We are nearing the end of what has been a very difficult year, one of the most troubled of this century. The worst airline accidents in history have occurred during the past year. Terrorism has been rampant during 1985. Just last week we were sobered by the terrible slaughter of innocent people, including children, in the airports at Rome and Vienna. Violence is increasing, and the forces of law and order seem more and more helpless to control it. All this makes us wonder what is coming down as the century draws to a close. Many, especially those of us who are parents and grandparents, wonder what kind of world our children and grandchildren will inherit. Is it going to go on forever like this, growing worse and worse as time goes by?
The secular answers to that question are not encouraging. Most commentators see increasing difficulty and trouble ahead. The few optimistic forecasts we hear sound like so much whistling in the dark. But the Christian answer, which is what we are concerned about, is very beautifully expressed in a great passage out of the book of Hebrews There the writer says, "We do not yet see all things subjected to man," (Hebrews 2:8). That is certainly true of our world today. He goes on to say, "But we see Jesus, crowned with glory and honor, though for a little while he was made lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, that he might taste death for every man," Hebrews 2:9).
"But we see Jesus." That is the theme also of this section in Isaiah to which we come this morning. The eleventh and twelfth chapters of this great prophecy clearly look on to the coming of the Messiah. All the Jewish commentators agree that this is a Messianic passage, although they do not, of course, believe that the Messiah is as Jesus. Here are Isaiah's words,
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
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.
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. (Isaiah 11:1-4a RSV)
It is not difficult for us to see there a clear prediction of the Lord Jesus. Here in these opening verses is a hint that the Messiah will appear in history in a very obscure way. That is suggested by this word, "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse." Like a great tree that has been cut down, the ancestry of Jesus represented in David and his father Jesse has been reduced to obscurity and insignificance. But out of that lowly stump will arise a shoot, a single sprout, a man who will, as the prophet goes on to say, be filled with the Spirit of God and who will do a great work in the land. When our Lord is referred to as "the son of David" in the gospels, it is always in terms of royal glory, but when he is called the "root of Jesse," it is a reference to his humble beginnings.
The prophet not only sees the ancestry of Jesus, but he sees him in his Spirit-filled ministry. "The Spirit of the Lord (of Yahweh), shall rest upon him," he says. That Spirit consists of six spirits (for a total of seven): "the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of counsel, the spirit of might, the spirit of the knowledge of the Lord and the fear of the Lord." It is rather striking that this passage corresponds to the Jewish candlestick, the Menorah. A Menorah has a central staff that parallels this word, "the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him." Linked to that central staff are three pairs of lightholders. These correspond to what we have in this passage. "The spirit of wisdom and of knowledge, or understanding," are linked together; likewise the "spirit of counsel and of might," and the "spirit of the knowledge of the Lord and the spirit of the fear of the Lord." Thus, they are illustrated by the Jewish symbol of the Menorah, the candlestick that burned in the tabernacle throughout the centuries.
As you observe these pairs more closely, you can see that they do indeed describe Jesus of Nazareth. The first pair, "the spirit of wisdom and of knowledge," speak of his amazing insight into human affairs. Wisdom is the knowledge of the nature of things, while understanding is the awareness of the differences between them. How clearly Jesus reflected these in his ministry! One of the symbols of our age is the psychiatrist's couch. Psychiatrists and psychologists have their patients lie on a couch and ask them questions in an effort to understand their problems. Perhaps you have heard of the two psychiatrists who met in an elevator. One of them said, "You're fine. How am I?" This humorously suggests the way we try to come to an understanding of ourselves and of others. But our Lord never used a couch for he never had to ask questions. John's gospel says, "Jesus needed not that any man tell him what was in man because he knew man." He knew the Hebrew and Hebrew thinking, the Greek and the Greek way of thinking. When either came to him he always dealt with them according to the way they had been brought up and taught.
I have always appreciated that wonderful first chapter of John's gospel that gives the account of our Lord calling his disciples. Andrew was the first one called. Andrew, that canny, cautious man. No wonder he has become the patron saint of Scotland! I always think of him as a Scotsman in a Jewish body. Andrew was deep and cautious, but when he let go there was an explosion. That is why we have named the great earthquake fault that runs through California, the San Andreas Fault! According to John, when Jesus met Andrew he went home with him and spent the whole day with him. It takes that long to get through to a man like Andrew.
Andrew's brother, Peter, is quite different. He is bold, impulsive, ambitious, outspoken. Jesus said to him, "Your name is Simon, but you shall be called Peter, a rock," John 1:42). Impulsive, unstable Simon wanted to be a rock, and our Lord recognized immediately the hunger of his heart. When he promised to fulfill Peter's dream he had his man.
Next, Jesus "found" Philip. Shy, mousy Philip never says much. He did not find Jesus, Jesus found him. Looking into Philip's eyes, he said but two words, "Follow me," (John 1:43). When Philip knew Jesus wanted him he was captivated by what he saw.
The fourth disciple whom Jesus called, Nathaniel, was still different. He was the open-hearted, honest type who believed whatever was told him. Jesus discerned that. That is why he said of him, "Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile," (John 1:47). There was no deceitfulness in him. As our Lord flashes the truth of each man's life upon him, each one begins to know himself better than ever before. That is the beauty of this prediction here in Isaiah, that upon him shall rest "the spirit of wisdom and understanding."
The second pair, "the spirit of counsel and of might," speak of authority. Counsel is the ability to give good and right advice, while might is the ability to help carry it out. This is described even more fully in the words in verse three, "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." What a wonderful description of Jesus as he met with people. He does not judge Nicodemus, one of the greatest of religious authorities in the nation, by his outward words or posture. He sees immediately that this man knows virtually nothing about the spiritual life, so he begins with the ABC's and speaks of the vital things that introduce one to the kingdom of God. He spoke of truth that you can never find out by human powers. He described how the angels live, what happens after death, how prayer works, how the devil works. These he described with full authority. He did not have to study reference books, but rather spoke so that men hearing him said, "No man ever spake like this man," (John 7:46 KJV). Yes, upon him rested "the spirit of counsel and of might."
The third pair, "the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord," speak of our Lord's intimate relationship to the Father. Out of that flows the marvelous serenity of his life. He is never taken by surprise. He always seems to be master of the occasion. This grows out of his full awareness of the mind of God. He said on one occasion, "You do not know Him, but I know Him," (John 8:55). He came to reveal to us the mind of the Father, the graciousness, compassion, truthfulness and faithfulness of God. As we read what he said it is obvious that it all grew out of his "knowledge of the Lord and his fear of the Lord." This is not speaking of fear that he will be punished, but of his reverent respect for the Being of the Father. He does not want to displease him. "I do always those things that please I him," he said.
Some years ago I ran across a statement that I felt was descriptive of our Lord's ministry in this regard. It is titled, Twelve Things That The Lord Jesus Never Did. What remarkable things they are:
First, "He never sought advice." He never went about asking, "What do you think about this?" We must do that daily, but he did not. Second, "He never changed his mind." He never said, "l agree that I said that, but I have been having second thoughts about it." Even our greatest leaders must admit to that, but Jesus never changed his mind.
Third, "He never was in a hurry." He must have frequently read that great verse in the book of Isaiah, "He that believes need not make haste." Fourth, "He never showed personal fear." When you fear the Lord, you do not fear anything else. Remember the words in Hebrews "I will never leave you nor forsake you, therefore what can any man do unto me?" ( Hebrews13:5). Our Lord never showed personal fear. Fifth, "He never made a mistake." He never had to say, "I did the wrong thing there."
And six through twelve: "He never showed surprise. He never was defeated in a controversy. He never performed a selfish miracle. He never distrusted God. He never denied a good request. He never confessed a sin. He never apologized for anything."
How fully these words of Isaiah are fulfilled in the ministry of this marvelous Man of Galilee! Upon him rested, in all its fullness, "the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom and knowledge, of counsel and might, and of the knowledge of and the fear of the Lord." Thus, "His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord."
In the middle of Verse 4 is another one of those leaps in time, arching across the centuries to the time when Jesus comes once again. We must bear these in mind as we read this book of Isaiah, and others of the prophets also. The Old Testament is written so as to bring together the two comings of Jesus as though they were one. The Apostle Peter in his first letter says, "The prophets spoke of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow," (1 Peter 1:11 KJV). But they gave no indication of the great valley of time that lies in between. The "sufferings" came at one period of history, the "glory that should follow" will come at another.
This is what throws the Jews off in their understanding of these prophecies, and why they feel that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies of the Messiah. Those prophecies that speak of his triumph are only to be fulfilled when he comes again. We must remember the Lord's words to his disciples, recorded in the book of Acts, when they asked him, "Will you at this time restore the kingdom unto Israel?" Acts 1:6). Here is his amazing answer, one we too frequently ignore: "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons (I wish many of our modern-day prophets would hear that!) which the Father has put in his own power," Acts 1:7). He did not answer their question because it was not for them to know. Thus questions of time with regard to prophecy are highly indeterminate.
Here, then, is one of those leaps in time. In the middle of this verse we are carried forward to the time when he shall come again, not as a gentle, loving healer and counselor of men, but, as the prophet says,
...he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. (Isaiah 11:4b-5 RSV)
That is quite a different picture of Jesus, yet to be fulfilled. This "smiting of the earth" is described in several places in the Scripture, most notably in the book of Revelation. Here is what John wrote in his great vision, clearly describing the same thing as Isaiah:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. (Revelation 19:11 RSV)
Remember that Isaiah had said, "Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist and faithfulness the girdle of his loins." John continues,
His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood[which speaks of his death], and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. (Revelation 19:12-13 RSV)
From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron[The very phrase taken from Isaiah's prophecy]; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 1:15-16 RSV)
Both Isaiah and John reveal that Jesus is the hope of this world. He is the Man that men cannot forget.
This week I saw an advertisement for a newly published book, "Jesus Through the Centuries." The writer says, "Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of western culture for almost twenty centuries. It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars. It is by his name that millions curse, and in his name that millions pray."
The world cannot forget Jesus because he is the Lord of this world. He is crowned with glory and honor and will come again, as Isaiah says, "to smite the earth with the rod of his mouth."
Many people, especially many churchgoers, do not like this picture of Jesus. They say, "Imagine describing 'gentle Jesus meek and mild' as ruling with a rod of iron! These are contradictory ideas. This image does not correspond with the character he manifested." That attitude betrays a tremendous ignorance of the nature of truth. Truth is always ruthless. It does not tolerate error:
The phone book is ruthless in its refusal to tolerate error. It does not give a list of names and tell you to choose your own number. You must call exactly the number that is listed. If you get the digits wrong, you will not get the person you are trying to reach.
The IRS is very ruthless and narrow-minded about the truth. They do not tell you to guess how much you made and let them know. No, they insist that you give them exact figures. They even check up on you so that if you do not put it all down, you will get a phone call that scares the living daylights out of you. They became quite intolerant about it.
What this world needs more than anything else, if I may say so, is someone who will rule with a rod of iron, someone who will mean what he says. We seem to be afflicted with a plethora of mealy-mouthed politicians and gutless bureaucrats who refuse to face up to issues. We have just been treated to a view of Congress pussyfooting around the issues of debt repayment and tax reform. They will not do anything about these critical things until they are forced to because they are unwilling to face the unpleasant truth. What a tremendous joy to know there is coming One who will do what he says. You can count on it. Oh, for men of iron who mean what they say and back up their words with deeds!
Somebody asked me this morning, "If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?" The answer, of course, is, "Congress." But I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies. As Will Rogers said, "We ought to be grateful that we don't get as much government as we pay for!" What a treat it is to read there is someone coming who is going to rule the earth in righteousness and faithfulness.
"The rod of his mouth" is the Word of God, specifically the word of the cross, the cross of Jesus that ruthlessly puts to death the old self in us. It has been said that if Jesus went into any peace conference today he could settle the world's problems with just three little words: "Love your enemies." Everyone knows Jesus is right. If we would love our enemies, as he tells us to do, we could end the arms race, destroy our instruments of death and fulfill all the dreams of these sincere peace demonstrators who long for peace but do not know how to achieve it. Why can't we do that? We know why. There is something in all of us that becomes angry when we are attacked, that makes us want to strike back and get even. It is what produces the horrible cycles of murder, war, and pillage that are repeated from century to century in the history of man. Our Lord puts that to death by the Word of the Cross.
What good is a doctor who tells you that your cancer does not matter? You want a surgeon with a resolute will and a sharp knife to cut it out and get rid of it. That is what Isaiah is promising. There is coming One who will deal earnestly, honestly, and thoroughly with the evil of man. That is why he is coming to "smite the earth."
What does this lead to? Isaiah looks further on, beyond the trouble that we are headed for -- recorded in the book of Revelation and other places. He sees there is coming a wholly different scene, which he describes in this way:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall feed;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9 RSV)
What a beautiful picture! Here is the time when the dreams of men will be fulfilled, when all the longings that reflect themselves in peace demonstrations and cries for disarmament will find their fulfillment. There is a deep hunger in mankind for this kind of a world, although we do not know how to achieve it. But there is coming One who does know how. Then, even the animals will lose their ferocity and lie down one with another. How would you mothers feel if you found your child playing with a cobra? But there is coming a time when it shall happen, when the animals shall lose their ferocity against one another, when the lion shall eat straw like the ox."
Some people ask, "Is this literal or is it only symbolic! Is this all metaphor?" Some commentators say this is a picture of the work of Christ in human hearts today. I believe that. I believe this is metaphor, picturing spiritual peace.
I think of our church elders in those terms. One of them is like a lion; he roars every time you cross him. Another one is like a great bear; he swallows you up as you come into contact with him. Another is like a leopard -- sneaky. We even had one named Wolfe. And here was I, a meek lamb in the midst of them! Our elders' meetings sometimes give that impression, but when we would look to the Lord he comes among us as a great lion tamer. Then the lion lies down with the lamb, the wolf and the leopard dwell together and everything works out. This is what our Lord has power to do in human hearts today. He can heal controversy and bring peace among men.
But I also believe this is literal. There is coming a day when the curse will be removed from the earth. Paul sings about a day when creation shall be released form its bondage, calling it the day of "the manifestation of the sons of God," (Romans 8:19 KJV). Then the curse will be removed and the whole earth will break into a verdant blooming, the like of which we have never seen; when "the desert shall blossom like the rose," as Isaiah describes it in Chapter 35. The animals lose their ferocity and even the carnivores return to eating grass, as in the unfallen creation.
There are other changes as well. In the rest of this chapter and Chapter 12, four times Isaiah uses the phrase "in that day," Verse 10:
In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign [a banner, a symbol] to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10 RSV)
That summarizes all the predictions about the restoration of Jerusalem as the center of the earth. The Lord Jesus shall reign in person in Jerusalem. He himself is the banner which the nations shall seek, "and his dwellings shall be glorious." It is the millennial Temple and the redeemed city. In Verse 11 there is another use of the phrase "in that day":
In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people, (Isaiah 11:11a RSV)
The first time was when he called them out of Egypt. Some think this "second time" is referring to the Babylonian captivity, but when the Israelites came back from Babylon they were still not an independent people. This will be a time when they shall be in their own land as their own rulers. But they will be "a remnant." That word always means believers. Some people ask today, "Is the present return of Israel the fulfillment of these verses? Is God now calling back his outcasts?" It sounds that way for if you read on, it says they shall come,
...from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.
He will raise an ensign for the nations,
and will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth.
The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart,
and those who harass Judah shall be cut off;
Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah,
and Judah shall not harass Ephraim. (Isaiah 11:11b-13 RSV)
That is, the division between the ten tribes in the north and the two in the south will be healed and Israel shall be at peace in their own land. Is the present return that? No, clearly not. This passage is talking about believers who are gathered back; the believing "remnant" of the people. Only a mere handful of believing Jews have returned in our day. Most of them are not even religious. Israel today is a secular state, though it is necessary for it to be there as a preparation for these days, it is not the fulfillment of these verses. Nor is it the direct hand of God that has brought them back from the far-flung nations of the earth as will happen in that day.
When they come, they shall overcome their enemies. Verse 14:
But they shall swoop down upon the shoulder of the Philistines in the west,
and together they shall plunder the people of the east.
