This blog continues a commentary on Isaiah 1-39, using the Complete Jewish Bible version.
This is the word that Yesha‘yahu the son of Amotz saw concerning Y’hudah and Yerushalayim:
It will come about in the final days
that the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be established as the most important mountain.
It will tower above the other hills,
and all the Gentile nations will stream there.
3 Many peoples will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Ya‘akov!
He will teach us about his ways,
and we will walk in his paths.”
For out of Tziyon will go forth instruction,
the word of the Lord from Yerushalayim.
4 He will judge between the nations
and arbitrate for many peoples.
Then they will hammer their swords into plow-blades
and their spears into pruning-knives;
nation will not lift sword against nation
and they will no longer be trained for war.
5 Descendants of Ya‘akov, come!
Let’s live in the light of the Lord
( CJB altered)
This great poem appears almost word for word in Micah 4. It is certainly foreign to some of Micah’s teaching, and therefore could be assigned to Isaiah’s authorship. I think its language is foreign to both prophets and therefore suggest that it is by another prophet, but cherished by both Isaiah and Micah.
It is important to rescue the passage from being taken for granted and from being over-praised as a form of internationalism.
Modern readers should remember the close connection between religion and state governance in ancient times: each nation had its God or gods who were expected to lend supernatural support to the nation in time of war. Conflict very seldom arose over these gods; national interest or at least the ruler’s interest came first and the gods were expected to fall into line, but certainly a particular God might gain international street cred if its nation won a string of battles.
In this case, the poem celebrates Zion, the temple rock in Jerusalem, and the Temple itself, the house of the God of Jacob, whose holy name,Yahweh, appears in the original text, but was eventually substituted by “the Lord.” The poem envisages the many gentile nations forsaking their own gods, and their holy names, in favour of Yahweh whose house is in Jerusalem. By the standard of holy mountains, Zion hill is not that impressive, but because of the reputation of Yahweh God it will rise above other hills, as a supreme place of pilgrimage.
The gentile nations will not be looking for a nationalistic God who will take their side in battle, but rather one whose “ways” that is, the lifestyle taught by Yahweh, were attractive because of their wisdom. Jerusalem will be the source of the Lord’s powerful command (word) and wisdom (instruction). The nations desire to “walk in his ways” that is, to build their societal lives on the teaching of the God of Jacob.
Yahweh God will also be the standard of societal and international justice. The wise teaching of the Lord, will be the reference point settling disputes. The vision of a divine wisdom which could be brought to bear on international disputes by agreement rather than conquest, is unique in its time. It involves a recognition by the prophet that his God’s teaching is not arbitrary but beneficial to humanity because of its fundamental rightness.
The connection between sharing the one God and Peace is that one God means one arbiter of disputes and one source of practical wisdom. The gods, including Yahweh, who used to go into battle with their people have vanished, and human beings can live like a family in the one house. God’s house is perceived as bigger than the chosen people; indeed its very architecture mirrored the universe itself, in which the story of Israel finds its true fulfillment.
The grievous burden of international conflict, the armaments which often impoverished nations and deprived them of food, are in this poem transformed into instruments of agriculture. This is maybe the first mention in world literature of a “peace dividend.” Men who would have been forced to train as soldiers can be released to contribute to the common good.
This use of the theology of God’s house to provide a vision of peace is very much in line with the issues discussed currently in my other blog:
That said, we should not forget that this is still a victory for Israel and her God. The nations flow to her holy place recognising the superior wisdom of her God. That makes it a bit easier to be Israel than to be Gentile. The crunch comes when anyone recognises, as St Paul did, that God has no favourites, and that faith in God has been radically decentred by the gospel of Jesus Messiah. The vision placed here in Isaiah is a step in the direction of believing that God is Spirit and those who worship must do so in Spirit and Truth.