A subconscious reason for starting this blog was to confront exactly the kind of scholarly hubris I just read. In an article on True and False Prophecy in the Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, James Brenneman spends a considerable amount of ink trying to convince the reader that either Isaiah or Joel was wrong about the end of the world, because Isaiah says the nations will beat their swords into plowshares (Isa 2:4), and Joel says the nations will beat their plowshares into swords (Joel 3:10). Obviously, if Joel inverts Isaiah’s language, he must be arguing against him, and if you disagree then you’re “ethically irresponsible” (p. 786). With incredible ethical responsibility and nuance, Brenneman points to a turn of phrase and declares once and for all that one of God’s prophets lied to generation upon generation of God’s people about God’s final act in redemptive history.
Liberal scholars think they are doing service to the Biblical authors as they dissect the Bible– by cutting it into a thousand pieces and throwing the chaff to the wind. The New Testament does real service to the Biblical authors by pressing them together into a clear and multifaceted diamond. It presents a kingdom of peace that brings God’s law to the nations, so that they (metaphorically) beat their swords into plowshares and make peace with one another. And yet, the nations rage against the Lord and His people, and beat their plowshares into swords to make war on them. The Lord violently judges His enemies, and all that is left is His kingdom of peace. So much peace that, if you took Jesus’ advice and sold your cloak to buy a sword, you can literally beat that sword into a plowshare.
Brenneman’s low view of scripture rules out the method of interpreting the prophets that I advocate and test on this blog: inaugurated fulfillment in the gospel. The way I’m phrasing it until someone proves me wrong is: The prophets are truly fulfilled by Jesus’ first coming, and visibly fulfilled by his second coming. Plowshares are truly turned into swords as Jews, Herods, Romans, and Greeks kill Jesus and persecute his people; as false teachers invade the church; as families divide over the gospel. Swords are truly turned into plowshares as Jesus makes peace between men of every nation by his blood, and gathers them by the Spirit into one body. Plowshares are visibly turned into swords as the Antichrist gathers the nations to make war on the saints. Swords are visibly turned into plowshares when Jesus judges the nations and brings the New Jerusalem into the New Earth.
As a mob rushes toward the church with swords in hand, Brenneman draws his sword and swings it at Joel– or Isaiah. The saints look up to see the beheaded prophet ruling with Christ. They look back down, wield the sword of the Spirit as a plow, and get back to work, sowing the word of the kingdom.