Tuesdays with Isaiah (Chapters 11-12)

The section of Isaiah that began in chapter 7 (with an all-important prelude in chapters 1-6), culminates and climaxes in chapters 11-12.  Here we find a glorious vision of the future. Here we see the Lord bringing his salvation to His people through one of His people (“the shoot”, “the branch”—11:1).  Here we see the regathering of Israel and Judah into a nation united in faith and joy before the Lord of all the earth.  Here we see creation brought into harmony with humans, the enemies of God judged and defeated, the people of God saved, settled and singing for joy.

Chapter 11 grows out of the soil of chapter 10, continuing the imagery of a forest that has been leveled.  In chapter 11, both Judah (11:15) and Assyria (11:18, 33-34) are pictured as a forest, chopped down and leveled.  The final verses of the chapter (33-34) can be read as referencing either nation.  But from the devastated forest of Judah, a shoot or branch will grow up and bear fruit (11:1). 

This branch from the “stump of Jesse” refers to a coming Davidic king unlike any previous kings.  He will be closely identified with the Spirit of God: “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” (11:2).  John Oswalt cites the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament as describing wisdom as “the ability to perceive relationships among elements” and understanding as “the ability to divide a thing into its constituent parts” (Vol 1, 276, note 3).

This righteous ruler will judge righteously (on the basis of optics or hearsay), insuring justice for the poor and the meek (11:3).  No longer will the wicked oppress the vulnerable; in fact, this coming king will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (11:4).  When he speaks, order and judgment will come, for He is clothed with righteousness and faithfulness: “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (5).  Oswalt puts the implication of this truth in a beautiful way: “Fundamentally, these are two characteristics of God [righteousness and faithfulness] upon which the whole biblical understanding of life is built (Isa, 5:16; 65:16; Ps. 40:11 [Eng. 10]; 119:75, 142; Zech 8:8).  Because he is as he is, the whole universe can be understood in a coherent and consistent way” (Oswalt, Vol 1, 282).

When the Lord reigns and restores justice, creation is set right.  Isaiah pictures predator and prey peacefully existing together (wolf/lamb; leopard/young goat; lion/fattened calf—11:6).  Even children will be safe, leading along animals that would normally be threats (11:6), playing near deadly snakes without fear (11:7). As Oswalt notes, “Death itself is conquered” (Vol 1, 284; also see 1 Cor 15:55 where death’s sting is no more). All this shalom flows from a new, glorious reality: “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).

“In that day” (a phrase repeated in 11:11, 12:1, 4), the Lord will extend his hand once more. However, this time it will not be in anger and judgment (contrast the fourfold repetition in 9:11, 17, 21, 10:4); the Lord will stretch forth His hand to bring His people home from the lands to which they’ve been scattered (Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, coastlands of the sea—11:11). 

When God’s people come back, they will come back at peace with one another.  Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah harass Ephraim (13).  Instead, they will team up to attack and plunder their adversaries.  The theme of a Second Exodus comes out in the wording of 11:15: the Lord will dry up the “tongue of the Sea of Egypt” (Red Sea) so that his returning people can cross in sandals.  Additionally, verse 16 says there will be a “highway from Assyria” for the remnant there to return (an echo of Shear-Jashub).

Chapter 12 is the fitting finale for such a grand vision. This chapter, the shortest in the book, sings and shouts with joy and praise to the God who rules the nations and regathers His people.

The song of the redeemed gives thanks that God’s anger (9:11) has turned to God’s comfort (1).

God is worshiped as the “salvation, strength and song” of his people (12:2).  They not only thank Him; they proclaim His great deeds “among the peoples” (12:4).  His people want His glory to be “known in all the earth” (12:5).  The chapter rises to a climax of thanksgiving, praise and loud joy: “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (12:6).  God dwells with His people in Zion.  Righteousness and peace kiss.  The world is set right.  Shalom.

Behold Your God

The righteous ruler of the world comes from the nation of Israel and line of Jesse.  The coming king who will usher in justice and peace grows out of the root of Jesse.  Isaiah is telling us that God’s King will not only be Jewish but also from the tribe of Judah and the family of Jesse.  This king will be a descendant of David.  The fulfillment of this prophecy is found in the Lord Jesus, “who was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:1).  The words of Isaiah 11:4 are cited in Romans 15:12 in reference to Jesus: “And again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

The coming King will execute righteousness and usher in a lasting peace.  Isaiah sees a future king who will set things right by judging with righteousness.  The vulnerable will be vindicated; the wicked destroyed.  Even creation becomes safe again.  This King, the root of Jesse (11:4) sets up a kingdom in Jerusalem (“my holy mountain”—11:9) that is glorious. 

The Lord’s anger gives way to comfort for His people.  While the Lord’s hand was stretched out in anger against His defiant, disobedient people (both Israel and Judah), there will come a day when His people can say, “O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away that you might comfort me” (12:1). As the Psalmist says, “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor lasts a lifetime” (Ps 30:5).  This is a reason to “shout and sing for joy” (12:5-6).

Here Am I

Leaders who fear the Lord will treat people with righteousness and faithfulness.  The Branch from the root of Jesse (Jesus) will be full of wisdom and understanding (11:2) and will delight in the fear of the Lord (11:3).  As a result, he will judge people righteously, getting past optics (“what his eyes see”) or what is said (“what his ears hear”) to what is true (11:3).  He will both defend the poor and meek and will come down hard on the wicked (11:4).  He will wear righteousness and faithfulness “as a belt of his waist” (11:5), a picture of being wrapped in righteousness.  Leaders who fear the Lord will treat people in the way He wants them treated—with equity and justice.

I can depend on a God who is clothed with righteousness and faithfulness. John Oswalt is right when he notes that upon these two characteristics of God, we can build our understanding of life.  The world is governed by the Lord who understands and does what is right in a completely dependable way.  This allows us to trust Him when life seems chaotic and out of control.

I can live with hope because of God’s promise of a glorious future.  Though things may look bleak at the present, all who trust in the Lord have a bright hope for the future.

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