Today’s Passage: Isaiah 2
If the central topic of Isaiah 1 was the rebellious sons of Israel, chapter 2 focuses on their pride and its consequences. But before that, it takes a moment to ask what a future with actual humility would look like.
The first four verses show a picture of the last days, in which Mount Zion and the Lord’s temple enjoy a place of prominence over the other mountains. Not just the Jews, but everyone comes to the temple. The people say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths” (2:3). God’s law issues from Zion, he himself acts as judge over the nations, and we see the famous “swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks” verse (2:4). It’s a picture of people united in humility, enthusiastically submitting to the wisdom of God’s reign and arbitration, and the result is peace and prosperity. There’s no need for war when there are crops to harvest! And it all comes because people everywhere are eager to learn from God how best to live their lives.
Then Isaiah addresses Israel, “Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord” (2:5)–and cue the record scratch as we snap back to the actual state of affairs.
The Israel of Isaiah’s time is anything but humble. Rather than stream to the temple on Zion for instruction from the Lord, they go to nations who do not know God: “You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with influences from the east” (2:6). They enjoy material prosperity as they trade for horses and precious metals with their neighbors, but they use their wealth to break the second commandment and make idols. “Their land has also been filled with idols,” Isaiah laments, “[and] they worship the work of their hands” (2:8). Ignoring their Creator, they give themselves to their own creations, becoming slaves to something even less than a man. And as if that hasn’t humbled them enough already, God promises to bring them even lower.
The final segment of the chapter concerns God’s “day of reckoning.” In that day, God will oppose everything that dares to raise itself higher than Mount Zion: cedars of Lebanon, oaks of Bashan, mountains, hills, every high tower and fortified wall, all the ships of Tarshish, all the beautiful crafts, and finally the lofty pride of humanity (2:13-17). Notice how the list goes from larger to smaller entities, ending up with the pride of man, which takes up no physical space at all. I interpret this to mean that God’s “day of reckoning is less concerned with the physical height of these objects as with the space they take up in Israel’s view. The crux of the problem is Israel’s arrogance, and God will reduce the prominence of their territory, resources, and wealth in their minds by bringing down their pride. Deprived of their wealth and driven to hide in caves from God’s judgment, the people “will cast away to the moles and the bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship” (2:20). The cave-dwelling animals have no use for these shiny images, and frankly, neither did the people.
A shiny statue can’t do a thing for you when you give your worship to it. Before the impotence of idols, though, God’s strength stands in stark contrast. The people will flee, Isaiah reports, “before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty, when He arises to make the earth tremble” (2:21). Isaiah’s message here is that one way or another, the world will reach a place of humility–and God will start with his own arrogant people.