Isaiah 11
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The overthrow of the world-power is followed by the establishment of the Messiah’s Kingdom. In this chapter, however, we have two Messianic pictures so distinct in character that it is necessary to consider them separately.

(i) Isaiah 11:1-9 contain a prophecy of the advent of the Messiah (Isaiah 11:1), a description of his character (2) and government (3–5) and a picture of the marvellous transformation of animated nature which is the reflection of his just and beneficent reign (6–9). The passage stands along with ch. Isaiah 9:1-7 and Isaiah 32:1 ff. as one of the three great presentations of the conception of a personal Messiah which the book of Isaiah contains. Until quite recently the Isaianic authorship of all three passages was accepted without hesitation by critics of all shades of opinion. Hackmann and Cheyne now dissent from this view, and relegate the whole conception of a personal Messiah to a period subsequent to the Exile. But their objections are hardly of sufficient weight to justify so revolutionary a conclusion. The linguistic arguments are admitted by Cheyne to be indecisive. And while it is true that the contents of the prophecy do not point unambiguously to the age of Isaiah, this is not to be wondered at in a delineation of the ideal future. On the other hand the passage contains no assumptions inconsistent with Isaiah’s authorship. For the decay of the Davidic dynasty, which appears to be implied in the figure of Isaiah 11:1, is not a presupposition in the sense that the prophecy could not have been written until it was an accomplished fact. It is assumed only that the reigning dynasty will have disappeared before the manifestation of the Messiah; and this expectation is in harmony with Isaiah’s whole conception of the progress of events. It is no more than is involved in the sentence of rejection on Ahaz (ch. Isaiah 7:13 ff.), or perhaps in the anticipation of an overwhelming national calamity, which the prophet maintained to the end of his ministry. In any case the Messianic age is a new creation, and if there was to be an ideal Son of David at all, he must be conceived as a new shoot from the ancient stock of Jesse.

(ii) Isaiah 11:10-16, on the other hand, describe mainly the formation of the new Messianic community by the home-gathering of Israelites from all parts of the world. The arguments against the genuineness of this passage are more cogent than in the case of (i), and are endorsed by a wider circle of critics. Here a definite historical situation is assumed which can only with some violence be harmonised with the actual circumstances of Isaiah’s time. Jews are in exile not only in Assyria, but in Egypt, Ethiopia, the Mediterranean lands, &c. Further, these Exiles are described as a “Remnant,” a term which seems to imply that some have been already restored, and which at all events is never used by Isaiah of those who have gone into captivity, but of those who survive the judgment in the land of Israel. It is no doubt possible, as Delitzsch and Bredenkamp believe, that Isaiah might have been transported into the future, and dealt with a state of things which was not to arise till long afterwards. But it is more in accordance with the analogy of prophecy to suppose that the outlook was conceived in the circumstances which it presupposes, especially since the undoubted writings of Isaiah never mention a return from Exile, or a restoration of the Northern Tribes, or a subjugation of the neighbouring states by warlike conquest. These facts, and some others which will be referred to in the Notes, although not conclusive, justify a certain measure of hesitation in assigning the prophecy to Isaiah; and this uncertainty should be borne in mind in putting together the various elements which entered into his vision of the future of God’s kingdom.

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
1. The advent of the Messiah. Idea and figure correspond to those of ch. Isaiah 6:13; as a new Israel will spring up from the “stump” of the old, so the Messianic King will arise from the decayed family of David. Some commentators find in the image an intentional contrast to that of ch. Isaiah 10:34; while the forest of Assyria is cut down never to spring up again, the stock of Judah’s royal dynasty will sprout and flourish. The precise relation of the Messiah to the reigning branch of the family is purposely left indefinite (cf. Micah 5:2).

a rod] Better as R.V. a shoot. The word rendered “stem” occurs only twice again. Here it bears the same meaning as in Job 14:8; it is the stock which remains in the earth after the tree is cut down. In Isaiah 40:24 it means a “slip” planted in the ground in order to strike root. The figure, therefore, like “roots” in the next line, seems to imply the downfall of the dynasty.

a Branch shall grow out of his roots] Render as R.V. a branch out of his roots shall boar fruit—shall come to maturity. Jesse is mentioned instead of David probably because of the intentional vagueness in which the Messiah’s origin is left.

