Chapter 11 is the beginning of the concluding portion of the first section within the Book of Isaiah which runs from chapter one through chapter twelve. Here, the prophet takes a victorious view of better days ahead to top off a section that is primarily discussing Judah’s sin and its devastating consequences. Here, the messianic figure found in chapter 9 is revealed more clearly as the key to the future, culminating with a hymn of praise found in chapter 12.
Isaiah used the image of a stump in chapter 10 in referring to what would become of the Assyrians (10:33-34) and again in chapter 6 in reference to Judah itself (6:13). The idea is that Judah and the House of David had become so utterly corrupt as to require tearing down (as you might chop down a sick tree) but that out of the stump would grow a shoot that will ultimately bear great fruit. In mentioning Jesse, rather than David, it could be that Isaiah intends to minimize David’s Dynasty because of the corrupt state it had fallen into. (Remember that Jesse is David’s father)
vv. 1-5: In this opening section, we see that there is coming a day when there will be a new ruler for God’s people, one that comes from the ruins (stump) of the old Davidic line of kings. This ruler will be noteworthy for several reasons. First, the Spirit of the Lord will be upon him, and he will have power and abilities lacking in current kings of that period. He will possess attributes that kings over Judah had not held for a very long time, such as wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will rule with justice, righteousness and he will even give fairness and justice for the needy; all of these attributes being in stark contrast with the status quo of that time. In short, this coming king would be nothing that the people have ever known.
vv. 6-9: There are several contrasts between predator and prey here with the statement that they will lie down together in peace. Recall that in the times of Eden, there were no carnivores (Gen. 1:29-30) and how this changed when sin entered the world. What is being depicted here is not a literal return to Eden, but rather the removal of the curse of sin. Notice also that Isaiah uses the image of an infant and a small child; pictures of innocence not being harmed by sin’s curse. God’s holy mountain is a reference to God’s dwelling place, and in that dwelling place, nothing will either harm or destroy those innocents. Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-32 that the root of man’s fallen position is the suppression of the obvious knowledge of God, and in this image the knowledge of God covers the world. In 1 Cor. 15:24-25, Paul refers to the church age as a time when Christ reigns over His kingdom until all of the remaining curse of sin is removed.
vv. 10-16: The final part of this chapter where we see the result of the triumph of the Messiah as He rallies not only the remnant of Israel, but the nations of the Gentiles to His cause. Clearly, this is an indication that both Jew and Gentile will respond to His message of salvation (rest, i.e. peace) by the removal of sin through the atonement of the blood of Christ, which enables Man and God to once again live in fellowship. Verses 15-16 help us to see that this passage is not to be taken literally, as they are Apocalyptic, but rather that all barriers will be taken down. Both remnants of Judah and Ephraim (Israel) will come together from the nations to which they have scattered (13-14) to join in the new kingdom of the Messiah. This is a victorious picture of the redeemed in Christ living within His kingdom, the church now, and with Him in Heaven ultimately.
This is a section that shows that the unification of Jew and Gentile is clearly and unmistakably the work of the Christ. In bringing these two groups together in the Body of Christ (Kingdom) Jesus has done something that would have been considered so improbable that it can only be the work of God. To make matters more interesting, Paul cites Isaiah 11 in this section as being fulfilled in this unity within His Body.
vv. 7-11: Paul admonishes the two groups to accept one another as Christ has accepted them, in other words Jews and Gentiles should accept one another as Jesus has accepted each group; a group of sinners. In doing this, Jesus who became a servant to the Jews, has kept His promise to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God by joining in relationship with God, rather than to continue in rebellion against Him. Paul then goes on to cite several Old Testament passages that confirm this statement. (Rom. 15:9 cf. 2 Sam. 22:50; Ps. 18:49; Rom. 15:10 cf. Deut. 32:43; Rom. 15:11 cf. Ps. 117:1;) Note that these quoted verses are spoken of as present reality.
v. 12: In this verse, Paul quotes Isaiah 11:10 from the Septuagint, which is an ancient translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek as was his custom. Again, this verse is quoted within the context of vv. 7-9 as present reality. I point this out because from time to time people assume that the prophecy of Isaiah 11 must refer to some future date, since lions and lambs don’t usually hang out together these days. However it is vital to understand that prophecy is generally understood as not being literal in fulfillment. In this case, the predators and their prey referred to by Isaiah are about as likely to live in peace as Jews and Gentiles… and Jews and Gentiles are a whole lot more important! For God to accomplish unity in the Body of Christ between Jew and Gentile is every bit as miraculous and theologically speaking much more significant than peace in the animal kingdom.
v. 13: Here, Paul winds up with a prayer for joy and peace amongst God’s people who trust Him, that they may be filled with hope. Considering what we have just seen in these two passages, I would say that if we cannot find hope and trust in God here, then we are woefully weak in understanding. Unity on this earth, in this life between these two devoted and committed enemies of the ancient world may not seem like such a big deal to us… but that is only because of the magnitude of the miracle that God has performed through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.