Expect the unexpected – Tuesday, 1st week in Advent – Is 11: 1-10 / Luke 10: 21-24
In 735 Syria and Israel invaded Judah in the south in an attempt to force it into the anti- Assyrian coalition, an attempt that ended with the Assyrian conquest of Israel (733) and Syria (732). As a consequence Judah now became a vassal state of Assyria. In 714, backed by a promise from Egypt, Judah and Philistia began beating the drums of war and revolt against Assyria. The prophet Isaiah spoke out against this alliance. Then on the death of the Assyrian king Sargon II in 705 another attempt was made by Judah to free itself from their conquerors. Isaiah’s fervent and sometimes bitter words failed to move King Hezekiah who revolted with a promise of help from Egypt; a promise that was never kept. Isaiah prophesied the Assyrian invasion (8:1-15) and judgment on Israel (9:8 – 10:4).
The revolt by Judah was crushed in 701 with great destruction to Judah. King Hezekiah had to surrender and pay indemnity to the Assyrians. But Isaiah also prophesied the demise of Assyria (10:5-19). Just before this chapter, God declares punishment on the people: “the tallest trees will be cut down and the lofty will be brought low.” It is with this background in mind that we should read the text of today for Isaiah describes the one who will restore Israel.
Isaiah paints a picture of a positive reign, harkening back to King David, in the midst of a disappointing reign. The text is one of the positive messianic promises that are rather unexpectedly interspersed throughout first part of the book of Isaiah, a book that is otherwise marked by perhaps the most shocking word of judgment found anywhere in the Bible
There is no question that our passage of Scripture from the first ten verses in Isaiah 11 is Messianic in nature. The passage points to Jesus Christ as the promised, long awaited Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world as we can see from the very opening words: “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”David’s family tree looked bleak in the eighth century-a mere stump of its former glory-under attack by the Assyrian hordes and hence the task at hand was to be taken up by the coming Messiah.
That task includes transforming the social order and restoring nature to paradise. The reading from Isaiah 11:1-10 is an example of an Old Testament prophet comforting the afflicted. It gives hope for the future that the Messiah, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest, was to be of vast importance, not only to Israel but also to the Gentile world, and the world itself.
Isaiah tells us that the promised one, with the wisdom and understanding of God’s Spirit, will judge injustice and strike the ruthless and wicked. He will carry peace to the world that transforms even the animal kingdom. He will do what is right in His judgment and what is fair in his decisions. He will bring justice to the poor, the needy and the wicked.
There is something in all of this for us to reflect when we read the words “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse…” Who could imagine anything growing as they sat on the stump of utter despair? I’ve sat there myself, perhaps you have, too. You may be there now at that place where hope is cut off, where loss and despair have deadened your heart. It has been said that the main purpose of the Old Testament prophets was to afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted. Today we are being comforted as we sit by the stump of failure, desolation and despair that some of us find ourselves.
We need to understand that these words of promise (several of which provide the Old Testament readings for this Advent season) are not merely “somewhere over the rainbow” images of another time and another place; they are included for the eighth-century hearers and for us because they tell us who God is and where God is taking God’s people
Advent promises such a day can come! In this season of Advent may these moving words nudge us to implore God to hasten the day when Isaiah ‘s promise becomes reality in our trouble and strife-torn world. Even so! Come Lord Jesus!