The Ideal and the Actual-Isaiah 2

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Isaiah 2:1-4:6 (2:1-5; 2:6-22; 3:1-4:1; 4:2-6); 2:2a, 5, 22

"In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as the highest of the mountains..." "let us walk in the light of the Lord" "Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?" (Isa 2:2, 5, 22, NIV).

Theme: Your life (walk) is the evidence of your faith. Walking in the light requires that we trust God and not man.


  1. Why study Isaiah?

    The book of Isaiah, in a way almost unparalleled in any other biblical book, reveals a complete picture of God: sovereignty, creativity, purposefulness, trustworthiness, faithfulness, justice, grace, holiness, glory and patience.” John Oswalt, The Holy One of Israel: Studies in the Book of Isaiah, 2014.

  2. What is Isaiah 1 about?

    "Isaiah 1 is an introduction to the entire book, containing the basic themes of Isaiah's ministry, namely, the sinfulness of Judah and Jerusalem (1:3-8), the tender appeals of the Lord (1:16-19), the certainty of the coming judgment (1:24-25, 28-31), and the blessedness of the salvation to come (1:26-27)." Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah. 1965.

Isaiah 1--an introduction to the rest of Isaiah--is essentially a challenge to either be a rebel or be a redeemed person (Isa 1:2, 27). Isaiah 1 presents choices that everyone of us must face, as it did for the people during Isaiah's time, by asking ourselves questions such as:

  1. Is there a spirit of rebellion in you (Isa 1:2; 66:24)?
  2. Is your heart attitude and worship acceptable to God with no hint of deceptive rituals (Isa 1:11-15)?
  3. Are you willing to brutally and honestly examine your own heart (Isa 1:16-20; Jer 17:10)?
  4. Do you need to ask God for forgiveness of any particular sin (Isa 1:18)?
  5. Does justice and care for the oppressed characterize your Christian life (Isa 1:17, 23)?
  6. Do you understand the consequence of not following God willingly and obediently (Isa 1:19-20, 28-31)?

Recap of Let's Talk: Care For Whom I Care For (Isa 1:21-31): Despite our rebellion, God's plan is to redeem his penitant people (Isa 1:27). The evidence of their redemption is that they serve those who cannot repay them (Isa 1:24).

Introduction to Isaiah 2-12. Trusting God completely, not only in theory but also in practice, remains a key challenge for every believer--trusting him for provision, safety, health, children, business, church, the political situation of the nation, and all those minor issues that one faces every day. Kings and common citizens alike must humble themselves, realizing that God alone can supply all their needs in this world and the next. People do not need to manipulate business or political events so that they will come out right or to misrepresent the truth to insure a proper conclusion to an embarrassing problem. God can resolve all the so-called problems of life and his plans are not subject to the manipulation of mankind. Sometimes it may seem far easier for people to trust in something tangible, like money, another person, an army, alliances with other nations, the votes of friends, or their own wisdom. It is often hard to let go and completely let God be in control. Nevertheless, without faith and trust in God, it is impossible to please him (Heb 11:6).

The interchange and contrast from Isaiah 1 to 2 is repeated, as it is throughout Isaiah 1-6. (See the table of the interchange and contrast.) The present Israel is totally corrupted (1:1-31). The future Israel (the Israel that will be) will be glorious (2:2-4). The abruptness of the shift in mood from ch. 1 to ch. 2 is very striking. In Isaiah 1 repentance was viewed as a hypothetical possibility (Isa 1:16-20) and restoration as an end product of destruction (Isa 1:27-31). The main focus of attention was on Israel's rebellion, hypocrisy, and injustice. Suddenly in 2:2-4, with no transition at all, the focus is on Israel's glorious future destiny as a light of blessing to the whole world.

Outline of Isaiah 2-4 [Despite our dark present reality (Isa 1:4-8, 10-15, 21-23), our hope is in Isaiah glorious vision of God's coming kingdom. Therefore, live in light of this (Isa 2:5). Set your heart on God. Live in the power of this future hope. Reject trusting in humans (Isa 2:22).]:

  1. The Ideal: Our Glorious Future Hope (2:1-5). [The opening positive part has 5 verses.] Promises of God's future kingdom produce trust.
    1. What God will do: God establishes his rightful rule (2-3) and judges the nations (4).
    2. How we are to respond: Make a decision to walk in his paths and in the light of the Lord (3b, 5).
  2. The Actual: Our Dark Present Reality (2:6-4:1). [The negative middle part has 44 verses!] The removal of pride and the exaltation of God (2:6-22). The recurring common theme is human exaltation (pride, arrogance and self-sufficiency). To deal with pride, God will humble:
    1. God's people (6-11). Idolatry (magic, money and military might).
    2. All people (12-22). Humiliation, disillusionment and fear.
    3. Men. Oppressive leadership (3:1-15). Removal of Judah's arrogant male leaders.
    4. Women. Vanity leading to flirtatiousness, ostentation, shame and insecurity (3:16-4:1). Removal of Judah's proud women.
  3. The New: Our Glorious Future Hope (4:2-6). The Branch (What is yet to be). [The closing positive part has 5 verses.]
    1. The Branch of the Lord (4:2a).
    2. A fruitful land (4:2b).
    3. A holy city (4:3-4).
    4. A canopy of glory (4:5-6).

