Day 95: Matthew 10:34

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world.  No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

[Jesus’ 12 disciples are sent out on a mission trip with these instructions.  For background see Days 83-84.]

Well, here is one of those scriptures that if you take it out of context it can get you into a lot of trouble.  If you have any trouble whatsoever distinguishing between metaphor and reality then reading the Bible will probably not enhance your spiritual life.  You will end up with Rambo Jesus.  Love God or Die Hard.

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Of course we all know that Jesus wants peace because God wants peace.

Psalm 29:11 “The Lord gives strength to his people and blesses them with peace.”

Psalm 34:14 – “Turn away from evil and do good; strive for peace with all your heart.”

Isaiah 54:13“I myself will teach your people and give them prosperity and peace.”

Isaiah 57:19 – “I offer peace to all, both near and far! I will heal my people.”

But Jesus also says that peace, like everything else, doesn’t just happen.  We have to work for it.  In the Beatitudes he says “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!”  (See Day 13).  This is consistent with other scriptures like Because everyone will do what is right, there will be peace and security forever.”(Isaiah 32:17).  Peace is conditional on our behavior.  Collectively we have to choose peace.  Jesus isn’t just going to sprinkle his magical fairy dust around and make us all peaceful without any effort on our part.

I think this beautiful prophetic scripture from the Psalms sums it up:  “Love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will embrace.” (Psalm 85:10).  Love without faithfulness is worthless.  Faithfulness without love is slavery.  Righteousness without peace is angry.  Peace without righteousness can’t last.

So while peace is certainly the long-term goal, it can’t be achieved without love, faithfulness, and righteousness.  In the short term, there will be resistance.  There will be violence, and there will be death.  Jesus says the fight must continue until the goal is achieved.

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Jesus says that he brings a weapon.  He brings a sword.  Here we have a word positively loaded with symbolism in the Hebrew tradition.  Here are some excerpts from a Jewish website about “zayin”, which is both the 7th letter of the Hebrew alphabet and also the Hebrew word for “sword” in the Old Testament:

Zayin represents the number seven.  The name zayin means “crown.”

The seventh letter of the alef-beit is Zayin. Its design is the form of a sword (the word “lezayen” coming to mean “to be armed” in the Modern Hebrew language.). The top of the Zayin is the handle, and the vertical leg is the blade.  Another interpretation of the Zayin’s design is that it represents a crown and a scepter. The letter Zayin thus alludes to power and authority.

The root meaning of the Hebrew letter Zayin is interesting in itself. While it means a “sword “or “sharp weapon”, also the letter Zayin is also associated with the tongue. The tongue is a sword -a two-edged sword.

Also as explained above, the meaning of the word is also connected to food and sustainance.  Some scholars say that the meaning behind this is that while pointless bloodshed is certainly not the ideal, we sometimes must fight in order to defend our lives and our way of life.

An oversized Zayin is found in Malachi 4:4: “Remember the Torah of Moses my servant that I commanded him at Horeb, the statutes and judgments for all Israel.”

Since Zayin represents a weapon of the Spirit, remembering the Torah of Moses is here depicted as a great weapon to be used in spiritual warfare in our lives.

(http://bethaderech.com/learning-hebrew-the-letter-zayin/)

Here’s the original scripture again in English, transliterated word for word from Hebrew: “No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Taking the full meaning of the Hebrew word for “sword” into consideration, it should probably be translated a little more like this:

“No, I did not come to bring cheap peace.  Instead, I come with a crown of authority and power from God.  My tongue is like a sword that separates God’s truth from the lies of the devil.  What I bring is life-giving sustainance for all humanity.  I have come to defend the Law (Torah) with my weapon of the Spirit which overcomes all evil.”

In English, the idea of Jesus wielding a worldly weapon like a sword is rather barbaric and seemingly out of character, but in it’s full Hebrew meaning it’s beautiful and inspirational!  Jesus comes with authority to defend God’s word and give us life!!

There’s so much richness in these words of Jesus! All we have been taught to  do is skim the surface.  I can’t believe how much hidden meaning there is in this single word.  Sword.  Who would have known?  I guess I’ll just have to keep digging and probing.  The Internet really helps for diving into these things.  I really want to know what Jesus is saying.  I don’t want to settle for anything less.

What does this scripture say to you?

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2 thoughts on “Day 95: Matthew 10:34

  1. John—Thank you, this Blog gets at understanding a passage that has been the source of much confusion. As a pacifist I have struggled with making sense of these words of Jesus. It goes to show that we need to dig deep into the Hebrew and Aramaic originals of these translations into Greek as well as the mindset of the cultural and religious context. It is clear that the goal of the Biblical message is shalom, peace and harmony. The zayen relationship connects the saying with the rich use of the word sword in the shape of nonviolent strategies to engage forces of oppression and the use of violence as a weapon of domination. I once wrote a paper on the book of Revelation the point of which was to show how the message of this book filled with violent imagery is an invitation to the community not to respond in kind but to respond with love and non-violence. Thanks for making sense of this Scripture.

  2. This is one of the scriptures that I have just ignored because I couldn’t understand it. I do this sometimes when I feel that I will understand it “by and by” Thanks this has been very helpful.

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