Sword Of Damocles (Exodus 34:6-7)

Recently, I had to take care of my daughter’s dog when she and the rest of the family were vacationing. As a precaution, I asked my daughter to place a collar and leash on her so it would be easier to walk and hold her. Our dog is afraid of me and a leash is the only way I can bring her close enough to hold her. However, when I attempt to do this, she violently rejects this, even attempting to bite me. Thus, although the option to hold her was available, I did not avail of it. Nonetheless, it clearly stressed her out and she did not eat for several days. It was only after my daughter returned that our dog was able to relax and eat. I also removed her collar and leash and once my daughter left, our dog was back to normal. Reflecting upon the experience, I told my daughter, “It is like the sword of Damocles, hovering over her.”

“What’s that?”

I recounted the story of Damocles, a guest at the court of King Dionysius, ruler of the ancient city of Syracuse. Although powerful and wealthy, Dionysius lived in constant fear that he would be murdered by his enemies. Damocles was unaware of the king’s anxieties and, observing the opulence in which the king lived, he lauded the king for his good fortune and lifestyle. Dionysius created a teachable moment and invited Damocles to sit in his place, waited on by servants who fed him the finest foods. As Damocles reveled in his newfound fortune, he noticed a sword hanging by a thin thread, placed above his head. In spite of his luxurious new lifestyle, he could not enjoy it knowing that at any moment, he could be killed. After a few thoughtful moments, Damocles excused himself, learning his lesson. 

Years later, the lesson of the sword of Damocles has been used as a metaphor for those who are in power but can have no happiness when the possibility of death is always looming. The phrase, “hanging by a thread”, is the modern adaptation. Bottom line, our dog could not relax in my presence when she had her collar and leash on. She knew that at any moment, I could swoop down and attempt to carry her, something she hates and fears! I had created my own sword of Damocles for her!

For many years, I thought that God ran my life and this world in a similar manner. God was a cruel and capricious being who, for an infinite number of reasons, could invoke punishment, literally hurling lightning bolts at me or taking my life and the lives of others. What does the Bible say about the character of God?

Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” 

Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB)

The sword of Damocles is living with the fatalistic expectation that, no matter what we do, death and destruction is imminent. Thanks be to God that we do not have to live a life with this expectation of fear. When we choose to obey God, He promises to bless with His grace and mercy, but if we willingly choose to disobey Him, He will allow us to choose our own path to punishment. 

This is not fatalism, it is our choice. 

I choose life with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.

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