We will have a sculpture challenge to help us think through the changes we can make in our small patch of the world.
You will need a piece of kitchen foil, about 6” / 15cm square for each, person
Start by moulding your foil into a sword. In Bible times a sword was very valuable and useful. While you are moulding, discuss what sorts of metal things we have that are valuable and useful, a car, for example, or keys.
Look at the swords that people have made. They’re great, but not much use if you are hungry. That’s where the ploughshare is needed. We don’t use ploughs much ourselves, but we all use other metal things to feed ourselves – knives and forks.
Re-mould your foil from a sword into a knife, a fork or a spoon – or all three! While you are moulding, talk about what it might mean today to ‘beat our swords into ploughshares’. We are not going to hammer our cars into knives and forks, but how can we use what we have to make a difference? What changes could we make in our patch of land?
English has some funny old phrases, (and a lot of the time it’s Shakespeare’s fault). Whatever is a wild goose chase? Why are doornails considered particularly dead? And why would jealous people have green eyes?
Here we’ve got another one: ‘Beat your swords into ploughshares’. It’s become part of the English language, but what is a ploughshare, and why would you ruin a perfectly good sword to make one?
Back in Isaiah’s day professional armies were a rare beast. Instead, when the king of this town wanted to fight the king of that town, he just rounded up all local blokes, so pretty much everyone of working age was suddenly a soldier.
Problem – pretty much everyone was a farmer as well. You can’t just walk off and leave crops unplanted or people will starve come the winter. Solution – schedule your wars to fit in with the farming year. Seriously. That’s what they did. 2 Sam 11 talks about spring being the time that kings go off to war. It’s after the crops are planted and before the harvest, so your army is free to fight.
If you’re a farmer during planting and harvest time and a soldier during the growing time you’ll need both a sword and a plough share (that’s the metal bit on the bottom that cuts through the soil). So back to the question: why would you ruin a perfectly good sword to make one? Answer: because you’re never going to need to use the sword again.
Really? I look around the world and I see plenty of use. The idyllic peace we read about in this passage does not sound anything like the news we hear on the TV.
How come the world we live in doesn’t match up to the promises we read in the Bible?
It’s a big question. Is the Bible just a load of pretty words, like inspirational quotes on posters of sunsets and puppies? Is God teasing us with platitudes and pie-in-the-sky dreams? Is God so far out of touch that he either does not know or does not care what life is really like? Swords in to ploughshares? Yeah, right. Like I’m going to do that.
No, it’s not just pretty words. God knows and cares about the world we live in, with all its rotten bits – and all the glorious bits too. This is not head-in-the clouds unrealistic idealism. But neither is it head-in-the-dungpile depressive fatalism. This is a faithful vision of how our world could be, should be, will be. The mis-match is because we live in the between-times. We live in the overlap between ‘then’ and the ‘days to come’. We live in the time when God’s kingdom is proclaimed everywhere, but not recognised everywhere. One day, swords not be needed and can be beaten into farming tools, but that day is not yet.
We live in the overlap. Not a world without hope, left to fend for itself, to rummage in the garbage for scraps. Yet neither a world perfected and glorified. Our world is good – God pronounced it so – but damaged. One day it will all be fixed, and in the mean time we live with the ongoing repairs. We work around the dodgy wiring. We do our part in improving the plumbing and we follow the Master Builder’s plans for a rather fetching gazebo in the garden. Welcome to the DIY zone. Fetch your hammer.
Isaiah 2:1-5 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
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 raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples 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,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
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!
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.