Isaiah (Part 05): Restoration / Judgment Contrast (Ch 2)10/21/2011 10:29
Isaiah 2 begins with a superscription similar to the one starting off chapter 1. This structural detail serves a couple of purposes. First, it lets us know that chapter 1 is done. Chapter 1 stands alone as a separate section that actually provides an overview to the whole book. It describes God’s complaint, let’s us know of God’s heartache over Judah’s sin, gives us a good understanding of what Judah’s sin was (the unjust mindset resulting from not imitating God), emphasizes the pursuit of God with the mind and heart over ritual action, reaches out with God’s call to righteousness, and presents unswervingly God’s resulting judgment for those who do not respond in faith. That is the message of the book. Many significant and instructive details will follow, but chapter 1 is a broad overview to everything.
Isaiah 1 also happens to be at the front end of the first five chapters that are all introductory. The superscription at the beginning of chapter 2 did indeed set chapter 1 apart in its overview. But it also helps us to see chapters 2 through 5 as joined together as well. These four chapters also present an overview, but of a little more detail.
Verses 2 through 4 may be labeled as a prophecy of restoration. Isaiah presents a view of a redeemed, reconciled, and restored humanity in relation with their Lord. If we turn over to Micah 4:1-3, except for a couple of minor changes, we read the exact same prophecy. Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah could have plagiarized Isaiah…or Isaiah could have copied from Micah. What seems most likely, however, is that both prophets were probably quoting from a third source. This prophecy of restored relationship is probably the common possession of the people—or more precisely, of the priests. It was probably known in the oral tradition of the people, possibly quoted often enough for the people to recognize it as such. Isaiah, then, is using it here to direct their minds to the goal—restoration with God. In their sin, Judah was strongly focused on self rather than God. Thus, at the end (in verse 5), Isaiah urges, “House of Jacob, come and let us walk in the Lord’s light.”
From our side of the cross, holding a completed canon, how are we to understand this prophecy of restoration? In other words, are we to see the prophecy as having been fulfilled through Christ’s atoning work of death and resurrection? Or is this prophecy of the future period of Christ’s second advent? Certainly we see elements of fulfillment. God certainly has established his house as called for in verse 2. From the time of David through the Gospels, the people always associated God’s house with the temple. It was the place were God met with his people. But we also recognize that Paul, Priscilla, and John all spoke of us as God’s house (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Heb 3:6; John 14:2; Rev 3:12). Jesus is Immanuel—God with us. We meet with God in our hearts. We are his temple. God lives within us. Therefore, we can definitely see the establishment of the Lord’s house as already fulfilled.
We also see that Christ’s commission was to spread the gospel to the world. And indeed the world has responded. Christians come from every tribe, tongue, nation, and race. As Isaiah 2:2 tells us, all nations stream to that meeting place with God. In Luke 24:47, Jesus said that all nations would come. And in Romans 1:5, we learn that Paul and the apostles were to bring about the obedience of faith among all nations.
Isaiah 2:3 tells us that the word of the Lord—instruction—would go out from Zion. Again, the NT pictures us—the people of God—as the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:9-10). And finally, we learn that nations would not take arms against other nations. We must think of this in the spiritual context of the OT. Israel, as the nation of God, separated itself from and opposed other nations precisely because of the difference of God’s covenant. Since Christ’s atonement, no nation has covenantal privileges. And therefore, Christians among the nations do not war with other nations because of covenantal faithfulness. People of all nations may join this covenantal relationship with God.
So this section does appear to support the state we enjoy as Christians now—between the advents of Christ. However, we can also easily see that instruction and peace—concepts expressed in this prophecy—are not perfectly realized. And until sin is finally judged and eradicated at Christ’s second coming, we will await that perfection. Therefore, there is an already, not yet feel to this prophecy. But from Isaiah’s vantage point, the development of the restoration is not what is in focus. The fact of the restoration is his point. And it is to this fact that he urges the people of God to turn in verse 5.
Involved in this restoration we find the three great relational blessings of the creation ideal: relationship of humanity with God (2:2-3), relationship of humanity with humanity (2:4), and even relationship of humanity with the earth (2:2). From verse 2 we may not be able to see the tie to relationship with the earth. All that is mentioned is a mountain on which this new Jerusalem is established. But after comparing this to the rest of the chapter in which those rejecting God flee into caves, dig holes in the ground, and scramble to be hidden by the rocks, the imagery becomes more evident of restored humanity standing above the earth with broken humanity diving below the earth.
Following this restoration image, Isaiah turns to God’s judgment on those not of faith—those who disregard pursuit of God. The rest of the chapter is divided into two sections: judgment on Israel and judgment on the world.
Immediately in verses 6 through 8 we learn that Israel’s unfaithfulness is in seeking spiritual support from foreigners. The divination from the east and fortune-tellers from the west (land of the Philistines) encompass and infiltrate Israel. Notice the emphasis on the change to the land. Land is a significant image used by God (based in the creation blessing of humanity’s relationship with the earth) to teach of peace, rest, and security. But in these verses we see that Israel is concerned with silver and gold for their economic rest. They import horses and chariots for their security. And they create, by the work of their hands, idols intended to give them satisfaction and peace of mind.
Because of these sins in turning anywhere but to God, we find Israel in terror at God’s judgment. Isaiah calls out to God “Do not forgive!” because these people remain unfaithful in not imitating God in just humility (faulty relationship of humanity with humanity). The Jews hide in the earth from the terror of the Lord (showing upside-down relationship of humanity with the earth). And God brings their pride down (revealing the still crooked relationship of humanity with God).
From verse 12 through the end of the chapter, the scene broadens. Whereas in 2:6-11, the judgment was directed against Israel, in this last section the judgment applies to the whole world. This last section is itself divided into two parts: sin of the people and resultant activity of the people. Nothing is new here concerning the sin of the people. It is the same theme that runs from the fall in the Garden to the final conflict of Revelation. The sin that defines fallen humanity is the withdrawal of faith from God, and the placing of our faith in humanity (either individually or collectively). The expressions of that faith in self can be seen in these verses. Regarding possessions, Isaiah notes the pride in the cedars and oaks of Lebanon and Bashan. The people pride themselves (for what reason??) in the mountains and hills protecting their land. Regarding the works of their hands, they pride themselves in the towers and walls they build for security and the ships they build for commerce and mobility.
But all this pride comes crashing down when facing the Lord’s judgment. Verse 19 through 22 show the people again hiding in rocks and caves and holes in the ground, tossing away their idols—the objects of false trust.
When does all this take place? God’s judgment, like his restoration, is a process. From reading Luke 23:30 and Rev 6:16, we see much of the hiding-in-the-ground imagery associated with the tribulation period—the time of the temple’s destruction in AD 70. But final judgment, we know from Revelation and 2 Thessalonians, will come with Christ’s second advent.
Isaiah ends the chapter with the lesson: human beings are dependent on God. We cannot place our trust in people, either individually or collectively. Isaiah shows the fragility of life in saying that life depends on the breath in our nostrils. But this also shows our dependency on God because it is God who breathed into Adam the breath of life.
What is humanity worth? We must realize that image-bearing life means something. If not, Matthew 10:31 and 12:12 would make no sense in speaking of the greater worth of people over animals. But the worth of life is only in that true image-bearing quality, when we are connected in faith with our God.