ISAIAH 2:1-5.THE CONTEXT
Chapters 1-5 serve as a preface to the book of Isaiah, introducing the major themes of the book.
Chapter 1 introduced the prophet and his enterprise (1:1), and then spoke at length about the wickedness of Judah throughout the rest of the chapter (1:2-31). However, Yahweh in his mercy allowed a remnant to survive (1:9) and will “thoroughly purge away your dross” so that Jerusalem might be called “the city of righteousness, a faithful town” (1:25-26). He warns, “The destruction of transgressors and sinners shall be together, and those who forsake Yahweh shall be consumed” (1:28).
2:1 repeats the introduction of 1:1, and then holds out the promise that Jerusalem will become the holy city for many nations (2:2-4). The prophet calls the house of Jacob to “walk in the light of the Lord” (2:5). He talks about the many ways that they have been unfaithful and have incurred Yahweh’s judgment (2:6 – 4:1), but then he gives them a glimpse of the future glory that awaits them (4:2-6).
Chapter 5 includes the Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard—the vineyard that was lovingly prepared to yield grapes, but which instead yielded wild grapes (5:17). The prophet denounces injustice (5:8-23) and says that the people will suffer a devastating invasion as judgment for their sins (5:24-30).
The mood of these chapters, then, swings back and forth between judgment and hope. It is the mood of a lover (Yahweh) who hoped so dearly and was disappointed so cruelly—but who refuses to give up hope and continues to promise a glorious future.
Micah 4:1-3 is almost identical to Isaiah 2:2-4, causing us to ask whether Micah copied Isaiah or Isaiah copied Micah or both copied an independent source. There is no definitive answer to this question, but the quality of the poetry leads us to suspect that it was original with Isaiah.
ISAIAH 2:1.WHAT ISAIAH THE SON OF AMOZ SAW
1This is what Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
“This is what Isaiah the son of Amoz saw” (v. 1ab). This parallels 1:1, except that verse tells of the vision that Isaiah saw while this verse tells of the word that he saw. It seems odd to speak of seeing rather than hearing a word, but both vision and word suggest divine revelation.
This verse and 1:1 are so nearly alike that scholars have suggested various reasons why it should be included at 2:1. Some have suggested that the book might have started originally with chapter two, with chapter one being added later—or that chapters 2-4 might have circulated independently for a time (Motyer, 50)—or that 2:1 should be the last verse of chapter one rather than the first verse of chapter two, forming an inclusio with 1:1 (Goldingay, 41).
“Isaiah the son of Amoz” (v. 1b). We know little about Isaiah other than what is revealed in this book. Most scholars believe that this Isaiah wrote chapters 1-39 of this book and that another person or persons added chapters 40-66. We know nothing about Amoz, who should not be confused with Amos, the prophet.
“concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” (v. 1c). Judah and Jerusalem were mentioned in 1:1, which led into a lengthy assessment of the wickedness of Judah (1:2-20) and the degeneracy of Jerusalem (1:21-31). “The city of Jerusalem, in the time of Isaiah, was a marginal and vulnerable operation. Jerusalem lived and flourished, or suffered, at the behest of the great powers…. (But) the poet imagines a majestic future for the city” (Brueggemann, Texts, 2). That majestic future, however, will not be for the purpose of glorifying Jerusalem, but for glorifying God.
ISAIAH 2:2.THE MOUNTAIN OF YAHWEH’S HOUSE
2It shall happen in the latter days, that the mountain of
Yahweh’s house shall be established
on the top of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills;
and all nations (Hebrew: go-yim’) shall flow to it.
“It shall happen in the latter days,” (v. 2a). Chapter 1 spoke of Judah’s sin and the judgment that its people could expect. However, as noted above, chapter 1 also offers brief glimpses of hope—of Yahweh’s enduring love. This phrase, “In latter days,” points to the future, but offers no clue as to how far in the future this might be. What is clear is that it will be, by the grace of Yahweh, a glorious future.
