On Thursdays during Advent, I’ll post short pieces that explore some Scripture and theology behind our Christian beliefs and practices.
Looking Ahead to the New King
Christians have long interpreted various Old Testament passages to foreshadow the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. One of the passages quoted most often as a messianic prophecy is from Isaiah 11.
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
The prophet Isaiah ministered to Judah and Israel during the reigns of three kings—Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah—roughly between740–690 B.C. In one sense, the prophet was looking ahead to an actual king. The first five chapters of Isaiah have described a sad state of affairs: injustice and violence characteristic of a people who have failed morally and spiritually. The prophet sees ahead to a better time. The poetry in chapter 11 might have been used to welcome a new king to the throne; after all, they believed that “the spirit of the Lord” rested on kings. And certainly the people kept hoping for a leader who would restore them to righteousness and peace.
But, as is often the case with prophetic material (and with transcendent poetry), these words paint a vaster picture than that of any earthly kingdom. Christians from earliest times have seen in this passage God’s promise of life wholly redeemed and renewed through Jesus, the savior and redeemer of the world. Certainly when we look at Jesus’ life, we see the kind of leader described by Isaiah.