Spears into Pruninghooks

Yevgeny Vuchetich's call for peace: Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, sculpture, 1957

Yevgeny Vuchetich’s call for peace: Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, sculpture, 1957

By Stephen Green
First published in Christian Voice February 2017

Isaiah 2:4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

I am writing at a time of great instability in the world, a time when there has been war and destruction across the Middle East in particular, but also in Ukraine and Sudan. Insurgencies have arisen in Somalia and Nigeria and there are many other conflicts around the world. But I want to demonstrate that war cannot be seen, in virtually any context, as a good thing. It may be necessary, but it isn’t good. So let us deal with possible objections to such a view.

‘War means the Lord can return’

The Lord Jesus said, in response to a question from his disciples about ‘the end of the world’:

Matt 24:6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

So there is a temptation for Christians to see ‘wars and rumours of wars’ as a good thing, because they mean ‘the Lord is coming back very soon’.

I don’t like being gleeful about war and I am not venturing into eschatology. But the Lord in that word is clearly and simply telling us simply not to be troubled. We should not lose heart even in the midst of terror and destruction.  He is not telling us to be eager for wars and rumours of wars.

God commands war

Another objection, which often comes from atheists, is to say that God himself commands war and rather likes it. Well, we know our God is a man of war:

Exodus 15:3 The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.

And we know Moses built a memorial after the battle with Amalek with these words:

Exodus 17:16 For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.

But the context is one of judgment on the Canaanite nations because of their barbarism, their institutionaised sodomy and prostitution and their practice of human sacrifice. Every civilisation that has done these things and not repented (only Judah ever did that and then only for a generation) has been destroyed.  The Canaanites were no exception. The Bible puts it like this:

Leviticus 18:25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.

Israel was simply God’s instrument of judgment on the Canaanites. Later on, God would use Assyria to expel idolatrous Israel from their land, and Babylon to take Judah into captivity.  And the nations of the West should pay attention to such things and repent.  Because if we do not, such judgment could fall on us.

Millennial prophecy

From the hand of God: nothing better than to eat and drink and enjoy good in our labour

From the hand of God: nothing better than to eat and drink and enjoy good in our labour

Another objection is that Isaiah’s prophecy, repeated by Micah (4:3), is merely Millennial. It just isn’t going to happen, in other words.

But does the Lord through his prophets put forth a vision of a world in which spears have been beaten into pruninghooks and nations will not ‘learn war any more’ for nothing? The prophecy’s message of hope lies precisely in the concept of peace being a good thing.

We remember the ‘time of war and a time of peace’ from Ecclesiastes 3:8 but before we become fatalistic, let us also remember the writer saying:

Eccl 2:24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.

For people anywhere to build and to plant and to enjoy the fruits of their labour free from the fear of destruction is from the hand of God. So it is good. Now, the prophet Joel had an opposite vision from that of Isaiah and Micah:

Joel 3:10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.

But we must be aware of the context. Judgment is coming on the nations which have oppressed Israel, with Tyre and Sidon singled out. The people of Israel are being urged to make themselves ready for battle ‘in the valley of Jehoshaphat’.  Joel’s prophecy is highly specific to the restoration of Judah and Jerusalem.  It does not take away from the Lord’s desire for men in general to live in peace

Peace with God is meant

In fact there is hardly any end of Bible verses urging peace. From the Psalms, for example:

Psalm 34:14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

Isaiah shows the Lord Jesus, the Son of the living God, is the Prince of Peace:

Isa 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

The Lord Jesus himself said

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

And an example from the Epistles:

Romans 14:19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

There is a tendency to spiritualise all this and to say that actually it is just peace with God which is intended. All mayhem can be breaking forth around people, but so long as they have God’s peace in their hearts, all is well.

A burden for Christians worldwide

People's homes destroyed by war in Aleppo - how we need to pray for peace - and pray our leaders do not start wars.

People’s homes destroyed by war in Aleppo – how we need to pray for peace – and pray our leaders do not start wars.

Of course we must preach the Gospel. Of course salvation is the most important thing God can sow in anyone’s heart. But some people will be saved and some not. God’s word is showing that this notwithstanding, it simply is never a good thing for people’s homes and their businesses to be ruined and their families and persons blown asunder.

