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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Isaiah 11


A.M. 3266. B.C. 738.

In this chapter we have a prophecy concerning Messiah, the prince, and his kingdom. His rise out of the house of David, and his qualifications for his important office, Isaiah 11:1-3 . The justice and equity of his government, Isaiah 11:3-5 . The peaceableness of his kingdom, Isaiah 11:6-9 . The accession of the Gentiles to it, Isaiah 11:10 ; and with them the remnant of the Jews that should be united with them in the Messiah’s kingdom, Isaiah 11:11-16 .

Verse 1

Isaiah 11:1. And, &c. The fifth section of the fifth discourse begins here, and concludes with the next chapter. It is two-fold: in the first part the kingdom of Christ is described; in what manner, arising from the smallest beginnings, it should go on to increase, till, at length, it attained the highest perfection, Isaiah 11:1-9. In the second part are set forth some remarkable events of that kingdom, illustrating its glory, with their consequences, Isa 11:10 to chap. 12:6: see Vitringa. There shall come forth a rod The prophet, having despatched the Assyrian, and comforted God’s people with the promise of their deliverance from that formidable enemy, now proceeds further, and declares that God would do greater things than that for them; that he would give them their long-expected and much-desired Messiah, and by him would work wonders of mercy for them. For this is the manner of the prophets, to take occasion, from particular deliverances, to fix the people’s minds upon that great and everlasting deliverance from all their enemies by the Messiah. And having said that the Assyrian yoke should be destroyed, because of the anointing, he now more particularly explains who that anointed person was. Bishop Lowth mentions another particular, which he thinks plainly shows the connection between this and the preceding chapter. “The prophet had described the destruction of the Assyrian army under the image of a mighty forest, consisting of flourishing trees, growing thick together, and of a great height: of Lebanon itself crowned with lofty cedars, but cut down, and laid level with the ground, by the axe wielded by the hand of some powerful and illustrious agent; in opposition to this image he represents the great person, who makes the subject of this chapter, as a slender twig, shooting out from the trunk of an old tree, cut down, lopped to the very root, and decayed; which tender plant, so weak in appearance, should nevertheless become fruitful and prosper.” Out of the stem Or, rather, stump, as the word properly signifies: by which he clearly implies that the Messiah should be born of the royal house of David, at that time when it was in a most forlorn condition, like a tree cut down, and whereof nothing is left but a stump, or root under ground. Of Jesse He doth not say of David, but of Jesse, who was a private and mean person, to intimate, that at the time of Christ’s birth the royal family should be reduced to its primitive obscurity.

Verse 2

Isaiah 11:2. And the Spirit of the Lord The Holy Ghost, by which he was anointed, (Acts 10:38,) and by whose power his human nature was formed in the womb of the virgin, (Luke 1:35,) shall rest upon him Shall not only come upon him at certain times, as it came upon the prophets, but shall have its constant and settled abode in him; the spirit of wisdom and understanding It is not needful exactly to distinguish these two gifts; it is sufficient that they are necessary qualifications for a governor and a teacher, and it is evident they signify perfect knowledge of all things necessary for his own and people’s good, and a sound judgment to distinguish between things that differ; the spirit of counsel and might Of prudence, to give good counsel; and of might and courage, to execute it; the spirit of knowledge Of the perfect knowledge of the whole will and counsel of God, as also of all secret things, yea, of the hearts of men; fear of the Lord A fear of reverence, a care to please him, and aversion to offend him.

Verse 3

Isaiah 11:3. And shall make him of quick understanding Hebrew, והריחו , shall make him of quick scent, smell, or perception; or, of quick discernment, as Bishop Lowth renders it; in the fear of the Lord In things which concern the worship and service of God, and every part of religion. Or the meaning may be, He shall not judge rashly and partially, but considerately and justly, as the fear of God obliges all judges to do. And he shall not judge Of persons, things, or causes; after the sight of the eyes According to outward appearance, as men do, because they cannot search men’s hearts; neither reprove Condemn, or pass sentence against any person; after the hearing of the ears By uncertain rumours or suggestions, but shall thoroughly examine all causes, and search out the truth of things, and the very hearts of men. It implies also, that, “in collecting the people who shall compose his kingdom, he shall principally regard in them this quality of fear, or reverence for the Lord; and with the greatest sagacity and perspicuity of judgment, shall discern and separate those subjects in whom he finds this quality; not suffering that judgment to be deluded by the external appearance of truth or honesty, but, penetrating into the interior recesses of the mind by his prophetic spirit, he shall discriminate truth from error, the good from the bad, the sincere and pious from the hypocritical and impious.” All the churches shall know, says he, that I am he who searcheth the reins and the hearts.

