15 December 2015

Isaiah 11:1-9

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." (v.6)

Psalm: Psalm 145:8-21


We often read this passage at Christmas to describe the great joy and hope at the coming of Jesus. It is among the best known passages in the Bible, describing that 'peaceable kingdom' that we look for.

In this passage, the prophecy of a new king for ancient Jerusalem is thought by many to be a prophecy about the Messiah. To acknowledge that the author (the 8th century BC Jerusalem-based prophet Isaiah) did not intend these lines to relate to Jesus is not to diminish their power and place in Christian interpretation - the text pulls out all the rhetorical stops to describe the new life that will accompany the reign of the new king. Christians know this new king and kingdom in the promise of Jesus to transform lives and communities.

This passage almost bursts with joy. It describes a world where all the things that seem out of order are overturned, where all the sources of fear and conflict in human life and also in the natural world are removed.

Edward Hicks (1780-1849) was a Pennsylvania Quaker living during the early years of the United States. He painted the images of these verses many times. In one of his most famous renditions of the 'Peaceable Kingdom', Hicks put William Penn and the early settlers of Pennsylvania making peace with the Native Americans in the background, behind the child and animals. He seemed to imply that this new kingdom was one people could and should achieve - and in his view, the founding of the Quaker haven Pennsylvania in 1677 was not a bad start.

Hicks may have meant to criticise what he saw as increasing selfishness and consumerism of his own time - the faces of the animals stare out with something like reproach. What he would make of our lives and world, we can only speculate.

To Ponder

  • What injustices in present life seem insurmountable? Are they?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.