They shall put forth their hand against Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites shall obey them. (Isaiah 11:14 RSV)
Moab, Edom and the Ammonites are peculiar nations in the Scripture. They were relatives, yet enemies, of Israel. The Edomites are the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob; while Moab and Ammon were the sons of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Yet although they were related, they were long-term enemies of Israel. Therefore, God said, "You shall not destroy them." He has a future for them as well. Spiritually, it speaks of an enemy we have within us that is related to us, called "the flesh" in the New Testament."In that day geographical changes will occur, as well. Verse 15:
The Lord will utterly destroy
the tongue of the sea of Egypt; (Isaiah 11:15a RSV)
This week I read a scientific article about the tectonic plates upon which Asia and Africa are located, which are now shifting. The scientists are predicting that they will drift apart in places and come together in others. "The tongue of the sea" is the Gulf of Suez which, according to this, shall disappear; it shall be literally "banned."
and He will wave his hand over the River; (Isaiah 11:15b RSV)
I think that is the Jordan, though some take it to be the Euphrates. When Israel came out of Egypt they passed through the Red Sea, through the Gulf of Suez, and also passed through the Jordan River.
...he will wave his hand over the River
with his scorching wind,
and smite it into seven channels
that men may cross dryshod.
And there will be a highway from Assyria[that is the present country of Iraq]
for the remnant which is left of his people,
as there was for Israel
when they came up from the land of Egypt. (Isaiah 11:15b-16 RSV)
There are some physical changes coming in that section of the world, which is located in the Rift Valley, one of the great natural gaps in the crust of the earth. Massive earthquakes are bound to happen in the future, as the book of Revelation describes.
Chapter 12 has two more references to "that day" This is still part of the same vision as in Chapter 11:
You will say in that day:
"I will give thanks to thee, O Lord,
for though thou wast angry with me,
thy anger turned away,
and thou didst comfort me." (Isaiah 12:1 RSV)
This is the song of the redeemed of Israel, now restored to the Lord's mercies,
"Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation." (Isaiah 12:2 RSV)
What a marvelous picture of a relationship yet to come for Israel! The first part concludes with these words:
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3 RSV)
Immediately we are reminded of Jesus' words to the woman at the well of Samaria: "If you believe in me, you can draw from me living water and you will never thirst again," (John 4:7-15). It is a picture of taking from the Lord the emotional strength we need. But what is to be fulfilled in the future in Israel is already available to believers now by the Spirit, from whom we can draw the needs of our spirit. The antidote to fear is faith; the antidote to depression is the joy of the Lord; the antidote to distress of mind and heart is peace of mind. This we can take from him, as we "draw water from the wells of salvation." The final outcome is that Israel will proclaim this in all the earth:
And you will say in that day:
"Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the nations,
proclaim that his name is exalted.
"Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 12:4:6 RSV)
That brings us to the application in our own lives: If we have learned to walk daily in fellowship with "the Holy One of Israel" we, too, will want to "give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, and make known his deeds among the nations."
Have you found that "great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel"? One Christian has described his experience in these words:
A Song in the Night
In the heat of the day,
I have Jesus.
For a rest on the way,
I have Jesus.
In the calm of the morn,
When a new day is born,
In the midnight hour,
When dark clouds lower,
For each need of my heart,
I have Jesus.
For all of my life,
I have Jesus.
Mid clamor and strife,
I have Jesus.
For protection from harm,
And all sudden alarm,
For provision for need,
For His Spirit to lead,
For each moment I live,
I have Jesus.
He will never depart,
I have Jesus.
To meet Satan's dart,
I have Jesus.
He holds my weak hand,
And gives strength to stand,
He pours from His Throne,
Plenteous grace for his own,
So I sing and I praise
"How great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel."
Our gracious Father, we thank you for these amazing words from this ancient book. How accurately they picture One who has come to mean more than all else to us. We thank you for the confirmation of the Spirit to our own hearts that these words can be fulfilled in us as well. We pray for the members of the nation of Israel today. We know that there lies ahead for them, and for all the nations of earth, dark and troubled days, terrible days. Yet it leads at last to the fulfillment of these gracious words, when even the animals shall lose their enmity one with another and lie down together, and a little child shall lead them. Grant to us that we may discover the reality of these words in our own personal lives, as we feed upon the bread of life and draw water from the wells of salvation. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.