Swords into Plowshares (A Sermon for Advent 1)


 

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

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.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord 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.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

In 1742 in Dublin, Handel premiered his now famous oratorio Messiah as a charity concert (it raised about £400). Interestingly it was premiered in April, around Easter. It’s now more commonly performed during Advent. Messiah is divided into 3 parts, with a total of 53 movements, and tells the story of the Messiah. The first movement is orchestral, very dramatic, and fluctuating. Then the second movement begins a fairly light bit with harpsichord and strings, and in comes the tenor soloist with the words “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people”. These are of course words from Isaiah 40:1. In fact, most of of Part 1 is taken from Isaiah. Why? Why would Handel begin with Isaiah? The answer is of course, that is actually what all four evangelists do. When the NT authors generally, and the evangelists especially, set out to describe what they had experienced, seen, and understood God was up to in the work of Jesus, the language, ideas, images of the Book of Isaiah became essential. In fact several scholars have suggested that the 4 Gospel accounts, and Luke especially are written through the lens of Isaiah. Isaiah and the Psalms are by far the two OT books most quoted in the NT. Counts of quotes, allusions, and echoes vary, but a reliable estimate is over 400 times in the NT Isaiah is quoted or borrowed from to articulate the person and work of Jesus. The Gospel is couched in the language of Isaiah. St Jerome even wrote that Isaiah “was more of an Evangelist than a Prophet” (quoted in Ben Witherington III. Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2017).

Mark, the first of the four Gospel accounts to be written begins;

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”— [this line is actually from Malachi 3, not Isaiah)
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” (Mark 1:1-3)

In fact the term “Gospel” is almost certainly borrow from Isaiah as well;

You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!” (40:9)

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!” (52:7)

That verb “bring good news/tidings” in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT which was the common Scripture of the early Christians) is the verb form of euangelizomai (this is the same verb used by the angel in Luke 2:10), the noun form being euangelion usually translated “Gospel”- as in Mark 1:1. Mark then narrates the baptism of Jesus, saying “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” (Mark 1:9-10). In Isaiah 63, we have the prophet lament- in the past God had looked favourably and guided Israel as a father, and now it feels like heaven has been sealed up, and God is silent, and the prophet cried out (Isa. 64:1), “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down”. The Greek verbs in Mark and Isaiah 64:1 are the same. Mark is intentionally appealing to Isaiah, and announcing that in Jesus, the hopes and pleas of God’s people are being revealed; God will no longer be silent, and now he has torn open heaven and come down.

So, back to Isaiah 2:1-5; what do we learn here about the hopes of Judah/Jerusalem? I’d propose 3 specific items:

  1. The vision of universality- the God of Israel as the God of all nations.

Israelite religion is typically not viewed as a “missionary faith”. But when we read Isaiah we get a clear message that YHWH, the God of Abraham, is God of the whole world and all nations will come. But notice one important piece; the nations will come to Jerusalem… the Torah will go out from Jerusalem. In Acts 1 Jesus commissions his people; they will receive power and will go out and witness is Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Throughout the New Testament we have the announcement that there is, in Christ, one people of God- Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female (Gal 3:28) alike coming together, people of every nation and every tongue will gather at the throne (Rev 7:9-10). The NT authors, Paul especially, understood this, and understood the Gentile mission to be the ultimate fulfillment of this hope.

  1. The reign of God bringing about an end to violence.

This piece is hard to miss, right? Nations will lay aside aggression and turn weapons of war into tools for agriculture. The hopeful vision of Isaiah is a vision of peace, of a world without war. There will be more on this next week from Isa. 11, but one thing worth noting about Isa 2, is almost verbatim language in the Book of the Prophet Micah (a contemporary of Isaiah ben Amoz);

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 peoples will stream to it.

Many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
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.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
    and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:1-4)

The vision of the mountain of God being elevated (an image of the recognition that God is sovereign over all), followed by the setting aside of conflict, and the adjudication by God leading to the end of violence. The hope of God’s people has been the establishment of God’s reign, which is characterized by peace.

3. The call to “walk in the light of the Lord”

As we noted last week, the image of “walk” is used in Jewish though to depict conduct and living one’s life. Judah was called by Isaiah to walk in the light of the Lord, to live their lives as people who have experienced God’s presence. Walking in the light of the Lord means being people of hospitality, compassion, kindness, mercy, charity, and love. It means we look outward. As Christ himself taught, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15). The hope of Judah which is offered through Isaiah, calls for a renewed life that impacts the world around us. As we journey is Isaiah between now and Lent, we will see that this life is not one of individual piety and religiosity, but of justice, mercy, and peace; the same life Jesus describes in the beatitudes. Also, notice that Isaiah 2:5 is imperative- it’s a command the people of Judah. Let us now walk in the light of the Lord. That means the light was there already. The light was, and is, already breaking in. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

The hope of Isaiah is the hope of Advent, the hope of light breaking in, of God stepping into the mess to renew and restore;

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

Where do we see God at work now? Do we see it? Or have we been hardened by injustice, by the immensity of the wrong in the world? Hope is hard to sustain in the midst of overwhelming evidence that we should despair, but all around us, if we are prepared to stop and listen, and look, the light is there. Yes, the weapons of war have not yet been turned into plows and pruning hooks. But the prince of peace has overcome, and will come again in glory. Let that be your hope as we prepare ourselves to again receive the in-breaking light, the bright morning star, God’s glory revealed in the face of baby.

Sources:

Joseph Blenkinsopp. Isaiah 1-39 (AB). New Haven: Yale, 2000.

John Goldingay. Isaiah (UBCS). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

— The Theology of the Book of Isaiah. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2014.

Richard B. Hays. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Waco: Baylor, 2016.

J. Alec Motyer. The Prophecy of  Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 1993.

John N. Oswalt. Isaiah (NIVAC). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

H.G.M. Williamson. “Isaiah, Book of”. Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. Mark Boda and J. Gordon McConville (eds). Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2013.

Ben Witherington III. Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2017.

This entry was posted in advent, gospel, Isaiah, Jesus, Kingdom of God, New Testament, Old Testament, prophets, Sermon Podcast, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s