Unit 1: The Sovereignty of the Father

September 4 Lesson 1 The Peaceful Kingdom

Devotional Reading: Psalm 72:1-7

Background Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-9

Isaiah 11:1-9

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord

3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

or decide by what he hears with his ears;

4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;

with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

5 Righteousness will be his belt

and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

Key Verse

They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.—Isaiah 11:9

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Summarize the impact that the promised Branch was prophesied to have.

2. Contrast the peace that the Branch inaugurates with modern understandings of peace.

3. Suggest one way he or she can promote the peace that the Branch inaugurates and make a plan to do so.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Searching for Peace

B. Lesson Background

I. The Just Ruler (Isaiah 11:1-5)

A. His Humanity (v. 1)

Out of the Ashes

B. His Divinity (vv. 2, 3a)

C. His Righteousness (vv. 3b-5)

II. The Peaceful Rule (Isaiah 11:6-9)

A. Radical Change (vv. 6-8)

Getting Along

B. Global Change (v. 9)

Conclusion

A. Two Pictures of Peace

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction
A. Searching for Peace

Before there were GPS (Global Positioning System) devices, I used the set of maps in the back of the telephone book to find a location in my city. First, I had to look up the street name in the index. Then I had to find the correct map by referring to the code that accompanied the index entry. I had to make sure I ended up looking at the right map, otherwise I could find myself “running out of room” as the street trailed off the edge of the (wrong) map before I found the desired location.

Our world seeks many of the positive qualities described in today’s lesson text from the prophet Isaiah. Who in his or her right mind does not desire righteousness, justice, and peace? The problem is that the ethical maps that the world consults are too small—they are limited to this world’s sinful perspective, and they do not reflect God’s point of view. We will find righteousness, justice, and peace (along with many other blessings) only when we humble ourselves enough to consult Heaven’s GPS: God’s Promised Son. It is he who is at the heart of today’s study.

B. Lesson Background

The book of Isaiah appears in our Bibles as the first of the group known as the Major Prophets—so-called because of their length (the Minor Prophets are shorter books). Isaiah is known for his numerous prophecies of Jesus, many of which are quoted in the New Testament. Some of these prophecies will be highlighted in the first four lessons of this quarter, a unit titled, “The Sovereignty of the Father.”

The issue of God’s sovereignty likely was a hot-button topic in Isaiah’s day, since that was one of the more chaotic times in the history of God’s people. Isaiah’s call to prophetic service came “in the year that King Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1). That was about 738 BC, not quite two hundred years after God’s people had split into the two kingdoms of Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Uzziah (or Azariah; see 2 Kings 15:1, 13) was one of Judah’s better kings, though he finished poorly as a result of pride (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).

Isaiah 7 records the prophet’s confrontation with one of Judah’s worst kings, Ahaz (grandson of Uzziah). At the time, Judah was facing the rising threat of Assyria to the northeast. Ahaz rejected the counsel of Isaiah to trust in the Lord (Isaiah 7:1-12). The prophet warned the defiant king of the folly of this course of action (or inaction) and declared that Assyria would indeed wreak havoc on Judah (7:17-20; 10:5, 6).

It is always a mistake, though, to underestimate God in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. Often that is when he does his best work! Isaiah 10:10, 11, 22, 23 predicted that God’s judgment on his people would not leave much. But it would leave something: a remnant sufficient for God to carry out his sovereign purpose (10:20, 21).

God had informed Isaiah that his ministry would not appear to be that successful. The prophet was to proclaim God’s message “until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, … and the fields ruined and ravaged” (Isaiah 6:11). The population of Judah would go into exile (6:12). Although God compared the people with a tree stripped of its leaves, “the holy seed” would remain from which new growth would come (6:13).

I. The Just Ruler

(Isaiah 11:1-5)

A. His Humanity (v. 1)

1a. A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

Isaiah provides another picture of life emerging from unpromising conditions. Hindsight establishes that Jesus is the subject of the unfolding prophecy. But why would Jesse, the father of King David, be mentioned rather than David himself?

How to Say It

Ahaz Ay-haz.

Assyria Uh-sear-ee-uh.

Azariah Az-uh-rye-uh.

Beatitudes Bee-a-tuh-toods (a as in mat).

Hosea Ho-zay-uh.

