It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and 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 the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and 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 anymore.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD.
These words poignantly capture the vision and hope of what Israel was called to be. The city of Jerusalem is described here as a sort of lighthouse to all the nations. It is lifted as a beacon to which all the nations flow like a river. As the people of the world make this pilgrimage to Jerusalem they state the reason for their journey; that they may learn the ways of Yahweh. In this way the highest of hopes Israel, God's express purpose for creating Israel, is fulfilled; God's law is not limited to his chosen people. Instead, all the nations see the worth of Yahweh's teaching and therefore want to participate in it. As a result, God's law goes out from Jerusalem and God himself acts as judge over the whole world. The image of God as judge is a hopeful one because God is one true and just judge who will always rule righteously. God's judgment is, in fact, so thoroughly just that it eliminates war. The justice of God brings a peace so radical that the instruments of war, swords and spears, are no longer useful so they are converted into plows and pruning hooks, instruments that cultivate food and therefore, life. Having been taught by Yahweh, the nations no longer have need to learn war any more.
In a world like ours, it is tempting to see words like these as overly optimistic, even fanciful, unrealistic. We all long for peace but isn't this a little naive?
It is worth noting that these words were written at a time when swords and spears were prevalent and an immediate danger to the people of Judah. While it is difficult to date these words with precision, they were surely uttered in the shadow of the threatening menace of Assyrian power. In comparison to the Assyrian superpower, Judah was a relatively weak and helpless nation, no match for Assyria's armies. In Isaiah's day, it would have seemed that the only reason to say "that all the nations shall flow in to it (Jerusalem)" would be if the armies of the nations were flooding into the city gates to conquer and pillage it.
In contrast to that fearful situation, Isaiah reminds Judah of what they have been called to as the people of God: a people who walk in the light of the Lord. This vision of what all the other nations will one day do concludes by reminding the house of Jacob what they must do now. They must walk in the light that they have been given and trust God. With the mighty Assyrian army on the doorstep of Jerusalem, it was tempting for God's people to grasp at any available political alliances that might save them. Instead, Isaiah urges them to trust God to deliver them, to walk in his light, and have faith that God could accomplish the vision promised in these verses.
In our world that kind of faith and trust will always seem naive. There is really no denying that. As long as we hold to the belief that trust in God is more powerful than tanks, we will not be counted among the sensible. But Isaiah's vision is not one that fails to take into account the harsh realities of our world. It simply goes on to also take into account the God who is mightier than any army. It is ultimately this God, not our military and political intrigues, who will bring lasting peace to our world. Trusting in that promise, we are called to be a people who walk in God's light whatever the circumstances.