In a dizzying move reminiscent of a flashback scene from LOST, Isaiah snaps out of this glorious vision to see the grim reality of the conditions in earthly Jerusalem. And this section runs through the rest of chapter two and the entirety of chapter three. Here are just a few of the things Isaiah says about earthly Jerusalem:
For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands; to what their own fingers have made.Isaiah 2:6-8
There’s a popular show on Netflix called Stranger Things. The show presents this idea of a world beneath the world we can see — on the show, it’s a world they call “the upside down.” It’s a replica of the “real world” with one important difference: it’s this kind of spiritual realm where these monsters move about. It’s similar to the world that Frodo experiences in The Lord of the Rings when he puts on The One Ring.
Well, Isaiah was doing this sort of thing thousands of years before Tolkien and Stranger Things — only instead of seeing a world of evil beings, Isaiah sees a world made new by God. So this vision of New Jerusalem is God’s ideal — what God is working toward. But earthly Jerusalem is “the upside down” — the place where things are not as they should be, the place where evil continues to operate. And the grandeur of the vision of the New Jerusalem fades pretty quickly when Isaiah looks at earthly Jerusalem.
As it says in this passage, God’s people have become full of worldliness. They’re really no different than, say, the Philistines, when it comes to reliance upon things from the east and fortune-tellers. These kinds of foreign spiritual practices and superstitions were forbidden in the Law of Moses. Apparently the citizens of Jerusalem want to be just like their worldly neighbors.
Earthly Jerusalem is also focused upon greed and military might. They have laid up copious amounts of silver and gold; Isaiah says there is no end to their treasures. But the land is also full of chariots and horses — which are symbols of military strength. From what we read here, it seems that the citizens of Jerusalem have put more trust in their bank accounts and their defense budget than in the Lord God Himself. That’s the meaning of the final line: Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands.
I can’t help but notice some striking parallels to modern-day America as I read Isaiah’s assessment of ancient Jerusalem. I guess some things never change. We’re equally susceptible to spiritual superstition. For instance, Pew Research Center estimates that the percentage of Americans who believe in astrology is around 30%. We routinely hear people say things like, “The universe is telling me to do this,” — as if the universe is the all-powerful force controlling everything in our lives.
I saw this article this week from some supposed self-help guru / life coach. The title of the article was, “Don’t Ignore Signs From the Universe.” And the guy went on to say that happiness is the ultimate “GPS system” in your life. He says that when you do something that makes you happy, it’s a sign from the universe that you’re on the right track and doing what you are meant to be doing. He says, “If you’re not happy with your job, or where you are living, or any other aspect of your life, that may be the universe telling you that it’s time to make a change.” (Emphasis mine.)
If you’re not happy with you job, that’s the universe telling you it’s time to make a change.
Or if you’re not happy with your spouse — the one you promised to stand beside in sickness and in health, till death do us part — then the universe might be telling you it’s time to trade her in for a newer model.
No wonder garbage like this is so popular these days. Don’t you see how that’s just a cover for our own selfish desires? “Just do whatever makes you happy….because the all-benevolent universe exists solely for your happiness.” Never mind the fact that pursuing your own selfish “happiness” is bound to hurt a lot of other people. It’s that “any other aspect of your life” that’s the most dangerous part of the article. But this is the popular spirituality for many in our world today.
Again, this is simply a cover for selfishness and sinful indulgence. I could take you to a lot of families that have been hurt by this kind of pseudo-spiritual bullcrap. They’re suffering the consequences of a Mom or a Dad who decided that running off with someone else would make them happy. That’s what “the universe” told them to do, apparently.
The idol of happiness always has been and always will be a threat to our well-being.
That’s not the only kind of parallel we find here. Like ancient Jerusalem, we can also be distracted by wealth and military might. These can function as idols in our day as well. We can be tempted to trust in our annuities and our investments and our bombs and our tanks for more security than they can really provide. Like ancient Israel, we live in a land filled with idols. That is what Isaiah sees when he looks at ancient Jerusalem and we should guard against the same thing if we’re going to truly heed Isaiah 2 as the Word of God.
God goes on to pronounce this word of judgment against earthly Jerusalem:
For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence.Isaiah 3:8
Earthly Jerusalem’s idolatry is a defiance of God Himself, just as our idolatry is a defiance of God. The mighty city has stumbled with words and deeds that stand against the Lord. Isaiah goes on to say that the citizens of Jerusalem have been crushing the poor. Therefore, at the end of chapter three, God promises to strip away the fine clothing and jewelry and perfume that matters so much to Jerusalem’s wealthy citizens. Because of this, God calls earthly Jerusalem a heap of ruins (3:6).
Again, I can’t help but notice some more parallels to our culture — parallels that, frankly, make us fairly uncomfortable. But God’s Word doesn’t always say the things we necessarily want to hear. In fact, that might be one of the surest signs that a word is from God — the fact that it’s something we don’t really want to hear.
But in Isaiah’s prophecies, judgment is always followed by hope. And this vision is no different.