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Earth and Bow are Shattered

“Come and see the deeds of Yahweh;

How he has brought destruction upon the earth.

He causes wars to cease unto their end;

The earth and bow are shattered;

And the spear is smashed to bits.

The wagons he burns with fire.”

(Psalm 46:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English translations})

If you compare the translation above with most modern English translations, you will notice a slight variation in the third and fourth lines. Typically, the language reads: “He causes wars to cease unto the end of the earth and the bow is shattered.” Yet, this is not how the Hebrew literally reads. Instead, it reads that “the earth and bow are shattered.” Modern translators have taken note of the oddity of grouping the earth and the bow together and instead chose logically to include the bow with the language about the spear and to see the language about the earth as simply describing the extent of the peace that God will bring. 

Yet, in rendering he Hebrew in the way most modern translators do, I believe that they miss the force of what the psalmist is seeking to communicate. The Hebrew language contains a system of accents that work along with the text. Some of these accents are simply for pronunciation as the language does not contain written vowels. There are additional accents, though, that group words together conceptually, something that is especially valuable in poetic writing. And the accent system in this psalm groups the earth and bow together in terms of those things that will be utterly destroyed and shattered by our almighty God. 

I have already suggested that this psalm is eschatalogical in nature — in other words, it speaks of end times. Indeed, even if we were to render the language as our typical English Bibles do, when will we arrive at a time when all wars will cease? Certainly so long as there is sin in the world, wars will rage — even between professedly Christian peoples and nations. Even within a Christian nation, do not Christian denominations wage war with one another? Certainly we do not use bows and spears, but we do use words and accusations. Why must the weapons of war be so narrowly defined as being the weapons that bring death? Beloved, so long as there is sin on the earth, wars of one form or another will rage between nations, between groups of people, and even within families and churches.

And before the sin is wiped clean from the earth, there will come a time of eternal judgment where even the heavens and the earth will be melted down and remade, cleansed from the effects of the fall, and recast as paradise — Jesus bringing to completion what Adam and Eve were supposed to work as they tended the garden of paradise. So, it will not only be the weapons of war that God utterly destroys, but the battleground upon which those wars took place will also find its cessation. And once again, we are speaking of eternal judgment.

The final note needs to be added about the final clause of this verse. The dominant English translation is that the “chariot” will be burned with fire. The term that is used here is  עֲגָלָה (agalah), which literally refers to a farm wagon or threshing cart, not to a chariot (מֶרְכָּב — merekkab). Again, this is where the translators took contextual liberties and decided that if the psalmist was speaking of bows and spears being destroyed, so he must be speaking of chariots and other wheeled vehicles of war. The NIV translators seemed to recognize that the word “chariot” was not consistent with the language of the Hebrew text, but chose again to assume a militaristic tone and rendered the word עֲגָלָה (agalah) as “shield” given that the root-word is עָגַל (agal), which means “round.” Shields were round (as well as wheels), hence the decision they made in translation.

So, what would make the psalmist include the language of a threshing cart in the things that God is destroying? The simplest answer seems to be that God is destroying all of the effects of sin in his final judgment and one of the judgments in the fall is sweat and toil. There was work prior to the fall and there will be work in the new creation, but there will also be food in abundance in the new creation and the sweat and toil that is represented by working the ox-carts through the fields will be wiped away. No longer will our farmers slave, scratching a living from the soil, but food will be abundant and accessible to all.

Loved ones, our God is a mighty God and judgment is coming for all who reject his power and grace. For some, that time of judgment is something to be feared. For the believer, trusting in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, it is something that we look toward with hope for all of the effects of sin will be wiped clean from our homes and world and we will dwell in paradise forever.

Come and See the Deeds of Yahweh!

“Come and see the deeds of Yahweh;

How he has brought destruction upon the earth.

He causes wars to cease unto their end;

The earth and bow are shattered;

And the spear is smashed to bits.

The wagons he burns with fire.”

(Psalm 46:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English translations})

Come and see the deeds of Yahweh! Indeed, the psalmist calls to us to witness the power and the might of our Lord. Usually, when you hear this kind of language, the images that come to mind are images of grace and mercy given to the undeserving, yet that is not the direction that the psalmist takes as he challenges us to come and see. Instead, he speaks of the destruction brought by God’s judgment. The word he uses here is שַׁמָּה (shammah), which is a term that is always used to refer to the destruction that follows judgment. Sometimes this word is rendered as “atrocities” to give it more force from the perspective of those under said judgment.

And indeed, God’s wrath is horrific for those under his judgment. Think about those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day or in the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of the plagues that God set upon the Egyptians and even the judgments against those like Korah who rebelled in the wilderness wanderings. In the Israelite entrance into the Promised Land, God commanded entire cities be put to the ban; bringing death to every living thing that dwelled within the city. And then in God’s own judgment poured out against his Son, Jesus, when he was on the cross of Calvary. Indeed, these are horrific events, but events with a purpose.

Often Christians shy away from the language of God’s wrath, but in doing so, they leech the Gospel of its power. If we do not have a clear-eyed-view of what it is that we are being saved from, we will not appreciate the salvation that is extended. James says that the demons tremble at the name of God (James 2:19); unbelieving men and believing men alike rarely give God’s wrath a second thought. Why this contrast? It is because the demons know the justice of God is poured out in wrath and that they are bound to receive it in full; men have deceived themselves into thinking that God is little more than a senile grandfather who dotes on his grandchildren. What a rude awakening many will receive.

So what is the purpose of such events? On one level they are meant as a warning to us to drive us to our knees in repentance. In addition, they are a reminder that God is a just God who will not allow sin to go unpunished. Sometimes, when we look at judgment, we may be tempted to cry out as children so often do, “not fair!” Yet, were we to really grasp the magnitude of our own sin we would be forced to concede that God indeed is fairness defined. It is only through and because of the work of Christ that we have any reason to hope for an escape from judgment because he took our judgment upon himself.

Indeed, come and see the justice of our God! To you who believe, know that in our God we have a strong refuge but to you who stand firmly in your own arrogance and pride; beware, for the judgment of God is horrific indeed. Hell is a place where the fires burn and are never quenched, where the worms consume and never go away, where we are eternally in the process of being torn down and are separated from anything that is good. Such is the just punishment for our sins against a Holy and Righteous God. Praise be to God for the redemption that is given in Jesus!