Isaiah’s vision of horror followed the Assyrian army as it marched through Judah. At the end, Isaiah described God swinging a divine ax of unimaginable power through that mighty forest. The majestic cedars of Lebanon fell that day, but also the lofty trees of Judah.
Stump of Jesse
Imagine looking out over the decimated forest God had hewn.
What used to be green, vibrant with life, all the woodland creatures, buzzing insects, mosses and lichens, flowers, grass … all that is gone. The wind no longer riffles through the green leaves, carrying the sweet scent of cedar and rich loam. The sunlight no longer plays a dappled pattern through the forest boughs, and across the soft grass below.
What was once the beautiful land, the land of Judah, has become a devastated wasteland, the ground cracked and dry, exposed to the sun.
It is not completely lifeless after all.
As you look over all the scarred stumps and broken branches, your eyes are drawn to a tiny glimpse of green …
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse …Isaiah 11:1 (NRSV)
Seemingly, all the people of God were gone. David’s dynasty had come to an end. No more monarchs, no more nation.
But out of the stump of Jesse, the father of King David, against all likelihood, a new David would emerge. This would not be David’s successor, but rather the perfect David, the greater David, the one David himself called “my Lord” in one of his Psalms
… and a branch shall grow out of his roots.Isaiah 11:1 (NRSV)
The word “Branch,” netser in Hebrew, is often a name used for Messiah in the Hebrew scriptures. That is why the Gospel of Matthew refers to this passage when pointing out how amazingly God had fulfilled this prophecy, by causing Jesus to grow up in Nazareth.
Nazareth, natseret in Hebrew, means “Branch town” or “Branchville” in Hebrew.
The Branch, Messiah
Isaiah was not talking about any ordinary king. He was talking about Messiah, anointed by God.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him …Isaiah 11:2 (NRSV)
Just as the Spirit of God had come upon David when Samuel anointed him, now the Spirit of the Lord would come upon Messiah, the greater David.
John the Baptist witnessed this fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy at Jesus’s baptism, the dove signaling Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.
The Spirit of the Lord
The Holy Spirit, third member of the Trinity, is equal with the Father and the Son, having all the eternal and infinite attributes of God, fully existing as God from before the beginning. When Isaiah described the Spirit of the Lord resting upon Messiah, his listeners would have been familiar with the Holy Spirit as described in the Hebrew Scriptures.
- Genesis introduces the Spirit as God’s agent of creation, hovering over the void at the beginning of time and bringing the world into being at God’s word.
- Exodus portrays the Spirit equipping artisans to craft the tabernacle, enabling kings to rule, and inspiring prophets to speak the words of God’.
- The Psalms sing of the Spirit providing what God’s people need to live as holy, and through the Spirit prophesying often of the coming Messiah.
Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers and all believers to come. He called the Spirit One Who is another Me, exactly the same in every way as Jesus Himself. In fact, both Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul sometimes called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Christ.
Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would interpret Scripture and illuminate God’s word, as Isaiah described.
… The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,Isaiah 11:2 (NRSV)
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
Jesus called the Spirit the ever‑present Counselor and Advocate, Comforter and Strengthener.
… the spirit of counsel and might,Isaiah 11:2 (NRSV)
The Spirit of the Lord will be the guide, guardian, and example for God’s people.
… the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.Isaiah 11:2 (NRSV)
The Reign of Messiah
Five distinctives would distinguish Messiah’s ascendancy.
- His reverence for God.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.Isaiah 11:3 (NRSV)
- In His omniscience He will make just judgments.
He shall not judge by what his eyes seeIsaiah 11:3 (NRSV)
or decide by what his ears hear,
- He will have right relationships with people. He will treat the disadvantaged with equity. He will judge in real righteousness, righting wrongs, lifting up the oppressed.
but with righteousness he shall judge for the poorIsaiah 11:4 (NRSV)
and decide with equity for the oppressed of the earth;
- By the same token, Messiah will also execute justice on the wicked.
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,Isaiah 11:4 (NRSV)
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
- Messiah will have complete integrity, being utterly trustworthy.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waistIsaiah 11:5 (NRSV)
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
Some scholars read this and similar passages as speaking of a messianic age referred to as the millennial kingdom. Millennium means thousand, the number of years the apostle John stated in his Revelation.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years and threw him into the pit and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its brand on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.Revelation 20:1-6 (NRSV)
If so, then Isaiah was describing a literal kingdom on earth, perhaps lasting a thousand years, which would be governed by the monarch from Jesse’s root, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and marked by transcendent shalom.
A profound transformation of the earth and its creatures.
The cow and the bear shall graze;Isaiah 11:7 (NRSV)
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
A profound accord between humankind and the earth
The wolf shall live with the lamb;
the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,Isaiah 11:6, 8 (NRSV)
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
A profound harmony of God, creation, and humanity.
They will not hurt or destroyIsaiah 11:9 (NRSV)
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.