'Neither Shall They Learn War Anymore'

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One of the most famous sculptures of modern times stands in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York. There a powerfully built man is depicted beating a sword into a plowshare. It was sculpted by the Russian artist Ergenly Vuchetich and was dedicated May 21, 1960. On the base are words, slightly altered from Isaiah 2:4 Isaiah 2:4And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×
: “We shall beat our swords into plowshares.”

At first glance this saying appears appropriate. Certainly the aim is lofty. Surely we all yearn for peace. Paul, writer of several books of the Bible, even recommended that his readers pray for leaders: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 1 Timothy 2:1-4 [1] I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; [2] For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. [3] For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; [4] Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×
).

Yet this same Paul did not want his Christian brethren to form a false hope that a lasting peace would be achieved by human government. Although he exhorted them to be good citizens and to be a light to the world, he pointed out they must base their hopes of a true peace on the coming Kingdom of God.

Cycles of war

Man constantly seeks peace, but he frequently engages in war. Why is mankind’s quest for peace always eventually thwarted by war? Will man finally, once and for all, forge his mighty weapons into instruments of peace? Will he break the cycle of war?

There is a way, but, as we shall see, the way that would work is not seriously considered by most people.

Here are some statistics on the history of war from the Norwegian Academy of Science and the World Organization for the Protection of Humanity. These organizations have calculated that, in the last 5,600 years of man’s written history, armies have fought 14,531 wars. Over the 5,600 years, they estimate only 292 years of peace. That means that 94 percent of the time-5,208 of those years-saw war. The same organizations figure that deaths caused by war have totaled 3.4 billion.

These figures work out on average to be about 700,000 deaths every year, or 70 million per century. In our century some 150 million people-more than half the present population of the United States-have died as a result of armed conflicts.

At this time, civil wars are being waged in the Russian state of Chechnya and in several African states. A decade ago James Reston of The New York Times wrote that in this century alone history has recorded 207 wars. In the two world wars, the estimated number of casualties ran more than 50 million. Now, he says, some nations are in a race to acquire the technology capable of waging battles in space, and not just on our planet. It seems everywhere man goes weapons of death and destruction follow.

Armaments and drugs

Former United Nations secretary general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar noted the sad fact that the two largest industries in the world are the armament business-with almost $900 billion in annual sales-and the illegal-drug market. It is a sad portrayal of how some choose to use a good portion of national and individual wealth.

Considering the enormous military expenditures of the nations that form the United Nations, perhaps it would be more realistic to portray the sculpture in front of UN headquarters as a man forging a plowshare into a sword.

Much more money and metal are being used for weapons than for agricultural tools. While many nations sacrifice to equip their armies with the latest and most expensive technology they can afford, one fourth of the earth’s population is still in abject poverty.

Nevertheless, some feel encouraged by the prospect of world peace. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fragmentation of the Soviet Empire has come some lessening of international tensions. It is also true that, among the major powers, nuclear disarmament has made real progress.

But consider the frightening figures. Newsweek reported in its July 1995 international edition that, from a Cold War high of 13,000 strategic warheads, the United States then had 8,500. Russia’s had decreased to about 10,000. France had 482, China 284, Britain 234. Israel was estimated to have 50 to 100; India had the capability for 80; and Pakistan owned 15 to 25. North Korea is believed to have had enough material for two to three bombs, and U.S authorities thought Iran was actively pursuing a secret program that would make it a nuclear power in about eight years.

The leaders of these nations are candid in explaining that this disarmament had to do more with the collapse of the Soviet empire than any desire to beat their swords into plowshares. It was simply the case of one contender being temporarily knocked out of the ring, so it did not make sense to continue escalating the fight and the costs.

But new contenders are always waiting in the wings. Now the fear is that China will soon enter the ring to defend its heavyweight status. China’s belligerent actions when it threatened Taiwan with nearby military exercises is just an example.

European independence

Europe is acting more and more independently of the United States. Russia is a wounded nation with much political instability and an enormously powerful and deadly nuclear arsenal. The threat of more international bullying and wars, as Saddam Hussein of Iraq showed in invading Kuwait five years ago, is still real.

In a way, the world is in as much danger now as before the end of the Cold War. Recently Terry Hawkins, director of nuclear security for the National Laboratory of Los Alamos, made the point in an interview that during the Cold War it was quite difficult to obtain nuclear material, and that difficulty posed a barrier to nuclear terrorism.

But now, he says, “the barrier is no longer as strong as before. If a terrorist group or an unstable government obtains this nuclear material, which is transported by illegal salesmen, they have solved the most difficult part of building a nuclear bomb” (David Hughes, “Nuclear Terrorism,” May 1996, Popular Mechanics, foreign edition).

