Interspersed throughout the first section of the book, with its dark threats of judgment, are several passages like this one that announce to Israel God's promises for a bright and glorious future. Judgment will never be God's last word.
This passage is an example of Isaiah's use of the "Zion tradition" (see Theological Themes). Mount Zion, the place God has chosen as the divine "resting place forever" (Psalm 132:14), will become, in God's own time, a place of peace and reconciliation. The nations come to learn Torah ("instruction" in v. 3) and to hear the word of the Lord. And they respond fully! They transform their weapons into agricultural implements, for, having learned Torah (v. 3), they have no more need to learn war (v. 4).
This same oracle is found in another eighth-century prophet at Micah 4:1-3. Perhaps one "borrowed" from the other or perhaps both made use of an available divine oracle. Much later, Joel takes the promise and turns it around as a satirical call to the nations to prepare for war (Joel 3:10). God's own judgment is coming, and the nations should get ready. The earlier use by Micah and Isaiah makes clear that, finally, though times of judgment will be real, God's goal for all nations is peace.
Although all promises of the end time have sometimes been called "messianic," this one makes no specific reference to God's promises to David (see "The Messianic Kingdom" in Theological Themes). The prophets' visions of God's future were expansive and open rather than narrow and particular. All of God's promises would find wonderful and surprising fulfillment--promises related to the messianic king, to Zion, to exodus and liberation, to the blessing of the nations, and to everything else God has begun with God's chosen people.
Eternal peace, of course, comes only as God's gift. Still, having been given a vision of God's future, Israel and present hearers alike are called to practice this future in the present. Isaiah does this explicitly, making the nations who seek peace role models for Israel. The nations say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD…that he may teach us his ways" (v. 3); Isaiah says to Jacob, "Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! For you have forsaken the ways of your people" (vv. 5-6). Here the nations show Israel the way.
2 In days to come
the mountain of the Lords house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 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.
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org