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Plowshares And Pruning Hooks; Swords and Spears

Joel 3:10 - Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.

Isaiah 2:4 - They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Micah 4:3 - They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Read Joel 3:1­7, Isaiah 2:1­4, Micah 4:1­8 and Matthew 25:31­-46.

Has the verse above from the book of Joel been misquoted? At first glance you might think so because the verses from the prophets Isaiah and Micah are more familiar to us. But Joel 3:10 has not been misquoted. The prophet Joel, in contrast to Isaiah and Micah, predicted that the tools and implements of peacetime would be converted into weapons of war. Plowshares and pruning hooks, symbols of tranquility, would be exchanged for swords and spears, symbols of war.

The fact that Joel's prophecy is the reverse of the Isaiah and Micah prophecies does not mean there is a contradiction in the Bible or that one prophet misquoted another prophet. The truth is that Joel is looking ahead to a different phase of the last days. Joel foresees a time of great warfare among the nations in the future. Isaiah and Micah foresee a time of great peace among the nations in the future. Plowshares and pruning hooks will be hammered into swords and spears, but swords and spears will also be hammered into plowshares and pruning hooks. Both prophecies are true and they are not in conflict. Both prophecies will be fulfilled at the proper time in line with God's purpose for the nations.

When will these prophecies of warfare and peace be fulfilled? It is clear that the prophecy of peace among the nations can not and will not be brought to fulfillment by mere man. Isaiah and Micah emphatically indicate that it is only when the Lord Himself returns to "judge between the nations" and "settle disputes for many peoples" that worldwide peace will come about. Although the United Nations has the prophecy of Isaiah and Micah inscribed in stone near the entrance to its headquarters in New York City, this human organization will never be able to bring about world peace. While we support every good intention and effort that is made by the United Nations or any other organization for peace among the nations, we must recognize that international peace will only come to this earth when Christ returns.

World peace has certainly not been attained as yet. It is true that individuals from any nation around the world who respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ and accept Him as their personal Savior immediately receive the peace of God and the peace of mind and soul that only Christ can give. But there is a tremendous difference between the international peace among the nations predicted by Micah and Isaiah and the peace with God we experience as individuals through Jesus Christ. They predicted that "Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3). When this prophecy of peace is fulfilled, the West Points and Annapolises and all the other places in the world which "train for war" will close their doors!

Isaiah and Micah prophesied during the same general historical time period in Judah, and probably heard one another preach. It is possible that the Lord instructed Micah to take the words of Isaiah, the royal court preacher, and preach them to the common people. This should not be considered plagiarism, but rather the way the Spirit of God reinforced the prophetic ministry of both men. The process of inspiration does not mean that one prophet cannot write something that was already the spoken or written message of another prophet. In fact, such cases emphasize the unity of the message of the prophets. Both Isaiah and Micah state explicitly that their prophecies will be fulfilled in the "last days" (Isaiah 2:2 and Micah 4:1). The emphasis on the "last days" by both prophets should convince us that the peace they predicted will not come about until the second advent of Christ to this earth. It is true that the last days of human history began with the first coming of Christ, according to Hebrews 1:2. Thus in one sense we are now living in the last days. However, the literal international peace predicted by Isaiah and Micah awaits the time when Christ will personally return to this earth to reign over the nations. Let's not postulate dates for these last days, but they may be soon.

Before we look more closely at Joel's end time prophecy of warfare among the nations, let us pause to appreciate the great future ahead for this earth. In this world of turmoil it is a wonderful encouragement for the growing Christian to know that all the present fighting among the nations and all the global stockpiling of weapons will come to an end before mankind annihilates himself. The fact that Christ will return and successfully teach the Washingtons and Moscows and Beijings how to live in total internal and international peace is almost too good to believe. To know that the Lord will render decisions that will finally bring about the long-sought "impossible" peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is beyond our wildest dreams. To realize that all over the world tanks will be made over into tractors and missiles will be recycled into farm machinery should excite us to the point of exultation in the Prince of Peace!

What about Joel's prophecy of warfare? After such exalted thoughts about the peace of the last days, it is not so pleasant to have to think about the ugliness of war. But Joel prophesied that plowshares would be hammered into swords and pruning hooks into spears. When will this be? From Joel's time until the present, nations have been converting peacetime tools into weapons of war. However, all indications from the text are that Joel's prophecy is primarily referring to the end time. While the predictions of immediate judgment in verses 4 through 8 of Joel 3 were fulfilled in intertestamental times, the rest of the prophecy in Joel 3 has not yet been fulfilled. We read that it will come about in a time when all the nations are gathered together in one location for judgment (v2 and v12). Such a time has never yet occurred in history. Even the extensive alliances and confrontations of the world wars have not fulfilled this prophecy.

The exact time in the future of Joel's warfare prophecy appears to be given in the phrase, "Bring down, O Lord, Thy mighty ones" of verse 11. This would strongly imply that the time of warfare in Joel's prophecy immediately precedes the return of the Lord with His holy angels. The end of Joel's prophecy seems to further indicate that the gathering of nations for judgment comes right before the peace of the last days that is referred to by Isaiah and Micah. In fact, verse 17 shows that the peace comes about as the result of the Lord's return to judge the nations which have gathered together for war.

While we rejoice in the fact that someday there will be perfect peace among the nations, we are awestruck and subdued by the magnitude of the judgment that will precede the peace. All nations will be brought before Christ, the Judge. According to Joel 3:14, multitudes upon multitudes will be judged in the Valley of Decision. The judgment seems to extend beyond the armies to the individuals of all nations. No one will be able to escape "the sickle and the wine press" (v13). The Valley of Decision is so named, not because individuals will have an opportunity to decide about Christ, but because Christ will decide about them. In view of such an awesome judgment to come, how important it is to make sure that you have decided to follow Jesus now.

Joel's scenario of the nations poised for an all-out world war, who then find themselves all gathered together for judgment by the Lord Himself at His return, is right in line with our Lord's statements in the Gospels about the future. In His Olivet Discourse, Jesus said, "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the king will say to those on His right, `Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.'"

The subject of the Lord's Olivet Discourse was His second coming and the end times. (See Matthew 24:3.) Notice how the sequence of events in the verses quoted above is the same as what we've seen in Joel, Isaiah and Micah. The Lord returns in glory to this earth with His holy angels (25:31). All the nations which had come together for war are brought before Him in judgment (25:32). The righteous individuals among the nations are separated and set apart from the unrighteous by the Lord Himself, just as a shepherd of the Middle East separates sheep from goats (25:32­33). The righteous are invited to enter and possess the Kingdom of Christ here on earth and the peace of the last days begins (25:34).

It's great to see how the Old and New Testament prophetic Scriptures fit together. The war and peace of the last days is bound to take place in the way and order that the prophets of Scripture predicted. How thankful we can be that with the return of Christ in the last of the last days here on earth, the plowshares and pruning hooks that were once forged into the swords and spears of war will be rehammered into the plowshares and pruning hooks of peace.
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