The Sword of the Lord

Daily Readings: 1 Chronicles 20-21, Ezekiel 31, Ephesians 1-2

The surreal story, in 1 Chronicles 21, of David seeing the angel of the LORD holding a drawn sword over Jerusalem really captured my imagination today. In a world threatened by men’s evil and weaponry, I decided this story might be worth mining for lessons.

What could have been more terrifying?! In the midst of a terrible plague that was running rampant through the nation, King David looks up and sees the mighty angel of God Himself, standing with obvious dire intention toward Jerusalem! It is no wonder that the account tells us that David was “terrified of the sword of the angel of the LORD!” v.30 I think anyone would have been! Remarkably, this man of great faith has the courage to speak to the angel! He takes responsibility for the “sin and wickedness” that is prompting this horrible judgment. v.17 The account says that even God “was sorry over the calamity and said to the destroying angel, “It is enough: Relax your hand.” v.15 I began wondering what other stories in Scripture depict such truly awesome scenes with angels and the sword of the LORD. Perhaps you will bear with me as I share some of the findings of my survey.

The first sword in Scripture, of course, is the “flaming sword that turns every direction” that was set at the entrance of the Garden of Eden to keep the way to the Tree of Life. Genesis 3:24 Cherubim (not angels) are stationed there. Certainly an equally astonishing sight for Adam and Eve! My mind then went to the story of Balaam who was met by an unseen sword-bearing angel. (It seems faith is often necessary to see these beings.) His donkey is terrified – but he is oblivious. There is a brief, strangely matter-of-fact account of Joshua (just prior to Jericho’s “battle”) where he experiences the drawn sword of the “Captain of the Host of the Lord.” Joshua 5:13-15 The prophet Elisha (and later his servant) saw the entire army of the LORD including chariots of fire! 2 Kings 6:17 Add to these accounts of personal encounters, the many other Bible swords highlighted in the prophets and the book of Revelation. Let’s consider what further details are revealed about these swords of the LORD.

Here are some of the adjectives used to describe swords associated with God and His angels in the Bible (NASB):

Flaming Fierce Executing Judgement
Drawn Great Devouring
Sharp Mighty Sharpened and Polished
Flashing Filled with Blood Glittering
2-Edged Satiated Like Lightning

I think a horrified jumble of these words probably flashed through David’s mind as he gazed in trembling fear at that mighty sword-bearing angel! And perhaps he was also terrified because it was heading toward the capital City where his family was residing. He might have gone weak in the knees if he recalled what Nathan the prophet had told him years before. “The sword will never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:10) – due to the sins he had committed concerning Bathsheba!

The sword does indeed represent judgment – fearful, irrevocable judgment. Throughout the Old Testament books, many swords of the LORD appear killing and devouring both His people and people of the nations in a variety of judgments. Chapter 21 of Ezekiel gives a detailed description of God’s sword being sharpened and polished and “given into hands of the slayer,” – presumably an angel. Ezekiel 30 even tells us God puts His own sword in the hands of the King of Babylon!

If we stopped at this point in our study, we might go away with a lopsided vision of a vindictive, bloodthirsty God. As good Bible students, however we will consider further – because valid conclusions can only be drawn from the complete picture of any scriptural subject.

There are many, many swords of men also described in God’s word. Historical accounts are everywhere of swords of vicious nations that shed the blood of countless men, women, and children – both among God’s people, and other nations. Swords – from Simeon & Levi’s used to slay the men of Shechem, to those of the Roman soldiers at the foot of Jesus’ cross – literally smatter the stories of the Bible with blood. The difference between these swords, and those like the one held by the angel of David’s day, however, are the motives behind their use.

God resorted to destruction only after years of sending prophets “daily rising early and sending them” to His people (and His nation as a witness to other nations). Jeremiah 7:25 He virtually, continuously begs them to repent so that judgment would not have to be forthcoming. The Bible story, however, is the story of God trying to save human hearts that sadly prefer sin and unbending pride. Refusing to submit to God is a choice – and it forces God to be true to His own righteousness. So often, the Bible highlights vignettes that show us that God is acting against His own desire – like in this account in Chronicles when He stays the destroying angel’s hand. He is a God who “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 After He has warned men, however, He will indeed act according to His righteousness.

