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Friday, March 2, 2012

They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares

They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares

The year was around 700 B.C. and the Israelites were going through a very difficult time. Both the Northern and Southern tribes were engaged in terrible wars with powerful nations – Assyria and Babylon - and the unthinkable was happening. The ten northern tribes of Israel would soon be carried off into slavery by the Assyrians, never to see their homeland again. And later the two tribes of Judah would spend 70 years in Babylonian captivity. And all because for many years the Jewish people had broken Gods’ laws and forsaken their God to worship and sacrifice to the popular idols of the heathen tribes that lived around them.

And now they were in trouble and the idols they worshiped were not saving them. Frightened and helpless they watched as their land was stolen, their homes burned and their lives were uprooted. So it was that at this time, when everything was going wrong, that God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.

These prophecies of Isaiah held out a distant ray of hope to the Israelites during this time of despair. Even though they had rejected God and their lives were out of control, a future time would come – after death – that God would restore their country - and their lives too. God’s message was given to help these frightened people see beyond the mess they were in – way beyond to a day when God would restore creation– and life would be as it should be. A victorious day dimly shinning far off in the future – a day when people would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. A time of planting and growing rather than of fighting and killing. A day of peace, ruled by the Prince of Peace!

Let’s read God’s Word as recorded by Isaiah to these frightened people. “The Word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the earth! And all the nations shall stream to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob: that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth Instruction in Truth, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples: and 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 any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:1-5)

This message from Isaiah shows that the Kingdom of God is very different from the systems we have created here. We create systems of power and control. But the kingdom of heaven will be based on growth and harvest and peace. It will be a kingdom where the lion will lay down with the lamb and the wolf with the cow and a little child shall lead them. A place where there will be no killing and we will be delivered from our selfish schemes. It is so over the top that we can hardly imagine what it will be!

We could beat our swords into plowshares today if our world was anything like the kingdom of God. But alas, it isn’t. We live in a fallen world – a world under the curse of sin, (Gen. 3:17) where we still must fight wars to try to stop injustice. So until the Lord returns to remove sin and rule the earth, how are we to live?

First we are instructed to keep the peace as much as we can. Occupy until He comes. (Luke 19:13) Jesus tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9) Maybe as peacemakers we can speak words that build people up instead of words that tear down. Our tongues can be like swords that harm others or they can be like plowshares that spread life and hope. In our personal lives we can turn our swords (our anger and hate) into plowshares (loving and creating). And we are to forgive one another as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9)

When we read the history of the First World War, we learn that this terrible war was started for no real reason except for honor and pride. When the war ended there were fifteen million dead and twenty million wounded – a whole generation of young men gone. One of the deadliest conflicts in human history. And all done out of vanity to prop up dynasties- long gone- and reputations!

As we live our lives as children of God we will find ourselves tempted to become a part of smaller wars – arguments, competitions, etc. in order to protect our reputations and keep our “honor” in tact. Some one will take advantage of us or insult us or compete against us. And to defend our precious pride we will jump in the fray using our swords and spears. And like in World War One, how much harm will we do to ourselves and others while we fight these personal wars?

God has not called us to jump into these personal battles to defend our reputations. He instructs us to turn the other cheek and be humble, -to allow Him to take care of our reputation. We are not to return evil for evil, insult for insult, – or play these “honor” games. How can the other side fight a war with us if we don’t show up? How can we use our God given plowshare (our life) to plant and harvest if we are busy using it as a sword to hurt and destroy?

Did Isaiah’s message of Gods’ distant day of peace help the Israelites when they were in the middle of war? Does our belief in heaven – in life after death – where we will be ruled by the Prince of Peace – does that help us live our lives today? First John 3:2-3 tells us that if we have this belief of being changed through Christ after death, it somehow helps (purifies) us. Let’s read: “…It has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He (Jesus) returns, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He (Jesus) is pure.”

Ah, another mystery. We “purify” ourselves by just believing that Jesus will change us to be sinless and beautiful on the other side! Just having this hope does make a difference? It seems that Scripture implies that we are helped here in our earthly lives if we have the hope of heaven where God will rule and make everything right. And where all the swords will be beaten into plowshares!

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