Big news in the military this week (read here) as the Air Force removed its Ethics course from the beginning of basic training for its Missile Officers. For the last few decades, the Air Force chaplains would guide the Missile Officers in an ethics course about why war is sometimes justified and an ethical rationale for the need for war. At the end of the course the new recruits would sign an affidavit that if required by the President, they would “drop the bomb” and push the correct buttons. But after a protest that this was against people’s First Amendment, there is no longer an ethical component given to the future missile launchers of America. Apparently ethics (the moral standards that control a person’s actions) aren’t important anymore.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT PEACE?
As Christians, we believe Jesus was sent by God to fulfill the writings of the Old Testament and introduce the new way of the Kingdom of God. To fully understand what God wants for His people and how he wants us to live (Christian ethics), we must examine the Old Testament for scripture that points to what Jesus Christ did on earth and will do when He comes again. One especially powerful verse on how God wants us to live and understand His Son Jesus Christ is the teaching of war and peacemaking in Isaiah 2:2-4. In this small text, the prophet Isaiah reveals the heart of God for just peacemaking and gives us an eschatological glimpse of peace when Christ rules the Kingdom of God here on Earth in the future.
In the Isaiah 2:2 states “, the “mountain of the Lord’s temple will be higher than all the other temples”. This kind of rising up of God’s holy place will allow the nations to “stream to it.” The visual picture here that Isaiah paints is stunning. People don’t shuffle in or slowly make their way to it like some of us experience congregants slowly filling our churches each Sunday. No, when this holy temple of the Lord is established on the earth, people will stream to it. The language here is important to notice as these presumably are already disciples of God’s ways that are “streaming in” and yet they hunger for God’s presence to teach discipleship. The result of truly being brought into an experience with God and learning from Him is to “walk in His paths.” Isaiah lays out a clear picture of discipleship here that all knowledge of God happens experientially. We don’t know God until we travel towards Him and experience His mercy and love and kindness. And secondly, once we experience this great love, the experience changes us into disciples that are better equipped to follow His ways. For the Christian, knowledge always transforms to action. If we love God, Jesus would later say, it will show: “If you love me, follow my commandments” (John 14:14).
It is interesting to trace the progression from Isaiah 2:2 where the mountain of the Lord is established in the last days, to Isaiah 2:3 where people are seeking His ways, to Isaiah 2:4 where the law has gone out from God and the word of the Lord in order for God to judge and settle disputes. What then is the result of this action of God’s revelation (2:2), humanity’s response and discipleship (2:3) and God’s judging and settling disputes (2:4)? Peace will reign. At the end of verse 4 Isaiah writes, “He will settle disputes for many people, they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…and they will not train for war anymore.” When God comes and humanity responds to His revelation, one of the tangible results is that peace will reign and there will not be war anymore. Here, at the end of verse 4, the heart of God for radical peacemaking is made known. God’s heart is to reconcile humanity and bring peace on earth. God will take the instruments of war and turn them into beautiful instruments of growth and healing. It is through the beginnings of God’s peaceful heart here that later in the book of Isaiah Jesus will be termed the “prince of Peace.” God has a heart for peace. Jesus was a peacemaker.
Isaiah references “plowshares.” Said one writer, “The plowshare is a piece of iron, broad but not large, which tips the end of the shaft. So much does it resemble the short sword used by the ancient warriors, that it may, with very little trouble, be converted into that deadly weapon; and when the work of destruction is over, reduced again to its former shape, and applied to the purposes of agriculture.” God is in the business of taking our pieces of destruction (swords) and creating instruments of growth and change (plowshares). Isaiah continues this theme when he prophesizes that God will turn “their spears into pruning hooks.” Both spears and pruning hooks were long, wooden objects in Isaiah’s time but instead of a sharpened hook at the end meant to maim or destroy, the pruning hooks had an end with a scythe attached to increase the yield of the harvest. By using a pruning hook a farmer could get every last grape or olive out of his land. The visual picture here is beautiful. By following the Lord Jesus Christ’s message for peacemaking, humanity can live abundantly without wasting time in conflict.
Isaiah is saying that God isn’t in the business of just destroying weapons or putting war aside, God’s heart is to transform human instruments made to harm and instead turn these into beautiful instruments of increasing our happiness and our fortune. God wants to bless us with peace than we can even fathom when we have experienced Him and allow Him to rule over the systems of the earth. Eugene Peterson paraphrases God’s intentions here beautifully when he writes in the Message, “He’ll (Jesus) show us the way he works, so we can live the way we’re made.” Truly we worship a God whose heart is for peace and He longs to transform us into His people that are reconciling and healing instead of waging wars of destruction. Jesus’ life on earth embodies this same peacemaking spirit. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus, “for they will be called sons of God.” Truly, to become more like Jesus Christ and be further molded into His children, we must become peacemakers in this world as we await the coming of the future Heaven on Earth….”so we can live the way we’re made.”