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Isaiah 11:1-10

Isaiah 11:1-10

Background to the Book of Isaiah

Historical: The following table gives an indication when the prophet Isaiah was preaching. It is worth noting that Hosea in the Northern kingdom of Israel and Micah in the Southern kingdom of Judah were in the same period.

Kings Israel

Kings of Judah


Kings of Assyria

Menahem 748 - 737

Uzziah 769 - 736
Jotham 756 - 741

Hosea 745 Israel
Isaiah 742 Judah
Micah 735 Judah

745 - 727

Pekahiah 737 - 736
Pekah 735 - 732
Hoshea 731 - 723

Ahaz 741 - 715

Isaiah 742 - 701

727 - 722

Fall of Samaria

Hezekiah 715 - 687

Isaiah 742 - 701

Sargon 722 - 705

(The above dates are approximate because you will find slight variation among the scholars)

Isaiah, a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah, had four major periods of prophecy between the years 742 -701 BCE. One of these times was when Ahaz was king of Judah and the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser had initiated a campaign from the north into Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel (738 BCE). In order to combat the Assyrian army Israel had formed a coalition with Syria against Assyria. However, Judah refused to join that coalition having the benefit of some distance from the direct challenge of Assyria. The kings of Syria (Rezin) and Israel (Pekah) sought to replace by force the Judean king, Ahaz, in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah, sharing with Ahaz the words he heard from Yahweh, made clear that Ahaz was to trust in God alone and not to go down the path of forming coalitions with other countries whether, Syria, Israel or Assyria.

Isaiah was alive when the Assyrians over ran the Northern kingdom of Israel and deported the majority of the ten tribes of Israel to countries which Assyria had defeated and who were in vassaldom to Assyria. There is some reference to this event, but not as much comment as one would expect for such a devastating occurrence. Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem was safe because the Lord dwelt there in the temple. This was affirmed when the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem and the people were becoming desperate when suddenly the Assyrians departed in a hurry leaving Jerusalem safe for another 114 years. The Book of Isaiah records this as a miracle of the Lord (Isa 37:36-38).

Literary Background to the Book:

The whole book of Isaiah has been divided up into three main sections which appear to reflect preaching from different historical periods. Chapters 1-39 are often referred to as the prophecies from Isaiah of Jerusalem and cover the periods shown in the above table. Chapters 40-55 speak to the exiles, offering forgiveness and a strong encouragement to move back to Jerusalem. It contains some of the most beautiful language and a comprehensive theology of God as creator and redeemer. The remaining chapters 56-66 speak to a later post-exilic situation addressing quite different concerns to those expressed in Isa 40-55.

Isaiah 1-39 has some distinct sections within it. Isa 1 has a collection of oracles which appear to come from different periods of Isaiah's ministry. Isa 2-12 contains a collection of oracles mainly about Judah and Jerusalem, covering the threat from the Israel/Syria Coalition and the section ends with a psalm of deliverance. As each of the major prophets have a section with oracles against foreign nations so Isa 13-23 covers this topic. There are oracles against Babylon, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Assyrian crisis and Tyre. We then find in Isa 24-27 a collection of oracles which are called the Isaiah Apocalypse and is reminiscent of material from a much later period in Israel's history. The remaining oracles cover further oracles on the Assyrian crisis and this section finishes with narratives about Isaiah. Isa 36-38 are almost identical with 2 Kings 18-19.

The Isaiah Scroll which was found at Qumran in the caves there (1948) and came from a time (250-68 BCE) before the Masoretes added vowels to the language is almost an exact copy of the Hebrew Text from which we work today. This testifies to the ability of the scribes who copied the Hebrew texts faithfully over the centuries and to the Masoretes who incorporated the vowels correctly (8-10 CE).
In the chapters leading up to the call of Isaiah (Isa 6) we have oracles which consist mainly of judgement and condemnation although Isa 2:1-4 speaks of the future as one of peace. We see in these earlier chapters two "Introductions" in Isa 1:1 and Isa 2:1 and it appears that we have additions and reworking of the Isaiah material. The condemnations are focused on the unjust behaviour of the people towards others in society and their abandonment of following in the ways of Yahweh. For these sins, the judgement is going be particularly harsh and the people will be overrun by a foreign nation.

Context of Isaiah 11:1-10
After a series of judgements in Isa 9:8-10:4 against Israel, Isa 10:5-19 turns to judgement against Assyria before the pronouncement of salvation oracles in 10:20 through to Isa 12. Isa 12 completes what many scholars believe is one section of the book (Isa 1-12) before the section of Orales against the Nations in Isa 13-23. In the oracle against Assyria (Isa 10:5-19) the message makes clear that Assyria was acting under the authority of Yahweh to teach Israel a lesson for its unfaithfulness. However, Assyria's arrogant boasting will be punished. The assurance offered to the remnant of Jacob is based on Yahweh's promise that the power of Assyria will wane as God acts to bring an end to their empire. The promise is further expanded in Isa 11:1-10 to include a new king and new world. The response to these promises of Yahweh is in the joyful song of Isa 12. The imagery of trees lopped and forests burned is applied to Israel in Isa 9:8, and in 10:33-34 the imageryof boughs lopped refers to Assyria. This image is reversed in Isa 11:1 when a new branch will grow.

Insights/Message Isa 11:1-10
Literary structure: :The These verses are well known to Christian communities. It may be that their message in the context of the Hebrew Scriptures is not so well known. Wildberger suggests that vv.1-5 speak of a future king and Psalm 72 speaks of present monarch (Wildberger:439). Vvs. 1 and 10 speak of David's line which encloses themes of Yahweh's gifts and actions. Yahweh's spirit (v.2), and fear of Yahweh (v.3), result in the right behaviour of this future king (vv.4-5) which is then followed by the idyllic picture of peace when righteousness reigns on earth. The subject of these verses is God and not the King - the Spirit of God, wisdom, counsel and knowledge will rest on the king, and the king will live in awe of God. The consequences of God's spirit resting upon him are spelt out in vv.4-5. Because God's knowledege will be throughout the earth there will be peace and harmony. The qualities of this king in v.2 are repeated which gives emphasis - spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear. Solomon asked for wisdom to rule which means dealing with people justly: counsel and might are used in military and political spheres, and all this has to be grounded in knowledge and awe of God. These qualities are illustrated further in vv.3b-5.

Message / Theology. This Lectionary reading needs to be considered in the context of Isa 10:24 ff in which the people are told not to fear the Assyrians because God is in control. In contrast to the lopping down of the branches of Assyria and the majestic tress of Lebanon falling, God will send forth a branch from the root of Jesse, that is, the House of David. Isaiah was preaching in the time of Ahaz who lived in fear of an Assyrian invasion which threatened Judah and later totally destroyed the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom in 721 BCE. The prophecy of Isa 11:1-5 was fulfilled in Judah in the persons of Kings Hezekiah and later Josiah (Watts:174). It was a message of hope to a people who were facing possible destruction and the answer lay in the power and authority of God. The constant message of Isaiah was to trust in God alone and one can see why in this passage. If Isaiah was preaching this mesage in the time of Hezekiah there was very little left of Judah, and the Davidic kingdom could be depicted as little more than a stump. The message relates back to the promise given to David in 2 Sam 7 in which God promises unconditionally that David's house will last forever. A number of scholars think these and other passages such as Isa 9:1-7 occur after the line of David has ceased at the time of the exile and these passages are giving hope to a community early in exile.

In each of the units (vv.1-5, 6-10) which make up Isa 11:1-10, God reigns within sociopolitical order through the Spirit of the Lord resting on the king and in vv.6-10, God reigns in the order of creation. Although the move from v.5 to v.6 appears abrupt, it is depicting a picture of what would happen in everyday life when a king reigns who has the Spirit of God resting on him. V.9 completes the unit by referring back to the knowledge of the Lord filling the earth. It is interesting question which comes up in liberation theology; do we know God reigns when peace and justice are evident throughout the world or does the Spirit of God inspire people to behave with righteousness and justice? This ideal king deals with people in the same way as God deals with humans - with justice and compassion.

Within the Christian community we see God revealed on earth in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and we know God as Creator.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 3:1-12, has a direct quote from Isa 40:3, in which John the Baptist is fulfilling the prophecy in his preaching. The quote is at the very start of Isa 40-55 and is prophecying the restoration of the people who are in exile in Babylon. Now it is applied to Jesus who becomes the one who is God's revelation and Saviour. However, John believes the people have to repent ( turn back) of their ways in order to be recipients of God's favour.

Worship/Resources for Isa 11:1-20

Worship: Psalm 96 is a joyous psalm which can be used as a Call to Worship and praise

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Barton, J. Isaiah 1-39. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.
Childs, Brevard. Isaiah. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Clements,R.E. Isaiah 1 - 39. NCB. Grand Rapids: Wm.Eerdmans, , 1980.
Hayes, J.H. & Isaiah, His Times and His Preaching, Abingdon,
Kaiser,O. Isaiah 1-12 (2nd ed), OTL, transl. J.Bowden, London: SCM Press, 1983.
Oswalt,J.N. The Book of Isaiah 1-39, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986.
Seitz,C.R. Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation, John Knox, Louisville, 1993.
Sweeney,M.A., Isaiah 1-39, FOTL, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996.
Tucker, Gene. 'The Book of Isaiah 1-39'. NIB. Vol VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Watts,J.D.W. Isaiah1-33, Isaiah 34-66, WBC, Word Book, Waco, 1985, 1987.
Wildberger,H. Isaiah 1-12, transl.T.H.Trapp, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1991

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:

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