Read Isaiah 2:1-5
Before we look at Isaiah's second chapter, let's consider all of Isaiah 1. This is from the New International Version.
1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2 Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its master,
the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
4 Woe to the sinful nation,
a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the Lord;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.
Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
or soothed with olive oil.
7 Your country is desolate,
your cities burned with fire;
your fields are being stripped by foreigners
right before you,
laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.
8 Daughter Zion is left
like a shelter in a vineyard,
like a hut in a cucumber field,
like a city under siege.
9 Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
21 See how the faithful city
has become a prostitute!
She once was full of justice;
righteousness used to dwell in her—
but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross,
your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels,
partners with thieves;
they all love bribes
and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them.
24 Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
the Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes
and avenge myself on my enemies.
25 I will turn my hand against you;
I will thoroughly purge away your dross
26 I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
the City of Righteousness,
the Faithful City.”
27 Zion will be delivered with justice,
her penitent ones with righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will both be broken,
and those who forsake the Lord will perish.
29 “You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks
in which you have delighted;
you will be disgraced because of the gardens
that you have chosen.
30 You will be like an oak with fading leaves,
like a garden without water.
31 The mighty man will become tinder
and his work a spark;
both will burn together,
with no one to quench the fire.”
Everyone ready for Christmas? You should be after that. Who doesn’t want to sing Joy to the World after noting that some folks are going to be like tinder for a fire and burn up? Now that just makes you want to roast those chestnuts on an open fire.
Advent is the time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We will celebrate his birth into this world and we will look forward to his return. We are not looking for another babe in the manger but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
We like to look forward because the present and the past sometimes just suck the hope out of us. I watch what I can bear of the news and realize that this is happening on my watch. We need something to look forward to.
Isaiah prophesied at a time when God’s Chosen People were divided into two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south, and Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were exerting political pressure upon them. Two out of three of these nations and empires made war upon these people.
Von Clausewitz noted that war is the continuation of political intercourse with the admixture of different means. All continued their political pressure on God’s Chosen People, but the Assyrians and Babylonians would at some point conquer the Hebrew people by military might. They brought war to Israel and Judah. God would step back and let these pagan nations administer his judgment.
Moses prophesied this long before this time. If the people strayed away from God:
The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.
This prophecy was realized in the time of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and followed by Ezekiel. Realize that what happened to God’s Chosen People was much more than the 70 years of exile. Their country was falling apart and being pillaged before their eyes. The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was just the Coup de gras.
You might wonder what was happening here. It seemed that the people were obedient in the Sabbath and Festivals but God acted like these things did not come from him. The people were going through the motions. We talk a lot about being a grateful and a thankful people.
These people who saw this judgment of God in their own time had become apathetic and complacent in their worship. Their lives were ambivalent when it came to the one true God or those made of sticks and stones.
Judgment did not come overnight. It was played out before them and they were helpless to see their country and homes burned and looted.
Venezuela gets a fair amount of air time these days. The country is in shambles and getting worse. Imagine now if another country were to come in not to fix the problems—as some have offered to do—but to conquer the land and take the people back with them as slaves.
This was what was in store for the Promised Land and its people. The distant past was glorious. The recent past disastrous and the present and near-term future unbearable.
Here is some food for thought for those who like to read more than the verse of the day. This is for those secure in their faith but interested about the human construct of God’s word.
Why are there only 5 books in the Torah? No, it’s not because one day the Greeks would want to classify it as the Pentateuch. This is something to chew on, not doctrine or impacting salvation, but for those who like to study the Bible in context to include its organization and presentation, it’s worth the thought.
The Torah takes us up to the time when the people are ready to enter the Promised Land. But the book of Joshua seems to be the natural bookend to the story which began with God promising this land to Abram. You would think that entering the land would be part of that story.
The Torah was likely not put into writing until the time of Ezra and the captivity of God’s people. Ezra may have been the person who finally put pen to parchment, but including the book of Joshua in the Torah would leave the people with that hopeless feeling that comes when you realize you had what God had promised and let it slip away in your apostasy.
Let’s frame this thought this way. How many of you want to sing Away in the Manger for the Christmas program? And then let’s follow that with Were You There When They Crucified the Lord. Both hymns are good songs, but who wants to sing them in that order? The first brings expectation—something look forward to—and the second a very to the quick revelation of what it meant to be the Lamb of God.
The people captive in Babylon needed something to look forward to. Daniel would give them part of this, but much of what Daniel prophesied put them right back where they were—conquered land, sacrifices and offerings ended, the temple destroyed yet again, and just another all around mess for God’s Chosen People.
God’s Chosen People needed something to look forward to that they couldn’t mess up, and they received it. As Isaiah continued in what we now regard as chapter 2, he moves beyond returning to Jerusalem from Babylon though most of the Hebrew people probably could not see beyond their immediate need.
He brings the reader to a time and a place where Jerusalem is revered, nations will not war against nations, and standing armies will be a thing of the past.
He brings us to songs we don’t sing much anymore. Down by the Riverside being one of them and Ain’t Going to Study War No More being another.
Isaiah prophesies of a time when our instruments of war will be turned into instruments of agriculture because nation will no longer war against nation.
The word of the Lord will come forth once again from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Look at the world around you. We are blessed in so many ways but we do not always credit God for those blessings. We are not nearly as thankful as we should be.
A while back I posted another one of my screwball thoughts noting that senior trips for 2020 should go to Venezuela. If not there, India and Pakistan, parts of Africa, and even places in our own country such as Appalachia.
Some who still live among us have lived through a world war. Even those who lived through the depression and the Dust Bowl days did not know the desperate state that some live in even today. We do not know what it is to be captured and enslaved. We are blessed.
But we still see so many giving up on life. So many sink into depression, drugs, and even suicide. Some don’t see hope and a future. Some don’t see the good plans that the Lord has for us.
Living in the moment and growing in experience is important but everyone needs something to look forward to—and we see this in today’s scripture. We see this in today’s world.
I invest a lot of time preaching discipleship from this pulpit. It’s important. How we respond to God’s grace is very important, but as we navigate this disobedient world, this perverse generation, and the trying times that we know, having something to look forward to is just as important.
We need something to look forward to that we can’t mess up!
Our lives are governed by responding to grace with love but our spirit needs something to look forward to—and for us that’s going home when Jesus comes to claim us.
Advent prompts us not only to look forward but to prepare for what is to come. We look forward to celebrating a birthday. It’s the birthday of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords entering this world as a babe in a manger. We celebrate that coming of the Lord every year.
We know the scriptures and the songs. We remember with nativity scenes and specials singing What Child is This. But we need to look forward, anticipate, and prepare for the Lord to come again.
Advent is a time to prepare, so for this week and those that follow closely, set your thought above the depravity of this world and upon the promises of God.
Know with certainty and peace that the King of Kings will put an end to nation warring against nation.
Know with certainty and assurance that the Lord of Lords will cause us to take our instruments of combat and turn them into those used for cultivation.
Know that one day the law will go out from Zion not to compel obedience to bring willing obedience to words written on our hearts.
Know that in our distress, anguish, controversy, and situations that seem so far out of control, we have something fantastic to look forward to—the return of our Lord and living in peace, so let every heart prepare him room as we ready ourselves for his return.
We have something to look forward to.