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The next section of the prophecy is found in chapter Isaiah 2:1 to Isaiah 4:6 divided up as follows:
a The vision of future glory for God’s people (Isaiah 2:1-5).
b The awful situation of His people before Yahweh (Isaiah 2:6-9).
c The Day of Yahweh which is coming (Isaiah 2:10-22).
c The impact of That Day (Isaiah 3:1-15).
b The condition of the womenfolk of Israel will result in His judgment on them (Isaiah 3:16 to Isaiah 4:1).
a The vision of future glory for God’s people (Isaiah 4:2-6).
It will be noted that the subsection commences and ends with the promise of God’s powerful activity, and of glorious days ahead, with in between these, in stark contrast, the true position and behaviour of the people, together with their consequences when they have to face the Day of Yahweh. Glory and judgment are carefully balanced against each other.
Chapter 2 The Glorious and Terrible Visions.
The thought in chapter 1 continues in this new oracle. There will be redemption and deliverance for God’s true people, reaching out even to the nations of the world (Isaiah 2:2-4). But there will be terrible judgment on those with unresponsive hearts (Isaiah 2:11-22).
Isaiah 2:2-4 is in fact repeated with minor variations in Micah 4:1-3. It is quite probable that Micah received the words from the master.
Analysis of Isaiah 2:1-5.
a The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1).
b And it will come about in the latter days, that the mountain of Yahweh’s house, will be established in the top of the mountains, and will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will flow to it (Isaiah 2:2).
c And many nations will go and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob. And He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths (Isaiah 2:3 a).
c For out of Zion will go forth the instruction, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem, and He will judge between the nations, and will reprove many peoples (Isaiah 2:3 b).
b And they will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4).
a O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of Yahweh (Isaiah 2:5).
Note that in ‘a’ we have the word which Isaiah ‘sees’ concerning ‘Judah and Jerusalem’ and in the parallel the call for ‘the house of Jacob’ to walk in Yahweh’s light (which Isaiah has seen). In ‘b’ Yahweh’s Dwellingplace is exalted that the nations might flow to it, and in the parallel nation no longer lifts up sword against nation. In ‘c’ many nations seek to Yahweh to learn His ways and walk in His paths (what Israel are singularly failing to do), and in the parallel, the word goes forth from Jerusalem and He judges between the nations.
But we may also see progression, as Yahweh is exalted before the nations, who flow towards His Dwellingplace in order that they might learn from Him, and the result is that His word goes forth from Jerusalem so that He rules over the nations and universal peace prevails.
‘The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.’
This heading suggests that at least some of Isaiah’s prophecies were already in writing prior to their being brought together. It may cover the whole section to Isaiah 4:6 or even to Isaiah 5:30. As Isaiah believed that what he spoke was directly from God we would expect him to put it into writing. He considered that what he had to present was an enduring message from God, and the recording of it in writing would serve to confirm this fact.
The Glorious Vision (Isaiah 2:2-4 ).
‘And it will come about in the latter days,
That the mountain of Yahweh’s house,
Will be established in the top of the mountains,
And will be exalted above the hills,
And all nations will flow to it.’
‘In the latter days’ signifies a long distance forward, and an undefined period, referring to the days when things will begin to come to their consummation. The prophets never doubted that in the end there would be a glorious future for the true remnant among the people of God. It had to be so for they knew that God would necessarily bring about His final purposes, and would become All in All.
In fact the New Testament writers all saw themselves as being in these ‘latter days’. They saw them as beginning with the coming of Jesus and the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, for they saw these latter days as being the days of the Messiah and the days of the infusion of the Spirit as constantly promised by God (Acts 2:16-17; Acts 2:36; compare 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; Heb 9:26 ; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7; James 4:8; 2 Peter 3:3 which in context he was applying to his own day although recognising it could last over a thousand years; 1 John 2:18; Jude 1:18).
Note that the description here is not strictly geographical but exalted. The mountain site of Yahweh’s earthly dwelling is to be raised up and made pre-eminent. It will tower over the mountains. All other mountains and hills will be below it, and all the nations who seek Him will flow upwards to it. It should be noted that this is not the exaltation of Jerusalem, it is the exaltation of Yahweh in His house, and is deliberately paradoxical. And as though they were great rivers the nations will flow upwards, contrary to nature, drawn up to Him. Note how this latter promise demonstrates that not only the remnant of Israel, but also the remnant of all nations would seek Yahweh.
