“No weapon formed against you shall prosper.”

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

Isaiah 54.16.

I’ve lost count of how many times Christians have cited this verse and claimed it for themselves. Or for others, to encourage them. “It says in the bible no weapon formed against me shall prosper. And I believe that, and it won’t!

The verse in question would be this one. I quoted the translation which sounds the most like the way people quote it.

Isaiah 54.16 NKJV
“No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the LORD.

The original saying comes from the KJV’s, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper,” but of course people prefer “you” instead of the out-of-date “thee”—and most other translations like to go with other words than “formed” and “prosper.”

Anyway. Since I can be a smartass y’know, I have tested just what people mean when they quote this verse. “You’re saying no weapon formed against you will prosper. Well I can take this perfectly harmless hair tie” (I have long hair, and I usually have elastic bands on me so I can tie it back) “and form it into a weapon against you.” Here’s where I put it over the tip of my finger and pull back. “If I flick this hair tie at you, are you saying God will miraculously keep it from hitting you?”

Most of them, especially when they’re younger, immediately flinch. Or hold their hands up to block the hair tie. Because confronted with a literal weapon—even though I’m not pointing it at their face; it’s harmless—it turns out no they didn’t mean that.

Well again, depending on how young they are. Little kids sometimes are thinking of literal weapons. Sometimes toy weapons, like sticks and squirt guns and plastic swords. Sometimes not. In the United States, we have school shootings on far too regular a basis; and in nonwhite neighborhoods, too often the police are far more antagonistic than helpful. So sometimes little kids are naïvely thinking maybe, maybe, if they pray really hard, God’ll keep the scary men with guns away.

But for most of us: No they didn’t mean literal weapons. They don’t imagine God’ll stop the fists of an abusive spouse, or the assault rifles of the gun nut next door. Not that he can’t, but that’s not what they had in mind when they were talking about how no weapon formed against ’em would prosper.

So… what, were they saying this for no reason? Not at all. They’re thinking of spiritual weapons. They’re thinking of spiritual warfare. They think God’ll make it so none of those weapons formed against us will prosper. Whereas if Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Remington, or Lewis Machine and Tool makes ’em… yeah they’ll most definitely put holes through us. But they aren’t thinking of AR-15s. They’re thinking of the devil’s fiery darts. Ep 6.16

Okay. So if all we’re talking about are the weapons of spiritual warfare, is this verse then valid?

Of course not. You think I’d write an article about its context if it were?

Gotta put on the armor of God, remember?

To remind you: Spiritual warfare is not about being a “prayer warrior” and praying super hard for various things and people. Not that I wanna discourage anyone from praying!—and in some cases we really should pray hard. But again: Being a “prayer warrior” isn’t spiritual warfare. Resisting temptation is spiritual warfare.

And to resist temptation, Paul used the metaphor of God’s armor. It’s a popular idea, but I think too many people miss its point, and just wanna imagine themselves dressed as Roman soliders, medieval knights, or Tolkien or Martin-style fantasy warriors, and fighting orc-like demons with a sword. Which you can easily do in easily available video games, but that’s not the point of God’s armor. This is stuff we use to resist temptation.

Ephesians 6.14-18 NKJV
14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints…

…and Paul goes on to ask the Ephesians to pray for him too. Ep 6.19-20 Those who imagine themselves prayer warriors will focus on the prayer bit at the end, and emphasize the importance of intercession. Which is important; again, don’t get me wrong! But the purpose of the armor isn’t to resist the devil’s distractions as you’re praying super hard. It’s to resist the devil’s wiles Ep 6.11 as it tries to entice you to follow your flesh, not the Spirit. Follow your gut, not God.

So… what prevents all the fiery darts of the wicked one from spearing us? Duh; the shield of faith. Namely, trusting God. When we’re following the Spirit, the darts don’t touch us. The flames go out. We successfully resist temptation, and don’t sin. Good job!… now keep it up.

If this is the case, it seems “no weapon formed against you will prosper” is a valid verse to quote when we’re talking about resisting temptation. Isn’t it? I mean, having taken up God’s armor, the devil’s weapons aren’t prospering! Sounds like we understand the bible just fine.

But I remind you Isaiah 54.16 has a context. It means, and only means, what God meant when he said it. And he didn’t say it to me. Nor you, nor to Christians, nor to humanity in general. He said it to the people of Jerusalem. This is part of a prophecy to the devastated city about its future peace. Although it’s not all that easy to tell whether the LORD’s got ancient Jerusalem in his mind… or New Jerusalem.

Isaiah 54.11-17 NKJV
11 “O you afflicted one,
Tossed with tempest, and not comforted,
Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems,
And lay your foundations with sapphires.
12 I will make your pinnacles of rubies,
Your gates of crystal,
And all your walls of precious stones.
13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
And great shall be the peace of your children.
14 In righteousness you shall be established;
You shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
And from terror, for it shall not come near you.
15 Indeed they shall surely assemble, but not because of Me.
Whoever assembles against you shall fall for your sake.
16 “Behold, I have created the blacksmith
Who blows the coals in the fire,
Who brings forth an instrument for his work;
And I have created the spoiler to destroy.
17 No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the LORD.

True, we Christians might be destined for New Jerusalem… but despite the New Jerusalem imagery (i.e. foundations, pinnacles, gates, and walls made of gems) it’s not New Jerusalem. In Revelation, New Jerusalem appears on New Earth, after God’s opponents have been settled once and for all. Rv 21 The Jerusalem of this prophecy still has foes coming at it. But here, God says they’re not gonna prevail—for once.

This prophecy refers to that people, of that culture, ages ago. Not Jerusalem of Jesus’s day, which was destroyed; not Jerusalem of our day, which could be destroyed. (Even though the Israelis have their really impressive Iron Dome technology. I mean, it looks really unlikely it’ll get destroyed, considering. But never underestimate your foes. But I digress.)

So nope, the passage isn’t about us. It might resemble our circumstances—but only when we take up the shield of faith! ’Cause if we stop trusting God when we’re tempted, all bets are off. Any weapon formed against us will prosper. Even little tiny weapons. Some of us humans are so easily defeated, it’s pathetic. All the more reason for that armor, folks. Put it on!