Reread Micah 4:1-5
The second symbols of God’s vision of peace are the plowshares and pruning hooks, once used as swords and spears. These symbols reveal God’s vision of shalom as one that transforms tools of death into tools of life. These ancient symbols of war are almost too “medieval” for us to see rightly. They conjure in our minds connotations of King Arthur’s court or LOTR, archaic Shakespearean English, and “daring do.” Because of the mechanization of modern warfare, we forget that for nearly 3,000 years of human history, the sword was humanity’s symbol of conquest, defense and power. Spears, held in the hands of charioteers, could decimate villages in the blink of an eye. These were the ancient counterparts to smart bombs and drone attacks, every bit as intimidating as tanks in the streets. Outside of the U.S., perhaps the closest modern symbol is the AK-47. Just as the swords of old, some countries today even have them on their flags. They are a symbol of home protection as well as revolution, and represent force and power for the individual. Depending on which side of the gun you are on, it can be taken as a symbol of freedom or oppression.
Typically, after a time of violence runs its course, history often tells tales of heroes rescuing “barbarians” from their barbarity. The victors vilify the vanquished as stories are spun into sanitized, romanticized, and glory-charged epics for the next generation. Yet this vision, one we often embrace, has no place in God’s vision. It is not a story of “good guys with guns ridding the world of bad guys with guns” that we read about in Micah. It is a story of guns being melted down and re-purposed to feed a hungry world. It is one where the steel that once caused poverty is now used to heal it.
Micah reminds us that when God decides for the nations of the world, His first decision is to remove the experience of violence from humanity. Nothing is starker than the difference between raiding and farming, the vision of preparing for battle and the vision of preparing for planting. God’s people would now once again be stewards of the land instead of killing each other to possess it and its wealth. In God’s vision, the very blades that kill are turned earthward to bring forth life instead of death. Implements of war become implements of agriculture, the blades that kill become the blades that till, prune and produce abundance.
Like the swords and spears, our modern minds eyes struggle with the imagery of plowshares and pruning hooks. “What could these ancient things be?” we ask. Plowshares did the work of the modern garden hoe, but with cow power! These are not part of our vision of a small backyard garden, but a window into a world without grocery stores, a vision of a world with cycles of work, rest, and of rationing food through winter. Plowshares were used to aerate and plant, to prune and to harvest. Plowshares break up hard packed earth to let in more air, water and seeds. They prepare the earth to make spaces for new life to begin. Plowshares were implements of the “tractors” of the ancient world. On the other hand, pruning hooks have been replaced by modern loppers. They cut away dead ends that leach resources to improve life. They are used for the trimming, shaping, and maintaining the health of the new life the plowshares made room for.
Here we see a return to the original covenant of stewardship in the garden, a vision of how human order was created to be. It is an exchange of human to human violence for the violent process that is agriculture, a process involving calloused hands from sowing and reaping. This vision of shalom is nonviolent, offering something better than the simplistic legalism of “not doing X” to God’s people. It echoes the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke of peace as both the goal, and means toward reaching that goal.
It is not that hard to imagine that when a person’s conscience dwells in the Light of Christ, they could be moved to remove guns from their life— even ones representing a life’s work—if people were growing more and more willing to use them on each other. Love sometimes demands the guarding of temptations in moments of weakness. It demands we help each other when we are losing hope and thinking of resorting to drastic measures out of fear. Imagining a world without gun violence is something many people do, especially now. But it is more than a trendy platitude, it is a holy vision, something straight from the heart and mind of God. This vision need not be one where God rips guns out of “our cold, dead hands” as Charlton Heston once boasted at an NRA convention. It is a vision where we are willing to lay them down ourselves with humility and compassion, to even remake them into objects of loving service to our neighbor. Living into this vision without reservation is the only way it can spread. It offers a way of living that demonstrates to others a vision of “that life and Spirit that makes the occasion for all wars cease.”
Query: How might God be leading you to exchange old defense mechanisms and patterns of behavior for implements that do the work of the Kingdom of God? In what ways does fear, rather than love, move you to action?