By Mark Scott
The Prince of Peace knew that wars and rumors of wars were standard fare in a fallen world (Matthew 24:6). But Isaiah, who predicted the coming of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), knew about rumors of peace as well. Even though the northern kingdom would fall to Assyria and the southern kingdom would later fall to Babylon, Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would come and begin to spread his peaceful kingdom over the earth as the waters cover the sea.
The Spirit of the Lord
Isaiah 11:1, 2
All of humankind’s efforts have failed to establish peace. Someone (the Messiah) must come from the outside to bring it. These first two verses of our text describe this Messiah’s identity and anointing. The Messiah is described in agricultural terms, i.e. a tree. It is not wide of the theological mark to connect this symbolism to Jesus. In the Garden of Eden there was a tree of life (Genesis 2:9). In the Holy City there will be a tree of life (Revelation 22:2). Jesus himself said to Nicodemus that Jesus would be lifted up (“on a tree” is implied) so that whoever believed in him would live (John 3:14, 15).
The imminent invasions which Isaiah saw would shave off the trees of Israel at their stumps. But God’s people did need to fear. Given enough time, a shoot (Hebrew “netzer”) would grow from the razed stump. This Hebrew word is as close to Nazarene as we can get (Matthew 2:23). This stump comes from the lineage of Jesse (Davidic line). Its Branch (messianic term) will bear fruit. This messianic peaceful warrior is identified to be from David’s family.
The Messiah’s anointing (equipping) is from the Spirit of God himself. The breath of God will rest on the Messiah. This equipping Spirit will help the Messiah to operate in a context of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, and fear (reverence). Paul especially connected these qualities to the Messiah (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3).
The Fear of the Lord
Not only would the Messiah have the right identity and anointing, he also would have the proper character. This character is pictured anthropomorphically. The Messiah’s nose (the word for delight can refer to an aroma), eyes, ears, mouth, breath, and waist are all mentioned. If God is Spirit (John 4:24), how can he have any of these? Two answers: 1. Humans have to talk about God in some human way. 2. God became human in Jesus. The Messiah delights in the Lord, and this drives his discernment and decisions, which are pure and non-prejudiced.
This character is also pictured in some large vocabulary. Our text mentions words like righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. The semantic domain of these words greatly overlap, but they emphasize conforming to a standard, doing what is fair, and keeping promises. This is why the Messiah is totally objective when it comes to taking care of the needy, helping the poor, and slaying the wicked. He knows the real situations. He can tell the difference between a genuinely needy person and a con artist. The character of the Messiah drives his justice.
The Knowledge of the Lord
Isaiah sees a future day where all of creation will be healed. When the Messiah comes it will mark the beginning of the end. He will save the world. This will include but not be limited to lost people being found, guilty people being forgiven, sick people being made well, outside people being brought into community, wrong things being set right, and all of creation being healed.
This state of peace will even be felt in the animal kingdom. While it is possible to understand the text figuratively describing a state of peace, there is no good reason not to take it literally. When Jesus was baptized, Mark tells us that the Spirit “threw” him out into the desert with the wild beasts (Mark 1:12, 13). Was this the beginning of his taming of the unruly world?
Wild animals (wolves, leopards, lions, bears, and snakes) will coexist with domestic animals (lambs, goats, calves, cows, and oxen) in a state of peace. Woody Allen said, “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.” True—at least right now. But some day even children will play near typical danger zones without fear.
This holy mountain (see also Isaiah 2:2) is the peaceful kingdom, and it will fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.