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Isaiah 11

Chapter 11

Vs. 1-9: Since the Immanuel prophecy and the Prince of Peace prophecy (9:6) both seem to have a fulfillment in the time of Isaiah as well in Christ himself, I wonder if this prophecy (the Branch of Jesse prophecy) should be interpreted in the same way.  Barnes seems inclined to apply it only to the messiah (222).  As proof that this is the way the ancient Jews viewed the passage, he notes that the Chaldee paraphrase of Isaiah considers these verses to be exclusively messianic.[1] If the paraphrase writers did, in fact, think of these verses as exclusively messianic, that would indicate that Jews from at least one century before the time of Christ considered this prophecy to be unfulfilled by any event or person in Isaiah’s lifetime.  But Isaiah lived in the eighth century B.C. Perhaps the writers of the Chaldee paraphrase, being so separated in time from Isaiah, were ignorant of the prophecy’s initial fulfillment, or perhaps they knew of its initial fulfillment but were focused so exclusively on its ultimate fulfillment in the messiah that they did not bother to consider the prophecy’s earlier fulfillment.

I agree, of course, that the prophecy should ultimately apply to Christ (Romans 15:12).  And it does seem less applicable than the Immanuel prophecy and the Prince of Peace prophecy to any actual person or event in Isaiah’s day.  I suppose one could try to apply it to Hezekiah (the Prince of Peace), but, as Barnes notes, the peace and tranquility of vs. 6-9 do not seem a fit description of Hezekiah’s reign, even as hyperbole (222).

v. 4: Here is an indication that the messiah, while a righteous judge and the son of David, would not be a bloody handed warrior but a man of peace who wages war with words rather than earthly weapons.

Vs. 6-9: The tone of these verses reminds me of 2:2-4, and I suspect that the two passages refer to the same thing, i.e., spiritual Israel, the kingdom of Christ.  (See notes on 2:2-4.)  I think the images here are sublime.  Furthermore, although there is no direct reference to Eden as such, I cannot help but think that these images are meant to suggest a return to Eden and the state of life before the fall.  Note that there are no carnivores anymore (as there could not have been before Death entered the world), and the animals submit so willingly to the benevolent authority of humanity that even a child can lead them.[2]

v. 10: From the context here and from Paul’s interpretation of this verse (Romans 15:12) I believe Isaiah is indicating that Gentiles will flock to (and be welcome in) the kingdom of the Messiah.  This seems to be the message of 2:2-4 (a passage that closely parallels this chapter in tone) as well as other passages in Isaiah such as 42:6 and 60:1-3.  I believe, therefore, that Isaiah describes the peace of the Messiah’s reign as universal.  Under his reign, the Gentiles will be at peace with the Jews, and the Jews will be at peace with their long time rival, Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom (v.13).

Paul’s interpretation is my main reason for believing that these verses ultimately apply to the entry of Gentiles into the spiritual kingdom of Christ.  However, there is another reason:  The type and quality of peace described in this chapter (even as hyperbole) has no easy application to the history of the earthly kingdom of Judah between the time of Isaiah and Christ.  When the Jews returned to Judah from the Babylonian Captivity, the Samaritans (the remnant of the descendants of the Northern Kingdom mingled with foreigners imported by Assyria) constantly tried to thwart their efforts to rebuild their city and their temple, and this enmity between the two peoples continued into the time of Christ.  Also, after the Persians initiated the reestablishment of Judah, Greece and Rome conquered the Jews again.  Therefore, it is hard to imagine a period of time between Isaiah and Christ (or after Christ) when verses like 13 and 14 could apply to the earthly kingdom of Judah.  It is true that the Jews did make proselytes of some Gentiles and even influenced pagan Gentile kings to acknowledge the sovereignty of God,[3] but I do not believe that significant portions of the Gentile world sought out the God of the Jews in any era between Isaiah and Christ.  After Christ, however, so many Gentiles sought out the God of the Jews that Christianity has become associated with Gentiles rather than Jews.  Therefore, while Isaiah may have meant for this verse to apply in a limited, immediate sense to pre-Christian events, I believe its ultimate fulfillment is in the kingdom of Christ.  Its immediate fulfillment foreshadows its ultimate.  Other similar verses[4] emphasize the immediate fulfillment more that does this verse, but I believe even those verses ultimately foreshadow the Gentile conversion to Christianity.

v. 11: The event to which this verse refers is described as God’s second great deliverance of his people.  Given the allusions in subsequent verses to Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, I believe the first deliverance must be the exodus from Egypt.  Barnes believes the first deliverance refers to the return from Babylonian captivity.  He believes this because he believes that the Babylonian return must be counted as one of the two deliverances and that it cannot apply to the second deliverance because “there is no record of their [the Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity] having been collected from ‘Egypt,’ or ‘Cush,” or from ‘the islands of the sea” (Barnes 233).  I agree with his argument for rejecting the return from Babylon as the second deliverance.  However, the allusions to the Exodus are too strong to reject it as the first deliverance, so I am forced to conclude that Isaiah does not refer to the return from Babylon in either deliverance.  The deliverance from Egypt was too ingrained in the national psyche not to be the first deliverance meant here, and, although there are a few reasons to believe that the second deliverance might refer to the return from Babylon, I do not believe it does.[5]

The main reason for believing the second deliverance might refer to the return from Babylon is in vs. 15 and 16 where Isaiah parallels the exodus crossing of the Red Sea with the Jewish exiles’ return to Judah across The River (the Euphrates).  The fact that God will dry the waters of The River for his people to cross them (just as he dried the waters of the Red Sea during the Exodus) is a compelling argument for seeing the return from Babylon as the second deliverance; however, the second deliverance is not confined to crossing The River.  It is a return to Israel from “the four corners of the earth” (v.12).  Besides, the nation that Isaiah names here is Assyria, not Babylon, which seems odd if he means to refer to the Babylonian captivity.[6] Also, while the reestablishment of the kingdom of Judah after the Babylonian captivity might have encouraged waves of Jewish immigration from the rest of the world, I do not believe this was the case.

I believe the second deliverance is the establishment of spiritual Israel under Jesus, just as the first is the establishment of physical Israel under Moses.  Notice how closely this passage parallels the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the Church (spiritual Israel) on the day of Pentecost.  Acts 2:5, 9-11 reads,

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem [to celebrate Pentecost] Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven… Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Lybia adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs….

Isaiah 11:11 describes those saved by the second deliverance as coming “from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea.”  I even wonder if Luke had this passage of Isaiah in mind when he chose to describe the birth of the Church as he did in Acts.  Anyway, it seems a closer fit for the second deliverance than the return from Babylon; at the very least, even if Isaiah meant for the return from Babylon to be the second deliverance, Pentecost was a later, more complete fulfillment of that second deliverance (and the first deliverance, for that matter), just as Christ was a more complete fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy than was the original Immanuel.

v. 14: Here is another litmus test for whether or not this second deliverance and the circumstances surrounding it apply to the history of physical Israel and its return from Babylon or to the founding of spiritual Israel.  I do not know of any historical conquests made after the return from Babylon that would match those described in this verse.  Therefore, I believe that the passage should be interpreted as a metaphor for the spiritual conquest (conversion) of the enemies of God by spiritual Israel.  Barnes interprets the passage in this way also (238).  I believe he would have mentioned any historical conquests that would match these, if he knew of any.  The Oxford commentary does not note any corresponding conquests either.  This is particularly interesting in the case of the Oxford commentary since it chooses to regard any prophecy that is historically accurate as being written after the historical events in question.  (See my introduction notes.)  Presumably, the Oxford glossers believe this because they do not believe prophecy, as such, is possible.  They believe, in effect, that subsequent writers of the book of Isaiah masqueraded as Isaiah himself so that his “prophecies” would seem like accurate predictions of the future.  However, if subsequent editors were allowed such liberties with the book, why would they not have amended this section to more accurately reflect the literal history of physical Israel?  It seems like they would have, but they did not, which makes me think that they took no such liberties with any part of the book.  Therefore, if any part of Isaiah has obvious historical accuracy, I believe it is because Isaiah foresaw it as a prophet, and if, as is the case here, there is no corresponding historical event, then its fulfillment must be spiritual.  The only alternative is to believe that Isaiah made a mistake, but if his prophecies were capable of inaccuracy, then why would those in chapters 40-66 be so accurate?

v. 15: This is a good metaphor.  The German version translates “destroy” as “dry up,” which fits well with the image of a tongue in a scorching wind.


[1] The Targums or Chaldee versions of Isaiah are “works of Jews living in Palestine and Babylon, from a century before Christ, to the eighth or ninth century after” (Barnes 48).  I assume that Barnes is saying the paraphrase of these verses in Isaiah is among those works written a century before Christ.

[2] See also notes on Genesis 3:21 and 2:7, and Isaiah 65:17-25.

[3] Remember Daniel’s influence on Nebuchadnezzar and Darius.

[4] One such similar verse is in chapter 66.  Compare “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples” with 66:19: “I will set a sign among them.”

[5] This belief is very tentative, however.  For instance, I believe that chapter 65 does allude to the return from captivity, but Isaiah uses some of the same imagery in that chapter that he does in this one.  Compare 65:25 with 11:6-9.  See, in particular, notes for 65:25.

[6] I suppose Isaiah might say “Assyria” rather than “Babylon” to refer to the Babylonian captivity in the following scenario:  In his day, the region of Mesopotamia was dominated by Assyria, so when Isaiah refers to “Assyria” he may simply be referring to that region (Mesopotamia) by means of the name which commonly described it in his lifetime.  In this way the prophecy might refer to the Babylonian captivity without recognizing that the region of the captivity would be know as “Babylon” at the actual time of the captivity.  But this scenario seems unlikely, given that Isaiah refers to Babylon as such in 13:1.

6 Responses to “Isaiah 11”

  1. […] he notes that the Chaldee paraphrase of Isaiah considers these verses to be exclusively messianic.[1] If the paraphrase writers did, in fact, think of these verses as exclusively messianic, that would […]

  2. […] he notes that the Chaldee paraphrase of Isaiah considers these verses to be exclusively messianic.[1] If the paraphrase writers did, in fact, think of these verses as exclusively messianic, that would […]

  3. […] 3:  There are other references to Eden, or rather the return of Eden, in Isaiah.  11:6-9 and 2:2-4 come to mind; see notes […]

  4. […] 3:  There are other references to Eden, or rather the return of Eden, in Isaiah.  11:6-9 and 2:2-4 come to mind; see notes […]

  5. […] [6] This is a good example of how confusing these references can be, at least for me.  See notes on Isaiah 11:6-9. […]

  6. […] [6] This is a good example of how confusing these references can be, at least for me.  See notes on Isaiah 11:6-9. […]

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