In the 1980’s, members of the peace community decided to take the words of Isaiah 2:4 literally in what was referred to as “plowshare” actions. They took hammers to B-52 bombers and other weapons associated with the nuclear arms build-up. One group of four, which included two Catholic priests, a lay woman and a Native American, took a jack hammer to a missile silo in Kansas. My book, Buying Time, features one such plowshares action. These actions did little real damage to their targets. Their purpose was to symbolically confront war and call for a time of peace, following in the footsteps of the prophets.
This week we reflect on peace through two memorable passages from Isaiah. The first passage, Isaiah 2:2-5, is also found in Micah, with the addition of the verse, “Every man shall sit under his own vine or under his own fig tree, undisturbed; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” (Micah 4:4) Some commentators attribute this passage to Isaiah’s later years where he sees the role of Jerusalem as the seat of a new kind of world empire where all people would come to learn the ways of God and find justice, peace and freedom from fear, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” (2:2)
It is a beautiful message of peace, under the rule of a just judge who will put an end to war, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (2:4)
Isaiah 11:1-10 includes the passage associated with the Peaceable Kingdom. The image of the wolf lying doing with the lamb has been featured on many Christmas cards and other artwork. “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. (11:6)
It speaks of the coming of a future king, the Messiah, who will lead with righteousness and bring about this time of peace. “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth . . . Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. (11:3b-5) Isaiah says later that “the work of righteousness shall be peace and the fruit of it quietness and assurance forever.” (32:17)
It is a time when not only will animals go against their nature, but humans as well. It is a time of a new social order where justice prevails. People will no longer hurt and destroy, “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (11:9)
Jesus upset the social order when he came, overturning tables in the Temple, talking to women and outcasts in society. These actions bought him hatred from the powers that be. He was standing in the line of the prophets, in the line of God who prefers the poor and lowly over the rich and powerful.
It has been thirty years since I was involved in the peace movement of the 1980s. The world seems no closer to this image of peace now than it was back then. Still I hold onto the images of Isaiah and pray for a time when righteousness will prevail, as foretold. They are words of comfort and hope for each generation. Working for peace is a goal worthy of many lifetimes.
What do the words of the prophet say to you? Does his message of peace strike a chord within you? How might you do your part to bring peace to a troubled world?
Wishing you peace this Christmas season!