Ch. Isaiah 11:1-9. The Messiah and His Kingdom

It is interesting to compare this passage with ch. Isaiah 9:1-7. There the delineation of the Messianic age starts from its broadest and most general features—the light breaking on the land, the universally diffused joy of the redeemed nation—and only at the end centres itself in the person of the Wonderful Child who is born to ascend the throne. Here the person of the Messiah comes first, and then the healing and regenerating influences of which he is the channel. To what period of Isaiah’s career the prophecy belongs cannot be determined. The affinity with ch. Isaiah 9:1-7 suggests the reign of Ahaz, to which it is assigned by Guthe in accordance with a particular theory of the development of Isaiah’s eschatology. But since there is no evidence that the idea of the Messianic King ever lost its significance to the prophet’s mind, it might with equal propriety be referred to any subsequent period of his ministry. Duhm places this and the companion oracles of Isaiah 2:2-4, Isaiah 32:1-5 in the evening of Isaiah’s long life. In its present setting the passage is no doubt intended as a sequel to ch. Isaiah 10:5-34 and it might even belong to the same date.

And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
2. His supernatural endowment through the spirit of Jehovah with the qualities of a perfect ruler. The “charismata” are grouped in three pairs; when we add the separate mention of the spirit of Jehovah at the head of the list we may perhaps find here the first suggestion of the “seven spirits” of God (Revelation 1:4). In reality, however, the three pairs unfold the different aspects of the “Spirit of Jehovah.” The first pair of virtues are intellectual, the second practical, and the third religious.

wisdom and understanding (or “discernment”) are the fundamental intellectual qualifications of a judge or ruler. Deuteronomy 1:13; 1 Kings 3:12.

counsel and might] “Counsel” is the faculty of adapting means to ends or of forming right resolutions; “might” the energy necessary to carry them through.

of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord] of the knowledge and fear of Jehovah. It seems necessary here to take “knowledge” as equivalent to “knowledge of Jehovah,” in spite of the rule that “not more than one construct can stand before the same genitive” (Davidson, Syntax, § 27. b). “Knowledge of Jehovah” is insight into His character and His moral claims on men, “fear of Jehovah” is the common O.T. expression for piety; both together make up the O.T. idea of religion.

And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
3. and shall make him … Lord] The best translation is that of R.V. and his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah, lit. “his scent shall be in, &c.” The Messiah shall not only possess true religion himself, but shall be quick to recognise its presence in others and shall take delight in it wherever he finds it. The sense is perhaps appropriate, but the expression is very peculiar, and hence some critics consider that the clause is a corrupt repetition of the preceding words. (See Cheyne’s Commentary, crit. note.)

he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, &c.] i.e. in virtue of the spirit with which he is endowed, he shall not be dependent on the evidence of his senses, but shall immediately and infallibly discern the moral condition of men’s hearts (cf. 2 Samuel 14:20). The second member of the parallelism shews that more than mere impartiality in judgment is intended. For reprove render decide, as R.V. marg.

3–5. Thus equipped with all the personal qualities needful for his high office, the ideal King will exercise a perfectly just and equitable government over his subjects. The Hebrew conception of kingship includes two functions, leadership in war and the administration of justice in time of peace (1 Samuel 8:20). Here, for an obvious reason (ch. Isaiah 9:5), only the civil aspect of the office is dwelt upon.

But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
4. The special objects of his care are the defenceless and down-trodden classes (cf. ch. Isaiah 1:23, Isaiah 10:2). Observe that the sporadic outbreak of injustice and violence does not appear to be excluded from Isaiah’s conception of the Messianic age; only, the transgressors are at once discovered and destroyed.

the meek of the earth] Possibly “the oppressed in the land.” Two words (‘ânî and ‘ânâv) are often confounded in the Hebr. Text; the former means simply to be in abject circumstances, the latter includes the religious virtue of resignation to an adverse lot (Rahlfs, ‘Anî und ‘Anaw in den Psalmen).

he shall smite the earth] The word for “earth” (’ereç) is probably written wrongly for ‘ârîç “oppressor.” It is not permissible, with Del. &c., to explain “earth” in the N.T. sense of “the (ungodly) world,” or “Wicked,” in the next clause, of the Antichrist (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:8).

with the rod of his mouth … with the breath of his lips] Cf. Revelation 1:6. The Messiah’s sentence has a self-fulfilling energy (cf. Hosea 6:5; Acts 5:1-10). This reveals the operation of the “spirit of might,” as Isaiah 11:3 represents the effect of the “spirit of wisdom.”

