The Sword of the Spirit in the Apocrypha

Stained Glass representation of the Sword of the Spirit

The Sword of the Spirit

He shall take to him his jealousy for complete armour, and make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies. He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and true judgment instead of an helmet. He shall take holiness for an invincible shield. His severe wrath shall he sharpen for a sword, and the world shall fight with him against the unwise. (Wis 5:17-20)

This passage is a bit complicated, as the subject seems to switch between the Lord and the righteous. Nevertheless, this passage (and the following passage from Wisdom 18) is the source for the metaphor used by the apostle’s Paul and John, and the anonymous author of Hebrews — that of putting on the armor of God, and arming oneself with God’s own weaponry.

Thine Almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction, And brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and standing up filled all things with death; and it touched the heaven, but it stood upon the earth. (Wis 18:15-16)

This passage makes the connection between the New Testament and Wisdom even more clear. The sword in this case is the “unfeigned commandment”, which is another way of saying the law of the Lord (Ps 119:1). The connection between the sword of the “unfeigned commandment”, the “word of God” as sharper than any two-edged sword is clear.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

The apostle Paul borrows this metaphor in his famous passage regarding putting on the “whole armor of God.” This martial metaphor is often preached as representing the Christian life, which is indeed true. But only rarely does anyone speak about what it means to “withstand in the evil day”, which is an apocalyptic statement. In other words, Paul is not primarily talking about the daily life of the Christian, although that is part of it. But the putting on of the “whole armor of God”, which includes being armed with the “sword of the Spirit”, is something we do every day so that we may be ready for the day of the Lord, the day of judgment.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:13-17)

The passages from Wisdom are also connected to the passage from John’s Revelation where Christ is seen with a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, which is the same metaphor used for the word of God in the book of Hebrews.

And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. … And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. (Rev 1:13, 16)

The book of Revelation is not yet finished with the metaphor of the sword. In the letter to the church of Pergamos, we see repeated the details of the image of Christ used in the first chapter.

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges. (Rev 2:12)

We have already spoken of the Sword of the Spirit, and connected this with the “whole armor of God” spoken of by Paul, and the sword proceeding from the mouth of the Son of God spoken of by St. John the Theologian. What we have not done is discuss this in its apocalyptic dimension in any detail.

The Revelation of St. John is written in the apocalyptic style, a literary form that was popular in Second Temple Judaism (the form of Judaism that existed after the return of the exiles from Babylon.) While Wisdom is not part of the apocalyptic genre, the passage in Wisdom where the “unfeigned commandment” is described as a “sharp sword” is clearly apocalyptic in nature. The description of the “almighty Word” who leapt from the heavens to earth and brought death to the Egyptians not only has reference to the exile in and exodus from Egypt, but looks forward to a future deliverance.

When Paul and John borrow the metaphor of the “sharp sword” from Wisdom, we are meant to understand its apocalyptic context. While this is clear in John’s Revelation, it adds another dimension to the book of Romans. You see, the apocalyptic is not only a description of the end of days, but is meant to give us comfort in our afflictions. When Paul uses imagery borrowed from apocalyptic literature, he is letting us know that no matter what trials we are going through, there is a purpose, that God is in control, and that evil will not have its way forever.