If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death; he ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors.
These words picture the absolute certainty of God’s judgment upon the sinner. They also tell us how fierce and terrible that judgment is. God has a sword, a sword of justice, and with it He will punish man on account of his sin. The instruments wherewith God will inflict this judgment and which He has also prepared, according to the text, are instruments of death; instruments that will inflict death, the death of eternal hell. The evil generation of our day that will not endure sound doctrine and turns away its ears from the truth has tried to take away from God this sword of justice. The reality of the judgment as pictured in this word of God they do not want. They try to prove to themselves that God will clear the guilty and by no means punish iniquity, transgression, and sin.
A few centuries ago one of the most predominant strains heard from the pulpit was that of terror; it was like Mt. Sinai, for the pulpit thundered forth the terrible wrath of God. Perhaps in those days some of the Puritans may have gone too far, and given too great an emphasis to the terrors of the Lord in their ministry; but then, the age in which we live has sought entirely to forget those terrors, and this is worse. If one dares to tell men today that God will punish them for their sin, it is charged that he wishes to bully men into religion; or if he faithfully and honestly tells men that sin brings them to certain destruction, it is said that he is attempting to frighten them into goodness.
But then, it does not really matter what men say or think. It is our duty to proclaim the truth, and that necessitates telling sinners that they surely shall be punished. As long as they continue in the way of sin, we shall sound the warnings of the Word of God. So we are enjoined in,
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word of my mouth and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
This is, then, the command of the Lord; but the cry of our day is that God is not a God of judgment. He is full of mercy and tender love. This we do not deny, for we have always proclaimed the mercy and love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. But this does not conflict with the truth that God executes a severe, just judgment upon all that work iniquity. Conflict results only when men confuse the virtues of God and attempt to apply His love and mercy to those that are objects of divine wrath and judgment. God is indeed a God of love unto His people in Christ Jesus, but the wicked He visits constantly in His holy wrath and just judgment. So we read again and again in Holy Writ., “God is angry with the wicked every day.” , “All the wicked the Lord will destroy.” , “The wicked shall be turned into hell and all nations that forget God.”
Yet this plain truth is silenced in this wicked generation that will know of no hell. Ministers of the gospel flinch from their duty in declaring the day of wrath. Few there are that will solemnly tell of the judgment to come. They preach of God’s love and mercy but without the truth of justice and judgment, which inevitably results in a complete distortion of all the truth. In many circles, the doctrine of future punishment is held in ridicule and mocked. But then, this too is to be expected, for did not wicked Ahab scoff at Micaiah when the latter prophesied of his death? And did not the generation of Noah’s day laugh when he warned them concerning their impending destruction. All such mocking ceases when the arrow of death strikes in the heart of king Ahab and he cries out, “Take me from the battle for I must die,” and you may be sure that there was no jest and laughter when the flood waters began to cover the earth. Does the present generation need more convincing evidence than this of the truth that God “hath whet His sword and bent His bow and made it ready?” With that sword He will come in judgment to destroy all the wicked who stand opposed to Him and refuse to obey His Word.
God is just. He is a righteous God. His sword is sharpened and ready to smite the evil doer. The sword of God mentioned in the text is, of course, figurative and should, therefore, be so understood. The sword is God’s weapon wherewith He administers justice and executes judgment upon the wicked. Thus also in the book of Revelation, Christ is pictured as one with “a two-edged sword proceeding out of his mouth.” In chapter 19 that sword is used to “smite the nations.” The antichristian beast and the false prophet are pictured as being cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone, and the rest, that is, those who belong to that antichristian kingdom and bear the mark of the beast, are slain by the sword of Christ (vv. 15-21). That same sword of judgment Isaiah mentions inof his prophecy, where we read “In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” And, according to that sword is representative of the Word of God, the almighty, powerful, efficacious Word of the living God. We see that the sword represents God’s holy, indignant, and consuming word of wrath, which He speaks and by which all the wicked perish.
We are reminded of the words of Scripture: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (). To be smitten with the sword God has whet and to be pierced with the arrows He has ordained is to suffer the agonies of eternal death in the throes of His unquenchable wrath. Do you not tremble at the very mention of these realities? Do you pause to consider this truth in the mad rush of modern life? Remember, “it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment” ( ).
Oh, to be sure, the truth we speak of is most terrible. It is what men sometimes call “a hard doctrine”; but the very terribleness does not make it less truthful. Men may mock it now, but when the hour of destruction comes they will scoff no more. But you may ask: Is there then no escape from that awful sword? Are not all men sinners who must perish under that sword of divine justice? In reply, we turn to, which reads:
Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones. And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.
This passage teaches us how God has turned the sword of His justice against His shepherd who is Christ, and through smiting Him has redeemed His people from the awful wrath to come. This refers to what took place on Golgotha where “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (). There is positively no other way of deliverance. In Christ and in Him alone is all our salvation. By His perfect obedience and death He has made Himself a sacrifice to the sword of divine justice. In Him the wrath of God is appeased and through Him the eternal mercies and love of God shine forth.
“If the wicked turn not,” our text states, God “will whet his sword.” The implication is that God does not whet His sword against those who turn. And the turning here is the act of true, sincere repentance from sin and all its ways. Now, you must be careful that you do not distort the truth here by interpreting the text as though the act of repentance or man’s turning is the ground or condition upon which the sword of God’s justice is turned aside. Often this is done, but this is incorrect. Let us understand and confess that salvation depends on nothing other than what Christ has done for us and what He alone performs by His grace through us.
Yet one might say, “But does not the text say, ‘If he turn not’?” and does not this imply that it depends upon man’s turning whether or not God will whet the sword of judgment against him? Two things must be borne in mind here. The first is that the sword of judgment is already turned away from the people of God in Christ. This was done on Calvary. God beholds no sin in Israel nor perverseness in Jacob. They are cleansed through the blood of the Lamb and justified in the judgment of God at the cross. And the second is this: That they turn, that is, repent, is not because of them but only because of the glorious grace of God given unto them. So we read in, that Christ is exalted “for to give repentance to Israel.” And in we read the prayer of Ephraim, “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.” Therefore, those whom God humbles repent; those whom He turns surely are turned; and those whom He draws come. And from them the sword of His wrath is turned away, for He has delivered them by His own power and grace from the dominion and power of sin. Truly, salvation is from God alone.
But not so with all who do not turn, who remain in sin and continue to walk in unrighteous. Against them the Lord whets His sword, bends His bow, prepares the instruments of death, and sends forth the arrows of destruction. The day of judgment is at hand. Terrible shall that day be for those who have not found refuge in Jesus and protection from the sword of justice in the blood of His wondrous cross.