Isaiah 11:1-5 and 55:1-5 A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins…
…Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
Reflection These two passages from the book of Isaiah reveal how ideas connected with David continued to be an important part of the developing faith of Israel centuries later. In chapter 11 the ‘stump of Jesse’ refers to the Davidic monarchy that had been cut down by the Babylonians and brought to a complete end during the exile.
As Christians we are familiar with this passage being interpreted as a prophecy about Jesus; but its original audience would have understood it as offering hope that God would anoint a new royal leader over them who embodied the ideals associated with David. It expresses a messianic hope that God’s promises to David will continue to be fulfilled even when there is no longer a nation of Israel (and, therefore, no possibility of a king).
David is explicitly mentioned in 55:3 alongside the concept of covenant. This oracle is addressed to God’s people in exile, portrayed as being poor (in every sense) and despondent. It declares that God’s promises to David are being redirected towards the community, the covenant is being democratised. It offers hope by recalling a ‘golden age’ under David’s leadership and transferring the responsibility for re-establishing such a society to the people collectively, rather than an individual. God’s steadfast love is promised to them, God is glorifying them in the eyes of the world – there is hope that God’s kingdom is coming and God’s people will be at its centre, attracting the nations to come and join in.
So here we have two different ways of understanding and re-applying theological traditions about David to bring hope to later generations of God’s people. In both cases the prophetic word speaks into the realities of people’s lives to inspire faith and renew trust in God’s unfailing covenant. May it continue to speak today.
Prayer Eternal God we thank you for your faithfulness and for guiding your people to understand afresh the meaning of your promises in new contexts and changed circumstances. Help us to interpret the ideals of David’s reign into a vision that is relevant to our age and society. Help us, as disciples of Christ, to accept our covenant responsibility to share in your work of bringing it into reality. Amen.
The Revd Dr Janet E Tollington A retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge