“Behold I have made you like a new, sharp threshing iron with many blades; you will thresh and pulverize mountains, and you will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them and the wind will carry them off, a storm will scatter them – but you will rejoice in the Lord; in the Holy One of Israel you will glory.”
These words give expression to God’s promise of encouragement to a despondent Israel. It is clear that the terminology is symbolic, but what do these terms symbolize? How is Israel a threshing board? What are the mountains that will be pulverized and how will it happen?
I propose looking at the particular context of this particular promise and at the broader scope of Isaiah’s prophecies in order to discover the meaning of these metaphors.
The paragraph in which this promise appears (14-16) is directly parallel to the paragraph that precedes it (8-13). Both passages open with God addressing a fearful Israel. In both passages God assures Israel that He is supporting them. And both passages conclude with the prediction that Israel will prevail over various other entities. In the first passage these entities are identified as those who contend with Israel (12) while in the passage that we are discussing they are identified as mountains and hills (15).
Who are those entities that contend with Israel? In chapter 44, Isaiah presents us with two sides of an argument. On the one hand we have Israel who was created to be God’s servant (44:21), while on the other side we have those who put their trust in idols (44:9-20). In verse 7 of that chapter (44) God encourages Israel: “Be not afraid and be not terrified, did I not make you hear of yore and tell you; and you are My witnesses: Is there a god aside from Me? There is no rock I do not know!” Israel is encouraged not to fear because they have been appointed as God’s witnesses to testify to the truth that there is no power aside from God.
Those who contend with Israel are those who attempt to challenge Israel’s testimony. They are the ones who insist that man’s devotion ought to be directed to entities that could be represented by a physical image.
The prophet promises that Israel will prevail against her enemies. Not by her own might but with the force of the testimony that God planted in her heart and on her lips. “All flesh is like grass … Grass withers and blossom fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (40:7-9). It is God’s truth that Israel carries through the corridors of time that is the threshing iron which destroys the mountains – the ideologies that run afoul of Israel’s testimony.
The prophet employs a similar metaphor in chapter 49, where the servant of God proclaims that his mouth had been set as a sharp sword and that he has been appointed as a smooth arrow in God’s quiver (49:2). The words of the prophet are the weapons that accomplish God’s purpose.
The prophet’s view of world history culminates with the House of the Lord established above all the mountains (2:2). God’s guiding hand moves mankind inexorably towards that goal. God’s servant; Israel, is an integral part of the plan. Israel is charged with the preservation of God’s testimony – the eternal word of God. The chosen nation testifies to the truth of God’s oneness in every generation and in all the lands of their dispersal. All falsehood, no matter how much political, social, financial or military might is invested in that lie, will be broken against the rock of God’s truth (54:17).
The prophet encourages Israel to walk by the light of the Lord (2:5). As Israel walks by God’s light and only by God’s light so will they rejoice in the ultimate triumph of the truth of their testimony (25:9; 41:16; Habakkuk 3:18). Then will the nations walk by our light (60:3) as the knowledge of God fills the earth like the waters cover the sea (11:9).
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal