A BRANCH SHALL SPRING FORTH
This passage from Isaiah 11 is a prophecy of a future hope for Israel. But it is more than that for it is one of the texts that is seen as a foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah whom we recognize as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In preparing for this message, I did some research using a trusted expositor of the Scriptures – John Calvin. While writing in the 16th century, Calvin’s insights into Scripture are well balanced and thought provoking. His insights into this passage give us a wonderful picture of God’s intention for the Messiah and certainly food for thought as we prepare to once again celebrate the coming of God in Christ.
The picture painted for us in this prophecy is of a nation that has been destroyed. The great line of kings that had ruled Israel from the time of David is no more. And yet there is a promise that a king in the line of David will always rule over the people. When we read the genealogy of Jesus as found in the gospel of Matthew, we discover that, in spite of the many twists and turns that have occurred throughout time, there is a thread that connects the ancestors of the faith through David and down to the one known as Joseph. And while nowhere is it claimed that Jesus is the physical son of Joseph, His birth to Mary, the spouse of Joseph, puts Him in line with the ancestors and so fulfils the promise that a king shall be born who is of the line of David and so fulfil the promise.
But in this passage of Isaiah there is no mention of David. The one who is mentioned is Jesse. Now Jesse was the father of David, a simple peasant who kept sheep. When the prophet Samuel came to Jesse looking for the one to be anointed King of Judah, he rejected all of Jesse’s sons until he came to the youngest and smallest of them – David. No one would have imagined that David – a simple shepherd boy – would ever have risen to any great status in the life of the nation. But that is where God looked for a great leader. And when it was determined that God would come Himself, the prophet was given the vision that the Messiah would arise not from the lofty height of royal blood but from the blood of a peasant, a man with no ambitions for himself except to live his life in peace and to serve his God.
And so, we know it is to a humble beginning that the Christ is born and in a working-class home that He is raised. To Him is ascribed no greatness, no honour, no privilege. To Him is simply the mantle of servanthood but that servanthood would lead to a crown and a kingdom – a kingdom not of this earth and yet a kingdom that encompassed the whole of creation.
And as this Branch grew, it is recorded that He increased in wisdom until the day when the Spirit of the Lord visibly came to rest upon Him. And that Spirit filled Him with wisdom and understanding, with counsel and might, with knowledge and the fear of the Lord. For Calvin, this verse is critical for it says to him that God bestowed upon Jesus all these gifts but not so that Jesus might be full of these things but that Jesus, being very human, might reveal and teach these gifts to us. Jesus is not just the Mediator of God’s grace and mercy but of God’s wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge.
Calvin then takes the time to briefly explain that there are subtle yet important differences in these words and that while often Hebrew uses two words to express the same thing, the relation between them is critical. For Calvin wisdom embodies all that relates to the regulation of life, in other words, the primary motivation for the life we live, while understanding helps to explain that motivation not only to ourselves but to others. Counsel is the judgment we bring to bear on the decisions we make in our life in order to help us make decisions in keeping with the wisdom we have received enabling us to judge and exercise caution in our daily life. Finally, knowledge helps us to understand the decisions wisdom, understanding and counsel have led us to make.
We, then, following the wisdom bestowed upon us by God in Christ, are moved – like Him – to a fear of the Lord which is to say a sincere desire to worship God. In a real sense we could say that we are moved to revere or to honour God. For Calvin this is the first mention of the gifts of the Spirit. As all are given to Christ, so Christ gives all to us.
Calvin then does a marvellous piece of exegesis when he explores the original Hebrew for the word more commonly translated “his delight”. He reminds us that the word in its form in this text signifies literally to smell. To his mind, this means that Christ will have a keen sense of smell. What he means is that Christ will not be fooled by appearances of holiness or uprightness but will be able to sense the true nature of the person and so be able to judge whether in that person’s heart and soul there is a real reverence or honour for God. Perhaps that is why the hearts of the Pharisees and others were so clearly discerned by Christ even before Jesus revealed it to others.
This is the One whom we acknowledge as Lord and Saviour, the One who arose from the humblest of beginnings in the eyes of the world, Who seemed to amount to nothing more than a minor prophet rejected and crucified. And yet within Him dwelt the fullness of God. And to those who received and still receive Him, He imparts the grace and mercy of God, the fullness of reconciliation and peace, a life that begins here and shall last unto eternity.
As we approach the table of our Lord today, let us remember that we come to the table of the One who perfectly embodied the Spirit of God, the One who embodied wisdom, and the One who is able to discern the hearts of people and to plumb the depths of every soul. So, let us come as His people, with a healthy understanding of what it means to fear the Lord, revealing a sincere desire to honour, revere and worship the Lord our God!