Verse 4

Isaiah 11:4. With righteousness With justice and impartiality; shall he judge the poor Whom human judges commonly neglect and oppress, but whom he shall defend and deliver; and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth Shall condemn their malicious enemies, and give sentence for them. He calls them meek, whom before he called poor, partly to show his justice in defending them when they are most exposed to the contempt and injuries of men; and partly to signify that his subjects should be poor in spirit, as well as poor in the world, and not poor and proud, as many worldly persons are. And he shall smite the earth That is, the men of the earth, intending chiefly the carnal and wicked, as it is in the next branch of the verse; with the rod of his mouth With his word, which is his sceptre, and the rod of his power, (Psalms 110:2,) which is sharper than a sword, (Hebrews 4:12,) by the preaching whereof he subdues the world to himself, and will destroy his enemies, 2 Thessalonians 2:8. This he adds farther, to declare the nature of Christ’s kingdom, that it is not of this world, and that his sceptre and arms are not carnal, but spiritual, as it is said 2 Corinthians 10:4. And with the breath of his lips With his word, breathed out of his lips; whereby he explains what was meant by the foregoing expression, rod; shall he slay the wicked The impenitent and unbelieving, the obstinate and irreclaimable, who will not obey the truth, but persist to obey unrighteousness. These he will slay or destroy, by the terrible judgments which he will execute upon them. This latter part of the verse will be eminently fulfilled in the destruction of antichrist, to whom St. Paul applies it 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8, (compare Revelation 19:21,) who is, by way of eminence, called the Wicked one, the man of sin, and ο αντικειμενος , the adversary to God’s truth and people.

Verse 5

Isaiah 11:5. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins It shall adorn him, and be the glory of his government, as a girdle was used for an ornament, Isaiah 3:24; and as an ensign of power, Job 12:18; and it shall constantly cleave to him in all his administrations, as a girdle cleaveth to a man’s loins. And faithfulness the girdle of his reins The same thing in other words. Here then we have the basis and foundation of this kingdom, namely, the justice and fidelity of the king. These virtues shall be conspicuous in the whole administration of his government, and, at once, be the ornament and the support of it. “The sum is, that the kingdom of Christ should be a kingdom of the highest equity, and the king of it perfect: who, though judging his true subjects by the law of grace, by faithfully performing all the promises of the gospel, and every condition of the covenant to them, will yet not omit to punish the enemies of his church according to their deserts, and thus to satisfy the law of justice: so that he shall not be less venerable and awful for his justice in judgment, than amiable and desirable for his truth, fidelity, and constancy in performing his promises; which being things naturally united, are not, by any means, to be separated.” Dodd.

Verses 6-8

Isaiah 11:6-8. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, &c. “We have here the illustrious consequence of the economy of this divine kingdom, this kingdom of righteousness, equity, faith, and grace.” The expressions which describe it are metaphorical: they represent the subjects of it under the figure of a flock, lying down and feeding under the care of the Messiah, as the great and chief shepherd, in the utmost peace, harmony, and security. Men of fierce, cruel, and ungovernable dispositions shall be so transformed by the preaching of the gospel, and by the grace of Christ, that they shall become most humble, gentle, and tractable, and shall no more vex and persecute those meek and poor ones, mentioned Isaiah 11:4; but shall become such as they. Yea, the most inveterate enemies of the kingdom of God, such as the persecuting Saul, shall be brought into its communion, having laid down their cruelty, barbarity, and ferocity, their inclination to hurt, their craft and subtlety; and not only so, but this kingdom also shall be purged from all offences, from all evils and instruments of malice. For the people, being enlightened with truth, and renewed by grace, shall put off their barbarous and depraved manners; shall willingly subject themselves to the rule of the Messiah, with meekness and humility, and shall fulfil the law of brotherly love in all the offices of good-will. This is the sum of the present passage, divested of metaphor. For, it is evident, as Michaelis has observed, that a mystical sense is not intended to be assigned to each of these images, or figurative expressions, and a particular and partial truth to be deduced therefrom; but a general doctrine is to be learned from the whole, namely, that the kingdom of the Messiah is a kingdom of peace, as well as of righteousness; of happiness, as well as of holiness; and that the natural tendency of his religion is to produce meekness, gentleness, long- suffering, and the exercise of mutual benevolence among men, as well as piety in all its branches toward God. This indeed is declared in plain words in the next verse.

Verse 9

Isaiah 11:9. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain Here the prophet himself gives us a key wherewith to open his meaning in the three preceding verses. By the holy mountain he means, the Christian Church, frequently termed Zion, Jerusalem, and God’s holy mountain, in the writings of the prophets. Wherever the gospel comes and prevails; wherever the true and genuine religion of Christ takes place and is established, these effects are produced. And in due time the gospel shall prevail, and the true religion of Jesus be established everywhere. For the earth The world, with its inhabitants, shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord By this he intimates, that all that savageness and malignity which are in carnal and wicked men toward the people of God, and all those unholy, unkind, and unhappy dispositions which are in any of the human race, proceed from their ignorance of God, or their want of a true and saving acquaintance with him, which, wherever it takes place, produces a marvellous and thorough change in men’s hearts and lives. As the waters cover the sea As the waters spread themselves over the bottom, and entirely fill all the channels of the sea. Although this prophecy begins to be fulfilled wherever the kingdom of grace is set up among men, and is more and more fulfilled in proportion as that kingdom is enlarged; yet the perfect accomplishment of it will not be witnessed till those latter days come, when, according to the Scriptures, the knowledge and practice of Christianity will be universally diffused, and all those divine virtues which it inculcates will be most eminently exerted and displayed.

Verse 10

Isaiah 11:10. And in that day, &c. We have here the latter part of this prophecy, which sets forth some more illustrious events of this kingdom, with their consequences. The events are set forth Isaiah 11:10-16, and are three. 1st, The remarkable conversion of the Gentiles, Isaiah 11:10. 2d, The calling of the dispersed Jews to the communion of the kingdom of Christ, Isa 11:11 to Isa 14:3 d, A diminution of the powers of the adverse empires, Egypt and Assyria, Isaiah 11:15-16. The consequence of these events is represented to be a remarkable thanksgiving of the Jewish people, converted to the Messiah for the redemption granted to them, Isaiah 12:1-6. There shall be a root of Jesse, &c. This verse, is more literally rendered, And it shall be in that day, Namely, in that glorious gospel day, that the Gentiles shall seek to the root of Jesse, which stands for an ensign of the people; and his rest shall be glorious. By the root of Jesse, we may either understand a branch growing from that root, and so may interpret it of Christ’s human nature, or, referring it to his divine nature, we may take it for a root properly so called, as the expression is to be understood Revelation 22:16; where Christ is represented as being as well the root, as the offspring of David. Which shall stand, or which stands, for an ensign of the people Which shall grow up into a great and high tree, shall become a visible and eminent ensign, which not only the Jews, but all nations may discern, and to which they may and shall resort; to it shall the Gentiles seek As the gospel shall be preached to the Gentiles, so they shall receive it, and believe in the Messiah; and his rest That is, either, 1st, His resting-place, his temple, or church, the place of his presence and abode; shall be glorious Filled with greater glory than the Jewish tabernacle and temple were; only this glory shall be spiritual, consisting in the plentiful effusion of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. Or, 2d, The rest enjoyed by those who are true worshippers in this temple, or true members of this church: their rest of grace, of faith, hope, and love: the rest consequent on the justification of their persons, and the renovation of their nature; the rest which they enter into by believing, (Hebrews 4:3,) which they receive in consequence of coming to Christ, weary and heavy laden, and learning of him, Matthew 11:28; their peace with God, peace of conscience, and tranquillity of mind, is glorious, for it passeth all understanding, Philippians 4:7. And it shall be much more glorious in a future world, when they enter the rest remaining for the people of God, Hebrews 4:9. Then their rest shall be not only glorious, but glory: and glory shall be their rest, as the words may be also rendered.

Verses 11-12

Isaiah 11:11-12. And it shall come to pass in that day As this chapter contains a general prophecy of the advancement which Christ’s kingdom should make in the world, and as this advancement was to be made by different steps and degrees, so the several parts of this prophecy may be supposed to point at different ages or periods of time: see note on Isaiah 2:2. “And, I take this part of the chapter,” says Lowth, “from Isa 11:10 onward, to foretel those glorious times of the church, which shall be ushered in by the restoration of the Jewish nation, when they shall embrace the gospel, and be restored to their own country, from the several dispersions where they are scattered. This remarkable scene of providence is plainly foretold by most of the prophets of the Old Testament, and by St. Paul in the New.” See the margin. Bishop Lowth also observes, that “this part of the chapter contains a prophecy, which certainly remains yet to be accomplished.” The Lord shall set his hand again the second time The first time to which this word second relates, seems to be, either, 1st, The deliverance out of Egypt, and then this second must be that out of Babylon; or, rather, 2d, The deliverance out of Babylon; and then this second deliverance must be in the days of the Messiah. This latter interpretation seems more probable, 1st, Because that first deliverance, like the second, is supposed to be a deliverance of the remnant of this people from several countries into which they were dispersed: whereas that out of Egypt was a deliverance, not of a remnant, but of the whole nation, and out of Egypt only: 2d, Because this second deliverance was universal, extending to the generality of the outcasts and dispersed ones, both of Israel, or the ten tribes, and of Judah, or the two tribes, as is evident from these verses, whereas that out of Babylon reached only to the two tribes, and to some few of the ten tribes which were mixed with them: 3d, Because this second deliverance was to be given them in the days of the Messiah, and to accompany, or follow, the conversion of the Gentiles, as is evident from Isaiah 11:9-10, whereas that out of Babylon was long before the coming of the Messiah and the calling of the Gentiles. And from the islands of the sea From all places, both far and near, into which either the ten tribes, or the two tribes, were carried captives. Pathros was a province of Egypt. The other places here named are well known, and have been spoken of before in our notes on other texts. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations All nations, Jews and Gentiles. And shall assemble the outcasts of Israel Those of the ten tribes that had been driven out of their own land into foreign parts; and gather together the dispersed of Judah

Here distinguished from those of Israel. The reader must observe here, that the prophet’s ideas respecting this future and spiritual deliverance of the Jews and Israelites, are wholly taken from their temporal deliverances out of Egypt and Assyria.

Verses 13-14

Isaiah 11:13-14. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, &c. Ephraim here stands for the ten tribes and the prophet alludes to the great emulations and contentions which had subsisted between them and Judah: but his intention is to set forth the spiritual state of the Jews after their conversion to the faith of the gospel, which he predicts, 1st, “That all envy shall be extinguished among them, and a true brotherly love shall fill their souls; and, 2d, That, joined to the Gentiles, they shall strenuously defend the cause of Christ and his kingdom against the enemies and opposers of it.” Ephraim shall not envy Judah, &c. Not only all outward hostilities shall cease, but also their inward animosities. But they shall fly upon the shoulders, &c. This is a metaphor taken from birds and beasts of prey, which commonly fasten on the shoulders of cattle. They shall spoil them of the east together They shall subdue them; which is to be understood of the spiritual victory which the Messiah should obtain by his apostles, ministers, and people, over all nations, in bringing them to the obedience of his gospel. For it is the manner of the prophets to speak of the spiritual things of the gospel under such figurative representations. Indeed, as a late writer observes, this fourteenth verse can be understood in no other than a spiritual and mystical sense, to signify that those who are called by the gospel, and converted to Christ, shall be full of zeal for his glory, and shall labour with all their might to reduce to the obedience of Christ all individuals and nations around them.

Verses 15-16

Isaiah 11:15-16. And the Lord shall utterly destroy Shall not only divide it, as of old, but shall quite dry it up, that it may be a highway; the tongue of the Egyptian sea The Red sea, which may well be called the Egyptian sea, both because it borders upon Egypt, and because the Egyptians were drowned in it. It is called a tongue, both here and in the Hebrew text, (Joshua 15:2; Joshua 15:5,) as having some resemblance to a tongue; and for a similar reason the name of tongue has been given by geographers to promontories of land which shoot forth into the sea, as this sea shoots out of the main ocean into the land. Bishop Lowth renders the clause, Jehovah shall smite with a drought the tongue, &c., following the Chaldee, which, instead of החרים , he destroyed, reads החריב , he dried up. And the next clause, which he understands, not of the river Nile, but of the Euphrates, the bishop very properly translates, “And he shall shake his hand over the river with his vehement wind; and he shall strike it into seven streams, and make them pass over it dry-shod.” Thus also Dr. Waterland, after Vitringa: “He shall shake his hand over the Euphrates, and shall smite it into seven outlets;” that is, he shall divide or separate it into seven small rivers, so as to render it easy to be passed over. What is thus expressed metaphorically in this clause, is declared in plain words in the next verse: And there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people, &c. As there shall be a highway from Egypt, the Red sea being dried up, so shall there be from Assyria, the river Euphrates being rendered fordable. In other words, and without a figure, all impediments shall be removed, and a way shall be made for the return of God’s Israel from all parts of the world. He mentions Egypt and Assyria particularly, because they were then two flourishing kingdoms which bordered upon Judea, and by turns were the great oppressors of God’s people. And the ten tribes having been carried captive to Assyria, their case especially seemed desperate. But these two kingdoms stand here, in the prophetic style, for the adverse empires in general, especially those of idolatry and superstition, which shall be either destroyed or reduced to such a state of weakness as not to be able to hinder the progress of the conversion of the Jews and Gentiles. “My belief,” says Vitringa, “upon the strength of this prophecy is, that all the impediments of the great empires of the world being removed, which yet delay the perfect completion of the great and excellent promises made to the church, and hinder the calling and collection of the Jews and Gentiles, the empire of the kingdom of Christ will extend itself over the whole world, according to the remarkable prediction of Daniel, chap. 2:35, &c.”

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Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 11". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.