The Sword of the LORD

THE SWORD IS one of the most ancient weapons of war, and was the chief instrument used in warfare until the invention of gunpowder. So important was its place in the battles of ancient nations that the term ‘sword’ became practically synonymous with war. In the symbology of the Scriptures this fact is recognized, and it is in many instances employed in the prophecies of evils that were to come upon nations through wars to be waged against them. Thus, for example, in the expression, “by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence,” ‘by the sword’ refers to capture or destruction in war.—Jer. 14:12

The sword is primarily an instrument of destruction, and by analogy, in the hands of a nation’s army it symbolizes the strength of the nation; that is, a nation with a large army, wielding many swords, was considered capable of subduing its enemies, thus maintaining its position of superiority and power. This, in a general way, is the background of thought associated with the Bible’s symbolic use of the term sword. Thus the “sword of the Lord” (Judg. 7:20) and the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) are not literal weapons of steel, but rather the power of Jehovah which he employs to destroy those things which are out of harmony with his will, the enemies of righteousness.


The first time the word sword appears in the Bible it is used to symbolize a provision made by the Lord to prevent fallen man from returning to the Garden of Eden. This was before man had invented the sword, and we might wonder why it was used thus as a symbol before its later meaning was attached to it. In this instance, it seems to represent a preventative measure, rather than destruction, as its later universal use denoted. It is translated from the Hebrew word chereb, which, according to Strong’s Concordance means ‘drought’; also a ‘cutting instrument’ (from its destructive effect). Note that its first meaning is ‘drought’ although it is never so translated in the Old Testament, although chareb and cherab are so translated and are root words of chereb.

About the only time this Hebrew word chereb is used in the Old Testament when it could be translated ‘drought’ without doing violence to the context, is in Genesis 3:24, where it is first used, and translated ‘flaming sword’ to describe the Lord’s arrangement to keep man from returning to the garden. It could, in this one case, be given its original meaning; namely, ‘drought’. Perhaps the Lord prevented fallen man from receiving the benefits of the garden which he planted “eastward in Eden” (Gen. 2:8) simply by withholding moisture from that section of the country—‘a flaming sword [or drought] which turned every way’. This explains the disappearance of the garden in so short a time.


The original meaning of the word sword, chereb in the Hebrew, also gives significance to the picture of desolation and blight that is often presented in the Scriptures when reference is made to the effect of the sword. A land, or country, that suffers the ravages of the sword is often described as being utterly wasted. One example is found in I Chronicles 20:1: “At the time that kings go out to battle, Joab led forth the power of the army, and wasted the country of the children of Ammon.” Also, in the prophecy when Isaiah asked how long the blindness of Israel would last, he was told, “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate.”—Isa. 6:11

This is a reference to the wasting that occurs in the great time of trouble by the ‘sword of the Lord’. The same expression is used concerning the completion of the church and the reign of Christ: “The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea those nations shall be utterly wasted.” (Isa. 60:12) Again the wasting is done by the sword of the Lord.


One of the early instances in the Scriptures where the Lord is associated with the symbolic use of the sword is in the account of Gideon and his little band of three hundred who defeated a vast army of Midianites. Here it is referred to as “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.” (Judges 7:18,20) This is clearly a symbolic use of the term, for neither Gideon nor any of his little band of three hundred carried swords in their attack against the host of Midian.

In this remarkable story we are given an insight into some of the important ways in which the Lord’s ‘sword’ is used in the destruction of his enemies, and the fact that he makes it possible for his people to join in the battle with him. This latter thought is suggested by the Apostle Paul when he tells Timothy to “endure hardness” as a “good soldier of Jesus Christ,” and urges him to “war a good warfare.” (II Tim. 2:3; I Tim. 1:18) Paul knew, and every faithful follower of the Master has learned, that in order to be a ‘good soldier’ it is necessary to ‘endure hardness’, and not become encumbered with the affairs of the world.

In considering the experiences of Gideon in connection with the defeat of the Midianites, one of the first lessons we observe is that the Lord does not depend upon the power of numbers in order to accomplish his purposes. To impress this point upon Gideon, he caused him to reduce his army from thirty-two thousand to the insignificant number of three hundred. (Judges 7:3,6,7) Gideon sensed that the Lord was thereby letting him know that only by his wisdom and power would it be possible to defeat the mighty host of Midianites.

