2 Samuel 2:26
Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? know you not that it will be bitterness in the latter end?…
Shall the sword devour forever? This exclamation of Abner respecting the pursuit of his discomfited troops by the conquering troops of Joab, has often been uttered in respect to war in general. As so employed it expresses horror of war, and impatient longing for its final termination.
I. THE QUESTION. The feelings which it indicates are excited in view of:
1. The nature of war. The mutual slaughter of each other by those who are "brethren." This aspect of the slaughter of one part of the chosen people by another presented itself to Abner. But in the light of Christianity all men are brothers, and war is a species of fratricide. They are all children of God, brethren of Christ, redeemed by his blood, and capable of sharing his eternal glory and blessedness. In this view of war, not only the actual conflicts, but all the elaborate preparations made for them, appear very dreadful
2. Its causes. "Whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts?" (James 4:1). The evil passions of men are their cause - lust of territory, of dominion, of glory, of money; the spirit of revenge and retaliation; even the love of excitement and adventure. Not less, but if possible more hideous, is the cool, calculating policy of rulers, which sets armies in motion with no regard to the lives which it sacrifices or the misery it occasions; or, again, the desire for active service, with its opportunities of distinction, promotion, and other rewards, which springs up amongst the officers, if not the rank and file, of standing armies, and which takes no thought of the dreadful evil which "active service" inflicts.
3. Its effects. "Shall the sword devour forever?" War is like a huge wild beast which "devours." It eats up human beings by thousands or tens of thousands at a time. It was a small consumption of men which took place in the battle and pursuit of which this question was first used. Only twenty men had fallen on the one side, and three hundred and sixty on the other. Modern wars "devour" on a far greater scale, partly in actual battle, more from wounds received in battle, and from the diseases which the hardships of war produce. War not only devours men in vast numbers, and thus occasions incalculable sorrow and misery; it consumes the substance of nations, the creation of peaceful industry; it wastes their mental and physical energies. And still more sad to contemplate are the moral effects both on the actual combatants and on those who employ them; the hateful passions excited and strengthened, the deterioration of national character produced.
4. Its universal prevalence. Among peoples in every part of the world, in every stage of civilization, and down through every age. However men differ in other respects, they are alike in this practice. Whatever changes take place, this survives. The progress of science and art, of discovery and invention, and of mechanical skill, seems to have no other effect in regard to war than to increase the power of mutual destruction. War lays them all under tribute to enlarge its ability to "devour" and destroy more easily and rapidly, and on a larger scale. In view of all these considerations good men may well sigh and cry, "Shall the sword devour forever?" There have doubtless been wars on which, in spite of all the evils they occasion, lovers of their kind could look with sympathy and satisfaction so far as one party was concerned. Such are wars of defence against unjust aggression, wars undertaken by a people to obtain liberty as against some crushing tyranny, wars against hordes of barbarians who threaten devastation and destruction to hearths and homes, and all that civilized men value. But even in such cases we may well ask - Will it ever be necessary to use so dreadful an instrument as war in the endeavour to obtain rights or abolish wrongs? Will men never be amenable to reason? Must there ever be retained the power to resort to the violent methods of war?
"The cause of truth and human weal,
O God above!
Transfer it from the sword's appeal
To peace and love."
II. THE REPLY WHICH MAY BE GIVEN TO THIS QUESTION. No. The sword shall not devour forever. Wars will at length come to a final end.
1. Divine prophecy assures us of this. (Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Micah 4:3, 4; see also Psalm 72:3, 7; Zechariah 9:10.) Not only shall wars cease, but there shall be such a feeling of universal security that the arts of war shall cease to be learnt.
2. An adequate power for effecting this change is in the world. Christianity - the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the accompanying might of the Holy Spirit. The revelation of God in Christ, especially of the relation of God to all men and his love to all; the redemption effected for all; the precepts of the gospel, inculcating love even to enemies, and the doing good to all; the example of him who was Love Incarnate; the dignity and worth of men, and their relation to each other, as seen in the light of the gospel; the sacred brotherhood into which faith in Christ brings men of all lands; the prospect of a heaven where all Christians will be united in service and blessedness; - these truths go to the root of the evil in the hearts of men. They cannot be truly received without subduing the passions which lead to war, and implanting the affections which insure peace.
3. Experience justifies the hope that this peace-producing power will at length be triumphant. That it will be in operation everywhere, and everywhere effectual. So far as it has been experienced, it has made its subjects gentle, loving, peaceful, more willing to suffer than to inflict suffering. Multitudes exist in the world so ruled by the gospel and the Spirit of Christ, that it is simply impossible they should on any account take to killing each other. What has transformed them can transform others. Let vital Christianity become universal, and peace must be universal too. It is on the way to become universal, though its advance is slow to our view. The effect of Christianity, so far as it has prevailed, on war itself encourages hope. It has become humane in comparison with wars recorded in this Book and in the pages of general history. And amongst civilized nations there is a growing indisposition to resort to war, an increasing willingness to settle their differences by peaceful methods. This is doubtless partly the result of the tremendous costliness and destructiveness of modern warfare, but partly also of the growth of a spirit of reasonableness, equity, and humanity. In conclusion:
1. Cherish the spirit and principles of peace, i.e. of Christ and Christianity.
2. Endeavour to diffuse them. And do this earnestly and hopefully, with the assurance of a final success in which you will participate joyfully.
3. Use your influence as citizens to discourage war. "And the God of peace shall be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11). - G.W.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?
WEB: Then Abner called to Joab, and said, "Shall the sword devour forever? Don't you know that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long shall it be then, before you ask the people to return from following their brothers?"