Isaiah 2 – Prophecy (St Barnabas)

St Barnabas, November 10th 2013

Readings – Isaiah 2:1-5; Luke 19:41-48

Last week, Tim kicked off our sermon series in Isaiah. We saw that Isaiah wrote to real people in a genuine historical context, but also learned that Isaiah’s writings are still relevant to the church today … since people are the same and God is the same, and because the Old Testament was written as preparation for the New.

The book of Isaiah is not simply one long continuous prophecy. It’s a collection of Isaiah’s words, as given to him by God, over many years, and in a variety of historical situations. We don’t know much about Isaiah, but we do know he had direct access to at least one of the kings listed in the opening verse of chapter one … Isaiah met King Hezekiah on more than one occasion, to bring him the word of God in person.

So the book of Isaiah is a collection of prophecies and stories of various kings as well as occasionally of Isaiah himself. But it’s not just been thrown together. The book of Isaiah has a clear structure and outline. We don’t know who edited it into the book we have today, whether it was Isaiah (which is unlikely) or one of his disciples (most of the prophets had a school of disciples that travelled with them) or perhaps it was edited much later by an unnamed priest or prophet. Certainly, other prophets – both contemporary and later – are familiar with the words and themes of Isaiah’s collection of prophecies. Isaiah is a very significant book.

Therefore, as we work through the first 12 chapters of this book over the next few weeks, we need to pay attention to the context, the structure, as each section builds or expands on what has gone before.

Last week then, Tim described the first chapter of Isaiah’s prophecies as a school report … we know who wrote it, when they wrote and for whom they wrote it … Isaiah wrote it, in the era of the four kings in 1:1, about Judah …

Now, sometime before Isaiah, the nation of Israel had divided in two, after the death of David’s son, King Solomon. From that time on, the northern, or rebel kingdom, is known as Israel, while the two tribes that remained faithful to the son of Solomon together became known as Judah. Jerusalem and the temple was in Judah’s territory. So Isaiah is prophesying to the supposedly faithful remnant of God’s chosen people. God didn’t abandon the northern kingdom – they too had prophets sent to them to bring God’s word to them, but they continued in their unfaithfulness, and sometime during Isaiah’s ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians.

One of the features of OT prophecy is the prophets’ use of what I call ‘biblical shorthand’ … different names are used of the same place or people, apparently interchangeably. For example, Zion and Jerusalem are the same place. It can make reading the prophets more than a little confusing at times. However, the choice of word may indicate something specific the prophet is saying – I suspect the different meanings of the names was clearer to those who first heard the message than to us simply because they were familiar with the situation. Zion may indicate that the prophet is thinking specifically of the temple as opposed to the wider city, Jerusalem. However, to confuse matters further (and there are names for Jerusalem I haven’t even mentioned), Hebrew poetry makes use of repetition, so at the end of verse 3,

The law will go out from Zion,

the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

the use of the two names is simply poetic. Confusing, isn’t it?! The point is, we need to pay attention to the names used by the prophets and ask if there is some specific purpose for which name is used each time. Sometimes there will be, sometimes there won’t, and sometimes we won’t know because we weren’t there!

So with all that background in mind, let’s look now at Isaiah 2:1-5, our passage for this morning. You will find it helpful to have your bible open to page 686.

So, chapter 1 is Isaiah’s report of the current situation and the cause … together with instructions as to how to improve or resolve the situation, 1:17, learn to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed, and 1:19, If you are willing and obedient you will eat from the fat of the land.

Chapter 2 begins by looking ahead. Prophecy has more than one dimension … sometimes prophecy is simply proclaiming God’s view of the situation, telling us how God sees things, revealing the spiritual impact or cause of a situation. At other times, prophecy points forward … either to something that will happen as part of God’s purpose, or to something that will happen as a result of our behaviour, whether obedience or disobedience.

Having set the scene in chapter 1, Isaiah turns now to the future. And immediately, we’re plunged into a major theme of OT prophecy … the day of the Lord. Again, it’s biblical shorthand for the time when God will wrap up history … when we will all be judged. For some of us, that judgement will have a positive outcome, while for others judgement will mean condemnation. We saw in chapter 1 that being obedient, religious, isn’t enough, that our obedience has to be willing and humble, and that true obedience affects every aspect of our lives, not keeping anything back from God’s service. And that’s illustrated here …

In the last days … so not on the last day, but in the time leading up to the day of the Lord,

the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us his ways,

so that we may walk in his paths.”

The law will go out from Zion,

the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Just imagine a time of world wide revival! People streaming to hear God’s word … when I first read that line, the image that came to mind was of refugees fleeing violence and war. I think it’s the only image I have of a continuous, endless stream of people moving together, it’s heart rending … but these people will be rejoicing as they walk, worshipping, singing as they go. It will be something never before seen in the history of mankind. It will be glorious!

But notice too, that the movement isn’t all in one direction …

Come, let us go to the mountain of the LORD … he will teach us … the law will go out from Zion. They are coming with purpose … a desire for God’s presence. God will teach them his ways … a desire for instruction and to obey. The law will go out … a desire to reach others.

Even in the last days, there will be others that need to hear God’s word … but the overwhelming image here is of a desire for God, a hunger, a thirsting for righteousness … where have we heard that phrase before?

Moving on, v4,

He will judge between the nations

and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into ploughshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war any more.

He will judge between the nations … conflict will not simply disappear, it will need to be resolved. However, peace will happen as people willingly accept his judgements … so different than our current day, when arbitration is seen as compromise, rather than as just resolution.

They will beat their swords into ploughshares … their spears into pruning hooks … think of the blacksmith as he beats a piece of metal into shape. This transformation is hard work. Yes, the day of the Lord is approaching; yes, people are willing, humble and obedient; yes, God is intervening in history; but … there is still work to be done. This image is of a complete change of direction, from self-interest to selfless service. In other words, deep, life-changing repentance. And it goes beyond the determination of an individual to change …

Nation will not take up sword against nation … this is a time of national and international repentance and transformation, as people work together to reform their culture and government, doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Something we pray for every week when we meet together. In the last days, God will answer our prayer.

And finally for this morning, v5,

Come, O house of Jacob,

let us walk in the light of the LORD

Remember all that I said about names and biblical shorthand? Who was Jacob, the individual Jacob? Who did Jacob become? Israel. Israel doesn’t always refer to the rebel northern kingdom. Sometimes the name Israel is used for the faithful people of God. But sometimes, instead of using the name Israel, the prophets use his previous name of Jacob … Jacob the deceiver, who became Israel, the man of God. When the prophets use the name Jacob, they are reminding us of the history of God’s people, a people that failed, that sinned, but who remained God’s chosen ones.

We’ve heard the name Jacob once before in this passage … v3,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of the God of Jacob.

God is a god of transforming power …

And he issues us with an invitation.

Come, O house of Jacob,

let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Let us walk in the light of the LORD. This vision of Isaiah looks forward to a day when people from all over the world will want to hear the word of God, to humbly obey it and to share it with others. The challenge was that Judah already had the word of God, but had chosen instead to practise an empty, worthless imitation of true religion by focussing on the performance of ritual rather than on the relationship that was it’s foundation.

In these five short verses we have been given direction, offered transformation, and have been issued an invitation. And like Judah, we too have the word of God … so we need to ask ourselves whether we also have,

a desire for God’s presence,

a desire for instruction and to be obedient, and

a desire to reach others?

Let’s pray …

LB

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