Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Sword: invented by God

Tonight as Pastor Nathan was teaching about God expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, something struck me that I have never thought of before. Notice this passage from Genesis-

Genesis 3:23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

From this passage I will assume that God created and introduced the first weapon of war, the sword, not man.

How is this significant? I am not completely sure because it doesn't seem that an angel would need a weapon to keep man from re-entering the garden. I have no doubt an actual angel carried a real fiery sword, I am just not all together sure why. It most certainly declares the seriousness of God against sin entering His paradise, so I am content to leave it there, nevertheless I find it interesting that God introduces the first recorded weapon of war in the bible, not man.

I'll have to check the various wise men and women of the faith to learn their take. What do you think?


John D. Chitty said...

From what I've personally learned about the primeval narratives in Genesis, my gut says (note the tentativeness of my opinion) that, since there was no eyewitness account, but what Moses wrote would be the recording of an oral tradition, I'd say it was what we today would call a literary device inserted with a purpose into the oral tradition to emphasize the angel's function as the guard of the entrance to the garden.

It still communicates truth, even if it's not a precisely historical account according to modern standards of historical scholarship. I mean if it's legitimate to debate the chronology and time of the creation account, and one remains orthodox if he believes the creation days were, in real time, something other than six 24-hour periods, then why can't other literary devices be acceptable without denying the inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures? Short of denying the historicity of Adam.

There, you have my O-P-I-N-I-O-N. Can't wait until you share with us what those with actual credentials contribute to the question.

Reepicheep said...

Interesting John. I can understand arguments for the days not being exactly 24 hours. There was no person there to witness the days before man was created on the 6th day, so your theory might work for the length of days (despite the charges of heresy that go forth whenever someone surmises the days might not be 24 hours long). The problem with the sword is Adam and Eve are there to witness it and then describe it afterword.

Jack Sawyer said...

Here's Dr. Meredith Kline's take on this passage: "In the hour that God drove man into exile it was indicated that any future return to God's dwelling-place and the tree of life must involve a passage through the flaming sword of God's judgment, with which the new guardians of his sanctuary were armed. This message too is typologically conveyed in Israel's history, in the cultus so arranged that an altar with the sacrificial sword stood before the holy dwelling, itself bounded by representations of cherubim in the colors of flaming fire. By these striking circumstances of man's expulsion from Eden an additional ray of light was thrown on the prophecy of the suffering which the champion seed of the woman must endure in securing the victory in his great judgment ordeal."

John D. Chitty said...

Got me there. If it was originally an oral tradition, if it was started by an eyewitness, it certainly would've been Adam.

I agree with what you said in the post about angels not needing swords, after all, they're spirits. I looked at the NET Bible and they translate it as "angelic sentries who used the flame of a whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life."

To pull out the old Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, to get some semblance of the analogy of faith:

Numbers 22:23 The sword-wielding angel who stopped Balaam's donkey;

Josh. 5:13 The "man" with a drawn sword asking "Are you for us...?"

1 Chr. 21:16-17 The angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth and in his hand a drawn sword;

Heb. 1:7 (cf. Ps. 104:4) his angels winds, his ministers a flame of fire.

So, there are numerous appearances of angels with swords, and one associating them with fire. You wonder why an angel would need a weapon in this case; same goes for these others. We know that in the garden weapons of war have not been invented yet (see Gen. 4:22). And we instinctively assume angels actually need no weapon. Hence my resorting to literary device on some level. We also know that the cherubim are primarily used in Scripture as guards, as they are portrayed artistically in the tabernacle and temple to at least in part allude to this angel at the garden of eden. Finally, we know that Scripture uses fire as a symbol of judgment. The Strong's code for "sword" is 2719 (Heb. "chereb") which was obviously the word for sword in use at the time of the writing of Genesis. . .

All of the above is thinking out loud. Gill seems to suggest that the sword was handled by God who is between the cherubim, just as he is represented to be in the Holy of holies, the flaming sword representing God's justice and wrath against his broken Law:

"this [moving sword]is not to be understood as by itself, and as of itself, turning about every way without a hand to move it, nor as with the cherubim, or as in the hands of angels, as in ( 1 Chronicles 21:16 ) or as being they themselves, which are made as flames of fire; but as in the hand of the Lord God, that dwelt between the cherubim; for so it may be rendered, "he inhabited the cherubim and that with a flaming sword"; that is, with one in his hand, an emblem of the fiery law of God now broken, and of the fire of divine wrath on the account of that, and of the flaming justice of God, which required satisfaction; and this turning on all sides." Gill

Roger Mann said...

There's absolutely nothing in the Biblical text to indicate that "what Moses wrote would be the recording of an oral tradition." Such a theory is pure, unfounded speculation. Moreover, since the Biblical text explicitly states that God directly spoke to Moses on numerous occasions, it would be more natural to assume that God personally revealed this primordial history to Moses.

There's also not any Biblical evidence that the sword mentioned in the text is merely a metaphorical "literary device."

"So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life." (Genesis 3:24)

Is the "man" merely a literary device? Is the "cherubim" merely a literary device? Is the "garden of Eden" merely a literary device? Is the "tree of life" merely a literary device? Of course not. So why should the "flaming sword" all of a sudden be viewed as merely a metaphorical literary device?

I honestly don't see a shred of Biblical evidence to suggest that the "six days" of creation are non-literal periods of time or mere literary devices either.

"God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day." (Genesis 1:5)

"So the evening and the morning were the sixth day" (Genesis 1:31)

"And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made." (Genesis 2:2-3)

"Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work... For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day." (Exodus 20:9 -11)

Unless these Biblical terms have no fixed contextual meaning, and we can make them mean whatever we want them to mean, then "the evening and the morning" were literal 24 hour days...the "six days" that the Jews were to labor correspond to the "six days" that God labored...and the "seventh day" that the Jews were to rest upon correspond to the "seventh day" that God rested upon.

Jim said...

Hmm. A couple of thoughts.

Fire comes out from before God’s presence to consume those who would encroach on God’s holiness without permission (Lev 10.2, Nm 16.30). This is, presumably, the work of the cheribim with the fiery swords. (In contrast, think of all of the preparation of the high priest to avoid this outcome on the Day of Atonement.)

Think also of the two angels now sitting in Jesus’ empty tomb after the resurrection, one at the head and one at the feet (Jn 20.12). These would presumably be the two cherubim over the ark who guarded the path to God’s throne (1 Sam 4.4, 2 Sam 6.2, Ez 10.1)i.e., guarded the way to the holiest of holies (Ex 25.18-19).

But now they are seated -- i.e., at rest rather than "on guard." The way to God’s presence is now opened to humanity by and through Jesus. (Same as the temple veil being rent – the veil was embroidered with cherubim, Ex 26.1 & etc.)

Recall also that the OT sacrifices were cut up and then burned – which is precisely what a fiery sword would do.

But this is not just bad news.

God’s word is a fiery, two-edged sword – but one now that can bring redemption, although it first must kill us so that we can be raised again in Christ.

Lk 24.32
"They said to one another, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'"

Heb 4.12
"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Cf., Rev 1.16, 2.12).

On the Word cutting, see also (Acts 2.27, 5.33, 7.54).


Woody Woodward said...

I’m kind of simple. I think the first weapon ever mentioned, the fiery sword that drove the shamed sinners out, away from God’s presence, and the SWORD we use today, the SWORD we are to keep sharpened at all times now drives the evil one out, reminding believers that we no longer need to feel shame! It is Christ who keeps us secure in His presence.

christianlady said...

My son, a boy who loves swords, says he's excited to see that a sword was used as a holy weapon, as you mention, invented by God.

My take, God did a lot of things that we people later have used for ourselves. Adam was put to sleep for his surgery (removal of the rib). I wonder what other things God did that people stopped and said, "huh, wonder why God did that? Maybe we should try it!"


Reepicheep said...

I can see no one has a strong opinion on this.... :)

Woody Woodward said...

WOW, I wouldn't have bet on this much fascinating dialog! I throughly enjoyed reading all this interesting, friendly banter. All for His Glory to build up, not to tear down!

John D. Chitty said...


How is typology not a literary device? My intention is not to deny the historicity of anything, but it is to affirm the literary aspects of these ancient historical narratives. The whole Bible is an anthology of various literary genres and the nature of each ought to be taken seriously. That's all I'm trying to do. The John Gill commentary I cited interprets it as more about the sword and the flame representing the judgment and wrath of God. That's typological and literary. It is also historical. Now the fact that it is historical and literary is clear to me; how it is both of these, not so much.

J. Gresham Machen, in defending the historicity of the New Testament against liberal scholarship spoke of spiritual history. It affirmed that the supernatural as recorded in Scripture actually happened in history. I do not intend to stray from this affirmation as it applies to this Genesis text. But I don't want to ignore the harder questions like the ones Rev. Felich has raised in his post. Why would an angel need a sword? What does the sword represent? I know he didn't intend the comments to swerve into this level of discussion, but it does raise big-ticket questions.

