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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Fouts

Swords or Plows?

There has been a lot of discussion around the topics of peace, enemies, violence, and the function and role of Scripture recently. Still, I have begun to wonder if a large portion of why this conflict exists is because we have missed the actual reason Paul and Hebrews describe Scripture as a Sword in the first place, a symbol beginning with two Old Testament prophets presenting an almost identical message to the people of Judah around the same time. 

Micah & Isaiah 

Both of these prophets operated in the same time and same region, both prophesying the falls of Israel and Judah and even their captors. Both provided messianic prophecies, and both provided prophesies of hope, redemption, and restoration as well. One prophecy though is nearly identical and deals with both a messianic prophesy and an eschatological vision of what the Messiah would bring about. This prophesy can be found in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4.


Isaiah 2

He will settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will turn their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will never again train for war.

Micah 4

He will settle disputes among many peoples and provide arbitration for strong nations that are far away. They will beat their swords into plows, and their spears into pruning knives. Nation will not take up the sword against nation, and they will never again train for war


This idea of turning weapons into agricultural tools is a picture of what the prophets saw the Messiah doing. This is something we can very easily see Jesus doing throughout all the gospel accounts when we teach them appropriately. The problems, of course, come when we do not do this. 

When we view a Nationalist Jesus, we lose the Arbitrator of Nations. When we view an Ethnic Jesus, we lose an arbitrator of many peoples. And when we view Jesus as a warrior king bent on conquest, we lose the entire premise of Jesus being the one that brings about actual physical peace on Earth.

In this discussion about physical peace, Jesus, and the Church, the loud response we typically receive is about a very specific description of the Scriptures we see from Paul and the writer of Hebrews as a sword.


Ephesians 6:17

Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.


Here lies the argument. If we are told that Scripture is a weapon, and not just any weapon but the only weapon we need to bring about destruction of the enemy, why should we be peaceful? And further, why should we “soften Scripture” to not hurt others if it is designed to cut soul and spirit? 

I think what this argument misses about Jesus, or who it shows they actually think Jesus is, is exactly what Isaiah and Micah were attempting to put forward. The Messiah was going to bring about peace and fruitfulness from the midst of destruction and death, turning the sharpest of swords into plows for the fields.

The importance of this paradigm shift, related to how we view Jesus, who we see Jesus’ role as Messiah, and in how we view the Scriptures, are becoming more and more apparent as these different controversial topics become hot-button issues. 


This first distinction is a major piece of this discussion. 

Is Jesus the White Horse Warrior coming to cut down His enemies? Is He the Humble Suffering Servant? Both of these pictures are in Scripture and we believe them to be true, but I wonder how much significance there is to Jesus immediately showing up, raised from the dead, and being only recognized as a gardener -- someone that plows, plants, harvests, and continues to nurture. 

Jesus had single-handedly defeated death, and yet He shows Himself first as a simple gardener. What the focus of the Jesus you are worshipping is will ultimately show itself in the way that your Theology and your living out of said Theology will look like. 

Who is it that you say Jesus is?


The second distinction is a harder one for us to do as believers because we cannot separate out the concept of Messiah from Jesus, at least not easily. This is why it is helpful to listen and learn from Jewish voices. Who are the Jewish people waiting on? 

As Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz says in his commentary:

“He, God, or he, the Messiah, redeemer of Israel, will adjudicate between many peoples, and He will rebuke, teach morals or issue the correct rulings, to mighty, distant nations. And at that time, wars will become redundant; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears they will turn into pruning hooks for cutting down branches; nation will not lift sword against nation and they will not learn war anymore.”  

They were looking for a redeemer that was first and foremost a PEACEMAKER. One that rebuked sin, taught righteousness, and issued justice to ALL people, which in turn would end all war, because all were reconciled back to God’s way of living, with Israel leading the way. Understanding this helps us understand a lot of the reasons Jesus was rejected. He did all these things, but Israel was not at the forefront. Justice didn’t look like the physical manifestation of Rome’s overthrow like they anticipated. Jesus in many ways seemed to be dismissive of the Temple’s importance. A universal peace was not anything that seemed to be coming soon. It makes sense why He would be rejected. What this understanding should also do though is correct how we as believers understand Jesus role as Messiah. Why are we looking only at Him as the warrior, rather than the Peacemaker that plants fields for harvest? 


The last distinction that this should show us is how we view the Scriptures. We have written and talked before about the importance of recognizing Scripture as a tool and not as another idol, but how are we to use this tool? 

Paul calls it a “sword”, Hebrews describes it as a deadly one. But how are we actually supposed to wield it? 

The answer I think is found back in our Isaiah and Micah passages. It is interesting to me that the same description of the Messiah that Rabbi Steinsaltz used in his commentary is the same uses for Scripture we see from Paul in II Timothy 3: rebuke, correct, and teach. 

Why is the Messiah’s actions defined in the same manner as the Scriptures that talk about Him? Because Scripture is the tool that the Messiah has given us to see peace come to the world around us as well. But can this peace come from Scripture as a weapon?


This is why this is important. How we view the Messiah, affects our views of Jesus. How we view Jesus affects how we go about our ministries and use the tools we have been given. One of these tools we know to be a sword, capable of causing massive harm and damage, but we follow the Messiah, who takes swords and makes them plows, to bring life where death once was. Jesus tells us in Matthew 9 that there is a plentiful harvest, and that workers are needed. A field that was plowed and planted. What tools are you looking to bring with you?


This blog came out of a discussion with Nathan Daniel Blake on Episode 123 with Nathan Daniel Blake.


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