Pacifism: Swords Into Plowshares

Twice the Old Testament prophets announce that a day will come when men beat their swords into plowshares —

(Isa 2:1-4)  This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

(Micah 4:1-7)  In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. 2 Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”

The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 3 He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 4 Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken. 5 All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever. 6 “In that day,” declares the LORD, “I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief. 7 I will make the lame a remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The LORD will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever.

Consider Isa 2. This will happen “in the last days.” And it’s not just God’s people who will do this: “Nation will not take up sword against nation.”

Micah follows the language of Isaiah, adding: “Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid,” God will assemble the exiles, and God will rule from Mt. Zion (Jerusalem) forever.

Plainly, both prophecies speak of the New Heavens and New Earth, not the current age. And yet it is also true that the Kingdom — which is what they are describing — is coming and that we are part of this Kingdom. Surely our task as citizens of the Kingdom is to live under the new ethics of the Kingdom. Doesn’t that mean that we should already be beating our swords into plowshares?

I’ve answered this question from one direction in Pacifism: Fitting Government Into the Story. There I pointed out that the New Heavens and New Earth will also mean the end of marriage, the end of government, and the end of pain in childbirth. But that doesn’t mean those things go away now or even that they should. It only means that these things need to be redeemed for God’s purposes — and that we fight against the evil that is within them without fighting to eliminate them.

Hence, although marriage will end when Jesus returns, until then, marriage should be honored as God-given and the church should work to redeem marriage so that no longer do spouses abuse spouses and so that marriage can be for life, as God intended.

Just so, human governments will be destroyed when Jesus returns, but until then, we work to make government honor its God-given role to defend the innocent from evil, and we work to eliminate oppression of the weak by the government.

What about violence? Swords will not be beaten into plowshares until Jesus returns. Therefore, we either refuse all participation in the military or else we seek to redeem the military for God’s purposes. I think the second choice is truer to God’s intentions.

It means that military force is used solely for proper governmental purposes: to protect the weak from evil. We oppose the use of the military for oppression.

As noted in Pacifism: Just War and Christian Politics, Part 1, quoting Arthur F. Holmes,

Third, the just war theory does not try to justify war. Rather it tries to bring war under the control of justice so that, if consistently practiced by all parties to a dispute, it would eliminate war altogether. It insists that the only just cause for going to war is defense against aggression. If all parties adhered to this rule, then nobody would ever be an aggres­sor and no war would ever occur. The basic intention of the just war theory, then, is to condemn war and to prevent it by moral persuasion. But since people will sometimes not be so persuaded, it proceeds to limit war – its occasion, its goals, its weaponry and methods – so as to reduce the evils that have not been altogether prevented.

There are two paths toward a “plowshare” world that I can think of.

One, we can simply refuse to fight and hope that this overcomes evil, leading to peace on earth.

Two, we could refuse to fight except to defend ourselves and those who are oppressed, figuring that this shows our love for the oppressed and keeps evil in check.

Now, I readily admit that there are problems with both approaches, but I think the second comes closest to what I read in the Bible — as the God-given role of government is to defend the innocent from evil.

(Rom 13:4-6)  For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. … 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

(1 Pet 2:13-14)  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

When I was young, many argued for unilateral disarmament — the idea being that it was our military that caused other nations to be afraid and so to arm and threaten us. The argument was: put your arms downs and the other nations will be shamed into doing the same. As they’ll have nothing to fear from us, they’ll no longer feel the need to militarize.

Of course, we have since seen plenty of unprovoked aggression: USSR seeking to conquer Afghanistan, Iraq trying to conquer parts of Iran (twice), Iraq conquering Kuwait, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan seeking to destroy Israel. Indeed, Kuwait is a good example as it was largely disarmed. They’d beaten their swords into oil wells.

Now, had the USSR or Iraq been successful in any of these cases, the result would have been the making of more swords, not plowshares. When aggressors win, they don’t stop being aggressive. Rather, they consolidate power and then continue their aggression. Remember Nazi Germany’s annexation of Poland, Austria, etc. Had the USSR conquered Afghanistan, it would have soon pushed through Iran or Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. (There’s nothing in Afghanistan itself of strategic value.)

I hate that this is true. I truly wish that beating our own swords into plowshares today would lead to peace, but I believe history teaches that it doesn’t. And I believe the scriptures teach that government is charged by God with defending its people.

Nonetheless, there is a place for the peacemakers today — and the church is to be a peacemaking body. This is accomplished by being actively involved in pushing our respective nations toward peaceful policies and even working at the international level to reduce the likelihood of war.

