“In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of Him shall the nations inquire, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Imagine making a long drive to your favorite summer getaway in the woods, only to find that almost overnight every tree has been cut down and only the piles of dried-up branches remain. Further imagine that the cabin that had been in your family for years was burned to the ground, along with the homes of all your neighbors. The initial shock of such a loss is only the beginning. After that comes the grief that much has been taken… and the dread that more could be taken, too.
Now put yourself in the shoes of the people of Judea, Isaiah’s audience as he utters his prophecy for the first time. The twelve tribes of Israel have been culled down to two. They look across the border to the northern kingdom and it’s a wasteland. The people are gone. The Assyrian armies marched through the land with a scorched earth policy. The “fortunate” few survivors were led away into captivity with fishhooks through their lips. Now, the ten tribes are gone. Yesterday, they were there. Now, they’ll never be heard from again. They disappear into history. Unless you believe some of today’s conspiracy theorists or religious cults that claim to be from one of the lost tribes of Israel.
Isaiah pictures the northern tribes as a razed forest. Once teeming with life, now it is all gone. Isaiah proclaims in chapter 9, “Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land is scorched, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no one spares another” (9:19). Once the fire has swept through, all that’s left is slash and stumps.
The reason for the destruction is idolatry. The northern ten tribes turned from God, placing their trust in the idols of the world around them instead. And since they wanted other gods to take care of them, the Lord has granted their desire. Let those gods provide for them and protect them from enemies like the Assyrians. Because they have chosen to love idols, they have made an enemy out of God. Now they need their idols to defend them from God’s wrath.
And you can see how well that works. The desolation is stark evidence of the impotence of their gods. God uses the evil Assyrian king as His instrument to show that false gods are nothings. In the process, the people of Israel inherit another false god (Isaiah 10:20). Their lives now depend on the whims of the Assyrian king who has already defeated them. He is a god only of fear, not mercy.
That’s why the northern kingdom, Israel, is gone, why the land is like a forest after a fire or a clear-cut crew. The people of the southern kingdom of Judea are devastated, shocked. But Isaiah isn’t done with the Law yet. He also prophesies that Judea will suffer the same. Rather than repent and trust in God, the people of Judea will continue to turn from Him and put their trust in useless idols as well. It’s only a matter of time until the “forest” of Judea is burned to the ground by the Babylonians, until Jerusalem is destroyed and only stumps remain.
Where is hope? The Judeans see none, just a ticking clock that leads to destruction. Where is justice? Are the Assyrians any more godly than the ten tribes were? Hardly. In fact, they’re worse. But “justice” in a sinful world is hard to come by, and the Judeans have had a front row seat to “might makes right.” The Assyrians have just dispensed their version of “justice” by leveling the ten tribes. The Babylonians will follow suit.
Did you hear the last half of our text, where life is so good and peaceful that a little child is leading lions and wolves around while they cavort with lambs and calves? Ha. A happy place like that is beyond comprehension. For the little, weak nation of Judea, there’s nothing in their power to stop the destruction from happening. It’s only a matter of time until the forest is burned to the ground.
Is there hope? Yes, there is, and Isaiah puts it in these words:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from His roots shall bear fruit. 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. And His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-3a).
A shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse. Jesse was the father of King David, and the Lord promised that the Savior would be born to David’s line. Here is God’s promise: even though the family tree of Jesse is chopped down to a stump as Judea is destroyed, the Lord is still faithful to His Word. A shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse. The Savior will come. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him. The triune God is at work to save.
He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and 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 of His waist, and faithfulness the belt of His loins (Isaiah 11:3b-5a).
The Savior will not judge with His eyes and ears. He will not survey the nations and say, “This one has the biggest armies and most weapons, so I’m going to make them My pet.” He’s going to judge with righteousness; and where righteousness favors a verdict for the poor and meek, then He’s going to decide for the poor and meek. If nations and armies don’t like His verdict, too bad for them. He’ll be too great for them to conquer. In fact, if they choose to make Him an enemy, He will kill the wicked with the breath of His lips. He will speak His Word, and His enemies will be destroyed.
His victory over His enemies will be complete. So will the peace that follows. His defeat of all evil will finally be so overwhelming that “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). How remarkable! Remember: “The world is governed by the aggressive use of force.”[i] Peace in this world only holds as long as there’s enough threat of force to suppress evil. But this victory will be so great that evil won’t just be subdued. It will be entirely gone, remembered no more.
