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ISAIAH 1-2 SCENE OF GRAMMATICAL GYMNASTICS
OR SOBER TRUTH!
The topic in Isaiah 1-2 is variously man, Israel, sin, revolt, consequent pollution and weakness, hypocrisy in heart and assemblies of which God has had enough (1:11-13), the necessity of moral objectivity and the pressure for washing along with the performance of marvels when this is done, when pardon and purity mingle like snow-flakes in the very air of the soul (1:18).
Categories for moral action include the widow and the fatherless, the definite article being used to designate a class. Further, as Ch. 1 ends, God speaks of the necessity of purification, and the burning out of the remnants of rebellion.
In Chapter 2 we meet a movement to the latter days, in the context of all that has preceded. Here we find that "the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on top of the mountains" and that "all nations" will seek to go there saying, "Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths."
The reason for this is then given: "For out of Zion wil go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations," and peace will ensue. The LORD will personally DO the work, KEEP (as in Psalm 72) the peace and be central to the majesty and alone have the glory.
The body, Israel the nation, once reliant on God, then at length summoned for apostasy and hypocrisy, next to be shown the way of purgation and peace, is then suddenly exposed to this future position. It will not depend on its own internal glory, but on the direct and personal presence of the Messiah, and His is the issuance of what is to be, of government, and upon His shoulder it rests.
Zion does not become something else in order to accommodate the roving intellect of man. It was Zion (1:27), that fell and that is to be redeemed with justice. True, many nations will come to seek that redemption as we then see, but Zion as extensively defined does not change definition in mid-course, as if the past were even here evoked! We are not contextually dealing with what comes fresh to make ZION, as Gentile sinners to constitute the Church in broad terms, but with that Zion that had already grossly and to God, intolerably failed, for which a transformed and transfigured future is to come in a combination of rest and amazement. Yet it is not (Isaiah 19) a reversion, but a conversion which enables this use of its so famous site (of the crucifixion and the resurrection).
The character of this once deadly dump for recidivist rebellion is utterly clear,and the transformation of its character by divine action, no less. What had been historically a flagrant failure, a fraud to its mission in the end, of showing forth the praise of God, this very site would become a massif of insistence, that the God who created and called Israel, and came, and in human form died, and rose from the dead, is no mystique, but the very same unchanging identity.
Those who do not like the reminder are reminded; the nails are not too nasty to think about; you WILL be reminded by this centre of sin becoming a site of zest, where the Lord will act as ruling Majesty in the very site of His intemperate rejection.
The house of Jacob is itself in this context asked to come and walk in the light of the Lord. In all this, the Church is not excluded, but it is not specified. For that time comes when it is given indication (Isaiah 60,66). This aspect is not given such exposure as in the New Covenant (Ephesians 3:4-7). That theme is much lower key in the Old Testament, which has its own integrity, special features and foci, premises and promises. You cannot obliterate promises and premises because the bud of revelation has turned into the bloom, for when God talks, His word is truth. What is fulfilled is fulfilled and hence past as in Matthew 5:17ff., but what is not fulfilled will be, according to its own context in all fidelity and truth, reliability and co-ordination of power and knowledge, wisdom in the first place, and knowledge to the last.
What we are shown in Isaiah 2:1-3, is a restoration of the recidivist Israel, the rebellious nation, so that in the presence of the Messiah, it becomes a flag for the faith, which is in Him and His word, this now so used, which was a dump in the ditch ready for pitch.
Now it has exaltation because of the resident Messiah, and it remains He who in being exalted, exalts the functional importance of the city. The result is the demission of war and the propagation of peace.
Following on from this mutually permeating series of concepts and themes, we see the ruin of those who have forsaken the Lord, that erring nation, each man humbling himself to their own artefacts. But "the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day," Isaiah 2:11.
Since all nations have already been specified in the glorious final outcome, and the ground for the catastrophe to come is revisited, it is apparent that mankind is the ultimate target of this summary. Neither assailant nor assaulted will be exalted: only the Lord. The text moves to various nations and their wares, and none will escape. It is a universal stage for this judgmental setting in which mankind is the butt, and truth is the taskmaster. If there is any loftiness in mankind, it will to use Micah's term, lick the dust. Idols worldwide will be a subject of prohibition, as in the earlier description of the rule from Zion. No nation is exempted there or here.
In fact, so vast is the humiliation of mankind that seeking protection from the cover of rocks into the hollows of which man squirms, becomes common as expanded further in Micah 7. You then get a graphic: a man will cast away in that day his idol, it will be a relief to be delivered from what now appears as a dangerous burden. The fact that this is a generality of which one person is used as an example for the sake of imagery is made clear, if it is not so already, by the fact that immediately after the reference to "a man" we find that "which they made, each man for himself" is posited. In other words, the man represents the "they" who have every one of them, so preparing their idols. This is express and explicit, and contextually impelled in the generic thrust throughout, as well as the grammatically balance following.
