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A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:1-9)
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezek. 36:22-29)
Question 1: Introduction (What is this text about?)
Isaiah 11:1-9 is a well-known text and, together with Isaiah 9:1-6, contains prophecies of the Messiah. In Isaiah 11:1-9, the hope is expressed for justice and for a kingdom of peace, to be brought about by a future Lord (of the universe), the "Messiah". This text is usually described as an eschatological expectation. But what does the word "eschatology" mean? This text is not an idea of the world beyond our world, but rather the expectation of a time of salvation in the future. It is a future which will be different from our present time, which will take place through the lordship of a new ruler. But even though it appears to be a promise for the future, it is already beginning to affect our world here and now.
Question 2: Explanation of the text (What does each element mean?)
1. In Isaiah 11:2 the nature of the expectant ruler is revealed. The new ruler is not qualified to rule by a noble descent, like a king, but rather by the spirit of the Lord. Three pairs of characteristics are named which express his qualifications more precisely: wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. The first two pairs of characteristics could also be the usual qualities of an ideal king. He needs these elements in order to exercise his office properly. For the king to officiate as judge, he requires the characteristics of wisdom and understanding (as for example Solomon did in Kings 3:9). In order to carry out the business of the realm, both internal and external, the king needs this capability (as also counsel and might) to understand situations, make plans and come to the appropriate decisions. What is special about the future Lord is found in the third pair of characteristics. This pair of words is not a traditional element of the ideology of kingship. It is knowledge and the fear of the Lord, which describes the essential practice of a life lived with the Lord. The prophet Hosea, for example, mentions knowledge of the Lord as the decisive event in the relation between human being and God (cf. Hosea 2:20; 4:1b; 6:6). And in the wisdom of Israel, fear of the Lord is represented as the basis for all human conduct (cf. Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Job 28:28). Here we have the words knowledge and fear of the Lord closely tied together. So we can assume that the new ruler not only knows the will of God, but also carries it out, through his office, in the fear of God.
2. Isaiah 11:3-5 describes the influence of the awaited ruler. The one who exercises his rule under the influence of the spirit of the Lord is a ruler who sees that justice is done. He governs his realm quite differently from the way human beings would do it. He does not depend on what his eyes see or what his ears hear. A transformation of the use of power is revealed here. The power of the future lord will not be used for military purposes, but rather in order that justice may be done. His justice is implemented to help the powerless obtain their rights. In accordance with the Old Testament idea of God, he appears as the advocate of the poor (Psalms 9:10; 68:6; Job 5:15-16), for the rights of the least powerful. It is striking that his task is carried out through the "rod of his mouth" and the "breath of his lips". These metaphorical expressions reveal the authority of the new ruler's speech. The characteristics of his word are made plain through his prophetic actions: through the words of the (prophet's) mouth, the Lord kills evil-doers (Hos. 6:5). The Lord makes the mouth of his servant like a sharp sword (Isa. 49:2). The word of the Lord shatters rocks like a hammer (Jer. 23:29). Unlike an ordinary king, the new ruler does not have swords or spears as his weapons, but rather the power of his word. But this can only happen because his word is founded on God's authority and he is under the Lord's influence. So justice and faithfulness are the marks by which one can recognise him.
3. Isaiah 11:6-9 portrays the kingdom of peace as consequence of the new ruler's influence. It appears as the purpose of his reign. Peace is described as manifesting itself between one animal and another as well as between human beings and animals. The effects of his rule are not limited to the world of humankind, but are also extended to the whole world of nature. However, it should be observed that the picture of peace among the animals does not represent an idyllic marginal note to a political programme, but rather important elements of this programme. And, it must be noted, these elements are peculiar to the role and relationships of each animal. The lamb offers hospitality to the wolf and the leopard finds a place to sleep beside the kid. Wild animals become friends with tame animals, and both together are led by a child. This images show not only a peaceful harmony among the animals, or between human beings and animals, but also the reversal of relationships between the strong and the weak. This reversal, a contrast to our situation today, is also seen in the play of the suckling and the weaned child with the serpents and in the lion which eats straw like cattle. There are links here to the story of creation in Genesis 1-2, in which human beings and animals are partners with one another. The rule of humankind over the earth and the animals is carried out without bloodshed. Both human beings and animals are offered only vegetable nourishment (Gen. 1:29). So the images in verses 6-8 (cf. also Isa. 65:25 and Hos. 2:18) of an end to devouring and being devoured call forth in us a desire to return to the world of Paradise. Thus the kingdom of peace is realised, not in that we no longer have enemies, but rather that the enmity between completely different groups of creatures is ended. The solution is not the elimination of all the wild animals, but rather the hoped-for peace comes through deliberate implementation. Therefore we no longer do evil, and no longer experience it, on the Lord's holy mountain. This is the sign that the knowledge of the Lord has been fulfilled.
Question 3: Purpose (What is expected of us?)
The coming ruler is shown to be the one who guarantees justice, shown clearly by his inclination towards the least powerful creatures. A kingdom of peace among the animals, and between them and human beings, is portrayed as a manifestation of this justice. Peace requires that there be justice, and justice is oriented to peace. But the decisive point is how this kingdom of peace comes about. Peace comes not through the destruction of all enemies, but through ending the enmity. It is especially the transformation of the wild animals (which are the strong ones) which is the pre-condition for the kingdom of peace. The basic motives and the guiding intentions of the kingdom of peace have social and political dimensions. The question as to whether this expectation can be realised does not seem to be under consideration here. The text does not ask whether the lion will really eat straw like the ox, but rather what is the constellation between the strong and the weak in which the kingdom of peace will manifest itself, and what is the practice for today which is appropriate to this hope for peace. Indeed, the indicative mood of the promise must be turned into the imperative mood of decision-making.
Question 4: Introduction (what is this text about?)
Because of its impurity, Israel had to be driven out of its land. But the fact of Israel's being driven out caused the name of God to be desecrated among the nations. Now the Lord decides, for the sake of the Lord's own honour, to bring Israel back home. The Lord grants the Israelites a new future, even though they have not deserved it.
Question 5: Prayer (how can a new future begin?)
A new future begins with the renewal of a people, with the granting of a permanent right to remain in the land. The renewal takes place in three phases. 1) The first phase is cleansing from all impurity. The Lord's cleansing action is illustrated as being like a ritual act by the priest (Lev. 14:49-53; cf. also Num. 19). Through being sprinkled with water, each individual among the people is to be cleansed of all impurity. 2) The second phase is the gift of a new heart and a new spirit. The new heart is described as a heart of flesh, in contrast to a heart of stone. The hearts of the people, which have become hardened, are changed by the Lord's act into new hearts, which are willing to hear and to learn the commandments of God. 3) The third phase is the pouring out of the Lord's Spirit. This completes the renewal of the people. The Spirit of God is one of renewing power and life-creating might (cf. 1 Sam. 10:6-7; Isa. 32:15). It leads a person to be united with the will and the nature of God. The Spirit of the Lord is poured into the person's heart, so that the person will obey the Lord. But not through this one-time event, but rather because the spirit remains will human life be shaped according to God's commandments (cf. Isa. 11:2). This is what makes true communion possible between God and human being, as stated in the covenant. So this is how we should pray for a new future: Come, Holy Spirit. Renew us!
Instructions for Bible study
This Bible study should be built around the questions in parentheses. The leader can ask each question, and clarify the answer for each paragraph in dialogue with the participants. After Question 5, the Bible study ends with a prayer for the pouring out of the spirit, for a new beginning for each individual or for the group.
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