This chapter concludes the section of the book that we call the “Book of Immanuel.” The prophet has announced the supernatural birth if this one who will be known as “Immanuel,” has described his victory over evil and oppression, declared his provision of peace in the world, and described his nature through the throne names given in chapter nine. And because his message had relevance to the faith of his audience, he showed how these promises meant God would continue to deliver his people from their enemies. And so in chapter ten he spoke further of the judgment on rebellious people, as well as judgment on the Assyrians who would be oppressing the people of the land. Now, though, he turns his attention fully to the reign of the Messiah, and while emphasizing peace and righteousness again takes these themes to their greatest limit in the expected reign of the Messiah, what we call the Kingdom.
All the points that the prophet makes are God’s revelation and therefore will be fulfilled completely. The prophets, however, did not know the time sequence of the events. Isaiah expected the birth of a child in a matter of years, and the destruction of Israel in about a dozen years, and the judgment on Assyria not too long after that. But in chapter nine the fulfillment comes seven hundred years later when God sent the Son into the world. But the peaceful reign of this wonder king has not happened yet. And what chapter eleven promises will come later with the second coming, some 2700 years and counting after Isaiah declared it.
The following comments on this portion of the chapter are not intended to exhaust the material that is here, but to direct you in your detail study and reflection on the passage. The subject matter discussed here is very rich, and will take some time to assimilate.
I. The Messiah will reign in righteousness by the power of the Spirit of the LORD (11:1-5).
A. He will be a “Davidic” king (1).
This first verse announces what the “Book of Immanuel” has been predicting all along, that there will be a future king in the line of David who will be known as Immanuel. The verses to follow explain exactly how God will be with us in this One.
The ancient writers used the imagery of a tree to symbolize a kingdom (see also Daniel’s description of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, chapter 4). Israel was a tree. And at the judgment of God at the exile, God cut down the tree, leaving only a stump—the holy remnant. But in time there would come forth from the stock a branch that would become a great king over the restored nation. This passage uses the image of “a shoot out of the stock of Jesse” and “a branch out of his roots”—both building on the comparison with the tree, and so serving as implied comparisons (or hypocatastases for he technical name of the figure).
The Hebrew for “shoot” (hoter) and “branch” (neser [pronounced neh-tser] ) invite comparison with the prophecies of the “Branch” (Hebrew semakh) in Zechariah 6:12 (and elsewhere). There the prophecy describes one who will be the Davidic king—and much more. He will be a priest as well. And Jeremiah 33 adds that He will be “Yahweh our Righteousness.”
The reference to Jesse is deliberate. Had it said from David, one would have concluded that he would be born into the royal family as a crown prince and grow up in the ruling class. But Jesse was never king; born to Jesse means He will not start out as royalty. He would inherit the kingdom some day, but not at first. The name “Jesse” focuses our attention on His humble origins.
B. He will reign by God’s Spirit (2, 3).
After the initial announcement that “the Spirit of Yahweh” (ruah YHWH) was resting (nahah [pronounced nah-khah] from nuah [noo-ack]) upon him, six appositional statements are made about what this involved. The constructions all use the grammatical construction known as “the construct,” meaning a noun is followed and explained by a following noun know as the genitive case. In “the Spirit of the LORD” we would say that “LORD” is a “possessive genitive” classification—it is the LORD’s Spirit. But in the combinations that follow we might use either a “genitive of attribute,” but probably would be better to use an “objective genitive.” This works better with picking up the apposition from the first mention of the Spirit, explaining that that Spirit produces wisdom. Thus, the six qualifications (or three pairs) explain how this one will reign—and the six clearly come from the Holy Spirit.
“A spirit of wisdom and discernment” (ruah hokmah u-binah [pronounced roo-ack khok-mah oo-bee-nah]) refers to his judicial abilities. One is reminded of the prayer of Solomon and the resulting wisdom by which he was able to rule. That wise rule, in all its best, is but a shadow of the coming reign. These two words need closer analysis. “Wisdom” (hokmah) is practical, ethical, and moral skillfulness, the ability to act within circumstances so that the results are productive and beneficial to the community. “Discernment” (binah) refers to the ability to distinguish or decide between things, such as different choices.
It is possible that these two words form a hendiadys. Then the Spirit would be said to produce “discerning wisdom.” It may be, however, that the two are meant to be retained with their separate but complementary meanings. Wisdom will include discernment, as Proverbs teaches, and discernment will include wisdom.
“A spirit of counsel and strength” (ruah ‘esah u-geburah [pronounced roo-ack ey-tsah oo-geh-voo-rah]) assures that the king will need no advisors. He will make the right plans and have the power to carry them out. We have already seen in chapter nine that he will be a “wonder of a counselor” (that noun is etymologically related to this one—kings were to be counselors); and we also saw in that same passage that he would be “the mighty god” (gibbor and geburah are etymologically related as well). This king, then, will make all the plans and fulfill them heroically as well. The fullness of the Spirit will empower him to do this.
“A spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD” (ruah da’at weyir’at YHWH [roo-ack da-at veh-year-at ‘a-doe-nay]) describes the one who is rightly related to God. There can be no “knowledge of the LORD” without right action; and “the fear of the LORD” means no idolatry, no sin, no rebellious acts—only pure religion as it was divinely intended. The king will show in his every act that he is accountable to God—he will only do that which pleases the Father. Like none before him, this king will share in God’s ability through the Spirit. Thus, the prophecy of Immanuel begins to unfold here.
Verse 3 has been variously translated: “he shall be of quick understanding,” “he shall make him perceptive,” or “his delight.” The form hariho (pronounced ha-ree-kho) in the text is critical—it is also difficult. It is the hiphil denominative verb related to ruah, “spirit, breath,” and to reah, “scent, odor.” Does the verb then mean “smell, perceive an odor”? If so, then the idea would be an implied comparison for “delight in” the fear of the LORD. If it is to be connected more closely to “Spirit,” then the idea would be “make him perceptive” in the fear of the LORD. In the context the latter seems overwhelmingly the case, since “odor” and “scent” have not been used, but “Spirit” has. And this makes more sense of what follows: he will not judge by sight, and not reprove by hearing. He will have the ability to see and judge things as they really are. Otto Kaiser says, “All other human judgment is a premature leap in the dark, constantly threatened by emotions and by ignorance of the true situation.”
C. He will reign in righteousness (4, 5).
Three words need to be studied here for the theological description of the reign (as well as for connections with other passages). The most important word is “righteousness” (sedeq [tseh-deck] ) because it is used twice here. This word, and the others in its group, have the basic idea of conforming to the standard—his rule will conform completely to God’s Law (compare Psalm 45 and its citation in Hebrews). It is paralleled with “uprightness” (mesor [may-shore] from yasar [yah-shar]) and with “faithfulness” (‘emunah [eh-moo-nah] from ‘aman [ah-man]). Righteousness, uprightness, and faithfulness will characterize His reign.
Once these words have been defined, then the focus of them in the context must be stressed. They will enable the Messiah to champion the rights of the poor and the needy, and to punish or destroy the wicked; they will enable the Messiah to bring justice to the earth and be faithful to His word and to His mission and to His people. He will rule by the “rod of his mouth” and “the breath (note: ruah again) of his lips” are figures, the first is an implied comparison (word = rod that rules) and the second is probably a metonymy (breath produces the word that condemns). Thus, with the proper virtues, he will do the work of God himself (of course because He is God).
II. The Messiah’s reign will bring peace to the whole of creation (11:6-9).
A. The nature of the world will change (6-8).
There follows then a series of examples of life under this king’s reign. What is portrayed here picks up the earlier prophecies of Isaiah 2:4 with the beating of the swords into farming instruments, and of Isaiah 9:7 with the promise of “peace.” Peace, to Isaiah, we have said, means a condition in the world in which all things can follow their divinely intended purposes or destiny uninterrupted. These three verses illustrate that condition.
