The Latter Days
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that … many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (vv. 2–3a).- Isaiah 2:1-5
Understanding certain concepts in the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses—is essential for understanding the prophets. One key concept is “the latter days,” which appears in today’s passage. Centuries before the prophet’s ministry, Moses foretold what would happen in the latter days.
The Hebrew phrase translated into English “latter days” appears several times in the Pentateuch, and it is also sometimes rendered “days to come.” Each time that it appears, this phrase refers to great blessing that is to come for the people, particularly the tribe of Judah, to whom is promised the obedience of the peoples (Gen. 49:1, 8–12). In Deuteronomy, the phrase is particularly associated with the purification of Israel through and after the exile. Moses foresaw that the people would fall into idolatry, but that the remnant would repent and be restored (Deut. 4:15–31; 30:1–10; 31:29–32:43).
When Isaiah refers to the “latter days” in today’s passage, he is looking forward to the same era. This chapter is interesting because of the way it offers both hope and warning. The warning is found in Isaiah 2:6–22, where Jacob—the people of Israel—is admonished not to fall into idolatry, for it can result only in final destruction. This warning served to keep the remnant faithful even as it resulted in the hardening of the non-elect, for the Word of the Lord always accomplishes its purposes (Isa. 55:10–11).
Isaiah’s words of hope are found in today’s passage, verses 1–5. Since God dealt with the covenant community as a corporate body, He did not discriminate between the righteous and the unrighteous when Israel went into exile. Though the Lord knew His true servants and did not condemn them to eternal death, godly people such as Daniel went into exile alongside the faithless Israelites (Dan. 1). These believers needed sustenance for their faith, which the Lord provided in Isaiah 2:1–5 and many other texts.
This passage depicts the hope of Israel in a way the ancient Jews could understand. Ancient peoples typically built their temples on mountains, and Israel was no exception, having built its temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Exalting this mountain meant that Israel’s religion would be proven the only true religion. The nations would see that Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel, is the one true God (vv. 2–3a). After the exile, God’s people would be vindicated, and the whole world would worship Him (vv. 3b–5).
Today’s passage is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, the temple of God who is exalted over all the nations (Mark 14:58; John 2:13–22). How much of this Isaiah clearly understood is hard to say, but he knew for sure that his vision meant the exaltation of Israel and that the world would know Yahweh is the one true God. The Lord showed this to him in a way His ancient people could understand, for God speaks our language when He reveals Himself. Let us thank Him for that.
Passages for Further Study