Isaiah 11: the Lion and the Lamb

Introduction

Isaiah 11 brings us two major prophecies: the lineage of Jesus and a glimpse of peace in God's final kingdom. Before re-reading it, I knew these passages and referenced them often, but I never knew exactly where they were or what they said word for word. When I read them again, I realized that like always, there are several things to be taken from the passages.

A Son of Jesse

Everyone knows that Jesus had to be a descendent of David. Well, actually Jesus needed to be a descendent of Jesse, David's father, which is a little more broad. I find this interesting because I've always heard this prophecy as being doubly fulfilled by David and Jesus, giving reason for marking Jesse as the ancestor instead of David. What's strange is that when Isaiah wrote this, David would have already come and gone. So why mention Jesse?

My study Bible[3] suggests that this represents renewal. David's descendants became corrupt, but God had promised the throne to the seed of David forever (1 Kings 2:45). By referencing back to Jesse, God was indicating that this final King (the Messiah) would not follow in the decline that David's other descendants had. This is further confirmed by the fact that the original Hebrew word translated to "stem" in the KJV could actually be translated as stump. The house of David was cut down, just a tree is cut into a stump, but the Messiah was to spring up out of that stump and re-establish the throne. This is exactly what happened: Mary, a descendant of David was poor and unknown at the time of Jesus' birth.

Spirit of God

Isaiah 11:2 tells us that the Spirit of God would rest upon the Messiah. This spirit gives Him wisdom, understanding, the ability to counsel, might, and knowledge about the fear of the Lord. Does that sound familiar? It should. This is basically the same list of traits given in Isaiah 9. They also parallel the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control). When you think about it, most of these traits go hand in hand (e.g., if you are understanding, you have to be patient and to be patient you must be understanding).

Branch vs. Rod

Something that stood out to me was the use of the words stem, branch, and rod.

Of these, a rod sounds the strongest. Rods are usually permanent and used to fix something in place or support a weaker stem. This fits David perfectly. He was a great soldier and won many battles. David strengthened the kingdom and secured their borders, much like how the people expected the Messiah to behave. David was strong and gallant.

Branches on the other hand are what you find in the highway after a hurricane. Not only do they have roots (i.e., a lineage), but they don't give off the same connotation of permanent strength that a rod does. Jesus, though eternal and immensely powerful, did not come to Earth that way. He came to be crucified so that His permanent kingdom can be established in the future. He wasn't out fighting battles like David and His time on Earth was fairly short. It seems fitting that He would be a branch symbolically.

Judgement Day

But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.Isaiah 11:4 KJV
The branch that grows out of Jesse, which we've determined to be Jesus, will ultimately judge all people. I found this passage interesting because it talks about the rod of His mouth and the breath of His lips destroying the wicked. Not coincidentally, Revelation 1:16 and 2:16 describe Jesus as having a sword come out of His mouth. As a child, I thought this was a literal sword, but now that I have studied the word more, I believe this sword is truth. Earlier in Isaiah, we see Isaiah humble Himself before the Lord at the shame of his impurity. Can you imagine how it would feel to hear Jesus tell you about yourself? The fact that Jesus has a two edged sword speaks of the fact that He died for our sins, so everything we endure, He endures as well. It definitely seems like a way to slay the wicked to me.

How Jesus Judges

Isaiah 11:3-4 tells us that Jesus won't be judging us based on His own understanding but based off righteousness. Jesus is righteousness, so when I first read this passage, I was very confused. The passage talks about physical senses such as hearing and seeing, which brought be to Jesus' time as a human. As humans, we get confused pretty easily. Has anyone heard the saying "believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see"? We misconstrue things. We lack perspective to adequately judge most situations, which can be very wrong and often harmful. Jesus isn't relying on these human senses to judge us; He is using His righteousness. We should be comforted by this, because we will get perfect understanding when we stand before Him.

Peace on Earth

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Shireah Ragnar
If you know me personally, you know I'm an animal lover. I grew up on a farm, which probably enabled my love of animals to grow even deeper. I have a tendency to talk to animals, and even apologize to them when I kill them (e.g., an ant I accidentally stepped on, or a spider in my house I purposefully killed because I'm allergic to them). I'm even vegetarian (see the full reason why here), not because I think it's morally wrong to eat animals—God did give us permission to eat clean meats—but because I know I could never kill an animal just to eat it.

I say all this to preface why Isaiah 11:6-9 would be a special passage to me and how easy it is for one interpretation to stand out to me personally. These verses contain the well known image of the lion laying beside the lamb. It describes a world where predatory animals are not hunting prey, but instead are living in perfect harmony. There is no violence between these creatures and subsequently, no fear. Sounds like paradise, right?

A Vegetarian/Vegan Kingdom

If we follow the text literally, we'll come to the interpretation that plays to my love for animals: paradise will be a vegetarian (possible vegan) society. If the animals are so peaceful and tame that they are surviving by means other than killing each other, humans probably aren't going to be killing them either. How savage would that be? Furthermore, we already have proof that God's perfect design did not include eating flesh (Genesis 1:29-30). While the Israelites were in the wilderness, God fed them manna which was a vegetarian dish. I know this because in Numbers 11 we see the Israelites complaining about not having flesh to eat. During this time, God would have been providing them with a meal that was perfectly balanced for the health, and he chose a vegetarian substance. When you think about the character of God and these examples, it makes sense that when we return to paradise we will return to this diet.

The Vegetarian Lion

There are actually a few stories about animals that should be carnivorous refusing meat to eat a vegetarian diet. The most famous is Little Tyke, a lioness.[1] I've not been able to find a reputable news article that discusses Little Tyke, but there are several YouTube videos and a book on Amazon.[2] Naturally, there are people who do not believe the claim is true. Scientifically speaking, it is impossible for a cat to survive without animal proteins. Of course, scientifically speaking, such a constraint would be linked to the cat's DNA which could contain a mutation (that is the basis of evolution after all), which might have enabled the cat to survive on such a diet.

I bring this up to remind people that nothing is impossible with God. I grew up with a cat who thought she was a dog and a horse who thinks she's a cow, a lion that doesn't eat meat doesn't sound so strange to me. I don't know if this lion simply ate less meat than it was supposed to or if it genuinely never ate meat, but I definitely believe God can "reprogram" us to such a lifestyle.

Harmony Among Nations

Because this is prophecy, we have to look at the symbolic interpretation, too. In Daniel, Acts, and Revelation, there are prophecies that include animals or beasts, as well, and in each case, those beasts represent nations. Given this information, it seems that Isaiah might be referencing nations too. Just like today, during Isaiah's time, there was a great deal of tension between Israel and the surrounding countries. For those of you living in the U.S. (like me), we may not be familiar with battles happening on our soil, but we are familiar with these tensions (think North Korea and Russia), and having to send troops to battle. It makes sense that God would be reassuring them that a time would come when all of these skirmishes would cease.

Once Jesus takes the throne, there won't be individual nations fighting for their own interests; we will all be a member of God's kingdom. This will make us all allies regardless of where we're from. Jesus will be the perfect king, so there will be no need to debate over policy or political ideology. There will be no coups or overthrowing of power. Major things that separate us (e.g., wealth, religion, etc.) won't be an issue either.

Paradise must be peaceful, after all Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Therefore it makes sense that all nations must be in harmony with one another in paradise.

A Child Could Lead Them

Before Geico came up with the slogan "so easy a caveman could do it,"[8] God told Isaiah peace was so simple a child could oversee over it. Whether we think of the animals as literal animals or as nations, it's a profound statement to say that a child can lead them. Children are the ultimate sign of innocence and peace, but they're also naïve and inexperienced. This means that for a child to be able to carry out a task, it has to be relatively straight forward.

One of my Sabbath school classmates once asked why we have so much trouble loving each other. "It's easy," he asserted. I could right a whole post on this topic, but the heart of the matter is that it should be easier to live in peace than to orchestrate wars. Love and respect should be innate and come naturally. Communicating with each other and establishing a community based on respect should be so easy a child could lead the effort. Our society doesn't look like that, but God's kingdom will.

Seeking Out the Church

We constantly read passages that talk about the Gentiles seeking the root or light that grows out of the tribe of Judah (the Messiah); Isaiah 11:10 is one of those passages. Strangely, the disciples and early church members were still taken aback when Gentiles began approaching them for the gospel. Acts 10-11 show Peter coming to grips with God's command to teach the Gentiles. This is the account of one of the first Gentile conversions to Christianity (Acts 8 gives the story of an Ethiopian eunuch who may or may not be Gentile and thus may or may not be the actual first conversion).

Remnant

We already know that a remnant was saved from the captivity in Babylon, but God says that for a second time, a remnant will be saved. This time, Assyria is mentioned. Is this in reference to the lost tribes of the northern kingdom, who were taken by Assyria? Or is this a reference to the recreation of the Jewish state after World War II?

Some time after the Israelites returned from Babylon, they ended up under Roman rule. After the destruction of the Temple in 70ad, the nation of Israel was basically dissolved and the Jews were scattered. Some ended up in Europe, some ended up in Africa, some ended up in Asia, and some ended up in America. After the atrocities of World War II, the United Nations "gave" Israel back to the Jews (well, the split it between the Palestinians and the Jews, which caused another war). This, to my knowledge, is the second time a remnant of Jews were saved and returned home.

The Four Corners of the Earth

Isaiah 11:12 says that God's people will be gathered from the four corners of the world. The Bible also talks about the four corners of the Earth in Ezekiel 7:2 and Revelation 7:1. In each case, the end of time is very close. In fact, in Revelation 7:1, the angels are sealing God's people just before destruction of the Earth begins.

These passages stir up quite the controversy, though. Most Bible scholars assert that they reference the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west), but some people are certain this is a reference to a flat Earth. The people who use it to argue the Bible speaks of a flat Earth fall on both sides of the fence: those who believe the Word of God and those trying to disprove the Word of God.

I don't think it refers to cardinal directions per se, but I also don't think it's a statement of a flat Earth either. The Hebrew word translated to "corner" is כָּנָף (kanaph),[4][5] which actually means extremity. The saying is a metaphor; it isn't literal. In each case the phrase is used, God is simply saying that people from all over will be gathered together. God is basically saying think of the furthest point in any direction and those people will be brought together.[6]

Healing the Rift

Isaiah 11:13 talks about healing the rift between the tribes of Israel. Once again, I find it so amazing how many layers can be pulled from such a statement. The immediate and literal meaning probably was for the literal rift that caused Israel to split into the northern and southern kingdoms during the reign of Solomon's son, Rehoboam. Since the northern tribes were lost after they were defeated by Assyria, there are two possibilities for the fulfillment: 1) something in the future will cause them to be found and reunited with the Jews of today, or 2) this is a spiritual metaphor.

Right now, there's a lot of division in the church. This makes us weak—a house divided cannot stand! Imagine how much stronger Israel would have been had they been in agreement, now imagine how much good churches could accomplish if we weren't fighting each other. As a child, I sat through a service where the adults at my church spent the entire time arguing about how many times a person should receive a gift for being admitted into the hospital within a year. What if that time had been spent figuring out how to better teach the Word? Or taking an introspective look at themselves and the church to ascertain how we are portraying God to others? When the final days come, there won't be room for arguing among God's people; we will need to be on one accord.

Destroying a Language

God says He is going to destroy the language of the Egyptians in Isaiah 11:15. This is a very powerful statement. Culture and language are very closely intertwined. There are two groups in the U.S. that had their languages "destroyed" or taken away form them and both groups have struggled subsequently. These groups are African Americans (descendants of African slaves), and Native Americans. When you destroy a language you basically destroy the culture. Furthermore, it may destroy the history of the culture. Much of Native American and African history has been lost because these groups were not given a voice.

Destroying a language is not just the literal annihlation of a language, but taking away a group of people's voice (verbally or in writing). If you have no voice, you have no rights, you have no power. This is God's plan for Egypt...

But, salvation is for everyone, right? We have to constantly remind ourselves that in prophecy, a nation may be representing a concept or behavior rather than the literal nation. Egypt, along with Babylon, Sodom, and Gommorah, are often used to depict sinful or pagan nations. God isn't necessarily saying that Egyptians won't have a language anymore—of course, Egyptians today speak Arabic which was brought to them via invasion. I think this speaks more to abolishing the culture of pagan worship. In the end, our culture won't include paganism or sinfulness so words used to describe these behaviors, actions, and concepts will naturally fade from our language.

The Path Back to God

Isaiah 11:15-16 is probably the most important verse in the chapter. Why? Because we're always in need of a path back to God. We all fail and some of us realize we need to get back to God. Lucky for us, He never leaves us stranded. In ever case, God always promises that there will be survivors. Just as He made a way for Noah and for Lot and the Israelites coming out of Egypt, He promises that there will be a path back to His promised land.

7 Streams

This time when God parts the water, He's going to split the river into 7 streams, not just 2 walls of water. Perhaps I've watched too many apocolyptic movies because I can definitely see a mass of God's people walking out a city across these dry paths interleaved with water while followers of the antichrist chase after them. In my mind, it's a scene of full of fear, but also full of beauty. The majesty of splitting a river into streams, and what a beautiful scene it must create...

Dryshod

If you're reading the KJV and came across the word dryshod, you probably weren't sure what it meant. Most other translations say something about being able to cross on foot, just the Israelites were able to cross the Red Sea during Exodus. I prefer the KJV's use of dryshod because it literally means having dry shoes or feet.[7] I know you're wondering why I prefer this antiquated word that even I had to look up over the more obvious translations. For me it's about connotation.

I hate having wet feet; I hate wet socks or shoes even more. It's a gross and icky feeling that you have to rush home to get clean. Keeping my feet dry during whatever journey God places me on is significant to me. It means I'm not walking in mud or rushing to get home to dry off. The other versions take away the aspect of cleanliness for me (which is a major theme in the Bible). But that's just my personal opinion, God speaks to us all in different ways.

References

  1. "Straw-Eating Lions and Vegetarian Cats". Koinonia House. April 14, 2009
  2. Georges H. Westbeau. Little Tyke: The True Story of a Gentle Vegetarian Lioness. January 1, 1986
  3. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 1145. 2014
  4. "3671. Kanaph". Bible Hub; visited June 2018
  5. "Isaiah 11:12". Bible Hub; visited June 2018
  6. Joan Sloat Morton, Ph.D. "The Bible refers to “the four corners of the earth.” How can a spherical Earth have corners?". Christian Answers. 1997
  7. "dry-shod". Merriam Webster; visited June 2018
  8. "Geico Caveman Commercial, The Original". YouTube; visited June 2018

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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