The prophet Isaiah offers us a remarkable poem to set us moving in the right direction this advent. It’s actually a poem that doesn’t belong only to the prophet Isaiah – the prophet Micah offers almost the exact same poetic words at one point in his writings. Which means that this shared poem is one that clearly captured the imagination of God’s people in ancient times. This shared poem, this shared song, gave expression to something decisive about their hope in God. And so this poem has survived the ravages of time and has survived the challenges of transcription from one scribe to the next – it has been handed down through generations so that we also may hear this beautiful description of what happens when God draws near in judgment and grace.
The Lord shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This song has resonated down through the centuries. It is a song that has been sung in many different contexts – giving expression to the hope of God’s people. One of the more beautiful and difficult and remarkable expressions of this song is one that comes to us from pre-civil-war America. This version of the song has been known as “Gonna lay down my burden” and as “Down by the riverside” and as “Ain’t gonna study war no more.” Here is the earliest known recording of this song, by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, recorded in 1920: