And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots…. Isaiah 11:1

The mighty Assyrian empire had already conquered the northern kingdoms of Syria and Israel at the time of this prophecy; now it was threatening Judah. Assyria with her ruthless and invincible armies had conquered one nation after another. From a human perspective, Judah appeared to be doomed.

Today, the antichristian kingdom goes about to establish itself. It manifests its agenda in greater and greater wickedness. It shows its hatred of God and the church more and more clearly. Satan assails the church from without and from within in a multitude of ways. We wonder how the church will stand against all her foes.

Near-sighted human eyes might not see the victory. Weak hands and feeble knees might make us imagine the war is lost. The church may seem so small and insignificant and the enemies so great. But God will obtain a glorious victory.


A desolate stump!

This is the picture of the lowly “rod out of the stem of Jesse.” The lowly stump is called the stem of Jesse because it represents the royal house of David that grew out of Jesse’s lineage. This emphasizes its lowliness, in the first place, because Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth (a Moabitess!) and hailed from the little town of Bethlehem. In the second place, the fact that the prophecy refers to a stump indicates that it was once a tree that had grown out of Jesse’s line. God took David from watching sheep and made him a mighty conquering king, who ruled over all the tribes of Israel and even extended her boundaries from the river Euphrates to the river of Egypt. There was a time in Israel’s history when the tree of David’s kingdom seemed vigorous and strong.

However, already in David’s time the tree had become sickly owing to his own sins. Solomon’s marriages to ungodly wives marred the tree further. When Rehoboam took the throne, the tree was disfigured even more as ten tribes were removed. Ungodly kings that followed continued to damage the tree. King Ahaz, to whom Isaiah prophesied, was so wicked he sacrificed more than one of his children in the fire. Even though Judah would escape Assyria’s clutches in Ahaz’ day, Babylon would arise some 120 years later and destroy Jerusalem and the temple and take the people captive. From that captivity, only a handful of people would return to Jerusalem.

The stump of Jesse would lie dormant from then until the time of the New Testament. Judah was never again her own sovereign state, but was always under the rule of others. During that time, the worship of God devolved more and more into mere formality. How painful for the prophets to see the royal house of David reduced to such a condition.

From a human perspective it appeared that nothing would ever come from such a desolate stump. How often has God brought His saints to the same place where all seems hopeless and we wonder how good can come of it!


But God brings forth a tender branch!

Thanks be to God that the desolate stump was not the end of the story. What appears hopeless in our eyes does not hinder God from performing His will in the least. Indeed, God uses those very things to accomplish His purposes. He chooses the foolish things to confound the wise and the weak things to confound the things that are mighty (I Cor. 1:27). In those very times, we are brought to confess, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

The text is a promise of victory! “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” Out of the stump of Jesse, which was level to the ground and seemingly dead, God would bring forth a lowly rod, a small insignificant-looking twig. Out of the roots, God would cause a tender shoot to sprout.

Although the stump of Jesse would lie dormant for centuries, it would bring forth the Branch, in whom is our salvation. A tiny little bud would develop into a small green shoot. What could such a little, despised branch accomplish? Ah, but that branch pictures Christ.

The Hebrew word translated “branch” is netzer, related to the name Nazareth. Matthew tells of the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene, which prophecy was fulfilled in connection with His growing up and living in the town of Nazareth (cf. Matt. 2:23). When Philip announced that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, Nathanael responded with the prevailing view of Nazareth: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). So it was that Jesus of Nazareth, the Branch, would be considered “a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (Ps. 22:6). He would be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3).

Jesus, the despised Branch, experienced rejection already at the time of His birth, when no room was made for Him in the inn. He was despised by King Herod, who killed the infants of Bethlehem in an attempt to get rid of Him. He was despised by the people of His own hometown as they tried to throw Him off a cliff. He was despised by the Jews, who had aspirations for an earthly kingdom. He was despised by the Jewish leaders, who declared Him worthy of death for confessing that He was the Son of God. He was despised by the Roman leader, who thought his own position as governor was more important than justice.

As they despised Jesus, they nailed Him to the accursed cross, upon which He experienced the greatest despising of all. The wonder of the gospel is that Jesus of Nazareth was despised and rejected for our sakes. Though we esteemed Him not, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. What love that God would send forth this tender Branch for us!


But in this tender Branch is our hope of a glorious kingdom!

The tender Branch was laid in the grave, seemingly destroyed once and for all. But God did not leave Him there. He raised Him up from the dead, brought Him into heaven, and set Him at His right hand. The lowly Branch has been exalted, thus giving us a glorious hope.

In spite of the world’s opposition, our confident expectation is that the Branch will become the greatest of trees. Assyria boasted against Judah of old. But God asks Assyria, “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it?” (Is. 10:15). Assyria was but an instrument in God’s hands to chastise His people and ultimately to bring good to them. So, too, the governments of today might boast in their power as they come against the church. But our God is in the heavens working all things according to His sovereign plan to establish the kingdom of Christ in all its fullness.

According to God’s plan, the mighty kingdoms of the world will all come to nothing, just like the Assyrian empire. Assyria boasted, “Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?” (Is. 10:11). But God humbled mighty Assyria and cut her down as one clears a forest, felling the great trees and even cutting the thickets in order completely to lay the forest bare (Is. 10:33-34). So it will be with the world that boasts and rails against Christ and His people.

In the place of this once mighty forest, the Branch will grow up from its roots and bear fruit. He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life was not destroyed. Instead, He sits as King over His everlasting kingdom, gathering, defending, and preserving His church. He sits enthroned in heaven above, ruling over a kingdom that supersedes all the kingdoms of the earth.

No matter then how bleak our circumstances might seem, no matter how great the enemies appear, no matter how weak we may feel, no matter that we do not see the answer immediately, our faithful covenant God will keep His promise. Using what appears to be weakest means, He will give salvation to His people.

Thus we have great hope. We hope expectantly for Jesus Christ to return as the glorious King over His Kingdom.

In this knowledge, our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. Glory be to God for the Rod out of Jesse’s stump and the Branch from his roots!