We remain in the season of Advent this week, this first season of the church’s liturgical year that ebbs and flows in a series of worship and contemplation and learning. Advent is the season of hopeful, expectant anticipation as we look eagerly toward the events that we celebrate on December 24 and 25 when we remember and glory in the incarnation of God the Son as Emmanuel – God With Us and among us and as one of us. God, giving up the rights and throne and wonders of heaven – not considering them things to grasp hold of and cling to – but giving them up to become a helpless baby laying on the hay in a manger inside a stable because there was no room in the inn for a heavily pregnant woman to deliver her baby. Such would be the story of the life of Jesus who said that foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man had no place on which to rest His head.
And as we consider this season of waiting, of anticipating, of expecting and hoping, we are asking the question: What are we waiting for? What good is our waiting? Does the promise of Advent that will be fulfilled with Christmas and Christmastide and the rest of the things the church celebrates in the coming year – does this promise really give us something concrete and reasonable to set our mind and our lives on? What are we waiting for?
Last week we talked about the promise of the coming Pax Dei – a realm of true and lasting peace that will overwhelm and eternally outlast all of the other “Pax”es that the world has seen – from Rome to Great Britain to our very own Pax Americana. They all have or will pass away, but one day we will see a new peace, a new hegemony when the Messiah comes – in His second advent – to finally and permanently establish the throne of David as it should have been from of old. The peace will be complete, worldwide. The peace will encourage and inspire the world to give up war and give up the making of the instruments of war. Indeed, even the existing weapons will be refashioned for peaceful uses. This is worth waiting for. Compared to what we have now, the Pax Dei is a certain coming Utopia. We cling to such as this.
But there is more, as we continue looking at the reasons that the wait is worthwhile. What are we waiting for? For the Pax Dei, certainly, but more than that. We are waiting for not just peace and a lasting peace, but we are also waiting for justice and righteousness to supplant and remove the lawlessness, greed, and self-serving manifestations of power that currently plague our world.
I played my first role in determining the course of our nation in the election that determined whether Bill Clinton would have a second term or if Bob Dole would replace him as President. My 18th birthday came just in time to allow me to register to vote. In that election and the ones that followed with the possible exception of one of them, I found myself struggling over how to cast my vote that so many in the world would love to have the chance to cast. My dilemma was this: the candidates always seemed to be so similar. Certainly, there were passionate differences of opinion over how best to govern our people, but basically, the gentlemen on either side of the ticket really just wanted one thing: my vote. And oftentimes they have been willing to cater to almost any of my desires in order to obtain it. John Kerry in 2004 became famous for his oft-changing opinions and beliefs. So many times my thoughts have been that the election is a choice of the lesser of two evils. Neither one really appeared to be the best person for the job or to have the kind of character really necessary to make a good national leader. But they were the choices, and either one or the other would be sworn in the following January. So vote I did.
And that’s the problem of politics. Once an election is over, it’s a race to the next election and securing a future. Decisions of legislators rest more on their campaign funding chest than on their actual opinions, much less on what is actually best for the people they represent – on whatever scale. Even a term-limited politician barred from seeking re-election still hedges choices on what they will entitle him or her to once the office job is completed. I mentioned last week about Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, which sees anything that increases personal power as a virtue and anything that does not increase personal power as not a virtue. This has been the way the world has operated ever since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. We are in a reckless pursuit of whatever will allow me to get the position, title, money, or something else that I want. I want the power to have what I want. Everything is about “the me” and making sure that “the me” is satisfied and happy.
I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see something different working in our government offices. I’d love to see a different kind of power, a different kind of pursuit, a different kind of agenda overwhelm those who are in office. And I do not think that every politician is so base as to adhere unswervingly to the principles outlined in The Prince. There are certainly many, particularly local politicians, who truly do have the people’s best at heart and want to see that through – even if it costs them the next election. But just watch the play-by-play in the coming months in Washington as Congress determines how to redistrict the nation’s 435 representatives according to the figures of the 2010 Census to get a vision of the worst of self-serving politics in action.
