According to God’s promises, the nation of Israel has a great future. However, that great future that will come to Israel in the messianic kingdom can never be realized until Israel repents of its sin and turns to Christ–something that God says they will do at the end of the age as God pours His saving grace out upon the spiritually parched nation. Today’s blog from Isaiah chapter 2 reminds us about that final destiny of restoration, but also about the long ages of woe that would come to Israel in its state of apostasy (The portion that follows comes from my manuscript and has some formatting issues that I cannot remove when I copy and paste to here. Sorry.).

Chapters 2-4 form the second unit in the introductory section of chapters 1-6. In this section, God warns His people that there will be only one of two destinies for all men.  Those who repent and believe will obtain forgiveness and deliverance in the coming kingdom, but those who refuse will experience ruin.  These chapters continue showing the contrast of how badly the people of Israel were failing to match up to what God had called them to be, but also give a first glimpse of the coming kingdom.mmediately, God puts His own character and nature on display. He tells us who He is, what He does, what He will not do, and what the results are. The picture that emerges is that of an awe-inspiring God.

Judah could have restoration if only they would turn to the Lord.  Sadly, they would not.  For this reason, chapter two may be outlined as highlighting themes of both deliverance (vv. 1-4) and devastation (vv. 5-22).

DeliveranceWho He Is: The True God Is a God of Vengeance (vv. 1-4vs.2)

As noted by Martin, in verses 2-4 Isaiah,Three times in verse 2, God tells us about His vengeance. To say that God is a God of vengeance, or an avenging God, is to say that He is the God who repays. He repays in defense of His own name and glory. He repays in defense of His people. He is a God who punishes what is wrong, what is unjust. He is a God of justice. He is a God who knows, who remembers, and dispenses justic“introduced a concept which was to be a hallmark of his prophecy.  A time will come when Jerusalem will have the primary position in the world.[1]  Israel’s sin would bring centuries of suffering, but God’s promise is restoration in the kingdom.  The opening words of 2:1 echo those of 1:1 and raise questions as to why this is so.  Some would hold that this indicates a distinct prophetic section that Isaiah included as he grouped together all of his prophetic writings.[2]  Interestingly, Isaiah calls it the word which he “saw” and not the word which he heard (cf. Amos 1:1).  Culver notesthat in prophetic contexts, this visionary term “saw” (chazah) refers to,

the revelatory vision granted by God to chosen messengers, i.e. prophets. . . .  This vision of the prophets took place sometimes in the waking state, but also in “the spirit” (see Num 24:2).  Sometimes the experience of “seeing” a revelatory dream.[3]

By His Spirit, God was revealing the coming kingdom to Isaiah.[4]  Verses 2-4 reveal three features of what this kingdom will look like.

The first feature:  the commencement of the kingdom (v. 2a)

God says the kingdom will commence in “the last days.[5]  Many premillennial theologians hold that the last days will take place as follows:  (1) the rapture of the church, (2) the establishing of a seven-year covenant by the Antichrist between Israel and Israel’s enemies, (3) the seven-year tribulation period, (4) the return of Christ at the end of the seven years to destroy the Antichrist and his armies and save Israel from annihilation, (5) the establishing of the millennial kingdom,[6] (6) the final resurrection of all the unsaved at the end of the Millennium in preparation for a final judgment, (7) the destruction of the present material order, (8) the final judgment of all the unsaved, (9) the creation of a new heavens and new earth.

Generally speaking, post-millennial theologians have held that the kingdom began at some point in the past and that Christ will return at the end of the 1,000 years when the church has achieved a Christianization of the world.  Amillennial theologians typically treat the 1,000 years as a figurative expression that simply means a long period of time.  They typically assert that the church is the kingdom—a kingdom that began at the resurrection (or Pentecost) and continues until the new heavens and new earth.  Young, for example, holds that the last days is, “the age of the Christian church which began its course with the first advent of Christ.”[7]  This explanation fails to give a proper explanation of the text.

It is true that in a broad sense, one can say that we entered into the “last days” when Messiah arrivedsome 2,000 years ago (Heb. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 2:8, 18).  However, unbeknownst to the Old Testament prophets, the first coming of Christ would also include the rejection and death of the Messiah, and that the arrival of the kingdom (as here in 2:1-4) would not happen until His Second Coming.  At the present time, we now live in the church age, an unforeseen time period that includes what Jesus called “the mysteries of the kingdom” (Matt. 13:11; cf. Rom. 16:25-26; Eph. 2:11-22; 3:1-9; Col. 1:26).[8]  From an Old Testament perspective, the church age is part of a prophetic gap that was never seen by the Old Testament prophets.  After the resurrection, the disciples were expecting Jesus to immediately establish Israel’s kingdom (Acts 1:6; Phil. 4:6; James 5:8; 1 Pet. 4:7; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rev. 22:20-21), and this is what we are still waiting for today, i.e., the imminent return of Christ to bring God’s kingdom.

The second feature:  The centrality of His kingdom (v. 2b)

The return of Christ is certain, and when He comes Isaiah says He will establish God’s kingdom in Jerusalem, His chosen city (Ps. 48:1; Matt. 5:35).[9]  This expression “the mountain of the house of the LORD” refers to the fact that the messianic kingdom will have its capital in the city of Jerusalem at the place that biblically is known as Mount Zion.[10]  The whole world will belong to the Lord Jesus Christ in that day (Zech. 14:9), and in that day all the world will worship God’s Son as He rules from Zion,for His kingdom will be the chief of all mountains/kingdoms (Zech. 14:16-21).  Zion will be raised up not only physically (Zech. 4:7; 14:10), but also spiritually as the capital of the whole world (Zech. 8:3).  Unger reminds us that this must not be allegorized away:

As the religious center in the kingdom age, Jerusalem will be the cite of the millennial Temple (Ezek. 40:1-47:12). . . .  The result of the fulfillment of this great prophecy will not only involve the spontaneous inflow of the nations but also their eager seeking after Israel’s God.[11]

The third feature:  The changes His kingdom will bring (vv. 2c-4)

God is going to bring radical changes to this world when Christ returns.  Verses 2-4 outline three kinds of radical changes this world will see.

A radical reversal (v. 2c).  The Bible says that life is going to change radically when Christ establishes His kingdom, a radical reversal of the curse that Adam introduced, and all the nations “will stream” (nahar) to Jerusalem.  Instead of looking with contempt on the Jews, all the nations (the goiiym) will look to Jerusalem and its King as a source of blessing.

The centrality of Israel (v. 3).  Verse 3 continues the imagery with a parallel statementmany peoples will come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob.”  The clear import of this prophecy is that the whole Gentile world will recognize Jerusalem and her King as the ruling center of the world, a promise that gets repeated throughout Isaiah (cf. e.g., Isa. 60:3-12; 61:5; 66:23).  Post-exilic Zechariah looked ahead to that future age when Messiah would rule, and all the world would see Jerusalem as the capital of the world (Zech. 8:20-23).  In Zechariah 8:13 God encouraged His downcast people by saying, “It will come about that just as you were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you that you may become a blessing.”  God will restore His fallen people.

The nations will stream to Jerusalem and seek the Lord so thatHe may teach them concerning His ways that they might walk in His pathsAll the world will recognize that Yahweh is God, and that they need His instruction, i.e., His law (torah).  In this present age, the world does all it can to cast off the ways of the Lord (Ps. 2:1-3), but when God brings His remnant into the kingdom (Jew and Gentile), these saints will recognize that these teachings are the truth they must learn (cf. Isa. 11:6-9).[12]

An end of war (v. 4).  Christ will put an end to all war, and by His divine wisdom (cf. Isa. 9:6; 11:3-5), He will “judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples.  All of the wealth that had been devoted to war will now be used for peaceful and productive purposes.[13]  Israel’s disobedience plunged the nation under one long age of warfare (spiritual and physical), but one day it will all come to an end (Isa. 40:1-2).  Webb notes that, “it was this vision of the future which inspired [Isaiah]” and gave him hope for the future.[14]

God offered this restoration when He sent His Son 2,000 years ago (cf. Luke 19:41-44), but in the wisdom of God He used their rejection of Christ to bring forgiveness to the world (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).  Isaiah turns in verses 5-22 to the devastation that would come because of their refusal to listen.e.

DevastationWho He Is: The True God Is a God of Jealousy on unrepentant sinners (vv. 5-22vs.2)

GIsaiah 2:5-4:1 comes as part of a sandwich in the middle of two other sections.  In 2:1-4we see for the first time the hope of the coming kingdom, and then in 4:2-6we see this same promise for a second time.  In between, however (vv. 2:5-4:1), we see a message of despair, for God is going to turn away from His people and bring a devastating judgement.  This section may be outlined as follows:  (1) a general warning of coming judgment (2:5-22), and (2) a specific warning of coming judgment (3:1-4:1).  Isaiah highlights three dangers that led to their destruction.

