Isaiah 1-39 - Lesson 2

By Harold Shank

Real Future (Isaiah 2-4)


  1. The student can describe what life was like in Jerusalem in the latter part of the 8th century B.C.
  2. The student can explain the contrast between God's hoped for future and the lived reality in Jerusalem.
  3. The student can explain the nature of the judgment God planned for the people.


  1. A Bible for each student
  2. A map on which to locate Jerusalem
  3. A worksheet listing the main points of the lesson


Isa 2-4 continues to explore the relationship between God and Jerusalem. These three chapters alternate between a description of the current relationship between God and a vision of what might be.

Setting the stage

  1. Review
    1. The opening chapter introduced the theme of the relationship between God and Jerusalem.
    2. The three metaphors of Isa 1 express both the reality of the divine human relationship in 8th century Jerusalem and the potential of the divine-human relationship.
      1. Father God wanted a son who knew him, but Israel was a rebellious son who said the right things but lived the wrong way.
      2. Dr. God wanted a patient who was healthy, but God realized that it would take drastic surgery to restore Jerusalem to health.
      3. Husband God wanted a faithful wife in Jerusalem but she had become a harlot. She was as impure as bad beer and unrefined metal. God still wanted her back.
  2. Preview
    1. The contrast between the reality and the potential continues in Isa 2-4.
    2. The potential begins and ends the section.
      1. 2:2-4 describes Jerusalem as the hub of world instruction and peace.
      2. 4:2-5 describes restored Jerusalem as a place of prosperity and security.
      3. The reality includes three qualities spelled out in 2:5-4:1.
        1. Idolatry.
        2. Injustice.
        3. Impending destruction [or Invasion, anticipating 5:26ff].

Learning Experiences

  1. A rich potential that awaits the faithful-Read 2:2-4; 4:2-6
    1. To those who "walk in the light of the LORD" the future is exceedingly bright. There are at least 7 qualities of that future (for the people in the 8th century) in 2:2-4 and 4:2-6.
      1. Jerusalem will be a central focus of worship.
      2. Jerusalem will have a world-wide influence (continuing the world-wide focus of Gen 12:1f and Ex 19:6) and anticipating the "go into all the world" of the great commission. Evangelism has its roots here.
      3. The word of the LORD will go out (note the reference in 1:10).
      4. World peace (anticipating the prince of peace in Isa 9).
      5. Agriculture will flourish-all will have enough in contrast to the contemporary Jerusalem (and also our contemporary world situation) where some had enough, but many did not.
      6. The people will be forgiven of their sins. Note the word for filth is also used of vomit and fecal material (28:8; 36:12).
      7. Jerusalem will be a place of safety (using two metaphors of the wilderness wondering and a new image of a pavilion or canopy).
    2. These circumstances all coincide rarely in human history, but they do occur. Consider how the people in the following texts may have sensed the reality of this potential relationship with God.
      1. Isa 37:30-38
      2. Luke 7:22
      3. Acts 4:32
  2. The unfortunate realities that persists in human communities-Read 2:6-4:1
    1. Idolatry
      1. "Idolatry" has a range of meanings from a physical object thought to be god, or to represent a god (see Isa 44-45 for an extended use of this meaning), to the substitution of any force or interest in the place of the LORD God. Isa 2-3 focus on the second meaning.
      2. Isaiah points to at least four such substitutions taking place in his own day in Isa 2:6-11.
        1. 2:6-relying on other sources of truth.
        2. 2:7a-relying on consumables and economics.
        3. 2:7b-relying on military.
        4. 2:8-relying on achievement and personally constructed sources of security (note the multiple uses of the words pride, haughty, and humbled in this chapter).
      3. How well do these substitutions transfer to the contemporary world? What range of idolatry exists today?
      4. Keep in mind that Isaiah is writing to people who go to temple, who offer sacrifice, who apparently "go to church three times a week." What implications do you see in the people he is addressing?
    2. Injustice
      1. In addition to idolatry, Isaiah returns to the qualities lacking in the community life of Jerusalem. He broadens his description so that the people understand how their community is being evaluated by God.
      2. His deeper description of injustice includes three aspects:
        1. The people who are responsible-3:1-10.
          1. Identify the leaders of Jerusalem. Isaiah points to at least 11 different leaders in the Jerusalem community. See 3:1-3.
          2. He describes the coming chaos when God removes those leaders from their positions. See 3:4-10.
          3. This section speaks about the fulfillment of Isa 1:28.
        2. The people who are being hurt-3:12-15.
          1. Note the use of "my people" and "his people."
            1. One major concern in reading the prophets is identifying who is referred to by the pronouns.
            2. Often it is not clear or the reader must carefully study to be certain about who is being discussed.
          2. The "my people" and "his people" are the people who are being hurt by the injustice of Jerusalem.
            1. God calls them his own. God is the "my" and "his."
            2. See the same thinking in Psa 68:1-5; Matt 25:44-45; James 2:5.
          3. The people who benefit from the injustice-3:16-4:1.
            1. Women's actions.
              1. Look up the words "wantonly," "mincing" and "tinkling" (used in the RSV).
              2. Isaiah is sarcastic and critical not because he is against the fine things women wear and the fashion shows that reflect those products, but because their luxury causes the pain of those in vv 11-15 or because they enjoy their luxury without a thought to the pain others endure.
            2. Women's fashion.
              1. Read 3:18-23. There is no verb and the passage has the effect of going overboard to show the depth of the insensitivity.
              2. Fashions change with each culture so most of the items on this list are unknown to us today.
            3. In the big picture of 8th century Jerusalem there were children without parents and women without husbands who lived crushed and grinding lives at the bottom of the social structure alongside the high society women and their pampered children who lived at the highest levels of luxury. Both groups were worshippers of the LORD, prayed to God, went to temple, and read the word of God.


