The Earth Will Be Full

Isaiah 11:1–9

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
 and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
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.
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;
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.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
 and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

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.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
 their young shall lie down together;
 and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
 and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
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 Earth Will Be Full

This has long been for me one of the most moving visions of the prophets. A few years ago, my wife actually did a couple paintings inspired by Isaiah 11. One of a cow and bear grazing together was given to a friend. Another of children playing with snakes hung unfinished in our dining room for a time, startling nearly every new visitor to our home. The sight of something delicate delighting in something dangerous.

It seems an absurd dream, but prophets are not strategists. What they offer is not a ten-step plan but tantalizing poetry. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it, “The prophet engages in futuring fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined.”

Prophets bend and break our expectations for what is possible. Hurt and destruction seem inevitable. Predator and prey are locked in an unending dance. We not only accept but expect headlines of another mass shooting, another kidnapped child, another public scandal. We do not know a world without hostility, violence, and death. But we shall.

Isaiah has already envisioned weapons of war being beaten into farming tools (2:4). Human violence will end. Now, even the animal world is turned upside down. The dynamic of death that seems to sustain the natural world will disappear. 

This vision reminds us that the “judgment” dimension of Christ’s coming is not a narrow matter of sorting out sins and punishments. It is about filling the whole earth together with the incredible peace and complete knowledge of the Lord. May his kingdom come.

by Rev. Nick Chambers