RECAP: As mentioned previously, God in Isaiah addresses two groups of people. He is pleased with one group and blesses them. The other group receives his condemnation. Unless the reader understands that God constantly and abruptly switches back and forth between these two groups, she might form the opinion that God is “schizophrenic,”–now he is happy; now he is angry. The groups are usually not labeled per se. Most often, everyone is referred to as “they.” So how does the reader know when God has left off addressing one group and switches to the other? The answer lies in the content. Someone who knows God well might say, “God would never speak to his loved ones using words like these.”
The two groups, though usually not labeled, are labeled in Chapter 1. Verse 2 introduces the rebellious children. Verse 9 introduces the “few survivors,” (LXX seed) the Lord “left,” (LXX left surviving, Thayer Def. 2), that is, spared. He spared a remnant. The concept of remnant derives from a root meaning “forsake, abandon.” Most often, biblically, the word is not used in a good way. Israel “forsakes” or “abandons” God’s law. But when judgment comes, and God sweeps away the wicked, it is good to be part of the leftovers, the small group not taken, the ones left behind. The image of a seamstress cutting a pattern works well. The scraps left over after the usable portion has been removed are “left.” Seamstresses actually call this leftover portion the “remnant.”
Isaiah’s whole concept of a “remnant” spills over into Romans 9:6, “… For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” and 9:27, “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved.'” Understanding the concept that Isaiah flips between addressing two distinct groups of people is critical. Unless the reader grasps this and learns to identify the two groups, she might get whiplash. God in Isaiah 1:25-27 addresses the remnant, who will be cleansed by the removal of greater Israel, whose judgment is described in verses 28-31.
Chapter 2 opens, “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem,” (ESV, unless otherwise noted). Judah and Jerusalem formed the Southern Kingdom of Israel. Judah is the tribe that birthed Jesus, according to his flesh. Jerusalem was the center of Israel’s worship, location of the temple of God. Isaiah’s prophecies span four Judean kings (1:1), and the timing is just over 100 years before the Babylonian captivity. God sent Isaiah to call his people to repentance (1:16-20).
Verses 2-4 are positive words prophesying goodness and blessing. These are addressed to the remnant, the “seed,” (1:9). In verse 2, the words “mountain,” “mountains,” and “hills,” are symbolic. Isaiah is not speaking of literal elevations of literal landscape features, nor of a cataclysmic, literal lifting up (a seismic earthquake?) of a massive amount of earth and rock, even though it is true that Jerusalem was built on a high hill. The “mountain of the Lord” represents the dwelling place of God, the figurative seat of his power (see also Isaiah 30:29, Micah 4:1-2, and Zechariah 8:3). The hills in this verse represent other, smaller powers. “Zion” is first mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:7 and is a name for the City of David, the capital of that great king. David in turn becomes a New Testament type (a model New Testament writers claim from the Old Testament) of the Great King, Jesus Christ. Taken together, the words of verse 2 speak of the physical location of the center of the Lord’s kingdom, where he is to be worshiped.
Still in verse 2, what time period do “the latter days” refer to? The Septuagint (Old Greek translation) calls these “the last days.” We find this phrase again in Acts 2:17, 2 Timothy 3:1, Hebrews 1:2, and elsewhere in the New Testament. Hebrews 1:1-2 declares, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Based upon its New Testament usage, the “last days,” or “latter days,” refer to a time future to Isaiah, a time of Messiah’s reign, that is, after the resurrection and ascension. Yet, the question still remains, “latter days” of what? Taken as a whole, verses 2-3 speak of a time of restoration and righteousness in God’s kingdom, a time when his center of worship will be a beacon of light to the whole world.
Verse 4 is extremely well known among Christians. “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” It speaks of the peaceful, enlightened reign of the Lord, Christians would say of Messiah. Whether this age of spiritual peace and prosperity refers to the current church age in its entire extent, or to a still future reign, cannot be known. In either event, God’s intention, as expressed by Isaiah, is to bless his worship by many peoples, not just the Israelites.
Verse 5 transitions from Group 1, the blessed, to Group 2, the judged. It can be read with the previous section, or the following. It’s as though God is saying to his own people, the house of Jacob (paraphrasing), Look, I just showed you the future of my kingdom and my worship. Now won’t you come and be part of this? Verse 5, “And now, O house of Jacob, come, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Could the Apostle John have been thinking of this when he wrote in John 1:4-5, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,”? See also John 12:35-36 and Luke 1:79.
Verses 2:6-4:1 address in an unbroken stream the group God chastises (to be continued).