The vision should not be taken pedantically. This is no ordinary mountain, and no ordinary result. It is the mountain of Yahweh’s house that is lifted up, not Jerusalem. The other mountains and hills are clearly the lands of the nations, while the rivers flowing upwards represent their life-blood, their peoples (as the great rivers were the life-bloods of nations). The thought has in mind the responsive people of all nations who are thus connected with the river of life. So God’s house is exalted in order that all may see His glory and all may come to Him. We can appreciate from the picture why Paul spoke of ‘the Jerusalem which is above’ (Galatians 4:26), and Hebrews speaks of ‘Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Hebrews 12:22). Our eyes should not be towards Jerusalem, but towards God’s heavenly Dwellingplace (1 Kings 8:27).
But the nations saw their mountains as the homes of the gods. That is why worship took place at the high places which were originally on mountains, and many of their temples would be built on mountains, or, like the ziggurats, be designed to represent mountains. Thus the subservience of all the mountains to the mountain of Yahweh indicates the subservience of all their gods, and they are then left behind by the peoples in the upward flow of the responsive among those peoples to God. God is being raised above all that He might draw all to Him (compare Ephesians 1:19-23 where the idea is put in New Testament terms. See also John 12:32). The ‘mountain of Yahweh’ can be compared with the ‘heavenly places’ of Paul.
That Isaiah connects this with Jerusalem in some way the next verse makes clear, but Jerusalem is significantly not mentioned as being raised along with Yahweh’s house. Jerusalem is rather the place from which God’s dwellingplace is raised up and from which the testimony will then go out, a testimony which will point to the exalting of the house of Yahweh, which has been raised above all things, and from there they will take Yahweh’s instruction to the world. Jesus may well have had Isaiah 2:2 in mind when He spoke of the Temple of His body, which after three days would be raised up (John 2:19; John 2:21).
Note the careful wording. The instruction of Yahweh, and the word of Yahweh, go out from Zion/Jerusalem, but the message itself points to the exalted house of Yahweh on the mountain of Yahweh, raised above all mountains and hills, with the nations flowing to Him and His mountain, not to Jerusalem as such, (although closely connected in Isaiah’s mind with Jerusalem) that He may teach them His ways.
Ezekiel in chapter 40 onwards expanded this vision. He described the heavenly temple coming down on ‘a very high mountain’ some distance away from Jerusalem in ‘the holy portion’ away from the city (Ezekiel 45:1-6). For to him Jerusalem had been defiled and was no longer fit to be seen as the place where Yahweh dwelt. And he sees the rivers flowing out from the temple to bring life to the world (Ezekiel 47:0). None of these descriptions must be pressed too literally. They were speaking of God’s final triumphal activity without trying to define it too closely. It was in the end beyond their (and our) understanding. God was finally to be sought in a place exalted beyond and above the earthly Jerusalem. ‘The hour comes when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, will you worship the Father -- for the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for such does the Father seek to be His worshippers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:19-23).
‘And many nations will go and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
To the house of the God of Jacob.
And he will teach us of his ways,
And we will walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion will go forth the instruction,
And the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem,
And he will judge between the nations,
And will reprove many peoples,
And they will beat their swords into ploughshares,
And their spears into pruninghooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
Nor will they learn war any more.’
It is now emphasised that many nations will then seek to Yahweh. But it is to His ways and His paths that they will seek, and they will go to the exalted mountain on which is the house of Yahweh. They are not said to be strictly seeking to Jerusalem. They are seeking to a higher than Jerusalem, they are seeking to the exalted Lord.
On the other hand they do recognise quite specifically that they are seeking to ‘the God of Jacob’. They recognise that their blessing must come to them through the God of the fathers, the God of Israel, through the Abrahamic covenant as confirmed to Jacob (Genesis 12:3 as confirmed to Jacob in Isaiah 28:14), Who has been highly exalted. Thus those blessings must therefore first come to them through God’s chosen people, His nation of priests (Exodus 19:6), the people of the God of Jacob, and that is why Zion/Jerusalem is now described as the place from which that truth will go out to the world.
This idealised vision may well have been in Jesus’ mind when He informed the woman of Samaria that salvation was of the Jews (the house of Jacob), but that in the future worship even the mountain of Jerusalem would be replaced (John 4:19-23).
