Isaiah 2:1-5 “Peace”
This morning we lit the first candle for advent which is the candle of "peace," and we recall that Jesus is the "Prince of Peace." This morning we also read from this wonderful prophecy of Isaiah (He is still my favorite Prophet, by the way). The prophet is sharing a vision that he has had about a future time of peace on the planet.
What is immediately exciting as we read the first verse is that it says that Isaiah "saw the Word of God." Most of the time when the Word of God comes to a prophet in the Old Testament, it comes as a spoken Word. So, we are wondering now if Isaiah is looking at a written Word of God that he is then sharing as a personal vision out to the world.
The understanding of "Word of God" for us today is two fold. Of course, we call the Bible itself the "Word of God." Was Isaiah therefore referring to the same sacred texts in his day? In Revelation 20:12, for instance we see that Jesus opens "the Book of Life." There are also apparently other books that are opened at that time. Was Isaiah given a sneak preview of all that thousands of years ago? That would be cool, right?
I like to do this myself when I am seeking a word from God. I will go to the Bible and sometimes just let the wind turn the pages. Sometimes the cat will turn the pages for me too. Invariably something will then catch my eye. Or, is it that God shows me something that allows me to see my own life in a new and different way. So, Isaiah is experiencing this kind of thing happening between himself and God, but there are no books open before him. He is just being shown the Word of God.
We also call Jesus the "Word of God." We see this in John 1:1-5. The word became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. This is also intriguing as this means that Isaiah may have actually caught a glimpse of Jesus himself a few millennia before His birth. We know that Jesus was there at the time of Creation. Now he appears to Isaiah to show another time of creation when peace will rule the planet. If the Apostle Paul could see Jesus on the Road to Damascus, then it follows that Isaiah could have seen Jesus as well.
Now the first part of the vision seems to show the city of Jerusalem, which is the capital of Israel still today. What many of us may not know is that the name "Jerusalem" actually means "Temple of Peace." In this particular verse, it makes more sense to translate the line "Judah and Jerusalem" as "Judah and the Temple of Peace." In Hebrew there are no capital letters for place names, in fact there are no capital letters at all in the language. You see, Jerusalem is a city in Judah. This makes it more understandable if we read this then as "Judah and its Place of Peace." This is because they are equal ideas. "Judah, this place of peace."
Someone in the afternoon bible study asked the question that is on all our minds: "Has Judah ever really been a place of peace?" How many times has it been taken over in warfare? In fact this last week there were two bombs that went off in Jerusalem. That just does not sound very peaceful at all! This was the place where Jesus was beaten and crucified. This is the place where the Romans came and destroyed the temple. In the time of Isaiah, they were the Assyrians who were just waiting for an excuse to come into Judah to destroy it and carry the people back off to slavery in Babylon. The people then did not heed Isaiah’s warnings. They did not trust in the Lord. They chose instead to trust in a military alliance with the Egyptian army. Well, the Egyptians turned tail and ran back to Egypt when the Assyrians advanced. Never, ever, put your trust in a Pharaoh—put your trust in God.
The understanding of "Peace" or "shalom" in Hebrew is a little bit different than our understanding. "Shalom" is a verb actually. "Making peace" would be a better way to translate. It is not so much the absence of war as it is the making of peace. It is an active verb. When you meet an Israeli or a Jew and say "shalom" as a greeting, you are saying "Let's make peace."
Now in verse two, I have to point out that in older bibles, even the RSV, this line is started with the words "in latter days," (b’acharith in Hebrew). Because of the Mormon Church, that is the Latter Day Saints, this common term is no longer used. I want to reclaim it though. "In the latter days" which are to come, the word of God is that there will be the making of peace among the nations. So, to be sure, the "latter days" here is not a reference to the Joseph Smith movement from the 1800"s. This is a reference to the days that come just before the end of days when we are all together with Jesus in heaven again.
Now nobody knows when the End of Days will come. When Jesus was asked, He Himself said he did not know but only God in heaven. Yet, one thing is clear: every day that we get up out of bed and live our lives is one day closer to the End of Days. Nobody can argue that. So, likewise everyday we wake up and live our lives should bring us closer to that perfect peace that Isaiah foresaw! And, that goes to the idea that we therefore need to make that peace happen. We need to be the peacemakers who live for “shalom.”
In our text for today, we see a whole bunch of discussions about mountains and which one is the highest. The prophecy says that the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the highest. I just want to point out that the Temple mount in Jerusalem is not even in the top ten highest mountains in Israel. So, we have to assume that this is metaphor being employed. You see, way back after Israel escaped captivity in Egypt, and Moses went up Mt. Sinai to get the Ten Commandments, that was the Law of the Land. And, Jesus did not come to abolish the law at all. But, His word does supercede it. He says, “all the law and prophets can be summed up in ‘Love God, and love your neighbor.’” (Matthew 22:24-6) This is now the highest Law of the Land that came not from Mt. Sinai but rather from when Jesus was in Jerusalem. And, this is the first step in making peace. Put God first. Put your neighbor second.
In verse four we note a reference to the judge of all nations. We know this to be Jesus from Revelation 20. in the latter days, Jesus will begin to judge between the nations. Some nations will be righteous. Others not so. It is interesting to see that there is more than individual salvation being put forth. Whole peoples are judged here.
Do you want to make peace? Do you want to have shalom? Leave the judgment up to Jesus. I think about the wars we have today in this world. How many times we refer the wars back to the International Court of Justice in Hague, or to the UN General Assembly. Invariably the wars continue. Why don’t the warmongers stop in their destruction and hate? Oh yeah, they do not know Jesus! They have no fear of the eternal.
In our own lives, if we put Jesus as the arbiter between us and others, then for sure we will be making peace. The next time someone cuts you off while driving, try yelling “Jesus loves you!”
That leads us to the most famous part of this prophecy. WE need to beat swords into plowshares. I remember being in a biblical museum and seeing an old iron plow point. It was a cone that would fit over the stick used for plowing. You could just see how easy it would be to heat it up in a fire and sharpen up the edges for a sword. It would be in fact a lot harder to turn it back into a plow point. It takes a lot of work to turn soil and create a farm. Making peace is ever more so difficult. It does start with breaking ground. It means planting seeds. Peace is actually more work than war in so many ways.
It is easy to hate and be angry. Jesus is calling us to do the really hard work of forgiving and loving once more.
We have to teach how to make peace rather than war. I remember with our hanai daughter from Russia ten years ago how she was taught in school how assemble and shoot rifles. How she was prepared in school for war! She was taught how to make war. I look at Russia today and understand that the people have been trained up for what is happening in Ukraine. They have been fed the propaganda and literally encouraged in ways of terrorizing others. They were taught to hate. They need to be taught a different way all together.
Verse 5 is what we did this morning. We relit the light of Christ for peace in this world. There are so many dark places in this world that need to see the light of Christ finally—not just with Christmas carols and Christmas trees. They really need to see the light of Christ in their lives.
“Those who walk in darkness have seen a great light!” Isaiah 9:2 We pray that this light can cast away the shadow of death and finally bring peace to these latter days.