I. The Ideal: Our Glorious Future Hope (Isa 2:1-5)

Walk in God's ways. The goal of 2:1-5 is to emphasize the necessity of exalting God and walking in his ways (Isa 2:5). This requires that we make a decision to commit ourselves to walk in God's ways.

God will transform the present world by his presence, his teaching, and his just judgment. Isaiah's purpose for describing God's glorious future kingdom (Isa 2:2-4) is to encourage his audience to choose either to be a part of God's plan (Isa 2:5) or reject it.

The Lord is God and there is no other (Isa 2:2). To say that the new Zion will have great prominence "as the highest of the mountains" (Isa 2:2) symbolically demonstrates to the nations the superior glory and greatness of God.

Instructions for the good life (Isa 2:3). In that day people from all over the world will come to hear "the word of the Lord" in Jerusalem (Isa 2:3). "The law (tora) will go out from Zion" is not a legalistic definition of "law" but instructions (tora) for wise living. This would involve a practical explanation of how people can live in a way that is pleasing to God.

Salvation is not a position or a status but a walk, a way of life. Their utmost desire is to "walk in his paths." When Abraham was 99 years old, God appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless" (Gen 17:1, NIV), or “I am God Almighty. Live in My presence and be blameless" (Gen 17:1, HCSB). In his opening greeting to the Ephesians, Paul said, "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (Eph 1:4, NIV).

Restoring God's original divine order (Isa 2:4). "He will judge between the nations" (Isa 2:4a) is for the sake of settling disputes (rendering just decisions, provide arbitration for many). We often think of judgment in entirely legal terms. But "judge" (shopat) carries the meaning of bringing about God's divine order into the world. God's intent in judgment is to bring the world back to its original order at the onset. This will signify the end of all war (Isa 2:4b).

Live in the light (Isa 2:5)--in contrast to darkness (Isa 5:30)--is the conclusion that Isaiah wants his people to draw from this glorious vision. Judah and her leaders can continue to be self-absorbed, or they can choose to glorify God and follow his instructions (Isa 2:3). Isaiah exhorts his own people in Jerusalem to follow the example of the foreign nations of the future who are streaming to Zion in order to learn to please God. Like the people in Isaiah's time, people in every generation must choose to come to God, learn of his ways, and enjoy his kingdom. Or they can proudly focus on their own accomplishments, close their ears and eyes to what God says, and suffer a humiliation similar to what Isaiah prophesies in the next part (Isa 2:6-22).

II. The Actual:Our Dark Present Reality (Isa 2:6-22)

The sin of Babel. The common theme from 2:6-4:1 is the sin of pride, which is the sin of human exaltation. The people were totally absorbed in lifting themselves up (Gen 11:4). Isa 2:6-22 implies that if the Hebrew people in Isaiah's audience remain unwilling to humble themselves and exalt God alone, they will not participate in the events in 2:1-5.

The humbling of God's people (Isa 2:6-11). Just when Isaiah had his audience remembering all the good things God would do at the end of time (2:2-5), he surprised them in this new paragraph with the terrible news that God would humble them rather drastically and severely.

  • The people were "full of" magic, money, military might and idols (Isa 2:6-8).
  • The word for idols means "nothing, worthless" (Isa 2:8).
  • Those who were once "full" in 2:6-8 become "empty" of well-being and security when they were humbled (Isa 2:9). God honors the humble and judges the proud (Prov 15:33; 18:12; 22:4; 29:23).
  • Isaiah emphasizes again and again that the proud will be humbled and God alone will be exalted (Isa 2:10-11).

The humbling of all proud people and the exaltation of God (Isa 2:12-22). This new paragraph begins by describing God's vicious attack on everything that could possibly be considered an exalted object that a person might trust. The basic principle is that everything that is exalted will be reduced to nothing. It seems like Uzziah and the people of Judah took pride in their fortified cities, tall towers, large ships and their beautiful trees. God is against any object that enables people to believe that they can control their own destiny.

