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The Hebrew word translated as “plowshare” in Isaiah 2:4 is ‘et. It referred to a “cutting instrument of iron,” which could include the wedge-like blade of a plow. Some linguists think ‘et was used instead for some kind of axe. Be that as it may, the point of Isaiah 2:4 is that as people are taught and judged by God, they will take their swords and beat them into tools for farming. They will do the same with their spears, making them instruments for pruning trees.
When Isaiah prophesied that “the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as the highest of the mountains” (2:2), he wasn’t predicting some massive movement of the earth that would make Mt. Zion, currently at 2,430 feet in elevation, literally higher than Everest. Rather, the temple mount would be, figuratively speaking, the highest of all. It would be more important than any other place, such that people from the whole world would “stream to it” (2:2).
Even in the first chapter of Isaiah, where the emphasis is upon God’s call to Israel to obedience, we are also reminded that God alone can forgive sins. God is the one who can take our scarlet sins and make them “white as snow” (1:18).
Isaiah reminds us that we are to worship God, not only on Sundays or whenever we come together with the people of God. Rather, we are to worship God each day, in every action and every intention. God is honored as much by how we treat our employees at work as by how we praise him in church. God is worshiped when we, like the Israelites, learn to do right, seek justice, and defend the oppressed.
Today we begin a new Life for Leaders series based on the Old Testament book of Isaiah. If you’re keeping track, in two years Life for Leaders has covered Genesis, Revelation 21-22, Mark, and the first 66 Psalms. After spending the last nine months focusing on the Gospel of Mark, I thought it would be good for us to return to the Old Testament.
In Isaiah 61:2-3, the prophet Isaiah envisions joy arising from the lament and speaks to us this Lenten season as we long for a better world to arise from the brokenness we see. The good news is that beauty springing forth from the ashes is the heart of the gospel, the good news that centers on the Easter reality we are looking forward to celebrating soon.
In yesterday’s devotion I suggested that in our world of instant-gratification, we need a season like Advent to teach us how to wait. Advent is a season of longing for a Savior to touch our lives and heal our hurting world. Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, the prophet speaks of a longing for change — the desire for God to shape our lives amidst a world that often seems like it’s out to crush and derail us from following the One who came in the flesh to show us the way home.
It was different “back then.” Some of us have heard about it. Others can remember it. Sociologists and theologians refer to this recently passed period as Christendom, the 1700-year-long era with Christianity at the privileged center of western cultural life. (I have a copy of the Los Angeles Times from December 1963 that list Daily Bible Readings for the upcoming week. Can you even imagine a major newspaper exhorting people to read their Bibles today?)
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