Opening The Old Testament
The Hope of Homecoming: Advent Reflections on Isaiah 2:1-5
"Many people" (perhaps better "vast numbers") from all the world's nations flow toward the great mountain of YHWH, and they say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that God may instruct us in God's ways, that we may walk in God's paths" (3:2bc). The vast human stream flows toward God's mountain to learn what God uniquely has to teach. And what that is now becomes clear. "From Zion Torah goes forth, the word of YHWH from Jerusalem" (2:3d). What YHWH has to impart to the world is Torah (‘instruction" in the NRSV). This word is too often translated "law," severely limiting its broad and expansive meaning. It means "instruction," "teaching," the very ways and paths of YHWH. But the famous verse 4 will pinpoint more exactly what this vision's Torah more centrally means.
As the nations approach the sacred mountain, God appears as judge, chief arbiter between and among the huge throng of peoples arrayed on the hill of Zion. The grammar of the sentence is important. God is judge and arbitrates between the peoples "in order that they beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation does not lift up sword against nation; they no longer learn war." And there is the home to which this vision calls Israel and us. I repeat that visions are not merely future hopes and dreams; visions are present potential realities.
When the proverb says, "Without a vision the people perish," it is not only saying that we need to keep some future hope alive in order that we can live in our difficulties now. The vision of a world without war, mandated by the great God of Zion, is far more than a fanciful dream of a few foolish overly-optimistic peaceniks. When Martin Luther King, Jr. helped all of us envision a world without racism, he was doing more than dreaming. He was casting a vision, another way of seeing the world. If we can see the vision, we can live into it, and need not wait for some long-expected future to do so. We simply must see the visions that God has for us and live always into them and toward them.
And that is the home to which Isaiah points Israel and us. And Isaiah concludes in verse 5 with a burst of prophetic hope that the vision can become reality. "O house of Jacob, let us finally (or "truly" or "really") walk in the light of YHWH!" We can go home again, home to the wonders of a God of peace who has envisioned more for us than continual "wars on terror" or "wars on drugs." Advent points us toward home where the hope of genuine peace reigns. Thus, we can say with the ancient seer, "Let us finally walk in the light of God!" Welcome home!
Read Alyce McKenzie's New Testament reflection for this week here.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.