The Living Stump of Jesse

The Living Stump of Jesse

As we considered the second chapter in Isaiah last week, we saw how the vision he was given was for “the last days,” a Messianic age of peace when not only Jews but even Gentiles would seek to come to the mountain of the Lord, to learn his will that they might follow his ways. And we saw as well how from the perspective of the New Testament authors, these longed-for last days, when instruments of war would in time be refashioned into instruments for caring for God’s earth, had been initiated with the arrival Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, and the subsequent sending of his Holy Spirit to all people.

In this morning’s passage, Isaiah continues to bring a message of hope. But in chapter 11, rather than speaking of “the last days” he tells instead of the One who is to come by referring to him as the Branch that will arise from the line of Jesse. This is again a reference to the Messianic Age. One of the study Bibles I used even entitled verses 1–11 of this chapter as “The Messiah will transform the world.”[1] And we’ll see a continuity with last week’s message on at least three key points:

1) A result of his coming will be a world of peace, of God’s shalom, being established;

2) This shalom again has implications for God’s creation;

3) Messiah’s coming will be for the benefit not only of the Jewish people, God’s chosen people, but for all peoples and nations, for all who acknowledge him as beloved of God.

In verse 1, the first thing we’re told is the lineage of the Messiah: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” In an evocative image, Isaiah indicates how life will come from death for the “stump” of a tree is what’s left after a tree has fallen or been cut down. This particular stump is identified as belonging to Jesse, the father of Israel’s most important king, King David. And once again, the New Testament helps fill in our understanding of the Old for Matthew’s Gospel begins by clearly stating the connection between Jesus, David, and Abraham: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew begins by dischronologizing Jesus’ genealogy because he wants to make sure we don’t miss the connection between Jesus the Messiah and Jesse’s Branch. He further doesn’t want us to miss the connection between Jesus and Abraham from whom the nation of Israel arose. And again, one of the reasons I regularly state that to say “Jesus Christ” is simply another way of stating “Jesus the Christ” or “Jesus the Messiah” is because “Messiah” and “Christ” both mean “the Anointed One,” Messiah coming from the Hebrew and Christ from the Greek. After identifying Jesus the Messiah with both King David and Father Abraham, Matthew then goes on to present a genealogy with a proper chronology for Jesus. So in verse 6 Matthew again states, “Jesse was the father of King David” and he completes the lineage all the way down to Mary, “the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.”[2] He really doesn’t want us to miss the point that Jesus is the Messiah—which could also be translated as “the Christ”—so Matthew begins and ends Jesus’ chronology by stating this.

Now historically speaking, the northern kingdom fell to Assyria, as prophesied by Isaiah, in 722 BC. And Jesse’s tree, the line of Judah, was decisively cut down in 586 BC when the southern kingdom was overtaken by Babylon. But, again, as also prophesied by Isaiah, from the stump of Jesse—from this dead tree—roots did indeed eventually spring to life as evidenced by the fruit borne by the Branch of Jesus the Messiah, of Jesus the Christ.

Now if verse 1 tells of the coming of Messiah—again, Branch being a Messianic title—verse 2 reminds us of the oneness of the triune God and his purposes. God the Father gives Isaiah, his servant, this message to proclaim of the coming of the Son, the Branch, in verse 1 and the giving of his Spirit in verse 2: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.” So this Spirit will not only share Messiah’s vision, but also the power to carry out his task. And from the perspective of the New Testament, the fulfillment of this prophesy provides one of the clearest pictures of the Trinity found in Scripture as we see the Spirit’s resting on the Branch most vividly at Jesus’ baptism, an account recorded by all four of the Gospel writers.[3] The Son of Man, who is also the Son of God, after being baptized by John the Baptist, has the Holy Spirit come down upon him like a dove—rest upon him—as the Father’s audible voice owns that Jesus is his Son, his Chosen One, whom he loves and with whom he is well-pleased. In the Spirit’s resting upon Jesus and the Father’s subsequent acknowledgement from heaven, our Triune God makes clear that Jesus is in fact Messiah—Christ—God’s Anointed.

