ShePonders: Swords into Plowshares

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“The image of swords into plowshares is about dismantling guns and making gardening tools instead. It’s moving from full armories to full granaries, preferring crops to a cache of weapons.”

Isaiah describes the scene perfectly: people stream up the mountain to Jerusalem, seeking the counsel of the Lord, and come down with wisdom. The Lord arbitrates between the nations and they decide to beat their swords into plowshares, turning weapons into more useful (and peaceful) tools. The upshot of it all–no more armed conflicts, no more war colleges. This is what the prophet imagines it will be like “in the days to come.”

Micah entertains the same dream generations later–God’s wisdom flowing down the mountain, weapons melted and metal repurposed, all manifestations of transformation.

“Some day,” sighs another prophet.

When Isaiah and Micah spoke of swords into plowshares they were most likely quoting an ancient song. Maybe they heard their grandfathers sing it or their mothers hum it as they pounded grain into flour. The hope for peace stretched back generations and endured in a simple song that expressed human longing and divine hope. The song haunted these holy men.

The image of swords into plowshares is about dismantling guns and making gardening tools instead. It’s moving from full armories to full granaries, preferring crops to a cache of weapons. The song points to closing down the Department of Defense and expanding the Department of Agriculture. It calls us–not to a less violent world, but a non-violent one.

The prophets, energized by the Spirit, never dreamed of anything less than a new world. They hoped for deep transformation that would turn the world right side up. They saw a world with no war and no hunger. This is their song, still whispered to us all these centuries later.

We so often juxtapose the activities of war with the tranquility of peace. We conjure up images of people sitting on the porch drinking tall glasses of sweet tea, rocking to and fro at the end of another peaceable day. We think peace is the absence of conflict and so, the absence of effort or hard work.

Beating swords into plowshares is hard work–hammering, melting, reworking and shaping new tools. Transformation of this magnitude comes with sweat and sustained labor. Moving beyond hostility and hatred produces calloused hands, sore muscles and bone-deep exhaustion. Welders, after all, forge the lasting peace, a signal that maybe we need the work ethic of a tradesman for the task at hand.

But this ancient song is about more than bringing peace. Remember, we see God sorting things out between nations, negotiating the peace. It might be that their response, beating the swords and spears into something more useful, points to how we sustain that peace.

When we turn from fighting to farming we make strides toward a sustainable shalom.

Exerting our energy toward fighting brings destruction and death, but that energy could be spent otherwise. We could farm instead–we could feed people. And when people are full, when they have what they need to live well, there will be no cause for war. The prophets were right–no hunger, no war. The peace endures as long as the gardens grow, fields are farmed and harvests distributed to all. Imagine laboring and laughing together, bringing food from crop to table, then imagine sharing in a family feast … is this not a vision of Heaven?

This song of swords into plowshares stays with me these days. I’ve decided I don’t want to waste my energies on fighting. I want to feed people.

My husband and I do community development work in Burundi, a country just barely out of a long and bloody civil war. So yes, I want to move away from tribal warfare and lean into the work of agriculture. I’ve already witnessed how plentiful crops shared with neighbors can transform a neighborhood and extinguish old animosities. Seriously, I could tell stories about how the giving of cabbages, potatoes and pigs altered a hostile landscape and created the possibility of a new kind of community. And we love getting to be part of this landscape and these lives–real war, real crops, real peace, real people.

But back home I still carry this song–it’s rattling in my bones. I want to lean into feeding, not fighting. So, I’ve been thinking how I can fertilize my relationships instead of weaponize them. What if I spent my energies nourishing friends with my words, cultivating a safe space for them to share tender things? What if I fed people with great generosity and care? And what if I refrained from weaponizing my words to hurt, to gain power over someone or win an argument? I imagine I’d be transformed into a person of peace, someone living the song sung long ago (and still) about beating swords into plowshares.

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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