2 December 2016

Isaiah 2:1-5

“Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord” (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 65


This is a better-known passage from the early chapters of Isaiah than some we have been reading this week, perhaps in part because it also occurs, almost word for word, in Micah 4:1-3. Here Isaiah sets forth a glorious vision of the future - a vision of peace with Jerusalem at its centre, the heart's desire of the Hebrew people, which speaks powerfully to us today as well. After some of the destruction and judgement we have been looking at during the week we may feel that Isaiah is having a "Thank God it's Friday" moment! A major focus of this season of Advent is our expectation that Jesus will return and our preparation for the 'end times' referred to here. Very often the phrases "days to come" or "the day of the Lord" herald disaster and destruction but occasionally, as here, they point to a coming time of peace.

The chapter opens in an unusual way, with a second introductory verse (compare Isaiah 1:1). Perhaps, if we see chapter 1 as the overture to Isaiah, then the real symphony is beginning now. Or perhaps this repeated superscription is intended to stress that this passage originates with Isaiah rather than with Micah. The reasons for the duplication of this material in the two books are difficult to ascertain now; one prophet may have borrowed from the other, or there may have been a pool of prophetic material from which both Isaiah and Micah have drawn.

Mountains hold an interesting place in Scripture, too complex to explore fully here. Unlike the modern Western attitude which sees mountains as beautiful places to climb and, ultimately, to conquer, Jews of the Old and New Testament would probably have regarded mountains as dangerous and remote - to be avoided where possible. God, however, was powerful enough to overcome the dangers and to dwell on mountain tops so we read of Abraham, Moses, Elijah and, later, of Jesus, Peter, John and James all having significant 'mountain-top experiences'. When Isaiah writes here that the "mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains", it conveys to all readers that Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, was the most powerful of all gods, occupying the central place. So, as the nations stream to Zion, Israel too is seen as having a superior role as the teacher and lawgiver for all lands.

Jerusalem is envisaged as a centre of world pilgrimage, revelation and peace. War was a fact of life in the world of the prophets, which makes verse 4 all the more remarkable - the tools of war will become the tools of peace and productivity instead. (Sadly, this hope is reversed in Joel 3:10 where ploughshares again become swords and pruning hooks are beaten into spears.)

The final verse (which has no equivalent in Micah 4) has the ring of a rallying cry to Israel, "Come on Israel, let's lead the way!" as the community is exhorted to return to God and walk in the light of the Lord.

To Ponder

  • Do mountains have a part to play in your spiritual life or understanding of God? What part might that be?
  • In some senses, this vision of Isaiah's is fulfilled, as Jerusalem has been a centre of world pilgrimage throughout its history. How can we work towards it also becoming a centre of world peace?
  • What might it mean today for you, or your church community, to 'walk in the light of the Lord'?

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers' tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where Andrew is superintendent minister.