Uzziah Uh-zye-uh.

Zechariah Zek-uh-rye-uh.

In the case at hand, Isaiah is not prophesying the coming of a successor of David; Isaiah is announcing, rather, that another David will come. This is in keeping with prophecies such as those found in Jeremiah 30:8, 9; Ezekiel 34:23, 24; and Hosea 3:5. About 270 years before Isaiah’s day, God raised up a shepherd boy (David) to become king over Israel; about 740 years after Isaiah, Jesus will come as the good shepherd who will “lay down [his] life for the sheep” (John 10:14, 15). The idea of humble origins suggested by the verse before us applies to both David and Jesus.

1b. from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The word Branch is used elsewhere in the Old Testament as a title for the coming Messiah (Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12). The Hebrew language has no uppercase letters, but the word is capitalized here to call attention to the divinity of the one being foretold.

The Hebrew word for Branch is netzer, a point that may help to illuminate a passage in the Gospels. Matthew 2:23 states that Jesus resided in the town of Nazareth, “so was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” Noticing how close in sound are the words Nazareth and netzer, perhaps Matthew has in mind the promise concerning the Branch. Jesus’ living in Nazareth (“Branchville”) fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy by describing the lowly village (compare John 1:45, 46) where Jesus grew up.

Out of the Ashes

Peter Gladwin was barely a year old when his family’s house caught fire, leaving him scarred and disabled. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, he was frequently in trouble with the police. He lost the use of an arm in a knife fight. He eventually descended into a life of substance abuse.

Then Peter found the Lord. Peter eventually became a probation officer, working in dangerous communities, drug rehabilitation centers, and prisons. He founded a ministry called Out of Ashes, which uses the transforming power of the gospel to rescue people from the consequences of their poor, sinful decisions.

Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would come in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation. But the Lord specializes in bringing hope out of hopelessness! When all options seem exhausted, he has ways of making the impossible happen. Gladwin discovered that the Lord remains our first and final hope. Have you?—D. C. S.

B. His Divinity (vv. 2, 3a)

2. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord

The Spirit of the Lord refers to the Holy Spirit, who came upon Jesus at his baptism (Matthew 3:16). The word rest implies a constant dwelling. John 3:34 tells us that Jesus possessed the Spirit “without limit.” That is implied here as well, given that the Holy Spirit abounds in wisdom … understanding … counsel … might … knowledge… and fear of the Lord.

The qualities Isaiah lists call to mind passages that highlight their presence in Jesus. For example, Paul notes Jesus’ wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:24 and Colossians 2:2, 3. The word counsel suggests the prophecy of a “Counselor” in Isaiah 9:6. Might could be linked to the title “Mighty God,” also in Isaiah 9:6, since the words might and mighty come from the same Hebrew word.

What Do You Think?

What steps can we take to ensure that church plans, programs, and projects enhance rather than hinder the work of the Branch (Jesus)?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding the individual Christian

Regarding the church as a body

3a. and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

The Hebrew verb translated delight occurs only 11 times in the Old Testament, with an aromatic sense in 8 of the other 10. If the same is intended here, the idea would be to perceive something in a positive sense (compare Genesis 8:21). This implies the promised Branch’s high degree of commitment to pleasing the Lord.

C. His Righteousness (vv. 3b-5)

3b. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,

or decide by what he hears with his ears;

The remainder of verse 3 refers to two other senses of perception: seeing and hearing. The promised Branch will not be guided by visual, physical appearances or by opinions voiced by others. His eyes and his ears are to be governed by the will of his Father. Centuries hence, Jesus (the Branch) will say, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30).

4a. but with righteousness he will judge the needy,

with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

The Branch will be guided by God’s unchanging standards of right and wrong, not by the shifting whims of culture. The Branch will display the qualities of righteousness and justice on behalf of those most often neglected or mistreated: the needy and the poor. God requires his people in both Old and New Testament times to care for the poor and not become callous toward them (Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 15:7, 8; Psalm 41:1; Galatians 2:10; James 2:1-4).

Isaiah’s words may be intended to acknowledge those who recognize their spiritual poverty and humbly admit that they depend on God for help. One should note Jesus’ language about “the poor in spirit” and “the meek” in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3, 5).

What Do You Think?