And in the life of Jesus, as also recorded for us by the Gospel writers, his witnesses and servants, we see that he did indeed have wisdom—and understanding—and counsel—and might. For he, the King, brought God’s kingdom to earth and defeated God’s enemies, including Satan and death. And Jesus did indeed display the knowledge and fear of the LORD and, verse 3, he did indeed “delight in the fear of the LORD.” Now though delighting in the LORD was true of Adam and Eve prior to the Fall, after they fell, their delight ceased and instead became rebellion as they lied to and hid from God. And so it has been with all who have been born since then. Though we are born with a knowledge of God, that knowledge may be vague, causing us to question whether he is real; or we may try to deny and hide from that knowledge; or that knowledge may lead us to resent God for, as was true of our first parents, we would rather go our own ways and do our own will rather than follow the ways and will of the One who made us for himself. But not so with the Branch who was to come. He would not live in rebellion against God but instead would delight in the fear of the LORD. And “fear” here should be understood as Proverbs 1:7 states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools—that is, those who are morally deficient—despise wisdom and instruction.” So the fear spoken of is that of a “loving reverence for God that includes submission to his lordship and to the commands of his word.”[4] And we see this fulfilled, of course, in the Branch Jesus who proclaims in John’s Gospel, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”[5]

Now if the first few verses of Isaiah 11 focus on the identity of the Branch which is to come, beginning in the second half of verse 3 through verse 5, we’re provided with details about how this fruit-bearing Branch arising from the roots of Jesse’s dead stump will act. “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;” So what might be meant by this? Is this some kind of Platonic suspicion about the ability of our senses to know reality? Why not judge by what he sees with his eyes? Why not decide by what he hears with his ears? Because things aren’t always they seem to be—but this isn’t meant in a Platonic sense. The coming Messiah has an acute concern for those without a voice in society—this includes, as indicated in the first half of verse 4, those who are needy, victims of injustice, the poor of the earth; and, conversely, the coming Messiah has an acute concern to dispense justice by punishing—striking the earth with the rod of his mouth—and slaying the oppressive wicked with the breath of his lips, as seen in the second half of verse 4.

And we, too, need to be careful not to judge by what we see for judging by our eyes might can us to wrong conclusions. Whereas some might look at the poor and conclude they are poor because they are lazy, this isn’t necessarily the case. In Isaiah’s day, many were poor due to neglect and abuse by the rich. And judging by what our ears hear may similarly lead us to false conclusions for perhaps those who are telling us what to believe aren’t speaking the truth. Jesus calls us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.[6] And even in the case of Jesse’s stump, it appeared to be dead—but its roots were alive. And from these living roots came Jesse’s Branch who revived the stump and brought to pass the promise God had made to Abraham that through him blessing would one day come to all of the nations of the world.

So Jesse’s Branch won’t be misled but, again, verse 4, “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” And with this we see a connection between this verse 4 with last week’s verse 4 in Isaiah 2 which stated about the LORD’s ruling in the last days, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.” Jesse’s Branch will judge rightly. He won’t assume, as we too often do, that those who are poor deserve to be poor and those who are rich deserve to be rich. What is more, Jesse’s Branch will balance the scales in his execution of justice. Again, “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.” The LORD has an acute concern for justice—for the proper administration of power in upholding God’s law. This Messiah to come is what we all long for! In verse 5 we’re told about him that, “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.” And it’s interesting to see how the apostle Paul later picks up on this language when he exhorts the church of Ephesus to put on God’s armor,[7] using language that is drawn from this very passage in Isaiah.

So this chapter began by identifying the Branch who will come from the roots of Jesse’s dead stump; it moved to describing the acts that this Branch will perform; and it ends by telling the results of the Branch’s coming and acting. And the interesting thing is that the results that are described aren’t simply for the benefit of God’s image-bearers, but for all of creation. If the middle section speaks of justice that the Branch will bring between and among humans, this final section speaks of the resulting peace, God’s shalom, the restoration of God’s intention for his entire creation that includes even God’s creatures.

As already noted, though we often speak of how the Fall has affected our relationship with God—we’re no longer sure if he exists and if he exists, we would rather do our will than his; and our relationship with each other—we follow in Adam and Eve’s steps, leading each other astray, blaming one another for our wrong choices, and even killing one another as Cain slew Abel as we noted last week; I don’t know if we often consider that humanity’s turning its back upon its Creator had adverse consequences not only for God’s human creation but for all of creation. As a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, two of the key reasons for which humans were made, raising children and working the land, became difficult as labor became painful and the ground produced thorns and thistles causing farming to be painful as well. And whereas it seems that initially Adam and Eve needed only to eat of the fruit of the garden to live—it appears they were vegetarians—after they disobeyed God, he sacrificed the first animal that their nakedness might be covered. So creation suffered the effects of humanity’s disobedience. Yet creation, too, will one day be restored. In looking forward to Christ’s final rule in glory,[8] the apostle Paul tells how “19 the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” As creation was harmed by the disobedience of the first Adam, so it will be restored by the coming and obedience of the last Adam, the Branch of Jesse, righteous and just Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, God’s Anointed One.

