Monday, November 21, 2016

Isaiah 2:1-5

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently November 2016.
 
*Note.  While this blog overwhelmingly looks at the New Testament passages from the weekly lectionary, this week the Hebrew Bible text is so compelling, that it deserves some closer examination.  For those of you that like Greek better (like me!), don't worry, there will also be some tie-ins to Greek, LXX style!  (no, not XXX style.  LXX style).

There are only five verses, so I want to add a few comments on each verse:


2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

"The Word..."  The word for "word" here is
דבר, davar.  Translated as "logos" in the New Testament, this word appears time and time again in the Bible.  The Word of The Lord speaks to and through the Prophets.  The Word of the Lord is said to be rare in the childhood days of Samuel (1 Sam 3:1) a sign of bad times.

"saw concerning"  This word, חזה , (khazah), means behold or see.  Normally the Word of the Lord comes to people, but in Isaiah's case, he beholds the Word.  The word becomes visible!

2:2  In 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.

"In the days to come...":  This specific phrase in the Bible, "In the after/end of the days" is often used in the prophets to connote the end times.  In this light, the NIV "In the last days" may be closer.  On other hand, the phrase may also simply mean the future.  I think the best word that provides this ambiguity is: "ultimate."  In the ultimate days...

"The Lord's House":  The specific phrase used by Isaiah, "Bet-YHWH" does mean House of the Lord literally, however, it refers to the temple in Jerusalem. Tricky to translate.  Do you take the historically and linguistically accurate translation of "The temple" or do you leave it as "House of the Lord."  I like the idea of House of the Lord because it gives the sense that the temple is not a place of human hands or even of human worship, but the place of God's dwelling. 

LXX (Greek) Note:  The LXX translates the word as οικος του θεου (house of God).  Interestingly, YHWH is almost always translated as κυριος (kyrios), however, not in this case.  This anomaly is perhaps explained by the insertion that it is the mountain of the "kyrios," leaving the sentence with at least one incidence of "kyrios."

Technical grammar note:  The preposition in the phrase, "as the highest of the mountains" is one of those strange "bet"s that would have certainly found its way onto a Hebrew exam...let's not get bogged down there, but if you have a bunch of spare time, have fun categorizing that particular preposition.

"All nations" (goyim) Once, while working at my firm in New York, I was called a goyim.  This is, in modern Jewish slang, often a derogatory term for non-Jews.  However, in the Bible, it simply refers to the nations -- the εθνε (ethne) in Greek.
 
2:3  Many 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.

"For out of Zion shall go forth instruction"  The word for instruction here is "Torah" which can mean many things, including Law.  The LXX will actually translate this as νομος (nomos).  More broadly, Torah can also include, not simply the laws, but also the story that involves the instruction.  This is probably too technical a point for a sermon, but the point that people could understand is that in the Bible, instruction never drops from the sky, but always comes to the people in a relationship and for their good.

"the word of the LORD"  Here again we have the word "Devar" (translated as logos by LXX). 

"from Jerusalem."  Before, people were streaming to (אל) the city ..but now the word is going out from מן) Jerusalem.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

No language comment, but a point:  Good laws (justice) leads to peace

2:5  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
"Let us walk"  This phrases echoes the previous verse:  "They will say...come, let us..."  This is why the translation, "In the last days," is not as helpful because 2:5 invites us to participate in that vision here and now.
"Light of the Lord"  This is the only time that this expression appears in the Bible.

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