Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Isaiah 11

Verses 1-16

Prophecy and History

Isaiah 11

We should connect the opening of the eleventh chapter with the close of the tenth in order to feel the full force of the contrast. There we read: "And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one." Then comes the prophecy that "there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" ( Isaiah 11:1). The cedar of Lebanon was the symbol of Assyrian power. It was a poor symbol. Looked at botanically, it very vividly represented the passing pomp of a Pagan empire. It is of the pine genus, and sends out no suckers, and when it is cut down it is gone. The oak is the symbol of Israel"s power, and though it be cut down it grows again—"there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots"—out of the very lowest stump that is left in the ground. In order to terminate the growth of right things and right lives you must really uproot them; and that is impossible. There are trees that can be cut down, and they have no to-morrow; and there are others which, though cut down to the very surface of the earth, have sap within themselves, and have laid such hold upon the earth, and upon the whole solar system through the earth, that they will renew their youth, and be green next year. What is the symbol of our power? Is ours an influence that can be cut down and never revive? or are we so rooted in the Eternal that though persecution may impoverish us, and we may suffer great deprivation and depletion of every kind, yet we shall come up again in eternal youthfulness, and great shall be our strength and just pride? Let every man answer this question for himself.

"There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse." We thought the rod was coming "out of the house of David." There may be an instructive point here. David was a king, royal, marked in his highest time by features that impressed the vision and the imagination; it was better, therefore, to take the case of Jesse in his loneliness and comparative obscurity, and to start the Christian story from that lowly home. Nothing is of full compass in benevolence and philosophy and true wisdom that does not begin at the lowest point, and work through all the strata to the very surface and uppermost line of things. Better, therefore, know that though David was very great and glorious, yet even he was the son of Jesse. Let us go back to the humblest point, the very starting line, and learn that this Son of God was not the son of a king only, but the son of a king"s lowly father. Christianity is the religion of the common people. The gospel appeals to all men, rich and poor, in every zone and clime, and is most to those who need it most.

"... and a Branch shall grow out of his roots"—a branch, a Netzer; he shall be called a Netzer, a Nazarene: Jesus shall be associated with Nazareth, the word which traces itself back to another word which signifies branch; his name shall for ever be associated with growth, and beauty, and loveliness, and fruitfulness. All this is in the future, but the future may be the most present reality to our consciousness. Did we know it, we should feel that heaven is nearer than earth; that eternity is closer to us than time can ever be; that by a sweet grace, a most tender necessity, the future is the real present, by way of inspiration, encouragement, and vivification; it is thus that posterity has done much for us, though we sneeringly inquire, What has posterity done? Posterity represents the future, the coming dawn, the very period for which all good men are working; the Sabbath of the world, the parliament of man; and, therefore, by its lure, by its holy seduction and gracious welcome, it lifts us out of the deep pit, and calls us away from the shadowed valley, and gives courage in the day of strife, and hope in the night of despondency.

Let us further read about this man the Branch:—

"And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding ["the faculty of clear perception leading him aright in matters whether of intellectual or moral interest ( 1 Kings 10:8; Job 28:28)"], the spirit of counsel and might ["sagacity in conceiving a course of action, and firmness and courage in carrying it out (cf. Isaiah 36:5)"], the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord ["a full apprehension of what Jehovah demands, and the inclination to act accordingly"] ( Isaiah 11:2).

We seem to have read these words before; surely the prophet is now quoting some other man; what man is he quoting? They are solemn strong words, clear-cut, of diamond value; and we have a half-conscious familiarity with them ourselves. Isaiah is quoting from the Book of Proverbs. This description of the coming One is taken from a book in which there would seem to be but little poetry. Isaiah was a great statesman, a strong, shrewd, sagacious Prayer of Manasseh, fed at the banqueting-table of the Book of Proverbs—that pithiest of all books, every sentence a light, every verse the wisdom of many and the wit of one. Isaiah was a student of the old scrolls; having much to do, either personally or relatively, with the sanctuary and its services, he was a student as well as a statesman; and when he comes to describe the mind that would bless the world with infinite beneficence he finds all the lineaments in the Book of Proverbs. When we come to right definitions, large and wise, we shall find that poetry may be in an apothegm. Some poets are praised because their poetry is in their thought rather than in their versification; in some instances we are puzzled by the mere rhyming of the poet, it does not fall harmoniously and easily into its lines; therein we are told that the poetry is in the philosophy, in the inner and inspiring thought, rather than in the verbal form. So it is in the Book of Proverbs. Truth is poetry; poetry is truth; and Christ when he comes shall represent in himself, not some glowing ode, but that Book of Proverbs, every sentence of which is like a jewel fit to be set in a king"s crown.

