A Study of Isaiah 11

"...And a little boy will lead them." Isaiah 11:6

"...And a little boy will lead them." Isaiah 11:6

Israel's Messianic Kingdom

A. The Character of the King. Isaiah 11:1-5

1. His Davidic Descent. Isa. 11:1
  • The text reads as follows: "Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit." (Isa. 11:1)
  • If the reader begins here, this prediction makes little sense. But in the broader context, the prediction is clearly understandable. In the preceding chapter, Isaiah had predicted the defeat of the invading Assyrian army. He had spelled out Assyria's defeat especially in Isa. 10:5-19, 24-34. He had used the imagery of a burning forest in Isa. 10:16-19. And in the context immediately preceding Isaiah 11:1, the prophet had used the imagery of God Himself destroying Assyria as a gigantic lumberjack (Isa. 10:33-34): Yahweh, the God of Troops would lop off the boughs of Assyria with a terrible crash; "Those who are tall in stature will be cut down and those who are lofty will be abased. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an iron axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Mighty one."
  • So in the context of the imagery of a huge forest being felled, it made perfect sense for Isaiah to continue in that vein, but to switch from the demise of the forest of Assyria to the successful reign of the righteous shoot springing from the stem of Jesse, growing into the branch reigning over the state of Israel (Isa. 11:1).
  • Clearly Isaiah predicts the Nature and Character of the Messianic King in Isa. 11:1-5. But why does he use the oblique reference to "a shoot" springing "from the stem of Jesse" and "a branch from his roots" that "will bear fruit"? Allow me to suggest the following reasons:
    • The idea of a "shoot springing from the stem" and "a branch from his roots" bearing fruit speaks of the inauspicious and humble origins of the Messiah. Isaiah has already mentioned that a virgin would be with child and bear a son whom she would name "Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14). Whereas the virgin birth of the Messiah is a miraculous, Divine event in the thinking of us in the Church, the whole concept of a single woman bearing a child was laden in that day with suspicion (Matt. 1:18, 19) and innuendo (John 8:41).
    • And when Jesus was born, he came into existence in the animal quarters of a home (Luke 2:7). What a humble birthplace! His parents moved from Bethlehem, the village to which they had been forced to travel to comply with the census of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-5), back to their home town of Nazareth (Matt. 2:21-23). What notoriety existed in that hamlet? As Nathanael queried, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46).
    • The word for "branch" is the Hebrew word ntser (5342), a sprout, shoot, or branch (always used figuratively) (adapted from BDB and NASB). There are some scholars who believe Matthew had this shoot (ntser) in mind when he wrote that Jesus fulfilled prophecy by being called a Nazarene (Matt. 2:23) (Constable, referencing Delitzsch, 1:282).
    • But why refer to the Messiah as springing from Jesse, and not from David? Constable states it this way: "The reference to humble 'Jesse,' rather than to glorious David, stresses God's grace in providing a deliverer from a lowly family.
2. His Supreme Anointment with Yahweh's Spirit. Isa. 11:2
  • In a stunning succession of statements, Isaiah reveals to us that this "shoot" / "branch" from the stem of Jesse will indeed be the Messiah. The title "Messiah" means, of course, "The Anointed One." On a human level a prophet anoints a man's head with olive oil to signify he is God's choice as King (1 Sam. 9:15, 16; 10:1; 16:1, 12, 13). But on a Divine level God anoints the King-designate with His Spirit in order to serve as the King of Israel (1 Sam. 10:6, 10; 16:13). But the superlatives here in Isa. 11:2 indicate that the One of whom Isaiah speaks is the Ultimate Anointed One, not merely an average King of Israel. Isaiah has already predicted He will rule over the entire world (Isa. 2:1-4)! He has also labeled this One as "Mighty God" and "Eternal Father" (Isa. 9:6). He has also predicted that His Davidic government on the throne of David would never cease. Moreover there would never be any corruption attached to His reign (Isa. 9:7). Let us examine each phrase here in Isa. 11:2.
  • "The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him." (Isa. 11:2)
    • The Hebrew text reads, literally, "And will settle upon Him – Spirit of Yahweh." "Spirit" is rach (7307), meaning "breath, wind, spirit" (Friberg), depending on the context. Here the context is clear, for Isaiah identifies Him as the Spirit of Yahweh (3068),  the "Self-Existent One." In the prophecy of Isaiah, the Messiah would one day acknowledge that
      • The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD .... (Isa. 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19)
    • "will rest" is the Qal Perfect of the verb nach (5117), translated by BDB as "rest, settle down and remain," providing a striking consonance to the sound of rach (7307). This is not a temporary settling of Yahweh's Spirit upon this Anointed One. The Perfect tense depicts it as a completed act.
    • "on Him" There is no indication in this prophecy as to the timing of the descent of the Spirit upon this man. But we have a clear indication in each of the four Gospels as to when it actually did happen. When John the Immerser came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, "Be repenting, for the Kingdom of the Heavens has drawn near!" (Matt. 3:1, 2, JTB translation), Matthew identified him as the one of whom Isaiah the prophet had predicted (Isa. 40:3; John 1:23). John acknowledged that he himself, indeed immersed Israelis in water for the purpose of demonstrating repentance (Matt. 3:11). But there was One coming after him who was mightier than John. That One would immerse Israelis with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11). This would involve a sorting, threshing action in which the wheat would be safely gathered in the barn, but the chaff would be burned with unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:12). Immediately thereafter, Matthew recorded that Jesus, whom he already had identified as the Messiah (Matt. 1:1), came from Galilee to the Jordan to be immersed by John (Matt. 3:13). "Having been immersed, moreover, Jesus ascended immediately from the water, and look! – the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending as if it were a dove coming upon Him; and look! – a voice from the heavens saying, 'This One is the Son of Me, the Beloved One, in whom I take great pleasure' " (John 3:16, 17, JTB literal translation).
    • So this is the point at which God anointed the God/man Jesus with the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the prophecy of Isa. 11:2. Please do not misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that Jesus became Deity at this point. Before He became man, He existed eternally as the Divine Logos (3056) (Word) of God who was with God, who was God, and who created everything that exists (John 1:1-3). He has always been and will always be Deity. But immediately after His immersion is the point at which God anointed Jesus to be Israel's greatest Prophet, greatest Priest, and greatest King. This was a Ministry anointing.
    • It is also clear from the record of the Gospels that no Israeli prophet or priest has anointed Jesus with olive oil. That is significant. The nation of Israel does not yet acknowledge that Jesus is her Messiah, her King. That is tragic. But one day Israelis will. They will repent for having killed their King (Zech. 12:10-13:1). One day all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:25, 26, 26), and it is my belief that, on behalf of the entire nation, some Israeli prophet or priest will anoint Jesus with olive oil as Supreme King over the nation! There has to be, in a royal transaction, that which I call "the Consent of the Governed." In NT terms we understand that to be the transaction of faith in Jesus the Messiah by which we are saved and granted eternal life (John 3:16-18, 36).
  • "The spirit of wisdom and understanding" (Isa. 11:2)
    • "Spirit" There are but three words in the next phrase in Hebrew, all nouns. The first is "Spirit," rach (7307), once again, with no article. This again refers to the Holy Spirit. The NASB places the term in lower case, indicating the editors' belief that this is an intangible attribute of the Messiah rather than the actual presence of the Holy Spirit. I profoundly disagree. The noun "Spirit," rach (7307), appears four times in this passage, always anarthrous. It is the Holy Spirit of the LORD who is meant each time. That is why I have capitalized the entry at the beginning of this paragraph. Isaiah did not need to add "of the LORD" each time he used the noun. That is to be understood.
    • "of wisdom" – the second is chokmh (2451). English must supply the preposition "of." A summary of BDB is as follows. The general meaning is "wisdom." It may refer to (a) skill (in war); (b) wisdom (in administration); (c) shrewdness, wisdom; (d) wisdom, prudence (in religious affairs; (e) wisdom (ethical and religious). Used, as it is, of God's Spirit, this noun indicates He possesses wisdom in all of the above senses. And of course, the point of Isaiah's prediction is that the coming Messiah will be anointed with the Holy Spirit of manifold wisdom, and so the Messiah will possess wisdom in all of the above senses.
    • "and understanding" – the third is bynh (998), preceded by waw, "and."  The noun means "understanding, insight, discernment." So the Spirit resting upon the Messiah will, therefore, impart to Him not only superlative wisdom, but also profound understanding, insight, and discernment.
    • According to Constable, "'Wisdom' and 'understanding' are synonyms that, together, mean great wisdom." We are reminded of the statement by the Apostle Paul that "Christ Jesus ... became to us wisdom from God ..." (1 Cor. 1:30). John Gill's comments are appropriate. He speaks of the wisdom and understanding of Christ
      • which appeared in his disputation with the doctors; in his answers to the ensnaring questions of the Scribes and Pharisees; in the whole of his ministry; and in his conduct at his apprehension, trial, condemnation, and death; as also in the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding he imparted to his disciples, and does more or less to all his people:
  • "The spirit of counsel and strength" (Isa. 11:2)
    • "Spirit" Once again refers to the Holy Spirit, thus I have capitalized the noun. The noun rach (7307), once again, appears with no article.
    • "of counsel" ‛tsh (6098), meaning counsel, advice, consultation, plan, strategy, purpose (adapted from BDB and the translations in the NASB text). The Gospels are filled with the teaching and counsel and advice of the Messiah. Lengthy samples include the "Sermon on the Mount" (Matt. 5-7); the "Olivet Discourse" (Matt. 24-25); the Upper Room Discourse (Joh. 13-16); and His High Priestly Prayer (Joh. 17). In His First Advent here on earth, the Holy Spirit enabled Christ to give necessary information and teaching to His disciples. The Spirit also enabled Christ to strategize against his religious / political opponents, consisting of a majority of the Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, and scribes. They could never trap Him in His speech. He always got the best of them. In His Second Advent, the Messiah will have the ability to outwit and thwart any who might disagree with Him (see, e.g., Zech. 14:16-19). It is worth noting that it had already been revealed to Isaiah that the Messiah would be called "Wonderful Counselor," although the word "Counselor" is the Qal Participle of the verb y‛ts (3289).
    • "and strength"gebrh (1369), meaning strength, might, power. There are a number of references in the OT to God's might, strength, and mighty deeds. Among them are Deut. 3:24; 1 Chron. 29:11, 12; 2 Chron. 20:6; Job 12:13; Psa. 20:6; 21:13; 54:1; 65:6; 66:7; 71:16, 18; 80:2; 89:13; 106:2, 8; 145:4, 11, 12; 150:2; Isa. 11:2; 33:13; 63:15; Jer. 10:6; 16:21; Mic. 3:8. This passage (Isa. 11:2) declares that God will anoint His Messiah with the Holy Spirit who Himself possesses strength, might, and power. And so the Holy Spirit will imbue the Messiah with that same strength, might and power. The power of the Messiah was evident in His capacity to perform many miracles during His First Advent (John 5:1-9; 6:1-14, 16-21; 9:1-11; 11:1-45; 20:30, 31). When He returns at His Second Advent, His mighty power will be evident in such passages as Isa. 63:1-6; Matt. 24:30, 31; 2 Thess. 1:6-10; Rev. 19:11-21.
    • Constable proposes that "'Counsel' and 'strength' suggest His ability to strategize wisely and then execute His strategy."
  • "The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD." (Isa. 11:2)
    • "Spirit" – For the fourth time in this verse, rach (7307), appears with no article preceding. Once again, the one of whom Isaiah speaks is the Holy Spirit, with whom the Messiah will be anointed. The Spirit of God is said here to possess a final pair of attributes. With both of these He will anoint the Messiah.
    • "of knowledge" da‛ath (1847), linked with prudence and discretion (Prov. 1:4); with wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7); with wisdom and understanding (Prov. 2:6); with being sensible (Prov. 14:18); with intelligence (Prov. 15:14); with counsel (Prov. 22:20); with discipline (Prov. 23:12); with justice and understanding (Isa. 40:14); with faithfulness and kindness (Hos. 4:1); with loyalty (Hos. 6:6). Our first parents were forbidden to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9, 17). In conjunction with empowerment and enablement by the Holy Spirit to construct items for the tabernacle, knowledge was linked with wisdom, understanding, and all kinds of craftsmanship (Ex. 31:3; 35:31). So the Holy Spirit, who is the personification of all sorts of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, would rest upon the Messiah. Likewise the Messiah, when He appeared was the epitome of every sort of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.
    • "and fear of the LORD" – literally, "and fear of Yahweh." "Fear" yir'h (3374), fear, dread, terror, generating a healthy respect. God caused the nations of Canaan to fear the invading Israelis (Deut. 2:25). The fear of God / Yahweh is everywhere in the OT commended as both beneficial and necessary. It is a motivator to prevent one from sinning (Ex. 20:20; Prov. 16:6). The fear of Yahweh (the LORD) is the beginning of wisdom (Psa. 111:10; Prov. 9:10), and the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). The fear of the LORD prolongs life (Prov. 10:27; 14:27; 19:23). Isa. 11:2 states that the Holy Spirit is possessed of and characterized by a healthy fear of the LORD. As He anoints the Messiah, the Messiah also is wholly grounded in the fear of the LORD. In fact, Isa. 11:3 tells us the Messiah will delight in the fear of the LORD. Under the terms of the New Covenant, God will one day bring Israel back to the Promised Land. He will make them dwell in safety (Jer. 32:37). He will give them one heart and one way so that they will fear Him always, for their own good and for the good of their children (Jer. 32:39). He will make an everlasting covenant with them that He will not turn away from them, and will do them good. And He will put the fear of Yahweh in their hearts so they will not turn away from Him (Jer. 32:40).
    • According to Constable, "'Knowledge' and 'fear' refer to His [Messiah's] acknowledgment of and loyalty to God. The source of [all] these traits [listed above] would be God's Spirit on Him."
    • Constable has noted the frequency with which the prophet Isaiah speaks of God's Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2; 30:1; 32:15; 34:16; 40:13; 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:21; 61:1; 63:10-11, 14). Years ago I had wondered aloud while teaching Sunday School class the meaning of the "seven Spirits" of God mentioned in Rev. 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6. A woman in the class suggested that Isa. 11:2 provided the answer. I believe she may be correct. There is the initial reference to the Spirit of Yahweh. Each of the next three references is a couplet. If one breaks down each couplet, then Isaiah refers to the Spirit of wisdom; the Spirit of understanding; the Spirit of counsel; the Spirit of strength, the Spirit of knowledge; and the Spirit of the fear of Yahweh. According to Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary,
      • Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are specified, to imply that the perfection of them was to be in Him. Compare "the seven Spirits" (Re 1:4), that is, the Holy Ghost in His perfect fullness: seven being the sacred number.

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(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)

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Posted February 24, 2020. Updated April 13, 2020