For example, when the church works to have the wealthy nations forgive the debts of the very poor nations, we not only honor the teachings of the Torah and the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, we also reduce the likelihood that a nation will feel compelled to go to war to take resources from a neighbor or to gain leverage to bargain for foreign aid. And we make that nation a less tempting target for its neighbors. Justice in the prophetic sense helps bring peace, I believe.

Just so, when we agree to just trade laws so that the poor nations can earn their way out of poverty through agricultural exports, we do the same. We encourage people to work for a living rather than seeking employment in militias — and we take away poverty as a rationale for fighting. We give people a sense that they can earn a living through honest labor rather than having to seek honor in suicide bombings or conquest.

Insisting on justice and righteousness at the international level is not enough, but it helps. Obviously, winning souls is far more important, but it’ll be easier to win souls when people aren’t starving and aren’t engaged in wars of conquest.

You see, it’s not either-or: either evangelize or seek justice. It’s both-and. However, both-and only works if we are careful not to fool ourselves into thinking that our efforts to bring justice replace evangelism. They don’t.

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29 Responses

  1. Off topic, and I apologize (feel free to delete), but the Soviets were after Afghanistan for the oil/gas pipelines/routes. This is same reason they’ve fought so hard against Chechnya. It’s often said that it was about not letting another satellite state break off, but that’s not the real motive–oil/gas pipelines that come through Afghanistan, then through Chechnya was the real issue. There’s always a strategic reason, and in the past century, it’s usually been about oil. Same in Afghanistan where the Soviets were concerned.

    There is no such thing as war without strategic significance. Sometimes we just don’t have all the info. There is always a motive, and it’s usually rooting in money, power, and pride. Soviet aggression into Afghanistan is no different.

    Anywho, sorry to get off topic a bit, I just have had the opportunity to break bread with Soviet vets from that war (their “Soviet Vietnam” as they called it) who quickly explained to me that these were (and still are) the strategic issues with Afghanistan.

  2. Interesting that you mention Afghanistan. Have you ever read the interview with Brzezinski about that? Funny how little play the U.S. role in that got here in the States.

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/BRZ110A.html

    War doesn’t bring peace. We’ve seen that time and again. How many peace missions has the U.S. been in? Why has our country, in the name of peace, fought more wars than other nations in the last 100 years?

    As you aptly showed in that previous post with the quote from 1 Corinthians 15, government, unlike marriage and the other institutions you referred to, is one of the enemies to be destroyed in the end time. It won’t just have “served its purpose.” It is an enemy of God that will be crushed under Jesus’ feet. (I had never thought of that passage in that way until you pointed it out)

    I hate to say it, but human governments can’t be trusted to be up front with their people, to be truthful about what is really going on. And even when they are truthful, they are not divinely inspired, they lack the insight to know what is best. Did the U.S. realize that they were creating Osama Bin Laden when they baited the U.S.S.R. into invading Afghanistan? Did they know that they were putting a monster into power when we backed Augusto Pinochet in Chile? Didn’t Bush really think that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and some sort of tie to Al Qaeda?

    Standing up for justice and righteousness (forgive the redundancy) at an international level will not make your country a super power. How can the U.S. justify holding territory in Cuba? Do we really think the Cuban people want the base their at Guantanamo? How can we continue to keep the huge amounts of land we took from Mexico? How can we hold territories around the world? How can we have military bases in places where the locals don’t want us to be? We can’t, if justice is the standard. However, these holdings further the interests of the United States government. Might makes right. The end justifies the means.

    This is not about U.S. bashing. The U.S. is doing what the Romans did, what human governments have done since the beginning of time. Every nation “spins” the truth to convince its people to support its policies. The truth often comes out a generation later, but by then, we’ve already acted on the version we’ve been fed.

    I won’t be a part of it. I won’t have politicians tell me who is right and who is wrong, who is the bully and who is the victim, who deserves to die and who deserves to live. Those decisions are too important for me. I will stand up for justice, God’s justice, but I won’t pledge my loyalty to another kingdom in order to do so. The stakes are too high.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. Two, we could refuse to fight except to defend ourselves and those who are oppressed, figuring that this shows our love for the oppressed and keeps evil in check.

    If you remove “ourselves” from that sentence, I think you might be on to something.

    But you also wrote:

    One, we can simply refuse to fight and hope that this overcomes evil, leading to peace on earth.

    which seems to imply (at least) that we’re the only active agents for good in the cosmos, and that if we don’t fight with the weapons of the kingdoms of this world, evil will triumph.

    I believe there’s a great deal of war still going on behind the scenes, and much of the wreckage we see in the world today is a by-product of that conflict in the heavenlies.

  4. And even when they are truthful, they are not divinely inspired, they lack the insight to know what is best. – Tim

    How do you know there are not people employed with government positions guided by God’s Spirit?

