Plowshares into Swords into Plowshares
Isaiah 2, Micah 4, Joel 3
… and they shall beat their swords into plowshares…
You are likely familiar with the Biblical passage regarding somebody somewhere “beating their swords into plowshares.” We Christians take this expression as prophetic for the time when our Messiah Christ Jesus will again come and usher in a world of peace and contentment. Likewise, our Jewish friends see this also as the coming of the Messiah and the completion and fullness of safe and peaceful Israel.
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. (from Isaiah 2:4, KJV)
This phrase and its end-times context actually occurs twice in the Jewish scriptures: by prophet Isaiah and prophet Micah. Scholars debate who said it first, and who copied from whom (as if that was necessary, given that our Spirit who communicates such things independently), but the passages do resemble each other.
From the King James, here are the three passages which refer to swords, plows, and beatings. First, the familiar:
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. (KJV)
And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (KJV)
And now, perhaps the unfamiliar:
Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. (KJV)
Joel wrote prophetically about a more temporal, earthly time when God’s people are told to prepare instruments of war. The plows and pruning hooks are turned into weapons, and we suppose the farm tractors were modified with light armor.
By the way, just what is, exactly, a plowSHARE? Could the translators simple have used the word plow? In any event, The New American Standard Bible (and other translations) follow along with the traditional King James wording:
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war. (NASB)
And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war. (NASB)
9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare a war; rouse the mighty men!
Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up!
10 Beat your plowshares into swords
And your pruning hooks into spears;
Let the weak say, “I am a mighty man.” (NASB)
Here are more extended quotes from Isaiah 2 and Micah 4, placed side-by-side in the English for comparison:
from Isaiah 2 (KJV)
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
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.
O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers.
. . .
from Micah 4 KJV
But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.
And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it.
For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.
. . .
You may have been unaware that the “swords into plowshares” turn of phrase is repeated in reverse by the prophet Joel. While both Isaiah and Micah are prophesying regarding the end-times and return of Christ, Joel is speaking to a closer historical time where Judah is consumed (symbolically? literally?) by locusts but also by some “northern army.”
The identity of this earthly human army/nation and the exact time era from which Joel speaks and about which Joel prophesizes is debated by scholars. In any event, storms of locusts or similar insect invadors appear throughout history, as do invading human armies. Joel promises that while the times coming are very dark, Judah’s obedience to God will bring temporal delivery from destruction and captivity. However, God demands Judah prepare (at least in the situation Joel speaks of) for violent war:
9 Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up:
10 Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. (from Joel 3, KJV)
Joel has only three chapters, so now would be a good time to go read Joel in its entirety. Look for pest insects, a northern army, and God’s promise of delivery mixed in with dark, dark times. See if you can distinguish between prophecy of insects versus prophecy of foreign nation invasion. See a good commentary for scholarly speculation on the time and events of Joel’s writing. As you read, see if you can discern whether Joel speaks to a combined Israel + Judah or of Judah only? (All these things are tricky.)
Here is the entirety (21 verses) of Joel 3 from the New English Translation:
Joel 3:1-21 For look! In those days and at that time I will return the exiles to Judah and Jerusalem. Then I will gather all the nations, and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. I will enter into judgment against them there concerning my people Israel who are my inheritance, whom they scattered among the nations. They partitioned my land, and they cast lots for my people. They traded a boy for a prostitute; they sold a little girl for wine so they could drink. Why are you doing these things to me, Tyre and Sidon? Are you trying to get even with me, land of Philistia? I will very quickly repay you for what you have done! For you took my silver and my gold and brought my precious valuables to your own palaces. You sold Judeans and Jerusalemites to the Greeks, removing them far from their own country. Look! I am rousing them from that place to which you sold them. I will repay you for what you have done! I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah. They will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away. Indeed, the LORD has spoken! Proclaim this among the nations: “Prepare for a holy war! Call out the warriors! Let all these fighting men approach and attack! Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears! Let the weak say, ‘I too am a warrior!’ Lend your aid and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves to that place.” Bring down, O LORD, your warriors! Let the nations be roused and let them go up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit in judgment on all the surrounding nations. Rush forth with the sickle, for the harvest is ripe! Come, stomp the grapes, for the winepress is full! The vats overflow. Indeed, their evil is great! Crowds, great crowds are in the valley of decision, for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision! The sun and moon are darkened; the stars withhold their brightness. The LORD roars from Zion; from Jerusalem his voice bellows out. The heavens and the earth shake. But the LORD is a refuge for his people; he is a stronghold for the citizens of Israel. You will be convinced that I the LORD am your God, dwelling on Zion, my holy mountain. Jerusalem will be holy – conquering armies will no longer pass through it. On that day the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk. All the dry stream beds of Judah will flow with water. A spring will flow out from the temple of the LORD, watering the Valley of Acacia Trees. Egypt will be desolate and Edom will be a desolate wilderness, because of the violence they did to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood. But Judah will reside securely forever, and Jerusalem will be secure from one generation to the next. I will avenge their blood which I had not previously acquitted. It is the LORD who dwells in Zion! (NET)
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Blessings to you! God’s blessings to you!
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