In spite of the great, horrifying catastrophe coming upon his kingdom, David understood God’s justice in His decision. David’s response to this judgment was one of high-order love in offering his own life in the place of his people. He did not question the judgment of God. Rather, it is interesting to note that in the Psalms he even calls upon God to use His sword to “deliver my soul from the wicked.” Psalm 17:13 It lends a real depth of meaning when we note that David had actually witnessed a destroying angel with the drawn sword of the LORD that day described in Chronicles! And God had stayed the angel’s hand that day. David knew that while the sword was indeed a sword of judgment, it was also a sword of deliverance for the faithful.

Why is a loving God pictured as wielding a sword, you might ask? A sword is a weapon of war. Its purpose is to cut off – to rid the earth of an enemy. In the case of a righteous God this is a righteous discernment. In this biblical figure, God is depicted as a sword-bearing Warrior/King. He has an army with a Mighty Captain at its head that commands countless battalions that always do His will. He has chariots, swords and other weapons with which to carry out His purpose. No army of man – even the greatest civilizations like Egypt, Assyria or Babylon – has ever been able to withstand the army of the Living God. In fact, He often uses the very nations of men AS His sword to carry out judgment on other nations.

That thought brings us to the deeper level of meaning of the sword of God. His sword is just a symbol, really. It is a symbol of His word. He speaks it and His angels carry it out. They don’t need literal swords to bring judgment – like the fatal disease spreading like wildfire in the Israel of David’s day. He can merely speak the words and the judgment comes about. His spirit, His power, His angels – can touch a person and they live or die. He speaks and it happens. His word never returns to Him without accomplishing His will.

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11

And God’s word is not the only powerful scriptural sword. The book of Isaiah takes up the sword imagery and tells us that God makes the mouth of the Messiah “like a sharp sword.” Isaiah 49:2 The New Testament repeats this sword metaphor as it introduces Jesus – a Messiah/Savior who is like his Father. In fact, he “shows us the Father.” John 14:8-9 He, too, will bring a sword to lives through his powerful , Spirit-filled sword-words.

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Matthew 10:34

And yet, Jesus was not a violent revolutionary, or a vindictive, dictatorial leader. He never even used a literal sword, nor did he encourage others to do so. On the contrary, he exhorted that “all those who live by the sword will also die by the sword.” Matthew 26:2 He (who had all of the power of the Holy spirit at his disposal) purposely healed a man who Peter injured (with a sword ) the night he was wrongfully betrayed to Roman soldiers (also bearing swords.)

So what further insights can we glean about the sharp sword prophesied and wielded by Jesus the Messiah? Ephesians 6:17 explains that the Christian sword is a piece of spiritual armor. It is described as a sword of God’s own spirit and defined as “the word of God.” It is not a violent weapon – but the powerful word God speaks of truth and light, justice and right thinking, mercy and judgment. It is evident in Jesus’ teaching and behavior because he was God’s word made flesh. He was God’s special weapon. Think of Jesus as a living two-edged sword. Hebrews elaborates even further by telling us:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Even more than that angel in Jerusalem – God’s living word, Jesus, pierces and judges us. His life tests our lives. He will sit on the judgment throne as both the sword of deliverance or the sword of judgment wielded by his Father.

Interesting to note in this context that there are only a few swords specifically mentioned as two-edged in the Bible. The first belonged to Ehud, a courageous judge who delivered his people by killing a nasty Moabite king (who represents sin and flesh). Next appearance is found in the hand of “godly ones” in Psalm 149:

Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written; This is an honor for all His godly ones. Praise the LORD!

Psalm 149:5-9

The many threads of this discussion all come together and become SO fitting when we understand this progression leads ultimately to the visions of the glorified Christ in Revelation bearing a two-edged sword in his mouth. This is the only sword in the New Testament that is a long sword in Greek – fitting only for the greatest of warriors. And with his mouth Jesus makes war, and rids the world of wickedness and evil – finally and completely. (Revelation 1:16, 2:16, 6:8, 19:15-16, 19:21)

From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

The dramatic story doesn’t end here, however. Once righteous judgment is meted out through Jesus with his godly ones, there is a change on this planet. Both the prophets Micah and Isaiah tell us of a glorious permanent regeneration that God will bring about. It is interesting to note that part of this passage is inscribed on a wall of the United Nations building in New York. Note what happens to the swords in these passages:

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.

Micah 4:3 & Isaiah 2:4

I personally, as well, I imagine, as many other random- violence-horrified, pollution-weary, sin-burdened people, really long for that promised day! Hosea also describes that approaching time when a God who has always had a plan to redeem will abolish all weapons of war. I will close with his eloquent description:

In that day I will also make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land, and will make them lie down in safety. I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.

Hosea 2:18-20