The prophets knew their bible well. Much of their imagery comes from borrowed symbols and stories originating in the Torah. As we get to Isaiah chapter 2, we too will need to know the Torah, specifically Genesis here, with great appreciation. Isaiah 2 opens with a vision regarding the “last days”. It is important to note the Hebrew understanding of history. They would split history into two major sections: The Present Age and the Age to Come. The Present Age was the time of sin, the current state of reality, but one day, (often referred to as the Day of the LORD; which we will get into later) God would come (this is where the idea of the messiah or messiahs comes in) and defeat Israel’s enemies, bring peace and prosperity, justice and righteousness and thus launch the Age to Come. This will be one of those few moments where the prophet looks towards the Age to Come (remember only about 5% of OT prophecy is about this):
In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of all—
the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of Jacob’s God.
Here is where we need Genesis 1 and 2, as well as the other portions of the Torah, to truly appreciate Isaiah’s vision. First, let’s examine “the mountain of the LORD”. I want to show that this is a clear reference to the Garden of Eden. This may come as a surprise, but the Garden of Eden was most likely planted atop a mountain. At least, that is what the narrative, and other reflections, seem to imply. If you go to Genesis 2 when God plants the Garden, the story tells us that from the Garden was the source of a mighty river that would flow down and split into four major rivers. Doing some basic science, we know that rivers flow downward (thank you gravity!) and thus the Garden must have been raised higher than the land around it. Now, this does not immediately equate the Garden with a mountain but it gives a starting point. If we jump over to another prophet, in Ezekiel chapter 28, we have two moments where Ezekiel calls the Garden of Eden the Mountain of the LORD. For him, the terms are interchangeable.
Moving to the rest of the story, we get important moments that involve mountains and God’s perfected presence. Noah’s ark lands atop a mountain (which he then plants a vineyard garden interestingly enough), Abraham goes on top of a mountain to sacrifice Isaac, God intervenes and the covenant is confirmed, Moses goes up a mountain to meet God and is given the Law, and later we have the Temple and Mount Zion as the place for Israel to meet with God. Clearly mountains have a role with meeting God in his presence and the place defined as the perfect intersection between man and God is the Garden.
What this tells us is that when Isaiah sees “the last days”, he is given an image of an Eden-like reality. There is a new Garden of Eden and it will be the most important place on earth. Notice too that all of the nations will come to this place. Gentiles and Jews joining together to worship Yahweh alone. All strife and worship of other gods is gone from the earth. In this future, Israel has fulfilled her role of being a blessing to all the nations. Despite Israel’s current situation of idolatry and destruction, the future indicates a success in God’s covenant plan. The optimistic vision continues:
The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.
Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.
If you read Micah 4 alongside Isaiah 2, you would probably accuse them of plagiarism. They have verbatim recorded visions here regarding the Mountain of the LORD and coming peace. I won’t get into the quagmire of scholarly debate about who wrote what and who possibly borrowed, but rather note the repeated emphasis. If the two of them have this in their work, it is clearly an important piece to consider.
Both Micah and Isaiah see that in the Age to Come, God will bring peace and wipe out the reality of war. He will ask us all to release our tightly-gripped weapons and beat them into a new purpose. Weapons, swords, and guns will have no place in God’s new world.
Recalling the Eden language of the previous verses, we should make another Eden connection here. Notice that the weapons are being transformed specifically into gardening tools. Tools of destruction being reshaped into tools of construction. Humanity no longer needs weapons, no longer goes to war, instead they return to their intended state of humanity. (see my post regarding the original intention of humanity linked here). We return to being image-of-God bearing creatures who tend to and rule over God’s creation. In this vision, we return to a new garden with all the tools we need to be truly human.
Isaiah’s vision then makes a big turn. It is almost as if Isaiah abruptly snaps back to reality as he is reminded of the current state of God’s people.
You, Lord, have abandoned your people,
the descendants of Jacob.
They are full of superstitions from the East;
they practice divination like the Philistines
and embrace pagan customs.
The future seems like a pipe dream compared to Isaiah’s present assessment of Judah. They are far from God’s desire. Rather than being rescued from their sin, they have been abandoned to taste the consequences. The next few verses will poetically describe the sins of God’s people. After that, we get a description of the coming Day of the LORD. If you recall, in the Hebrew worldview of the two ages, there would be a Day of the LORD which would transform and restore. Yet, Isaiah seems to see the Day of the LORD playing out a bit differently here for God’s people. Rather than elevating them as expected, it looks as though they are mixed into the judgement. Again, I want to save the the Day of the LORD theme for later when Isaiah develops the idea more fully. But it should be noted here that Isaiah’s words would have been shocking. It looks as though Isaiah sees the Days of the LORD differently from his peers. We will look at this more later, but for now I would suggest watching the Bible Project’s helpful video on the Day of the LORD.
As we saw in chapter 1 and again here in chapter 2, Isaiah switches back and forth between judgment and hope. One minute we are seeing images of the peaceful Garden and the next we are talking about hiding in caves when the Day of the LORD arrives. As we continue to chapter 3, we sit in this tension yet again but will notice much more judgment language.
Once again, feel free to leave a comment or question or visit my Contact page to reach me personally regarding anything about Isaiah and the prophets.
- How might future realities affect the way a Christian lives now? How might we live into the future while in the present based on what we know the world is meant to be?
- How do I respond to reading judgment sections of prophecy? Do I accept this picture of God? Do I run from it?