The Rod and the Branch

The first ten verses of Isaiah 11 contain a brief but comprehensive prophecy of the coming into the world of the Messiah and of the kingdom which He will finally estabfish. The passage omits all reference to the rejection, sufferings, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and to the church era. It spans many centuries, from the incarnation to the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus. Its subject matter may be summarised as follows:

  • v.l, The emergence of the Messiah
  • v. 2, The excellence of His character
  • vv. 3, 4a, The equity of His government
  • vv.4b, 5, The exercise of His judgments
  • vv.6-8, The effects of His reign
  • vv.9, 10, The extent of His dominion.

The Emergence of the Messiah, v.l. “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots”. Here are two similar but distinct illustrations depicting the arrival of the Lord Jesus in this world. First, the rod is a “twig”, and the stem is a “stock” or “stump”. W. E. Vine comments that “the house of David had become so degenerate that it resembled the stump of a tree that had been felled”. But now a new twig is seen emerging from the unsightly stump. The second picture is of earth-covered roots suddenly sending out a fresh green shoot. Isaiah has already predicted the momentous event referred to here in more familiar language in 7. 14 and 9. 6.

The Excellence of His Character, v.2. “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.” Noah’s dove, when first sent from the ark to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground, found “no rest for the sole of her foot”. Many centuries later a perfect Man left the waters of the Jordan and “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him”, Matt. 3. 16. The divine Dove found immediate rest there on the heavenly Lamb. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and appeared as “cloven tongues like as of fire”, fire being a fitting symbol for His refining and purifying work in the believer. But the Lord Jesus needed no refining, and hence the Spirit could find immediate rest in Him.

Six words are used to describe Messiah’s character, arranged in three pairs, and whilst all six were doubtless present in the Lord Jesus throughout His earthly life, these descriptive phrases are placed in discernible chronological order. If we think of the Saviour’s life as falling into three unequal sections, namely (a) the silent years, (b) the public ministry and (c) the hours of sorrow, Isaiah’s three phrases correspond with them remarkably.

  1. “The spirit of wisdom and understanding.” Luke’s Gospel gives us our clearest glimpses of the silent years. These two qualities are high-lighted in chapter 2. After the presentation in the temple, “they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom”, vv. 39, 40. After the twelve-year-old Jesus had astonished His hearers in the temple, He “increased in wisdom and stature”, v.52. In the description of the encounter in the temple with the doctors, “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers”, v.47.
  2. “The spirit of counsel and might” Counsel suggests the words of Christ, whilst might implies His works. These two things persistently aroused compelling interest in His public ministry—the things He said and the things He did. His counsel was unique for its precepts, parables, prophecies, pleadings and promises. His might was unique, triumphing over the devil, the demons, disease, danger and death. How fittingly Isaiah had written earlier that “his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”, Isa. 9. 6.
  3. “The spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” Clearly the Lord Jesus possessed perfect knowledge and holy reverence throughout His life. But in a singular way these features are emphasized in relation to His hours of sorrow. The only New Testament reference to His “fear” occurs in Hebrews 5. 7, “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared”. References to His divine knowledge accumulate in John’s Gospel from His ministry in the upper room, ch. 13, through Gethsemane, ch. 18, to Calvary, ch. 19. “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come … knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God”, 13. 1, 3; “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth”, 18. 4; “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst”, 19. 28.

The Equity of His Government, vv. 3, 4a, “and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord”. The word “understanding” here is derived from a word meaning “scent”, and the passage can be rendered, “He shall be quick to appreciate as fragrance all that is of the fear of the Lord”, or “the fear of the Lord shall be as fragrance to Him”. The passage continues, “and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears”. This means that the Lord Jesus will not be subject to the limitations of human judges and magistrates, who depend wholly on what they are told and what they can see. They are therefore capable of mistaken judgments because men may be liars and appearances may be deceptive. The Lord’s judgments will be informed by perfect, unerring knowledge. He will make no mistakes. The words which follow indicate that, in that day, long centuries of human oppression and injustice will be ended, “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth”.

The Exercise of His Judgments, vv. 4b, 5, “and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked”. “The wicked” here can be rendered “the wicked one” or “the lawless one”, and the reference seems to be to the overthrow of anti-Christ referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2. 8, “and then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy, with the brightness of his coming”. Similar passages are Revelation 19. 11-15 and Psalm 2. 6-9. But the way is now clear to review the happier aspects of His dominion.

The Effects of His Reign, vv. 6-8. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb.” These delightful verses, full of animals and children, set forth something of the amazing transformation which awaits this groaning world in that day. Wild animals will be absolutely subdued and harmless. They will no longer be predatory. They will mingle with domestic animals, and provide docile pets for infants, Verse 8 is especially wonderful, as “the asp” and “the cockatrice” probably refer to the adder and the viper. Tiny babies will play near the adder’s hole and toddlers will be safe near the viper’s den. Amongst other things these verses show plainly that God will have unalloyed pleasure in His people in that day, for it is clear from Jeremiah’s prophecy that in the past wild animals and serpents have been used by the Lord to discipline them; see 5. 6; 8. 17.

The Extent of His Dominion, vv.9, 10. From this sublime closing section of the passage, consider some of the words of verse 9: “for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”. What a contrast between these words, and those which record God’s verdict on the world of Noah’s day (a verdict which is doubtless true of our own day), “the earth is filled with violence through them”, Gen. 6. 13. Centuries of human longings for international peace will at last be fulfilled when Christ reigns supreme. The indescribable, breathtaking glories of the millennium will be surpassed only by those of the eternal state itself.

Every tiger madness muzzled, every serpent passion killed,
Every grim ravine a garden, every blazing desert tilled,
Robed in universal harvest, up to either pole she smiles,
Universal ocean softly washing all her warless isles.

(A. Naismith).


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