top of page

Isaiah 11:1-10

1Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse| And a branch from his roots will bear fruit| 2The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him| The spirit of wisdom and understanding| The spirit of counsel and strength| The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord| 3And He will delight in the fear of the Lord| And He will not judge by what His eyes see| Nor make a decision by what His ears hear| 4But with righteousness He will judge the poor| And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth| And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth| And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked| 5Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins| And faithfulness the belt about His waist.

6And the wolf will dwell with the lamb| And the leopard will lie down with the young goat| And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together| And a little boy will lead them| 7Also the cow and the bear will graze| Their young will lie down together| And the lion will eat straw like the ox| 8The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra| And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den| 9They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain| For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord| As the waters cover the sea.

10Then in that day| The nations will resort to the root of Jesse| Who will stand as a signal for the peoples| And His resting place will be glorious.

The year before I went away to college, my parents bought a new house. In the backyard of that house was a diseased crabapple tree which needed to be cut down. A few years later, on vacation from school I was out back with my dad doing yard work when I noticed a nearly mature new tree sticking straight out of the center of the stump left behind by the old one. The rootstock had been resistant to the disease that killed the grafted cultivar. With the diseased tissue gone, the new shoot had grown quickly from the energy remaining in the deep, old root system.

The Davidic monarchy was never a particularly just or noble one; even David and Solomon are remembered at least as much for their corruption and abuse of power as they are for their acts of devotion to YHWH. By the time this part of Isaiah was written several hundred years later, the number of ‘good’ kings who ruled over Judah could still be counted on one hand. The David dynasty was diseased; the family tree that was meant to be a source of life for Israel was instead bearing poisoned fruit. To those in power, the fruit of the tree seemed good to eat in their eyes, and the wealth promised by it sounded good to their ears. So they took, and they ate, and whatever safety rails may have existed to slow or stop the corruption of the kings were removed, allowing the corruption to spread to the priesthood, to the schools of the scribes, to the houses of those called ‘prophets’. The poison ran so deep that when someone like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, or Elisha showed up, they were dismissed as enemies of God and His anointed king.

So God chopped down the tree. But, a stump remained.

The house of David never regains power after the Babylonian exile. When the Jews returned, their Persian overlords assigned regents to rule over them. When the Persian Empire collapsed, it was instead the scribes and the priesthood who provided stability and leadership in the face of their new external threats. And ultimately, by the Helenistic period, it’s a priestly family, the Hasmonians, who take the throne, not the sons of David.

If you’ve read the story straight on from Genesis, and you’ve watched the image of the tree of life shift and grow as the story progressed, then by the time you got to 2 Kings it would seem like all those promises of a tree that would heal the nations have rotted in the ground. The children of Abraham, the Nation of Israel, the Remnant of Judah, the House of David son of Jesse, all of it has come to nothing. A son of David lives among the captives dragged to Babylon, but he is by no means a king, nor even the kind of man one might hope to be king. The tree that was meant to be a Tree of Life turned out to be a Tree of Knowing Good and Bad, and it’s as if the Garden has been lost to us all over again.

But Isaiah says, the rot has not killed the roots. There’s still life in the stump. One day a new shoot will spring up; a sapling will split open the dead wood of the old tree, and this one will grow true to its rootstock. And as death gives way to new life, those things most broken about our world will give way to healing. Isaiah invokes the imagery of the plagues of Egypt to highlight that the new shoot of Jesse will enact a new saving work of might, as YHWH had in the Exodus; freeing the oppressed from their oppressors. He invokes images of beasts associated with the enemies of Judah, and the great empires and powers of Earth, associations which speak to the cruelty and evil for which these nations, empires and powers were known, and places these beasts of wrath alongside the young of domestic stock with no thought of harm.

It’s an intentional dichotomy contrasting the most brutal, bloodthirsty, and murderous animals imaginable with the most harmless, blameless, and innocent little offspring of the herd. That the pace is set by the peaceable, that the bloodthirsty would become bloodless, that the whole strange host would be led by a small child; it speaks to the potency of this revived Tree of Life. Isaiah is promising that innocence, not violence, not the greater army, better iron, neater military formations; no, innocence will win. And where the Earth before had been flooded with wrath when humanity’s failure became too great, now it will be flooded with the Knowledge of the LORD; the very knowledge which lies at the foundation of the creation itself. In this season of Advent, a season of waiting and anticipation, we in the Northern Hemisphere are entering into winter. The green shoots of spring, and the torrents of rain which herald them are still a good distance away for us. But even now as our world turns cold, and death seems to be winning the day, even now we can look out at the bear trees, the browned grass, the dried out flower beds, and we can know that new life is coming. that a new day of life giving rain is on the horizon. We know that in Christ, the promise of a new Creation found its first fruit, and that what was old and dead is already, though maybe imperceptibly at times, being made new.