The opening chapters of Isaiah make for fairly sobering reading. Whilst there are the great prophecies we treasure and read at Christmas – the virgin birth of ch7, the ‘Wonderful Counsellor’ of ch9 – Israel is largely challenged by God for its lack of attention to Him and His ways.
Isaiah prophecies that other nations will overpower them as a result: and yet, studded amidst the calamitous prophecies of judgement, there is always hope. The nations surrounding Israel will likewise too be brought low eventually, their leadership judged for its pride and self-reliance: ‘See, the Lord Almighty will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled….’ So ends ch10: what comes next? How will God’s people recover? These timeless words are what follows:
‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.’ (v1)
Renewal is coming! And note, it is not a brand new plan, rather the restoration and true recovery of an old one. A righteous ruler filled with the Spirit of God (v2-5), who will lead the people into the glorious future that God plans for His people (v6-9).
As we have seen over the last couple of weeks, the Old Testament had its fair share of Spirit-anointed leaders. The Spirit was apt to empower particular people for particular things, and, looking at v2, these famous characters all manifested some of the attributes of true spiritual maturity: Solomon had the Spirit of wisdom and understanding; Samson had the Spirit of might (though definitely not of counsel), David excelled in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. But none of them had the lot.
Until now. Someone new was coming. Someone who possessed all of these qualities, and more. Whose judgements would protect the poor and needy, and judge the wicked; who would be known for faithfulness; and ultimately who would usher in an era of peace and harmony.
God’s people had to wait 700 years for this person: Jesus, the true and righteous king. And whilst his gentle rule continues to extend into human hearts across the world, we too ache with longing for the final reign of peace promised in this remarkable chapter. It will come, as surely as the waters cover the sea. But, for now, we wait, and pray, and try to copy our boss as best we can. To grow in wisdom and understanding. To delight in God. To seek the peace and justice of this world.
The shoot of Isaiah has become a great tree, and we are branches grafted in. Today, let’s pray that our branch bears fruit, filled with the same Spirit that rests on him.