bible blog 1585


Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister

ISAIAH 2:1-5 ©
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In the days to come
the mountain of the Temple of the Lord
shall tower above the mountains
and be lifted higher than the hills.
All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the Temple of the God of Jacob
that he may teach us his ways
so that we may walk in his paths;
since the Law will go out from Zion,
and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’
He will wield authority over the nations
and adjudicate between many peoples;
these will hammer their swords into ploughshares,
their spears into sickles.
Nation will not lift sword against nation,
there will be no more training for war.
O House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

One of the great things about Advent is its poetry; and this passage is a fine poem. It exists in much the same form in Micah chaper 4  although it seems foreign to the central themes of that prophet, and even to those of the “first Isaiah” who is the author only of the first 39 chapters of the book that bears his name. Perhaps the fact that it appears in the collected prophecies of two different people suggests that the original author was not known by the editors who placed it where it now is. Both prophets worked in the 8th century BCE at a time when Israel and Judah were separate kingdoms, although still bound by their faith in Yahweh, their God.

The surprising thing about this poem is that it looks ahead toa day when the gentiles will be drawn in pilgrimage to the God of Israel and Judah, and will seek his wise teaching for their own lives. Because the different nations will gather to the one God who provides just judgments, causes of enmity will be abolished and peace will be established. The blessings of peace are memorably described as the process of turning armaments into agruicultural instruments. Expenditure of technology and human skill which has been wasted in war, can be turned to the provision of food. 

This will happen in “the days to come”, that is, a time within history in which God’s goodness rules. The gentle majesty of this vision still touches hearts today, almost 3000 years of war later.

Swords into Ploughshares. (Scupture at UN New York)

Swords into Ploughshares. (Scupture at UN New York)

It is a universal vision which is then turned back on those whose God will create peace, “O house of Jacob, come,  let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Other nations will one day be drawn to God’s light, but his own people need challenged to walk by his light now. The God of Israel and Judah is the universal God whose own people often rebel against his teaching.

Advent leads towards the birth of Jesus Messiah, the universal Saviour who belongs to no nation or religion, whose life and teaching show the way of peace. The scattered assemblies of Jesus throughout the world, which are often captured by worldly ways, are summoned by this great prophecy to walk in the light of the Lord, by working for the transformation of industries of war into industries of peace. 45% of Scottish citizens recently voted for a future without nuclear weapons, yet they are still here, bolstered by the prospect of new refinements, through the perverted science of the arms trade. I was born before they arrived in the Clyde and hope they’ll be gone before me.

Matthew 8:5-11 ©
When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’  cent

This story can be seen as a parable of turning weapons of war into instruments of peace. The soldier understands the mechanism of Jesus’ authority. He receives and obeys orders; therefore his own orders are obeyed; he imagines Jesus can also give commands because of his obedience to God. The instant and unthinking obedience of the soldier to orders, which is essential to the chain of military command, is transformed in Jesus’ case by his instant and loving obedience to God, which is essential to the expression of God’s goodness in the world. The perfect obedience of the solder makes him an instrument of war; the perfect obedience of Jesus makes him an instrument of peace. 

Jesus, and the writer of the Gospel, regard the centurion’s understanding as a profound faith which heralds the unity of all humanity under God. 

The Christian Assemblies have often turned away from the commandments of God, towards a moderate liberalism or an evangelical fervour. This story suggests an obedience that asks no questons and admits no excuses.

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