I know you are aware that in God's revelation of himself in Scripture, he uses literary devices to communicate truth about his nature, character and work. This flaming sword is no less one of these devices. To admit as much is not to deny that something supernatural happened at the eastern outskirts of Eden in real history. Keeping in mind the audience of Genesis and the fact that swords already existed by that time, while they hadn't yet at the time of the activity recorded in Genesis 3, then the sword definitely communicated certain ideas to the readers, and it should do no less for us.

Modern fundamentalism and evangelicalism, in my humble opinion, overreacted in many ways against liberal scholarship--the literary nature of the text of Scripture among them. It rightly defends the historicity of the text, but sometimes inappropriately denies the literary aspects. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. How they are reconciled may remain above my pay grade, but I'm convinced it's a worthwhile endeavor. God's inspired, inerrant, infallible, sufficient and authoritative word is worth the effort!

Nathan said...

Legend has it that the original flaming sword over time grew dim and lost it's flame, but was handed down through ancient civilizations until one day in landed in the hands of a poor Mexican orphan named Chancho, given to him by his mother just before she died. His mother's "Lucky Machete" was given to a man named Nacho for safe keeping, but alas, it has been lost to humanity ever since.

Nathan said...

For textual evidence IMDb archive of the original oral tradition:
Chancho: Nacho! Where are you going?
Nacho: There is no place for me in this world. I don't belong out there, and I don't belong in here. So I'm going out into the Wilderness. Probably, to die.
Chancho: Well, you might need this
[Gives Nacho the sword]
Chancho: My mother gave it to me before she died. It was her lucky machete. You can have it.
Nacho: I hope to see you again little Chancho. Maybe in the next life.

Reepicheep said...

Nathan's argument is strongest so far.

Roger Mann said...


I stand by what I stated before: There's not a shred of Biblical evidence that the sword mentioned in the text is merely a metaphorical "literary device."

"So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life." (Genesis 3:24)

There's simply nothing in the text to indicate that any of the italicized words are non-literal or typological in nature. Indeed, since it's beyond any shadow of a doubt that "God," "man," and "cherubim" are meant to be taken literally, why would anyone conclude that "garden of Eden," "flaming sword," and "tree of life" are meant to be taken non-literally here?

By the way, I'm not denying that other instances of the term "sword" are meant to be taken metaphorically in Scripture. For instance, the Apostle John, describing the glorified Lord coming in power, wrote:

"Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." (Revelation 19:15)

Now, it's quite plain that the italicized words in this passage are meant to be taken non-literally -- unless someone absurdly imagines that Jesus has a large Samurai Sword protruding out of His mouth, a giant iron Louisville Slugger in His hand, and a massive human winepress under His feet!

But I just don't see anything even remotely resembling this in the Genesis text. There's absolutely nothing illogical, absurd, or fantastic about an angel wielding a sword. Thus I see no good reason to interpret it in a metaphorical fashion.

You asked, "Why would an angel need a sword?" "What does the sword represent?" An angel wouldn't "need" a sword, as if he were impotent without it. But so what? God sovereignly chose for him to wield a flaming sword, not only to keep Adam from the tree of life, but also to dramatically illustrate His wrath and judgment against sin. I don't see anything mutually exclusive about those two aims.

Ok, now I'm done with my rant, let me get back to that dar snake handlin!!! :-)

P.S. Nathan, thanks... Now all I want to do is eat Nachos and drink Beer! :-)

John D. Chitty said...

What a relief! I was a little nervous when I saw how many more comments had come after my last one!

Jeph said...

Not only did the angel not need a sword, but God didn't need an angel to guard the path back to the Garden. Certainly, both the angel and his sword were there for Adam and Eve's sake, as well as ours. When we consider it for our sake, we can look at this narrative and fairly easily understand the meaning. The angel wields a sword, because sin has created a violent expulsion of man from God's presence, and the only way back to that presence is by the shedding of blood. But, what about Adam and Eve? Would they have understood what the sword meant, and how it could have been used? This is similar to the question, "how did Adam and Eve know what it meant to die?" I think we can make a safe assumption that God created them with sufficient wisdom to know things. So, just as they would know, to a certain degree, what death was, they very well could have understood what a sword was, though it was the first one they ever saw.

Another question along these lines - Why was the sword on fire?