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A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

Isiah 11:1 (NIV)

Question 1: What does this "stump" refer to?

Question 2: I think it is referring to that the trunk of the Messianic line from David was detrunciated. But that happens later, during the Babylonian captivity. If the stump is referring to what I believe, how come that Isaiah is talking about it as detrunciated when it really is not (at least not yet)?

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2 Answers 2

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Judgment and remnant

Isaiah has been prophesying about judgment coming upon Israel as a result of her wickedness. Dr. Constable has this to say:

The prophet had just described Assyria cut down like a forest of trees (10:15-19, 33-34). Likewise, Israel would have only a remnant left after God finished judging her (10:20-23; cf. 6:11-13). Now he pictured a shoot (Heb. nezer) sprouting from one of the stumps left after Israel's harvesting (cf. 4:2; 6:13; 53:1-3; Job 14:7). A shoot would sprout from Jesse's family tree stump.

Isaiah has been prophesying that Israel would be judged, but that a remnant would survive it. By using the imagery of a chopped tree to describe Jesse, the author relates the judgment coming upon Israel to that coming upon Assyria.

Assyria

The first wave of the judgment would come at the hands of Assyria. Isaiah's audience would experience that in very short time, hence his focus on Assyria as God's instrument, and the judgment coming upon Assyria as a result of their evil.

Hope

Isaiah does not simply leave his audience with a promise of judgment, and then judgment of the instrument of judgment. He (like a good prophet) goes on to prophesy about Israel's Messianic hope.

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
Isaiah 11:1

The language that follows makes it clear that this "shoot" / "branch" is the Messiah.

Summary

As God's mouthpiece, Isaiah wants his audience to know that judgment is coming upon Israel, and they (the audience) would experience it at the hands of the Assyrians. With that said, they should rest assured that the Assyrians would get what was coming to them, and the Messiah would one day come through Jesse's line. He would come after the judgment, which should remind them of the hope they had from God of a remnant surviving the judgment.

The focus is on the judgment coming upon Israel, and specifically, that which Isaiah's audience would experience. The reason Jesse's stump is mentioned here (when the Babylonian oppression wouldn't take place until much later) is that it is linked to the post-judgment Messianic hope.

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As to question 1: to John Wesley, the Hebrew word (גֶּזַע, geza) that you see as "stump" in the NIV figuratively refers to a tree stump. That Hebrew word implies:

"the Messiah should be born of the royal house of David, at that time when it was in a most forlorn condition, like a tree cut down, and whereof nothing is left but a stump or root under ground"[1].

As to question 2: Christians orthodoxly believe the writer of the Matthew Gospel had an image of a sprouting twig[2] in mind when he penned that:

  1. "Jesus fulfilled prophecy by being called a Nazarene" (Matt. 2:23), and
  2. "Messiah[3] would be another David, not just a son of David [or some other Davidic (David-like) character] when Messiah appeared. Other prophets referred to the coming ideal Davidic king as 'David' [or "the coming king of Israel," and the like], picturing him as the second coming of David, so to speak....." (cp. Constable, Expository Notes, 2012, ibid.)

Does this info help to answer your concern about "the Messianic line from David was detrunciated"?


1: see John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible entry at Isa. 11:1; cp. G. Campbell Morgan, Exposition on the Whole Bible, 2010, ibid; Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge (TSK) entry at Isa. 11:1.

2: i.e., sprouting from one of the stumps remaining after Israel's "harvesting" (Constable, loc. cit.) by the Assyrians.

3: the Messiah promised to be sent to Israel by YHVH-JeHoVaH.

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Actually I think your answer to question 1 is better in answering also the second one ;) John Wesley says "at the time when..." which suggest that Isaiah is not only foreseeing the coming of Messiah, he is also forseeing the ruination of the Davidic kingdom which goes before it. This is pretty much the answer I would have given myself, but I was curious on if I was right and if there were other interpretations :) –  Niclas Nilsson Dec 18 '13 at 7:15

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