve heard the old saying, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ and that’s been the basis of your civil law. But let me give you some new direction — don’t retaliate when wronged” (Matthew 5:38-39).
His entire description of the kingdom of God centers on a new reality in which former enemies are reconciled by the strength of love, in which those who were estranged are brought back into the human community. And then Jesus lived out the full implications of his teaching when he was arrested, beaten, and executed. Throughout it all, Jesus refused to participate in the violence perpetrated upon him.
In early 1956, near the beginning of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s house was bombed one night. The event was traumatic for Dr. King’s family. At the urging of his closest friends, Dr. King went to the sheriff’s department and applied for a license to carry a gun; it was denied. But he quickly reconsidered his request. He wrote, “How could I serve as one of the leaders of a nonviolent movement and at the same time use weapons of violence for my personal protection? Coretta and I talked the matter over for several days and finally agreed that arms were no solution. We decided then to get rid of the one weapon we owned. When I decided that I couldn’t keep a gun, I came face-to-face with the question of death and I dealt with it. From that point on, I no longer needed a gun nor have I been afraid. Had we become distracted by the question of my safety we would have lost the moral offensive and sunk to the level of our oppressors.”
The decision to turn one’s weapons into harmless devices is a signal that one refuses to take part in violence. It is a rousing statement of faith which, to be honest, has nothing to do with one’s enemies. It is simply a refusal to participate in any violence whatsoever.
It’s obvious to me that Jesus’ mission was a nonviolent one. He came to love fully. If the mission of God had required violence, then God would have sent a mighty warrior, a lean mean fightin’ machine, someone to fear.
Instead, God sent a sword-beating, spear-bending baby.
Link of the day: This awesome blog post brings Isaiah 2:4 to life. It depicts eight different art projects created out of modern-day weapons, including shovels made of guns, and miniature churches fashioned from bullets and gun parts.
Prayer: God, give me the strength to put aside my weapons, and put my trust wholly in you. I long for the day when no one studies war anymore. Amen.