Another article described the inadvertent discovery of nuclear material by police. According to a Newsweek article of July 24, 1995: “In Prague [in December 1994], police found almost six pounds of highly enriched uranium in the back seat of a Saab. Also in the car were a Czech nuclear scientist and two colleagues from Belarus and Ukraine. ‘We’re starting to see significant quantities of significant material,’ says a White House source. Adds a Pentagon official, ‘If just one bomb’s worth gets out, people are going to wake up real fast.’”

Definitely, these modern nuclear swords are now in danger of passing far more easily to unstable nations or terrorist groups.

Heart of the problem of war

But what is the root cause of war, the menace that threatens each generation of human beings? Much has been written on the subject, yet the simplest and most direct answer was given almost 2,000 years ago: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war . . .” This is the explanation given by a New Testament writer, James.

Man’s history of war has to do with his human nature. Time after time, in century after century, nations have become more powerful than their neighbors, eventually coveting their territory and other wealth.

In fact, the statue in front of the United Nations building is also symbolic of what is wrong with humanity. Instead of applying the true meaning of the verse paraphrased from Isaiah, human leaders take it as a present reality. On their own they believe they can forge swords into plows.

Let’s read what God really said when He inspired Isaiah to write these words. “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:2-4 Isaiah 2:2-4 [2] And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. [3] And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. [4] And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×
, emphasis added throughout).

Clearly, this quote in front of the United Nations does not apply to the world today. Instead of an effort by a man-made organization, God will ultimately intervene so man will be forced to forge his weapons of war into farm implements.

Nowhere does the Bible indicate that man will achieve lasting peace by his own efforts. It does prophesy that man will continue to search for peace up to the end, but not by following God’s ways, nor by faithfully keeping His law as Isaiah mentions of God’s Kingdom.

Man is ultimately destined to fail in his quest for peace, since his human nature has not changed. Nor have most humans tried to live by truly applying God’s Word. But the good news is that we have a loving Creator God who has determined He will save man from himself. The Bible predicts that human nature eventually will be changed, but only when Christ returns to “rebuke many people.”

False hope for humanity

The famous sculpture in front of the UN headquarters creates a wrong impression and holds out a false hope for mankind. It encourages us to think that by man’s own efforts he can bring lasting peace. Tragically, history teaches us otherwise.

Viewing objectively how humankind is currently spending money on enormous efforts to defend itself, perhaps a more appropriate phrase for the United Nations would be the old Roman maxim: “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

In this regard, God inspired the prophet Joel to describe the sad reality of humankind before Christ intervenes. It shows man will turn his plows into swords, instead of the other way around. Speaking through Joel, God warns the world: “Proclaim this among the nations; ‘Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am strong.”’ Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around” (Joel 3:9-11 Joel 3:9-11 [9] Proclaim you this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: [10] Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. [11] Assemble yourselves, and come, all you heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause your mighty ones to come down, O LORD.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus Christ predicted a world in which, before His return, man’s accumulated weaponry would be enough to annihilate all life on the planet. He said: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 [21] For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. [22] And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×
).

The prophecy of the coming Kingdom of God shows humanity finally walking humbly with God and peace at last achieved. One day we will learn the path to peace (Isaiah 2:1-4 Isaiah 2:1-4 [1] The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. [2] And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. [3] And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. [4] And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×
). This is the time pictured by the biblical Feast of Tabernacles.

We read in Zechariah 14:1-17 Zechariah 14:1-17 [1] Behold, the day of the LORD comes, and your spoil shall be divided in the middle of you. [2] For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. [3] Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. [4] And his feet shall stand in that day on the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall split in the middle thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. [5] And you shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal: yes, you shall flee, like as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with you. [6] And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: [7] But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light. [8] And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. [9] And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one. [10] All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem: and it shall be lifted up, and inhabited in her place, from Benjamin’s gate to the place of the first gate, to the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananeel to the king’s winepresses. [11] And men shall dwell in it, and there shall be no more utter destruction; but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited. [12] And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand on their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. [13] And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult from the LORD shall be among them; and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor. [14] And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem; and the wealth of all the heathen round about shall be gathered together, gold, and silver, and apparel, in great abundance. [15] And so shall be the plague of the horse, of the mule, of the camel, and of the ass, and of all the beasts that shall be in these tents, as this plague. [16] And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. [17] And it shall be, that whoever will not come up of all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even on them shall be no rain.
American King James Version×
: “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken . . .” (verses 1-2).

“Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle” (verse 3).

“And the LORD shall be King over all the earth” (verse 9).

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain” (verses 16-17).

Truly, the magnificent sculpture in front of the United Nations building is greatly symbolic of a coming time of peace and plenty pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles, when under Christ’s government mankind will change its warlike ways into cooperation and peace. Only then will it be that, as God prophesied, “neither shall they learn war anymore.” GN

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