“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples — of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”
The connection between this passage and the one we looked at yesterday is so clear that it can only be talking about the same person. The Child/Son is called Counsellor. Here we read that he shall be filled with the Spirit of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. The Child/Son is called the Mighty God. Here Isaiah tells us that he shall be filled with the Spirit of might. The Child/Son upholds his kingdom with justice and righteousness. Here we are told that he shall not judge as men do – partially and with their eyes and ears – but with true, impartial righteousness and equity.
The Davidic connection is also clear. The Child/Son of Isaiah 9 establishes his kingdom sitting on the Throne of David. Here we are told that he shall come forth as a shoot from the stump of Jesse – David’s father. But why Jesse and not David?
The symbolism used here is that of a tree. Trees are often used in the Bible as symbols of people, but quite often the symbolism is more specifically that of a king and his kingdom (for instance 2 Kings 14:9 and Ezekiel 17). One of the most striking instances of this is in Daniel chapter 4 where Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, has the following dream:
“The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it” (Daniel 4:10-12).
When Daniel is asked by Nebuchadnezzar to interpret the dream, he tells him that the tree represents the king and his kingdom:
“It is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth.”
Later in the dream, Nebuchadnezzar writes that he saw a holy one, who came down from heaven and said:
“Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth” (Daniel 4:14-15).
Although Nebuchadnezzar would be brought down to the ground, a stump would be left. This was fulfilled when he was driven out from among men (it seems likely that he went insane), before being restored later.
The tree in Isaiah 11 also represents a king and his kingdom. It is the Davidic line of kings, and like Jacob’s ladder, it is meant to be a bridge between heaven and earth, and it is also meant to spread its branches to cover the whole earth. However, the Davidic kingdom failed, with king after king in Judah (with a few exceptions) becoming more and more wicked and disobedient to God, until God cut it down when Nebuchadnezzar razed Jerusalem and carried away the last of the Davidic kings to captivity.
And yet a stump or root must be left, since God had promised David himself that one of his sons would rule on the Throne of David forever and ever. But here’s the amazing thing: at the end of the passage, Isaiah tells us that the branch that comes from the stump of Jesse is also the stump or root itself. In other words, he is both before Jesse and after Jesse – the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end – and is therefore both the author and the fulfilment of the covenant made with David. And he promises to build a kingdom that starts off tiny, but “when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:30-32).
But the question arises as to when these things will come to pass. The verses in the middle of the passage – placid wolves, harmless leopards, cuddly bears etc — lead many to believe that Isaiah is talking about the eternal kingdom. Well, I’m sure that many of those things will be true of the eternal kingdom, but actually that’s not what he’s talking about. Here’s why:
In the parallel passage to this (Isaiah 65), Isaiah uses the same imagery of predator and prey lying down together, but in that passage death still exists:
“For the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed” (verse 20).
The other problem is that Paul quotes these verses in Romans 15, speaking about the Gospel era:
“The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:12).
But if that’s the case, what on earth can it mean? There are three possibilities.
Firstly, it could be taken in a spiritual sense, meaning that those who were once “wolves” for example, will be brought to repentance in Jesus, and will join churches where they will be in fellowship with those whom they formerly hated and devoured.
Secondly (and I am indebted to my minister, Matthew Mason for this suggestion), it could mean that the nations will begin to be in harmony. In Daniel chapter 7, for instance, the leopard, the lion, and the bear are all used symbolically as nations or kingdoms.
Thirdly, it could have a literal fulfilment, and there really could come a time when wolves, leopards and lions are no longer predators, and snakes lose their venom.
Which is the correct explanation? Actually, I think all of them are. “Ex-wolves” do join churches and feed with the lambs (think of the Apostle Paul himself as an illustration). When nations truly embrace Christ, former enmities disappear and they trade with each other rather than fighting each other (though of course there is a long way to go).
But surely not the third possibility? Isn’t that crazy? Not at all. What was the purpose of the Root and Branch of Jesse – Jesus Christ – coming into this world, if not to reverse the curse? Part of that curse is “nature red in tooth and claw”, but it was not so from the beginning. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that when Jesus comes to deliver the kingdom to his Father, he will have dealt with all enemies except one: death (verses 25-26). Make of it what you will.