After that victory had been gained, and Israel was freed from the aggressors, the people wanted Gideon to rule over them, but he replied, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:23) Gideon realized that the people’s desire to have him as their ruler was based on the false assumption that he had defeated the Midianites; so he wanted them to know that the real conqueror was Jehovah, and that Jehovah, therefore, should be their Ruler.


Gideon learned well the lesson that only by the strength of the Lord can victories be won by his people—victories over the enemies of the Lord and his people. Have we learned that lesson? The foes of spiritual Israel are not people, not literal armies equipped with weapons of carnal warfare; but they are, nevertheless, real and formidable. How important it is that no matter how strong we might feel to fight these enemies of the New Creature, we should look to the Lord for guidance in the struggle and lean upon his sustaining arm of strength to keep us from falling.

One of our principal enemies is our own fallen flesh. Allied with our flesh is the world, and the prince of this “present evil world” (Gal. 1:4), the Devil. It would be impossible for the strongest Christian to fight victoriously against these unrighteous allies without the wisdom and strength furnished by the Lord. No wonder we tremble when we think of self, but when we look away from self and to the Lord we are strong—“strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” (Eph. 6:10) How else could Gideon have defeated the Midianites except the Lord had helped him! And how can we hope to be conquerors, yea, more than conquerors, except it be through the help of the Lord!

Before the battle against the Midianites began, the Lord instructed Gideon to go down into their camp and listen to their conversation. He did this, and heard one of them telling a dream. This dream was interpreted by the Midianites to mean that they would be defeated by Gideon—“This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.” This was enough to reassure Gideon. Returning to his own little company of soldiers he said, “Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.”—Judges 7:9-15

How often in our experiences as New Creatures do the providences of the Lord enable us to arise with courage to press forward in the good fight of faith! This is not because we suddenly discover strength of our own. Rather, it is due to the fact that the Lord gives us an experience by which we are reminded anew that his grace is sufficient for us, that his strength is made perfect in our weakness, and that he will overcome our enemies for us if we keep close to him by obeying his instructions.

Often the Lord fights for his people in ways unknown to them, preparing victory in advance; while they, perhaps, by trying to cross those proverbial ‘bridges’ before they come to them, tremble with fear over the outcome of that which the Lord has already made a certain victory for them. God favored Gideon by letting him know that the enemy had been ‘softened’ by an advance attack and hence weakened by fear, and with their morale so low, they were in no fit shape to resist, even though the attacking army was small. Gideon was thus assured again that the battle was the Lord’s and that victory was sure. The Lord does not always favor his people by letting them know the manner in which he is fighting for them; but we can be sure that he is, and faith can firmly trust him, come what may.


In the interpretation of the dream which Gideon heard related, reference was made to his sword—‘the sword of Gideon’. The Midianites were also made aware of the fact that they would be delivered into the hand of Gideon by the God of Israel. This gave a cue to Gideon as to the strategy he should use against the enemy, for he arranged that at a certain time, and upon a signal from him, his little army was to shout, ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon’. This was in keeping with what the Midianites were expecting; and being convinced of defeat, they became panicky and began fighting one another.

Here we have an important lesson. Gideon and his little army did not use actual swords in this original attack, hence the term is used symbolically to describe the manner in which the wisdom and power of the Lord operated to defeat the enemies of God’s people. The only ‘weapons’ they used in this particular strategy were trumpets, torches, and earthen pitchers. Through this strange combination of articles the power of the Lord—his ‘sword’ —operated to put the Midianites to rout.


The great battle in which spiritual Israelites are engaged is one between darkness and light, error and truth. Jesus, the antitypical Gideon, was and is the “light of the world,” and he commissioned his followers that, as his representatives they also were to be the “light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14; John 8:12) But the darkness hates the light, and Satan, the prince of darkness, musters all the hosts of sin in battle array against the Lord’s “little flock.”—Luke 12:32

In the story of Gideon, this ‘sword of the Lord’ is represented by the twofold illustration of the trumpet and the torch. And in the illustration we are reminded that it is only as the trumpet gives forth a certain sound, and the torch is displayed, that the forces of darkness and evil are defeated. This suggests that the truth only becomes powerful—the ‘sword of the Lord’—as we trumpet it forth and let it shine. Truth shut up in our hearts will not overcome our enemies, nor make us conquerors in the good fight of faith.