Such a reaching out with God’s instruction did begin when the witness of Israel, dispersed by exile, resulted in many Gentiles turning to the God of Israel, and centuries later His truth would even more powerfully stream out into the world through the followers of Jesus, reaching out from Jerusalem to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8), as they pointed to their exalted Lord. So Jerusalem would indeed be the starting point of the blessing, proclaiming the exalted Lord Who was Himself raised over the nations.
And all this is finally to result in God’s universal rule. He will act as Judge over the nations, the One Who is the final Authority and Determiner of justice, and as the Arbiter who advises and reproves. The result will be universal peace and total cessation of war. Weapons will be turned into instruments for good, and used to provide for the needs of the world. Heaven has no need of weapons. All will be under Him. His everlasting kingdom of peace will finally have come.
The Davidic king is here kept in the background. But his presence would be assumed to be in Jerusalem, and is later exemplified in Isaiah 9:6-7. It would be assumed that it would be through him as Yahweh’s anointed that Yahweh would dispense his justice and reproof. This is made abundantly clear elsewhere (e.g. 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Psalms 2:0; Psalms 89:19-37).
So the whole picture is that of the presentation of the coming of the future everlasting kingdom in terms that Isaiah and the people could to some extent understand and appreciate, symbolised in the exalting of the mountain of the house of Yahweh above all mountains, with Jerusalem, at least initially, its connecting point to earth. The extravagant language and conceptions should warn us against taking it too literally, for it is ‘the mountain of Yahweh’s house’ that is being exalted rather than Jerusalem. Taking it too literally would later lead to the idea of the inviolability of the temple on the Temple Mount, which led Israel astray, and many later superstitions about Jerusalem, which even affect people today.
To us the vision goes even deeper. For we are aware that the mountain of Yahweh’s house has been exalted even to heaven, and that the word of Yahweh continues to go out from that heavenly temple, of which we are a part, through His people, and that one day in the new heaven and the new earth (see Isaiah 66:22) all will come under His sway and wars and fightings will be no more.
NOTE. There are some who rather prosaically simply equate ‘mountain of Yahweh’s house’ and ‘mountain of Yahweh’ with ‘Zion’ and ‘Jerusalem’ as though Isaiah was just using four expressions for the same place. But as we have suggested above we do not consider this permissible in this case. For ‘the mountain of Yahweh’s house’ is here mentioned as synonymous with ‘the mountain of Yahweh’ and ‘the house of the God of Jacob’, with stress on its being uniquely exalted. The stress is on Yahweh, His mountain and His house, seen as one together, being raised and exalted, not on the mountain as simply a geographical place connected with a city, but as raised so as to connect with Heaven. It is an exalted vision. Compare, ‘I dwell in the high and holy place with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite’ (Isaiah 57:15). Furthermore if we do simply insist on equating such terms we would actually make it impossible for Isaiah to express anything distinctive, whereas he is clearly striving to do precisely that here. Prophetic declarations go beyond the pedantic. Compare Isaiah 66:1 and the vision of Solomon in 1 Kings 8:27.
The ancient name of Zion, could be applied to both the holy mount and to Jerusalem, and often was, and Jerusalem was undoubtedly closely associated with Mount Zion, and Mount Zion with Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:12; Isaiah 24:23). But this was because His people in their great city, which was built on more than one mountain, were seen as closely connected with Yahweh in His holy mountain. ‘Mount Zion’ in its use is not the equivalent of Zion. ‘Zion’ had ceased to be simply the name of one particular mountain, and had become rather the name of a place connected with that mountain, and indeed came also to mean the people when in a far land (Zechariah 2:7). But ‘Mount Zion’ was especially the place where God had His earthly dwellingplace (and in Hebrews 12:22 had become heavenly). It was ‘the city’ to which Abraham looked (Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:16).
So in Isaiah 2:0 it is the mountain as related to Yahweh, ‘the place where Yahweh dwells’ (see Isaiah 8:18; Psalms 74:2), that is being exalted, not the city of Jerusalem, for although they were seen as closely associated they were not synonymous. It was the error of seeing them as one that resulted in the false doctrine of the inviolability of Jerusalem which was so solidly refuted by Nebuchadnezzar (and later by Titus) in practical fashion.
Indeed ‘Mount Zion’ became as much an idea as a place, as the New Testament makes even clearer (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 14:1). Even the Psalmist could say that it could not be moved but abode for ever (Psalms 125:1). Israel knew full well that no temple and no mountain could contain Yahweh of hosts. Solomon stated quite baldly, ‘Will God in very deed dwell on the earth? Behold heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You, how much less this house that I have built’ (1 Kings 8:27 compare Isaiah 66:1). So as a concept it was in Jerusalem and yet not in Jerusalem. It was the place of contact between earth and heaven. See Isaiah 66:1.