    Sometimes war can bring peace between nations, as Jay stated earlier after World War II the United States has been on good terms with both Germany and Japan for decades.

  5. Tim,

    I think your comments are spot on.
    And Afghanistan is about as strategic a location as you can find in the Middle East. Probably no coincidence that the war plans for Afghanistan were signed by president Bush on Sept. 10th, 2001!

  6. Jay,

    I am curious if you think it would be appropriate for some other country, say Switzerland, to invade the US and remove our governing structure because of it’s horrific support of loose abortion laws?

    Zach

  7. I don’t believe the U.S. has gone out attacking other countries to be the power of all the world. I don’t see anyone wanting to speak up about the many times the U.S. has tried to help countries, conflicting each other, to have peace talks.

  8. Anonymous,

    The U.S. encourages peace talks when peace is in it’s best interest. It encourages conflict when conflict is in it’s best interest. Did you know that Al-Qaeda was created by the CIA for the express purpose of causing conflict? My point is that “helping countries” amounts to “helping the US.” Regarding your first statement, I would encourage you to read the Project for a New American Century document and the Rebuilding America’s Defenses document, all produced by the Neo-conservatives who surrounded Bush and comprised his cabinet. You will see that “empire” is not so foreign a concept after all.

  9. Did you know that Al-Qaeda was created by the CIA for the express purpose of causing conflict? – Zach

    Wow, It is incredible what some people will say and believe.

  10. Actually, the people who said it are the United States government and the CIA.

    Even a cursory examination of the history of the Mujahadeen and the Soviet/Afghan war of the 80’s will be rather revealing.

  11. Would you please give where and who told you that the United States government and the CIA said that they created Al Qaeda.

  12. I will be happy to provide you with some sources. You could start with Richard Clarke. But it would probably be more wise for me to encourage you to first do a little research on your own and then let me know what you find. Topics for research would be Soviet/Afghan war, Mujahadeen, etc.

  13. Please go ahead and give links to the resources. And I have already started to research these accusations.

  14. Here’s a link alleging the U.S. created Al Qaeda. There are also people who say the Holocaust never happened. They make up what they say are true facts, that appear to be so real that plenty of people do believe them, when they really aren’t.

    http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/fakealqaeda.html

  15. I was just getting ready to provide a couple of sources for you to look at, but by the tone of your last comment you don’t appear to be open to any type of historical inquiry into the roots/origins of certain Muslim extremist groups. If you change your mind, you might benefit from a worthy historical read entitled Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, by Steve Coll, pulitzer prize winning author, and managing editor of the Washington Post.

  16. Wow Jay, theology is not the only discipline your readers are confused about.

    This thread has gone from a serious discussion to a twisted comedy.

    Royce

  17. You know Royce that might be easy for you to throw darts indirectly at someone, but I don’t much appreciate it. And to insinuate that discussing a particular nations actions and motives is irrelevant to a discussion of pacifism is incredulous at best.

  18. i’m still wondering how it’s relevant. If America was the most corrupt country on the planet, would that alter a Christian’s obligations regarding war or violence? If American had an impeccable level of integrity, would that alter a Christian’s obligations regarding war or violence? i don’t see how which country we live in or what they’re doing would change what Christ expects of us.

    –Guy

  19. Guy,

    From a pacifists perspective, it really isn’t that relevant. But it does become extremely relevant for the advocate of just war, in that the criteria for engaging in conflict must be strictly adhered to. It becomes a problem when certain wars are offered up as examples of just war and then upon further investigation, nefarious and corrupt motives and programs are often at the root.

    Just my take, if I understood your questions properly?

    Zach

  20. Guy,

    I may have moved the conversation into this vein. My point is that I’m not willing to join myself to any human government because I believe they all serve their own interests. Part of that includes deceiving their own subjects, willingly or unwillingly, so that those subjects will place their country’s interests above all others.

    I’m willing to allow that there is a time when a Christian may use restraining force on those who would harm others. But I personally will not allow the kingdoms of this world to decide when that time has come.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  21. I find it odd that you guys are hounding Zach for what (I thought) is common knowledge these days. Any serious study of the CIA should not leave a good taste in any believer’s mouth. Many, many conflicts have been started by the CIA, an the American people have been suckered into this very idea of “defending the weak and helpless”.

    I’m especially surprised at some of you who have taken heat for radical ideas in the church, yet give Zach heat for ideas that are not even as radical, considering that evil men do evil things, and that’s the way it has always been. Just because we wish it not to be true does not make it so.

