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Isaiah 2:1-5

Old Testament: Isaiah 2:1-5

Background to the Book of Isaiah

Historical: The following table gives an indication when the prophet Isaiah was preaching. It is worth noting that Hosea in the Northern kingdom of Israel and Micah in the Southern kingdom of Judah were in the same period.

Kings Israel

Kings of Judah


Kings of Assyria

Menahem 748 - 737

Uzziah 769 – 736

Jotham 756 - 741

Hosea 745 Israel

Isaiah 742 Judah

Micah 735 Judah


745 - 727

Pekahiah 737 - 736

Pekah 735 - 732

Hoshea 731 - 723

Ahaz 741 - 715

Isaiah 742 - 701


727 - 722

Fall of Samaria


Hezekiah 715 - 687

Isaiah 742 - 701

Sargon 722 - 705

(The above dates are approximate because you will find slight variation among the scholars)
Isaiah, a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah, had four major periods of prophecy between the years 742 -701 BCE. One of these times was when Ahaz was king of Judah and the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser had initiated a campaign from the north into Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel (738 BCE). In order to combat the Assyrian army Israel had formed a coalition with Syria against Assyria. However, Judah refused to join that coalition having the benefit of some distance from the direct challenge of Assyria. The kings of Syria (Rezin) and Israel (Pekah) sought to replace by force the Judean king, Ahaz, in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah, sharing with Ahaz the words he heard from Yahweh, made clear that Ahaz was to trust in God alone and not to go down the path of forming coalitions with other countries whether, Syria, Israel or Assyria.

Isaiah was alive when the Assyrians over ran the Northern kingdom of Israel and deported the majority of the ten tribes of Israel to countries which Assyria had defeated and who were in vassaldom to Assyria. There is some reference to this event, but not as much comment as one would expect for such a devastating occurrence. Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem was safe because the Lord dwelt there in the temple. This was affirmed when the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem and the people were becoming desperate when suddenly the Assyrians departed in a hurry leaving Jerusalem safe for another 114 years. The Book of Isaiah records this as a miracle of the Lord (Isa 37:36-38).

Literary Background to the Book: The whole book of Isaiah has been divided up into three main sections which appear to reflect preaching from different historical periods. Chapters 1-39 are often referred to as the prophecies from Isaiah of Jerusalem and cover the periods shown in the above table. Chapters 40-55 speak to the exiles, offering forgiveness and a strong encouragement to move back to Jerusalem. It contains some of the most beautiful language and a comprehensive theology of God as creator and redeemer. The remaining chapters 56-66 speak to a later post-exilic situation addressing quite different concerns to those expressed in Isa 40-55.

Isaiah 1-39 has some distinct sections within it. Isa 1 has a collection of oracles which appear to come from different periods of Isaiah's ministry. Isa 2-12 contains a collection of oracles mainly about Judah and Jerusalem, covering the threat from the Israel/Syria Coalition and the section ends with a psalm of deliverance. As each of the major prophets have a section with oracles against foreign nations so Isa 13-23 covers this topic. There are oracles against Babylon, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Assyrian crisis and Tyre. We then find in Isa 24-27 a collection of oracles which are called the Isaiah Apocalypse and is reminiscent of material from a much later period in Israel's history. The remaining oracles cover further oracles on the Assyrian crisis and this section finishes with narratives about Isaiah. Isa 36-38 are almost identical with 2 Kings 18-19.

The Isaiah Scroll which was found at Qumran in the caves there (1948) and came from a time (250-68 BCE) before the Massoretes added vowels to the language is almost an exact copy of the Hebrew Text from which we work today. This testifies to the ability of the scribes who copied the Hebrew texts

Context of Isa 2:1-5
Isa 1 begins with a superscription which places the visions and words of Isaiah in the reigns of four different kings of Judah. This means that Isaiah had a long ministry which covers about forty years. The remainder of Isa 1 condemns the people because they have dealt unjustly with people in their own community; wine is watered, bribes are given and received, they fail to care for the fatherless and widow. Furthermore, they have been hypocritical in their worship by observing all the right practices, but failing to live it out in right ways. The consequence of their actions will bring punishment upon themselves. Isa 2:6-12 names further sins of the people which includes the practice of using diviners and soothsayers. This list of sins and consequences is enclosed by two oracles of salvation in Isa 2:2-4 (Lectionary reading) and Isa 4:2-6.