‘Mount Zion’ is the place where God will manifest Himself because it is both His heavenly and His earthly dwellingplace (Isaiah 4:5), and is described as ‘the place where Yahweh dwells’ (Isaiah 8:18). It was His earthly dwellingplace because the temple was on Mount Zion, but when it is so used it is not just being used as the equivalent of Jerusalem. It is being so used because of the presence of the temple, which was seen as representing a greater Dwellingplace, and a greater Mount Zion (consider Micah 4:7; 1 Kings 8:27). In the same way here in Isaiah it is Yahweh’s house that is being exalted not the city. There are no grounds for simply equating ‘the mountain of Yahweh’s house’ with ‘Zion’ and ‘Jerusalem’ when used as here (although it is possibly done in Psalms 48:2, but then the emphasis is on it as the city of the Great King). It is to miss the way that those such as Isaiah thought. Ezekiel would take it one step further. He removed the mountain of Yahweh’s house from Jerusalem altogether (Ezekiel 45:1-8). End of Note.
The Appeal To Respond (Isaiah 2:5 ).
‘O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of Yahweh.’
This parallels the ‘come’ of the nations (Isaiah 2:3). If the nations are to ‘come’ to be blessed by the God of Jacob, then the house of Jacob must first ‘come’ to walk in His light. This is the first imperative. They must let the light of His instruction shine on them (Isaiah 8:20; Psalms 43:3; Psalms 119:105) so that they might then themselves be a light to the nations (Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 58:8; Isaiah 60:1-3). Indeed to walk in the light of Yahweh is to walk, not only in the light of His instruction, but in the presence of the One Who is the glorious and all prevailing light (Psalms 27:1) from whom His own may receive inner strength (Psalms 27:1). So Isaiah pleads with his people to respond fully to Yahweh so that together with him they might fulfil their divinely appointed function as a holy priesthood to the nations, and be the source of His Instruction flowing out to the world.
Notice his use of ‘us’. Ever aware of his own sinfulness (Isaiah 6:5), but also conscious of God’s mercy in forgiveness, he longs that they may join with him in his walk with Yahweh and in bringing Yahweh to the nations.
This call also comes to us to walk in the light of Christ (1 John 1:7), asking that His light may shine on us daily, revealing the hidden things, so that we may bring them to Him for cleansing and forgiveness and walk in newness of life. We are to walk as children of light (Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:8)
His Recognition Before Yahweh Of Israel’s Position (Isaiah 2:6-9 ).
However, Isaiah is really in no doubt about their true position. There are no scales before his eyes. He now turns to God and outlines the position of the people, for he knows that he is seeking to call them out from the dreadful darkness in which they live, which has resulted in their being forsaken by God, into His marvellous light, and that unless God acts there is little hope for them.
‘For you have forsaken your people,
The house of Jacob,
Because they are filled from the east,
And are soothsayers like the Philistines,
And they clap (strike) hands with the children of strangers.
Their land also is full of silver and gold,
Nor is there any end of their treasures.
Their land also is full of horses,
Nor is there any end of their chariots.
Their land also is full of idols.
They worship the work, each of his own hands,
That which his own fingers have made.
And the mean man is bowed down,
And the great man is humbled.
Therefore forgive them not (or ‘therefore there is no way that they can be forgiven’).’
He has to recognise and acknowledge that in fact God’s people are far from the light. God has forsaken them even though they are of the house of Jacob with all that that could have meant for the world. Six reasons are given for their forsakenness, divided into two sets of three.
The first set of three relates to unfaithfulness to Yahweh. They are filled or satiated from the east, they are soothsayers like the Philistines, they strike hands with the children of strangers.
· ‘Filled (satiated) from the east.’ Contact with the east has introduced new gods, and new ideas connected with them, and these are now taking up all their time and worship, and leading them morally downwards. It is ironic that while the aim was that the nations would flow to Yahweh (Isaiah 2:2), in the meantime Yahweh’s supposed own people were being ‘filled from the east’. They were, as it were, flowing away from Yahweh.
