A Shoot from the Stump of Jesse
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord,
and His delight shall be fear of the Lord.
Not by appearance shall He judge.
He shall strike the wicked with the rod of His mouth.
The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb.
The cow and bear shall be neighbors.
Together their young shall rest;
The lion shall eat hay like the ox.
Isaiah 11 1-10
These words from Isaiah chapter eleven are among the earliest prophetic visions depicting the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham not simply in historical terms, not in the image of Israel dwelling secure in its own land, but through the advent of a divine-human Person. Isaiah, describing the coming of the Day of God, the day when justice is done and when human hopes are fulfilled, sees that God’s promise is realized in a kingdom that lies beyond this world’s history. And he begins by proclaiming that One is coming upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rests, that very Holy Spirit who proceeds from God in the seven-fold form with His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, fear of the Lord, and delight in the fear of the Lord. Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Joel share that vision of the future that God will bring “on that Day.” The Day the prophets foresee is to be realized finally in the new creation but presently in Pentecost: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness…. A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh…and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezekiel 36:26–27). Jeremiah thus: “This is the covenant I will make with my people after those days…. I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts and I will be their God and they will be my people” (31:32–33). And Joel, in the text that would be quoted by Blessed Apostle Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:17–21), “It shall come to pass afterward that I shall pour out my spirit on all flesh…. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy. In those days I will pour out my spirit” (3:28–29).
These are prophecies of the heart-changing power of the Holy Spirt made in the fourth century before the event that would be reiterated by John, “The one who is coming …will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11); proclaimed by Jesus, “I have come to bring fire on the earth; would that it were already kindled,” and fulfilled at Pentecost, when there appeared to them tongues of fire, resting on each one of them, “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4).
The text from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah perfects these passages from Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Joel, first, by making the great gift of the new heart the work of one whom the Church would later know as Jesus. He is the shoot from the root of Jesse, and Paul would identify Christ as the root of Jesse proclaimed in Isaiah, “who rises to rule the Gentiles; in Him shall the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:12). Israel had long expected the coming of the great successor to David, a promise made by Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary and one that Christ fulfilled in the context of Maccabean expectation when on the eve of the Passover He entered Jerusalem as the crowd shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:2). That context is one of which the great prophets had often written as though the perfect fulfilment of the promise to Abraham would occur when an obedient Israel would live in peace and plenty in its own land; an historical hope in which even after Jesus’ resurrection there can still be the thought that He has come to restore Israel’s national greatness. But Paul and the Isaiah text, while referring hyperbolically to one who will reign in Jerusalem, are foreseeing to one far greater than a Davidic heir who rules in history. The historical claim the genealogies of Matthew and Luke were written to establish. The One Isaiah foresees is much more. He bears into history in His person the kingdom of the new heart, for from the divine-human One whom Isaiah prophesies will proceed the Holy Spirit which rests upon him, offering mankind the seven-fold form of His perfecting gifts. This is the vision the Prophet John saw on Patmos when a door opened in heaven and he saw the Lamb on the throne, standing as though having been slain, having seven horns with seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth, and again “before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (Revelation 4:5, 5:6).
Isaiah’s vision is of one who is the son of man and more, one “set up as a signal for the nations,” whom “the Gentiles shall seek out,” whose dwelling is glorious, who not only brings the kingdom of the new heart, but who is the herald of the new creation that the Day will bring. Not only will evil be banished from the human heart but that same evil will also be done away in creation so that there shall be “no harm or ruin on the holy mountain.” Justice shall be perfected and nature renewed and pacified so that “the cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall like the ox.” “And the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.”
Isaiah saw three visions of the One who would come on that Day. The first is the vision read on this Second Sunday in Advent of one bearing the Spirit of God, whose gifts would restore human nature and indeed nature itself. For from the beginning, when the Spirit hovered over the face of the chaos to bring form and to renew, the Spirit of the Lord is He who informs and renews. And there are also the great visions of Isaiah forty-two and fifty-three, of One also bearing the Spirit of the Lord but who comes so gently as not to bruise a broken reed or quench a smoking flax. This is the suffering servant who is bruised for our iniquities, in whom the Gospel-writers and Fathers found the cross of Christ foretold (Matthew 20:12).