Several years ago a well known musician penned these words, “Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Imagine all the people. Living life in peace…You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will be as one.” These lyrics come from the song Imagine by John Lennon. Now I don’t necessarily agree with all of his sentiments, though I understand them, especially in the fact that almost more wars are fought based on religion than anything else. But can you imagine with me, and with John Lennon a world where there is nothing to kill or die for? Where there are no wars and where people live life in peace and where nations don’t pick up the sword to kill each other. It might be hard to imagine but unless you can imagine it, you will never see it happen. Someone said, “If you can’t imagine it, you can’t achieve it.” And I believe it is no different. William Stafford said, “"Violence is a failure of the imagination.” And there have been many in our world who have had a failure of the imagination. But there have been many also how’s imaginations have led them, like John Lennon to have a vision of living life in peace and where there is nothing to kill or die for. People like Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, and others.
Even if we look back into the story of God, we find people who had imaginations and visions of peace winning out over war and violence. One such person was the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah was a dreamer. He imagined a new world. Isaiah envisioned a coming day when the mountain of Gods sacred presence will be lifted up, drawing nations to that place to learn God’s way of Shalom.
Last week we talked about the beginning of the story of God from Genesis 1-4. We talked about the idea of God’s original intention for all of his creation which is the biblical idea of Shalom which means peace. We talked about God creating shalom from chaos, choosing shalom in all the relationships he had, and then how humanity chose chaos instead of Shalom. We saw God continually seeking to move his people to Shalom and not chaos. In fact, as we will find out today as we look at the prophet Isaiah, that beginning with Isaiah we see God moving increasingly away from all species of militarism. The Hebrew prophets following Isaiah prophesy about a time of peace, an age of Shalom. They envision a kingdom shaped by harmony like in the garden of Eden, harkening back to Gods’ original intention, a demilitarized domain not of this world, a newly created people whose very identity will be marked by nonviolent shalom making.
No clearer in the book of Isaiah does this dream or vision of a world that is shalom filled than in Isaiah 2:1-5.
Isaiah 2:1-5 says, This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains, it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
So Isaiah 2:1-5 is a vision or prophecy that the Lord showed Isaiah concerning the future. This vision or prophecy is what will happen at the last days. This term last days refer to the “time of the Messiah” when the anointed of the Lord reigns over the earth. When the rule and reign of Jesus will be fully realized and come in it’s fullness. Jesus rule and reign, what we call the Kingdom of God is a now and not yet reality. Jesus is ruling and reigning now and will come in its fullness at the last days. This expression of the last days is an expression that often takes place in the Old Testament. It does not refer to any particular period and especially not to the end of the world. According to Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, “The vision of Isaiah is ‘an act of imagination that looks beyond present dismay through the eyes of God, to see what will be that is not yet. That is the function of promise in the life of faith. Under promise, faith sees what will be that is not yet.” So Isaiah writes down this vision that he sees (this vision was also given to Micah- Micah 4:1-3). He sees that the mountain of the Lord will be the tallest mountain in the world, and that all nations will stream to it. What is the mountain that Isaiah is referring to? He is referring to Mount Moriah, which was the exact mountain where Abraham led his son Isaac to. Speculation is that this mount is now known as the Temple Mount. Now, does this really mean that this mountain is actually the tallest and highest of all mountains in the world? Of course not. Isaiah, in his poetic way, in verse 2 is saying that the “government” (think Kingdom) of the house of the Lord shall have preeminence over all levels of human government. Or put in another way, there will be a time in the future when the Kingdom of God comes in it’s fullness and will have preeminence over all other Kingdoms. In Isaiah the rule of God (Kingdom) overwhelms all human empires and the power of militarism by which they acquire and sustain their sovereignty.
