Summary: God promises and provides a Messiah to rule and direct his people.
In a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, Calvin asks his dad why the moon is so big tonight. He takes out a quarter and says, “Its smaller than a quarter.”
Judging the size of far away objects can be difficult. For example, the sun is really big, about 900,000 miles in diameter. Yet a tiny dot in the sky, the star Betelgeuse, astronomers tell me is actually 600,000,000 miles in diameter (75,000 times larger than the earth) and it emits 10,000 times as much energy as the sun! It does not look so.
The sizes are not as large, but the distances can confuse us when we read the Old Testament, especially prophecy. Some events future to the author would occur soon. Isaiah predicts the destruction of Judah and a forced exile which would happen only a few years after he spoke. But he also describes a Messiah who came 700 years after the promise. Still other things Isaiah said remain future—even now, almost 3000 years since he preached. The distance to fulfillments can deceive us.
Additionally, we now know who is the Messiah. We may, however, in our rush to get to Jesus, miss the significance of the text as it applied in Isaiah’s day. I want us to benefit from both. What response did Isaiah hope for from his sermon? And, what response should we have now that we know the “answer”? Let’s think about that together as I read Isaiah’s prophecy. [Read Isaiah 11. Pray.]
“Promises, promises,”—is kind of a slogan, a way of saying that people cannot be trusted to keep their word. Many of us remember Mr. Bush, senior, and his famous promise: “Read my lips—no new taxes.” Of course, under the pressure of cooperation and compromise, he signed into law a tax increase and he was forever castigated as a man whose lips lied. Failure to keep promises is endemic in humanity—widespread, common, the way we work.
We should consider promises, especially during advent, because this season is, essentially, about God’s promises. “Is God like us, or does he keep his word? Can we build our lives on what he says?” We really cannot read the Bible without answering those questions because it is filled with promises.
Hebrews 13.5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Isaiah 41.10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Matthew 11.28: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
1John 1.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And maybe the best known promise: John 3.16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Likewise, Isaiah 11 is mostly promises, some complete, some remain. By seeing how God kept his word by providing the Messiah, our hearts will be stirred to a deeper confidence, and therefore, a more solid and active faith.
1. Because Sin Destroys Lives, We Must Trust in a Supernatural Work (Isaiah 11.1)
Three words in that verse need special explanation: stump, shoot and Jesse.
1.1. What Is The Stump?
A few years before Isaiah wrote, Israel and Syria attacked Judah. They intended to force Judah to join them against the evil Assyrian empire. But the king of Judah, Ahaz, was afraid of Assyria. He said, “Assyria is like the mighty cedars of Lebanon with which they have built their homes and temples. No tree is greater than the giant cedars, and no nation can stand against Assyria.”
But Isaiah came to Ahaz and said, “Do not worry about Israel’s army, God will deliver.”
Isaiah 7.1-4,7: In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. 2 When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind. 3 And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 4 And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah…. 7 Thus says the Lord GOD: “‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.”’”