1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 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;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 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.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 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.
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile ended.
Today’s reading is part of an extended messianic and eschatological prophesy in Chapter 11. Although Chapter 11 is included in “First Isaiah” – the period from 730 to 701 BCE — there are differing scholarly opinions as to the time of the composition of the poem in Chapter 11. In particular, verses 6 to 9 are very similar to portions of Isaiah 57 and 65. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, many scholars see today’s reading as part of post-Exilic messianic expectations.
In saying that a “shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse [David’s father]” (v.1), the writer said that the Messiah will be from the House of David. (The Jewish Study Bible points out that the Hebrew word “geza” (translated as “stump”) can refer to not only the stump of a tree that has been cut down, but also to the stump/roots of a living tree.)
The understanding that the Messiah would come from Jesse was combined with the promise by YHWH to David (spoken through Nathan) in 2 Sam.7:13-16 (“I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… your throne shall be established forever”).
The Gospels according to Matthew and Luke both state the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth was Bethlehem, the town from which David came (1 Sam.16).
The Jewish Study Bible notes that in this prophesy of a new age, the poor and the wicked will still be present (v.4), but one of the main attributes of the messianic ruler will be the firm and equitable administration of justice (vv.3-5).
In addition to bringing about peace, harmony, and “righteousness” (everything in proper relationship with everything else), the concluding verse (v.11) implied a restoration of the Davidic Kingdom in which the root of Jesse would “stand as a signal” for the “peoples” and the “nations.” The Hebrew word (goyim) and the Greek word (ethnē) for “peoples” and “nations” are also translatable as “Gentiles.”
4 Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name;”
10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people;”
11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him;”
12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last, and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among other messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
The Roman Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome in 49 CE. His successor, Nero (54-68 CE), allowed Jews (including Jewish Jesus Followers) to return to Rome, and this created tensions about leadership and worship within the Jesus Follower Community. (They were not called “Christians” until the 80’s.)
Paul died in 63 or 64 CE. Accordingly, the Temple in Jerusalem (which was destroyed in 70) was in full operation all during Paul’s life. As a Jew who was also a Jesus Follower, Paul saw the Jesus Follower Movement as part of a broader Judaism and continued to have expectations about the fullness of the Coming of the Messiah/the Christ.
Today’s reading is the continuation of an exhortation by Paul to “we who are strong” (v.1) to “sustain the powerless in their weakness.” This is the literal translation of the words the NRSV translates as “put up with the failings of the weak.” The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that the NRSV translation supports the “traditional” interpretation that the “weak” did not trust God’s faithfulness enough to give up a belief that faithfulness included Torah observance.
Instead, the JANT suggests, Paul himself was an Israelite who was personally Torah-observant and who believed that Jewish Jesus Followers should remain Torah-observant. At the same time, Paul believed that (a) the faithfulness of the Christ brought “righteousness” (a right relation with God) to all peoples, including Gentiles and (b) believers have an obligation to support those Israelites who did not believe that the Christ brought righteousness to all people.
In this context, Paul affirmed the importance of the Scriptures (v.4), which (by definition) were the Hebrew Scriptures. He urged both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers to glorify God with one voice (v.6) and noted the Jewishness of Jesus of Nazareth (“servant of the circumcised” (v.9).
In verses 9, 10 and 11, Paul emphasized the interwoven destinies of Jews and Gentiles. He loosely paraphrased (most likely because he relied on the LXX Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) verses from Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 117:1. In verse 12, he paraphrased the last verse of today’s reading from Isaiah and stated that the “root of Jesse” would “rule the Gentiles.”
1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ origins and identity. Written around 85 CE by an anonymous author, the Gospel began Jesus’s genealogy with Abraham and depicted Jesus as a teacher of the Law like Moses. More than any other Gospel, Matthew quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (using the Greek Septuagint Translation) to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.
Having been written after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Gospel reflected the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of Judaism going forward. Accordingly, the Gospel contains many harsh sayings about the Pharisees. The Gospel is aimed primarily at the late First Century Jewish Jesus Follower community.
The Gospel relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark and included all but 60 verses from Mark. Like Luke, Matthew also used a “Sayings Source” (called “Q” by scholars). There are also a substantial number of stories that are unique to Matthew: the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception was revealed to Joseph in a dream (rather than by an angel to Mary as in Luke); the Visit of the Magi; the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Flight to Egypt; the Laborers in the Vineyard; and the earthquake on Easter Morning, among others.
In today’s reading, Matthew moved from the travel of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Nazareth after their time in Egypt (2:23) to the appearance of John the Baptist in the wilderness and at the River Jordan preaching repentance. (This is where the Gospel of Mark begins.)
Matthew’s account followed Mark with some exceptions. Matthew had John speak of the “Kingdom of Heaven” (v.2) — his customary circumlocution for the Kingdom of God. This is a recognition that Matthew’s audience was primarily Jewish Jesus Followers for whom the word “God” was not to be spoken or written.
Like Mark, this gospel used hyperbole and claimed that all Judea (v.5) came to be baptized by John. John’s dress and diet (v.4) were derived from Elijah (2 Kings 1:8 and Zech. 13:4).
In Jesus’ time, according to Josephus (a First Century historian), the three principal sects within Judaism were the Sadducees (hereditary priesthood who understood the Torah literally and exclusively), the Pharisees (learned in the Law and who claimed there was also an “oral Torah” or interpretations – sometimes called the “traditions of the elders”), and the Essenes (who were separated from the mainstream).
The “brood of vipers” condemnation (v.7) is “Q” material and is only in Matthew and Luke. In Luke, John condemned “the crowds” (Luke 3:7) rather than the Sadducees and Pharisees. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Sadducees were seen as significant in persuading Pilate to order Jesus’ crucifixion. By 85 CE, the Pharisees were the opponents of the Jesus Followers for control of the future of Judaism after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.
Because a person performing a baptism is often seen as “superior” to the baptized person, Jesus’ baptism by John created a “need” to show John’s subordination. All four gospels contain language about his unworthiness to untie Jesus’ sandals (Matthew said “carry” which The New Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests may reflect a later rabbinic refinement). After today’s reading, Matthew added a colloquy in which John said to Jesus that he ought to be baptized by Jesus, but Jesus told him to proceed with the baptism to “fulfill all righteousness” (3:14-15).
In A Season for the Spirit, Martin Smith suggests that Jesus’ Baptism was a statement of Jesus’ essential humanity and his relationship with us. Although aware of his sinless state, Jesus did not stand apart from sinners but submitted to baptism as one of us.