The first danger was that of holding to a false trust (vv. 5-11) 

It is easy to hold a false trust.  For example, back in the 1920s America was filled with prosperity as the economy roared (“the roaring twenties”).  Then came 1929, the stock market crash, and the Great Depression.  In Isaiah’s day, Judah had fallen into the trap of relying on false sources of trust.  Wolf explains that unless Judah returns to the Lord, nothing is going to turn out well.[15]  Verses 5-11 give a three-fold explanation of how their false trust was destroying the nation.

The plea to turn from false trust (vv. 5-6).  Similar to 1:18-20, Isaiah calls on Judah to turn back to the Lord.  Interestingly, he calls them by the name “house of Jacob.”  In his earlier years, Jacob was characterized as a man who trusted in his own devices, but in Genesis 32, God broke Jacob and gave him the name Israel to signify his new-found spiritual victories.  Here, however, God calls them “house of Jacob” (vv. 5-6; cf. 8:17; 10:20; 14:1; 29:22; 46:3; 48:1).  Isaiah’s call to his people is that they should all walk in the light of the Lord (cf. Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23).  Micah echoed the same idea when he wrote, “as for us, we will walkin the name of the Lord our God forever and ever (Mic. 4:5).  The problem was that Judah had turned away from the Lord, so the Lord had abandoned them (v. 6).[16]

Turning to the Lord would mean turningaway from their false sources of trust, including all their idols and witchcraft.[17]  Isaiah says, “they are filled with influences from the east, and they are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike bargains with the children of foreigners.

Isaiah expands on Judah’s false trust (vv. 7-8).  They also had a false trust in their own wealth and military might,[18] something God had warned them about since the time of Moses (Deut. 17:16-17).  Their trust was in their own strength and the idols they had come to worship—the work of their own hands (the term for idols [‘eliliym]emphasizes the idea of weakness, emptiness, vanity, and futility; cf. Isa. 2:8, 18, 20; 10:10; 19:1, 3; 31:7; cf. Lev. 19:4; 26:1; Job 13:4; Ps. 96:5; Jer. 14:14; Zech. 11:7).[19]  Kidner explains that Israel trusted everything but the living God (v. 8),

The flood of superstition (6) alliances (6c), wealth (7a), armaments (7b) and idols (8), making cosmopolitan Judah anything but the light to the nations pictured just above, suggests the days of Jotham or Ahaz, early in Isaiah’s career, between the prosperity of Uzziah and the reforms of Hezekiah. Thronged though it is, the land is destitute; it has everything but God (6a).[20]

These were terrible days for Judah, and little did they understand that their lack of trust in the Lord would lead to complete ruin(cf. Jer. 17:5-6).  One cannot help but see how this same principle is working itself out in our time.  America has had great light, but has turned away from it.

Four results that were about to fall on Judah (vv. 9-11)First, all the people would be severely afflicted regardless of economic or social status (v. 9).  Second, God’s terrifying judgment would drive them away from their homes and cities to find refuge in places like caves (v. 10)Delitzsch explains, “They would conceal themselves in holes of the rocks, as if before a hostile army” (Judg. 6:2; 1 Sam. 13:6; 14:11).[21]  Third, God would bring an end to their pride and self-sufficiency (v. 11a; cf. 5:15; 10:12; 17:7).  Fourth, God would show that He alone is exalted and worthy of trust (v. 11b).  Oswalt explains,

The God from whom their self-worship has alienated them will appear, and there will no more cause to glory in human greatness than there would be to praise a flashlight in broad daylight. . . .  Having striven to become sovereigns of the universe, we have become meaningless victims of a vast cosmic bad joke.[22]

A second danger facing Judah (vv. 12-17)

God hates pride, and here in verses 12-17 God announces that the day is coming when He will judge all sin, including the pride of man, whether it is the pride of the Jew or the pride of the GentileThe Old Testament repeatedly speaks about the time when God will break into human affairs to deal with the sin of man or, as Martin puts it, “a scheduled time of reckoning for sinners.”[23]  The Scripture often refers to this as “the day of the Lord” (cf. Isa. 13:6; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Zech. 14:1; Mal. 4:5).[24]  God first shows us a picture of Judah’s pride (vv. 12-16), and follows this by showing the punishment He will bring (v. 17).

