2. The Book of Immanuel (Isaiah 7-12)

Audio (46:04)

Simon (Pimen) Fyodorovich Ushakov (1626-1686), 'Christ-Emanuel' (1686), Russian Museum.
Simon (Pimen) Fyodorovich Ushakov (1626-1686), "Christ-Emanuel" (1686), Russian Museum.

Now we come to a group of prophecies in Isaiah 7-12 that are sometimes called The Book of Immanuel. Several of them seem to focus on a child who is introduced as a sign in a regional crisis, but who finally emerges as the ruler of the whole earth.

These prophecies begin with hints of the Messiah, but become more specific the farther we read. The first couple of chapters are some hard slogging -- partly because we need to look carefully at this historical situation, as well as the future implications of the Immanuel prophecy -- but hang on. We discover some amazing insights in chapters 9 and 11.

Part 2A (Isaiah 7-10)

Combined Attack by an Alliance of Israel and Syria (7:1-9; 2 Kings 16)

We flash forward from Isaiah's call about 742 BC to a prophecy from a later time, somewhere between 736 (when Ahaz took the throne) and 734 (when Assyria laid siege to Damascus).[70]

"When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it." (7:1)

The conflict involves four nations:

  • Assyria, which, under Tiglath-pileser, is beginning to expand its empire into the eastern Mediterranean. It is the emerging superpower of this era.
  • Syria (RSV, KJV) or Aram (NIV, NRSV) borders the northern kingdom of Israel on the north. Aram is made up of a number of related Aramean tribes that are vassals of the Kingdom of Damascus, ruled by Rezin. In these notes, I'll be referring to this as Syria, since we're familiar with the name Syria from modern geopolitics.
  • Israel (the northern kingdom) broke off from Judah (the southern kingdom) after the death of Solomon. Its current king is Pekah, the son of Remaliah, one of a series of kings in a time of growing political instability. Its capital is Samaria.
  • Judah (the southern kingdom) is ruled by the house of David, David's descendents, with its capital at Jerusalem The current king is Ahaz, son of Jotham. He is not a devout follower of Yahweh, but has strayed to worshipping other gods. Isaiah is a prophet in Judah.

The threat of Assyria's armies has caused Israel and Syria to Judah's north to form a military alliance. They want Judah to join them, but King Ahaz refuses. Ahaz knows that if any nation rebels against the might of Assyria, it will be crushed and its king deposed. However, Israel and Syria attempt to force Judah to join the alliance. They want to topple Ahaz by military force and replace him with a puppet king, the son of Tabeel.

When Ahaz ("the house of David") hears of the impending attack on Jerusalem, he is terrified. The Lord sends Isaiah to reassure him.

"Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood -- because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah." (7:4)

Isaiah conveys to Ahaz the word of Yahweh concerning this impending attack:

"It will not take place, it will not happen." (7:7)

Then he reassures Ahaz that these allied kings are mere men after all. He tells Ahaz not to panic. "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all" (7:9b). His future will hinge on what he does here. Ahaz is at a point of no return; he must decide. As we'll see shortly, Ahaz chooses to become a vassal of Assyria, an enemy far worse than either Israel or Syria.

Sidebar: Children with Meaningful Names

Isaiah uses children and their names as signs and symbols throughout this series of prophecies (8:18). The four children (some of whom may be the same child with a different name) are:

1. Shear-Jashub (7:3) is Isaiah's son, whose name means, "a remnant will return." It probably means that a remnant of God's people will return to God and trust in him -- a name full of hope.

2. Immanuel (7:14) may be Isaiah's son -- we're not told. But his name, which means, "God with us," is designed to give encouragement to Ahaz to trust in God during this crisis rather than in Assyria. The name has a second and ultimate fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah, who is God in human flesh. In Jesus, the name describes the fact of the incarnation -- "God with us!" Immanuel is mentioned in 7:14, in 8:8, and in 8:10

3. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (8:3) is Isaiah's son. His name means, "the spoil speeds, the prey hastes." He is named this to indicate that Assyria will soon carry off the spoils or plunder from both Israel and Syria after invading them.[71]

4. A child is born (9:6) who shall be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." This is clearly not Isaiah's son, but the Son of God himself!

The Sign of Immanuel (7:10-16)

The Lord seeks to bolster Ahaz's faith by offering a sign that Israel and Syria will not succeed after all. Ahaz refuses a sign.

