27 May 2010

Isaiah 11:1-9

"The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (v.8-9)


Some scholars suggest that this familiar portion of Isaiah's writing is made up of separate elements from different dates and different authors. Nevertheless, they form a unit in presenting hope in terms of the restoration of King David's rule and in terms of the gathering of the scattered members of the now-exiled Israelite community.

Today's passage provides a fitting climax to the collection of wise sayings which make up the opening part of the book. As we consider the theme of the descending Spirit, this passage points towards the one in whom that Spirit will be made manifest - the long-awaited Messiah. It illustrates the effects that the indwelling Spirit will bring about in the one who is to come, and in the community who awaits his coming.

In the vision of the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, the people of God look for the messianic kingdom to be established. The lost hope becomes refocused upon a new and future figure who would restore the kingdom and fulfil the requirements of the true king. The activity of the divine Spirit will bring about the true kingdom. It will be a kingdom in which judgement with righteousness will overthrow evil. The right order to be established extends beyond humankind and into the natural order - in the ideal world even enmity between animals will cease. Peace and the true religion, expressed as knowledge of the Lord, will be found in the whole earth. The descending Spirit will usher in a new world order in which all creation will live in harmony.

In the early 1990s, when the new South Africa was making preparations for their first post-apartheid free elections, a television advertisement ran which used Isaiah's image of the lamb and the lion lying peacefully together - a clear allusion to the prophecy of Isaiah and an illustration of a new world order. The descending Spirit therefore was not only for distant and ancient Palestine.

To Ponder

Where in the wider world, or in your local context, has a 'new order' lead to improved relationships? What has your church done in your community to make significant changes to the way things work? And what was the outcome?

Some people suggest that politics and religion should be kept apart. And to change the world order does require political and social engagement. How can the Church support those whose daily lives bring them into such places of engagement?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon is superintendent minister at Oxford Place Centre (part of the Leeds Methodist Mission), former mission partner to Tonga and founding member of the Leeds 'Street Chaplains' scheme..