Today I’d like to talk about Isaiah 11, one of the most famous and most important Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. But before we can do that, I need to establish some background first. Is that okay?
The first part of Isaiah’s name, Yesha, is from the same root as the Hebrew name of Jesus, Yeshua, which also means salvation. So Isaiah’s name, Yeshayahu, means “Salvation of Yahweh.”
Isaiah is often called the fifth gospel. Why? Because he says so much about Jesus. In fact, not just Isaiah, but the whole Bible points to Jesus, from Genesis to Revelation. This is what Jesus himself taught after his resurrection: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that it is necessary that all the things written in the law of Moses and the prophets and psalms concerning me be fulfilled’” (Luke 24:44). The writings that he mentions are all found in the Old Testament. So the gospel doesn’t just come from the New Testament. The gospel comes originally from the Old Testament. When the apostles first went out to preach about Jesus, they used the Old Testament. The New Testament wasn’t finished until several years later.
Hebrew Bibles have the same books as English Bibles, but in a different order. First comes the Law of Moses, then the prophets. But these prophets are not only Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the others we usually think of as prophetic books. They also include Joshua and 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings. They call these the “former prophets,” while Isaiah and all the rest they call the “latter prophets.” The first book in the third section, which today is called the “writings,” is the book of Psalms. So when Jesus mentioned “all things written in the Law of Moses and the prophets and psalms,” he was referring to the three major sections of the Bible—in other words, the whole Bible.
The prophecy of Isaiah, just like all prophecy, is important because it speaks to us about living in the tension between what God has done and what he is going to do. In fact, that’s really a good description of the Christian life: living in the tension between Biblical history on one side and prophecy on the other. If you only know what’s happening to you today, you have a very limited view of the world, and a pretty boring one, too. It’s hard to find an ultimate meaning to life in buying a loaf of bread, driving to work, eating a meal, etc. But if you know what God has done in history, and you know what he’s going to do in the future, then suddenly today becomes a very exciting moment. Because you find yourself living right in the moment when God’s eternal plan is becoming reality, when the purposes of God from before the ages began are being fulfilled right in front of your eyes, and the results are being recorded for all eternity. Remember the Book of Life mentioned in the Bible? There are also other books. God remembers everything. Jesus said he even knows the number of hairs on your head (Matt. 10:30). So whether you know it or not, you are part of God’s plan.
But if you don’t know where the Church has been, if you don’t know history, and you don’t know where it’s going, you don’t know prophecy, how can you get with God’s program? As Amos said, “Do two travel together unless they have arranged to meet?” (Amos 3:3). You can’t go with God if you don’t know where he’s going.
In order to meet up with God, we need to know where we are right now in God’s plan, and what is important about our generation in God’s eyes, so we can advance his plan and advance his kingdom. Right? If we’re still fighting yesterday’s battles after the battles are over, it doesn’t advance what God is doing right now. Some Christians are still locked in fighting battles from 500 years ago that nobody is paying attention to anymore, or even 1,000 years ago. This means we’ve got to make God’s plan our plan, and God’s point of view our point of view. Otherwise, we won’t know where we’re going. If we want to serve God, we need to know what he wants us to do right now, right? So what does God want us to do right now? Let’s turn to Isaiah’s prophecy, where he begins by outlining first where we’ve been and then where we’re going.
Isaiah 11:1: “And a branch will come out of the stump of Jesse, and a shoot (netzer) from its roots will bear fruit.”
This was future to Isaiah, but it’s past to us. What is it talking about? Jesse was the father of King David. The stump of Jesse means the cut off line of Davidic kings. There were no more kings descended from David after the destruction of Israel by the Babylonians and the exile to Babylon (586 BC). But a branch will come out of that cut-off stump.
And the shoot from its roots, what is that? It’s talking about the ability of olive trees to put out shoots from their roots (see picture above). This shoot can restore the tree if it’s cut down. This shoot in Hebrew is called a netzer. “Netzer” or Branch is one of the names of the Messiah. The early Jewish believers in Jesus connected this right away with the city Jesus was from, Natzeret (Nazareth). In fact, Isaiah 11:1 is one of the verses Matthew was talking about when he said that the prophets prophesied that Jesus would be from Nazareth (“He lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he will be called a Nazarene,” Matt. 2:23). This prophecy means that Jesus the Nazarene will restore the royal line of David by ruling as King: King Messiah.
This verse also explains an early name for Christians—Iessaians (Jessians)—because we follow the one who fulfills this prophecy about Jesse. This shows how important Isaiah 11 was among the earliest believers in Jesus. They must have been preaching out of Isaiah 11 all the time to be named after it like this.
This coming king, the Messiah, will have the Spirit of God resting on him. “And the Spirit (Ruach) of the LORD will rest on him, a Spirit of wisdom and discernment, a Spirit of counsel and might, a Spirit of understanding and the fear of the LORD” (Isa. 11:2).
This is why God told John the Baptist to look for the one on whom the Spirit rested. Do you remember that? It’s in John 1:33: “And I did not know him, but the one sending me to baptize in water, that one said to me: ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining, this is the one baptizing in the Holy Spirit.’” Even God referred to this prophecy in Isaiah!
The word Spirit in Hebrew is Ruach, which also means the Breath or Wind of God. Here the Spirit of God is described as a seven-fold Spirit, in other words, the fullness of the Spirit will be on the Messiah.
The Spirit (1) of the LORD
A Spirit (2) of wisdom and (3) discernment
A Spirit (4) of counsel and (5) might
A Spirit (6) of understanding and (7) the fear of the LORD
Isa. 11:3: “And his refreshment (harichu) will be in the fear of the LORD. And he will not judge according to what his eyes see, and he will not decide according to what his ears hear.”
This verse is usually translated “his delight will be in the fear of the Lord.” But the Hebrew word used here is not “delight.” It literally means “smelling.” This is probably intended to imply refreshing (or soothing or calming) oneself, as in taking a deep breath through your nose: ‘he will refresh himself.’ This word has the same root as the word for Spirit (Ruach). In other words, his spiritual breathing in, his refreshment will be in the fear of the LORD.
The rabbis really puzzled over this verse. If the Messiah will not judge by what his eyes see or by what his ears hear, how will he do it? By smell, they said. Well, that is what it says here in a literal way.
But what it’s actually talking about is the breathing in (and of course, when you breathe through your nose, you smell) of the Holy Spirit, the refreshing of the Holy Spirit. Remember, the “fear of the LORD” is one of the seven attributes of the Holy Spirit in vs. 2. So if the Messiah is going to be refreshing himself in the fear of the LORD, that means he’s going to be refreshing himself in the Spirit (or the Breath or Life) of God.
Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, too? Peter said that the spirit rests on us, too, “for the Spirit of glory and of God rests (anapaou) on you” (1 Pet 4:14). Even the Greek word that Peter uses here for rest, anapaou, in its active form, means to refresh.* The Spirit of God rests on us so that we can be refreshed.
* It’s also the same word used in the old Greek translation of Isa. 11:2 (the Septuagint or LXX, which is often quoted in the New Testament). Peter is thinking here about Isa. 11:2.
This brings the refreshing fragrance of God into our lives. As Paul said, “for to God we are the fragrance (the good smell) of Messiah among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15).
Isn’t this what Peter was talking about, too, on the Day of Pentecost? “Change your thinking, therefore, and repent, that your sins may be erased, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,” (Acts 3:19). To change our thinking and repent means to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. He died for us because we are sinners. And when we admit this and accept his sacrifice for us, what happens? Our sins are erased. That’s good news. Does anyone here have any sins they don’t want following them to the day of judgment? And then what happens? Then come “times of refreshing.” How do we get that refreshing “from the presence of the Lord”? By the Holy Spirit. If you’re a believer, that’s a description of the time we’re living in right now, when we need and when we experience times of refreshing that God sends us by his Holy Spirit.
But what comes after that? Peter continued, “and he may send the one appointed for you, Messiah Jesus, whom it is necessary for heaven to receive until the times of restoration of all things, of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago” (Acts 3:20-21). Then Jesus will return. This is still future to us. And when he comes, he’s going to restore “all things.” Everything that people have destroyed on this earth through our sin and our ignorance will be restored to the way that God originally created it.
That’s the next step that Isaiah mentions, too: “And he will judge the poor with righteousness and decide in uprightness for the humble of the earth. And he will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the Spirit of his lips he will kill the wicked one” (Isa. 11:4). When Messiah returns, he’s going to “strike the earth.” It says he’s going to do this with the “rod of his mouth.” What does that mean? His word of judgment is going to be like a metal rod striking the earth. This refers to the rods (or scepters) that were the sign of a king’s power. But originally they were used in warfare to hit people. The Word of God, Jesus, is coming for judgment. And what is the “Spirit (or Breath) of his lips”? The Holy Spirit. Together, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are coming to bring judgment. And what does it say the Spirit will do? In Hebrew, it says not that he will kill the “wicked,” as often translated, implying all the wicked, but rather that he will kill the “wicked one” (singular). What’s this talking about?
This is the verse that Paul was teaching from when he talks about the man of lawlessness that Jesus will destroy at his coming: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will do away with by the Spirit of his mouth and make powerless by the appearance of his coming ” (2 Thess. 2:8). How will this man of lawlessness be destroyed? By the “Spirit of his mouth,” the Holy Spirit. This is the same language that Isaiah uses, because Paul is teaching here from Isaiah.
Who is this terrible man of lawlessness? This will be an evil ruler that ignores the law and does whatever he pleases. Who will that be? We don’t know yet. But when he comes, it will be a really terrible time.
Then, in the next verse, Isaiah goes on to talk about what will happen after Jesus returns, when he is reigning on the earth. This is the time Christians often call the Messianic kingdom or the Millennial period (the Thousand Years). “And righteousness will be a waistcloth about his hips and faithfulness a waistcloth about his loins” (Isaiah 11:5). Here is another description of the character of the Messiah. Some newer translations translate this as a “belt” of righteousness and a “belt” of faithfulness. But that’s not the word used here in Hebrew (ey-zor). This is a girdle or loincloth. It refers to a piece of cloth that went around the waist and the loins to protect these vulnerable areas. In other words, it was underwear. But this verse is not talking about cloth. What it means is that for the Messiah the closest, most intimate thing to him will be righteousness and faithfulness. That would make a great sermon all by itself, right?
And Paul did preach it, in Eph. 6:14, when he described the spiritual armor of God that every believer should have. “Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Eph. 6:14). Here Paul is using Isaiah’s description of the Messiah to teach us what we all should be like.
Then Isaiah tells us what that beautiful time of restoration will be like, with Messiah ruling on the earth. “And a wolf will dwell with a lamb, and a leopard will lie down with a young goat, and a calf and a young lion and a fatling together, and a small boy will lead them. And a cow and a bear will graze, together their young will lie down, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. And a baby will play in the hole of a cobra, and into the den of a viper a weaned child will stretch out his hand. They will not hurt and they will not destroy in all my holy mountain [Jerusalem], for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the water that covers the sea” (Isa. 11:6-9). Beautiful, peaceful times are coming.
So far, Isaiah has told us about the first coming of the Messiah, and then about the time of the Messianic kingdom, when Jesus will rule on the earth. But what about the time in between, the time we’re living in right now?
That’s what he starts to talk about in verse 10: “And it will be in that day, there will be a root of Jesse that will be standing as a signal-flag of the peoples; the nations (the Gentiles) will seek him, and his resting place will be glory [i.e. heaven]” (Isa. 11:10). “In that day” (yom ha-hu in Hebrew) signals the start of another prophecy. And he mentions the root of Jesse again. He will be standing, which means he will be alive, not dead. And this will be a signal, like a flag used to signal an army. It’s a flag, he says, belonging to the nations (the Gentiles): “a signal-flag of the peoples.” How will the Messiah belong to the Gentiles? Because we are the ones who have accepted Jesus so far. He’s our Messiah, our Lord. Through history, very few Jewish people have accepted Jesus as Messiah. But whole nations of Gentiles have accepted him. And all of this has happened, just as it says here, while Jesus is resting in heaven, waiting for his return: “his resting place will be glory”—not “glorious” as often translated, but “glory,” which was a nickname for heaven.
This is the period of time when salvation has been going out to all the nations of the earth. As Paul put it, “For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of this mystery, that you may not be wise in your own sight, for the hardening of a part of Israel has taken place until the time when the fullness of the nations (the Gentiles) comes in” (Rom. 11:25). God’s priority, his focus, has been on saving Gentiles.
But immediately after this, in the very next verse, Isaiah says that God will change his focus from the Gentiles to the Jews: “And it will be in that day that the Lord will again a second time acquire with his hand a remnant of his people that remain from Assyria and from Egypt and from Pathros and from Cush and from Elam and from Shinar and from Hamath and from the coastlands of the sea” (Isa. 11:11). What does it mean that he will gather the Jewish people a “second time”? Has this happened yet?
After the exile in Babylon (586-539 BC), Cyrus the Great allowed many of the Jews to return to Israel. But this was the first return to Israel. When was the second return? When did the Jewish people come back, not just from Babylon, but from Assyria and Egypt, and Pathros, and Cush, and Elam, and Shinar, and Hamath, and all the coastlands of the sea? This has only happened in the modern restoration of the nation of Israel. Jews have come back from all these places: from Assyria (northwest Iraq) and Shinar (southeast Iraq), from Egypt (Lower Egypt) and Pathros (Upper Egypt), from Iran (Elam), from Cush (Ethiopia), from Hamath (Syria), and all the rest. This started happening in the 1890’s, and is still happening today. Every day, every week, every month Jews are returning to Israel, about a thousand a month average last year. This is the time we’re living in right now!
Isa. 11:12: “And he will lift up a signal-flag for the nations (the Gentiles), and gather the banished ones of Israel and assemble the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” This says that the restoration of the Jews to Israel is not a signal flag for the Jewish people, as you might expect, but rather a signal flag “for the Gentiles”—for us! Why is this a flag for us?
Isaiah himself explains this in Isa. 66:20, where he is also talking about a “sign” that God will set up (in verse 19). “‘Then they (he’s talking about the Gentiles) will bring all your brethren (the Jewish people) from all the nations as a grain offering to the LORD, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules, and on camels, to my holy mountain Jerusalem,’ says the LORD, ‘just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD’” (Isa. 66:20). What does this mean? It means that we, the Gentiles, will help bring the Jews back to Israel.
Has this happened yet? Have Christians gotten the signal yet? In the early 20th century, Christians high up in the British government encouraged the Jews to return by expressing support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine (the Balfour declaration, 1917). We call these men, and others like them, Christian Zionists because they believed that the return of the Jews to Israel was a fulfillment of prophecy.
Others, too, have helped over the years. In more recent times, Bridges for Peace (http://www.bridgesforpeace.com) and Christian Friends of Israel (http://www.cfijerusalem.org) are two organizations that we know personally that are fulfilling this prophecy by helping the Jewish people return and get established in their new home. But there are also many others.
In the 1980’s, my wife Karen met Christians in Europe that were preparing to help the Russian Jews return to Israel. This was at the height of the Cold War. It seemed impossible for the Jews to leave Russia. But in one place, they met a man that had bought a really big sailboat. When they asked him why he bought such a big boat, he said it was to help the Jews when they come out of Russia. In another place, they met a man who had built a really big dormitory out in the woods with a big kitchen. Why did he build it there? For the Jews, when they come out of Russia. At the time it seemed impossible. But what happened?
Starting in 1989, the Communist governments of Eastern Europe collapsed, including Russia. And after that, thousands and thousands of Jews returned to Israel. In fact, they’re still coming out right now as we speak.
Isaiah 11:14a: “And they will fly against the slope of the Philistines to the west, together they will plunder the sons of the east…” The “slope of the Philistines” on the west side of Israel is what today we call the Gaza strip. (Gaza was one of the five Philistine cities, 1 Samuel 6:17.) And Israel has flown—in airplanes—against the Gaza Strip over and over again through the years. In fact, it just happened again this last week, because of rockets that were being shot into Israel. The “sons of the East” is the Biblical term for what today we call the Arabs.
The same verse continues: “…Edom and Moab will be there for the sending out of their hand [i.e. easy for them to take], and the sons of Ammon will be their subjects” (Isa. 11:14b). Edom, Moab, and Ammon were all located in what is today the nation of Jordan. Before 1967, the area called the West Bank was also part of Jordan. This included the Arab side of Jerusalem (East Jerusalem). But after the 1967 war, all the people living in the West Bank became subject to the Israelis, and still are today. The West Bank today is a part of Israel.
Isaiah 11:15a: “And the LORD will devote the tongue of the Sea of Egypt to destruction.” What is this talking about? The Sea of Egypt is the ancient name of the Red Sea. If you look at a map, the western branch of the Red Sea, west of the Sinai peninsula (the Gulf of Suez), looks like a long tongue. In the 1973 war (the Yom Kippur War), Israel crossed from Sinai into Egypt proper, advancing on Cairo, which brought the war to a quick stop. The barrier of the Red Sea did not stop them.
The second part of that verse says: “And he will wave his hand over the River (the Euphrates) in the heat of his Spirit and smite it into seven streams and cause them to tread on it with shoes” (Isa. 11:15b). In the Bible, “the River” refers to the Euphrates River, which is located mostly in Iraq. For many years now, the Euphrates has been shrinking. But the water levels have fallen drastically since a massive drought in 2007. A big contributing factor is all the upstream reservoirs that remove its water before it can flow downstream. Right now this year in many places it doesn’t even look like a river anymore: just a series of puddles. There are many, many places where you can walk across without getting your feet wet. This is something happening right now! It’s prophecy becoming history.
And how will Israel react to these things? “And you will say in that day, ‘I give you thanks, LORD, for though you were angry with me; your anger is now turned back and you comfort me’” (Isaiah 12:1). When was God angry with the Jewish people? Through all the years that they rejected him and sinned against him by rejecting Jesus and the salvation he brings. These are all the years of persecution that we talked about last time that were also prophesied in the Bible, even by Moses himself. But, now God has turned away his anger from the Jewish people and is comforting them. How? By helping them and protecting them in Israel.
They will also say: “Look -- God is my salvation (yeshuah), I will trust and will not be afraid. For Yah the LORD (Yah Yahweh) is my strength and song; and he is my salvation (yeshuah)” (Isaiah 12:2). Who is “Yah the LORD”? The Chinese translators didn’t know what to do with this, so they just translated, “Lord Yehehua.” But what it actually says in Hebrew is “Yah Yahweh.” Yah is another short form of the personal name of God. Remember the yahu in Isaiah’s name? But this one is even shorter: just one syllable, yah, as in the word “Halleluyah.” What does Halleluyah mean? Praise Yah, praise the LORD. But what does it mean when you say not just Yah, but Yah YHWH? Does Yahweh have a LORD? Who is this other Lord with the same name as the God of Israel?
The answer is right there in this same verse. Because the word used for salvation here—twice—is the noun form of Jesus’ Hebrew name: yeshuah. It has the same meaning as the first part of Isaiah’s own name: “salvation.” So this means there are two ways we can translate this verse: “God is my salvation” (as it’s usually translated) or, “my Yeshua (my Jesus) is God”! Wow! Right here, the Old Testament teaches that Jesus is God!
Not only that: The second part of the verse can be translated, “Yah Yahweh…is my Yeshua”! My Yeshua is the Yahweh that comes from Yahweh. What does all this mean? It means that Yeshua is not a different God. He is the God of Israel that comes from the God of Israel. This is a clear prophecy that Jesus is God and comes from God, just like the New Testament teaches.
But in its context in Isaiah, this verse is also a prophecy that after Israel returns to the land, they will accept Jesus as God! “And you will say in that day…my Yeshua is God”! This salvation of the Jewish people has already begun with the modern Messianic Jewish movement. There are now tens of thousands of these Jewish believers who have accepted Jesus—Yeshua—as Messiah and Lord. This is a fantastic fulfillment of prophecy—and not just here in Isaiah, but in many places in the Bible (see for example Ezekiel 36:24-28). This is all happening right now, in our own lifetimes.
So let’s review what Isaiah has told us so far. He started with the first coming of the Messiah, and told us what he would be like. Then he told us about the coming kingdom of the Messiah, when the earth will be restored. Then he told us about the time in between these two great events: first, the times of the Gentiles, which some people call the Church Age, when God’s focus was on getting the gospel out to the Gentiles. And then he told us about the Restoration of Israel, things that we are seeing with our own eyes right now today, including the salvation of thousands of Jews for the first time since Bible days. If all of this were on a timeline, where would we be located on it? Right at the end of the times of the Gentiles and the beginning of the restoration of Israel (though the two may overlap a little).
What does this tell us? That God’s attention is turning to Israel. So maybe our attention should be turning to Israel, too! What did Jesus say about this? “And they (the Jewish people) will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Is Jerusalem still being trampled by the nations? Who controls Jerusalem today? Israel. This means that the “times of the Gentiles” are over, or nearly over. God’s focus is returning to Israel.
Now all of this doesn’t mean that Israel is perfect. They are just as much sinners as everyone else in the world. And most of them have still not accepted Jesus. There are all kinds of problems with the Palestinians, some of whom are Christians. So this doesn’t mean that Israel is better than any other nation. But it does mean that God is moving to fulfill his promises: his promises to Israel and his promises to us.
Israel is a flag flying for us. It’s there to get our attention. It’s a signal that it’s time for us to change our minds about Israel, to support Israel, and to pray for Israel. It’s a time to get excited about what God is doing in the earth. The return of Israel is a sign that the return of Jesus is near. But it’s also a reminder that the God of the Bible is the God of Israel, that Jesus is Jewish, and that the Christian faith at its core and in its roots is Jewish. And that means we need to examine our hearts, our lives, and our churches. Are we accurately reflecting the teachings of the Bible? Are we open to the leading of the Spirit for this generation, the work that God wants to do in the earth right now? This is a generation like no other before in history. We have opportunities and insights that no other generation has ever had before. But we also face dangers and temptations that no other generation has faced. What will we do with the precious gifts that God has given us? What will we do with the opportunities that God is putting before us?
Let’s pray. Lord, I ask that you would get ahold of us in the Spirit right now, today. I pray that you would begin to open our hearts and our minds to what you are doing in our generation. What are the ways that you want to change our hearts? What are the ways you want to change our churches? How do you want to restore us and strengthen us for the battles ahead? How can we be more firmly planted in the Word of God and in the power of his Spirit? Touch us today, Lord, we pray. Build us up on the rock of your Word and of Truth. And we ask this in Jesus name. Amen?