The third item of ‘armor’ Gideon provided for his little band of warriors was the earthen vessel, and this played its important role only by being broken. The vessel was used to conceal the light of the torch until Gideon gave the signal for the attack. The three hundred soldiers were divided into three groups of one hundred each, and deployed on different parts of the hills overlooking the valley where the Midianites were camped. Gideon took his place with one of the groups, and his instructions were that all the men were to do as he did, the plan being that he would blow his trumpet and at the same time break the earthen vessel that covered the torch. The men with him would do the same, and when the other two groups heard their trumpets and saw their lights, they also were to blow their trumpets and uncover their torches. In addition to this, they were all to shout, ‘The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon’.—Judges 7:20

The strategy was most effective. Only captains in ancient armies, it is said, blew trumpets and carried torches. Thus it appeared to the Midianites that Gideon commanded a tremendous host, one large enough to require hundreds of captains. This, together with the information in the dream that Gideon and his God would defeat them, caused consternation in the ranks of the enemy, and they began fighting one another and thus fell an easy prey to the little company of attackers.

One never tires of recounting this intriguing narrative of how the Lord enabled so few to defeat so many; however, the important thing to us is not the story itself, but the spiritual lessons it conveys to us as spiritual Israelites, New Creatures in Christ Jesus. (II Cor. 5:17) Perhaps one of the most important of these is that of breaking the earthen vessels to permit the light of the torches to be seen by the enemy. This may well represent self-sacrifice to let the light shine out. The sword of the Lord and of the antitypical Gideon—Jesus—is effective against our enemies only in proportion to our self-sacrifice to let the light of truth shine forth in a dark world.

The trumpet of truth must also be sounded. The shout of Gideon and his three hundred, ‘The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon’, was merely an interpretation of the significance of the trumpets and the torches. In our case, it is the sword of truth, God’s truth, and the truth of his Word, but made effective in our good fight of faith as we proclaim it and cause it to shine forth. In order to do this, our earthen vessels must be broken.

Jesus, the antitypical Gideon, and his ‘little flock’ of ‘good soldiers’, are prophetically represented as saying of the Heavenly Father, “He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me.” (Isa. 49:2) Here we have the assurance of protection while we wield the sharp sword of truth by speaking forth the message which our God has given to us and with which he expects us to overcome our enemies.

One of these enemies is self, which can be slain—as represented in the Gideon picture—through ‘breaking our earthen vessels’ to let the light shine out. And, as this is done, we will also be giving battle to our other enemies, which are—primarily—Satan and the world. Insofar as our individual struggle is concerned, our victory over these enemies will be in preventing them from destroying us, or beating down our courage to fight the good fight of faith. In the overall picture, however, every member of the Church, with the antitypical Gideon, its Head, will be victorious ultimately over these foes, and will preside over the destruction of the present evil world and Satan.

This is illustrated in Gideon’s rout of the Midianites! Probably the trumpet blowing, and torch waving, would have been largely ineffective had it not been for what the Lord accomplished beforehand by other means; namely, through the dream given to one of the host of Midian. The shout, ‘The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon’, would not have meant much to the Midianites had they not already been convinced that they would be conquered by this ‘sword’.

The Lord did not use extraneous force against the enemies of Israel. The influences he brought to bear upon them resulted in their turning upon one another. They destroyed themselves, but Gideon and his little army got the credit for the victory. It is largely similar in the overthrow of the kingdoms of this world. Isaiah 42:13 depicts Jehovah as a “mighty man … of war” prevailing against his enemies—the kingdoms of this world—and explains that he does this by stirring up jealousy among them.

Another element which is now entering into the self-destruction of this ‘present evil world’ is fear, even as in the case of the Midianites. The nations are now preparing to destroy one another because they fear one another, and this fear has been engendered largely through inventions of weapons of destruction brought about during the increase of knowledge, the brightshining of the Lord’s presence. As the people of God, our part in this final struggle of the ages is simply that of proclaiming the truth, the great plan of God for the emancipation of the world from the slavery of sin and death. By doing this faithfully, we are blowing the trumpet of truth, we are holding high the torchlight of the kingdom Gospel, and we are shouting, ‘The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon’!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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