So beginning in verse 6 of Isaiah 11, we’re presented with a picture of animals acting contrary to the natures we’ve become accustomed. Rather than attack the lamb for food, when God’s righteous Branch comes the wolf “will live with the lamb.” And similarly the leopard will no longer attack the goat as prey but it, too, “will lie down with the goat.” These foes in the animal kingdom will become friends in Messiah’s kingdom.

And no longer will the lion feed on the calf and the yearling, but they will live peaceably together—or another translation is that they will feed together—I suppose as opposed to feeding on one another! Not only that, but “a little child will lead them.” This Messianic age is one of such peace that even children, who normally need protection from animals of prey, will be able to live and walk among formerly ferocious animals, even to the point of leading them without fear.

This topsy-turvy picture in which beasts of prey will become tame continues in verse 7 where we see cow and bear feeding together and their young similarly lying down together. And no longer will the lion eat the ox but now the lion will eat straw as does the ox.

And this irenic picture extends even to human infants who will, without worry or concern, verse 8, play near the cobra’s den. And in an example of Hebrew parallelism this same idea is re-stated as the young child will no longer fear the viper’s nest, another highly venomous snake.

Now I should note that commentators don’t agree as to what is being portrayed here. Some take the contrast between animals of prey and their victims as metaphors that play out in the relationship between Assyria and Israel. So the idea would be that oppressive Assyria will be judged for its treatment of its quarry, Israel, and peace for the latter being one day restored. But others take these verses, as I have, as portraying a more cosmic picture in which Messiah’s coming will restore the order that once typified Eden. And it’s possible that both meanings may be in view for Scripture often presents prophecies that are fulfilled in both a near and a distant future.

Moving on, these various parts of God’s creation, verse 9, “will neither harm nor destroy” on all of God’s “holy mountain” because “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD” even as “the waters cover the sea.” If sin unrestrained—a godless world or one in which God is discounted—is the reason for the disharmony and evil we see in the world, then the only thing that can undue sin’s deleterious effects is the knowledge of God. And this is knowledge in the fullest sense of the word. It’s knowledge in the sense of knowing and experiencing, of knowing and acting on that knowledge, much like the coming Branch of Jesse’s stump comes with a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, in his knowledge and fear and delight in the LORD.

Verse 10 notes how “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” What makes a resting place glorious is that God’s presence is found there. So as was the case in last week’s passage, we again see here that the coming Messiah—the Christ—will be the Anointed One for all people. In his letter to the Romans,[9] Paul even quotes this verse indicating that in his mission to the Gentiles of his day he understood himself as already living in the Messianic times, the times after which Messiah has arrived. Paul understands the implications of Messiah’s having arrived in the person of Jesus Christ as he tells this church: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”[2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49] 10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”[Deuteronomy 32:43] 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”[Psalm 117:1] 12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”[LXX] 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Brothers and sisters, we’re living in the time between two Advents. On the one hand, in Christ, Jesse’s Branch, the Anointed One, has come to earth; in Christ the King of the universe has lived out for us how his kingdom should function; On the other hand, Christ our King, through us—his followers, his disciples—is expanding his Kingdom to include people from all nations who will be blessed in the same manner as God’s chosen people. And just as God sent his Spirit to rest upon his Son, so he has sent his Spirit to indwell us that we might live as he lived: standing against evil; caring for the poor; delighting in the fear of the Lord, that is, expressing a loving reverence for God that includes submission to his Lordship and the command of his Word. Proclaiming that in Christ, good has overcome evil and life has overcome death—even as Jesse’s Branch arose from a seemingly dead stump. And all of this is so that God’s shalom might be seen—and experienced—and expanded that, as we pray together each week, God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. Let us this morning and every day celebrate and delight in the Advent—in the coming—of our gracious and kind and merciful and loving LORD and Savior!

Let us pray.

[1] Crossway Study Bible.

[2] Verse 16. Luke’s Gospel begins with Joseph, mentions David in verse 16, and ends with “Adam, the son of God” in verse 38.

[3] Matthew 3:16–17: 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9–11: At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21–23: 21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” John 1:29–34: 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”[Isaiah 42:1; many mss is the Son of God]

[4] Zondervan Study Bible.

[5] John 8:29.

[6] Matthew 10:16: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

[7] Ephesians 6:10–17: 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

[8] Romans 8:18–25: 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[or subjected it in hope. For] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

[9] Romans 15.

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