All the proud will be judged (vv. 12-16).  God says this time of judgment will be against everyone who is proud [ge’eh] and lofty [ram] and lifted up [nissa’] that he may be abased.  Isaiah uses numerous figures of speech in verses 13-16 to portray the arrogance of sinners.  Although some take these references as being to literal, physical materials (like trees),[25] or even as referring to the destruction of buildings (such as the temple)that were constructed of these materials (cf. 2:15; 9:10), it seems best to understand that these are pictures of human pride.[26]  As Oswalt explains, these images are all figurative, though not an allegory.[27]  Men build their towers, their castles, and their fortifications in which they think they will find strength and refuge (like in castles), but in reality all of these fortifications, including sources of wealth like maritime shipping (v. 16),[28]are all false sources of trust.[29]

God will deal with the pride of Judah (v. 17).  Sinners will be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted (Isa. 45:22-23; cf. Phil. 2:9-11)In context, it is best to understand this as referring to God’s judgment on Judah in 605-586.  However, the same kind of judgment will fall upon Israel once again in the Tribulation period (cf. Dan. 9:27; 11:36; 12:7).

A third danger facing Judah (vv. 18-22) 

This was thedanger of seeking cheap substitutes to take the place of the living God.  Anytime man puts his trust in something other than God, he is putting his trust in a cheap substitute.  People today put their trust in cheap substitutes all the time with things like money, drugs, alcohol, immoral living, and false religions, etc.  Sinners have a never-ending inclination to put their trust in all the wrong placesThe same thing was true in the days of Isaiah.  Here in verses 18-22 God shows the people the destiny of these cheap substitutes, and then He shows them that the only way to be delivered is to stop trusting in them and trust in Him.

Threedestinies of cheap substitutes (vv. 18-21).  Allcheapsubstitutes will eventually be purged so that they might be seen for what they truly are (v. 18).  As Delitzsch explains, the idea here is that the idols “are one and all a mass of nothingness, which will be reduced to absolute annihilation:  they will vanish.[30]  Second, those who trusted in idols will seek in vain to flee from the terror of God’s judgment (v. 19).  Sinners delight in shaking their fists in God’s face, but it will be different when God deals with their sin.  Third, Isaiah says that men will seek in vain to abandon the idols they once trusted in (vv. 20-21).  These oncearrogant sinners 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.  Even though there is debate about the precise meaning of the terms “moles” and “bats,” it seems in context that these may be literal references to those animals that dwell under the earth, the digging creatures and bats that one finds in caves.[31]

Was there any way that the nation could have avoided this disaster?  The answer is yes.  Israel had the choice to repent and turn from sin (Ezek. 18:23, 30, 32).  The same principle holds true today:  Whether they are Jew or Gentile, God calls sinners to turn from sin and trust in Him (2 Pet. 3:9).  Those who are willing to turn find receive grace and forgiveness.

The only true hope (v. 22).  The only hope (then and now) is to turn to God in complete faith.  The people needed to repent and trust in YahwehGod says that if they would do this they would find hope, so He tells them, “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils, for why should he be esteemed?”  Man, the one whose breath of life is in his nostrils (Gen. 2:7; cf. Job 34:14; Pss. 90:3-8; 104:29) is not the one to trust, and neither are the gods that he makes with his hands. The best thing sinners can do is,“turn to Him . . . and thus escape His severe judgment.[32]

Summary and applicationIn Qoheleth, King Solomon reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun.  Truly that is the case with pride and false sources of trust.   As Oswalt explains, “The tendency of human beings to make ourselves the center of all things and to explain all things in term of ourselves is the problem.[33]  In the case of ancient Judah, it was the problem of trusting in idols, foreign alliances, and their own military strength.[34]  May we bepeople who trust in nothing but the Lord and His redeeming grace.

[1] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1037.  Martin notes that Micah 4:1–3 is almost identical to Isaiah 2:1–4 and it is difficult to say which wrote first.

[2] Oswalt, TheBook ofIsaiah, 1-39, 113-114.  Wolf sees these as being messages which came after his initial call in chapter 6 (Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 76).

[3] Robert D. Culver,chzh,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Chicago:  Moody Press, 1999), 274–275.

[4] The multiple uses of the expression “in that day” in this section support this view (2:11, 17, 20; 3:7, 18; 4:1, 2).

[5] This expression often refers to eschatological events, especially in the prophets, but it must be noted that some OT uses are not eschatological (cf. e.g., Gen. 49:1).

[6] The term millennium comes from Revelation 20:2-7 where we find 1,000 years spoken of six times in six consecutive verses.  The inhabitants of the kingdom will include Christ, the resurrected church, the resurrected Old Testament saints, the resurrected Tribulation Martyrs, and the remnant of believing Jews and Gentiles who got saved during the Tribulation Period.