The Christian Voice ministry has a special burden for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. We shall always stand up for them. It is this burden which has impelled us to support in prayer the government of President Assad in Syria.  He has consistently defended that country’s Christians and other religious minorities.

But whether people are saved or not, whether they are Christian, Muslim or Animist, the Bible teaches that in the normal way of things, unless a civilisation is under judgment, death and destruction is not of God.

The Syrian insurgency has cost to date some 470,000 lives.  Additionally, the UN estimates that ten million more have been displaced, their homes and businesses in ruins.

God brings peace on earth

A home ruined in Taiz, Yemen

A home ruined in Taiz, Yemen

I remember seeing a photograph of a block of flats in Yemen with the side blown off.  One could see the blue tiles of a woman’s kitchen.

Maybe the day before she had been happily cooking meals for her family there.  And then it was all destroyed.  That is heartbreaking.

The character of God as the bringer of earthly and not just spiritual peace can be seen from so many passages in the Bible. Here again from the Psalms:

Psa 46:9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

The angels cried out in the hearing of the shepherds:

Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

So what of the man who opposes this intention of God? The psalmist tells us:

Psalm 11:5 The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

Preserve me from the violent man

The Lord God is not against war in every circumstance. I agree with the doctrine of just war. For my part, I supported British action to recover the Falkland Islands. Further back, Hitler had to be opposed. But I do believe the Lord is against wars started to benefit today’s vested interests in arms and banking. The Islamic State insurgent is not the only one who ‘loveth violence’. The man who made the arms he is bearing is partial to it as well.

Theresa May tells the Republican Party about our 800 troops on the Russian border.

Theresa May tells the Republican Party about our 800 troops on the Russian border.

Some in the Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon, together with their friends and associates in the arms industries, have a vested interest in stoking up wars and rumours of wars. Again, the psalmist pleads:

Psa 140:1 Deliver me, O LORD, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man; 2 Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war.

Surely nothing could better describe the men sending tanks and warplanes into Eastern Europe, including our own Defence Secretary. Our Prime Minister boasted to the US Congress in January 2017 that the UK had placed 800 soldiers there. The arms manufacturers and the men of war really need their Russian bogey-man.

The Middle East

Billionaire financier George Soros

Billionaire financier George Soros

In recent years we have seen too many wars started by the United States and the United Kingdom under the pretext of ‘Responsibility to Protect’, invented by George Soros. Wars cost money. They increase the indebtedness of nations.  In that way they benefit the bankers, of whom Mr Soros is but one.

But war is an industry for the manufacturing nations. Wars demonstrate the effectiveness of our armaments. Bombing buildings in Baghdad helps us to sell weapons around the world.  Some arms manufacturer has no doubt pointed to that scene of destruction I mentioned in Yemen and shown a potential buyer how clever their bombs are.  George Orwell also proposed, in his book 1984, that perpetual war also serves to divert the attention of citizens from domestic issues.

US and UK at war

It is an astonishing fact that since the United States was founded in 1776, she has been at war during 219 out of her 240 calendar years of existence. In other words, there were only 21 calendar years in which the U.S. was not waging war somewhere in the world – or at home.  Moreover Prof. Quincy Wright in his ‘A Study of War’ showed that from 1480 to 1940 England and then the UK was involved in 77 of the 278 wars involving European countries.  That percentage, 28%, was more than any other nation.

The Lord’s judgment must fall on such a nation as ours for so many reasons.  We have broken every one of the Ten Commandments.  But our willingness to start wars breaches the Sixth Commandment as much as the slaughter of abortion.  Isaiah’s prophecy of judgment on a wicked nation is quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:15-17:

Isa 59:7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. 8 The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.

Seek peace and ensue it

Let us pray that the United States, under new management, will seek peace and ensue it.  Huge vested interests want to extend NATO sabre-rattling against Russia.  They are terrified peace might break out in Syria.  The Apostle Paul urges us to pray:

1Tim 2:2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

Let us pray for President Trump to be the man of peace who will face down the warmongers.  May the Lord also raise up a man in the United Kingdom who will snub the armaments manufacturers and follow the ways of peace.

The United Kingdom may not be able to prevent wars everywhere. But if we can’t always stop them, let us at least stop starting them.

Luke 1:78b whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.