That’s the hope for the people of Judea. Their nation will suffer devastation, every nation does eventually, and every nation will until the end of time. But the Savior will come. And for all those in Isaiah’s time who trust in the promised Savior who is coming, their end is not bloodstained battlefields or slavery in Babylon. It’s eternal rest with God, and His resting place will be glorious.
At the time that Isaiah wrote our passage, life in Judah seemed to be coasting along rather well. It was a time of affluence and excess. But that was only on the outside. Inside, morally and spiritually, Judah was rotten to the core, attracted to the shiny idols that promised wealth, health, and good fortune, but indifferent to God’s Word that called them to repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and salvation. In a word, complacent.
The devil wants to tempt you with the same in your individual life. He wants you to become complacent, to believe that life will go on comfortably enough, that the bad things that happen to other people just aren’t going to happen to you. Or he wants you to live a life of fearful denial, so worried at the thought of bad things happening to you that you don’t even want to think about it. Paralyzed to inaction.
Both temptations are designed to leave you devastated, because devastation will happen. It must in a world corrupted by sin because sin and death are always opposed to righteousness and life. And if righteousness and life are gone, then what is left? Only devastation. This may come in the form of a national disaster—be it weapons of mass destruction or a convulsive act of nature. It may come in the far more personal devastation of the loss of a loved one or a dream or your own health and well-being. But it will happen.
So, complacency and denial are a poor strategy. They’re outright dangerous responses. They’re dangerous because they lead a multitude of people to say, “I’ll listen to the Word of God when and if I have to, but not before.” But when tragedy strikes you will hear your grief preach the Law far more loudly than you will hear anyone preach the Gospel. You’ll be ready for despair or anger at God, both of which will rob you of hope. That’s why the time to prepare for such times is now.
There is hope. There is certain deliverance that will hold true even when you suffer deep trouble. The hope is this: God keeps His promises. The shoot has sprung forth from the stump of Jesse. The Christ was born to Mary. That’s the Good News, the light that shines back from Christmas into Advent. He is the One upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rests. You witnessed that in Scriptures when He was baptized. From His baptism, He has gone on to delight in the fear of the Lord. He has lived a holy life in this corrupted world. And then, He has borne all the sin of the world to the cross and suffered God’s judgment for it. To put it in the language of Isaiah, the Father sent “the Assyrians” of judgment after His Son, rather than you. On the cross, Christ was devastated on your account.
But He is risen again, and He is risen to judge. He does not judge by what His eyes see or decide disputes by what His ears hear, for He is all-knowing. Let this strike terror into the hearts of hypocrites who think that they can fool God into loving them while they go about their sin. No, Christ looks upon the heart and He judges with righteousness. That would strike terror into hearts, were it not for grace, for you would say, “When He looks upon my heart, He will surely find me guilty for my sin!” But He does not. He looks at you and says, “I’ve taken away your sin. I’ve suffered for your guilt already. When I look upon the heart of you, My repentant child, I see only My righteousness. You’re forgiven. You’re holy in My sight, and I will deliver you to heaven.”
Apart from grace there is only devastation because sinners can’t be with the Lord of life; and apart from the Lord of life, there is only death and devastation left. But you have hope! You look upon the scorched earth of a sinful world, and you see that shoot sprouting from the stump. And as surely as that shoot has risen from the stump, died, and risen again, so He will raise you from your grave, from this world of devastation to life everlasting.
That is your hope now and always. That is your comfort on the devastating days. You’re not yet in a world where evil is no more. You can’t send the kids out to play with a cobra yet. But by His Word, the Lord breaks through this world and says, “With the breath of My lips, I’ve put to death your old sinful flesh, and I’ve given you life. I will deliver you.” By His Supper, the Lord says, “You’re not seated at the banquet table of heaven yet, but I bring you to My Table to feed You My eternal body and blood.” By these means, the Lord gives you death-defying life. By these means, He sustains you now—and so He will on the darkest of days.
And so, as His beloved child, you continue to hear His Word and receive His Supper. By those means, He continues to prepare you for endurance in this world and for life everlasting. There will be days when all you see is scorched earth, where all you taste are ashes. But that is not the end for you. You will still have Christ to cling to, Christ who has faithfully declared you righteous! He remains your comfort in those darkest of days, and He promises that deliverance is coming to you: because you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] Rush Limbaugh’s Undeniable Truth of Life, number 6.