Opening The Old Testament
Real Peace: Reflections on Isaiah 2:1-5 (Advent 1)
And in the midst of the vast stream of people, many will turn to one another and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob in order that God may instruct us in God's ways, that we may walk in God's paths. Because out of Zion comes Torah, YHWH's word from Jerusalem" (Is. 2:3). One can fairly hear among the fast flowing river of people the bubbling enthusiasm of those eager to hear first-hand the Torah of YHWH, the rich word of God to be found on this now greatest and highest of earth's mountains. And just what is this Torah, this word of God?
"YHWH will bring justice among nations, shall arbitrate among many peoples" (Is. 2:4a). The common translation "He shall judge," I think, puts the emphasis on God as high court judge, adjudicating the wrongs of the earth and handing down judgments for and against the peoples who have come to hear and do Torah. I do not think that is the divine image in the vision. YHWH does far more than don the robes of judge here; YHWH issues the clear word of justice for all of God's people. And as a result of God's Torah, the following amazing actions begin.
"They shall hammer their swords into sickles, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not raise sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more" (Is. 2:4b). And that is the Torah of God, that divine word that all nations have come to hear. War is abolished! No longer will sons and daughters be trained to die and kill others; they will have no weapons with which to do such horrible things. All they will now be able to do is reap the grain and prune the trees of the land together. Soon, the promise goes, war will disappear completely from their minds. "O house of Jacob, come! Let us walk in YHWH's light!" (Is. 2:5) Precisely to walk in YHWH's light, in the way of YHWH's Torah, is to reject war and turn to the ways of peace, the ways of shalom. Shalom is not a mere absence of war. Shalom is wholeness, unity, oneness. Shalom is in fact the vision of Genesis 1, a vision of balance and order, a vision of designed unity, a place where the light of YHWH is the first thing made, a light that makes possible the very existence of us all on the earth.
And we also think of the grand vision of Isaiah 11, that holy mountain where wolf and lamb and leopard and goat and cow and lion graze in peace: "They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of YHWH just as the waters cover the seas" (Is. 11:9).
Do not these wonderful visions make the heart beat faster? Do they not drive us back to our pulpits to announce these glad tidings to a world desperate for this word of hope and joy? Put off your retirement and your trips to the sun. Rush to your churches and proclaim the news that YHWH is in the business of abolishing what we seem so to desire, namely our victories at the expense of our fellow humans. No longer, says YHWH! War will disappear, and its weapons will be changed into objects of peaceful coexistence. Can you not believe this? Is this not your hope? Is this only a pipe dream, curling into the air and vanishing? If you think that, then perhaps a sunny Christmas beach is what you need after all. But if it is the vision that dances in your head, crowding out the sugar plums, then get thee to the church and shout the glad tidings of Advent and Christmas. Our God comes, and God's Torah is to proclaim the coming peace, and the end of war, to all of God's people.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.