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Come, Let Us Go Up
COME, LET US GO UP
24 June, 2014 · by Derek Leman · in Bible, Commentaries on Bible, Derek’s Writings, Hebrew Bible, Isaiah
I have been working on a commentary on Isaiah for almost three years now. The first two years were just for a close reading of the whole book and of commentaries on the book of Isaiah. 2014 and 2015 are about writing actual commentary on Isaiah 1-12 for an early 2016 volume I plan to release. For each sub-section of text I give my translation, reference notes, an essence of the passage, and detailed commentary.
I am posting the first three parts for Isaiah 2:1-5 (still writing my detailed commentary on the passage). I spent far more time on these five verses than on others due to tricky questions about the origin of this passage.
There are four possibilities as to the origin of the prophecy in vss. 2-4: Isaiah, Micah (see Micah 4:1-3), someone else in Isaiah’s time or earlier, or someone else after Isaiah’s time. In spite of numerous and clever attempts to precisely determine the origin of these verses, there is nothing approaching conclusive evidence.
The dating of Isaiah 2:2-4 and its possible origin must remain a mystery. A question for which we have more solid ground is what function the passage plays in the outline of Isaiah 1-12. As Brevard Childs says in his commentary, First Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39) juxtaposes promises of salvation with warnings of judgment. Strongly optimistic and inspiring promises (2:1-4; 4:2-6; 8:23-9:5 [9:1-6 in Christian Bibles]; 10:20-27; 11:1-16; 12:1-6) are set alongside terrible warnings of disaster (2:6-22; 3:1-4:1; 5:1-7; 5:8-30; 9:8-10:19).
Childs calls the final form of Isaiah a theological movement, a word from God to the post-disaster people of Jerusalem. The warnings showed that prophets had communicated the dangers beforehand. The promises offer hope to the ultimate readers, the ones after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile. We can certainly speculate about how promises such as 2:2-4 would have been perceived in Isaiah’s time. But what matters most to the reader now is the final meaning of the book and what function the great promise of 2:2-4 fills in its location.
1 The word which Isaiah ben Amoz saw
concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 It will happen in future days that
the mountain of the house of Hashem
will be established as the chief of mountains,
and will be lifted up over the hills,
and all the Nations will stream unto it.
3 And many peoples will make pilgrimage and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Hashem,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us from his ways.
Let us walk in his paths.”
For from Zion will go forth instruction,
the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.
4 And he will judge between nations,
settling disputes for many peoples.
They will beat out their swords into plowshares,
their spears into pruning hooks,
and nation will not lift up unto nation a sword,
and they will no longer learn war.
5 O house of Jacob,
Come, let us walk in the light of Hashem.
It will happen in future days. Micah 4:1-3 is nearly identical to Isaiah 2:2-4. Discussions about which came first, whether both borrowed from an earlier text, or whether this passage is a late addition to both prophetic books have failed to reach a firm conclusion.
In future days. The Hebrew phrase (b’achareet hayyamim) is found in other texts such as Jacob’s deathbed blessings (Gen 49:1), Balaam’s oracle (Numb 24:14), some passages describing coming events in history (Jer 23:20; 30:24), and other passages describing a future age (Jer 48:47; 49:39; Ezek 38:16; Hos 3:5; Micah 3:12; 4:1). It’s meaning can only be guessed from the context.
Mountain of the house of Hashem. Exod 15:17, “the mountain of your possession, the place you made for your dwelling.” Psa 68:17(16), “the mountain God desired as his dwelling” (JPS). See also Psa 74:2; 76:3(2); 132:13. Psa 48:2-3(1-2), “his holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion.” In older Canaanite myths, as well as in other cultures, mountains were poetically associated with the abode of gods (cf. Williamson on Ugaritic examples).
Established. Nearly identical in wording to 2 Sam 7:16, “your throne will be established forever.” The verb denotes a change that will occur in the hills of Jerusalem.
As the chief of mountains. The Hebrew rosh can mean top, the head of something, its beginning, or the highest in rank. The preposition (bet) here does not mean “in,” but identifies the predicate (“the chief of mountains”).
Will be lifted up over the hills. Present Jerusalem is by no means the tallest in elevation. Williamson connects the theme of height in Isaiah with 6:1, “I saw Hashem high and lifted up.” Physical height is a poetic figure for supremacy and the unique majesty of God.
