Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Temple Themes in Isaiah 2 (pt 2)

Isaiah 2 (part 2)
While Israel’s wickedness and apostasy have caused Yahweh to reject his temple (1:10-20), resulting in the devastation of the land and people, Isaiah still offers hope for the future.  This hope rests on the eventual reestablishment of the temple and the return of Yahweh’s presence as described in 2:2-4 and 4:2-6 (and elsewhere). 

The foundational passage for Isaiah’s hope is the famous prophecy in 2:2-5 (paralleled in Micah 4:1-5).  
(2) In latter days the Mount of Yahweh’s house 
will be firmly established on the top of the mountains.
Then all the Nations (goyim) will flow to it.  
(3) Indeed, many Peoples (‘amīm) will come and say:
‘Let us go and ascend the Mount of Yahweh
to the house of the God of Jacob
That he may teach us his Way
So we may walk in his paths.’
For from Zion shall go forth the Law (torah)
And the word (debar) of Yahweh from Jerusalem.
(4) So shall he judge between the Nations (goyim)
And arbitrate among many Peoples (‘amīm)
That they may beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Thus nation will not raise sword against nation
Nor shall they ever again study war.
(5) Come, O House of Jacob,
Let us walk in the Light of Yahweh!
In a sense, this passage highlights the great overarching theme of Isaiah.  Israel’s wickedness and apostasy will cause nations to flood into Israel bringing war, devastation and destruction (8:7-8).  But if Israel will “walk in the Light of Yahweh” and “firmly establish” the temple, then the nations will flow (2:2) into Israel and bring universal peace.  

But first, Yahweh’s temple (beth, house) must be “firmly established,” permitting the Lord to return to his temple and accept the prayers and offerings.  As described throughout Isaiah, this is accomplished through the repentance of Israel, and the restoration of proper temple practices.  Only then will the House of Yahweh be firmly established, as opposed to the desecration of the temple described in 1:10-20.  

In the process Yahweh’s temple will be established “on the top of the mountains” (2:2b).  This symbol is in allusion to the widespread ancient Near East concept of the cosmic holy mountain as the dwelling place of God.  Here Isaiah is describing Yahweh’s mountain/temple being exalted on the top of other mountains.  The allusion here is broadly related to the time when “Yahweh alone will be exalted” (2:11b, 17b).  More specifically, however, it probably describes either Yahweh’s temple in Jerusalem replacing other Israelite temples and high places (as per the reforms of Hezekiah, 2 Chr 29-30; 2 Kgs 18), or the establishment of Yahweh’s sacred mountain as superior to the other sacred mountains of the gods of the nations.  When Yahweh’s temple mount is exalted above all other temple-mountains of the gods of the nations/gentiles, then all peoples will flow to worship there (56:7b).  What will exalt Yahweh’s temple mount over all others?  The repentance of Israel, and the restoration of proper temple cult which will allow Yahweh to return to his temple (4:2-6), as will be discussed later.

Only when Yahweh’s temple has assumed its proper place as the greatest temple mount, will the nations ascend to it to learn the Way of Yahweh, which is consists of the Torah-Law (scripture), and the Word of Yahweh (revelation-prophecy) (2:3).  This can occur, of course, only if Israel itself walks in the Way of Yahweh and the Light of Yahweh.  Hence Isaiah’s great message to Israel is “come, let us walk in the Light of Yawheh” (2:5).  

  Thus, as the nations gather to the temple mount, they must ascend the Way of Yahweh, which is the sacred way leading up the mountain into the temple (2:3).  When they arrive, Yahweh will judge and arbitrate among all peoples, establishing universal righteousness, justice, and peace (2:4).  Until then, however, the nations come to Israel not to worship Yahweh and make peace, but to bring war and devastation to a wicked and apostate people.  

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