In that time, people and nations will flock to the mountain of God or the capital of his government (Kingdom). Nations will move towards him and towards the center. As people move towards God they will be transformed and they will then become fresh, sustained, and a source of life and growth for the earth, as they return from the capital of God’s Kingdom. What will they experience at the mountain of God? They will learn his ways and how to walk in his paths. As we talked about last week and will talk about during this series, his ways and his path is the way and path of shalom. That is what drives God and that is ultimately what should drive us. Once the people and the nations learn the shalom ways of God they will go out from Zion, living out the rule and reign of God in all areas of their lives, and teaching others to walk in the shalom ways of God and to live under the rule and reign of God.
When the people who have learned the shalom ways of God, when they come under the rule and reign of King Jesus, they begin to realize that the way of Jesus is antithetical to way of the world. You have the shalom way of God on one hand and the violent way of the world in the other. Isaiah 2:2-4 makes this clear. This is the vision of the end of war and to the preparation of war. The prophet Isaiah addresses the threat of war with a call to stand firm in faith rather than in taking up arms. The theology here is one is where warfare is understood as lacking to the power to produce the desired effect. Judah’s search for military solutions is understood and faithlessness and human fighting is understood to be counter-productive. The way of God, God’s original intention, is the way of Shalom. He calls the people of God to live out this shalom way of God by beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. By taking weapons of war and destruction and turning them into tools of agriculture. From tools of chaos to tools of shalom. The witness of the book of Isaiah to us today is that it encourages us to acknowledge that although empires will always wage war, that God’s purpose is for all people, especially those who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus, to ‘beat their swords into plowshares’ and to stop preparing for war.
When the Kingdom rules and reigns in the heats and lives of people. When the shalom of God breaks out into the world, nation will not take up swords against other nations, and they will not prepare for war anymore. There will be no more war or preparing for war because there will be a new rule on earth- King Jesus. We long for the day when there is no more need for a military budget, when the money that fires for weapons and armies can go to schools and parks. We realize that we aren’t there right now. All you have to do is look around and see that Isaiah’s vision or prophecy has not come true. Does that mean we don’t have to try to live out God’s ideal, God’s original intention for his creation, that of Shalom in the world because it isn’t happening? How are we to interpret this passage? Were Isaiah (and Micah) false prophets since their words did not and have not come true? Are these passages to be taken metaphorically or pictures of heaven? Are they like other depictions of utopia, too impractical to implement and designed only to get the reader to dream about a new reality? But that is just the point I believe. That if we can’t dream of a new reality, where people put down weapons of violence, destruction, and chaos and pick up tools of peace, construction, and shalom, then we’ll never experience this new reality. Yes we do live in a world of wars and rumors of wars, but this prophecy/vision promises that Israel itself will start living as if these promises are true. The people of God today might be encouraged and empowered by the gospel to practice peace-making at home, at work, in the congregation, and in society and the world at large. What would it mean for the world if Christians, the people of God took seriously the promises within Isaiah about the future? Will the swords be beaten into plowshares? Will nation stop preparing for war? Not this side of the rule and reign of Jesus coming in it’s fullness. But that doesn’t stop those of us who live under the rule and reign of King Jesus to begin living that reality here and now. Members of the Kingdom of God are called to turn swords into plowshares and to be active agents of peace…here and now and not wait until his Kingdom comes in fullness where there will definitely be no more weapons, no more war, no more chaos, no more violence, just the radical shalom way of Jesus and his Kingdom.
So how are we learning the ways and paths of Jesus, the enemy-loving, crucified (and not crucifying) shalom-making Son of God? How are we learning the way and path of Shalom? What does it look like for you and me to beat our sword into plowshare and our spears into pruning forks? What does it mean for those who follow the ways and paths of Jesus and his shalom to not study for war no more? How does this passage apply to our world today and how do we live it out in the midst of our violent, war filled, and non-shalom world? That is what we are going to unpack together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back do you have regarding the Scripture and/or message?
2. In what ways are you seeking to learn the shalom ways and paths of Jesus? Is this a new concept for you and if so, why do you think that is?
3. What does it mean for you and me to "beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks? How do we live out Shalom and not study war anymore in our violent, war-filled world?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?