“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
As I stared at the beautifully crafted Japanese sword on display in the castle, I wondered about its history and the craftsmanship required to produce such a formidable weapon. A katana (刀) is the most well-known among Japanese swords as it was traditionally carried by samurai. A well-trained swordsmith may labor over a year to produce a single exquisite blade that can sell for over $25,000 to enthusiastic collectors in today’s market. Several craftsmen are typically involved in the process of creating a katana, including a metal worker, a polisher, a sharpener and other specialists to create the hilt, hand guard and sword sheath. The production of a typical Japanese katana was considered a sacred art with accompanying Shinto rituals. The bearer of the sword generally regarded it not just as a weapon for fighting, but also as a sort of talisman to ward off evil.
Around 700 AD, a craftsman named Amakuni is credited with creating the first katana, which is a single-edged, curved sword using a two handed grip, but Masamune (1264–1343) is widely recognized as Japan’s greatest swordsmith. Experts in ancient weaponry consider the katana to be among the finest cutting blades in military history and many legends exist regarding the capabilities of this renown sword.
During the Meiji period (1868-1912) that marked the collapse of Japan’s ancient feudal system and ushered in the rise of a modern industrialized nation under the emperor, the ancient samurai class was disbanded and their special privilege to carry swords in public was removed. But the rise of the military state leading up to World War II encouraged the manufacturing of swords once again. All Japanese officers were required to carry a katana in order to boost morale and as an attempt to connect them with the spirits of their ancestral warriors. Following Japan’s defeat, all sword manufacturing and even sword related martial arts were banned for several years. However, sword production was legalized again in 1953 and there are presently around 180 specially trained swordsmiths still working in Japan. They are legally allowed to produce only two long swords per month and all such weapons must be registered with the government.
An old myth still persists that a Japanese katana is so sharp that if a silk cloth were dropped on an upturned blade it would be effortlessly sliced into two separate pieces. However, the law of physics dictates that this is not possible without the application of some form of friction or force. The Word of God is aptly described as being sharper than the finest of swords (Hebrews 4:12), penetrating to a level that is unobtainable through a human crafted weapon. It goes beyond the physical dimension and cuts so deep into our hearts and souls that it reveals even our thoughts, attitudes and motives normally unseen by others. As such, the Word of God is certainly a powerful weapon in the hand of God’s Spirit, who applies the pressure of truth to the dark areas in our lives that need to be exposed to the light. Indeed, as the author of Hebrews goes on to point out in verse 13: “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” Unlike sharp swords that were designed to take lives, the Word of God is a sword that has the potential to bring life.