· ‘Soothsayers like the Philistines.’ The Philistines were always seen as somehow not quite the thing. Israel had always looked down on them as ‘the uncircumcised Philistines’. And yet they are now making themselves parallel with them in seeking similar methods of divination to them, and prying into the future by false, occult methods, thus aping their ways and their religious degradation, something always forbidden by Yahweh (Isaiah 8:19; Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:11; 2 Kings 21:6).
· ‘Clap hands with the children of strangers.’ They partake with aliens to the covenant in alien ‘joyous ceremonies’, often celebrated in drunken abandon and sexual perversity, which can only lead them into sin and idolatry and further away from Yahweh. Alternately the idea may be of striking the hand in bargains, suggesting idolatrous treaties and agreements.
The world changes little. The Western world still looks to the East because it wants religious titillation without the necessity of yielding to God’s demands, it still looks to divination and the occult because it is spiritually bankrupt, it still indulges in sexually stimulating activities for the wrong reason. Here we have God’s stern warning that His people should avoid the occult. It leads into darkness.
The second three references relate more to their ambitions in life. The building up of wealth, the building up of military strength, and the multiplying of man-made idols. A man is after all known by his ambitions. They were also the three things that they trusted in. They thought that it was their wealth which would cushion them from adversity, their armaments which would be their protection against the enemy, and their idols which would ensure their food supply. Thus they no longer felt that they needed Yahweh.
· ‘Their land is full of silver and gold, nor is there any end of their treasures.’ It was clearly a prosperous time. It is the paradox of life, and the indication of man’s sinfulness, that when he has most cause to be grateful he is most unwilling to give God praise. He sees God as only there for his time of need. Mammon, the deceitfulness of riches (Mark 4:19), had gripped their lives and they had no time for Him.
· ‘Their land also is full of horses, nor is there any end of their chariots.’ What irony is here. They trusted in their own strength. They were proud of their full arsenals, their mighty weapons. They no longer needed Yahweh of hosts. These words were no doubt spoken well before the Assyrian invasion.
But those who have full arsenals tend to use them and to feel powerful through having them. They no doubt helped to contribute to injustice as they made the princes feel strong and invulnerable. And yet it was because these finally failed them, and they could not defend themselves from their enemies among their neighbours, that they finally sealed their own fate by calling in the Assyrian aliens, whose power they never even comprehended in their wildest dreams, and who would finally tread them down (2 Kings 16:7). They called in what they hoped would be a helping hand, and it turned out to be a jackboot. Unwise associations can destroy the soul.
· ‘Their land also is full of idols. They worship the work, each of his own hands, which his own fingers have made.’ They had not dispensed with religion, just inconvenient religion. Indeed they were more religious than ever. The land was full of their gods. And they had made them themselves! Isaiah is being deliberately sarcastic. They worshipped the work of their own hands, each producing his own ‘god’ (compare Isaiah 46:1-2 for similar sarcasm). But proliferation of idols signalled a deterioration in morality. The two went together. The word for idols is ‘elilim’, meaning also ‘nonentities’, a parody of ‘elohim’ (‘God’) and regularly used by Isaiah.
Idolatry is a means of making the idea of God manageable. A means of making Him earthly. A means by which He can be manipulated by priests. By representing Him in some earthly shape such as a perfection of manhood, or a brute beast, or a serpent, or a statue, He becomes more like ourselves and thus less demanding, less morally different (compare Romans 1:18-23). And we can then walk away and leave Him behind in His Temple. But in Israel it was made clear that God was not open to manipulation, was not restricted to His Temple, was not in any form known to earth, did not think like an earthly creature and did not act like one. He was the invisible God. His throne was among them but He travelled the heavens and did His will wherever He would. And His demands were totally unconnected with earth, they dealt with the heart and morality of man.
‘And the mean man is bowed down, and the great man is humbled. Therefore forgive them not.’ Literally ‘adam (man from the generality of men) is bowed down and ’ish (the important man) is humbled.’ Both prostrate themselves before the work of their own hands. All are involved from the lowest to the highest. Almost the whole nation grovelling before nonentities. They have basically lost their true humanity.
‘Therefore forgive them not.’ This gives an appearance of being harsh, but the Hebrew negative imperative sometimes indicates certainty that something will not happen rather than a strict plea or command (compare Psalms 34:5 b; Isaiah 41:2 b. See Isaiah 6:10; Isaiah 7:4; Isaiah 8:9 for the imperative used to indicate certainty of outcome). Therefore here we should translate ‘there is no way that they can be forgiven’ rather than seeing it as being a plea that they should not be forgiven. Their behaviour has been so appalling that judgment is inevitable (compare on the whole passage Micah 5:10-15).
