The beginning of the second chapter of Isaiah is the vision of God’s abiding shalom come to earth, as a gift for all people. It’s the peace of God which not only passes all understanding, but which removes even the instruments of potential conflict from the face of the earth.
Weapons of war are beaten into tools of trade. And the ways of warcraft are no longer taught.
God’s peace will one day reign, says Isaiah.
Hallelujah, for that.
And, yet, in this passage God is identified specifically as the “God of Jacob,” and the peace is directed towards the “house of Jacob.”
In this passage of peace the great patriarch “Jacob” is invoked twice.
“So what?,” some might say. God goes by many titles in the Hebrew Bible, and Jacob (whose name later changes to “Israel”) is the father of the nation.
Move on, because there is nothing to see here.
But, Isaiah could have used any of the other titles of God here. He could have invoked the names of Abraham, Isaac, or Moses.
But, he didn’t.
Instead he invites us to conjure up Jacob in our imaginations.
The interesting point here is that in this passage of peace/ shalom, we’re reminded of a patriarch whose life seems to be the very antithesis of shalom.
Jacob is the guy who picked fights in the womb. His birth was a race, which he lost, but in which he was reaching out to grab the ankle of his brother to hold him back. His childhood and youth are chock full of conflict, lies, theft, and sibling rivalry par excellence. When he goes out on his own, his most intimate experience of God was a wrestling match. He has conflict getting married, and then in his relationships with his wives (ahem…) there is great consternation and ill will.
And then, as if that isn’t enough, eleven of his brothers take it upon themselves to take the twelfth brother, beat him to a pulp, throw him down a hole, and sell him as a slave to a bunch of foreigners.
Yeah, this family puts the “fun” back in “dysfunctional.” Jacob is the poster-child for conflict.
And, I think that’s the point here.
That “the God of Jacob” is the harbringer of Shalom for the whole world… is a point that is meant to wake everyone up.
In a way, it’s a punch line. But, when the laughter clears, the truth remains: if God can raise up a holy nation from the family of Jacob/ Israel, then God can be the impetus for bringing true peace on earth.
Politically, the topics of nuclear weapons and the defense budget are back on the front page. Some want to slash both, and some think that such thinking is a short-sighted fool’s errand. But, whichever side of the debate you’re on… how likely is it that all weapons in our nation, and all nations, will all be broken and repurposed? How likely is it that all wars will not only cease, but the craft of war will no longer be taught or encouraged?
Well, those are punchlines too. And they always have been.
But, our God turns punchlines into holy reality. And, when we see the Kingdom of God, that’s what it will look like. Weapons into tools. All nations together with no need of war.
And, just before you get discouraged, or think is crazy talk…notice how in this passage God’s peace in our world and our lives does not depend on us having our act together. God works in spite of us.
It is God who does it.
And, it’s Jesus who came to begin it.
O come, O come Emmanuel.