I would take the animals and the people mentioned here both literally and figuratively, that is, with the figure of speech known as synecdoche. They represent the types of animals: predators and prey, violent and peaceful, cunning and innocent. But it will take a change in nature for the lion to feed on straw rather than meat, or for a child to lead animals out to graze and back them back again, or for a suckling child can play where once only danger lurked.
Some expositors argue that these are just expressions to say in the next life, heaven, there will be peace and harmony (although some would say “in the church”). But we have animals as well as people in mind here. Why include the animals if something was not intended for them as well, as other Scriptures confirm? The study of the text must explain why the figures are used as well as what they mean.
Isaiah clearly foresees that when the Messiah comes there will be a change of conditions in the world order—in the curse, if you will. Paul also observes that the whole earth groans, waiting for the day of redemption (Rom. 8). Obviously, such changes did not occur at Christ’s first advent, and no amount of exegetical juggling can get the words to say they did. The second advent, the Great Jubilee, will bring major changes (and you would have to ignore or explain away scores of verses that describe the changes that will occur).
This verse explains the point of the representative examples listed above. When righteousness will truly prevail, the world will be brought into the condition that God had first intended it to have.
Two verbs are used here that need clarification. “They shall not hurt” is yare`u (yah-ey-oo, from ra’a’); this word is related to the common word in the Old Testament for “evil, pain, calamity.” With the cessation of evil comes the cessation of harm that it brings. The other word is “destroy” (yashitu [yash-khee-too] from sahat [shah-khat); this word means “corrupt, ruin, spoil, destroy.” All this will end with the reign of the Messiah.
The reason is clear: the knowledge of the LORD will cover the earth. Thus, Isaiah is describing not merely a regional king honored and empowered by God, but a universal reign of righteousness through the Spirit of the LORD, in which nature is changed and all will know the LORD. This can only be possible with the divine reign of Christ when He comes in glory. I do not think that the wording of verse 9 can be watered down to say that knowledge about the LORD will be available to Judah. Isaiah focuses his attention on Zion, the holy mountain, because it is and has been the center of attack and affliction; but when it is safe and at peace it is due to Messiah’s presence and powerful dominion over the earth.
The passage was clearly laid out as the hope for the people troubled by wicked rulers and endless wars. As in Isaiah’s day, so now, the people of God can be encouraged that there is a glorious future, that the world will see the day of redemption, that the oppressed and the weak will be delivered, and that oppressors be either destroyed or changed. Such a hope helps believers to live above the curse, fixing their eyes on the hope of glory. It would have been in Isaiah’s day an evangelistic message as well: there is not a ghost of a chance for safety or salvation for this fallen world in any other except in the Messiah who is to come.
But besides being a message of comfort or warning that we too must declare, this passage can be applied to the spiritual life as well. In other words those who believe in Christ become subjects of the King; they share His ministry and receive benefits from him. They are to emulate the King. And so we can make some specific applications for Christians who are trying to be like their King.
The first point is based on the fact that the Messiah will have the Spirit of God working in and through Him. And we know that when Jesus returned to heaven, He sent that same Spirit to continue what He began. Thus Christians have been given the same Spirit that governs and controls their King. And that Holy Spirit can produce wisdom, might, and fear of the LORD.
Second, once the subjects of the King are controlled by this Spirit (and how to be controlled by the Spirit is a full study itself), they will see that they are being moved toward righteousness. We who are in His kingdom, which is a kingdom of righteousness, ruled by the king or righteousness, must promote righteousness wherever we are.
Third, Spirit filled believers will also promote and extend peace in the world, insofar as they can. They must champion righteousness, and righteousness will enjoy peace. They will not usher in the age of righteousness, but they will bring others into the kingdom by emulating the telling of the glorious King .