Man indeed so flinging out his incriminating evidences, will seek the crags and rocks from "the terror of the Lord," as well as from the purity of His flaming glory which no nostrums can now hide. The whole earth is to be terribly shaken as in Isaiah 24 and Haggai, cited in Hebrews.
As in Genesis 6:2 and 6:5, we now find reference to the race, with the definite article, as distinct from the singular example used as an illustration just before in that context. With or without the definite article the term for man may be used, and is, of mankind.
There in Genesis 6, the sons and daughters of man (definite article) are traced, just as in 6:5, having used no article in stating He would no longer strive with man, He now uses the article in asserting in conclusive consequence, that the evil of man was great on the earth. In this there seems to be some movement from the non-article in observation to adding the article before the term for 'man', when mankind in judgment becomes the resultant issue, and perhaps a derogation may use it, in looking back to man's source situation.
Here now in Isaiah 2, we come to this variability in the use of the article in reference to mankind. In this case, it closely resembles the flood situation, the one then to be, and this now also in the future for it, to be in its time. In the midst of this demonstrably generic situation for mankind which has been carefully unfolded before our eyes, in terms of all nations, we have reference to the puniness, futility and overall judgment upon mankind. That is the theme, contrasted with the majestic meaningfulness and righteous power to judge of the Maker of ALL.
This in Isaiah 2:22, is expressed in terms of what all men have in common, that is, the necessity to draw breath if life on earth is to continue. it is simple, salient and crushing to the majestic aspirations which have just been reviewed for the race. It dumps glory for the race, pretension and wilful ignorance. It gives the ultimate singularity: mankind as one and God as another. The one in entirety covers the other and hear shows the ruin due to all of it that does not know Him. How wise of any to throw away their idols, at last seeing something of reality in their shock and fear! The dream is over, and they are beginning to wake up.
In view of this stark and generic setting for mankind, to seek as does the NKJV to use the dramatic use of a man throwing away an idol as if it were a concrete specialty, a person of significance, when even the very sentence as noted, belies it, and the context shouts Halt! to such a distortion, is a devastating piece of eisegesis. It contradicts the theme, ignores both the structure and the significance of Isaiah 2:20, the heightened intensity of mankind as the butt of this universal phenomenon for the world, and the universal depravity of man exposed in league with Israel in its own heavily itemised fall. This being so, this unhappy translation here in the NKJV*1 is perhaps the greatest case of bathos that one has ever met!
This trend to disregard the obvious, the thematic, the thrust, either as here, in entire irrelevance and indeed opposition to the text, or in disregard, as if the symbolic could without evidence suddenly flit in and out of a text, to negate entirely what is being said, is one of the unhallowed flairs that makes it sad that such clarity could meet with such obfuscation. It is a human error found often enough in history in kind.
These things happen, while yet, it is not good to make a habit of this sort of presumably unintended but virtually inexcusable suppression.
What however of the 'interpretation' of Zion, just so well defined in the foregoing, as found in Isaiah 2:1-3, as some might wish to make ? Can it mean the Church and be in entire oblivion of the nation of Israel in such continual focus and characterisation, designation and discursive denotation throughout ?
Can you really flit from a carefully moulded context with a set usage, a deliberately defined meaning of a term (say, Zion), in a continuation of the historical mode, and then at a flit of the writ, make something else supplant the contextual definition ? Imagination is a powerful aid in understanding, but the first thing to understand is that the understanding of the context is final. It is not a suggestion. It may on occasion be EXTENDED, using something as an illustration, but to DELETE an element of a continuous history in favour of some other idea is as inadmissible as having Hannibal's elephants REALLY in that narrative, mean nothing other than a form for the expression of strength!
The thrust to the abstract can be quite fun, especially in Proverbs, where it is apparent that this is a major theme throughout. However, to intrude it beyond the bounds of the context, to the denial of the coherent and continuing testimony, and its thrust, its background and its ongoing thrust, is woeful.
To interpret or to interpolate, that is the question. Not to be is the concise answer for the latter. Of course we can read back into the narrative and its own terms of international reference the scope and space for the Church to be involved here in Israel and Israel in the Church, in view of its predicted mass conversion (as in Romans 11, Zechariah 12-13, Isaiah 66), and it fits neatly as might a table tennis ball on an egg-container cardboard site. We do not however for this reason define the ball as an egg! It fits, but it is not the immediate topic of reference, which is something else.
The NKJV is in many respects a reliable translation, surpassing many; but this is one example that blights it. Mercifully it is short. Again, its use of capitalisation for deity in many cases in the Old Testament prophecies, in general, is a great addition.
For other matters of translation, listed to the numbers of about 60, consult this work, Bible Translations, Words about Words.