How can Christians model both the “do not judge” (Matthew 7:1) and “judge” (1 Corinthians 5:12, 13; etc.) attributes Jesus expects?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Considering correct and incorrect ideas about judging

Considering context

Other

4b. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;

with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

This half-verse goes on to describe an aspect of the Branch’s judgment that is far more severe. Such language calls to mind the picture given elsewhere in the New Testament of Jesus’ final judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Hebrews 10:26-31; Revelation 19:11-15, 21). We may note that during his earthly ministry, Jesus demonstrates both sides of judgment described by Isaiah. Jesus deals compassionately with the outcasts of his day, but some of his harshest words are reserved for those religious leaders who look at the “sinners” around them with great contempt. Such leaders frequently feel the sting of the rod of his mouth. Jesus does not mince words with them!

5. Righteousness will be his belt

and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

This verse offers another way of picturing what is to characterize the conduct of the promised Branch. A belt or sash is worn around an individual’s waist in biblical times to hold clothing in place. Thus righteousness and faithfulness will support or sustain the promised Branch’s character and conduct, specifically the justice highlighted in verse 4a, above.

The word translated waist can also point to the inner organs where emotions and motives are believed to originate (Psalm 7:9; 26:2; 73:21; Jeremiah 20:12; Revelation 2:23). For faithfulness to be the sash of the Branch’s waist implies that this quality is to be the prime motivation behind every phase of his conduct.

II. The Peaceful Rule

(Isaiah 11:6-9)

A. Radical Change (vv. 6-8)

6a. The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

This verse begins a very striking series of portrayals of the impact of the promised Branch’s ministry. The changes described are radical—in fact, miraculous—in nature. Only the Creator himself can bring about the kind of transformation among his created beings that we see here. The wolf, the leopard, and the lion are predatory animals. The lamb, the goat, the calf, and the yearling (a young cow being raised for meat) do not stand a chance of survival before any of them under normal conditions. Here, however, are these creatures living at peace with one another, with no violence or aggressiveness whatsoever!

What Do You Think?

What can you do to address the causes of strife that result in people preying on (rather than praying for) others?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding strife resulting from differing religious convictions

Regarding strife between social classes

Other

6b. and a little child will lead them.

As if the unusual pairings of verse 6a were not remarkable enough, the leader of the menagerie is to be a little child! We would never place animals like wolves, leopards, or lions in a petting zoo for young children to touch them. Yet that is the picture Isaiah paints.

7. The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The prophet continues his depiction of peaceful surroundings. Again we see animals acting quite contrary to what we expect of them. A cow, with no worry of being attacked, shares a meal with a bear. Meanwhile, their young ones nap side by side. The carnivorous lion switches to a vegetarian diet (see parallel expressions in Isaiah 65:25a).

What Do You Think?

How can your church help move a fallen world toward the ideal picture painted by Isaiah?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Concerning evangelism and benevolence (outreach)

Concerning spiritual maturity of her members (inreach)

Concerning worship practices (upreach)

8. The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

Once more, the degree of human interaction with deadly creatures is amazing: an infant (a nursing baby) need not be protected from the cobra’s den. The last phrase offers parallel elements. The young child in view here is no longer an infant in the nursing stage, but is weaned (weaning normally occurs at around three years of age). Like the first child, this one is seen to do something that no conscientious parent would allow: explore an area known to be infested with deadly snakes, for that is what a viper is. See Proverbs 23:32, where the word viper stands parallel with the word snake. The snake, or serpent, was humanity’s first enemy (Genesis 3).

Getting Along

A cheetah kitten named Sahara and a puppy named Alexa grew up together in the Cincinnati Zoo and became good friends. They maintained their playful relationship even a decade later. Perhaps you have seen YouTube® videos of house cats and parakeets, etc., lounging around together. Such “odd couples” amaze us because their behavior is not the norm.

Isaiah describes a time of peace where everything seems unnatural: lions eating grass; cows and bears grazing together; leopards and goats, wolves and sheep, babies and snakes—all getting along. Such peace will characterize humanity when Jesus returns to reign in all fullness. This peace will not just be a state of harmony between people, but also between people and God.

This kind of peace is not as the world gives, but as only God’s Son can provide (compare John 14:27). The curse of sin will be lifted fully, never to return. How do we prepare for the great day when Jesus brings that final peace?—D. C. S.