There is coming a king who will be unlike any other king we have known, who will establish a kingdom that is unlike any other kingdom we have known: a kingdom of peace.
Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that from what is seemingly dead, God will begin again
Understand that Jesus is a different kind of king than we have ever seen before.
Understand that God’s kingdom is different than any other kingdom we have seen before.
Be encouraged to wait with Jesus so that we might learn how to live as citizens of this new kingdom.
Catching up on the Story
Israel has brought judgment upon herself for not living with justice and righteousness; they have not helped the widow, the orphan, and the poor. Therefore, God will enact judgment upon them from Assyria.
Assyria will crush Israel, but they will not realize that it is God who helps them conquer. They, too, will be destroyed by God the same way a forest is chopped down. Even though Israel will be mostly destroyed, a faithful remnant will remain. After all is said and done, God will gather Israel’s remnant and restore the nation. Israel will be restored but not to a human monarchy. There will come a messiah/king who, endowed with the Holy Spirit, will judge and rule Israel rightly. In this passage, this ruler’s character is described, his actions are announced, and the results of his rule are displayed. The result of the rule of Israel’s messiah/king will be peace for all creation. The second week of Advent is characterized by peace. This messiah/king is Jesus Christ, and he is the one who will bring about the type of peace envisioned in this text.
This week’s text is pregnant with messianic hope and expectation. The text presents a picture, as last week’s text did, of God’s preferred future for humanity. While the previous passages have described God’s destruction of both Israel and Assyria, this passage reminds us that destruction and judgment from God are not the final word. Restoration and peace will have the final say.
We can divide Isaiah 11:1-10 into three sections. Each section deals with three elements of this coming messianic figure. The movement here is from qualifications to performance to results. We learn about this messianic figure’s divine endowment for ruling (verses 2-3a), the absolute nature of the justice of his rule (verses 3b-5), and that his rule will be characterized by a quality of safety which all will enjoy (verses 6-9).
Oswalt comments about this passage, “What it does envision is a time when the ruler will no longer see himself as privileged but rather as responsible, when he will become one for whom his people’s welfare is uppermost. In a word, the ruler will be the servant, not because he is too weak to dominate, but because he is strong enough not to need to crush.” (Oswalt, 278) This is no ordinary king. This king will be endowed by God to rule Israel rightly.
A Shoot…Isaiah 11:1-3a
The text right before this week’s passage has just depicted Assyria’s pride. Assyria is seen as a great forest that is now being cut down. Assyria, as a stump with no signs of life left in her, has no possibility of re-growth. Israel, on the other hand, even though she has been cut down in seemingly the same way, still contains the possibility of life. From the stump of the peasant family, which once ruled Israel, will come new growth which will then save and lead Israel.
It is significant to note that it is not from David or any other monarch that this new growth comes. It is, rather, from an insignificant family. A common theme of the Old Testament is that people could not save themselves. Only those who had the Spirit of God rest upon them could do wonderful and great things, things for the salvation of their people. So too shall the Spirit of God rest upon this shoot that springs forth from the dead stump of Jesse. This shoot, which is here promised, will spring up because of the breath of God. This anointing of God’s Spirit will characterize his every move. He will not reign like Ahaz, but will know and be known by God completely (Oswalt, 279-280). This messiah/king will have the Spirit of God upon him and will rule with justice, righteousness and wisdom because he is accountable to God and eager to please him.
He shall judge… Isaiah 11:3-5
This messiah/king will not judge as a normal human king would judge. He will not be caught up in the game of reciprocity. He will not judge by outward appearance. Those who have riches and money, power and popularity will not be able to bend the power of this messiah/king for their benefit. Rather, because of his supreme loyalty to God and his willingness to please God, this messiah/king will judge people according to their hearts and actions. He will speak a word of rebuke and correction to those who are unjust. The meek and poor will be comforted by his judgments and rulings. Finally, righteousness and faithfulness will be the belt that ties his entire outfit of steadfast loyalty to God together. These two traits will guide everything that this messiah/king says and do.
