The writer of Ecclesiastes -- (King Solomon at his old age?) -- wrote: “For everything there is a season… a time for war, and a time for peace.”
We see the manifestation of this reality even in the life of Abraham, whose narrative begins to be read and discussed in synagogues worldwide this Sabbath, October 27. Both he and his nephew Lot were successful enterpreneurs whose large flocks and herds were competing for the same pastures creating strife between Abraham’s and Lot’s shepherds. To avoid a growing conflict Abraham initiates a peace gesture towards his young relative suggesting physical separation between the two by allowing Lot to choose an area in Canaan for grazing, while Abraham would take his livestock in the opposite direction.
The ungrateful Lot heads in the direction of Sodom (the Dead Sea). Abraham – a veritable peace-loving man -- tents in the vicinity of Hebron (Genesis 13:5-12). Before long a war of a large scale engulfs the region of Sodom and Lot is captured and is taken far away as a POW. Upon hearing of Lot’s fall in captivity Abraham wasted no time in mustering his own armed militia and in pursuit of Lot’s captors. A long way from his home base Abraham charges them at night even at the vicinity of Damascus; by routing them he is able to free Lot (Genesis 14:14-16).
Abraham – a man of peace – is compelled by circumstances to resort to military means and regain Lot’s freedom. His understanding that there is time for peace, though alas for war as well, reflects on the one hand Isaiah’s vision of a world redeemed where swords shall be beaten “into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks,” and where no nation learns “war anymore” (2:4).
On the other hand Abraham is also mindful of the veracity in the words of another biblical prophet who understood that until Isaiah’s vision became a reality it might be necessary at times – even as Abraham found it to be the case – to “beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears” (Joel, 3:10).
Is that what the Psalmist meant when saying: “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (29:11), i.e., strenhgth is a prerequisite for peace in a world that is yet to be perfected by total and ubiquitous peace?