There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord Shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord
It is hard to imagine what life was like in the time of Isaiah the prophet. The ten northern tribes of Israel had been taken to Assyria, never to return. Babylon was about to take Judah into captivity because King Hezekiah had foolishly shown Babylon Judah’s riches.
In other words, things were about to go downhill very quickly. Yet Isaiah was given some words to comfort those who would be taken away from their homeland. In the above passage, he tells them that ‘a shoot’ would ‘come forth’.
First, Jesse will become a ‘stump’. This means that Israel would be decimated. A once great tree is reduced to nothing. A great family tree, coming from Abraham is completely cut down. God exacted judgment on His own people for not following His Word. In our own time, this level of severity seems cruel and undeserved.
And, it was severe. Many were taken to Babylon where they lived for the next 70 years. Their circumstance caused them to redouble their efforts to be more religious. In fact, the Babylonian Talmud (a book which included an additional 600+ laws to the Laws included in the New Testament) was written at this time. This is a natural reaction to an unnatural situation.
Had they forgotten Isaiah’s prophecies? All of the promises of a Messiah written to them? Here, Isaiah had given the promise of a shoot coming from the stump of Jesse. If you needed something to hold on to, why wouldn’t you look to the promises of God’s word instead of trying to ‘get more religion’?
Yet, they went their own way, following the impulse to ‘do something’.
It is a little like this for the North American church, too. The numbers are dwindling. Attendance is spotty. Volunteers are few and far between. The situation looks dire for the next few decades. The vital tree which was modern American Christianity is shriveling.
Some have made dramatic efforts to attract people into their churches. They have giveaways, parent’s night out, free lunches and other offers to re-build their local body.
But, what if all of these efforts are merely an attempt to ‘get religious’? What if God is in the midst of the falling tides?
The most important thing to remember about the Babyonian captivity is that God never abandoned His people. That is, they were taken away from the Promised Land, but God never cut them off from Him. They still had the Torah and the Prophets. His promises were contained in the pages. They could read from them and receive encouragement. They could recall how He was with them during their first captivity in Egypt, and how He multiplied their numbers. They could look back at Genesis 3:15 and remember that a Savior was coming.
Isaiah was carrying on that tradition of a promise to come. He proclaimed the good news of a shoot. That shoot wouldn’t simply rescue them from Babylon, that shoot would rescue all people from sin, death and the devil. That shoot is Jesus.
Isaiah pointed toward the future to the first Advent for the people of Judah. We can look back at Isaiah’s prophecies and see that they have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That gives us confidence to look forward to the second Advent, when Jesus will come again to redeem us and bring us to the promised land of His love and life.
God’s word promises the second coming of our savior throughout the New Testament. As we enter into this Advent season, remember that God promised a first Advent, and He fulfilled that promise to the letter. His promise of salvation can be found in His word. Look into that word to find the promise of life given to you through water and the Spirit. Look into that word to find your savior. Look into that word to find the family tree you have been grafted into through the shoot; Jesus.
In uncertain times, He is the rock of salvation and the cornerstone of the church. The gates of Hell shall not overcome it. That is God’s promise … in His Word.
To God be the Glory,