Nations. Gentiles. The coming of nations to the light of God radiating from Jerusalem is a theme throughout Isaiah and the Hebrew Bible. Chief examples include the Gentiles coming to Sukkot in Zech 14:16-17, coming to bow to Israel and bring gifts and to profess faith in God (Isa 45:14-23; 60:1-18), bringing the remnant of Israel back to Jerusalem (Isa 49:22; 60:8-9; 66:20), dwelling in the midst of Israel as God’s people (Zech 2:14-16(10-12)), etc.
Stream unto it. The verb doubles as an image for pilgrimage, like Israel at the festivals, and as a reference to the poetic stream of divine life which flows out from the Temple, as per Psa 46:5(4); 65:10(9); Ezek 47; Zech 14:8; Joel 4:18, and the idea of renewal like a stream, as per Isa 32:2; 33:21; Joel 4:18; and especially Isa 44:3-4.
Make pilgrimage. Literally “will go,” but the intent is pilgrimage as Israel would make at the festivals. Psa 122:1, “Let us go to the house of Hashem.”
Let us go up. Psa 122:4, pilgrimage to Jerusalem is up the mountain.
He will teach us. Gentiles come looking for divine arbitration in disputes and for rulings about ways of social justice. Of the Israelites in the future: “The Land will be full of the knowledge of Hashem,” (Isa 11:9) and “They will all be taught of Hashem,” (Isa 54:13). Of Gentiles seeking divine wisdom from Israel: “Ten men from the nations of every language will take the corner of the cloak of a Jew and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard God is with you’” (Zech 8:23).
Instruction. Though the Hebrew word is torah, the meaning here is not likely “the books of Moses,” but God’s instruction about matters of justice and righteousness. The word torah is used many times in the Bible as a general word for teaching. Isa 51:4, “Instruction will go out from me and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” Deut 17:8-13, esp. vs. 11, “According to the instruction [lit. torah] that they give to you” (as in “the instruction about matters of justice” and not “Torah” in the sense of a code or book).
He will judge. The one adjudicating here is God, yet in Isa 11 it is the ideal King (the messianic ruler). The two ideas are parallel, not contradictory. When people come seeking God’s answers for their disputes and needs, 2:4 does not specify how the divine words will be communicated (through prophets? priests? king?).
Swords into plowshares. The usual technique is the opposite, making plowshares into swords, 1 Sam 13:20-21. Joel 4:10(3:10) is the opposite of this promise (“Beat your plowshares into swords, And your pruning hooks into spears” (JPS)). The Joel passage could be a sarcastic reversal of Isaiah 2:4 (though it is possible Isaiah 2:4 is later and is itself an allusion to Joel).
House of Jacob. God is frequently called the “God of Jacob” in Zion Psalms. It may be that calling the people of Judah “the house of Jacob” was a way of emphasizing the long, personal relation between the people and God. God protected Jacob in his wanderings.
Walk in the light. Light is an image of divine teaching (Psa 119:105; 97:11; Prov 6:23).
THE ESSENCE OF 2:1-5
The words of vss. 2-4 are like the light of dawn giving hope before a long and sometimes painful book of divine teaching for Israel. The days to come will arrive some day and will be an era of change in the world. Nations will make peace instead of war, seeking out God and his ways. The center of this will be Jerusalem, the place of God’s Presence on earth. Pilgrims will come up the mountain to the House of Hashem, and they will be from the Gentile nations, whereas formerly only Israelites made such a pilgrimage. Other Isaiah passages speak about the nations inquiring of God (11:10) and receiving justice from God (42:1). What they seek here is to learn from God so that they may live according to his ways of social justice. The “torah” which goes out from Jerusalem does not mean“the book of Torah” here. For in the book of Torah rulings about civil justice are also called torah, as in “the torah that [priests and judges] give to you” (Deut 17:11). Jerusalem is the source of a stream of divine life (Psa 46:5(4); 65:10(9); Ezek 47; Zech 14:8; Joel 4:18), but the image is artfully reversed here with Gentiles streaming to the mountain of the House. The one who settles disputes and judges cases is said here to be God. In Isaiah 11, similar things are said about the Davidic King (Messiah) as settler of disputes and judge. Vs. 5 brings the reader back from the hopeful vision of days to come into the reality of Judah in the eighth century. Vss. 6-22 will be condemnation and warning, but vs. 5 bridges the two parts of the prophet’s message. The promise of future salvation should inform Judah in the present, as it faces judgment. The faithful can live in light of the coming kingdom of God now.