The effects of the desire for power and wealth, and the making of idols of what they admire, are the constant cause of the downfall of men’s spirituality. We need to be constantly on the watch lest it happen to us. No man, however spiritual, is immune.
The Awful Situation of His People Before Yahweh And Its Future Consequences (Isaiah 2:6-22 ).
In contrast with the glorious vision that we have just seen, of Yahweh’s triumph and people flocking to God, is the contrasting scene that follows. It is a scene of unrelieved gloom although still pointing to Yahweh’s triumph.
Analysis of Isaiah 2:6-22:
a For you have forsaken your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they clap (strike) hands with the children of strangers (Isaiah 2:6).
b Their land also is full of silver and gold, nor is there any end of their treasures. Their land also is full of horses, nor is there any end of their chariots. They worship the work, each of his own hands, that which his own fingers have made. And the mean man is bowed down, and the great man is humbled. Therefore there is no way that they can be forgiven (Isaiah 2:8-9).
c Enter into the rock, and hide yourself in the dust, from before the terror of Yahweh, and from the glorious splendour of his majesty. The lofty looks of man will be brought low, and the haughtiness of men will be bowed down, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:10-11).
d For there will be a day of Yahweh of hosts, against all that is proud and haughty, and against all that is lifted up, and it will be brought low (Isaiah 2:12).
e And against all the cedars of Lebanon, which are high and lifted up, and against all the oaks of Bashan (Isaiah 2:13).
f And against all the high mountains, and against all the hills that are lifted up (Isaiah 2:14).
f And against every lofty tower, and against every fenced wall (Isaiah 2:15).
e And against all the ships of Tarshish, and against every object gazed upon (Isaiah 2:16).
d And the loftiness of man will be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men will be brought low, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:17).
c And the idols will utterly pass away, and men will go into the caves of the rocks, and into the dust of the earth, from before the terror of Yahweh, and from the glory of his majesty, when he arises to shake mightily the earth (Isaiah 2:18-19).
b In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made for him to worship, to the moles (‘rodents’) and to the bats, to go into the caverns of the rocks, and into the clefts of the ragged rocks, from before the terror of Yahweh, and from the glory of his majesty, when He arises to shake mightily the earth (Isaiah 2:20-21).
a Cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils, for in what way is he to be accounted of? (Isaiah 2:22).
Note the powerful contrasts and comparisons. In ‘a’ Israel (the house of Jacob) are totally taken up with their relationships with men so that God has ceased having dealings with them, and in the parallel He tells them to cease from men who only have a noseful of breath. In ‘b’ they are taken up with silver and gold, and all worship the work of their own hands, and in the parallel they cast away their idols of silver and gold and hide ‘from the terror of Yahweh and from the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake mightily the earth’. Note how this last phrase is repeated from ‘c’, a typical chiastic construction, compare for example Exodus 18:21-22 a with Exodus 18:25-26 a; Numbers 18:4 with Numbers 18:7; Numbers 18:23 with Numbers 7:24; Deuteronomy 2:21 with Deuteronomy 22:22; Deuteronomy 31:6 with Deuteronomy 31:7.
In ‘c’ they are to enter into the rocks and hide themselves from the terror of Yahweh and the glorious splendour of His majesty, and men will be humbled before Him (rather than before idols as in Isaiah 2:9), and in the parallel they will do so. In ‘d’ Yahweh’s day is against all that is proud and haughty, and all that is lifted up and it will be brought low, and in the parallel that is what happens so that Yahweh, Whose day it is, will be exalted. In ‘e’ He is against all the trees of Lebanon and Bashan which are high and lifted up, and in the parallel against the great ships made from those trees for trading purposes. And in ‘g’ He is against their mountains and hills (on which they worship idols) and in the parallel against their lofty towers and fenced walls (in which they trust).
The Terrible Vision (Isaiah 2:10-22 ).
This vision is in direct contrast with the Glorious Vision of Isaiah 2:2-4. On the one hand glory, now, on the other, judgment. Here we have a picture of the destiny of those who fail to respond to God’s mercy.
