Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Advent 1

With the start of a new church year and with the Revised Common Lectionary coming back to Year A, I’m starting a new weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. I kick off the inaugural post with a reading from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 2.1-5

1 The word that Isaiah, son of Amos, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.2 And at the end of days, it will happen that the mountain of the house of YHWH will be established as the highest of all mountains, and it will rise above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 And because the Torah will go out from Zion and the word of YHWH will go out from Jerusalem, many peoples will come and they will say, “Let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob. And He will teach us His way and we will walk in His way.” 4 And he will judge between nations and he will maintain justice for many peoples and they will hammer their swords into mattocks and their spears into pruning knives and nation will not lift up sword against nation and they will not learn war again. 5 O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of YHWH.

Those of you familiar with New Orleans jazz may recognize Isaiah 2.4 as the source of the famous song, Down by the Riverside, whose lyrics proclaim that “I ain’t gonna study war no more.” Of further preaching interest, verses 2-4 occur verbatim in Micah 4.1-3. And of the most preaching interest, the words from verse 4, “they will hammer their swords into mattocks and their spears into pruning knives” appear Joel 3.10, but with two important differences. The first difference is that in Joel, the verb “hammer” is an imperative. Rather than predict the change, the prophet Joel commands. The second difference is in the objects being hammered. Rather than hammering “swords” into “mattocks” and “spears” into “pruning knives,” the prophet Joel commands the nations to blacksmith their gardening implements into weapons!

The upshot of looking at Isaiah’s words in light of their two prophetic parallels is manifold, and if nothing else, it teaches that preaching on prophecy requires an eye for context. To tell a congregation that Isaiah requires them to change their warlike ways into gardening is no less misleading than telling them that Joel requires them to sharpen their gardening tools for battle.

To the end of contextualizing Isaiah 2.1-5, the beginning of verse 2 looms large. As Isaiah says, all of the future verbs in 2-4, all of the rising and flowing and coming and hammering, take place “at the end of days.” Placing the prophet’s words in their eschatological context transforms them from an ethical program into gospel promise. Through the prophet Isaiah (and the prophet Micah and even the prophet Joel), God promises that our present tendency to turn even the most benign tools into weapons will be undone.

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