Insights/Message of Isa 2:1-5 Literary structure: The The introductory v.1 is in the form of a prophetic oracle thereby giving authority to what follows and connects it to Isa 1:1. Unlike Isa 1:1 it lacks any mention of kings, but acts as an introduction to vv.2-4, Isa 2-4 and Isa 2-12. It is an unusual construction in v.1, "to see the word", and Watts suggest that it refers to one speech or oracle, not a collection (Watts: 28). If we read it in context with the end of Isa 1 (vv.27-28) the promises in Isa 2:2-4 will be to those who repent and not to the unfaithful. The verses focus on Zion rather than on the nation of Judah, which moves it from the nationalistic foci of much of the prophetic material. An interesting literary structure has the nations coming to Zion (vv.2-3a) and God's word will go out (vv.3b-4) which will result in the extraordinary picture of peace. The phrase, ‘day follows day’ introduces a future promise of hope (Wildberger:88), which followed by ‘that’ (v.2a) indicates that the consequence of Yahweh's action in the establishment of the "house of the Lord" will result in the flow of the nations to it. V.3a confirms this with the personal, "Come, let us go ...". ‘Go up’ is the technical term for pilgrimages which Israelites participated in for the great feasts. This is the only instance of Isaiah using the term ‘God of Jacob’ in the Book of Isaiah (Wildberger:93). The description of peace in v.4 in which people themselves beat weapons into plough shares, is the exact opposite to Joel 4:10, in which the agricultural tools are beaten into weapons. V.5 acts as a bridge between vv.2-4 and v.6ff in which the invitation to "come" looks back to v.3 and it leads us forward to v.6 by the use of "for" in v.6. We need to mention that there is a parallel text in Mic 4:1-4 in which the main difference is an additional description of peace in Mic 4:4. Many scholars debate which text is dependent on the other, or whether both are independent. Readers will find these debates in any of the commentaries, but while I think it is important to note the parallel and the difference,I don't see the necessity to argue dependence on one or the other.
The title Judah and Jerusalem suggests that Judah has become a region after the fall of the Northern kingdom in 721 BCE (Clements:39).

Message / Theology. The emphasis on Zion is interesting and we find this also in Isa 40-55 and 56-66. There is no mention of the temple but rather the 'house of the Lord'. While nations come to the mountain, the text doesn't say what status they will have in the community. We don't know whether they will be subservient as in Isa 60 or included in the worshipping community as in Isa 56. Isa 2:2-4 is an all encompassing picture of the power and authority of God whose teaching will be known throughout the world. God as creator and redeemer of the world comes into its fullest exposition in later chapters of Isaiah, both Isa 40-55 and Isa 56-66. The role of God in dealing with the nations is explored in Isa 13-27 in which it is made clear that God is in control not only of Judah but all nations. The context of Isa 2:1-5 suggests that the people themselves are unable to stay faithful and will suffer because of their sins, however God will bring salvation and peace to the world. The roles of God in these verses include, teacher, judge, arbitrator and peace giver. The response to this God is in v.5 and it makes sense to include it in the reading. As the peoples expressed the invitation to come to 'the mountain of the Lord' (v.3), the house of Jacob is called to come and walk in the 'light of the Lord' (v.5). This latter phrase is unique in the Hebrew Scriptures. As Christians we can see how God's grace is extended to the community and the world - our response is the desire to walk in the light of Christ.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 24:36-44, the comparison with Noah emphases that as Noah did not know about the forthcoming flood so the present generation do not know about the coming of the Son of man. It is a further admonition to be alert to God's actions in the world.
Resources/Worship for Isa 2:1-5Worship:

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Barton, J. Isaiah 1-39. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.
Childs, Brevard. Isaiah. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Clements,R.E. Isaiah 1 - 39. NCB. Grand Rapids: Wm.Eerdmans, , 1980.
Hayes, J.H. & Isaiah, His Times and His Preaching, Abingdon,
Kaiser,O. Isaiah 1-12 (2nd ed), OTL, transl. J.Bowden, London: SCM Press, 1983.
Oswalt,J.N. The Book of Isaiah 1-39, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986.
Seitz,C.R. Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation, John Knox, Louisville, 1993.
Sweeney,M.A., Isaiah 1-39, FOTL, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996.
Tucker, Gene. 'The Book of Isaiah 1-39'. NIB. Vol VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Watts,J.D.W. Isaiah1-33, Isaiah 34-66, WBC, Word Book, Waco, 1985, 1987.
Wildberger,H. Isaiah 1-12, transl.T.H.Trapp, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1991

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:


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