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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah 11’

Before all things, we protect our children.

The park just outside my window is frequented by parents and small children, these defenseless little tykes who would not know a leaf from a wasp. Nor do we expect them to know. So, we cradle them in our arms against all threat unseen. We swoop them low to greet the neighbor’s little doggy, though we would not have them crawl beside the four-legger, for who knows what strange ferocity might kick in suddenly in a world like ours.

We expose them gradually to our little park, one that is in the main benign but might harbor here or there a sting, a bite, a lecher too kind.

Yet the book of Isaiah knows a day when such things will be unthinkable, so will wisdom and understanding and justice and fidelity have taken root in this world’s blighted soil, erstwhile a poison but now a garden.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. (Isaiah 11:8 ESV)

This is not a tale of parental neglect. Rather, a ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’, a fruitful ‘branch from his roots’ shall have come first among us, the passage announces at its outset. This one (for the arboreal metaphor soon departs and he is simply ‘he’) will stand as a figure so drenched in YHWH’s wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that everything will be new and all will be peace.

This book called Isaiah, seldom given to baseless utopia, speaks of such a day with profuse confidence once the spell of ugly injustice has been broken. The passage before us becomes one of the Isaiah scroll’s earliest contributions to ‘Jewish messianism’, which can here be abbreviated as the expectation of an agent of YHWH who shall set things gorgeously to rights. The chapter presents this figure in the judging and reproving and straight-setting language of YHWH’s own work in the book’s Vision of Visions back in chapter two. What YHWH will accomplish among the suddenly submissive peoples there, this scion of Jesse’s chopped-down stump will enact here, becoming the kind of judge who is not swayed by appearances but rather sees through them to the real heart of the matter and decides accordingly.

Here, as in that Vision of Visions, the result is what we somewhat misleadingly call paradisiacal.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 11:6–7 ESV)

Soon enough, the text will de-metaphorize itself long enough to signal that the promise is not chiefly about animals. Rather, wolf, lamb, and the rest of them are nations who have quite quickly become the becalmed peoples of whom YHWH can (again) say that ‘they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.’

But that declaration and the explanation that is given for it still await our glimpse of the nursing child and the weaned child who are left to crawl and giggle about the hidings of cobra and adder, not negligently but with understanding of what has become transformed.

The poetry invites its reader to ask with the astonishment that has not been dulled by too much disappointment, has not reduced to cynical disillusion, ‘How could this be?’

Only then does the text give up its reason. It seems that this Figure, this Jesse’s son, this one who perceives, decides, and straightens as YHWH himself does, has not hoarded his understanding. Indeed, he has been globally—cosmically, we are to imagine—generous with it.

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9 ESV)

Everywhere, people shall know YHWH.

No wonder, then, that ‘snakes’ don’t bite and ‘wolves’ snooze amid spring lambs, that infants drool un-dangered, that the whole world is new.

 

 

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