“Cease Ye From Man:” Isaiah Chapter 2

"A Love Story"

Isaiah Chapter 2 - Cease Ye From Man

In Isaiah Chapter Two, the God of Israel is so angered by the ingratitude and betrayal of his own covenant people that he rises up in apocalyptic anger and cleanses the earth of his fickle, untoward human beings:

[Note: I have parsed the text into phrasal units in an effort to emphasize the poetry. 
The Arabic numerals are the verse numbers from the King James Translation.]
12  For the day of the Lord of Hosts
Soon cometh upon all nations,
Yea, upon everyone;
Yea, upon the proud and the lofty
And upon everyone who is lifted up
And he shall be brought low.…
 18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.
 19 And they shall go
Into the holes in the rocks,
And into the caves of the earth
For the fear of the Lord
Shall come upon them
 And the glory of his majesty
Shall smite them
When he ariseth to shake the earth
21 And the majesty of his glory
shall smite them
When he ariseth
To shake terribly the earth.…
The promised end is not another flood but a terrible shaking of the earth that brings to an end the rebellion of Israel and the wickedness of the nations:
17 [In that day,] the lofty looks of man
Shall be humbled
 And the haughtiness of men
Shall be bowed down
And the Lord alone
 Shall be exalted.
The closing lines of the chapter are a chilling assignation of what almost seems like an admission of failure:
22 Cease ye from man
Whose breath is in his nostrils
For wherein is he to be accounted of?

God calling it quits?

What is most surprising, then, is the unparalleled optimism of the opening verses to this same chapter. Verses one through five present us with a loving, faithful Israel, “in the last days,” exulting in the opportunity to worship their creator:

2 And it shall come to pass in the last days
When the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established
In the top of the mountains
And shall be exalted
Above the hills
And all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say
Come ye
And let us go
up to the mountain of the Lord
to the house of the God of Jacob
And he will teach us
of his ways
And we will walk
In his paths;
For out of Zion
 xxxShall go forth the law
And the word of the Lord
  xxxFrom Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge
among the Nations
And shall rebuke
many people
And they shall beat
Their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruninghooks
xxxNation shall not lift up sword against nation
xxxNeither shall they learn war any more.

So what is happening in this chapter between the God of Israel and his covenant people? In spite of the promised apocalyptic ending, what we find in this chapter is a poignant love story where the God of Heaven shares his vision of the final, happy outcome of things.  After the betrayal, where Israel turns away from its covenants and worships “the work of their own hands” (vs. 8), after years of honoring the false substitutes of wealth, and after the prideful neglect of the God who has been the source of any real prosperity, there will be a resurgence of Israel:  a new covenant people will arise who will acknowledge God’s love and goodness and seek to honor him with obedience.

In spite of, or in contrast to, the God who rises up in the terror of his might and majesty to cleanse the earth of a rebellious brood, what we discover in this chapter is a constant, loving creator who, with ineffable patience, wades through centuries of human indifference, sending prophets like Moses, Jerimiah, and Isaiah, and ultimately, a Messiah, doing what can be done to build a culture of the spiritual and the redemptive. In the end, and hopefully along the way at various points, there will be, for this patient God, righteous remnants and moments and then the promised, happy ending.

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