A New Shoot!
The holy seed is its stump.Isaiah 6:13b
It is a dark and gloomy picture which Isaiah sees as he is called to announce the time of God's judgment. What he sees on earth stands in sharp contrast to the heavenly vision which precedes his mandate. One of the angels said: The whole earth is full of His glory! But Isaiah knew that this glory was not visible in Israel. In fact, by their sins, the people of the Lord had profaned His Name.
Yet there is a ray of hope at the end of the picture of doom given in the words, The holy seed is its stump. This mysterious expression has the character of a proverb, or riddle-saying. In effect, it serves to repulse the unwilling, but to draw in the curious and believing – a motif directly related to Isaiah's special task in this chapter. And the heart of this expression lies in the term seed. That term includes an allusion to the mother-promise of Genesis 3:15. The line of the seed will continue!
With the use of the image of a tree Isaiah explains how this will take place. The tree of Israel, having been cut down, will be as a stump cut off. Even the remnant will be so tried by fire that only a bare stump remains. In fact, the text gives the impression of a complete break in the holy line. It will be a clean cut, and it will strike to the very root of the tree! Yet, as is sometimes the case with actual stumps, this stump will retain deep within it a seed. A new seed will germinate, a seed unlike the old tree, and a new shoot will spring forth. Through this new beginning the old tree will be saved. By way of a radical recreation what is old will come to life again.
How true this prophecy turned out to be! In fact, the line of the kings of Judah was totally cut off, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah 22, 24ff. We know from Scripture that the holy line did continue, but this was not a smooth or a direct line. It is possible and even likely that a levirate marriage was needed to keep this line going. Zedekiah, the king after Jehoiachin, witnessed Nebuchadnezzar putting all his sons to death, 2 Kings 25:7. The tree was completely cut down! It is almost as if matters are brought to the barest minimum possible within the context of the mother promise. Indeed, it is shown to be solely God's grace and favour by which this promise continues.
And the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy rests in Christ. Indeed, He is born as the seed of the woman, out of the line of David. But He does not share the sin and corruption of this line. He is a new shoot! Just as the springing to life of a new shoot in a stump cut off is miraculous, so the coming of this Child is the glorious wonder of God's salvation! This is God's way to full His covenant promise. The holy line is brought to completion, but only by the miraculous and all-powerful saving hand of God who wills to bring redemption to His people.
And what kind of a shoot was this Child? Later Isaiah says:
For he grew up before him like a tender plant, and like a root out of dry ground; and he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him.Isaiah 53:2
The rule for this shoot was: humility before honour. "He was despised and rejected by men." Isaiah 53:3. This was precisely the opposite of the way chosen by Uzziah the king in whose reign this vision came to Isaiah. For Uzziah the rule was: pride before the fall. But in the new shoot and new kingdom, the order is reversed: humility before honour.
This is the way the Lord Jesus takes for us. And Isaiah immediately prophesies His victory. In fact, this proverb is really the prelude to the great hymns to the Messiah which come in the chapters Isaiah 7, 9 and 11. Tile shoot from the stump of Jesse will be exalted! (Isaiah 11:1) He will become the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace! How was he exalted? Through His perfect obedience and through His willingness to suffer to death – even the death on the cross.
With His coming and victory, that which was a small seed and a tiny shoot begins to grow. Paul turns to the image of the tree in Romans 11:25, 26. Here it is no longer a small shoot but a large tree. Many new branches have been grafted in with the remnant. The Gentiles maybe fellow-heirs of the promise, partakers of the good news in Christ.
As the people of God we may again remember the onset of the fullness of the Kingdom of God in the glorious birth of Christ. The angels sang about the glory of God descending to earth. This glory became a daily reality in the work of Christ on earth and remains a daily reality in His work from heaven. Today already we see: the whole earth is filled with His glory. He has moved beyond Isaiah's day.
Yet for all who wish to see and share this glory the rule is still the same. We must follow the kingdom's founder. For the lawless the rule holds: pride comes before the fall. But the humble may know what awaits them if they continue in true faith and obedience: the whole earth will be full of His glory!