"The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him." That also is a familiar phrase we meet with in Judges ( Judges 11:29): "Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah;" also in Judges 13:25 : "And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him" [Samson]. Again in John 1:33 : "Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending" That Spirit of the Lord has always been in human history. It accounts for all heroisms, noble darings, self-sacrifices, for all labours meant, not for the blessedness of the labourer himself, but for the gratification and progress of other ages. Do not limit yourselves by a theological and technical definition. "The Spirit of the Lord" is a large expression: it has to do with the mystery of mind; with the secrecy of motive; with the inner springs of life, and thought, and purpose; with dreams and visions, and even with superstitions and fanaticisms; it has worked in India and in China; it has written books in characters that are strange to us; it dwelt with Plato, and it may be with some to-day who are unaware of the name of their Guest, who rules and blesses them with light. Wherever you find a wise word you find the Spirit of God; wherever you find genuine morality you find a revelation of heaven; be it in what books it may, it is God"s thought, and we must resolutely and gratefully claim it as such; otherwise, we shall have rival moralities, rival temples of wisdom; whereas there is but one goodness and one sanctuary.

Mark his intellectual qualification; he is to be "of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord" ( Isaiah 11:3)—a word which relates to the power of smell or scent; he is to have that keen sense which the hound has when the game is not far away, and yet is deeply hidden; he is to know wisdom and right and truth as the thirsty hart smells the waterbrooks; or, by another etymology, he is to draw his breath in the fear of the Lord; that is to say, the fear of the Lord is to be his native breath. Religion is to be no burden to him, no superimposition which he must carry, whether he will or no; his religion is his breath, he will pray because he breathes, he will speak because he breathes; it is part of himself, of his very nature; it belongs to a great system of voluntariness, which constantly and continually gives itself out for the benefit of those who are within the range of its influence. He is to be a discerning Christian; his eyes are like unto fire; he sees all things, yea, the deep things of God; there is no possibility of passing off a counterfeit upon him; he knows the hypocrite afar off, though he be on bent knees, and his eyes are lifted up to heaven in simulated piety. This gift of discernment is a gift which may be enjoyed by the whole Church. Have we lost the spirit of discernment? How comes it that men who are religious are thought to be mentally inferior? They ought to be the highest minds in the world; they ought to have the candle of the Lord at their disposal—a candle which lets its revealing light fall upon all secret corners and cunning devices. There should be no possibility of deceiving the spirit of righteousness which is in the renewed man; he will know the hypocrite by his very attitude. Yet it may be possible to deceive even the very elect. But we cannot deceive the Lord. The Lord looketh upon the heart; even though we have many qualities that are unworthy, yet he can see beneath them all, and detect the genuine seed, the real desire after his kingdom, and the real sympathy with his purpose. That is the difference between the bad man and the good man: the bad man endeavours to keep an outwardly reputable surface, and all his iniquity is within, at the very centre and core of things; the good man"s imperfections are many, and are broadly seen, but the more deeply you go into his character the more rich he is; he is honest at the core. By this God will judge us. If we say, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee, though yesterday I denied thee, the appeal will stand if it be the appeal of an honest man; the wound, the slight, will be forgiven, forgotten, on the sight of the first penitential tear, and the ardent desire to be better will be accepted, and answered like a prayer.

Look at his moral qualifications. His official attitude is that of a smiter—"he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth." The word "earth" is not to be taken here in its geographical sense; "the earth" represents temporary powers, the rulers of the passing day, the triflers who are playing with the peoples, and who are using the nations for selfish and unpatriotic purposes: this ruler shall smite the earth, break the tyrant"s power, put down the oppressor, and achieve victory over the victor. That is one of his moral qualifications. Look at his dress—"righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins." He is clothed with righteousness and faithfulness. The girdle keeps all the other garments in their place. There is an upper girdle and a lower girdle, and the idea of completeness is thus suggested and confirmed.

Look at his influence upon Nature:—

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice" den" ( Isaiah 11:6-8).

All nature will be under his control. When the eye sees him it will recognise him. There is a majesty before which we all retire; an impressiveness of power, a consciousness of real dignity, in the presence of which we hold our tongues, and wait for him who is clad with righteousness and faithfulness, and crowned with Wisdom of Solomon, to speak the first word and lead the conversation. Beautiful, indeed, is this conquest over nature, and beautiful the test by which it is confirmed—"A little child shall lead them." The suckling shall play with the cobra, and the weanling shall put his hand on the basilisk, and a great reconciliation shall take place; there shall be no longer any to hurt or destroy in all God"s holy mountain. A little child shall stretch out his hand to the eyeball of the basilisk as a man will put out his hand to a gleaming diamond. That is the literal meaning of the prophecy. When the mother sees her little child approaching the great cobra she screams, but in this Sabbatic day cobra and child shall be friends. These are the miracles of grace; these are the triumphs of Jesus Christ. When he sent forth his apostles he said: "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you." Here is the very realisation of the words of the prophet. Man shall one day take his right place in nature: he shall lay his hand upon the lion, and play with the lion"s neck of thunder; and the little weanling shall run after the most noxious thing, and find it harmless as its own young pure heart. Christ will do his work thoroughly; he will not have a half-heaven; he will not bring in a partial reconciliation. He was before all things, by him all things consist, and without him was not any thing made that was made; when, therefore, he declares that the end of his journey has come, we shall find even the animals within the circle of his influence, and the most violent things shall sit down in meekness, and look up as if in prayer. What are these animals? Who made them? Who can explain them? Who knows their future? This is a gracious mystery at all events, and may be accepted as a fact—that when man is right with God the animals will be right with man; when man is right with God, the earth will be right with Prayer of Manasseh, and will feel as if she could not do enough for him in growing him all the bread he wants, and then giving him more than he needs. "Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us."

