3/11/2015

The Ideal and The Reality (Isaiah 2-4)

Isaiah 2:1-4:6; 2:2

"In the last days, the mountain of the Lord's house will be the highest of all—the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship" (Isa 2:2, NLT). "In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it" (Isa 2:2, NIV). [Alternate titles could be "Glorious Hope, Painful Reality;" "Hope in the Midst of Judgment."]

Previous sermon: Despite Your Failures, Let's Meet and Talk (Isaiah 1).

Theme: Our glorious hope is that despite our utter sinfulness (Isa 1:4) and even God's people's rottenness (Isa 1:10-15), Isaiah sees a vision of the coming of the kingdom of God.
The scope and content of Isaiah--Judgment (chap. 1-39) and Salvation (chap. 40-66)--is outlined in Isa 1:1-2:5. It moves from Zion under judgment (1:1-31) to Zion restored (2:1-5). It anticipates the movement of the book as a whole from the Zion that is (1:1-31) to the Zion that will be (2:1-4), through purifying judgment. This basic theme is then elaborated on and dealt with at much greater length in Isaiah 2-4, especially the judgment aspect:
  1. Judgment (2:6-4:1) {1:1-31} [chapter 1-39].
  2. Salvation (4:2-6) {2:1-5} [chapter 40-66].
Inclusion or bracket. Isa 2:2-4 and Isa 4:2-6 are also two beautiful poems which are regarded as an inclusion ('inclusio' meaning 'bracketing') or bracket that are like bookends that bracket 2:5-4:1. It expresses God's glorious hope for Zion, the city of God, beginning with what Zion was meant to be (Isa 2:2-4) and ends with what Zion will yet be (Isa 4:2-6). In broad strokes Isaiah 2-4 match Isaiah 1 in that the work of man inevitably leads to destruction. Objectives like making money (Isa 2:7ab), or security through armaments (Isa 2:7cd) contribute as much to the coming of judgment as do making and worshiping false gods (Isa 2:8). Isaiah's review of the contemporary scene (2:5-4:1) covers much of the ground surveyed in 1:2-31:
  • 2:5-21 concentrates on the religious situation and the failure of the false gods;
  • 3:1-4:1 reviews the collapse of ordered society because of underlying moral failure.
Isaiah 2 opens with a glorious promise. Judah was meant to bring hope to the nations by being a light to them, providing a powerful vision of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, Judah was not displaying the beauty of God's law and love, and thus they were often indistinguishable from the other nations. But in "the latter days," God's home would be established and exalted so that all would see God's house, as if it were on the "highest of the mountains" (Isa 2:2). Consider Isaiah 2-4 in the following parts:
  1. Hope, the future glory of Zion (2:1-4): The mountain of the Lord (What might have been).
  2. Judgment, shame and guilt (2:5-4:1):
    1. Pride and self-sufficiency makes its own gods and idols (2:5-21).
    2. Immature oppressive leaders and vain ostentatious wives (3:1-4:1).
  3. Hope, the future glory of Zion (4:2-6): The branch (What is yet to be).
    1. The Branch of the Lord (4:2a).
    2. A fruitful land (4:2b).
    3. A holy city (4:3-4).
    4. A canopy of glory (4:5-6).
I. Glorious Hope: The Mountain of the Lord (2:1-4; Mic 4:1-3)

Where heaven and earth meet. Isa 2:1 is an abbreviated version of the book's title in Isa 1:1. Mountains played an important part in the religions of Israel's neighbors. Mythologically, mountains were the homes of the gods. They were points where heaven and earth were thought to meet and were therefore highly favored as sites for altars and temples. The Canaanites worshiped their gods at the "high places." Isaiah here foresees the day when one holy mountain will stand supreme, reducing all others to utter insignificance (Isa 2:2a). The supreme exaltation of his mountain home also expresses the Lord's triumph over all the so-called gods on their mountains. Isaiah's vision is exclusive. But it is also inclusive because it sees all nations and many peoples coming to Zion to share with Israel in the blessings of the Lord's rule (Isa 2:2b-3). It is also a vision of universal peace, described in terms which have reverberated down through the centuries (Isa 2:4).

Though drawn supernaturally, people come voluntarily. The mountain of the Lord, is a symbol of the coming of the kingdom of God, following a purified and restored Zion. Isaiah speaks of the Lord's house (not temple) (Isa 2:2). A temple is primarily a place of worship. A house is primarily where the Lord has come to live among his people (Exo 29:42-46). The natural impossibility of a stream flowing upwards is intentional (Isa 2:2b). A supernatural magnetism is at work. What makes them willing to seek the God of Jacob is a hunger for revealed truth. They come to learn and to obey and to receive what cannot be found elsewhere (Isa 3:3). Where the Lord reigns, nationalisms are gone and weapons of war are made into garden tools (Isa 2:4). Eden has returned.

II. Judgment (2:5-4:1)

By contrasting this glorious hope of an exciting ideal (Isa 2:2-4), Isaiah now faces the harrowing actual! The exhortation (Isa 2:5) implies that the Lord's people are not walking in his light.

III. Glorious Hope: The Branch (4:2-6)

Salvation, which will be fully realized when Christ returns to draw history to its triumphant conclusion, is represented under four images:
  1. The Branch of the Lord (4:2a).
  2. A fruitful land (4:2b).
  3. A holy city (4:3-4).
  4. A canopy of glory (4:5-6).