Quick Thoughts: Swords and Ploughshares

One of the more well known Biblical prophecies regarding the end times is found in Isaiah 2, where the prophet writes, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” This prophecy is undoubtedly about the future peace that will come when God is reigning completely over all the nations, but as I was reading 1 Samuel yesterday I saw a verse which made me realise that there might be more to it than that.

In 1 Samuel 13, Saul has been newly crowned the first king of Israel, but his people are being oppressed by the Philistines. One of the things the Philistines have done is remove all the blacksmiths from Israel so that the Israelites can’t forge weapons to use against them. So what happens is that the Israelites get their plough points and mattocks (farming instruments) sharpened so that they can be used as weapons, which they can then take into battle against the Philistines.

This is the opposite of what is prophesied to happen in the end times, but the things involved are so similar that I would be very surprised if Isaiah did not have this episode in mind. If so, then there is more to this than a simple absence of war. The background to this story is one of Israel’s discontentment: they cried out to God for a king to lead them, even though they should have recognised that God was their king. Furthermore, from Judges through to 1 Samuel the Israelites have been going through cycles of idolatry and sin, sometimes being obedient to God, but more often than not worshipping idols and doing all sorts of stuff that wasn’t ideal for them.

So here’s what I’m thinking: what if Isaiah 2:4 isn’t just talking about a lack of war, but about a reversal of the kind of situation that the Israelites found themselves in? Now that I’ve read the 1 Samuel passage it seems to me that there is implied in Isaiah a reversal of people’s attitudes to God and to each other as well. Israel were in that situation because of their refusal to recognise God as their king, but in Isaiah’s vision all the nations will see Him as king; Israel were also being oppressed by their neighbouring nations, but in Isaiah’s vision all disputes will be settled by God.

That means that Isaiah 2:4 is not just about giving up war, it’s about giving up everything that can lead to war and living in a completely different way, a way in which whole nations recognise God’s true sovereignty and stop oppressing the people around and within them.

(Note: if you clicked on the Facebook link, that fascinatingly dull image you saw was a Roman ploughshare.)

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