The construction, at first simple, is in fact complicated. From Isaiah 2:10 to Isaiah 2:19 there is a build up from man fleeing to the rocks before the terror of Yahweh and the glory of His majesty (Isaiah 2:10), to his being mightily humbled and Yahweh exalted (Isaiah 2:11), to the final bringing down of all that men exult in (Isaiah 2:12-16), to a repetition of his being mightily humbled and Yahweh exalted (Isaiah 2:17), to a repetition of his fleeing to the rocks before the terror of Yahweh and the glory of His majesty (Isaiah 2:19), during which time the idols will pass away (Isaiah 2:18).
But then is added that He is arising to shake mightily the earth (Isaiah 2:19 b), which leads on to a further description of man’s casting away his idols (Isaiah 2:20) and his fleeing to the rocks for a hiding place from the terror of Yahweh and the glory of His majesty (Isaiah 2:21), followed by a repetition of the fact that He is arising to shake mightily the earth. The whole picture is applied in Revelation 6:15-17 to the final day of wrath. The repetitions witness to the truth of the words and the certainty that they will come about.
‘Enter into the rock,
And hide yourself in the dust,
From before the terror of Yahweh,
And from the glorious splendour of his majesty.
The lofty looks of man will be brought low,
And the haughtiness of men will be bowed down,
And Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.’
Note how the literary form is in couplets and then finally culminates in one great statement, ‘And Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.’
At present these men are brought low before their idols and bow before them (Isaiah 2:9), and yet are proud and haughty before Yahweh, but the day is coming when the opposite will happen. It will be before Yahweh that all men will be brought low and will bow down. This will occur when He appears in His glory. For He is to appear in His true splendour as the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25), and His presence will be enough in itself to bring it about. None will be able to stand before Him. They will flee before Him and seek shelter in caves and try to bury themselves in holes in the dust because of their awareness of the glory of His majesty, and because of their fear of Him. For then they will indeed behold Him in His true splendour, as He is. In that day only One will be exalted, and that One will be Yahweh.
Their quest for a hiding place will, of course, be in vain. There will be no hiding place, just as there was no hiding place for man in the Garden of Eden at the approach of Yahweh there.
‘For there will be a day of Yahweh of hosts,
Against all that is proud and haughty,
And against all that is lifted up, and it will be brought low.
And against all the cedars of Lebanon,
Which are high and lifted up,
And against all the oaks of Bashan,
And against all the high mountains,
And against all the hills that are lifted up,
And against every lofty tower,
And against every fenced wall,
And against all the ships of Tarshish,
And against all pleasant imagery (literally ‘object gazed on’).’
‘A day of Yahweh of hosts.’ This is any day when Yahweh acts in judgment, when Yahweh ‘has His day’. It can be near or far depending on context. The description here would to some extent fit the approaching severe judgment by the Assyrians, for Lebanon, Transjordan (Bashan) and Tyre (ships of Tarshish) would all be affected by them, but Isaiah is later confident of delivery from Assyria, whereas the description here is final. And here it is Yahweh alone Who is exalted, and the idols utterly pass away. The context also places it in ‘the latter days’ (Isaiah 2:2). It is therefore a picture of Yahweh’s final days of reckoning, the opposite of Isaiah 2:2-4, of which the Assyrian invasion is but a foretaste.
It will be a day of accounting for ‘all that is proud and haughty, and all that is lifted up, and it will be brought low.’ Thus primarily in mind is all that is exalted, depicted by means of objects mentioned mainly because they were famous for their proud status, the tall cedars of Lebanon and the strong oaks of Bashan of which they were so proud, the mighty mountains and the high hills on which they worshipped idols, the tall towers, and the strong walls from which men would shout defiance at the enemy, and in which they trusted to keep them safe, the tall-masted ships of Tarshish (Ezekiel 27:5-8; Ezekiel 27:25), manufactured from the great trees, and which were the great ships that went long distances, conquering the sea and returning with iron ore, (Tarshish means ‘refinery’), and then finally the magnificent imagery of great kings as depicted in their inscriptions, possibly having in mind especially their victory trophies. All this that man glories in will cease.
The ‘pleasant imagery’ may be any large inscriptions such as those depicting gods, or those inscribed as trophies of victory, or may even be another word for another type of splendid ship in parallel with the ships of Tarshish (the meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain, but signifies ‘the object gazed on’). However the detail is clear. All that man gloried in and saw as most imposing and permanent would fall in that day, his tall and mighty trees toppling to the ground, his great mountain fastnesses brought low, his powerful fortifications overwhelmed and his mighty ships sunk. Nothing that we exult in will stand in God’s final day.