[7]Young, The Book of Isaiah,vol. 1,99.

[8] This would be “the last days” as seen by Isaiah.

[9] As Paul notes, God has not rejected His chosen people Israel (Rom. 11:1-2), for His gifts and promises are irrevocable (Rom. 11:25-29).

[10] See the multiple uses of this and similar expressions where kingdoms are referred to with mountain terminology (Isa. 4:1-6; 11:9; 25:6; 27:13; 56:7; 65:11, 25; 66:20; cf. Jer. 51:25 [Babylon]; Dan. 2:35; Mic. 3:12; 4:1; Zech. 8:3;14:9-10; Rev. 17:9-10).

[11] Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. II:  Isaiah-Malachi (Chicago:  Moody, 1981), 1145.

[12]Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, 105.

[13] The Apocalypse indicates that God will allow one final rebellion at the end of the Millennium when Satan and his hosts are released from the bottomless pit before they(and all unsaved men), are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:7-10).  Even though it is only the redeemed who are allowed entrance into the kingdom (Isa. 35:9; 62:12; cf. Matt. 25:34), these mortal saints will marry and have children in the Millennium (Isa. 65:20), and some of these children will refuse to believe in Jesus.

[14] Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove:  IVP, 1996), 46.

[15] Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 77.

[16]Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 1-39, 121-122.

[17] These are deeds which were forbidden in the Torah (Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:9-14).

[18] Horses and chariots could be powerful war weaponsfor any nation and God warned His people not to place their trust in thesebut in Him alone, but the people of Israel often disregarded these warningsand built up huge military reserves (cf. Deut. 17:14-17; 1 Kings 10:26-11:8).

[19] Ludwig Koehler et al.,TheHebrewand Aramaic Lexicon of theOld Testament, cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 55–56.  Isaiah attacks them for this sin in the later portions (40:18-20; 41:6, 7, 28, 29; 44:9-20; 45:16-20; 46:1, 2, 5-7).  Oswalt explains, “How foolish to call divine what human hands have made” (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 1-39, 123).

[20] F. Derek Kidner, “Isaiah,” in New BibleCommentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed., cited in electronic form with Logos Libronix (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 635.

[21]F. Delitzsch, Keiland Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1969), 121.  See Rev. 6:16-17 how this terror will come upon the world during the future, seven-year tribulation period.

[22] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 1-39, 123-124.

[23]Martin, “Isaiah,” 1039.

[24] The NASB translates it as “a day of reckoning” in 2:12.  Although certain uses of “the day of the Lord” speak about God’s judgments in ancient times (cf. e.g., Isa. 10:3 and God’s judgment against Assyria or Isa. 13:6, 9 and God’s judgment against Babylon), a number of passages clearly indicate God’s final intervention during the seven-year tribulation period (Joel 3:14; 1 Thess. 5:1ff.; 2 Thess. 2:1ff.).

[25] Lebanon was known for its large and beautiful cedars and Bashan was known for its large and beautiful oaks.

[26] See similar ideas in other passages (Isa. 1:30; 6:13; 9:10; 10:33-11:1; 44:14; 60:16; cf. Ezek. 17:3, 4, 22-23; 31:2-14; Dan. 4:10, 20-23).

[27] Oswalt, The Book ofIsaiah, Chapters 139, 126.

[28]Some have explained this expression as referring to ships that come from Spain (Tarshish), but careful studies suggest that Tarshish was also the name of Phoenician merchant ships (cf. NIV of Ezek. 27:25:  “Every trading ship”).  Tarshish was a Phoenician colony in the western Mediterranean and it was famous for its sea going vessels that sailed as far as Tarshish in the far western edge of the Mediterranean (Grogan, “Isaiah,” 39, n. 16).  Historical studies indicate that Kings Uzziah and Jotham recovered control of Eilat on the Red Sea and ships sailed from this port around the coast of Africa to the harbor of Tartessus, the ancient Phoenician emporium (cf. 2 Chron. 20:36).

[29]The expression “beautiful craft” appears to be a hapax legomenon derived from an Egyptian loanword, especially given its usage in the LXX (Oswalt, The Book ofIsaiah,Chapters 1-39, 125, n. 2; Delitzsch, Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, 124).

[30]Ibid., 125.

[31] Grogan, “Isaiah,” 39.

[32] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1039.

[33] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, 128.

[34] Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah, 79.

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