"Stop trusting in mere humans" (Isa 2:22). This final word of application (an exhortation parallel to Isa 2:5) is to admonish the sudience concerning what they should now do. Isaiah's aim is not merely to stop idol worship, but to address the sinful hearts of people. People make themselves gods by giving themselves center stage and glorifying their own importance, ideas, opinions, achievements, accomplishments. They tend to mention everything by how it is related to or how it affects them--not how it affects God. Everything is judged by their self-centered standards. This needs to stop. They should quit regarding themselves so highly.

Stop yourself from man. "Stop" is an imperative command requiring a change in action. In Hebrew there is no word representing the word "trusting" in the NIV. The literal "stop yourself from man" could just as easily be translated "stop glorifying man," "stop depending on man," "stop following after man," etc.

The greatest need of man is to reject man, and, as children, to seek the heavenly Father.” Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah.

What does it mean to walk (live) in the light of the Lord (Isa 2:5)?

  1. Be honest with yourself. This happens when we see ourselves in light of who God is (Isa 6:3; Lk 5:8).
  2. Live a holy life because God is holy (Isa 1:4; 6:3, 5; Gen 17:1; Eph 1:4; Lev 11:44; 1 Pet 1:16).
  3. Live by the word of God (Ps 119:105, 97; 1:2; Jn 6:63).
  4. Live with no hint of darkness (Jn 8:12; 1 Jn 1:5).
  5. Trust God "alone" (Isa 2:11, 17) not man (Isa 2:22).
  6. Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Mic 6:8).
  7. Clean out your heart; clean up your life; care for the fatherless and the widows (Isa 1:16-17).
  8. Have a clearly defined goal of life (Phil 3:14; Ac 20:24) as your practical expressing of seeking God and loving God and exalting God alone (Isa 2:11, 17).

How might you live in the light?

  1. Live out the gospel: Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly (Mic 3:8).
  2. Live with a goal: Ask yourself what goal you are pressing toward (Phil 3:14).
  3. Live by the Spirit: Be led by the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 19, 25).
  4. Love Scripture and others (Ps 1:2; 119:97; Lev 19:18): Isn't this the evidence that one loves God (Dt 6:5)?

Questions for study and reflection: 2:1-5

  1. What is the relationship between 2:1–5 and 2:6–4:1? How is Jerusalem described in 2:1–5 and in 2:6–4:1?
  2. Why is the “mountain” of God’s house so important that all nations will come there (2:2)? What is the significance?
  3. Notice the same verb in 2:3 and 2:5. What does this say about salvation? God’s intent for us (Gen 17:1; Eph 1:4)?
  4. What does it mean to judge (2:4)? Why do people not like to hear about judgment?


  1. Look for a common theme in 2:6-4:1. What is the problem with humanity (2:9, 11-12, 17; 3:16)? What is the most deadly sin according to church teaching (Gen 3:5; Prov 3:34; Jas 4:6)? Why?
  2. What is a common word in 2:6–8? What are the four topics? Compare to 6:3. What is the problem?
  3. How are 2:9–11 the logical result of 2:6–8? How do we find worth and significance (Lk 14:11)?
  4. Why does the worship of humanity (which is what idolatry amounts to) lead to humiliation (2:18–22). What point is being made by 2:22?
  5. What is the repeated theme among the three stanzas in this section (3:1–5, 6–8, 9–15)? What happens when we idolize or idealize our human leaders? What should we do?
  6. Why does the prophet “pick on” the women (3:16ff)? Why the “overkill” in the list of finery in 3:18–23? What is the relationship between 2:16 and 17, and between 3:18–23 and 24? How is this related to what has been said since 2:6?


  1. What is the relationship between 4:2–6 and 5:1–30? How is Jerusalem described in 4:2–6 and in 5:1–30?
  2. What is the question about the identity of the branch in 4:2?
  3. Compare the condition of Jerusalem in 2:6–4:1 with the condition described in 4:3–4. Specifically, what is the difference? Read Ex 19:5–6; Dt 28:9–10.
  4. How will the cleansing occur (4:4)? Reflect again on God’s intended purpose in judgment (Jer 31:20).


  1. Smith, Gary V. Isaiah 1-39. The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. B & H Publishing Group. Noshville, TN. 2007.
  2. Isaiah Session 2 by John Oswalt - Isaiah 2-3 (1 hr 4 min video lecture, 2012 at Francis Asbury Society).
  3. Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1999.
  4. Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah: On Eagles' Wings. The Bible Speaks Today. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1997.
  5. Kidner, Derek. New Bible Commentary. IVP. Downers Grove, IL, USA. 1994.
  6. Ortlund Jr., Raymond C. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Preaching The Word. Crossway books. Wheaton, IL, USA. 1995. (Book50 audio sermons on Isaiah by Ray Ortlund.)

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