"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain." Hurting and destroying were no part of the divine plan from the first. Hurting and destroying, acts of violence and cruelty, these have no place in the divine policy as such; they are brought in as dire necessities; they follow the way of sin, that they may judge it and condemn it, and inflict penalty upon it; but hurting and destroying are but temporary ministries; God"s whole thought is of love, and healing, and well-being.

How is all this to be done? Under what great signal is it to take place? The answer is sublime: "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" ( Isaiah 11:9). This is to be a religious miracle. It there were fuller knowledge of God in the world there would be more peace amongst men; if the Lord"s kingdom were understood, the Sabbath of the millennium would dawn. But men do not understand the kingdom of God; they make it narrow, they imprison it within unworthy limitations, they mistake the infinity of truth, and they think they can build a house fit for God. There is the perpetual difficulty. We ought to feel that the largest house we build for him is too small for any attribute of his character; that the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him. So we should believe about truth. No one man can hold all God"s truth, or comprehend it, or reveal it; he can but take his own share of the sunlight, and throw it back in generous reflection upon those who need its help. When men understand God"s kingdom, they will understand that love is the true wisdom; that charity is the true justice; that self-control is the true sovereignty; and that to wait patiently for God is the grand philosophy.


Almighty God, we would evermore dwell in the valley of vision; we would belong to the family of the seers, to the city of men who are gifted with foresight, who see the morning while it is yet night, and who see the noonday in the dim dawn. We bless thee for all the men in the world who have had great eyesight, power of far-away vision, who could see things in their right meaning and their true proportion, and so seeing them had the eloquent tongue to tell others what had been revealed. Thou always art revealing something to the human mind; some new phase of truth thou dost cause us to look upon, and it fills us with religious surprise, for having gazed upon it with religious wonder we exclaim, There is no searching of his understanding. Do thou every day surprise us with thy love; though we expect it, may it come with such newness as to awaken our wonder. Thou art always before us, thou dost in very deed prevent us; we thought we were first, and lo, we were last, and are always last, for who can be before God? For all thy daily mercies we bless thee; they are but a greater mercy broken up into morsels: surely we will set ourselves to find the meaning of them; they are not complete, they are parts of a stupendous whole. Help us to use every mercy as a cue, that we may follow it, and connect it with other mercies, until at last we say, Behold, this is the King of the Jews, the crucified Son of man! We bless thee with daily blessings; our doxology is a daily Song of Solomon, for behold thy compassions come with every morning, and thy faithfulness is sealed anew at eventide. Bless us in the Lord, the Christ, the Well of Salvation, the Spring and Origin of truth, the Sovereign of all hearts, the Man who died for us, and thus proved his deity. Amen.

Verse 6

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the falling together; and a little child shall lead them."Isaiah 11:6

Some have seen in these words a promise that the animal world should in some way share in the blessings of redemption. It has been supposed by them that rapine and cruelty were signs of an imperfect order, and that when man is put right as to his spirit and action the influence of the restoration will be felt as widely as was the influence of his fall. We need not attempt to give the words a literal fulfilment. They admit of an accommodation which is most legitimate, indeed, so legitimate as to hardly be an accommodation. It is almost a literal interpretation of them to point out that the great object of the kingdom of heaven amongst men is to drive away all disorder, all cruelty, all wrong-doing, and to bring universal Sabbath to shine upon the darkness and the tumult of time. These words may be taken as allegorical or as literal, according to the conviction of the reader. It is certain, however, that when the work of Christ is perfected upon the earth there shall be a great reconciliation of classes, of interests, and of policies; man shall no longer vex Prayer of Manasseh, or oppress him, or reap his fortunes in the fields of human misery. We have today, even amongst men, the wealthy and the lowly, the strong and the weak, the rapacious and the unselfish. We need not go to zoology to find instances of opposed temper and blood. We find such instances in abundance amongst ourselves. There are men of uncontrollable temper, men of insatiable cupidity, men of consuming ambition, men gentle, patient, and helpful. Indeed, the words "the wolf" and "the lamb" almost literally represent the varieties of temper which we find in human society. If we regard the words as conveying a Gospel promise, then they may be so read as to give us the assurance that when the work of Christ is complete in the earth all men will feel the passion and enter into the joy of true brotherhood. All rapacity, cruelty, selfishness, will be done away. Any religion that contemplates such a consummation is by so much a religion that ought to challenge our reason and our confidence. Note how grand, how glorious the object of Christ"s kingdom is continually represented to be. It is never associated with anything that is petty or dishonourable. It is never brought in to the loss of any honest soul. Wherever the kingdom of Christ comes, summer comes, Sabbath comes, a great harvest of joy comes. Judge the kingdom by its results. Judge the Cross of Christ not by some metaphysical standard but by the great object which it has in view, and it will be then seen that behind all the mystery is a purpose of love—vast as infinity, tender as the very spirit of pity.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 11". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. 1885-95.