Swords Into Plowshares

Isaiah 2:4-5 says there will come a time when mankind, “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” (ESV).

This passage is so often taken by itself that we treat it as a solitary whole and tend to interpret it as such. We imagine it describes a transformed humanity who no longer have a taste for conflict and war—a perfect world populated by perfect people (try to say that five times fast). We long for a world where everyone just gets along without the slightest argument and without any anger. Because of these assumptions, this passage is most often ascribed to the Millennium or even to the post-judgment New Earth. Such speculation is not part of this post. Instead, I want to draw your attention to the surrounding text.

The passage gives us no reason to believe the era described will be without conflict. It is preceded by an explanation for why there will be no more war, “For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes between peoples” (ESV).

This is not a description of people transformed into peaceful little lambs with no aggressions or anger issues. Instead it is a description of the reign of God. The people still have disputes, but God mediates between them and decides who is in the wrong. The law of God goes ‘out from Zion,’ but this is just another way of saying God rules. When a King rules from a city and we say his law goes out from that city, we are saying he rules from that city to the places where his law goes. The law going out from Zion and the Word going out from Jerusalem are simply two ways of saying the same thing. The text goes on to tell us that the God whose law goes out from Zion and whose Word goes out from Jerusalem settles the disputes of all peoples and judges between the nations. Rather than being a time without disputes, it is a time where all disputes are settled by the omniscient and just God. Because He is omniscient, the decision made is the right one. Because He is just, His decision is just for all parties involved. Because He is God, the decision has irresistible force behind it. Yes, it describes a time when everyone willingly submits to God, but this is far easier knowing God has power to compel if needed.

Since each party knows the decision will be right and just, and backed up by the force necessary to keep each party in check, there is no need to fight over issues. All that any aggrieved person or persons must do is take their grievance to God and let him decide. Since the decision will be binding there is no need to fight.

Now, I know it is assumed this will only be possible in a different world system, one where God, in the person of Christ, is personally present to make decisions and pronouncements. However, I want to point out that (1) We as Christians already have the law of Christ in our hearts; (2) Christ instructs and guides us through his Word and by the Holy Spirit present in our hearts; and (3) Christ already rules in our lives, whether there is to be a future millennium or not. A more important question than when this will happen is “Why does it not describe Christian peoples today?” Why such discord among the brethren? We have disputes and division between Christians. We have, throughout history, even seen religious wars between Christians. We still today see Christians persecuting other Christians. Why is this so, when the rule of Christ in our hearts should produce peace between us as his people? The issue is one of trust.

In the era described by Isaiah all peoples trust God, while his power gives them reason to trust their opponents. Suppose my neighbor and I have a disagreement. We go to court and the issue is settled. The court can settle is because we both trust and submit to the decisions of the court, and we both know the court has the police power to force both parties to follow through on what was decided. A problem comes when either party doesn’t trust the court’s wisdom or power. If one person questions the court’s wisdom to decide the issue that person is unlikely to accept the court’s decision. Another problem can come when the court either cannot or will not enforce its decision. If my neighbor is free to ignore the court’s decision then I have no reason to trust the court to settle the issue—my neighbor would be free to disobey, placing me at a disadvantage if I willingly submit to the court’s decision.

We have conflict between brethren because we are human. I have an interest in A. You have an interest in B. Our situation does not permit both—((AvB)^¬(A^B))—but some cooperation is necessary to have either. If you work to undermine my efforts for A, then I will be unlikely to have A. But if I get A you are unlikely to get B. I am sure A is best for both of us, while you believe B would be best for both of us (an irrefutable rule of humanity is the tendency to believe what benefits me will equally benefit everyone like me). Conflict escalates because we do not trust the other to have our interests in mind.

This situation would be alleviated if we had Christ present to decide for us. There would be no conflict, if we could walk up to Christ and say, “Lord, I want A; he wants B. Which is best?” Unfortunately, this is not possible right now. Yes, one of us could say, “I believe Christ wants us to do this.” However, why would the other agree? The other could easily respond with “No, I believe he wants this.” The problem with such pronouncements is they are always suspect. Ever notice how these claims seldom go against the personal needs or desires of the one making them.

So, how can we change this? How can today’s church be more like the perfect era described in Isaiah? I won’t try to answer how we can be exactly like it, because that assumes we are supposed to be. If this is a description of the millennium, then it will only happen then. The same goes if this is a description for the post-judgment era. I will however, try to give advice on how the church gets closer to the ideal.

The best place to start is trusting Christ to balance the scales. It may be in this life, it may be in the next, but in the end we trust Christ to take care of injustices. We instead concentrate on living according to the command of Christ and at peace with one another, rather than insisting on our own interests and justice in the here and now:

1 Corinthians 6:7b ESV, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

Another part of this is putting the interests of others above ourselves:

Philippians 2:3-4 ESV, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

This tells us to count the interests of others (or at least the other person themselves) as of greater value than our own interests. Then trust Christ to balance the scales in the end and to look after our interests on our behalf.

There are objections:

  1. “But then I lose because no one is looking to my interests. If I don’t look after my own interests, no one will.” Then you don’t trust Christ to balance the scales.
  2. “But then he gets his way, but I don’t get mine.” Then you are not putting him above yourself.

It is these which cause so much strife among the brethren. Unless we put these aside, we will never be marked by peace.

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Ken Cluck
Senior Pastor at Resurgent
Ken has served in various cultures and settings, including two Native American reservations, rural communities, Korean churches, and has worked with Asian refugees living in the US.

Ken's passions are Theology, Philosophy (especially Philosophy of Religion, Ethics and Logic), History and Politics.

Ken has been married to his wife, Yong, since 1987. She is the center of his world and the greatest joy of his life.