A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (Isaiah 11:1)
The verse above is a promise of hope to a people in crisis. The prophet has spoken to God’s people who have been attacked by enemies and will lose their land and much of their identity. More importantly, they will be tempted to lose their faith in God and the hope that comes with it. Desolation and death seem to be the only possible outcome. In some ways, all appears to be lost.
But the role of the prophet is to help people see what they would have missed without the prophet. When times are coasting along and people need a kick in the pants, a prophet can bring a word of judgment from God, reminding people of their need to be responsible and focus on what matters most. In times of struggle and crisis, the work of a prophet is to call people to remember that God is faithful and still at work, in spite of the pitfalls of the moment. Isaiah is in the second position. He has already announced words of judgment to the people for their unfaithfulness. The words of Isaiah 11 are in the second category: they are to bring hope to people who need to remember that God can be counted on.
We have all been in these same situations in our own lives. Sometimes we have gotten lazy about our discipleship and failed to do the things God desires for us to do. In those moments, we need a good kick in the pants to get us back on track. But at other times, we have been down in the dumps and feeling like there is no way out of our struggle. In those moments we need a word of hope.
Isaiah says, “A shoot shall grow from out of the stump of Jesse.” Jesse was the father of David who would be the first king of a united Israel. By the time of Isaiah, the kingdom and its leadership are in a shambles. It appears that the tree has been cut down and is lying dead. Isaiah’s words remind the people that God can bring life out of that which appears dead. Christians who have met the risen Christ know that this is most certainly true. Isaiah’s message would point to the coming of Jesus, a descendent of David, and the new life he would bring us. Jesus is the hope that fulfills these words. He is our hope as well.