"As The Waters Cover the Sea" (2 Advent - Year A)
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 Prophet Isaiah preaches to us about a coming King who will restore Judah and Jerusalem to righteousness and faithfulness. In 11:1-10, Isaiah gives us a picture of God’s Dream for the world, a vision of how things should and could be when God finally reigns.
This ruler is a shoot from “the stump of Jesse.” Jesse is King David’s father, so this means that the coming King will be from the Davidic family line; he will have royal lineage.
But pay attention to the language here. We are talking about a shoot coming from Jesse’s stump, not a branch from Jesse’s tree. The tree of the kings of Israel has been chopped down, ruined by foreign conquerors. Isaiah writes to a people who have are defeated and downcast, who have very little earthly hope. To them he predicts that God will make things right.
The Ruler who will repair the broken people of God has the following attributes, listed in verses 1-5:
The Spirit of YHWH will rest on him (God chose him);
The Ruler is full of wisdom, counsel, and understanding (he demonstrates prudence);
The Ruler is full of the fear of YHWH (he has spiritual maturity);
The Ruler judges fairly and equitably between all, especially for the poor and meek (he is impartial and fair); and
The Ruler punishes the wicked (he is just)
These attributes combine to demonstrate an exceptional governor. If you wanted to live in a monarchy, this would be the ideal king. And to some degree such a monarch is possible, if rare.
On the other hand, what comes in verses 6-8 demonstrates Isaiah’s King will have a supernatural effect on the world. No mere human being can transform creation and make a fundamentally safer world:
“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.” (Isa 11:6-8)
Predators and prey will live together in peace; they will lose their violent instincts. No one needs to be afraid anymore. As Isaiah says later, “Violence will no more be heard in your land, ruin or destruction within your borders” (Canticle 11, Book of Common Prayer, 87 [Isaiah 60:18]).
Not only is Isaiah’s Coming King supernaturally powerful, he also reverses cultural expectations about kingship. In the ancient world, kings are often depicted fighting and killing lions to prove their valor and worthiness to rule.
Isaiah’s King doesn’t kill lions, but changes them. He transforms their hearts and draws them away from their desire to be dangerous. “He does so in a way that utterly eliminates predatory violence from the food chain” (Chan). The enemy becomes a friend.
In summary, when the Coming King finally reigns, “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” (Isaiah 11:9).
So is Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus? Isn’t that what we are supposed to believe when we read it during Advent? This is a season of hope and prayer for Jesus to return.
But if Jesus is meant to fulfill this prophecy of Isaiah, then his work is not yet done. He came and lived among us; he taught wonderful things; he was crucified, died, and even rose again and ascended into heaven… but the world has not fundamentally changed. Lions still eat lambs, leopards still hunt young goats, bears still kill cows, and snakes still kill human children.
And these are simply the problems we face between different animal species. Our world is corrupted and damaged to a much greater degree by human conflict. People groups divide and segment themselves off into different camps to harm one another. We know this human tendency toward hatred all too well in this community, but it doesn’t just run black and white.
Last weekend, a threatening letter was sent to the Islamic Center of Savannah. It was identical to letter sent to at least five mosques in California. You can read more about it here.
Hate groups like this continue to rise up trying to intimidate and destroy people they consider to be “other.” Whether the “otherness” is called race, color, creed, sexuality, or any number of possible distinctions, the violent impulse is often the same. Predators hunting prey, the so-called “strong” challenging the so-called “weak.”
There are several ways for Christians to respond to all this violence. Allow me to suggest two.
First, we preach and proclaim “the Good News of God in Christ” (BCP, 305). That is, God is Love; and all people are invited to live in unity and peace through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This means challenging the destructive patterns of the world, and speaking truth to power. It means offering practical mercy and hospitality to those in need, especially the poor and the meek who are so easily trampled.
Remarkably, many Savannahians did just that in response to the threats on our Muslim neighbors. After word got out that the Islamic Center received one hate letter, they began receiving a flurry of “love letters” from Savannah residents who wanted the people of the Center to feel welcomed and loved by this community. The news broke Monday and by Tuesday they had received “15-20 letters” (Redman).
I know several other locals who have written letters in the days since, including several people from our Education for Ministry class, and an ecumenical group of Christian and Jewish clergy.
Even though many of the letters come from a different faith or from no faith at all, I believe that this is an outpouring of the Christ-like love and mercy to our neighbors. This is an example of proclaiming “the Good News of God in Christ” through our actions and public witness (BCP, 305).
Second, we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for the restoration of God’s Reign over the Universe. We pray for King Jesus to finish his work of righteousness and peace.
In short, we pray for Isaiah 11:9 to come true in our lives and in our world: “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.”
The Rev. Eric H. F. Law wrote a beautiful hymn that captures the spirit of this prophecy and how we can join our wills to God’s: It is called “As The Waters Cover the Sea” and you can listen to it and read the lyrics below.
I pray for a world one day,
Where no one needs to be afraid;
A world that’s full of the knowledge of peace
As the waters cover the sea,
As the waters cover the sea.
Then the calf and the lion shall eat straw together.
The cow and the bear shall peacefully graze.
Their young shall lie down next to each other.
In their midst, a little child at play.
Then the wolf and the lamb shall live together.
The leopard and the kid, the fierce and the small:
And they’ll all dwell in harmony together
And a little child shall lead them all.
May the Holy Spirit give us the strength to witness to God’s Great Love, and the hope to continue praying for our final restoration.
The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Michael J. Chan, “Commentary on Isaiah 11:1-10,” Working Preacher, accessed 3 December 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3117.
Eric H. F. Law with N2K and Theodicy Jazz Collective (featuring Sandra Montes), “As the Waters Cover the Sea,” in Cycle of Blessings, Grace Margin Music, 2016.
Wendi Redman, “Outpouring of support for the Islamic Center of Savannah after receiving hate-filled letter,” www.WTOC.com, 29 November 2016, http://www.wtoc.com/story/33819105/outpouring-of-support-for-the-islamic-center-of-savannah-after-receiving-hate-filled-letter.
Meredith Stutz, “‘To the Children of Satan,’ letter addressed to Islamic Center of Savannah,” www.WSAV.com, 29 November 2016, http://wsav.com/2016/11/29/to-the-children-of-satan-letter-addressed-to-islamic-center-of-savannah/.