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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 11


And now what follows? Joy, indeed, to the true Davidic royalty, but not through any incumbent or successor then having title to the throne. Isaiah even passes by David. It is no longer royal lineage, but a going back as if to begin anew the line of Jesse, the sire of David, the farmer of Bethlehem. The apostatized house of David is like a tree become dead, first at the top, then at the branches, then at the trunk, till it falls, leaving vitality only at the stump; leaving the root still fresh, but without stem, branches, or crown. When the great world-kingdom, Assyria, is at its height of strength, like the glorious Lebanon forest, the fleshly house of David is in its uttermost depth, according to the prior warning of Isaiah 6:9-23.6.13, mutilated and reduced to its low Bethlehem origin. But the tables will turn, and the Eastern great imperial power is to fall, and the house of David is to start anew with glorious renewal of its youth.

Verse 1

1. There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse The “rod” is a branch, a shoot, a sucker. The “stem” is a stump, or a nucleus of rootlets, either below or above ground.

A branch shall grow out of his roots Netzer, “a branch,” is a verdant and vigorous shoot. The chosen remnant of the royal house of David, which has sunk down to the insignificance from which it sprang, is the twig, shoot, branch, or whichever of the terms here supplied be taken, and is to build up by the new growth another trunk and crown. Delitzsch and Kay think they see in the insignificant Netzer the figure for the despised Nazarene; despised now, but in the sense of the applied figure bright, verdant, growing, he is to be hereafter the universally acknowledged King of glory. Also, in the verb phara, to grow, to be fruitful, reference is supposed to be made to Ephratah, or Bethlehem, so that in this verse allusion is thought to be made by divine intent both to Nazareth, where Christ’s birth was announced, and to Bethlehem, where it occurred. Both places are humble, and, to worldly Jews, of little account. Such etymologies are of use chiefly in homiletic exegesis. There is coincidence of sound and sense in the words referred to; but beyond this there is vague uncertainty.

Verse 2

2. The Spirit of the Lord The Holy Spirit of Jehovah, who communicates the whole creative fulness of divine powers.

Shall rest upon him In dove-like descent, as at the Jordan, with fulness of miraculous powers, and upon his person as the true temple. Three pairs of virtues now follow.

Wisdom and understanding These are poetically joined, but perhaps as equivalent expressions. They relate to the intellectual life.

Counsel and might Corresponding, as in Isaiah 9:7, to “Counsellor and mighty God.” These are combined with “wisdom and understanding” in Proverbs 8:14. They pertain to the practical life.

Knowledge and… fear of the Lord These have direct relation to God. Knowledge is founded on fellowship of love, and fear of Jehovah is absorbed in holy reverence. Virtually, “the Spirit” is used seven times. Is this accidental? Theosophy says, No; and seeks its “mystical symmetries” among examples like this, of “sacred sevens,” “triple pairs,” etc. For sacred numbers see Whedon’s supplementary note to chapter vi, of Commentary on Luke. Also Delitzsch’s Biblical Psychology, Mahan’s Psalmonia, and Stuart on the Apocalypse. Revelation 2:0. vol. 2.

Verse 3

3. Shall make him The Spirit of Jehovah is still the subject.

Of quick understanding This is a peculiar expression. Literally, Of quick smell, or his fragrance. The meaning seems to be, that he breathes in the fear of the Lord, as in a sweet fragrance, the element natural to him. Normally he takes delight in it. Gracious deeds are to him the greatest pleasure.

Not judge after the sight of his eyes After the external appearance.

Neither reprove Nor shall he decide or judge.

After the hearing of his ears Or, by what sounds to the ear plausible merely. If the fear of Jehovah is fragrance to him, all his faculties are quick discerners for him of what is true, right, and good.

Verse 4

4. With righteousness shall he judge the poor Shall see that their cause is not repressed, but dealt with exactly right: “the poor” who cannot commend their case to the eye.

The meek Who use no adroit nor eloquent words to win the ear.

The rod of his mouth The words of his mouth are the rod which shatters. Psalms 2:9; Revelation 1:16. He needs no visible sceptre: his is a fearful presence to the guilty conscience.

Verse 5

5. Righteousness… girdle of his loins That which is spotlessly just in his dealings with men is, by figure, the cincture or band which shall engirdle him.

Girdle This essential article in the dress of the East, both among men and women worn about the waist, or, if loose, the loins was of leather or linen, cheap or costly, and was used to hold in place or gird up, as might be needed, the outside flowing garment which it enclosed. It was common to represent the better habits under the figure of clothing; the meaning of which was, that they adhere to character as inseparably and closely as the garment did to the body to which it was bound. Job 29:14; Psalms 109:18; Isaiah 61:10.

Nothing is more clear than that the new succession out of Jesse is the Messiah, with features in the description here much like those belonging to the humble and holy Jesus of Nazareth. “The root of Jesse” is a figure which answers to the lowly remnant-reduction of Israel, who become, instead of a worldly Davidic house, a lowly body of true adherents to Jehovah despite of all vicissitudes and tribulations; and become, also, the genuine stock out of which the incarnate and true David is to arise. As a ruler and administrator he is, in the last five verses, set before us as making earth as peaceful a realm as is heaven, the ideal realm divinely intended for king David to build up, but in respect to which himself, but more particularly his successors on the throne, had made a shocking failure.

The verses following (6-9) present in a strain of allegory the results of Messiah’s righteous and peaceful government.

Verse 6

6. Of commentators, most rationalists, and some who were not, have written of these texts as if they are to be taken literally. Not one particle of interest to the cause of truth seems to be served by so understanding them. The whole is so obviously a stream of metaphors, or an allegory, that the plain thing to do is to find what rich truths are taught under such a garb.

The wolf… shall dwell Or, shall sojourn; as it were, to stay for the night or longer. The wolf in Palestine, as elsewhere, is the most uneasy, untamable, and ravenous of animals. To sojourn with the lamb, instead of devouring it, is so unnatural that it is necessary to take it as an imagined possibility, not a physical one; hence it becomes a very strong figure to represent the greatest moral change in nature. And this is true of all the other cases in these verses. Wood’s Bible Animals points out that while a wolf attacks sheepfolds, a leopard can follow a kid along precipices where no wolf would venture, and the lion will carry off oxen which neither leopard nor wolf can move. This settles the appositeness and congruity of the metaphoric material of the passage.

A little child He needs not to be a grown man.

Shall lead them Relative superiority of man over the animal world is retained.

Verse 7

7. Shall feed Or, graze.

Eat straw “No hay is made in Palestine.” VAN LENNEP’S Bible Lands, p. 83. The fodder for cattle, horses, and camels in that country is straw broken and mashed at the threshing floors. This is fed in connexion with barley. (Van Lennep.) The doctrine allegorized here cannot safely be carried (as by Gill and others) beyond the general one of the greatest possible moral change wrought by Messiah’s reign.

Verse 8

8. To express the doctrine still more strongly, venomous serpents are represented as innoxious.

The asp “This is thought to be the cobra.” TRISTRAM’S Natural History of the Bible. Precise discrimination of the serpent species is, however, of no importance to exegesis here.

Cockatrice The viper Daboia. (Tristram.)

Sucking… weaned child The point is, quite the most helpless are safe among most deadly reptiles.

Stronger figures could scarcely be used, though drawn from the entire field of nature, to express the wonderful effects of the coming great moral changes under the true Davidic-Messianic rule.

Verse 9

9. The figures are changed almost to literal terms. Still the tropical peculiarity lingers.

They Indefinitely, men in general.

Shall not hurt Literally, shall do no evil; shall not deal corruptly.

In all my holy mountain The holy land of the redeemed earth. There shall be no more a rapacious world-empire (lion, bear, leopard, Daniel 7:4-27.7.7,) to annoy the Church struggling into life, and working up its energies through the infused spirit of the Messiah.

Knowledge True religion shall fill the earth.

The sea Literally, the depths of the sea; as waters fill the deep sea basins. For illustrating the effects and the prevalence of the effects of Messiah’s reign, more ample statement is not needed. The prophecy is in our day being fulfilled, though its complete fulfilment requires still most wonderful moral changes.

Verse 10

10. The reign of the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1-23.11.5) and its peaceful effects, (6-9,) are already described. Other points now arise. The first is, the extensiveness of his reign.

In that day The future time of the establishment of his reign.

A root of Jesse Hebrew, the root-sprout of Jesse. A scion of that ancient and honourable family, still flourishing to amazing growth.

An ensign He shall serve for a standard.

Of the people That is, Gentile peoples, as the definition in the other parallel member shows. He will, in his own person and doctrine, be as it were the stationary banner on Mount Zion, waving to all nations to rally under his sway. Restrictions are removed. The proud old tree of earthly Davidic sovereignty is hewn down, and only the living root has survived, but this will increase in strength to a tree overspreading all peoples. It will be sought unto.

And his rest shall be glorious Literally, his resting place shall be glory. Like Jehovah’s “rest” in the temple, with shechinah hovering with celestial glory over the ark of the covenant. Numbers 10:33. The point settled here is the universality of the spread of the Gospel. The original restriction was but to be the means for the unlimited extension of Messiah’s blessed fulness.

Verses 11-12

11, 12. The next point is, how this shall be, with Israel scattered to the four winds before Messiah comes.

Come to pass in that day Some future time, as in last verse.

Shall… again… the second time To what does this refer? Literally, the Lord shall add his hand a second time to recover. At no time before have his people been signally recovered, or redeemed, as the verb properly means, save in their recovery from Egyptian bondage.

The prophet foretells a redemption here, as a second redemption, and that, most seemingly and suitably, the counterpart of the Egyptian. As he once purchased or delivered Israel out of Egypt, so will he redeem it, recreate it, as from the seed-corn of the remnant out of all the regions here mentioned.

From Assyria… Egypt These are first named as the chief world-powers of Isaiah’s time. Appended to these are: 1.

Pathros Commonly agreed to be Upper Egypt, as distinguished from Mizraim, or more strictly, Lower Egypt. 2.

Cush A land still south of Upper Egypt. These are attached to Egypt in general land divisions. 3.

Elam Or Persia, or lands beyond the Tigris. 4.

Shinar Lands lying around Babylon. 5.

Hamath Regions to the north of the Lebanon. 6.

Islands of the sea The lands within and coastwise of the Mediterranean. These held appendage to the northernmost great world-power. But Israel was not scattered among these when Isaiah wrote. The description is, therefore, prophetical, not historical. Israel is, indeed, yet to be scattered, and the Gentiles, ideally under the above names, are in Messiah’s time to be converted, and to be the means of Israel’s recovery and redemption. So St. Paul in Romans 9:0. So also our prophet in Isaiah 6:11-23.6.13.

He shall set up an ensign, etc. The Gentiles, in consequence of the marked will of God, will at their own conversion afford all means for the reception of the dispersed Israel into Messiah’s kingdom.

Verse 13

13. Envy… of Ephraim shall depart, etc. Here the enmity once existing between the two kingdoms is selected in poetic phrase to denote all old jealousy and envy as coming to an end. All are to be united in harmonious and happy society, and to become true subjects of Messiah. This settles the third point, namely, that the continuance of the rent in Israel is to cease in the fulness of the Messiah’s time.

Verse 14

14. But, fourthly, how about Israel and unbrotherly tribes and nomads around?

But they Undivided Ephraim and Judah, now one under Messiah.

Shall fly From the land of exile, or even from Central Zion, whither in spiritual union they have in figure betaken themselves.

Upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west “Shoulders” either hills fronting the Philistine plain, or frontier regions from Zion as the starting-point for activity seaward.

Spoil them of the east Symbolical words taken from David’s conquests over Ishmaelites, Midianites, etc.; and the same symbols apply as over Edom, Moab, and Ammon. Spiritual conquests alone are intended. 2 Samuel 8:11. The prophet figures here the supremacy of the future spiritually united Israel and Judah over all its old enemies. As to geographical notes, Edom lay south of Judah, between the Dead and the Red seas; Moab, east of the Dead Sea and lower Jordan; Ammon, east of Judea, between the Jabbok and the Arnon, and Philistia in the southwest, on the Mediterranean.

Verses 15-16

15, 16. The wonders which Jehovah wrought for Israel in his escape from Egypt, and will yet work in his deliverances from Assyria, are to be repeated essentially, but in the spiritual sense, in behalf of the dispersed of Israel, or at least the Israel that shall return to Jehovah in those lands. The whole description is exaltedly figurative and the poetry wonderful, considering the small physical scope from within which the terms and vocables are drawn as signs of the prophet’s overflowing conceptions.

And the Lord shall utterly destroy Shall lay the ban upon the Sea of Egypt: that which lies between Egypt and Arabia, the Gulf of Suez or the Red Sea, which the children of Israel passed. Jehovah smites it with the ban; he makes it dry again for passage to converted ones out of Egypt toward Zion.

With his mighty wind With his heated, glowing breath, and wave of hand, as employing mediate agency over the Euphrates. Observe the attention, as before, first on the two great world-kingdoms.

Smite it in the seven streams Jehovah splinters the great river into seven, or an indefinite number of shallow streams to become, through God’s heated air, dry wadys for an unobstructed highway to the saints from Assyria, as well as in old time there was to God’s typical people out of Egypt. In these terms no literal history is asserted for the future Messianic people, but merely a gradual disappearing of the whole circle of heathendom comes to pass, and tropically the Holy Land is the centre of Messiah’s kingdom.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 11". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.