  1. Compare the injustice and idolatry of eighth century society with:
    1. The world of Jesus and the first century.
    2. The 20th century which has been called the bloodiest century in human history.
    3. The city where you live.
  2. What injustices exist in the contemporary world?
    1. What injustices do people at in your congregation experience?
    2. What injustices do people in your city experience?
    3. What are the clearest cases of massive injustice in the contemporary world?
  3. What reasons for hope might contemporary people find in Isaiah? Despite the negative nature of many of the verses, some of the most hopeful texts are found here. How can we find hope within such dissonance? Does hope always exist within dissonance?

Assignment – Read Isaiah 5

Additional Study (Use this section if the class will spend more than one week on Isa 2-4)

  1. The word "day" dominates these 3 chapters.
    1. Note these occurrences: 2:2, 11, 12, 17, 20; 3:7, 18; 4:1, 2.
    2. There are several ways in which "day" is used in the Old Testament.
      1. The prophets spent more of their time delivering God's evaluation of the contemporary world than in predicting the distant future. When they did reflect on the future, today's reader must keep in mind that most of their future is now our past. Just as we hope for a "better day" some of which may come tomorrow or in ten years or in 25 years, so the prophets had a similar perspective. The common line to explain this feature is to say the prophets were more forth tellers than foretellers. They were "telling forth" God's message to the people at the time. As part of God's evaluation of their community was a message about the future (some of which is our past) that involved foretelling upcoming events.
      2. In pre-prophetic times the "day of the Lord" was a time when God would save, rescue and protect his people. It might be a more spiritual version of the contemporary "have a good day." The prophets turned the concept upside down as a means of warning the people about their uncertain future. The "day of the Lord" would be a day when God punished his people. Most of the uses of the word "day" in Isa 2-4 fall into this latter category.
      3. It is likely that when the prophets speak of the future they did not have a specific date in mind, but rather a set of circumstances that would come into place and result in realization of the potential relationship with God and in community. On the day when all the correct factors are in place, this reality will result. Those circumstances may have been in place (briefly) at different points in history. For example, the people may have had a sense having realized the potential of 2:2-4 and 4:2-6 in the time of Hezekiah (which we will study in Isa 36-37), while from our perspective the correct circumstances came together in the life of Jesus, the early church, and indeed at certain points in our own time.
  2. Impending destruction-2:9-22.
    1. Isaiah uses several metaphors to describe what is coming to those who rely on idols and practice injustice.
      1. The full (2:6-7) will be emptied (3:1, 6-7; 4:24-4:1 [note the phrase "take away"]).
      2. The high (2:11) will be brought low (12:9, 11, 17).
    2. The coming judgment is described with a series of reversals. There are at least 10 mentioned in 2:12-22.
    3. Isaiah mentions all the symbols of strength and power in his age in 2:12-16.
      1. These might be equivalent of symbols of strength such as the Sears Tower, the Rock of Gibraltar, nuclear weapons and titanium.