And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
5. “Righteousness” and “faithfulness” are the strength of the Messiah’s government (ch. Isaiah 9:7). The girdle is the symbol of resolute and vigorous action. Comp. the “girdle of truth” in Ephesians 6:14.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
6–8. This remarkable prophecy of the idyllic state of the brute creation is imitated in the Sibylline Oracles (3:766 ff.) and more faintly echoed in the Fourth and Fifth Eclogues of Vergil. Similarly, an Arabic poet (Ibn Onein, quoted by Ges.) speaks of “a righteousness, through which the hungry wolf becomes tame.”—The description is not to be interpreted allegorically, as if the wild beasts were merely symbols for cruel and rapacious men. Neither perhaps is it to be taken quite literally. It is rather a poetic presentation of the truth that the regeneration of human society is to be accompanied by a restoration of the harmony of creation (cf. Romans 8:19-22). The fact that tame and wild animals are regularly bracketed together shews that the main idea is the establishment of peace between man and the animals (Hosea 2:20); the animals that are now wild shall no longer prey on those that are domesticated for the service of man. But the striking feature of the prophecy is that the predatory beasts are not conceived as extirpated (as Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 34:28) but as having their habits and instincts changed.

And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
7. Cf. Isaiah 65:25. shall feed] Better, shall graze, unless we are to supply “alike” as in Isaiah 65:25. Some critics prefer to read “shall associate together,” with a small alteration of the text.

And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
8. The most startling contrast of all,—the innocent babe playing with the deadly serpent.

asp] Heb. pethen, rendered “adder” in Psalm 58:4; Psalm 91:13, elsewhere as here. The species has not been identified. The cockatrice (çiph ‘ônî, rendered “adder” in Proverbs 23:32) is usually identified with the basilisk (or King-serpent) of North Africa, but that reptile is not found in Palestine.

The word den (only here) is doubtful. The most natural view is that it is fem. of the word for “luminary” and denotes the glittering eye of the serpent, which attracts the child like a jewel.

The verb rendered put means strictly “lead”; comp. ducere manum.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
9. It is questionable if the subject here is still the wild beasts (as in Isaiah 65:25). The second half of the verse is rather against this, and it is better to translate the first half: none shall do evil or act corruptly in all, &c.

my holy mountain] Most naturally “Zion,” but some commentators understand it of the whole hill-country of Palestine.

for the earth shall be full … sea] Cf. Habakkuk 2:14. On the peculiar participial construction, see Driver, Tenses § 135. (7) Obs.

And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
10. This verse occupies a position somewhat detached from those that follow, as is shewn by the repetition of the introductory formula in Isaiah 11:11. The thought also is distinct and complete. It is a prophecy of the attractive influence of the true religion over the nations of the world; and resembles ch. Isaiah 2:2-4, although here the personal Messiah is the central figure. Comp. John 12:32.

The construction of the sentence involves a casus pendens (Driver, Tenses, pp. 264 ff.). Render thus: and it shall come to pass in that day, the root of Jesse who shall stand as a signal to the peoples—to him shall, &c.

a root of Jesse] i.e. the “branch from the roots,” of Isaiah 11:1. The expression seems to have become a technical title of the Messiah (cf. ch. Isaiah 53:2; Sir 47:22; Revelation 5:5; Revelation 22:16). The variation of the figure from Isaiah 11:1 rather tells against the Isaianic authorship of this passage.

an ensign] as rallying-point, see on ch. Isaiah 5:26.

to it shall the Gentiles seek] Rather, of him shall nations enquire—a phrase used of the consulting of an oracle (ch. Isaiah 8:19, Isaiah 19:3). The Messiah is to be the great religious Teacher and Authority of the world.

his rest shall be glorious] his resting-place (Genesis 49:15,—here alone used of a royal residence) shall be glory, cf. ch. Isaiah 4:5.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.
11. the Lord shall set his hand again] Or, the Lord shall again (lift up) his hand. The verb has to be supplied from the context.

the second time] If the standpoint (actual or ideal) of the prophecy be post-exilic, the most probable reference would be to the first return from exile under Cyrus. Otherwise, we must understand “the first time” of the exodus from Egypt, which is hardly natural, although the prophecy does abound in allusions to that great deliverance.

the remnant] An Isaianic word, but used in a non-Isaianic sense. See introductory note to this chapter. For recover read purchase, or “redeem.”

