It seems to me that humans are innately inclined toward discord and attracted to violence. Although few would admit to enjoying involvement in disharmony, many find pleasure in hearing about other people's fights. One might simply consider the classic example of a middle school hallway fight, involving the two people fighting and the many other young spectators running to get a look at the live action (at least that was part of my middle school experience). Although we may recognize the foolishness of this behavior, it exhibits a spirit that is at work in all of us, namely, a fascination with conflict and controversy.
With regard to this spirit of discord, I always think of my own experience as a teenager, watching the beginning of the Gulf War in Desert Storm on live TV (Jan 15, 1991). As the bombs rained down on Baghdad, I watched the night sky light up like a fireworks show. I was comfortably removed from the true devastation and horror of the war taking place on the ground. With excitement, I recall running out of my room and exclaiming, "Mom, we are at war!" and eagerly returned to learn all about Tomahawk and Scud missiles. Looking back, I wish that I had been disturbed by the war and hoped for a peaceful resolution. I have since become more aware of the dreadfulness of military conflict. However, I think my experience of excitement simply illustrates the human fascination with discord and trouble of any kind. Although we may not want to experience it, we seem bent on watching it and hearing about it. If it were not so, certain news networks that specialize in inflaming conflict would not be so popular.
In response to our present culture's fascination with and proclivity toward strife, especially obvious in politics and on social media, this year at HST we are taking up the theme of "A Peaceable Kingdom." Scattered throughout the Bible, there are visions of a future of peace. For example, Isaiah 2:2-4 proclaims a future when all nations will come to Zion to learn the instruction (torah) of the Lord, which will leads to transforming their weapons of war into farming tools and the end of learning of war. In this text, peace is not the absence of conflict; rather, the prophet envisions a future when nations would resolve their conflicts by seeking Lord's arbitration. Torah leads people toward dealing with conflict peaceably and away from escalating conflict with violence and revenge. Additionally, Torah moves people away from a fascination with discord. Those who are led by the Spirit of the Lord do not find pleasure in watching other people's disharmony.
A few chapters later, in Isa 11:1-9, the prophet casts a wondrous vision of a kingdom of peace. The imagined peace has its origins in the Spirit of the Lord resting on an ideal king. This passage begins by portraying God's Spirit empowering the future leader with knowledge and wisdom (11:1). It ends with that same knowledge of the Lord filling the whole earth, as God's reign radiates out from the holy mountain (11:9). In between these two verses, the prophet explains the power of knowing God and the work of the Spirit. By the power of the Spirit, there is fair judgment (v. 3), care for the poor (v. 4), and punishment for the wicked (v. 4). Righteousness and faithfulness characterize the king's rule (v. 5). Moreover, this all leads to an almost unimaginable peace in which predator and prey live together in harmony: wolf and lamb, leopard and young goat, calf and lion (vv. 6-8). The passage concludes:
They will not hurt or destroy
On my holy mountain;
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
Just as in Isaiah 2, the secret to peace is knowing the Lord. It is hard to grasp what peace actually looks like in our global context. It is even more difficult to find solutions toward peace among combatant peoples. Isaiah 11 does not provide any explicit instruction for military affairs, dealing with particular household quarrels, or any other kind of human discord. However, it casts a vision and a means by which we might live peaceably. The prophet points us to knowing God as the key to discernment. It is by the power of the Spirit that we learn to be peaceable. And it is under the rule of the King that we live it out. This year as we meditate upon what it means to be peaceable in a world that loves strife, may the Spirit clothe us with righteousness and faithfulness. May we come to fuller knowledge of and communion with the Lord. And may our desire grow and prayer increase for the kingdom of peace to come on earth as it is in heaven.
Lance Hawley, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Old Testament