What Does It Mean To ‘Live By The Sword?’

Recently, I encountered believers who were advocating the use of evil to combat what they believed to be evil.  I tried to offer correction by reminding them that Scripture does not teach us to repay evil for evil: quite the contrary.  Scripture teaches us to combat evil with good.  If one resorts to evil to combat evil, one becomes evil.  This is because there is no common ground between good and evil.  Since you can only stand on one side or the other, if you use evil, you have chosen the side of evil.  All of this got me to thinking about a related teaching in Scripture: ‘living by the sword.’ I realized that those who habitually resort to evil as their primary means of dealing with others are ‘living by the sword.’  Which, in the context of the discussion that promoted this post, prompted a revelation to me: for I suddenly realized that many who call themselves by The Lord’s Name are living by the sword without ever realizing it!

What does it mean to live by the sword and die by the sword?

Well, first, we should remember that Jesus quoted this proverb in the garden, after Peter had pulled his sword to defend Jesus from being arrested.  After healing the man’s ear, Jesus said:

Matthew 26:52  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

52 Then Jesus *said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.

But where can we find an example of what this means and how it works?  As always, we should start by first  looking to Scripture for our answers, and when we do, among other passages, we will find the story of Esau and Jacob and Laban, which starts off this way:

Genesis 27:35-41 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

35 And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” 36 Then he said, “[a]Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his [b]relatives I have given to him [c]as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept.

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him,

“Behold, [d]away from the [e]fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling,
And [f]away from the dew of heaven from above.
40 “By your sword you shall live,
And your brother you shall serve;
But it shall come about when you become restless,
That you will [g]break his yoke from your neck.”

41 So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said [h]to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

In this story, we see that, because Jacob was deceitful (i.e. evil) in his ways, it caused his brother, Esau, to turn toward evil in his own heart.  This is why Esau’s father said Esau would live by the sword: because Esau was already plotting to pay back his brother’s evil with more evil: in this case, by murdering his brother, Jacob.

Then, as the story continues, we find that Jacob is treated unfairly (i.e. wickedly, with evil) by his father-in-law, Laban.  However, eventually, Jacob and Laban make peace between them (Gen 31).  This breaks the cycle and teaches Jacob that he cannot continue to live by his old ways or he will die by someone who uses those same ways against him.  So Jacob takes his household and returns to his brother, Esau, and makes peace with Esau.

The lesson in all of this is that we cannot repay evil with evil.  If we do, we become evil and, eventually, we will perish at the hands of evil.  If we are of a teachable spirit, this should teach us to return evil with good.  We should seek to make peace and live in peace with others wherever possible.  But when this is not possible, we are to follow God’s way of doing things.  This is very difficult for us, because it means we will not always be allowed to fight back (as Peter was not allowed to fight back in the garden).  This means we must learn to let the Lord fight our battles and — yes — sometimes this means we will be martyred!  Remember, Jesus told us that The Way is not easy, and we will be tried and tested and sifted, but the reward for those who stay or the path until the end if great for we will share in His inheritance!

Now, before i close, let me remind the reader that the Spiritual battle is real — as real as any flesh-and-blood in this world.  And that battle rages all around us.  Evil is pure darkness, and God’s people are the lights in that darkness, but the light only shines when we follow and obey the Lord’s commands.  Still, the Spiritual battle reveals itself in this world.  We simply have to learn to look for the signs — what we believers sometimes call ‘types’ or ‘shadows’ or ‘reflections’ of the unseen world surrounding us.  When we learn to look for them and to understand them with Spiritual eyes, we will find things like this:

“Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.”

Robert Winthrop, Speaker of the U. S. House,  

Winthrop was reminding us that government is the sword, and that those who live by government and the use of governmental force are using and living by the sword.  Now, this is applicable here because the conversation that prompted this post was political in nature.  Believers were openly urging others to use evil to combat their political opponents, who the believers said were evil.  In other words, these believers were urging others to live by the sword and not by the Word of the Lord.  Sadly, I could not make them see that they were turning to and placing their trust in the ‘beast’ and not in God (Scripture tells us a ‘beast’ is a kingdom; a government).  I will pray for these believers: that the Lord may open their eyes and they will return, like the prodigal sons and daughters.  But more than this, I pray that the true remnant realizes that The Lord’s people cannot turn to evil to combat evil — because there is no evil in The Lord, or His Body (i.e. the Body of Believers).  Do not shut yourself out of the wedding supper by choosing to remove yourself from the Body.  Guard yourself against joining with evil, my brothers and sisters.  Put on the full armor of the Lord and rest in His security, not that of this world — which is evil (since the fall, anyway)…

 

 

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