But there is something better. There is hope beyond the craziness of our political spectacles. And this is what our Scripture Lesson today shows us. Isaiah first talked about the hope of the Messiah’s reign back in Isaiah 2, which we looked at last week. He mentions some of it briefly again in Isaiah 9 as the travesties of King Ahaz began to tear the kingdom of Judah apart under God’s wrath. And here in Isaiah 11, the prophet paints a beautiful picture of what government should look like. Government that is righteous. Government that is just. Government that is pure. Government that seeks the best for the governed, not the only the best for the governing.
Isaiah speaks of this “something better” as a shoot that comes from the stump of Jesse. Jesse was David’s father – therefore, Jesse was the beginning of the tree that was the Davidic line of kings. It is significant that this tree is described as a stump. The family tree has been felled. In other words, no longer is there a man of David filling out this tree. It has become weak, nothing more than a stump. As Isaiah predicted, the kingdom of Judah would indeed eventually fall to the power of the Babylonian army. Her king would be carted off into exile and a puppet put up in his place, with the puppet himself being carted off to his doom after trying to rebel. The tree would fall.
It’s also interesting to note that Isaiah speaks of Jesse as the progenitor. In the histories recorded in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, only David is said to be the son of Jesse. All of the other kings of Judah were said to be sons of David – he became the new progenitor. But here in Isaiah, the prophet reaches back again to Jesse. Jesus would be a son of David, to fulfill the Davidic promise, but He would be more than that. He would be a new David, and the Messiah would have the same styling as David did – both of them sons of Jesse. Instead of Jesus falling under David as all of David’s successors did, the Messiah is equal to him, indeed greater than him. The Messiah – Jesus – would be the king that David failed to be.
So what would this king look like? What would set the Messiah-king apart from all of the rest of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem and in all other human capitals the world over? Isaiah goes on to describe this Messiah-king is great detail starting in verse 2 of chapter 11. He begins by saying that the Spirit of the LORD will rest upon him. To us post-Pentecost believers, this may not seem like such a big thing. But for a listener or reader of Isaiah prior to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, it was a huge deal. Only a very few select individuals had the Spirit of God poured out on them in the time before Jesus – and even those that received the Spirit might have it only briefly. Moses and Joshua were both given the Lord’s spirit for the lifetime of their leadership. Saul was given the spirit when he became Israel’s first king, but it was removed from him when he turned away from God. Elijah and Elisha were given God’s spirit as well, but they were among the few. So to say that the Spirit of the LORD would rest on the Messiah was an awesome picture.
The Spirit “resting” is a beautiful description. Noah’s ark was said to “rest” on the mountains of Ararat. Whenever the Israelites would pause in their journeys or before or after a battle, the Ark of the Covenant was said to rest. The locusts that plagued Egypt prior to the Exodus were described as resting on the land. The word seems to have originally described a camel settling in for the night after a long journey. It’s a picture of complete relaxation without a sense that there is going to be any sudden change or movement away. While it’s not necessarily a permanent position, it is not fleeting either. It is a resting – a settling in – that does not look for the next thing. It is content in the present moment. And this is how the Spirit will rest or settle on the Messiah.
And this Spirit that rests on the Messiah is described by six modifiers. There are six particular benefits that the Spirit will bring to this future idyllic king by virtue of being with him. The six of them are given in three different pairs. The Spirit of the LORD is said to bring the Messiah wisdom and understanding. Wisdom is a popular theme in the Old Testament. A whole genre of books is called the Wisdom Literature or Wisdom Books – the five books from Job through Song of Solomon. Wisdom is the practical knowledge of dealing well with life and everything that it brings. It includes prudence in dealing with people, skills in art and work, morality, and spiritual experience. All of it ties together into a practical way of living life well.
But wisdom does not stand alone. It is paired with understanding. There is simple head knowledge – the regular collecting of data and information that we do automatically through our eyes, ears, and senses of touch, taste, and smell. There is the wisdom of living life well. But then there is understanding – insight and discernment into taking all of the information that we collect and turning it into something greater than the sum of its parts. Understanding involves more than just IQ, but moves on to relying on the character that someone has developed over time. It is knowledge, but it is knowledge that is well used. And the Messiah will have these. Wisdom for practical living and understanding to take all of the things that come at him and make the best use that he can.
