Tuesday of Week 1 of Advent – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 11:1-10

We have today a messianic poem describing the principal features of the coming Messiah:

  • he is of Davidic stock;
  • he will be filled with the spirit of the prophets who went before him;
  • he will establish a society reflecting the peace and harmony of God himself.
  • The reading is a beautiful portrait of Jesus, although that was not in the mind of the prophet when this was written. It is a description of a future kingdom of peace. There is some dispute as to the author and the time of its writing. The emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit seems to point to a later period.

    It begins:

    A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse…

    Jesse was the father of David, and Jesus, of course, came through the Davidic line. The line is described as “the stock”, meaning root-stock, rather than a tree because, after the Babylonian exile, very little of the Davidic dynasty remained. But it is enough to produce the shoot that will be Jesus, the messianic King.

    He is endowed with the beautiful gifts of the Spirit – the Spirit of God is seen operative throughout biblical history. It is first seen hovering over the abyss at the beginning of creation. It will inspire the Judges, give Joseph his wisdom, and guide the true prophets (the false prophets follow their own spirit). Later, that same Spirit will come down on Jesus as he is baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan. It is the same Spirit which we wish to be the guide of our own lives, too.

    The Spirit’s gifts are listed in three pairs. Only six of the usual seven are mentioned here; the seventh, the ‘spirit of piety’, is added by the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, which early Christian writers often used. The New Jerusalem Bible says:

    “The prophetic spirit confers on the Messiah the outstanding virtues of his great ancestors: the wisdom and insight of Solomon, the heroism and prudence of David, the knowledge and fear of God characteristic of patriarch and prophet – of Moses, Jacob and Abraham.”

    Endowed with these gifts, the coming Messiah will be gifted with deep insight that goes beyond just what the senses perceive:

    He shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge for the poor and decide with equity for the oppressed of the earth…

    This will result in justice for the poor and the weak, but death for the wicked.

    This combination of spiritual giftedness and deep sensitivity for those in greatest need brings about an environment of peace, symbolised by normally hostile animals lying down together in harmony. The sign that true justice prevails is the presence of enduring peace and harmony.

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