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The Jesse Tree and the New Creation

by Brant Pitre December 20, 2019 0 Comments



 

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Transcript:

In order to understand the significance of John we have to go back to the Old Testament and look at the prophecies of the age of salvation. Now when we do that something significant happens. We will begin to see exactly why John was so important, but we will also begin to understand what the Church is doing during the Advent season. What She is trying to do is to put us into the shoes of first century Jews, who saw John and who recognized that he’s heralding the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, the coming of the Messiah, and not just the coming of the Messiah, but the coming of the Kingdom of God, and, as we will see in a little while, the coming of God himself. So in order to see that, let’s go back to the Old Testament reading for the week. This is from the book of the prophet Isaiah. So for the second Sunday of Advent, we read a very famous and very important prophecy from the book of Isaiah. The lectionary starts in Isaiah 11:1. I’m going to back up just a couple of verses to Isaiah 10:33 just so I can put it in context. What the lectionary is going to give you is a very famous prophecy of the tree of Jesse. We Catholics have heard of the Jesse tree that we use during Advent, that is the text I am bout to read, but I want to put it in context based on John the Baptist’s prophecy. So this is Isaiah 10:33, leading up to the lectionary passage:

Behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts
will lop the boughs with terrifying power;
the great in height will be hewn down,
and the lofty will be brought low.
He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe,
and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall.

Notice what I just read. Isaiah is talking about a time of judgment where God is going to come and he has his axe ready to cut down the trees of the people who don’t bear fruit, who don’t repent, who are immersed in sin. John is obviously alluding to that when he talks about the axe already being laid at the root of the tree. So John is saying the axe that Isaiah spoke of is about to swing. What is the context of that prophecy? That’s the negative side, now look at the positive side. Isaiah 11:1 (this is the lectionary reading):

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.

Let’s pause there for just a second. Let me unpack this for you as we go through. Notice what he just said there in Isaiah 11:1, a shoot from the stump of Jesse. What does that mean? Well any first century Jew would have known that Jesse was the father of King David, who was the greatest king of Israel. So the image of a shoot from the stump of Jesse’s tree is a figure, it’s a metaphor, for the Kingdom of David. So David’s kingdom, because of its sinfulness, has been cut down and now all that’s left is just a stump. But as you know, if you have ever cut down a tree in your backyard, if you cut it down to the stump and then you leave it, what could happen to the stump? It doesn’t necessarily kill the tree, what can happen is a shoot can grow out of that stump so that a new tree emerges from the death of the old tree. That’s exactly what Isaiah is describing here. It’s a metaphor for the Kingdom of David. Although the kingdom of David has been destroyed by the Babylonians and the Assyrians, what’s going to happen is a branch from David’s house, from the house of Jesse, will grow out, and that branch is the Messiah, he’s the son of David, a descendent of David. And he is going to be different, because unlike other kings, he’s going to be anointed, but anointed with the spirit of the Lord. So he is going to have wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord. These are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. He is going to be righteous judge. He is going to judge the poor with equity. He is going to to be a prophet so that he will smite the earth with the rod of his mouth. That is not a real rod but is an image of his word. He is going to slay the wicked with the breath of his lips. Again that’s a metaphor for his prophecy, it’s not bad breath. He is going to be clothed in righteousness. This is all prophecy of the Messiah that is going to come from the tree of Jesse.

This hope then for a future King, a future Kingdom, a Messiah, a prophet, isn’t all. A lot of times Christians will think that the Jews were just waiting for this future King to come and set them free for the Roman Empire. And this is true, some Jews were waiting for that. But if you want to understand John the Baptist, you have to understand that the hopes of the Bible, of the prophets the Old Testament, was much more than just an earthly, political Messiah to set the Jews free from the Roman Empire. You have to read all the prophecies of Isaiah, because if you look here, Isaiah is going to keep talking, not just about a Messiah, but about a new creation, a new Jerusalem, the conversion of the whole world, and even a new temple. So let’s finish the text for the first reading and you’ll see this imagery. Verse 6, when this Messiah comes and the root of Jesse is restored:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall feed;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.

Now you might not have caught it, so just to be clear, look at the imagery here. All this imagery of the wolf with the lamb, the leopard with the kid, and the calf and the lion together, that’s all imagery of Eden. If you go back to the book of Genesis 2–3, there’s peace and harmony not just between Adam and Eve, but Adam and Eve and all creation. So the image here is of an Eden, a paradise restored, where there is no bloodshed, there’s no violence, there’s no strife, and even the child can play with the adder, or the ass with a serpent, without any risk of being harmed. So those are figures for a new creation, for a new Eden. And then again when he says they shall not hurt or destroy my holy mountain, that is the imagery for a new Jerusalem, a new city of God, where there is not going to be any more pain or suffering or crying anymore, but there will be peace and harmony in the world. And then finally, the image of all the earth being full of the knowledge of the Lord, that’s the hope for the conversion of the Gentiles. Whenever you see the image of the Messiah standing as a banner to the nations, that language of nations in Hebrew is goyim, which literally means the Gentile nations or just the Gentiles. So the king of Israel is going to be the banner to the Gentiles and they’re all going to come and worship the God of Israel. And then finally, one last point here, it says that the King, this future king that Isaiah’s describing, that his dwellings shall be glorious. Literally in Hebrew it is his tabernacles shall be glorious. So we have this image of a new sanctuary, a new temple, new places of worship for the glory of God, that will be beautiful and glorious.

So that is what the Jewish people were waiting for. They were waiting for a new kingdom, a new king, a new creation, a new exodus, a new Jerusalem and a new Temple. In other words, they were waiting for all things to be made new and so when John the Baptist comes onto the scene, goes to the waters of the river Jordan, and says the kingdom of heaven is at hand, they all knew what he meant, that he’s heralding the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament at last that had been awaited by Jews for centuries to be fulfilled.



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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