"14b The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste." (7:14b-16)

Isaiah's prophecy is that a virgin will bear a son named Immanuel, which means, "God with us." But by the time he is old enough to know right from wrong -- in other words, within just a very few years -- both Israel and Syria will have been laid waste by Assyria. God will be with Judah and King Ahaz won't have to deal with his two enemies, Israel and Syria at all. That's the essence of the prophecy -- at least its fulfillment in Isaiah's time.

But since this prophecy is also quoted in Matthew 1:23, it raises several questions.

1. Was Immanuel's mother a virgin or a young woman? The full answer is complex, but to summarize, the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7:14 describes a young woman, probably unmarried and assumed to be a virgin. The Greek word used to describe Mary specifically means "virgin."[72]

2. What is the significance of eating "curds and honey"? Curds are a fermented milk product, like leban, similar to yoghurt, considered a delicacy, sometimes served with honey.[73] But in light of 7:21-22, curds will be available because the land has been so depopulated from war and exile that there are more dairy animals than people remaining. Honey could be gathered from the wild. Thorns and brambles will take over land once-cultivated (7:23-25).

3. How old would the child be when "the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste" (7:15)? The phrase, "when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right," is difficult. It could refer to the young age when a child knows what is helpful and harmful, or to the legal age of accountability at 12 or so. Either interpretation could fit the context, but perhaps the legal age of accountability is meant.[74]

4. How can the prophecy have a dual fulfillment -- in contemporary history and also in Jesus the Messiah? As discussed in the Introduction, fulfillment of predictive prophecy can be (a) in the period of the prophet, (b) in the future, (c) or a "double fulfillment," both in the period of the prophet himself and in the future.[75] Sometimes we see a dual fulfillment. Just like from the valley you may not see all the mountain ranges beyond, so, from the prophet's perspective, the fulfillment may seem to be one, because the immediate fulfillment lies in front of the ultimate fulfillment, obscuring it. But from the perspective of Christ's salvation, many Old Testament prophecies take on new meaning.[76] Some of the contemporary fulfillments in Isaiah are just shadows of the final fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah.

Judgment on Ahaz for His Unbelief (7:17-25)

King Ahaz does not believe or obey Isaiah's prophecy to trust in the Lord. He pays tribute to Assyria and becomes its vassal.

"Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, 'I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.' And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death." (2 Kings 16:7-9)

True, Assyria destroys the Syrian and Israelite kings who had threatened Ahaz, but the cost of this protection is high indeed. Ultimately, the Lord will bring the king of Assyria upon Judah as a "razor" to shave them completely (7:20). By Hezekiah's time, Assyria had destroyed all of Judah's fortified cities; only Jerusalem escaped.

Isaiah's Son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (8:1-4)

The Lord instructs Isaiah to write down the name of a future son, then have it attested by witnesses. The name of the son is to be Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which means, "the spoil speeds, the prey hastes."

"3 Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said to me, 'Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 4 Before the boy knows how to say "My father" or "My mother," the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.'" (8:3-4)

The boy's name is to be a sign that within a year or so, Assyria will come and plunder both Israel (Samaria is the capital city) and Syria (Damascus is the capital city).

Assyria Will Overflow the Land (8:5-8)

A second prophecy concerns not only Israel and Samaria, but Judah itself. A little creek named the Shiloah flows down the lower part of the Kidron Valley just east of Jerusalem and provides the city's water supply. Because the people have rejected their local stream and delight to see Assyria defeat Syria and Israel, disaster will befall them. "The River" represents Assyria, since its capital, Nineveh, is on the banks of the great Tigris River. The creek vs. the river! Assyria will flood Judah "up to the neck." This prophecy was fulfilled in 701 when the Assyrian army conquered all of Judah and besieged Jerusalem ("up to the neck"), but had to retreat before the city fell.[77]

Immanuel's Land (8:8-10)

Notice the two references to Immanuel in these verses:

" [Assyria's] outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, O Immanuel! ....
Propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us." (Isaiah 8:8b, 10b)

It is Immanuel's land, not Assyria's! In these verses, Immanuel no longer seems to be a mere child, but to be the ruler of the land.

Though the nations declare war, they will ultimately be shattered (8:9). Their plans "will not stand, for God is with us (in Hebrew, Immanuel, 8:10)." This is the third time that Immanuel's name is mentioned in this prophecy.

Q1. (Isaiah 7-8) What was the gist of Isaiah's prophetic instruction to Ahaz? Why do you think Ahaz chose to disregard it? What did Ahaz do instead? What was the consequence of this disobedience? Why do we sometimes seem to think that we're smarter than God? Why is it sometimes so hard to do what God tells us to do?

Allegiance to Yahweh Alone (8:12-22)

By proposing a different decision than King Ahaz, no doubt Isaiah was labeled as a traitor, a conspirator (8:12-14a). Isaiah's response is that we must fear the Lord Almighty, not some king.[78] Yahweh is our "sanctuary" our refuge against our enemies.[79]

Now Isaiah utters a word that is quoted twice in the New Testament (Romans 9:32-33; 1 Peter 2:8):

"... But for both houses of Israel
he will be a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured." (8:14b-15)

In the Old Testament, God is often called a Rock, especially in the Psalms. The verses in our passage declare an important truth. We must either trust in or surrender to our God or we will stumble over him; either we find our strength in him or he will break us.

Isaiah calls for his followers to be patient (8:16). Though God may be hiding his face, yet we are his servants -- "signs and symbols" from Yahweh Almighty (8:18).

Ahaz isn't true to Yahweh. Instead of consulting God's true prophet, he is seeking counsel from pagan prophets (8:19). Isaiah calls them back to the Torah. If a prophet's words don't line up with revealed truth in Scripture, they are to be rejected (8:20). False prophecies are not light, but darkness, and the end of false prophets will be "utter darkness" (8:21-22).

Q2. (Isaiah 8:14-15) In what sense is Yahweh (and his Messiah Jesus) a "stumbling stone" and "a trap and a snare"? In what way are people broken in this stumbling? Why do you think people stumble over a God who is almighty and righteous and must be obeyed?

A Great Light in Galilee (9:1-7)

In Isaiah 9 we find one of the greatest messianic passages in all the Old Testament, so we'll spend some time studying it.

Though Israel has followed pagan gods and has been plunged into spiritual darkness and oppression, it will not be so forever.

"1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.
In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun
and the land of Naphtali,
but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles,
by the way of the sea, along the Jordan--
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (9:1-2)

Galilee of the Gentiles. Tribal Territories, Isaiah 9:1
Notice the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali to the west of the Sea of Galilee, the area around Nazareth and Jesus' Galilean ministry. Larger map.

During the Conquest, the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali settled in territories west of the Sea of Galilee. This became part of the northern kingdom of Israel. Though these were the first areas to be overrun and humbled by the Assyrians in 733 BC (2 Kings 16:29), and by later powers (thus called, "Galilee of the Gentiles"), they included the site of the town of Nazareth where Jesus was raised, and the area of Galilee where much of Jesus' ministry was conducted.

Matthew tells us that his prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus:

"When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali -- to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah." (Matthew 4:12-14)

Isaiah continues, describing what God will do to deliver his people in the future. Isaiah looks forward to joy at the final overthrow of the oppressor. He likens that joy to what soldiers experience when they gather plunder after a battle. He recalls Gideon's decisive victory over the Midianites with just 300 men (Judges 7-8). But all of the reminders of battle and war will be burned by the "Prince of Peace." And that peace will never be broken again (9:7a).

The Messiah Is Born (9:6-7)

The child introduced now is the Messiah who will bring this victory and whose kingdom will never end. We know that this figure is the Messiah, since verse 7 clearly states that "he will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom." But this is clearly no human child. By the way he is described as "mighty God, everlasting Father," it becomes obvious that he is a divine Child.

"6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase[80] of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." (9:6-7)

When will he come? How will it happen? We're not given all the details here, but we are assured that Yahweh Almighty will bring it to pass in his time.

Let's look at the titles of this Son:

Wonderful Counselor. "Counselor" is yāʿaṣ, "advise, counsel, purpose, devise, plan." In 11:2 it says that the "Spirit of counsel" will rest upon the Messiah. Thus, "the child who is to come, on whose shoulders the government of the world shall rest, is one whose plans, purposes, designs and decrees for his people are marvelous."[81] "Wonderful" is peleʾ, "wonder." "In the Bible the root plʾ refers to things that are unusual, beyond human capabilities. As such, it awakens astonishment (plʾ) in man."[82] This Son will possess counsel to be wondered at, as the wisdom of Solomon amazed people in his day (1 Kings 3:28).

Mighty God. "God" is the generic ʾēl. "Mighty" is gibbôr, "mighty, strong, valiant, mighty man," the heroes or champions among the armed forces. It is from the verb gābar, "prevail, be mighty, have strength, be great."[83] Together the words may mean something like "Warrior God," or perhaps "Hero."[84] This Child is identified with Yahweh himself (cf. 10:21).

Everlasting Father. "Everlasting is ʿad, "perpetuity, continuing future."[85] Father is ʾāb (as in "Abba, Father"). We see God referred to as "Father" only twice more in Isaiah (63:16; 64:8). In addition, there is a scattering of references elsewhere in the Old Testament,[86] but in Jesus'mouth, "Father" is common.

If "Everlasting Father" refers to Jesus, how can he be both the Son and the Father? "Son" and "Father" are used as technical terms in the New Testament. To import them back into Isaiah and expect them to be used in exactly the same way is asking too much. The point that is made here, however, is that this Child, this Son, will be divine -- he is very closely identified with Yahweh himself. That is the theological sense. But in a functional sense, Young notes that, "he is the one who is eternally a Father to his people. Now and forever he guards his people and supplies their needs."[87] The concepts of fathering and shepherding a people are very close to each other. Jesus'statement, "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11, 14) captures the heart of this idea.

Prince of Peace. "Prince" is śar, which can mean, "prince, chief, captain, ruler, governor, keeper, chief captain, steward, master."[88] "Peace" is shālôm. "The general meaning behind the root sh-l-m is of completion and fulfillment-- of entering into a state of wholeness and unity, a restored relationship." The meaning of shālôm extends to "peace, prosperity, well[ness], health, completeness, safety."[89] So the "Prince of Peace" is the chief bringer of reconciliation, peace, fulfillment, and wholeness. He is the master of this realm. If you want this kind of all-encompassing peace, you come to him.

God's people have been troubled, but he is sending a Son, a Child, the Messiah, who will restore them fully. And this Child is Jesus!

Q3. (Isaiah 9:6-7) What in the text convinces us that the Child/Son is the Messiah himself? What do you learn about the Messiah from the four word pairs describing him? Which of these saving attributes do you need most in your life right now?

The Lord's Judgment upon Israel (9:8-10:4)

We've been looking into the future peace of the Messiah. But for now, God's wrath will be poured out on the nations, beginning with Israel. Each recountal of judgment ends with the phrase:

"Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised." (9:12b, 17c, 21c; 10:4b)

Judgment will fall upon Israel, the northern kingdom, from both Syria to the north and the Philistines to the west. (9:8-12). But their response to judgment isn't repentance:

"But the people have not returned to him who struck them,
nor have they sought the LORD Almighty." (10:13)

And so judgment continues. Elders, rulers, and prophets are cut off, both young and old, "for everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks vileness" (9:17c).

Next, the prophet describes the burning of the judgment (9:18-19), hunger and cannibalism that will result (9:20). Tribe will turn against tribe -- even against Judah (21).

Yahweh's judgment is for the injustice that has flourished in the land.

"Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless." (10:1-2)

Notice particularly the laws that are passed to oppress the weak. In American history, for example, we have passed laws designed to oppress immigrants from China, Japan, African slaves, Native Americans, and various waves of immigration from Europe. But America is not alone. Nearly every other nation in the world has passed such unjust laws at one time or another in their history. When we act unjustly, we call down God's judgment upon ourselves. He is the God of Justice! Injustice is an offence against his very character.

Q4. (Isaiah 10:1-2) Why do we humans tend to pass laws that oppress the weak and poor? What can we as Christians do to prevent this? What can we do to help the poor and weak in our communities?

When God's judgment comes, there will be no place to turn, no one to turn to. It will be a lonesome valley indeed (10:3-4).

Judgment upon Assyria, the Rod of God's Anger (10:5-19)

Though Assyria is the tool of judgment that God uses to judge Israel, Assyria too will be under God's judgment.

"Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!" (10:5)

God intends judgment, but Assyria's purpose is power, greed, cruelty, and destruction. Though God uses Assyria to judge both Israel and Judah (10:10-12), Assyria becomes arrogant. God says,

"I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart
and the haughty look in his eyes. " (10:12)

When God is finished with Assyria he will destroy it. As Isaiah says in verse 7, "the Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame" that will consume Assyria.

A Remnant Will Return (10:20-23)

In spite of the great judgment that Israel will experience, "a remnant will return" to God, which is the name given to one of Isaiah's children (Shear-Jashub, 7:3). I'm not sure this prophecy has been completely fulfilled even yet. Israel, the 10 northern tribes, went into exile in Assyria and seem to have been absorbed there and faded from history (though it is possible that some returned after Cyrus'decree in 538 BC). One day, however, God will gather his people, and this remnant will return to God -- but only a remnant.

"20 In that day the remnant of Israel,
the survivors of the house of Jacob,
will no longer rely on him who struck them down
but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.
21 A remnant will return,
a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God.
22 Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea,
only a remnant will return." (10:20-22)

Judah Is Not to Fear (10:24-34)

Isaiah is concluding this prophecy at the time when Ahaz is threatened by attack from the combined forces of Syria and Israel. Residents of Jerusalem are told not to fear (10:24-25). Though, on this occasion foreign armies will come close -- as close as Nob, which is just outside Jerusalem -- they will stop there, and ultimately be destroyed by God himself.

"32 This day they will halt at Nob;
they will shake their fist at the mount of the Daughter of Zion,
at the hill of Jerusalem." (10:32)

Part 2B (Isaiah 11-12)

Now Isaiah tells us more of this son of David.

A Shoot from the Stump of Jesse (11:1-5)

You'll recall a former prophecy of massive destruction, but then a word of hope:

"But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land." (6:13)

Our passage promises that this stump will sprout, that the seed of David will not be cut off forever.

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." (11:1)

Jesse, of course, is the father of David (1 Samuel 16:1; Ruth 4:17), and from this Davidic line a new king will come. In 11:11 the Davidic messiah is called "the root of Jesse." In Revelation we read of Jesus:

"The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed." (Revelation 5:5)

"I am the Root and the Offspring of David,
and the bright Morning Star." (Revelation 22:16)

Our passage also calls this Messianic figure the "Branch," a designation that occurs several other times in the Scripture, as we already discussed in 4:2:

"In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious,
and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel." (Isaiah 4:2)

The Spirit of the Lord upon the Messiah (11:2-3a)

Isaiah continues with a description of Messiah's character -- in sharp contrast to Ahaz's injustice, idol-worship, and rebelliousness against Yahweh.

"2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him --
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD." (11:2-3a)

The word "Spirit" (rûaḥ) occurs four times in this passage. The Messiah will be anointed by the Spirit, full of the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, ministering in the Spirit. And it is appropriate that walking in the fullness of the Spirit be characteristic of Messiah's disciples as well.

This theme, too, echoes through Isaiah and into the New Testament. For example:

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations." (42:1)

"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners." (61:1)

Jesus indentified this passage with himself when he read it in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:18-21). In the Gospels we read that Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:20), anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism (Luke 3:22; 4:1), and ministers in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:14; Matthew 12:28; John 3:34; Acts 10:38).

Observe the qualities that the Spirit imparts to the Messiah to make him a leader and ruler of the people:

  1. Wisdom (hokmâ ) involves "prudence in secular affairs, skills in the arts, moral sensitivity, and experience in the ways of the Lord."[90]
  2. Understanding (bînâ ) is a synonym of hokmâ , "wisdom." The basic idea here is the ability to discern between alternatives, which leads to wisdom, discernment.[91]
  3. Counsel (ʿēṣâ ). The verb means, "to give counsel, deliberate, purpose, determine."[92] In 9:6 the Messiah is called "Wonderful Counselor." He has the wisdom to advise others on their course in life. He is the King who needs no counselors to guide him.
  4. Power/might (gebûrâ ), especially, "royal power." The verb means, "to prevail, be mighty, have strength, be great."[93] What the Messiah determines in all wisdom to do, he has the power to bring to pass.
  5. Knowledge of Yahweh (daʿat). This is a general term for knowledge. It particularly describes knowledge that is of a personal, experimental nature, technical knowledge or ability, as well as discernment.[94] The Messiah knows God intimately. The resurrected Christ is omniscient, all-knowing.
  6. Fear of the LORD. Fear (yirʾâ ) isn't used here in the sense of terror, but of reverence, respect, and piety.[95] In contrast to Ahaz, who offered his son as a sacrifice to foreign gods, the Messiah will be devoted to Yahweh exclusively. This section closes with the promise: "and he will delight in the fear of the LORD." The Father is the Son's greatest delight!

The Messiah is uniquely equipped to govern well. No human king has all of these qualities. Why is it that we resist letting the Messiah govern our own lives? Why is surrender to his wise leadership so difficult for us?

The Justice of the Messiah (11:3b-5)

Near Eastern kings were not just absolute monarchs in charge of the "executive branch" of government. They were also the court of last resort for the "judicial branch" of government. Even today, the princes of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Jordan listen to disputes and problems of their citizens, much as Solomon did three millennia ago.

The Messiah will be the ultimate Judge, but without the limitations of a human monarch.

"3b He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth." (11:3b-4a)

Human judges make their judgments based on testimony or the evidence presented, but this Judge has knowledge of the heart and the motives.

Notice the Messiah's concern -- "the needy" and "the poor of the earth." Many of our courts favor the wealthy, powerful, and sophisticated. But Christ cares about justice for the weak and powerless. That should be our concern as well.

Now the prophet speaks in poetic terms about the moral authority of the Messiah when he speaks and renders judgment. The wicked should fear when he pronounces sentence.

"4b He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips
he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist." (11:3b-5)

Q5. (Isaiah 11:1-5) Who was Jesse? How does his name indicate that this passage speaks of the Messiah? What attributes will he have due to the Spirit of God upon him? What do we learn about this Messiah from verses 4-5? Who seem to be the victims of injustice and oppression here? When the Messiah comes, what will happen to all who involve themselves in injustice?

The Peace of the Messiah (11:6-9)

The result of the power and righteousness of this Messianic rule will be peace. In this famous passage, Isaiah expresses what peace will look like, using the animal kingdom as his word pictures. Natural enemies will live in absolute peace with each other in this Messianic age:

Detail from Edward Hicks (American Quaker painter, 1780-1849), 'The Peaceable Kingdom' (c. 1834), oil on canvas
The lion shall lie down with the lamb in Messiah's Kingdom, Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 11:6). Detail from Edward Hicks (American Quaker painter, 1780-1849), "The Peaceable Kingdom" (c. 1834), oil on canvas, 74.5x90.1 cm., National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Larger Image.

 "6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
The leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand
into the viper's nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full
of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea." (11:6-9)

Verse 9 sums up the peace "on all my holy mountain" -- which sounds like the whole earth and the reason for that peace -- "the knowledge of the Lord." Here the prophet speaks of a personal relationship with the Lord, not just an intellectual awareness of him. This promise of Messianic peace is repeated again in 65:25 and referred to in Hosea 2:18. Paul looked forward to this culmination of the Messianic age:

"And he made known to us the mystery of his will
according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,
 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment --
to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."
(Ephesians 1:9-10)

It will be the time when

"at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11)

Q6. (Isaiah 11:6-9) The passage speaks in figurative language. What kind of peace does it describe? How far will this peace extend? According to Isaiah 11:9b, why will there be peace? What does "the knowledge of the Lord" mean? How widespread will this "knowledge" be?

The Messiah Will Gather the Remnant (11:10-16)

Now Isaiah prophesies that the Messiah will gather his people together on the Last Day (quoted in Romans 15:12):

"10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;
the nations will rally to him,
and his place of rest will be glorious.
11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time
to reclaim[96] the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria,
from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam,
from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.
12 He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather[97] the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth." (Isaiah 11:10-12)

The "banner" (NIV), "signal" (NRSV), "ensign" (KJV) is a rallying point, a pole or flag used to draw people together.[98] Notice who is gathered -- the peoples and the nations (the Gentiles), as well as the exiles of Judah and Israel (also 27:13; 45:20; 60:4-5; 62:10). The Messiah is not just the leader of one reunited nation of Israel, but the leader of the whole world.

This is probably the first prophecy of what is known as the Rapture or great Gathering of God's people when Christ returns. In fact, the wording in Jesus'prophecy of the Last Day echoes Isaiah:

"At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather[99] his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens." (Mark 13:26-27)

In 2 Thessalonians, we see this same language regarding the rapture.

"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered[100] to him...." (2 Thessalonians 2:1)

We see the same idea later in Isaiah:

"And in that day a great trumpet will sound.
Those who were perishing in Assyria
and those who were exiled in Egypt
will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem." (Isaiah 27:13)

"Prepare the way for the people.
Build up, build up the highway!
Remove the stones.
Raise a banner for the nations." (62:10)

In verses 11:13-14 there is a prediction of peace between Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom), and victory over their traditional regional enemies.

The prophecy concludes with the building of a highway that fords great rivers so that God's people may return from exile in Egypt and Mesopotamia, which recalls Israel's crossing the Red Sea during the Exodus.

"There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria,
as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt." (11:16)

This highway is mentioned again later in Isaiah, first for a visit from God and then for a way that the nations might be assembled to him.

"In the desert prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God." (40:3)

"Build up, build up the highway! (62:10b)

Q7. (Isaiah 11:10-16) What does it mean that "the nations" will rally to the Messiah when he appears? Who are these "nations"? Who else will be "gathered" at this time? How does this prophecy relate to Jesus'and Paul's teaching about the Rapture (Mark 13:26-27; 2 Thessalonians 2:1)? When will this prophecy be fulfilled?

Joy in the Day of the Lord (12:1-6)

The victory of the Messiah has been prophesied. Now it is time to celebrate. Isaiah looks forward to the praises that will ring out on the Day of the Lord.

"1 In that day you will say:
'I will praise you, O LORD.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.
2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.'" (12:1-2)

Some of the wording in verse 2 draws upon the Song of Moses, sung by Israel after passing through the Red Sea (Exodus 15:2).

If the people of Israel traversing the barren Sinai is on the prophet's mind, then verse 3 is a remarkable image.

"With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." (12:3)

You can imagine the joy with which the Israelites discovered a well in the desert, and let down their dry goatskins to come up filled with clear, refreshing water. The "wells of salvation" describe the salvation that water brings to a thirsty wanderer.

"4 In that day you will say:
'Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.'" (12:4-6)

This is an occasion of giving praise to Yahweh in all sorts of different ways:

  1. Giving thanks,
  2. Calling upon his name,
  3. Proclaiming the greatness of his name,
  4. Singing to Yahweh,
  5. Letting word of his glorious exploits be known to all,
  6. Shouting aloud, and
  7. Singing for joy.

Why celebrate with such joy and abandon?

"... for great is the Holy One of Israel among you." (12:6b)

In this lesson we've looked at the Book of Immanuel, tracing the promised Messiah in several of Isaiah's prophecies. This Messiah has now come as Jesus of Nazareth. The prophecies will not be completely fulfilled, however, until this Jesus comes again to bring judgment and reign over all the earth. Come soon, Lord Jesus!


Father, when we look at Isaiah's insights about the Messiah we are awed. Thank you for the full salvation you have brought to us in him. Help us to mold our character and values on him. We look forward to Christ's coming, Lord. In Jesus'name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14)

"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 11:6-8)

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him --
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1-3a)
"They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:9)
"In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;
the nations will rally to him,
and his place of rest will be glorious." (Isaiah 11:10)

End Notes

[70] Oswalt, Isaiah, p. 198.

[71] Some feel that this may be the same son who was given the name Immanuel in 7:14, by Isaiah's second wife, who was a virgin when the prophecy was given (R.F. Youngblood, "Immanuel," ISBE 2:808).

[72] Clearly, both Matthew 1:20-25 and Luke 1:31-35 teach that Jesus was born to Mary who was a virgin, who had not had sexual intercourse. The Greek word is parthenos, used in Classical Greek "of a young woman of marriageable age," with or without focus on her virginity. In later Greek it came to denote a chaste girl, that is, a virgin. In the New Testament the word refers to "one who has never engaged in sexual intercourse, virgin, chaste person" (BDAG 777.) Matthew quotes the Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah 7:14. The Hebrew uses two words translated by parthenos in the Greek Septuagint translation. Beṯûlâ denotes a girl of marriageable age, one who has recently passed puberty and is therefore at the height of her strength and beauty. In Hebrew society such a girl would be assumed to be a virgin, though the word beṯûlâ doesn't describe a girl's sexual history. The other word is ʿalmâ (used in 7:14), used only seven times in the Old Testament, which makes it difficult to determine its precise meaning. Where it is used, it refers to young women, none of whom seem to be married -- and in Israel, they would be assumed to be virgins (G.J. Wenham, "Virgin," ISBE 4:996; cf. Matitiahu Tsevat, bethûlāh, bethûlîm, Theology Dictionary of the Old Testament (G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, editors; Eerdmans, 1975) 2:338-343.

[73] Genesis 18:8; Deuteronomy 32:14; Judges 5:25; 2 Samuel 17:29; Job 20:17. Curds and honey do not represent here the food of royalty (so Young, Isaiah 1:291-92), but a depopulated country (Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, p. 213).

[74] If the prophecy is referring to the age of moral discrimination, then if might suggest an elapsed time of 12 to 20 years. But since Isaiah's son won't be able to speak clearly before Damascus and Samaria are plundered (8:4), the prophecy could use the phrase in the sense of what is helpful and what is harmful (2 Samuel 11:35). Within three years, Damascus had been destroyed and much of Samaria's holdings plundered, though it wasn't until 12 or 13 years later that Samaria was destroyed and Israel ceased to exist (Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, p. 214).

[75] The prophet himself may not have fully understood what he was prophesying (1 Peter 1:10-12) and revelation in the New Testament is considered superior to the Old ("progressive revelation").

[76] See, for example, Gary V. Smith, "Prophet, Prophecy," ISBE 3:986-1004.

[77] Verse 6 is difficult. To understand it, you need to determine two things: (1) Who is "this people"? and (2) the meaning of māśôś, "rejoice." "This people" would most naturally refer to Judah, the people to which Isaiah is prophesying (though you can find exceptions to this: 9:16; 23:13). But why should Judah rejoice over their arch enemies who are attacking them -- Syria and Israel? Māśôś means "joy, rejoicing" (NIV, KJV) (Śûś, TWOT #2246b). If we accept the Masoretic text, we would construe Judah as rejoicing (1) over the defeat of their enemies, either at the time Isaiah is prophesying or as predicted by Isaiah for the future, or (2) perhaps rejoicing at Syria's and Israel's rebellion against Assyria.

[78] Jesus said something similar: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).

[79] The noun is miqdāsh, "holy place, sanctuary." The word most commonly designates the tabernacle and temple. Metaphorically, it is used as a place of refuge (here and Ezekiel 11:16), a fortress against one's enemies (Psalm 46:1; Proverbs 18:10). God himself is the refuge, not a mere building.

[80] "Increase" (NIV, KJV), "continually grow" (NRSV) is marbeh, "abundance, increase," from the verb rābâ , "be(come) great, many, much, numerous," from which we get our word "Rabbi" or "great one" (rābâ , TWOT #2103b), "for the increase" (Holladay, p. 214).

[81] Paul R. Gilchrist, yāʿaṣ, TWOT #887.

[82] Victor P. Hamilton, pālāʾ, TWOT #1768a.

[83] John N. Oswalt, gābar, TWOT #310b. The Hebrew root is commonly associated with warfare and has to do with the strength and vitality of the successful warrior.

[84] Young says gibbor simply means "hero" (Young, Isaiah 1:337). "He who is born the mighty God is therefore able to save all those who put their trust in him." (Young, Isaiah 1:338).

[85] TWOT #1565a.

[86] Deuteronomy 32:6; Jeremiah 3:19; 31:9; Malachi 2:10; Psalm 89:26.

[87] Young, Isaiah 1:339.

[88] Śar, TWOT #2295a.

[89] G. Lloyd Carr, shālôm, TWOT #2401a.

[90] Louis Goldberg, ḥākam, TWOT #647a.

[91] Louis Goldberg, bîn, TWOT #239b.

[92] Paul R. Gilchrist, yāʿaṣ, TWOT #887a.

[93] In Arabic the basic meaning of the root is "to rise, raise, restore." The Hebrew root is commonly associated with warfare and has to do with the strength and vitality of the successful warrior. A related word is gibbôr, "mighty, strong, valiant, mighty man" used of warriors. Our word gebûrâ   refers especially to royal power, commonly ascribed to God (John N. Oswalt, gābar, TWOT #310c).

[94] Paul R. Gilchrist, yādaʿ, TWOT #848c. The verb yādaʿ means "to know," especially knowledge gained by the senses. It is used 41 times in Proverbs.

[95] Andrew Bowling, yārēʾ, TWOT #907b.

[96] "Reclaim" (NIV), "recover" (NRSV, KJV) is qānâ , "get, acquire," here with the sense of "to buy back, redeem" (Leonard J. Coppes, qānâ , TWOT #2039).

[97] The NIV and NRSV/KJV reverse the translation of two synonyms. The first is ʾāsap, "gather, remove, gather in," often used in the context of gathering in the harvest (Charles L. Feinberg, ʾāsap, TWOT #140). The second synonym is qābaṣ, "gather, assemble," referring primarily to gathering people into one place. Leonard J. Coppes, qābaṣ, TWOT #1983.

[98] The term "banner" (NIV), "signal" (NRSV), "ensign" (KJV) is nēs. It is variously translated "signal pole, standard, ensign, banner, sign, sail." It refers to a rallying point, pole, or standard designed to draw people together for some common action or communication in battle. Sometimes it is an object of hope (Marvin R. Wilson, nāsas, TWOT #1379a). Moses rallies the armies of Israel with his uplifted staff as they fight against the Amalekites, and later builds an altar, which he names, "Jehovah-nissi," "the Lord is my banner." It is used in verses 10 and 12, as well as 49:22 and 62:10 to signal a return to Zion in the last days. Nēs is used elsewhere in Isaiah 5:26; 13:2; 18:3; 30:17; and 31:9.

[99] "Gather" is episynagō, "to bring together, gather (together)" (BDAG 382).

[100] "Gathered" is episynagōgē, "the action of assembling" (BDAG 382, 2).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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