11/18/18 – JV – Shining Light on Plowshares & Pruning Hooks


November 18, 2018
Jazz Vespers
Homily based on Isaiah, chapter 36-37; Isaiah 2:1-5; Matt.5:14-16
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

I am not going to read all the verses from Isaiah 36 and 37. You probably haven’t heard, or do not remember a sermon on these verses because Isaiah 2:1-4 is far more well-known. I am going to read these verses from Isaiah 2 first. I do this because these verses give us an introduction to the prophet Isaiah’s message to Judah in chapters 36 and 37. Judah was the southern kingdom of Israel after it split with the north, creating two kingdoms. These verses from Isaiah 2 shed light on Isaiah’s message to Hezekiah, the king of Judah when he was faced with a terrible ultimatum by the King of Assyria.

“The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2In 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. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” – Isaiah 2:1-5

Now this passage from Matthew 5 which brings the readings together with the imagery of light:

 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.16In the same way, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” –  Matt. 5:14- 16 

Chapters 36 and 37 from the book of Isaiah describe the drastic situation facing Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been conquered by the Assyrians. Then the Assyrian king set his sights on Judah and had already captured many strongholds in the southern kingdom – but not the great capital city, Jerusalem.

The narrative account in Isaiah 36-37 is a complex, convoluted drama depicting a historical event. Yet, the history is not reliable. There are discrepancies between Isaiah’s account and 2 kings. This is not uncommon when stories are handed down many generations before the pen is put to the papyrus. As one might expect there are even greater discrepancies between biblical accounts and Assyrian records. In every conflict, the two sides will always have conflicting narratives. As much as we like to know the facts, this account must be read theologically rather than factually.

Assyria, an ancient empire which included what are now parts of northern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, and northeastern Syria. Assyria was a great threat to other nations in what we now know as the Middle East. The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, had attacked many strongholds of Judah. When his great army came to Jerusalem, he sent an emissary to meet King Hezekiah’s emissary to convince Hezekiah to surrender. The Assyrian emissary speaks in Judah’s native tongue, so the people will hear, become frightened and put pressure on the king to surrender. The emissary paints a picture of terrible hardship produced by a long military siege. The greatest threat being they will be cut off from food or water. Sennacherib’s message to Hezekiah is both persuasive and threatening. The basic points were these:

Don’t trust Egypt as an ally, verbal agreements are meaningless in the face of a threat by a powerful army. Egypt will turn on you to save themselves.

Don’t believe Hezekiah when he tells you to trust in the Lord. See how other nations have not been saved by their gods.

If you just pledge your allegiance to the King of Assyria, he will give you peace and prosperity.

We won’t bother you, except to move you from your country to another.

This message sends King Hezekiah into a fit of weeping and mourning. He rushes to the temple to seek comfort. He sends a message to the prophet Isaiah: ‘Please pray for us.’ But Isaiah has more to offer than thoughts and prayers. Isaiah sends a message back to the king instructing him not to fear and not to forsake his faith. Isaiah promises that God will intervene on behalf of Jerusalem by implanting fear in the Assyrian king by way of rumors. Isaiah further prophesies that the King of Assyria will eventually be killed in his own homeland. In other words: ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’

Isaiah’s prophesy came true. It was decades before the Babylonians finally conquered Jerusalem. The lead up to that event is another story for another day. With this backdrop, we now go back to Isaiah’s words in the first 5 verses of chapter 2 for God’s vision of peace.

God is no longer envisioned as a mighty warrior who will fight the other nations, but rather, the ultimate teacher of God’s ways of peace, the righteous judge and the final arbitrator between nations. It is against God’s vision of peace to use impoverishment, even starvation, to subdue other peoples. Following God’s ways all of God’s people can live without fear of one another and with all that, they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Therefore, people will be able to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. No nation will need to learn the ways of war anymore. This passage ends with the words: “let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Centuries later, Jesus echoes these words when he instructs his disciples: “You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine.” Our two hymns today frame the Isaiah 2 and Matthew 5 passages. “Down by the Riverside,” in which the refrain is, “Ain’t gonna study war no more” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

What does shining the light of Christ into the world look like? It looks like people beating their swords into plowshares and feeding a world hungry for food and for peace.




© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
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