    Here is 20 years worth of accomplishments in the best of times:
    1948
    Italy — The CIA corrupts democratic elections in Italy, where Italian communists threaten to win the elections. The CIA buys votes, broadcasts propaganda, threatens and beats up opposition leaders, and infiltrates and disrupts their organizations. It works — the communists are defeated.

    1953
    Iran – CIA overthrows the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in a military coup, after he threatened to nationalize British oil. The CIA replaces him with a dictator, the Shah of Iran, whose secret police, SAVAK, is as brutal as the Gestapo.

    Operation MK-ULTRA — Inspired by North Korea’s brainwashing program, the CIA begins experiments on mind control. The most notorious part of this project involves giving LSD and other drugs to American subjects without their knowledge or against their will, causing several to commit suicide. However, the operation involves far more than this. Funded in part by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, research includes propaganda, brainwashing, public relations, advertising, hypnosis, and other forms of suggestion.

    1954
    Guatemala — CIA overthrows the democratically elected Jacob Arbenz in a military coup. Arbenz has threatened to nationalize the Rockefeller-owned United Fruit Company, in which CIA Director Allen Dulles also owns stock. Arbenz is replaced with a series of right-wing dictators whose bloodthirsty policies will kill over 100,000 Guatemalans in the next 40 years

    1959
    Haiti — The U.S. military helps “Papa Doc” Duvalier become dictator of Haiti. He creates his own private police force, the “Tonton Macoutes,” who terrorize the population with machetes. They will kill over 100,000 during the Duvalier family reign. The U.S. does not protest their dismal human rights record.

    1961
    The Bay of Pigs — The CIA sends 1,500 Cuban exiles to invade Castro’s Cuba. But “Operation Mongoose” fails, due to poor planning, security and backing. The planners had imagined that the invasion will spark a popular uprising against Castro -– which never happens. A promised American air strike also never occurs. This is the CIA’s first public setback, causing President Kennedy to fire CIA Director Allen Dulles.

    These are the highlights, and I don’t have enough room for the rest, including the 70s, 80s, 90s, and the current times. This is our government, like it or not. Perhaps the humanitarian efforts of the US are so easily forgotten because of what we do around the world the rest of the time.

    History may not be telling us what we want to hear, but we should certainly listen anyway. Although, from the way this thread has gone, this messenger also expects to get shot!

  22. There are too many pacifists who have a double standard. They can use force on those who would harm others, but someone who is employed with the government is wrong to use force on those who would do harm to others. Many pacifists suggest that people who are employed with the government are not Christians.

  23. The concept of just war is perhaps correct (I can’t think of a better way), but the decision process is far more complex than any one individual can comprehend. For example, the victor in most battles is the one who is the most ‘sneaky’. That’s the CIA’s job. Zach is also correct, the CIA isn’t always successful.

    An example of the complexity comes from scripture. Rahab was honored and in the hall of faith for lying to her government Heb. 11:31 and James 2:25.

  24. “Many pacifists suggest that people who are employed with the government are not Christians.”

    This is news to me. In fact, I don’t remember ever reading such in the writings of pacifists.

    Can you document this accusation?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  25. […] Swords Into Plowshares For those of you who are interested, Jay Guin over at One In Jesus has posted some great thoughts about the prophetic passages in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 that herald the day when the nations will beat their swords into plowshares in the Messianic Kingdom. It’s a part of a larger conversation Jay is having on the topic of pacifism. Really good, thoughtful stuff. You can check it out by clicking here. […]

  26. Many pacifists suggest that people who are employed with the government are not Christians.

    This is news to me. In fact, I don’t remember ever reading such in the writings of pacifists. – Tim

    When we are speaking about decisions government has to make we are speaking about people…real people. You speak as though none of the people making these decisions are of the Kingdom of God.

    Tim Archer, on November 9th, 2009 at 9:19 am Said: And even when they are truthful, they are not divinely inspired, they lack the insight to know what is best.

    Guy, on October 23rd, 2009 at 9:25 pm Said: The person in Jay’s illustration was a Christian and an agent of the state. Based on my best current attempt to understand what God wants of me, i don’t believe a person can rightfully be both because of these incompatible instructions.

    I have heard many other pacifists make such statements suggesting people employed by the government cannot be Christians.

  27. Brad,

    Thanks for the support.

  28. I’m sorry that I didn’t make myself clear. I personally don’t consider Christians to be divinely inspired, at least not in the sense of having special knowledge about international relations. (I personally didn’t believe Pat Robertson’s claim that God had told him their were Soviet missiles in Cuba).

    I do not believe that being a govt. employee prevents/disqualifies one from being a Christian.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  29. Does Pat Robertson’s claim mean that God never gives Christians information about something happening that they weren’t aware of before?

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