In the last days the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
I. THE BLESSED OR GOLDEN AGE A SUBJECT OF EARLY PROPHECY. It is believed that we have in these verses a very ancient oracle, first delivered by the earlier prophet Joel (see Joel 3:10), and from him repeated by Isaiah and Micah (Micah 4:1-4). An eternal hopefulness lived in the heart of the great prophets, like a light shining in a dark place, amidst all the scenes of national sin and depression. What has been said of true poetry is to be said of prophecy - it is the "light that never shone on sea or shore; the inspiration and the poet's dream."
II. A REVIVAL OF RELIGION WILL USHER IN THE GOLDEN AGE. The mountains were earliest seats of Divine worship, both amongst Jews and Gentiles. One of the seats of the great god of the Greeks, Mount Lycaeos in Arcadia, commanded, Pausanias tells us, a view over nearly the whole Peloponnese. Zion was a small and lowly mount, but it is to become a peak that shall overtop all mountains, the "joy of the whole earth" (Psalm 48:2), unrivalled in the majesty of its Divine associations (Psalm 68:16). The Gentiles will make pilgrimages to this holy mountain. All this poetically describes the commanding influence of true religion.
1. The revival of religion means the revival of morality. When the conscience is really awakened, the inquiry will ever be - What must we do? What are the ways and paths of God? What are the principles of a true, a just, and a blessed life?
2. It means social unity. In the vision the Gentiles are seen converging with the Jews to one point - to Zion. The more deep religion is, the more do men feel that truth is but one, thought one, spiritual worship one. The love of God solves all differences in itself.
3. True religion is a self-diffusive power. It goes forth like light, like heat, like a fame and rumor insensibly stealing through the air.
III. JUSTICE AND PEACE WILL BE THE EFFECTS OF TRUE RELIGION. We can clearly see that it is so from the course of history. With the progress of Christianity, the administration of justice within the sphere of each nation has become milder, because more thoughtful, more respectful of the value of the individual life. Not only so, the idea of international justice has gained ground. Whatever a certain school of Politicians may say, conscience does gain ground in the dealings of nation with nation. Wrong cannot be done to the weak without censure. Nations as well as individuals are more alive to the voice of public opinion, and more sensible of shame. In our own time, "justice" has again and again been the watchword of our politics, and has gained attention and overcome the clamors of the bellicose and the sneers of the cynical. Let us-be thankful for these things. Best of all, peace and its occupations replace war and its waste, as true religion prevails. In this beautiful picture, or slight sketch of a picture, we see the soldier going back to his fields, that he may turn the murderous steel into the hoe, the share, the pruning-knife, while the arsenals and military schools are closed (see the touch added by Micah 4:4; cf. Psalm 46:9; Hosea 2:20; Zechariah 9:10). It is the picture of an ideal and a future, not yet nor soon perhaps to be converted into an actual present, except in the delightful world of holy dreams which makes the best of our life. But for every one who works and lives in the true Christian spirit, the picture ever more nearly tends to coincide with the reality.
IV. REFLECTIONS OF THIS PROPHECY AMONG THE GENTILES. Doubtless a large collection might be made of passages of similar scope from the lore of other nations. Best known are those from the Roman poets. Virgil, like Joel (Joel 3:10), reverses the imagery. When right and wrong are confused, wars prevail and all manner of crimes. The plough receives no honor; the fields run to weeds, because the farmers have gone to serve as soldiers, and the curved sickles are turned into the rigid sword ('Georg.,' 1:506, sqq.). So Ovid: in time of war the sword is apter than the plough; the toiling ox gives way to the war-horse, while hoes and rakes are turned into javelins ('Fast.,' 1:697, sqq.). He further sketches the picture of peace bringing back the ox to the yoke, and the seed to the ploughed land. For "Peace nourishes Ceres, and Ceres is the foster-child of Peace." We must reserve the further pictures of the perfection of the golden age in the Gentile poets until we come to Isaiah 11. In their way they, too, recognized that so happy a state of things could only be brought about by religion - by the returning of men to obedience to Divine laws.
V. MODERN LESSONS. Let us "come and walk in the light of the Eternal." In that light the hideousness of war and of the national discords, which lead to it, are clearly seen. No sound understanding can ever look upon war as other than an occasional and dread necessity. Preaching against war may do a certain good. But practically to walk in the light and lead others to it is better. All sides of the subject need to be better understood by the popular mind. The most serious fallacies prevail. Were the energies now employed in preparing for and carrying on war devoted to exploring, breaking up, and cultivating new regions, how truly blessed the result! In fighting with the stubbornness of nature man may find an outlet for all his pugnacious energy. The poets should sanctify their art to glorifying the ideals of peace rather than those of war. None can read these lines without being enkindled -
"Ah, when shall all men's good
"Unto him who works, and feels he works,
And it shall come to pass in the last days.
(Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
(Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Preeminently conspicuous.
2. Awful and venerable in her grandeur.
3. The day is coming when the Church of God shall have absolute supremacy.The Church of Christ now has to fight for her existence; but the day shall come when she shall be so mighty that there shall be nought left to compote with her. How is this to be done? There are three things which will ensure the growth of the Church.
1. The individual exertion of every Christian.
2. We may expect more.The fact is, that the Church, though a mountain, is a volcano — not one that spouts fire, but that hath fire within her; and this inward fire of living truth, and living grace, expands her side, and lifts her crest, and upwards she must tower, for truth is mighty, and it must prevail — grace is mighty, and must conquer — Christ is mighty, and He must be King of kings. Thus there is something more than the individual exertions of the Church; there is a something within her that must make her grow, till she overtops the highest mountains.
3. But the great hope of the Church is the second advent of Christ. When He shall come, then shall the mountain of the Lord's house be exalted above the hills. We must fight on day by day and hour by hour; and when we think the battle is almost decided against us, He shall come, the Prince of the kings of the earth.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. It implies, first, their number. Now it is but the pouring out of water from the bucket; then it shall be as the rolling of the cataract from the hillside.
2. Their spontaneity. They are to come willingly to Christ; not to be driven, not to be pumped up, not to be forced to it, but to be brought up by the Word of the Lord, to pay Him willing homage. Just as the river naturally flows downhill by no other force than that which is its nature, so shall the grace of God be so mightily given to the sons of men, that no acts of parliament, no state churches, no armies will be used to make a forced conversion.
3. But yet again, this represents the power of the work of conversion. They "shall flow to it." Imagine an idiot endeavouring to stop the river Thames. The secularist may rise up and say, "Oh, why be converted to this fanatical religion? Look to the things of time."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. TO A PERIOD OF TIME WHEN THE EVENTS OF WHICH IT SPEAKS ARE TO OCCUR. "The last days." The phrase means, generally, the age of the Messiah; and is thus understood by both Jewish and Christian commentators. The apostle has put this meaning beyond all doubt. "God, who spake in times past unto the fathers, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son."
1. The expression intimates, that the dispensations which the prophets of the Old Testament lived, were but preparatory to one of complete perfection. To the future all these ancient holy men were ever looking. The patriarchal was succeeded by the Mosaic age. Prophet came after prophet; but all were looking forward. All things around them, and before them, were typical shadowy.
2. The emphasis which the of last days, intimates, also, the views they had of the complete efficiency of that religious system which the Messiah was to introduce. On that age all their hopes of the recovery of a world they saw sinking around them rested; and in the contemplation of this efficient plan of redeeming love, they mitigated their sorrows. They felt that the world needed a more efficient system, and they saw it descend with Messiah from heaven.
3. The days of the Messiah were regarded by the ancient Church as "the last days," because in them all the great purposes of God were to be developed and completed.
II. TO THE STATE OF THE GENERAL CHURCH OF GOD IN THE LAST DAYS. "The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." Some have considered this as a prediction of the actual rebuilding of the temple, and the restoration of the political and church-state of the Jews, in the close of the latter days of the times of the Messiah. Such an interpretation, if allowed, would not at all interfere with that in which all agree, that, whatever else the prediction may signify, it sets forth, under figures taken from the Levitical institutions, the future state of the general Church of Christ. For the principle which leads to such an interpretation, we have no less authority than that of the apostle Paul, who uniformly considers the temple, its priests, and its ritual, as types of heavenly things; and in one well-known passage, makes use of them to characterise the true Church of Christ. "But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city" of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. The mountain of the Lord's house is no longer covered with ruins, but established in the top of the hills. We learn from it —
1. That the Church shall be restored to evangelical order and beauty: it shall be as Mount Zion.(1) Zion was the place of sacrifice. And in the last days the true sacrifice shall be exhibited here.(2) Mount Zion was the throne of majesty. And in coming to the evangelical Zion we come to God as the universal Sovereign and Judge. In the latter days Gospel law will shine there as brightly as Gospel grace.(3) Zion was the mountain of holiness. And in these glorious clays holy shall all they be who name the name of Christ.(4) Zion was the special residence of God. On the day of Pentecost He took possession of the Church; but in the latter days there shall be special manifestations of His presence in richer displays of vital power. To this state we are ever to labour to bring the Church, avoiding, ourselves, all that is inconsistent with truth in doctrine and holiness in life. For the richer effusions of grace we are earnestly to pray.
2. In this state the Church shall be distinguished by its zeal. "Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem." So it was in the best estate of the Jewish Church. The Gospel is to be preached in all nations; and till you send forth the law they will not say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord." We thus see the connection between the best state of the Church and this holy zeal. All history proves it.
III. TO CERTAIN SPECIAL OPERATIONS OF GOD BY WHICH THE EFFORTS OF HIS RESTORED CHURCH TO BLESS AND SAVE THE WORLD SHALL BE RENDERED EFFECTUAL. Without God, not all the efforts of the Church, even in her best state, can be effectual.
1. He shall judge among the nations. The word "judge" is not always used in its purely judicial sense, but in that of government, — the exercise of regal power both in mercy and judgment; and in this sense we here take it. He shall so order the affairs of the world, that opportunities shall be afforded to His Church to exert herself for its benefit. And thus is He judging among the nations in our own day.
2. It is a part of the regal office to show mercy; and thus, too, shall He "judge among the nations." This He shall do by taking off those judicial desertions which, as a punishment for unfaithfulness, He has inflicted. "He shall judge among the nations." He shall do this judicially, yet not for destruction, but correction. Then are two sorts of judgments; judgments of wrath, and judgments of mercy. When grace is given with judgments, then do they become corrective and salutary.
3. It is, therefore, added, "and shall rebuke many people"; or, according to Lowth's translation, "work conviction among them." And may we not hope that this is approaching? Even while waiting for the glorious period described and promised in the preceding prophecy, the Church is called to "walk in the light of the Lord" (ver. 5).
1. Walk by this light of truth yourselves.
2. Set the glory of these splendid scenes before you, and let them encourage you to increasing exertions for the spread of truth, holiness, and love throughout the earth.
(Richard Watson.)I. THE GLORY AND EXALTATION. "The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established," etc.
II. THE ENLARGEMENT. "All nations shall flow unto it."
III. THE PROSPERITY of the Church begins to be described in ver. 4.
(J. Mede, B. D.)
I. TIMES WHEN THE CHURCH IS VISIBLE BUT NOT GLORIOUS.
II. TIMES WHEN IT IS NEITHER VISIBLE NOR GLORIOUS.
III. TIMES WHEN IT IS TO BE BOTH VISIBLE AND GLORIOUS.
(J. Mede, B. D.)I. THE PERIOD REFERRED TO. The reference is not to the Gospel era as a whole, but to an advanced period of it, even the time of the great millennial prosperity. The golden age of the Greeks and Romans was the past, but our golden age is yet to come.
II. THE CHEERING TRUTH DECLARED. "The mountain," etc. Often has Zion languished, but she is to become a praise in the whole earth. In this striking figure two things are embraced —
1. Elevated position.
2. Permanent duration.
III. THE GENERAL INTEREST AWAKENED. We have here —
1. The invitation given. "And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob."
2. The considerations by which it is enforced. "And He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem." It is the seat of Divine instruction on the one hand, and the centre of holy influence on the other.
IV. THE HAPPY RESULTS DECLARED (ver. 4). This is —
1. A consummation most devoutly to be desired.
2. Absolutely certain in its realisation. "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares."
3. The means whereby it win be accomplished. By God judging or ruling among the nations, and rebuking or working conviction among them.
(Anon.)1. The Gospel dispensation was designed to supersede that which was given by the hand of Moses; it was to be exalted above this hill.
2. The Gospel also was destined to triumph over all those corrupt systems of religion which have ever been received among men.
3. The assertion before us is also understood as a prophecy relative to the fulness of the Church when the Jews shall be called in. This important event is foretold by the sacred writers.
(S. Ramsey, M. A.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(Washington Gladden, D. D.)
I. WILL IT HAVE A CREED? A creed is only a statement, more or less elaborate, of the facts and principles of religion accepted by those who adhere to it. Religion is not wholly an affair of the emotions; it involves the apprehension of truth. In the future, as in the past, this truth must be stated, in order to be apprehended. A man's creed is what he believes; and there must be creeds as long as there are believers. It is probable, however, that the creeds may be considerably modified as the years pass. Certainly they have been undergoing modifications, continually, through the centuries gone by. It must be remembered, however, that the changes through which theological science has been passing have been changes of spirit rather than of substance, of form more than of fact. The essential truth remains. The great changes in theology are moral changes. Theology is constantly becoming less materialistic and more ethical. This progress will continue through the future. The creed of the future will contain, I have no doubt, the same essential truth that is found in the creeds of the present; but there may be considerable difference in the phrasing of it, and in the point of view from which it is approached.
1. Men will believe in the future in an infinite personal God, the Creator, the Ruler, the Father of men. The abstract, impersonal Force to which Agnosticism leads us has no relation to that which is deepest in man, and can have none. Christ bade us love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul. Can any man ever be perfectly happy until he has found some Being whom he can love in this way? Must not the Being who is worthy to be loved in this way be both perfect and infinite? And is it possible for a man to love with heart and mind and soul, any being, however vast or powerful, that has neither heart nor mind nor soul?
2. Concerning the mode of the Divine existence, men will learn in the future to speak more modestly than they have spoken in the past. It will become more and more evident that it is not possible to put the infinite into terms of the finite. There is the doctrine of the Trinity; there is truth in it, or under it; but can anyone put that truth into propositions that shall be definite and not contradictory?
3. II one may judge the future by the past there is no reason to fear that the person of Jesus Christ will be less commanding in the Church of the future than it is in the Church of the present.
4. The fact of sin will not be denied by the Church of the future. Doubtless organisation and circumstance will be taken into the account in estimating human conduct; but the power of the human will to control the natural tendencies, to release itself from entangling circumstances, and to lay hold on the Divine grace by which it may overcome sin, will also be clearly understood. The supremacy of the moral nature will be vindicated.
5. Punishment, as conceived and represented by the Church of the future, will not be an arbitrary infliction of suffering, but the natural and inevitable consequence of disobedience to law. It will be discovered that the moral law is incorporated into the natural order, and that its sanctions are found in that order; while, in the work of redemption, God interposes by His personal and supernatural grace to save men from the consequences of their own disobedience and folly. Law is natural; grace is supernatural Transgressors will be made to see, what they now so dimly apprehend, that no effect can be more closely joined to its cause than penalty to sin.
6. Whatever the creed of the future may be, however, it will not be put to the kind of use which the creed of the present is made to serve. It will not be laid down as the doctrinal plank over which everybody must walk who comes into the communion of the Church. The Church, like every other organism, has an organic idea, and that is simple loyalty to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. There will be but one door into that Church — Christ will be the door.
II. WHAT WILL BE THE POLITY OF THE FUTURE CHURCH? It is likely that, of the various sorts of ecclesiastical machinery, each of the several religious bodies will freely choose that which it likes best. Doubtless the Church will have some form of government: it will not be a holy mob; lawlessness will not be regarded as the supreme good, in Church or in State. In whatever ecclesiastical mould the Church of the future may be cast, there will be no mean sectarianism in existence then. The various families of Christians will dwell as happily together as well-bred families now do in society. Though there be diversities of form in the future, there will be real and thorough intercommunion and cooperation among Christians of all names, and nothing will be permitted to hold apart those who follow the same Leader and travel the same road.
III. WHAT KIND OF WORK WILL BE DONE BY THE CHURCH OF THE FUTURE? It will have many ways of working that the Church of the present has not dreamed of. "The field is the world," Christ has told us; and in that better day the Church will have learned to occupy the field.
1. Paul said that as a preacher of the Gospel he magnified his office. There is no office more honourable. But it must not be inferred that there is no other Way of preaching the Gospel except the formal utterance of religious truth, in the presence of a congregation. The truth will be disseminated, in that time, in many other ways. For though the living voice is the best instrument for the proclamation of the truth, so far as it will reach, it cannot reach very far. The art of printing has been given to the world since that day; and by that invention the whole business of instructing and influencing men has been revolutionised. The Church has already appropriated this agency; and it is doubtless true that it will be employed in the future more effectively than in the past. Neither will the range of teaching be so narrow as it has sometimes been in the past. To apply the ethical rule of the New Testament to the conduct of individuals, and to the relations of men in society, will be the constant obligation of the pulpit. Out of Zion must go forth the law by which parents, children, neighbours, citizens, workmen, masters, teachers, pupils, benefactors, beneficiaries, shall guide their behaviour. Science, long the nightmare of the theologians, will no more trouble their dreams; it will be understood that there can be no conflict between truths; that physical science has its facts and laws, and spiritual science its facts and laws; that these are diverse but not contradictory, and that the one is just as positive and knowable as the other. The unfriendliness now existing between the scientists and the theologians will exist no longer, because both parties will have learned wisdom.
2. But the work of teaching will not be the only work to which the Church of the future will address itself. Large and wise enterprises for the welfare of men will be set on foot; many of the instrumentalities now in use will continue to be employed, under modified forms, and many new ones will be devised. It will be understood that the law of the Church is simply this, "Let us do good to all men as we have opportunity."
(Washington Gladden, D. D.)
(Bp. M. Simpson, D. D.)
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