The Mountain of the Lord

This blog was intended to be primarily Anglican, and I do intend to start looking at the readings from the lectionary, but I haven’t been able to get to an Anglican service in a while due to illness, and the fact that I can’t get a lift before 10am.

So, lately, I have been hanging out at a local evangelical/ pentecostal church.

The most recent sermon was on a the topic of a single verse (verse 2) in Isaiah chapter 2:

“In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.”

I am aware of course that there is a range of differing eschatological positions, and that the standard Anglican eschatology is basically preterist – i.e. (if I understand it correctly) that the majority of prophecy has already been fulfilled and/ or is to be taken metaphorically rather than literally.

I was raised in a church (an American Baptist from Grand Rapids, Michigan in fact!) that took the Pre-Trib, Pre-Millennial view (with the idea that the Rapture would occur literally, prior to a literal Tribulation and followed by a literal Millennium of the rule of the Kingdom of God) very seriously.

Eschatology is a branch of Theology that isn’t generally popular, but Tim LaHaye’s ‘Left Behind’ series (which advocated that same Pre-Trib, Pre-Millennial view) brought it into the public view and made it popular.

But having read a few of those books, one thing they did for me was to make me seriously doubt that I had it all figured out or that the view I had been brought up with was the one true interpretation it was presented as being.

So back to Isaiah 2. It would seem that the basic options for interpreting this verse (or rather passage, as it’s really just asking for misinterpretation if you take a single verse out of context) are either:

– that a literal temple will be established in the literal Jerusalem (as the rest of the passage suggests), at a future time (or that this literally happened at some past point that would have been future when it was written), OR

– that the temple is metaphorical, and that this metaphorical temple will be established (in either the literal or a metaphorical Jerusalem) in the future or has already been established. (Although once a passage is taken to be metaphorical, the time element can legitimately be ignored.)

The speaker in this case, without any apparent reference to the rest of the passage or the context, what it meant to the original writer or readers, or how the passage has traditionally been understood, spiritualised the meaning of the verse, suggesting that the ‘mountain’ referred to success, prosperity, and the proliferation of the Gospel, that the ‘Temple’ referred to men’s hearts, and that this was something that would happen in the future but that the ‘Last Days’ were now.  By extension, it was used to suggest that the future of the local church was very bright.

It is not my intention to slander anybody of course nor to offend or upset the speaker in question. (If he is reading this, I would be happy to discuss it!) But this struck me as a particularly careless handling of Scripture. Not because it wasn’t a possible interpretation (it fits with the second option, although what ‘Jerusalem’ represents wasn’t addressed because it was outside of the scope of that single verse), but rather because the suggestion really was that, if you take a verse out of context, it’s alright to make it mean anything you want it to mean, and that the original intention is of no consequence. Of course, in some ways, that would seem to be the prevailing view anyway.

The rest of the passage continues:

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

The line ‘They will beat their swords into plowshares’ is a very famous phrase which is often quoted at memorial services for servicemen, in a wish to end the ongoing futility of war, so there is a lot in the passage that wasn’t even touched on in the sermon, and the passage immediately following this one is about the ‘Day of the Lord’ which is usually understood to refer to judgement rather than blessing and reward.

What does it matter whether or not we get our eschatology right? Do we need to know what is coming up in the future? Do we need to have a right understanding of the chronology of end-time events? Will it alter our thinking and behaviour if we have different ideas about the flow of history, the direction of events and the ultimate end-game? Or should we just be faithful in every age?

There is a sense in which Scripture can be understood to have multiple fulfillments so, for example, some of the passages in Isaiah which are clearly understood to be Messianic in nature – foretelling the coming of Christ – may have had an early fulfillment (a ‘shadow’ of things to come), a fulfillment at the time of Christ, and/ or possibly an ultimate fulfillment at the end of the age. So from that point of view it may be possible to accommodate multiple interpretations without one cancelling out the other. As a Messianic Jewish Anglican who tends to see a future for Israel, the Jewish people and Torah in the church, I would support that ‘multiple fulfillments’ view.

But does that make it possible for Isaiah 2:2 to be telling us that the future of the local church in Cornwall is prosperity and success in evangelism? It seems a bit of a stretch to me.

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