Competing High Places: God versus Man


Competing High Places: God versus Man

Isaiah 2

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it. (Isa 2:2)

Main Idea: God levels all human idols, establishing and exalting his temple, causing the nations to stream to him.

  1. Peace: The Mountain of the Lord’s Temple Exalted (2:1-5)
    1. The exaltation of the mountain of the Lord
    2. The amazing streaming of the nations—uphill!
    3. Missions: come, and say, “Come!”
  2. Shame: Full of Things, Empty of God (2:6-9)
    1. Full of superstitions, not of true religion
    2. Full of silver and gold, not of true wealth
    3. Full of horses and chariots, not of true power
    4. Full of idols, not of the Lord
  3. Terror: Lofty Things Humbled (2:10-21)
    1. The day of the Lord proclaimed
    2. The day of the Lord described: the lofty humbled, the Lord exalted
    3. The result: fleeing in sheer terror
  4. Invitation: Stop and Come (2:22,5)
    1. Stop trusting in man.
    2. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
    3. Come, and say, “Come!”

Since the beginning of the church Christians have speculated about the end of the world. Perhaps no more poignant moment in history for this speculation occurred on August 24, 410, the day Rome fell to the Visigoths. Many thought the end of the world was imminent. Augustine, the great bishop of Hippo in North Africa, took quite a different view. In his masterpiece, The City of God, Augustine saw in history two different cities battling each other on infinitely unequal terms: the City of Man, represented by Rome; and the City of God, represented by the true Christian church. At the core of the City of Man is one driving spirit: love of self, resulting in contempt of God. At the core of the City of God is an opposite driving spirit: love of God, resulting in contempt of self. The story of history is this: two cities battling for glory—the City of God and the City of Man; love of God vs. love of self. The outcome of that struggle is the topic of Isaiah 2.

Peace: The Mountain of the Lord’s Temple Exalted

Isaiah 2:1-5

This magnificent chapter is a vision seen by Isaiah concerning “the last days.” The Bible reveals plainly that we are now in the last days, and we have been ever since Jesus Christ came to earth (Heb 1:2; 1 John 2:18). We are now in the final phase of the magnificent redemptive plan God conceived before the foundation of the earth. The essence of that plan is his glory in the salvation of sinners from every tribe, language, people, and nation on earth. Isaiah sees it as a miraculous streaming of the nations to the mountain of the Lord’s house (v. 2). As it is exalted above all mountains and hills (i.e., idols), all nations will stream to it.

The idea of the “mountain of the Lord’s house” has its origin in the temple of the Lord that Solomon built in Jerusalem. But now Christians have been instructed in the New Testament to understand both the mountain and the temple of the Lord differently. In Hebrews 12:18-22 the author says, “You have not come to what could be touched. . . . Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God.” In John 2:19 Jesus called his body the temple. Hebrews asserts that, with the death of Christ, animal sacrifices would never again be needed or accepted by God. So what is this “Lord’s house” that attracts all nations in the last days? Some Christian interpreters think it refers to a rebuilt temple at the end of history or to a temple established during the millennial reign of Christ in Jerusalem.[1]But another way to understand this “house” is the streaming of the nations to faith in Jesus that results from the preaching of the gospel of Christ to all nations. As the clear proclamation of his life, death, and resurrection exalts Christ, people from every nation on earth will be moved to follow him. They then become part of the “Lord’s house” spiritually (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-9).

The vision that Isaiah had was of an amazing river of all nations streaming to the exalted mountain of the Lord. As a river physically flowing up a steep mountain would be clearly supernatural, contrary to all laws of physics, so all nations spiritually streaming to worship the Jewish God is supernatural, contrary to all expectations. The movement of these peoples is spiritual, not physical; Christianity requires no actual pilgrimages to Jerusalem as the Jews in the old covenant did three times a year and as Muslims are to do to Mecca once in their lifetime. The streaming to the Lord’s house is the lifelong following of Christ that his disciples make, a journey that ends in the new Jerusalem at the end of the age. As Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6; emphasis added). The Christian pilgrimage begins when sinners hear the gospel clearly and by faith see the exaltation of Christ, the infinite superiority of Jesus to all idols. They begin to pursue Jesus, resulting in an eternal place in God’s house as “living stones” in an eternal “spiritual house” (1 Pet 2:5). This is the amazing streaming of the nations that Isaiah foresaw.

Isaiah 2:3 gives an additional insight that is vital for us concerning missions. The very same people who are already on the pilgrimage are inviting others to join them. While we travel to our heavenly destination, we are to persuade others to join us. We are both to “come” and to “say, ‘Come!’” As it says in Revelation 22:17, “Both the Spirit and the bride [the church] say, ‘Come!’ Let anyone who hears, say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the water of life as a gift.”

And at the mountain of the Lord’s house we will find the King, Jesus, who dispenses laws by which we will walk as we journey to heaven. The Great Commission says that disciples are to be taught to obey everything Christ has commanded (Matt 28:19). So in Isaiah 2:3 King Jesus will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths. His word will transform every aspect of our daily lives. And only those people whose lives are being so transformed by the law of the King are truly on that pilgrimage to the heavenly house of the Lord.

The ultimate result of the King’s laws is the destruction of all sin between people. As formerly warring peoples come to faith in Christ, they become one in the Spirit and change their entire way of relating together. The imagery is beautiful: beating swords into plows and spears into pruning knives. Hatred between people is wasteful and destructive. As Christ’s gospel takes hold of human hearts, people no longer war with one another, but they devote themselves to producing a rich harvest. The end of all wars is promised in this passage, but it will not occur until the second coming of Christ, no matter what diplomacy occurs at the United Nations.

Shame: Full of Things, Empty of God

Isaiah 2:6-9

Verses 6-9 make it plain that the house of Jacob is spiritually corrupted. They have imbibed the superstitions of the East and the occult practices of the Philistines, turning their backs on the true religion given them by God. They are rich with silver and gold (v. 7), not of the true wealth only God can give. There is no limit to their chariots (v. 7), but they know nothing of the true power that comes from the Lord. Ultimately, they are idolaters, bowing down to created things rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25). This brings the human race very low, into a degraded state (Isa 2:9). This is the shame of the house of Jacob, and because of it, God abandoned his people (v. 6).

Terror: Lofty Things Humbled

Isaiah 2:10-21

For the rest of the chapter, Isaiah describes the terror that is coming on the earth because of humanity’s idolatries. He warns of a “day belonging to the Lord” that is coming, a day in which God’s holiness will be vindicated and man’s sins punished severely. Isaiah says it plainly in verse 12: “For a day belonging to the Lord of Armies is coming.” This is the power of the Word of God, to warn us of the coming wrath and urge us to flee to the refuge that he alone can provide.

The word “Armies” (Hb tsebaoth, traditionally “Hosts”) here probably refers to the legions of angels who surround Yahweh’s throne and do his bidding (1 Kgs 22:19). It can refer to the stars—the “heavenly host”—that God created and that glorify him (Neh 9:6). In the prophets in general it is also a reminder that Yahweh is sovereign over the human armies of Israel as well as those of all the nations, so he directs them to march out and determines which of them succeed.

On the day belonging to the Lord, he will reveal his “majestic splendor” (v. 10) and will alone be exalted (v. 11). “Lofty” things are in direct competition with God’s glory; they are idols. Isaiah describes all the competing high places and lofty things that exalt themselves against the glory of God: naturally lofty things—cedars of Lebanon, oaks of Bashan, towering mountains, high hills; man-made lofty things—every lofty tower and every fortified wall (military pride), trading ships (commerce), stately vessels (pleasure vehicles). The most direct competitor to the glory of God is human pride (v. 11). Just as Satan’s pride led to his attempt to take God’s throne in heaven, resulting in his downfall (Isa 14), so human pride soars like the tower of Babylon, seeking to exalt self and belittle God. God is determined to pull all the soaring ambitions of humanity down so he alone will be exalted in that day. He is jealous for his glory and will brook no rivals.

A powerful picture of this occurred during the Communist era in Eastern Europe. In downtown Budapest the Hungarian Communist party erected the Stalin monument, completed in December 1951 as a gift for Josef Stalin. It was torn down on October 23, 1956, during Hungary’s October Revolution. The statue was more than seventy-five feet high! The people pulled it down by placing a thick steel rope around its neck and using acetylene torches to cut the feet. After an hour, it toppled (Sebestyen, Twelve Days, 118–19). Similarly, God will come with a fiery indignation and a passion for his glory and will topple all the monuments to human pride that sinners have erected to challenge his supremacy.

On that day sinners will be fleeing into the rocks and hiding in caves from the terror of the Lord as he reveals his glory. The fear of the Lord at that time will not be by faith but by sight. All the nations of the earth will see his glory as he comes with the holy angels to judge the whole earth, and they will run from terror of the Lord and dread of his splendor. They will throw away to the moles and bats their idols, and they will seek some place of refuge when God rises to shake the earth (vv. 10,19-22). They will realize at that time the wickedness of their idolatry, and they will reject their idols, but it will be too late—the era of faith and the open door of the gospel will have closed with the coming of that dreadful day.

Invitation: Stop and Come

Isaiah 2:22,5

This chapter levels everything that the human race can trust in and exalts the true and living God. The clear application of this doctrine is given in verse 22: “Put no more trust in a mere human, who has only the breath in his nostrils. What is he really worth?” Stop trusting in your own righteousness, your religious works and efforts, to save you from sin. Stop trusting in your own efforts to keep yourself healthy and safe, whether individually—by healthy living, exercise, medicine—or nationally, by lavish military expenditures. Stop trusting in human wealth: gold, silver, money, possessions, investments. Stop trusting in human pleasures: entertainment, food, clothing, music, movies, amusement parks, material pleasures. Turn your back on every idol that clamors for the highest place in your heart. Repent from these false gods!

And stop being enamored with human glory. Seeing what Jesus has accomplished at the cross and the empty tomb, how can any human achievement compare? So it’s time to level the lofty or high places erected by human pride. Level all the Olympic gold medals, the Nobel prizes, the Fortune 500 list, the World Series and Super Bowl championships, the mighty emperors, the ridiculous Oscar and Emmy winners. Level them all! The Lord Jesus alone will be exalted someday. Therefore, why not exalt him now? Why not live by his Word now?

And as we are making our pilgrimage to the heavenly Zion, we are commanded to be witnesses to others who have not yet begun the journey. We are to both “come” and to “say, ‘Come!’” We are to make progress in holiness day by day in submission to Christ’s law, and we are to share the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Why do you think people are so fascinated in the question, Are we in the last days?
  2. How do you understand the exaltation of the “mountain of the Lord’s house”? Do you think it refers to a literal temple to which the nations will stream during the millennium or to the spiritual streaming of the nations through the advance of the gospel around the world? How does 1 Peter 2:4-5 give us insight into a possible spiritual understanding of “the Lord’s house”? See also Ephesians 2:21-22.
  3. How does this chapter show the zeal God has for his own glory above all other competing high places? Why is it vital for missions that the church exalt the glory of God now and level competing high places by clear preaching and teaching?
  4. What is the significance of the twin command, “Come” and “Say, ‘Come!’”? How does it point to both sanctification (growth in holiness) and missions/evangelism? How are both vital for Christians?
  5. How does Revelation 22:17 harmonize with “Come” and “Say, ‘Come!’”?
  6. How does this text speak to your heart about the need to be involved in missions? What specific resolutions would you like to make about that?
  7. How do verses 6-9 convict us about various forms of idolatry? How does Romans 1:25 teach us what idolatry is? How do you see people today struggling with the same forms of idolatry listed in verses 6-9?
  8. What do verses 10-21 teach us about the coming day of the Lord?
  9. How is the desire to run and hide from the coming terror depicted so clearly in Isaiah 2 really an excellent theme evangelists and missionaries should use now to preach the gospel and call people to flee to Christ?
  10. How are verses 22 and 5 excellent applications for Isaiah 2?