The Spirit will also provide counsel and might. Counsel is just want it sounds like. Someone charged with a crime retains counsel to advise him or her how to proceed. The President and other government leaders surround themselves with those who will provide good counsel on various areas of expertise from national security to finance to the weather to battle planning. The Messiah will have access to a perfect counselor in the Holy Spirit – indeed, a Counselor who rests on Him and is always with Him. We, too, as believers, have access to this same Counselor that Jesus promised He would send us after His ascension. The Counselor provides advice and insight that any good king or leader should desire.
Moreso, the Spirit will come with might. David was described as having a troop of 30 Mighty Men who went with him. These were valiant warriors, well tested and proved in battle and confrontation. They are heroes of war akin to Navy SEALs, the Green Berets, and other special forces within the American military. This might signals strength and vitality that can withstand any challenge. So the Messiah will be strong mentally and He will be strong physically.
The third pairing brings together knowledge and fear of the LORD as gifts of the Spirit who will come to rest on the Messiah-King. The Messiah will know what is going on in the world. He will be aware. Jesus, as the second person of the Divine Trinity, is omniscient. Certainly, He has the knowledge of which Isaiah speaks. Nothing will escape His eye or mind. He will know what is going on. And He will fear the LORD. This fear isn’t a fear that leads to trepidation. He is not afraid of God. Rather, He stands appropriately aware of and in awe of God. He will respect God. This is something that the sons of David had failed to do. They lost sight of the reverence of the God who had brought them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Not so with the Messiah. He would have the Spirit that would instill in him the fear of the LORD. Indeed, verse 3 goes on to say that He will delight in it. He will make his joy and passion bringing worship to God. Oh that we could have such leaders in our nation today!
The rest of verse 3 and on to verse 5 continue on to describe what effect these gifts of the Spirit will have on the King’s rule and governance. Consider the difference from our own experience with government and politics. He will not let visual cues – like how someone looks or dresses – sway his opinions. He will not allow language, dialect, or accent to affect His judgments. How many juries do you think view a black man with poor English, a thick drawl, and shabby clothing in the same way as an articulate white CEO in a business suit? And yet the Messiah-King will be unaffected by such visual and verbal cues.
The Messiah’s word alone will be sufficient to bring order to the chaos of the world. And not out of fear of reprisal, but because the word that He speaks will be truth – it will be right. He will be a king who does not deviate from the standards of God. He will be a king who steadfastly and firmly stays the course – these are the righteousness and faithfulness with which he will gird himself.
Verses 6-9 paint a picture of the world ruled in such a way. A world where innocence and safety hold sway. Earlier in Isaiah, the prophet had foretold that a signal would stand and call judgment down on Israel from the nations of the world so to destroy and disperse the people of God away from the land as punishment for their sins. This is reversed in Isaiah 11:10, where the Messiah-King serves as another ensign or sign calling the people of God back to him, bringing them together again from their dispersion. Recalling them from, as verse 11 lists, literally all the parts of the known world.
If this kind of person were to rise up and stand for election, would they not garner your passionate support and vote? Is this not exactly the kind of leader and lawmaker and judge that we desperately wish we could find? We are so accustomed to the drivel that we actually have on our ballots that we can barely even imagine such purity coming out of government again. Such righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. But this is what we wait for. This is what Advent is about. This is what that baby in the manger promises to bring in His second coming.
This, I suggest, is worth waiting for.
And wait we do. For the peace of God that we read about in Isaiah 2, and also for the righteousness, justice, and faithfulness of a high, benevolent, patient, and loving king who will reign over us with wisdom and compassion and perfect judgment. His love and kindness will prevail and call all of the world to Himself. This is what we are looking forward to. This is what we are waiting for. This is what we are hoping for. What do you say? Is it worth it?