      2. Students of Isaiah differ on what Isaiah means by these metaphors. All of the following are suggested. The symbols of strength and power refer to:
        1. The leaders of Jerusalem.
        2. The defensive systems of Judah.
        3. Sites of false worship.
        4. The symbols of affluence.
      3. Isaiah refers to the wealthy and leaders fleeing to rocks and caves and details their activity there (note the humor of the people giving their precious idols to the vermin in the caves rather than carry them any further) in 2:10, 19-22.
    4. The most disturbing parts of this section are the terror passages. Note the clear source of the terror in these passages: 2:10, 19, and 21.
      1. Later in our study we will spend an entire lesson on the violence of God, but here we simply must be content with what Isaiah tells us.
      2. The critical data includes these facts:
        1. Jerusalem was a place of extreme human violence: 1:15; 18 (scarlet and crimson refer to shed human blood), 21; 2:7b; 3:14- 15.
        2. To those who were oppressed, the coming terror on the uncaring ruling class in Jerusalem was a word of hope and may be the context in which we are to read 2:2-4 and 4:2-6.
    5. God announces the coming destruction well in advance and pleads for a change of heart: 1:18-20; 2:5, 22. Compare the promised violence of God with these passages:
      1. Mt 25:41.
      2. Mt 27:27-31.
      3. Acts 5:1-10.
      4. 2 Thess 1:7-10.
  3. Summary Verses
    1. Isaiah regularly includes verses that seem to summarize his main point. They are helpful capsules of what is being discussed.
    2. There are two verses in this section that are summary verses. They bear the theological message of Isa 1-4:
      1. Isaiah 2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
      2. Isaiah 3:8 For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen; because their speech and their deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence.
    3. Note the common metaphor of walking.
    4. Think of other biblical uses of walking (Mic 6:8; John 8:12; Rom 6:4; 1 John 1:1ff).
    5. The Hebrew word for "walk" is the root from which post-Christian Judaism coined their term for "ethics."
    6. Reflect on contemporary uses of the metaphor.
  4. Remnant
    1. Despite all the talk of judgment in Isa 1-12, the destruction of the people was not a complete destruction.
    2. Note how the following versus talk about survivors and the righteous who live beyond the destruction: 1:9, 19-20, 27-28; 2:9-10; 3:9, 13-14; 4:3-4.
  5. Metaphors for injustice in 3:11-15
    1. Explore the metaphors used to describe the effects of injustice. There are at least five.
    2. Show a picture of an old grinding stone or millstone. What picture does the sadistic use of such a tool depict? Keep in mind that Isaiah lived in a pre-technological age. His descriptions of pain would be drawn from the things around him.
    3. Who is oppressed today?
    4. What image might they use to describe their oppression?
  6. Caves in Isa 2.
    1. The Jerusalem oppressors flee to nearby caves in 2:10, 19-22.
    2. Consider showing a picture of one of the Qumran caves.
      1. See for example:
      2. David North, a deacon at Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, also has pictures of the Qumran community on line:
    3. Those who have been to Israel may have pictures and experiences to share about the caves in and around Jerusalem.

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