Pathros (Upper Egypt, Genesis 10:14) and Cush (Ethiopia) are dependencies of Egypt; Elam (Susiana), Suinar (Babylonia) and Hamath (see on ch. Isaiah 10:9) of Assyria. It should be noticed that the use of the name “Assyria” for the supreme power in Western Asia occurs in post-exilic writings (Ezra 6:22).

the islands of the sea] The coast-lands or countries bordering on the Mediterranean.

11, 12. The gathering of the “dispersed of Israel.” It is of course impossible to disprove that in Isaiah’s time scattered Israelites were to be found in all the countries mentioned at the end of Isaiah 11:11. Some might have been included among the captives whom Sargon settled in Elam, Babylonia and Hamath; fugitives from the Northern Kingdom might have taken refuge in considerable numbers in Egypt at the fall of Samaria; and the slave-trade might have carried small groups of Hebrews to the remoter regions. But the language here seems to imply a Jewish dispersion on a large scale, and the only wholesale deportations that had taken place in Isaiah’s time were those of Northern Israelites to the Assyrian Empire (2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:6). On the other hand, the references exactly fit the circumstances of the post-exilic period, when large colonies of Jews are known to have been spread over the lands here enumerated.

Ch. 11:(10) Isaiah 11:11-16. A Prophecy of the Return from Exile

And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
12. The meaning of the “signal” here is explained by ch. Isaiah 49:22; it is a signal to the nations to release or even to bring back the exiles.

the dispersed of Judah] The participle in Hebr. is fem. This may be “a short way of expressing that both sexes will be included” (Cheyne). Giesebrecht, however, explains it by the favourite emblem (with later writers) of a scattered flock (Ezekiel 34:4 ff.; Zephaniah 3:19).

the four corners (lit. “edges,” Deuteronomy 22:12) of the earth] The expression occurs only in Ezekiel 7:2 (of the land); Job 37:3; Job 38:13 (cf. Isaiah 24:16).

The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.
13. The parallelism seems to demand that the adversaries of Judah be explained as gen. of the subject (those in Judah that are adversaries to Ephraim). This is not very natural, but it is certainly better than to take envy of Ephraim as gen. of obj. (envy felt by Judah towards Ephraim).

shall not vex] shall not oppress. It is the verb of which “adversaries” is the participle. The ascription of “oppression” to Judah and “envy” to Ephraim is hardly consistent with the relative importance of the two states previous to 722. At the same time there seems to be here a clear allusion to ch. Isaiah 9:9-12; Isaiah 9:20.

13, 14. The healing of the breach between the Northern and Southern kingdoms, and their joint conquest of the neighbouring peoples.

But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west; they shall spoil them of the east together: they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them.
14. they shall fly] or swoop, as a bird of prey (Habakkuk 1:8). The country of the Philistines is compared to a shoulder falling down towards the sea (cf. Numbers 34:11; Joshua 15:11; Joshua 18:12).

them of the east] lit. the children of the East (as R.V.), a name for the Arabs of the Eastern desert.

they shall lay … obey them] The Hebrew construction is peculiar. Lit. “Edom and Moab shall be the forth-putting of their hand, and the children of Ammon their obedience.”

And the LORD shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod.
15. Cf. Zechariah 10:10 f. shall utterly destroy] lit. “lay under the ban.” But the reading of several ancient versions (heḥěrîb for heḥěrîm) gives a better sense: dry up; cf. ch. Isaiah 50:2. the tongue of the Egyptian sea is the Gulf of Suez (cf. Joshua 15:2; Joshua 15:5; Joshua 18:19).

with his mighty wind] Perhaps with the fierce heat of his breath. The word rendered “fierce heat” does not occur again in Hebrew, but a similar Arabic word is used of internal heat (either physical or mental). The phrase seems misplaced; it belongs to the figure of the drying up of the sea, not to that of shaking the hand. over the river] the Euphrates, as in ch. Isaiah 7:20, Isaiah 8:7. smile it in the seven streams] R.V. into seven streams. dryshod] lit. “in sandals.”

15, 16. A miraculous passage prepared for the return of the exiles. The allusions to the Exodus are palpable and extend to the next chapter.

And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.
16. a highway] through river and desert. This miraculous “highway” is a frequent feature in prophetic descriptions of the return from exile. Cf. ch. Isaiah 35:8, Isaiah 40:3-4, Isaiah 42:16, Isaiah 49:11, &c.

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