Two interesting questions are juxtaposed at the end of chapter 47. Both evoke violent imagery. What is the relationship between these two scenes?
“O remnant on the plain, how long will you cut yourselves?”
“Ah, sword of the LORD,” you cry, “how long till you rest?”
The first question comes from God. He is asking the people of Philistia when they will stop cutting themselves.
At first that seems like an odd question. Then we remember the bloody scene from Mount Carmel when the prophets of Ba’al took up Elijah’s challenge and tried to call down fire from heaven to consume their sacrifices. Elijah mocked them, so “…they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed” (1 Kings 18). Notice the words “as was their custom.” The worship of Canaanite gods included cutting oneself.
Although ritualistic cutting is rare nowadays, cutting oneself as a form of emotional, psychological, and spiritual release is anything but extinct. Cutting is common, and what is now done in the secrecy of a bathroom is not completely disconnected from what was done publicly by the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel. Both seek something apart from God and are, therefore, not only physically damaging but also spiritually destructive.
God asks, “How long will you cut yourselves?” What He is really asking is: “How long will you continue worshipping your false gods? How long will you continue rejecting me, the one, true God?”
The second question comes from the people of Philistia. They are wondering how long God’s “sword” (in other words, His judgment) will last. How long will He keep cutting them down with the sword of judgment? Will the punishment ever come to an end? Will the sword cease killing them before they are completely destroyed?
The only answer given is that the sword of the Lord won’t stop until it has done what God has commanded it to do. From earlier in the chapter, one gets the impression that the sword won’t stop until Philistia is wiped out completely.
It is interesting to ponder the relationship between the two questions. The metaphorical sword of God’s judgment, expressed in the literal swords of the Babylonians, has descended on the Philistines because they have cut themselves in worship of false gods. The punishment mirrors the crime. Through their stubborn worship of false gods and persistent rejection of the Lord, the Philistines called down punishment upon themselves.
This is more than a prophecy. This is a warning to us.