Continuing his look at the restoration of God's people that would come after the destruction Assyria would visit upon Israel and Judah (as well as after the Babylonian exile), Isaiah in today's passage records another well-known prophecy. This is the famous text that foresees a shoot coming forth from "the stump of Jesse," a shoot whose reign would destroy all evil and bring peace to the earth (Isa. 11:1–11).
Let us not miss the significance of all the prophet is saying. First, Isaiah speaks of "the stump of Jesse" (v. 1). The image here is of a tree that has been so devastated that only a stump remains. Jesse, of course, was the father of King David (1 Sam. 16:1–13), so Isaiah is speaking of the Davidic line of kings. The prophet saw that things were going to get very bad for the people of God. David's line would decline to such a degree that it would be essentially left for dead. History tells us this is exactly what happened, with David's royal dynasty all but dying out as a result of God's judgment of His people through Assyria and Babylon. Nevertheless, Isaiah also saw that while the Davidic line would seem to be dead, life would remain within the stump. A shoot—life barely detectable at first—would emerge. But once this shoot went forth, it would become a mighty tree. A king of humble origins would be a signal for the nations after the exile (Isa. 11:2–10).
All of this is brought out in Isaiah's reference to the shoot "from Jesse," not "from David" (v. 1). John Calvin comments that Isaiah "does not call him David, but Jesse; because the rank of that family had sunk so low, that it appeared to be not a royal family, but that of a mean peasant, such as the family of Jesse was, when David was unexpectedly called to the government of the kingdom." However, that is not the only significance in Isaiah's reference to the coming Messiah being the shoot of Jesse. Commentators point out that the only king in the Old Testament who was called the son of Jesse was David. All of the rest of the kings were called sons "of David." In applying the parentage of Jesse specifically to the coming Messiah, Isaiah is doing more than revealing the family from whom the Messiah will come. He is revealing that the Messiah will be at least as important in the history of redemption as David was. In fact, as later revelation tells us, the Messiah is even greater than David, being David's Lord as well as David's son (Ps. 110:1; Mark 12:35–37).
One of the things that makes Jesus the Messiah greater than even David himself is His righteousness in judging the poor and deciding with equity for “the meek of the earth” (Isa. 11:4). Christ is the incomparably noble and righteous King, the only one who can flawlessly ensure that the least of all people will receive perfect justice. This is a great comfort for us in an increasingly anti-Christian society that seeks to marginalize and silence us.