And the wolf will live with the lamb…Isaiah 11:6-9
The best way in which to interpret this passage is the figurative way. Verses 6-9 constitute a symbolic figure of speech used to make a single, overarching point. The point is that this messiah/king’s rule will banish the fears associated with insecurity and danger. This will be the case for the individual and all of creation. We are not immediately told how God chooses to do this, but God will do it in his infinite creativity (Oswalt, 283). This vision is one of peace and security. Things will return to how they were before sin broke all of creation. All creatures will now eat only vegetation. There will be no more need to fear death or harm.
The first verse brings together animals that, at the moment, are enemies. The wolf won’t eat the lamb. The leopard won’t devour the goat. The baby cow and the slightly older, fattier cow will snuggle up to the lion. This vision, however, isn’t just for the animals. The small child will lead these majestic and domesticated animals. The leading of the small child points to the meek and lowly nature of leadership in this new world. Those in power won’t be leaders; those without power will lead. The passage describes the nursing child playing over the hole and den of the Asp and Adder, two very deadly snakes. Then, Isaiah makes the declaration that harkens back to chapter 2, that there will be no hurt or destruction on God’s holy mountain. Not only that, but knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth. In the end, the nature of the rule of this messiah/king will create a world in which fear, violence, and death are banished. Oswalt sums things up nicely:
There will be safety and removal of anxiety because of a relationally based understanding of God and his ways. This interpretation suggests that attempts to arrive at a just world peace based upon mutual self-interest must finally fail. Only mutual commitment to the Holy One who is righteous and faithful can produce an environment where human beings can commit themselves to one another in trust. (Oswalt, 284)
The picture presented in this passage represents a new kind of ruler and reality. This new ruler will not be like the kings of Israel’s past but will be different. This new ruler’s final allegiance will be with God, and God’s Spirit will rest on him and enable him to rule with justice, righteousness, wisdom, and power. This ruler will not be tossed about by anyone, not by the rich, powerful, or good-looking. He will not listen to lies that try to abuse his power. Rather, he will create a world in which things are radically different from how they are now. In the closing verses of this passage, mortal enemies are said to be relaxing and eating with each other. In times past, they would be eating each other! Not anymore!
In the context of Advent, this passage points to the coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. The early church would have read this passage and declared that Jesus is who this passage describes. It is only through the lordship of Christ that the world will be ruled justly and righteously. It will only be through the power of Christ that mortal enemies eat together.
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves this question, “For what kind of messiah are we waiting? Are we waiting for and willing to allow ourselves to be ruled by the One who sides with the weak and powerless of the world? Are we willing to give up our own attempts at power? Will we seek to join in table fellowship with our mortal enemies?
As we said last week, maybe the waiting we need to do is not for Jesus but with Jesus, learning and trusting his ways. The way of this Jesus that Isaiah here proclaims is the way where dangerous foes snuggle up together. As we wait with Jesus, let us constantly pray that we might have the courage to trust in God’s righteousness and his faithfulness.
Who are our mortal enemies? Who are the people of which we are most afraid? This passage is ultimately a vision of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom here on earth. It is a peaceful kingdom. Will you participate in this kingdom?
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Isaiah 11 begins by mentioning the “stump of Jesse.” Who is Jesse, and why would he be mentioned here? See 1 Samuel 16. When you look at a tree stump, what do you think?
What usually happens to the stumps of trees that have been cut down?
The stump in this image is the once insignificant family of King David. From this family, who now represents Israel, will come to a future king who is unlike any of Israel’s previous kings. Verses 2-5 describe the nature of this king and how he will rule. As a group, list the attributes of this coming king. Who might this passage describe?
Verses 6-10 paint a picture of how things will be when this king finally and fully reigns. What kind of things characterize this kingdom? How is it different than our world now?
Is the vision of the wolf living with the lamb merely a vision of what things will be like in heaven? Does it have anything to do with the earth? If so, what?
How can the church embody the kingdom of peace described in this passage?
We’ve said that Advent is a time of waiting. This year, we’ve said that we aren’t waiting for Jesus to come the first time or to come again but that we are waiting with Jesus so that we might truly learn his ways. What does this passage suggest we learn how to do?
Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986.