1The word that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning‑hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
I don’t think it does justice to the text to limit the meaning of this passage to Judah and Jerusalem on the basis that they are mentioned, and nowhere else is, because scripture talks to us wherever we are, and in our own time. Isaiah was writing for people to whom, for many, Judah and Jerusalem meant the known world. As with much of the world in that era, the people were obsessed with hatred, fear, and the threat of wars. That should ring alarm bells for those of us in Australia, where violence and intolerance, based on religion and cultural differences, are well attested, and where the national government is determined to become a leading arms exporter. Recent censuses in Australia have shown a declining number of people who openly claim to be religious, so is there an underlying unwillingness to turn to God – by whatever name the deity is known – to find a resolution which is good for everyone? We have become a self-centred society in which God is often thought of as meaningless. If in doubt, just look at the number of pedestrians who can’t get their eyes off smart-phones connected to the internet, or look at those whose driving shows contempt for other road users. Thoughts and prayers for those whose lives have been thrown into turmoil because of early-season bush fires influenced by a drying and warming climate have been seen as tokenism when real action has been demanded. The problem with rich man stories in scripture isn’t the actual wealth but the focus on making money for self-interest. Those of us who long for a return to worshipping God can be encouraged by this word from Isaiah, suggesting that the house of the Lord will be established as the place to go, even if we feel it doesn’t stand a chance right now. Let us remember that ANYTHING is possible with God.
At some time in the (hopefully) not-too-distant-future people will begin to realise that what we have been fed for many years, and what we have been denied the chance to investigate, is what we really need to bring true peace to the world. If we sing “I was overjoyed, when they said ‘Come with us to the House of the Lord'” we need to be prepared to be challenged in the way we address people who are different from us in some way. One quote I often use is that if the governments of the world spent half of their defence budgets on cultural exchange programmes then there would be no more wars. The way to be a civilised society is not to engage in war, or provide others with the tools of war, but to work together, and to let God be the arbiter in any disputes. Our ‘tools of war’ need not be the usual weapons of guns and bombs, because our words are often ‘tools of war’. How often do we try to undermine someone else because “I’m right and you’re wrong”?
What does it mean, for us, if we are to let God teach us His ways, that we may walk in His paths, not ours? I have no doubt that we will all be faced with accepting that our behaviour in some circumstances is far from responsible, and that we have to look at issues as if through the eyes of someone with whom we vehemently disagree, but that it precisely what God wants us to do. When we accept the challenge we will walk in the light of the Lord.