The New Testament uses the phrases “the last days” or “the end of time” in an eschatological (end of time) sense (Acts 2:17; 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 1 Peter 1:5, 20; 2 Peter 3:3). The vision that Isaiah shares in these verses is “a statement of the certainty that history will reach its goal, its culmination. That goal is the reign of God that will involve the utter transformation of existing conditions, from nationalism and conflict to unity and peace” (Tucker, Preaching, 5). While the fulfillment of the vision will not be complete until the second coming, “the partial fulfillment began at Pentecost” (Oswalt, 117).
“that the mountain of Yahweh’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains,” (v. 2b). In the culture of that day (and in the Bible generally) mountains were places where people encountered God. Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai.
The temple was located on Mount Zion. The phrase, “the Lord’s house,” causes us to think of the temple, and “the mountain of the Lord’s house,” causes us to think of Mount Zion. However, Mount Zion is not the highest of mountains—even near Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives, just outside the city, is 2624 feet (800 meters), while Mount Moriah, the site of the temple, is only 2427 feet (740 meters). There are at least two other sites in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem higher than the temple site—one (2526 feet – 770 meters) just outside Herod’s Gate to the north of the city and the other (2493 feet – 760 meters) across the Hinnom Valley to the south of the city (Pfeiffer, 190. Other atlases give slightly different readings, but do not dispute that other locations in the vicinity are higher than the temple site).
The fact that Yahweh’s house will be established as the highest of mountains is symbolic of the preeminent status that Yahweh will enjoy “in days to come.” “Even Sinai, the mount of the law, will recede into the background, for the new covenant is superior to the old” (Young, 100).
“and shall be raised above the hills” (v. 2c). This restates the thought of verse 2b in different words, a kind of parallelism common to Biblical poetry.
“and all the nations (go-yim’) shall flow to it” (v. 2d). The go-yim’ are Gentiles, regarded by the Jews of that day as heathen. However, these go-yim’ will stream to God’s high mountain. We think of streams flowing down mountains, but these go-yim’ will stream up the mountain of God.
This is not the first indication that we find in scripture that God loves Gentiles as well as Jews. God concluded the original covenant with Abram with these words: “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). We find the fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus Christ, who broke down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14). Indeed, Christ welcomes people of all nations into God’s presence, and people of all nations worship Christ.
ISAIAH 2:3.MANY PEOPLE SHALL GO
3Many peoples shall go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
and he will teach us of his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion the law shall go forth (Hebrew: to·ra(h)—law),
and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.
“Many peoples shall go and say, “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob;” (v. 3a). This is parallel to verse 2, which pictures “all the nations” streaming up God’s high mountain—making their pilgrimage to sit at Yahweh’s feet. It reemphasizes that God’s love embraces Gentiles as well as Jews. This finds its initial fulfillment in the establishment of the church. While Judaism attracts some proselytes, they are few in number. Even after the establishment of the church at Pentecost, there will be no large-scale influx of Gentiles into the church. Only after Peter’s rooftop vision (Acts 10) will the church open its doors widely to Gentiles.
“and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” (v. 3b). The people will go up to the mountain of the Lord for the purpose of learning God’s ways and walking in God’s paths. Teaching is one of the primary functions of the synagogue, and that is also true of the Christian church. “He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths” corresponds to the teaching (“teach us his ways”) and preaching (“walk in his paths”) ministries of the Christian church. The teaching ministry is instructional in nature (although it has the goal of changing lives), while the preaching ministry involves exhorting people to walk in God’s paths. Teaching is forever useful to Christian and non-Christian alike, because there is more to know of God than any of us will ever learn. Preaching is also forever useful, because none of us will ever, in this life, succeed in walking perfectly in God’s paths. We all need continuing teaching and exhortation.
Walking in God’s paths involves a choice. If we choose to walk on God’s paths, it means choosing not to walk on competing paths. Choosing God involves accepting certain restrictions, but it is a life-giving choice. Jesus says, “Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it. How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life! Few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
“For out of Zion the law (to·ra(h)—law) shall go forth, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.” (v. 3c). Yahweh chose Abraham and his descendants to be the channel through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Jerusalem, situated on Mount Zion, serves as the symbol of those descendants—the Jewish people—God’s chosen people. Yahweh gave them his word, and that word will radiate outward from Jerusalem to “all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
ISAIAH 2:4. THEY SHALL BEAT THEIR SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES
4He will judge between the nations,
and will decide concerning many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
“He will judge between the nations, and will decide concerning many peoples”
(v. 4a). When the nations stream to the Lord’s house for instruction (vv. 2-3), Yahweh will serve as judge and arbiter to resolve their disputes. This is not something that Yahweh will impose on them, because they will have come willingly, even gladly, to learn Yahweh’s ways and to walk in Yahweh’s paths. While tensions will continue to exist among nations and peoples, they will look to Yahweh for guidance in resolving those tensions, knowing that Yahweh will resolve them fairly and gracefully.
“and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” (v. 4b). The people who look to Yahweh to resolve their conflicts will enjoy a peace dividend. They will have no further need of swords and spears, so they will be able to transform instruments of death (swords and spears) into instruments of life (plowshares and knives used for pruning vines).
“The peace herein described is not one that can be obtained by…pacifism, nor, for that matter, by any human efforts…. Only God can bring peace” (Young, 108).
Just stop and take a moment to imagine all the things that will no longer be necessary when the nations come to the mountain of the Lord to learn his ways and to walk in his paths. We will no longer need armies, because we will no longer need to wage war. We will no longer need machine guns, tanks, aircraft carriers, and warplanes. We will no longer need jails or prisons. We will no longer need locks or keys or burglar alarm systems. We will no longer need to worry about a nuclear holocaust or suicide bombers. We will be able to allow our children to walk dark streets without having to worry about muggers or molesters. We will not need protection against computer viruses or spam. Cyber-crime will be a thing of the past. Most services now rendered by lawyers will be obsolete. Managers and employees will work in harmony. Unions will be obsolete. The list goes on and on. What can you add?
“Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (v. 4c). Since there will be no more war, there will be no more necessity for learning how to construct and use weapons of war. Schools devoted to teaching tactics and strategy can turn their efforts to more productive endeavors. To carry this image to its logical conclusion, we can assume that there will no longer be conflict based on race or socioeconomic standing or religion. We can assume that there will also be peace between individuals—that divorce will be a thing of the past.
The text of Isaiah 2:4 is engraved on a wall at the United Nations headquarters in New York City and that a large sculpture of a blacksmith beating a sword into a plowshare adorns the U.N. grounds. In Washington D.C., there is a large plowshare sculpture onto which thousands of disabled guns have been welded. The label reads “Guns into Plowshares” (Limburg, 295). These human efforts to establish peace, while commendable, are at best tentative. The vision communicated in these verses cannot be fulfilled apart from the grace of God.
ISAIAH 2:5.COME, AND LET US WALK IN THE LIGHT OF YAHWEH
5House of Jacob, come, and let us walk in the light of Yahweh.
“House of Jacob, come, and let us walk in the light of the Yahweh” (v. 5). The implication is that the house of Jacob is not yet walking in the light of the Lord. If Yahweh has, indeed, chosen the house of Jacob to be the ones in whom “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), it stands to reason that the house of Jacob must get its house in order so that it might set an example—so that it might become a light to draw the nations to Yahweh.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Brueggemann, Walter, Westminster Bible Companion: Isaiah 1-39 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Goldingay, John, New International Biblical Commentary: Isaiah (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001)
Limburg, James, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The First Readings: The Old Testament and Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
Motyer, J. Alec, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Isaiah, Vol. 18 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1999)
Oswalt, John N., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986)
Rawlinson, G., The Pulpit Commentary: Isaiah, Vol. 10 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, no date given)
Rasmussen, Carl G., Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989)
Scott, R.B.Y. (exegesis); Kilpatrick, G.G.D., (exposition), The Interpreter’s Bible: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1956)
Seitz, Christopher R., Interpretation Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Tucker, Gene M., The New Interpreters Bible: Isaiah, Vol.VI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001)
Watts, John D. W., Word Biblical Commentary: Isaiah 1-33 (Dallas: Word Books, 1985)
Young, Edward J., The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-18, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965)
Copyright 2007, 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan