Ploughshares in the Old Testament

  • Question 136, from Roger, United Kingdom
    I’m confused about the phrase in Isaiah chapter 2, verse 4: ‘They shall beat their swords into ploughshares’. As I understand it, the Middle Eastern plough didn’t need such an attachment as their soils were very light – and the plough share was developed in the 7th century to enable the ploughing of heavy grassland in Europe.

    The kind of plough used in Old Testament times was a light one-handled affair pulled usually by oxen. The point of the plough was covered with iron and was held in place by strips of iron which were about the shape of a sword.

    In this verse in Isaiah, the prophetic statement revolves around a coming time of such peace and prosperity that metal used for swords can be re-used in this way. It may have been common practice for metal – a relatively expensive commodity – to be utilised for different purposes, depending on circumstances. For example, in Joel chapter 3, verse 10, the reverse instruction is given: “Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

    The use of the word “ploughshare” in English translations is simply to make the metaphor understandable to an English-speaking reader. It does not refer to the English style ploughshare, and should not be read as such.

    Posted on