O Come Thou Rod of Jesse
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (Isaiah 11.1)
In previous installments of this series, we have looked at the spiritual situation in the nations of Israel and Judah in Isaiah’s day. It was a time of immense darkness and idolatry, where the children of Israel were more reliant on the kings of other nations and their gods than they were on Yahweh. The fact is that this spiritual state trickled down from the highest office in the land, the Davidic Kingship in Judah. That is to say nothing of the state of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. The books of Kings are longform stories that repeat over and over what happened to the nations as more wickedness corrupted the kingly office. We also have noted that this faithlessness among the kings was exemplified in chapter 7 by Ahaz, who refused to ask God for a sign when he was commanded to do so. The spiritual state of the kingship of Judah was dead. It was submerged in spiritual darkness and idolatry.
This is the context of this prophecy in Isaiah 11. This prophecy is one of many in the book of Isaiah that intersperse Messianic hope in the midst of proclamations of judgement on Israel and Judah. This whole prophecy really takes up verses 1-16, but for the sake of brevity we will have to look at the whole passage under the heading of verse 1. Much like the sections of Isaiah that give prophetic hope in earlier chapters, this passage looks forward to the coming Davidic King, and it does so in the context of the languishing, felled kingship that was currently ruling in Judah at the time. This is what the words “stump of Jesse” point to. The picture that is being drawn here of the Davidic Kingly line is one of a felled tree. A tree that was once mighty through God in its reign over Israel in accordance with His promise has become something that has been cut down through the judgement of God. “Stump” is a term of deadness and the judgement of God upon this kingly line.
The marvelous reality that this passage points to though is that God will not abandon His covenant with David. (2 Sam. 7) He promised David a kingship that would never end and a descendent who would build a house for the Lord. These promises ultimately pointed past his son Solomon to an ultimate Messianic hope that would embody the “true and better David.” This is the Messianic hope that these verses set before us. The Davidic Kingship had been cut down through God’s judgement and would be carried off into exile. Even in the nation’s return from exile which marked a sort of initiation of eschatological expectation, the Davidic Kingship was not restored. Through the entire intertestamental period from the close of Malachi until the coming of Christ there was not a Davidic King on the throne. If you look at the ethnic nation of Israel today, there is still no Davidic King ruling over that people. The bleak reality of Jesse’s felled tree, turned into a mere stump, is a palpably miserable experience for this once great house of David. Jesse’s tree is cut down, dry, shriveled, and fruitless…. until a shoot springs forth from it.
A fresh shoot, or branch, that grows out of this dried up stump (so comes from David’s line) is to be King in Israel. Unlike Jesse’s dead tree, this branch that springs out of the hopeless situation in David’s house “bears fruit.” The picture here is a King who reigns over His people in righteousness and causes them to flourish. This is exactly the scene that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Branch from Jesse’s stump is born into. Verse two of this passage describes the anointing of this King with the sevenfold Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is described in seven different ways as it relates to His resting upon this coming King. This is a picture of the Spirit resting upon Him in infinite fulness. The kings of old and mighty men were anointed by the Spirit for particular tasks to be accomplished. This One who is coming from David’s line will be anointed with the perfect fulness of God’s Spirit.
The Spirit which anoints Him also enables Him in His humanity to reign over a perfect kingdom that kings of the past were never able to. His reign will produce perfect righteousness and justice, (verse 4) as well as reversing the curse which causes hostility and death between predators and prey. (verses 6-9) This prophecy builds off of the Isaiah 9 prophecy that the Child born would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9.6) This is a perfect anointed King over God’s perfect mountain. (Isaiah 2)
This is exactly the Kingdom that the Lord Jesus brings in His coming. He inaugurates this Kingdom in His first advent and consummates it in His second advent. In His first advent He conquers death for His people, becoming the Head of the New Creation, He commissions that the Gospel of this Kingdom be spread to all nations, and He ascends on high and pours out the Spirit that anoints Him upon His people. As the nations are penetrated by the Gospel, His Kingdom spreads in a “first-fruits” sort of way as sinners enter spiritually into His New Creation that He has inaugurated. When He returns the perfect consummation of this Kingdom will be brought as the dead are raised incorruptible, the curse is undone at last, and the “earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (verse 9) This is the Gospel of the coming King in all of His glory. He is contrasted in this passage with the dead stump of Jesse that the former kings have brought about. He will bear fruit for Yahweh in all the earth as He inaugurates and consummates this Kingdom. This coming King is the Lord Jesus Christ, born of a virgin. In His birth the longings of Israel had been realized. The King had finally come to be that living Branch.