The transition that occurred during the Israelites’ period of captivity was focused on a change in the type of relationship God had with his people. Beginning with Abraham, God sought to establish a personal relationship that included ongoing communication between him and his chosen people. Once the nation of Israel came into existence, God’s messages were delivered primarily through prophets that were often ignored and sometimes punished for what they said (Jeremiah 26:11). In order to reestablish communication with his people, God sent them to a place where the absence of his presence would force them to reevaluate their behavior and admit they had been living in sin (Ezekiel 20:43).
A part of God’s judgment of his people was designed to separate out those who wanted salvation from those who thought idolatry would provide for them a better way of life. God told Ezekiel to say to the land of Israel:
Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: that all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more. (Ezekiel 21:3-5)
The LORD’s sword was described as a cutting instrument (2719), perhaps a dagger or knife that he could use against his enemies. The reference to drawing the sword out of his sheath rather than its sheath may indicate the sword was not a physical sword, but actually a person. Talking to his disciples about their mission on earth, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
Even though Jesus was known as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), the result of Christ’s coming was conflict “between Christ and the antichrist, between light and darkness, between Christ’s children and the devil’s children” (note on Matthew 10:34). When Jesus was presented in the temple for dedication to the Lord, a man named Simeon was given a special insight by the Spirit so that he would recognize the Christ. It says in Luke 2:28-32, “Then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Afterward, Simeon spoke directly to Mary, Jesus’ mother and said, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
In the sixth chapter of the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul talks about putting on the whole armour of God “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 5:11). In his description of our armour, Paul tells us to “take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Obviously, the armour Paul was talking about was not comprised of physical items that we put on our body. Spiritual warfare must be dealt with in our spiritual capacities that we are not always aware of, so Paul used physical items to relate their usefulness to us, and the means by which we can activate them.
The sword of the LORD was activated when God’s people went into exile. Since we know that Ezekiel was already in exile when he received his message from the LORD, the sword was most likely activated some time after the first wave of refugees was taken to Babylon, but before the fall of Jerusalem took place in 586 B.C. In a symbolic act of mourning, God told Ezekiel to sigh before the eyes of the people. Perhaps also, as a signal to antichrist with whom the spiritual engagement was about to begin to take place, God said, “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord GOD; remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more until he comes whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezekiel 21:25-27).