Through the Bible – Isaiah 11

See Saturday night’s post if you have any questions about the new schedule. We’re going to finish Isaiah, then do some smaller books (1 & 2 Peter, Jonah, and Amos), and then go to Jeremiah. I am, however, no longer pushing to finish the whole Bible in a year.

See the July 12 post on Isaiah 6-10 if you need to get caught up after our unscheduled one month break.

Isaiah 11: Prophecy

I don’t think any Christian has ever questioned whether Isaiah 11 is a prophecy about Christ. In fact, parts of Isaiah are so clearly about Jesus that you would have thought that Isaiah was written after his lifetime, though it is obvious historically that it was not.

There are those—a very few—who believe that Jesus orchestrated his life after the Hebrew prophecies, purposely going around fulfilling them. The idea, though, that a man would put himself through a crucifixion for glory that came after death is somewhat absurd. The idea that he could have planned to rise from the dead without being the Son of God is impossible.

So I love to read Isaiah. Beyond the fact that prophecy is one of the greatest testimonies of the reality of Christianity, don’t you love the fact that prophecy exists in the earth at all?

I never dreamed a book like this could be so powerful. See my review of it on Amazon.

Comes in a Kindle edition, too!

I mean, I know that Christians, by tradition, are supposed to shudder and be appalled at the thought of ESP, magic, and other supernatural powers that aren’t expressly listed in the Bible; however, I think all of us like unearthly powers. That’s why the latest box office hits have been movies like the Avengers. We don’t even require actual superpowers. Simply being technologically awesome like Iron Man and Batman, or extraordinarily skilled in martial arts like Jason Bourne (and Batman) is enough to draw crowds.

Isaiah had power.

The story of Isaiah coming to King Hezekiah in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer about the Assyrians is an amazing story. Isaiah had no way of knowing Hezekiah was praying, nor what he was praying about, but he showed up with a prophecy that was a direct answer to the king’s prayer.

Of course, skeptics can dismiss such stories because no one can prove them. Too much time has passed. But the prophecies of Christ? They are all over Isaiah, and they add up to a picture that matches only one person who has ever lived.

Isaiah is an exciting book.

Okay, you can tell I’m excited about getting back into Isaiah. Let’s get to the text!

Isaiah 11:2: The Seven Spirits of God?

People love to make systems out of things. Long ago there was a TV show I used to really enjoy watching called Darryl’s Coffee Shop or something like that. A couple, Darryl and his wife, would sit down at a table with a cup of coffee, discuss the Scriptures, and answer letters they had received.

I liked the show, but the host was obsessed with Isaiah 11:2-3. To him, those verses listed the seven Spirits of God (a term used in The Revelation three times: 3:1, 4:5, and 5:6). They were:

  • The Spirit of Jehovah (or Yahweh)
  • The Spirit of Wisdom
  • The Spirit of Understanding
  • The Spirit of Counsel
  • The Spirit of Strength
  • The Spirit of Knowledge
  • The Spirit of the Fear of the Lord

In his answers to people, he always wanted them to pray for one of those Spirits (which he considered seven separate aspects of the one Holy Spirit; he was not a heretic).

Systems like that never work. Life isn’t that simple.

Not only that, but the whole system doesn’t really make any sense. Good counsel is based on wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. It is very hard to have "the Spirit of Counsel" without having those others. Further, what category does the Spirit of Yahweh fit into? Isn’t Yahweh the God of Israel? Shouldn’t the term "the Spirit of Yahweh" encompass all of the attributes of God? We could just pray for that one Spirit, and we’d have all the others!

Isaiah is not outlining a process. He is describing the Spirit of Yahweh and giving examples of what the Spirit of God empowered Jesus with. He was trying to be comprehensive, not break the Spirit of God into sections.

(We’ll save any fuller discussion of the seven Spirits of God in Revelation until we get to that book. I’m pretty sure most scholars just consider those seven spirits to represent the fullness of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know of any better explanation, but we’ll take a deeper look when we get there.)

Isaiah 11:4-5

If this is a prophecy about Jesus, then when did Jesus ever "strike the earth with the rod of his mouth" (v. 4, NASB) or slay the wicked with the breath of his lips?

I have two different answers for that. Jesus struck the earth with the rod of his mouth during his life on earth and is still striking the earth with the rod of his mouth. His Word is the rod of his mouth.

Slaying the wicked with the breath of his lips is going to wait until the day of the Lord, when the Lord will "consume [the wicked one] with the breath of his mouth and shall destroy [him] with the brightness of his coming" (2 Thess. 2:8).

The wording is so similar between 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Isaiah 11:4 that we are forced to consider that Isaiah is not prophesying the destruction of all wicked, though the Scriptures do teach that all the wicked will be destroyed (e.g. Rev. 21:8), but the destruction of the wicked one, as specified in 2 Thessalonians 2.

Before we move on, a short word on "the Word":

"The Word" can be understood several ways in Scripture. Three of them are used consistently:

  • Jesus is the Word.
  • The Word is anything that God is saying, has said, or will say.
  • The Word is the living Message of God. It is planted in us like a seed (Jam. 1:21), and it grows up in us, enabling us to speak God’s Word rather than just our own (Acts 6:7; Jn. 17:17,20).

"The Word," in Scripture, is never a synonym for "the Bible" or "the Scriptures." The one place that could possibly be understood that way is only understood that way because of a mistranslation. 2 Timothy 2:15 is often translated as "study" to show yourself approved, but the Greek word is spoudazo, meaning "Be diligent." Translators tend to read "study" into the start of that verse because they assume that "the Word" in the end of the verse is the Scriptures.

Not so. We use "the Word" as a synonym for "the Bible" all the time, but the Scriptures never do.

Isaiah 11:6-8

Today, we take these verses about the wolf lying down with the lamb as a prophecy of heaven or the millennial kingdom. The early churches quoted verses like this all the time as applying to the church in this age as well as to the future kingdom of God (which will be on earth, not far away in heaven somewhere).

In A.D. 185, Irenaeus said of these verses:

I am quite aware that some Christians try to refer these words to the case of savage men, both of different nations and various customs, who come to believe. When they have believed, they act in harmony with the righteous. But although this is so now with regard to some men coming from various nations to the harmony of the faith, nevertheless in the resurrection of the just, [the words shall also apply to those animals mentioned. (Against Heresies V:33:4)

In his day, Christians applied these verses first and foremost to the changed nature of born again Christians, so that men with natures like leopards or wolves would live at peace with men who were docile like sheep or goats. Irenaeus took it upon himself to remind them that was also, at least in his opinion, a literal prophecy as well as a figurative one.

Today, however, Christians have often forgotten the figurative application, so I am taking it upon myself to remind us of that. The figurative interpretation of this passage is the only practical interpretation. We can’t make leopards and goats lie down together in the next age, but we certainly can play a role in turning away from our alpha-male, aggressive, and superior attitudes and living at peace with those more meek than us.

Isaiah 11:9

This is a bold prophecy! The earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh?

Was that really likely in Isaiah’s day, when the Assyrians were taking away all Israel’s land? Israel was perishing, and would soon become not much more than one city, Jerusalem, standing like an island in the ruins of Israel and Judah.

Nonetheless, the earth is full of the knowledge of Yahweh. His word has been proclaimed to the end of the earth.

Finally, note that the prophecy says that we will not hurt or destroy in his holy mountain.

We have come to the holy mountain of God. Let us be found true citizens who do not hurt or destroy. Let us be found those who would more gladly give our life than take another’s. On the holy mountain of God, we don’t learn war anymore (Is. 2:2-5).

Isaiah 11:11-14

What sort of passage is this? God is going to gather all the scattered remnant of his people, of Ephraim and of Judah, and they are going to make war? They’re going to gather together, destroy the Philistines, and conquer Moab and Ammon?

Does that really fit into the New Covenant plan of God that we have been learning?

When is this going to happen?

Many Christians believe that God is going to gather the Jews and that he began doing it when Israel was restored as a nation in 1947. They expect, though, that there will be an even bigger immigration of Jews in the near future, as they leave their homes and cities in nations like Russia and America to return to the promised land.

But is this really what God is talking about? All of a sudden Judaism, rejected by God in the first century (Matt. 21:43), is an acceptable way of following God again? Jesus is no longer the only way? It becomes no longer true that the only true Jew is the one circumcised in heart and spirit? (Rom. 2:28-29).

That’s not what the early Christians thought. They took the words of Scripture seriously, and they considered themselves to be true Israel. They believed that God had taken the kingdom and given it to them in accordance with the words of Jesus (Matt. 21:43). They believed that there is only one tree and that when the hardness was removed from the Jews they would be grafted into that one tree (Rom. 11), which is Christ, not separate from the Gentiles, but molded and made one with them (Eph. 2:11-16).

Thus, in the same chapter that I quote above, Irenaeus tells us:

The prophets announced two advents: the one in which he became a man subject to stripes … sat upon the foal of a donkey, was a stone rejected by the builders … by the stretching forth of his hands destroyed Amalek, while he gathered from the ends of the earth into his Father’s fold the children who were scattered abroad … but the second in which he will come on the clouds … smiting the earth with the word of his mouth and slaying the impious with the breath of his lips … gathering the wheat into his barn, but burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. (ibid., par. 1)

You may notice that in this paragraph, Irenaeus ascribes Isaiah 11:4 to Jesus’ second coming, while I ascribed at least part of it to his first coming. There’s some room for interpretation in passages like this. Clement of Alexandria, for example, younger but contemporaneous for some time with Irenaeus, agrees with me on Isaiah 11:4 (The Instructor I:7).

My point here, though, is that Irenaeus ascribes the gathering of the people of God of Isaiah 11:11-14 to the first coming, as something that has already happened and is always ongoing.

Isaiah 11:15-16

These verses sound a bit like judgment on people, too, but a closer look shows they are not. The river of Egypt is dried up, but this is so that the people that God is gathering can walk to the mountain of the Lord without special tools (in sandals, v. 15). He’ll also make a way through Assyria.

It is not too hard to find the figurative interpretation of Egypt. Egypt always represents the flesh and the strength of men (Is. 31:1-3). The death of Jesus did dry up "the rivers of Egypt," taking away the power of the flesh so that we might come to God (cf. Rom. 6:14; 8:2-4).

Assyria is harder, but it appears that Assyria is generally tied to the devil or to the antichrist.

Justin Martyr, for example, suggests that all of Isaiah’s references to Assyria are prophecies of the devil’s demise, which God put in cryptic form so that the devil would not know his judgment until after he had put Jesus to death and sealed his doom:

Before the coming of the Lord, the devil did not know the measure of his own punishment so plainly. This is because the divine prophets had enigmatically announced it. For instance, Isaiah, who in the person of the Assyrian tragically revealed the course to be followed against the devil. But when the Lord appeared and the devil clearly understood that eternal fire was laid up and prepared for him and his messengers [angels], he began to continuously plot against the faithful because he wanted many companions in his apostasy. He did not want to endure the shame of condemnation by himself. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I; "Other Fragments from the Lost Writings of Justin". This quote was found cited in the writings of John of Antioch.)

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