‘And the loftiness of man will be bowed down,
And the haughtiness of men will be brought low,
And Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day,
And the idols will utterly pass away,
And men will go into the caves of the rocks,
And into the dust of the earth,
From before the terror of Yahweh,
And from the glory of his majesty,
When he arises to shake mightily the earth.
In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver,
And his idols of gold, which they made for him to worship,
To the moles (‘rodents’) and to the bats,
To go into the caverns of the rocks,
And into the clefts of the ragged rocks,
From before the terror of Yahweh,
And from the glory of his majesty,
When he arises to shake mightily the earth.’
Again there is twofold emphasis on man’s pride being humbled, and here it is ’adam and ’enosh, mankind in general and men as frail and mortal, that are in mind (contrast Isaiah 2:9). And we then have twice more repeated the description of the glorious and majestic appearing of Yahweh (compare Isaiah 2:10-11), the threefold repetition emphasising its prime importance. This is describing the end of time. His appearance in splendour will be manifested to all. But now is added twice that He is arising mightily to shake the earth. The glorious appearing is accompanied by the mighty shaking. His appearing will deal finally with all man’s pride and arrogance (Isaiah 2:12-17), and with all idols (elilim - ‘nonentities’), which will utterly pass away (Isaiah 2:18). They will be tossed to the rats in the dust ,and the bats in the caves, in final recognition of their utter uselessness (Isaiah 2:20). God will be all in all.
Thus will idolatry cease, the gods of the nations be humiliated, tossed away and destroyed. Thus will proud man be humbled in a way far deeper than his self-humbling before the idols in Isaiah 2:9. Thus will men, the god-makers, seek to hide as man once sought to hide in the Garden of Eden, but while in Eden it was among the trees, which had been God’s provision for him, here it is in caves, rocks and holes in the ground from which he had dug his gold and silver, the very gold and silver from which his idols were made. Anywhere will do to get away from the terrible vision.
The picture of man fleeing to his hiding places while casting away his gold and silver idols, made for him by men, is vivid. They have in the end proved useless. And why? Because the majestic splendour and glory of Yahweh has been revealed. Beside that nothing can stand. Beside that the gold and silver artificial splendour of the idols pales into total insignificance. Here is the true glory, the glory of God. The cry of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:3 is supremely fulfilled. ‘The whole earth is full of His glory’.
The huge contrast between the pictures in Isaiah 2:2-4 and Isaiah 2:10-21 brings out the constant contrast in Scripture between the triumph of God in His people and the fate of the remainder of mankind. On the one hand universal triumph and glory, on the other universal judgment and despair. The complicated interweaving of the fulfilment of Isaiah’s words in history as they came to their own in the spreading of the Gospel, the establishing of the Kingly Rule of God and His constantly repeated judgments on nations, leading up to the final consummation in the future in the rapture and resurrection of God’s people, the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ and the judgment of those in rebellion against God, followed by the everlasting heavenly kingdom, was outside the prophet’s awareness. He presented all this in terms that could be understood. It was ‘the future’ in ‘the latter days’, that is ‘days far from now’.
The final lesson from this great vision is that every man must give an account of himself to God. While He is the Merciful God He is also the Terrible God. We must never treat lightly our responsiveness to Him lest it prove false at the last (Matthew 7:22). ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10:31) unless we do so through Jesus.
Final Comment (Isaiah 2:22 ).
‘Cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils, for in what way is he to be accounted of?’
This is one of the interjecting verses that we often find in Isaiah, although it fits into the chiasmus. Compare Isaiah 2:5; Isaiah 3:9-11. As there it connects what has been said with what follows. ‘Cease from’ here means ‘do not look to, do not rely on’. He is saying that man, unlike God Whose breath is in Himself and permanent, is but an earthly creature who depends on breathing noseful by noseful for his life and whose breath can easily be taken away. He is not therefore to be counted on, or even taken into account, in a major crisis (Isaiah 3:1) or in the face of eternal things such as have been described (Isaiah 2:19). It is to God that man should look, not to men. He alone is dependable in the greatest crises. Those who rely on God rather than men will be better able to face the soon-coming crisis (chapter 3)
This is not to say that we should not depend on each other when difficult times arise, but rather stressing where final dependence must lie. The truth is that man may often well not have the solution, and that man is not always dependable, whereas God does always have the solution and is always dependable. For it is only God Who can breathe life into men.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany