The Axe and The Shoot
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse.Isaiah 11:1a
Our text has a well-known sound to it; we all heard this passage before as a prophecy of the birth of Jesus the Saviour. It’s the context, though, that makes the text come alive.
That context speaks of God Almighty swinging the axe, chopping down tree after tree. Notice the two verses preceding our text:
See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
The tall ones will be brought low.
He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.Isaiah 10:33, 34
God the Lumberjack
Which trees will the Almighty fell? Verses 28-32 picture the king of Assyria – that ruthless world power of those days – marching on Jerusalem, getting closer and closer, terrorizing the country towns as he approaches the city, raping, pillaging, devastating. Isaiah mentions a series of towns, each successively closer to Jerusalem; Michmash is twenty kilometres away, Geba is fifteen, Gibeah of Saul but ten kilometres from the city, and Nob a paltry five! Under the blazing sun of Palestine’s blue sky, the horrified people on Jerusalem’s walls can see the glitter of the polished armour of the dreaded enemy in the distance ... and they’re filled with horror. Raping, pillaging, burning: the reputation of the Assyrians ties the peoples’ stomach into knots...
But God the Almighty moves Isaiah his prophet to announce to his frightened people in Jerusalem what He is going to do; Isaiah must tell the people of Israel that their God swings the hatchet, that even now the axe is laid to the root of Assyria’s tree. In the midst of Israel’s terror must come news of a gospel most delightful!
That gospel does not stop, though, with the promise that God Almighty is swinging the axe against the tree of Assyria. That gospel also instructs the people of Jerusalem to observe the devastated forest in their own back yard. For the day would come, says the prophet, when the Lord God would swing the axe also in Judah and Jerusalem, fell the sinful forest of his covenant people, and send them into exile in Babylon. But, says Isaiah, the people of Israel should keep an eye on that one stump over there. The stump where the tree of the family of Jesse had stood, that felled tree which looks as dead as all the rest – look! – it’s sprouting new life: a shoot, a twig, a branch, it becomes a tree! God the lumberjack is also God the arborist; though He chops down his enemies, He causes this one family to grow, causes the house of Jesse to produce another King in Israel.
Here is the gospel in the face of the horrors of Isaiah’s day: God will act sovereignly to defend and preserve his people. How He does it? He destroys his enemies; more, He sends a Saviour.
For our part, we know that the promised Saviour has come; in Bethlehem, that town of Jesse, a plain shoot appeared in the person of the son of Joseph and Mary. There was nothing attractive about Him as a baby; like David when he still tended his father Jesse’s sheep, nobody considered that tiny Jesus might one day be King. But this unlikely shoot grew, became a twig, a branch, a tree.
O yes, on Calvary this branch from the stump of Jesse seemed to be destroyed, chopped down by God the holy axe-man. But it wasn’t really so; on Good Friday the shoot that appeared on Christmas Day destroyed the enemy. Satan, that foe who thought to march on the church of the Lord and to terrorize, pillage, and devastate God’s bride, has himself been destroyed. The shoot from the root of Jesse has overcome the strong man of this world. More, the Holy Spirit of God has come to rest on this root of Jesse so that Jesus Christ today rules the world with the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, with the Spirit of counsel and of power, with the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2).
Christmas has come and gone. So we may believe that Christ the Son of God has swung the axe of judgment and felled forever those dreaded enemies of God and his people: sin and Satan. The shoot from Jesse’s stump now grows into a majestic tree giving shade for the entire world.
In the New Year of our Lord 2015 we need fear no evil at all.