“I will extend peace to her like a river,” Yahweh promises Jerusalem (66:12a). How is peace like a river?
The parallel line that follows helps explain: “And the glory of nations like an overflowing stream.” Once, the glory of Jerusalem flowed out of Jerusalem to Babylon - the glory of people, gold, treasure. Now the glory is flowing back in. Once the Euphrates overflowed its banks and flooded Judah (Isaiah 8:8), but now the overflow will not drown Jerusalem but water her. The structure of the Hebrew of verse 12 confirms the parallel, suggesting that the reception of the glory of nations is peace:
I stretch out to her
A. as a river
A’. and as a stream overflowing
B’. glory of nations.
That’s peace like a river.
Plus: Yahweh “stretches” (natah) peace like a river. Throughout Isaiah, Yahweh has “stretched” His hand against Judah (5:25; 9:12, 17, 21) and against the nations (10:4; 14:26-27). Now He’s going to stretch out peace, as He stretched out heaven as a tent curtain at the beginning (40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12) and as He stretched out His hand over the sea to let Israel escape from Egypt (23:11). When He stretches out His hand for deliverance instead of judgment - that’s peace like a river.
The previous verse says the same with maternal rather than geographic imagery. When Jerusalem gives birth, her children will nurse at her breast and be satisfied (v. 11). The parallel phrase says that Zion’s children will be “delighted with her moving glory” (ziyz kabod). kabod is repeated in verse 12, and it’s the same kabod in both cases: the kabod of the nations. Zion will be able to nurse chubby, healthy children because she is herself nourished by the abundance that flows to her from the nations.
That’s peace like a river: Zion’s breasts full to comfort and satisfy her children.
Behind all this is the original peaceful river, the river of Eden that watered the well-watered garden and then spread to the four corners. Isaiah sees the rivers running in reverse, back toward Eden, carrying the treasures of Havilah, where there is gold.
Peace like a river.