Father Maas’ Commentary on Isaiah 11:1-10

Note: Actually, Father Maas treats of Isa 11:1-16. The spelling for the names of peoples and places follows that of the Douay-Rheims, as does the numbering of the Psalms.


1. THE PEOPHECY AND ITS CONTEXT. The prophet describes, (in Is. 9:8-10:44), in four stanzas, each ending with the same ominous refrain, the approaching ruin of the northern kingdom, which he traces to its moral and social depravity. The prophet then calls attention to the Assyrians, whose pride and ambition and sudden ruin he portrays in Is. 10:5-34. In Is. 10:28-32 he represents the Assyrians as advancing against Jerusalem by the usual line of approach from the north. All the towns and cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem are successively occupied by the enemy: Aiath, Magron, Machmas, Gaba, Rama, all of which belong to the tribe of Benjamin. Then the conqueror approaches nearer to the capital, destroys Gabaath of Saul, Gallim, Laisa, Anathoth, Medemena, Gabim, Kobe. From Nobe the enemy threatens Jerusalem in such a manner that the prophet’s description appears to apply to the attack of Sennacherib (2 Kings 18; Is. 36.). This is the view of Corluy, Ewald, Schrader, Stade; R. W. Smith places the prophecy in the beginning of Sargon’s reign (Proph. pp. 297 if.); Dillmann agrees with Smith, but Kuenen places it towards the end of Sargon’s reign. But the towering cedar, Libanus with its high ones, shall fall, the pride of the Assyrians will be broken, and the vine planted by God’s own hands, the holy seed, shall retain its vital strength and substance. Of him, the root of David and the stem of Jesse, this prophecy treats. Isaias has twice before treated of the Messias immediately after describing the ruin of the Assyrians: in Is. 8-10 and Is. 9:4 ff. The transition from the ruin of the enemy to the reign of the Emmanuel cannot therefore surprise us in this passage, the less so as the destruction of the former typically represents the victory of the Messias over his enemies. The person of the Messias is described in Is 11:1-5; the character of his kingdom is indicated in Is. 11:6-9; the wide extent of his kingdom is traced in Is. 11:10-16.

2. MESSIANIC CHARACTER OF THE PROPHECY. a. The prophecy cannot apply to Ezechias, as it is applied by Moses Hakkohen, Aben Ezra, Grotius, v. der Hardt, Paulus, Hensler, Hezel, Bahrdt, Augusti, Hendewerk, etc. St. Ephrem does not reject this application of the prophecy, though he prefers the Messianic reference. Reasons: (1) The prophecy speaks of a king who is still to be born, while Ezechias lived and reigned at the time when the prophecy was uttered. For in Is. 10:11 Samaria is supposed to have been taken; but Samaria was taken in the sixth or the seventh year of Ezechias reign. (2) Then Ezechias was not such an extraordinary ruler as to verify all that is said by the prophet concerning the person, the rule, and the extent of empire of the king in the present passage. (3) And this prophetic praise was the less due to Ezechias, as it was under his reign that the Assyrian king Sennacherib invaded the Jewish territory and besieged its capital (2 Kings 18-19). (4) At the time of Ezechias the Jewish people had not yet suffered exile, so that he could not bring back the remnant of the people (v. 16). (5) There is no proof that Ezechias was a special sign for the nations, or that he received the homage of the Gentiles. (6) To say that the spirit of his mouth was nothing but the prayer of the king by which he overcame the Assyrians, is to do violence to the meaning of the prophet’s language.

1). The prophecy cannot be applied to Zorobabel, the ruler and leader of the returning captives, as it has been interpreted by some Jewish writers at the time of Theodoret. Reasons: (I1Zorobabel is not the author of such peace as is described in the prophecy, nor does he possess the divine gifts attributed to the king therein. (2) Zorobabel was the head and ruler of a few Jews only, and had no sway over any of the Gentiles. (3) Zorobabel cannot be said to have slain the wicked with the breath of his lips. (4) At Zorobabel’s time no union existed between Juda and Ephraim, as verse 13 supposes. (5) At the time of Zorobabel David s royal family cannot be said to have been a mere root left of the whole Davidic tree.

c. The prophecy must be applied to the Messias. (1) Rev 5:5 calls Jesus “the lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David.”  Hence Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecy “there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse. . . .” (2) In Zechariah 3:8; 6:12; Is 4:2; Jer 23:5; 33:15, the Messias is called tsemach or root, or branch. Here then we have a series of Messianic prophecies parallel to the present. Rom 15 too, calls Jesus the root of Jesse, and in Is 53:2 and Ezech 17:22 the Messias is represented as growing up out of a thirsty ground, as a root and a tender branch. (3) In 2 Thess 2:8 the wicked one is said to arise whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the spirit of his mouth, which is evidently a fulfilment of the 4th verse of the prophecy. Besides, to slay the wicked with the breath of his lips has been granted to no merely earthly king, since no earthly monarch has received so abundantly the gifts of the Holy Ghost as we find communicated to the king of the prophecy according to verses 2, 3. (4) Again, the subjection of the Gentiles to the sway of a Jewish king is throughout the Old Testament the characteristic note of Messianic rule. (5) We need hardly point out the Messianic nature of the whole context of the prophecy: to deny that the ruler described in Is 11 is the Messias implies a difference between him and the Emmanuel of the preceding chapters, and thus destroys the unity of the whole passage. (6) The references to the patristic testimonies in favor of the Messianic character of the prophecy may be found in Kilber’s Analysis Biblica (ed. Tailhan, i. p. 359); Keinke in his “Messianische Weissagungen” (in. h. 1.) has collected a great number of these patristic passages. (7) The Jewish writers, too, interpret the prophecy Messianically:

Verse 1. The Targum renders: And there shall go forth a king from the sons of Jesse, and Messias shall be anointed from his children s children. Bereshith E., sect. 85, on Gen 38:18, has the following passage: This denotes the king Messias, for it is said, And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse. Cf. Bereshith E. 99, ed. Warsh. p. 178 b. In Yalkut (vol. i. p. 247 d, near the top) we read how God showed Moses all the spirits of the rulers and prophets in Israel, and from that time forward to the Resurrection, it is said that all had one knowledge and one spirit, but that, according to Is 11:1, the Messias had a spirit which was equal to all the others put together.

Verse 2. Bereshith E. 2 and 8; Yayyikra E. 14 and other passages explain the Spirit of God of the Spirit of the king Messias with reference to Is 11:2. Yalkut on Prov 19:20 (vol. ii. p. 133 a) quotes Is 11:2 in connection with Messianic times, when by wisdom, understanding and knowledge the temple will be built again. Cf. Pirq. de E. El. 3; Sanhedr. fol. 93, col. 2.

Verse 3. Sanhedrin, fol. 93, col. 2, has on this verse: Rabbi Alexander says: The word veharicho [his scent] teaches us that the Holy One has laden the Messias with commandments and sufferings which were as heavy as millstones. . . . Bar Coziba reigned two years and a half, and he told the Kabbis that he was the Messias. They replied, It it written of the Messias that he would scent out the good; canst thou do the same? When they saw that he could not do it, they slew him. The good in this passage refers to the secret thoughts of the heart.

Verse 4- The Midrash on Ps 2:2 and Ruth 2:14 applies the words he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth in a Messianic sense. Cf. Yalkut on Is 60.

Verse 6. The Targum renders: In the day of Israels Messias, peace shall be multiplied on earth.

Verse 7. Shemoth R. 15 (ed. Warsh., p. 24 b) cites Is 11:7 as containing one of the ten new things which God will make in the latter, i.e., the Messianic days.

Verse 10. Berach. 57a says that Israel will not require to be taught by the king Messias in the latter days, since it is written, him the Gentiles shall beseech(Is 11:10). The Midrash on Ps 21:2 identifies the king there spoken of with the subject of Is 11:10; R. Chaninah adds that the object of the Messias is to give certain commandments to the Gentiles, not to the Israelites, who are to learn from God himself.

Verse 11. Yalkut (vol. i. p. 31b and vol. ii. p. 38a) applies this verse to the Messias. The same interpretation may be found in Midrash on Ps 107:2.

Verse 12. The Midrash on Lam 1:2 indicates that because Israel has sinned from Aleph to Tav, God will in the latter days bless them from Aleph to Tav (i.e., through the whole alphabet), and verse 12 is here Messianically explained.  Note: from Aleph to Tav is like our saying from A to Z. The entire breadth of the alphabet was a symbol of fulness. Israel sinned in full measure, yet in spite of this, in latter times, God will bless Israel in full measure. In it’s own way the idea reflects St Paul’s statement in Rom 5:20~And where sin abounded, grace did more abound.


Isa 11:1  And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.

There shall come forth a rod. Instead of root the Hebrew text has properly stock the part left in the earth after the tree has been cut down. The royal family of David was to sink to the level of common life, the royal house was to fall back upon its family domain in Bethlehem, near which Jesus was horn. Instead of flower the Hebrew text has branch; Aquila renders it slender shoot or twig; the LXX. translate flower. Gesenius and Furst derive the Hebrew word from a conjectural root meaning to be bright or verdant. This agrees with the LXX. version flower, and with the situation of the upland valley in which the town Netser or Nazareth stands, where the birth of the son of David was announced by the angel Gabriel. The original reading of Matt 2:23 must have been the Aramaic Nitsra, which was later referred to the town of Jesus birth instead of to the  flower of the prophet Isaias. Cf. comment on Matt 2:23.

In connection with this verse we may investigate whether the rod
out of the root of Jesse refers to the Blessed Virgin, Jesus Christ
being the flower from the same root.

Opinions: a. The rod applies to the Blessed Virgin, and the flower to Jesus Christ (Jerome, Tertullian, Leo the Great, Ambrose, Haimo, Herveus, St. Thomas, Pinto, Sanchez, aLapide, Menochius, Tirinus, Gordon, etc.). The reasons for this view are: 1. Jesus is of the root of Jesse through the Blessed Virgin; 2. the flower rises immediately from the branch, and only mediately from the root or the stock.

b. Jesus Christ is represented by both the rod and the flower (Ephrem, Cyril of Alexandria, Hilary, Procopius, Eusebius, Theodoret, Osorio, Foreiro, Vatable, Calmet, Knabenbauer, Corluy, etc.). The reasons for this view are the following: 1. There is no mention of the Blessed Virgin in the context; 2. the word rod is of the masculine gender in the Hebrew text, so that it can hardly be used as a name of the Blessed Virgin; 3. the parallelism is better preserved if both rod and flower denote the same person; 4. moreover, there is in the Hebrew text no sign that the rod and the flower differ in origin, both springing from the root or the stock. This second opinion appears, therefore, more probable than the

Isa 11:2  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness.
Isa 11:3  And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord, He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears.

Isa 11:4  But he shall judge the poor with justice, and shall reprove with equity the meek of the earth: and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Isa 11:5  And justice shall be the girdle of his loins: and faith the girdle of his reins.

And the spirit of the Lord(verse 2). What is rendered godliness is according to the Hebrew text the fear of the Lord.  And since in the following sentence (verse 3) the spirit of the fear of the Lord occurs again, we may rightly ask whether the Hebrew text enumerates seven or only six gifts of the Holy Ghost: a. Delitzsch, Nagelsbach, and others admit that the Hebrew text enumerates seven spirits, but they regard the spirit of the Lord as the first of the number; as the fear of the Lord is the basis of all that belongs to the Christian life, so is the spirit of the Lord its centre and heart. It is clear that this explanation can hardly be accepted, since the text clearly enumerates the special gifts as so many manifestations or effects of the one spirit of the Lord.  The contention of these authors that the doctrine of the seven spirits (Rev 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6) is based on the present passage may be correct, but the passage cannot be explained as they explain it. b. Knabenbauer maintains with a number of other Catholic writers that even in the Hebrew text the  fear of the Lord, repeated as it is, signifies two different gifts of the Holy Ghost. He appeals to the broadness of meaning which the  fear of the Lord has in the Old Testament. In Prov 1:7; 9:10; Sirach 1:16, it is called the beginning of wisdom; while in Sirach 1:16; 19:18; 40:28, it is supposed to be all wisdom, its crown and highest glory, a paradise of all blessing. Again, Knabenbauer insists on the special manner in which the fear of the Lord is to possess the soul of the Messianic king, as if this were a proof for the number seven of the spiritual gifts. These arguments are at the best not convincing, c. Corluy, Calmet, and other writers maintain that the Hebrew text enumerates only six gifts of the Holy Ghost. When speaking of the Hebrew text, they understand the text as it is today, affirming or denying nothing about the possibility of another reading having existed at the time of the early versions.

We need hardly point out the connection between the various gifts: wisdom discerns the last end, while understanding enlightens us regarding the proper means; fear of the Lord or godliness is the disposition of will needed by every Christian to employ the proper means, and knowledge is the practical intellectual habit, directing every Christian in his ordinary observance of the necessary precautions and the ordinary use of the proper means; fortitude, on the other hand, is the disposition of will which employs extraordinary means in order to attain the last end, and the spirit of counsel supplies the practical intellectual guidance in this heroic path of sanctity (cf. St. Thorn. la., IIae. q. 68).

A word must be added about the Hebrew text of the clause and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. The literal rendering is and his scenting is in the fear of the Lord.

Explanations: a. The ancient versions regard the verb as finite, not as an infinitive; hence the LXX. and Jerome: he will fill him. with . . .; the Syriac: and he shall rise in the spirit . . .; the Chaldee: and the Lord shall apply him to his fear. If we consider the mere analogy of language, the verb may have this active, transitive meaning; but the actual use of the verb in the Old Testament, even according to the Vulgate version, does not sanction this etymological induction. Cf. Ex 30:38; Lev 26:31; Amos 5:21; Gen Gen 8:1; Deut 4:28; 1 Kings 26:19; Ps 115:6;  Jud 15:9; Job 39:25; Gen 27:7. In all these passages the form has rather the meaning to perceive an odorto delight in an odor than the causative sense to fill with an odor.

b. He shall breathe only the fear of the Lord (Foreiro, Herder, Hensler, Paulus, Hendewerk, Ewald, Nftgelsbach, Bredenkamp). Against this explanation the presence of the Hebrew preposition in before the fear of the Lord offers an insurmountable difficulty.

c. He shall delight in the fear of the Lord (Corluy, Gesenius, Hitzig Hengstenberg, Knobel, Reinke, Bade, Rohling, Trochon, etc.). The verb followed by the preposition in appears to have this meaning. Cf. Ex 5:1. The Vulgate rendering he shall be filled with does not differ substantially from this explanation.

d. He shall make him scent (to be of quick scent in) the fear of the Lord, i.e., he shall give him the discernment of spirits, so as to distinguish at once between those who really fear God and those who appear to do so externally (Vatable, Vitringa, Aben Ezra, Lowth, Eichhorn, Umbreit, Speaker’s Commentary, etc.). The parallelism of the context appears to be the strongest argument in favor of this explanation; but this argument equally favors the preceding interpretation.

e. We need not enumerate all renderings suggested by commentators; Sanchez, e.g., suggests, he shall make him to give forth the scent of the fear of the Lord; Maldonatus,his scenting is in the fear of the Lord. The third explanation appears to be the most
probable one.

In the following clauses the outward activity of the Messianic king is described: not judging according to outward appearances (verse 3), he shall do justice to the poor, and plead the cause of the wretched (verse 4a); the word of his mouth shall be effective without any further external means (verse 4b), and justice and faithfulness shall be his greatest adornments (Verse 5).

Isa 11:6  The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together, and a little child shall lead them.
Isa 11:7  The calf and the bear shall feed: their young ones shall rest together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

Isa 11:8  And the sucking child shall play on other hole of the asp: and the weaned child shall thrust his hand into the den of the basilisk.
Isa 11:9  They shall not hurt, nor shall they kill in all my holy mountain, for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea.

The wolf shall dwell. The Hebrew text differs in the following particulars from our version: the calf and the lion and the fatling together instead of the calf and the lion and the sheep shall abide together the cow and the bear instead of the calf and the bear; instead of  shall thrust his hand into the den of the basilisk, some rendershall extend his hands towards the eyes of the basilisk (Chaldee, Saadias, Kimchi, Aben Ezra, Delitzsch, Bredenkamp, Ronling, etc.). All interpreters agree that the prophet describes a state of peace which shall be brought about by the reign of the Messianic king. But they are not at one concerning the nature of this peace.

Opinion A. The description must be understood in its literal sense, so that peace shall reign even in the animal world. This is the opinion of St. Irenaeus (c. haer. v. 33), Lactantius (Instit. vii. 24), Hengstenberg, Delitzsch, Bade, Schegg, Nagelsbach, etc.

Reasons: a. Th animal world has been rendered more cruel through sin; therefore it will be restored to its primitive state through Christ’s redemption, b. Instances which have occurred in the lives of the saints show that the animal world may be tamed and become subservient to the needs of man. c. The words of Christ (Mark 16:17; Luke 10:19) confirm the same opinion, d. The prediction is too explicit and clear to admit a symbolic or a metaphorical explanation.

But, on the other hand, it is denied by theologians that the nature of things has been changed on account of Adam’s sin; hence the redemption will not affect it either. The examples found in the lives  of the saints are evidently miraculous, and only show what God can do in the animal nature, but not what the animal nature would be, in case mankind had not sinned. The words of Christ indeed promise that by faith we shall have dominion over the animal world, but it does not follow from this that universal dominion over the poisonous and ferocious creation is naturally due to us, any more than it can be inferred that naturally, i.e., in the state of innocence, we should be able to move mountains, because we can do so now by faith in the power of Christ. Finally, there is nothing to prevent the prophet from using a symbol or a metaphor in his description of the Messianic peace, especially since there are signs which show us that he speaks only symbolically.

Opinion B. The prophet’s description of the Messianic peace must be taken metaphorically; the wild beasts denote wicked men who will be rendered submissive and peaceful through Christ’s redemption (Ephrem, Jerome, Cyril, Eusebius, Theodoret, Theodore of Mopsuestia, St. Thomas, Osorio, Sasbout, Malvenda, Maldonatus, Sanchez, Pinto, Foreiro, Mariana, a Lapide, Menochius, Tirinus, Gordon, Calmet, Reinke, Trochon, etc.). The reason on which this explanation is based is the metaphorical signification of animals in other parts of the Old Testament. Thus Benjamin is called a ravening wolf, Christ’s enemies are called many dogs, and fat bulls. Still, it must be kept in mind that the application of the animal names to Benjamin and to the other Old Testament members differs very much from the meaning of the names of animals in the present prophecy. To explain the names in the same manner, though their application is wholly different, is an arbitrary process of interpretation. Again, the prophet in the present prediction uses not only the peculiarities of different animals, but speaks also of the sucking child; and the weaned child. If then animals are as many metaphors for different classes of men, what are we to understand by the children? Tosay that they must not be understood metaphorically, is to mingle arbitrarily figurative with literal speech.

Opinion C. The prophet’s language is nothing but a picture of perfect peace and happiness; even those creatures that naturally are hostile to each other dwell in harmony. In this way is described the peace and happiness which the Messianic king will bring upon earth. Not as if there could be no more discord and unhappiness after his coming; but he will bring all those elements that will enable men of good will, men who are willing to obey the Messianic laws, to enjoy the Messianic blessings (cf. Zingerle, Zeitschrift fur katholische Theologie, Innsbruck, 1880, pp. 651-661). This enjoyment of the Messianic benefits will find its fullest accomplishment in the future life. Finally, after symbolizing this happiness by a picture of peace between different animals, the prophet adds the cause of the blessing: for the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the covering waters of the sea. This expression indicates both the width and the depth of the Messianic knowledge of salvation.

Isa 11:10  In that day the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious.
Isa 11:11  And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand the second time to possess the remnant of his people, which shall be left from the Assyrians, and from Egypt, and from Phetros, and from Ethiopia, and from Elam, and from Sennaar, and from Emath, and from the islands of the sea.

Isa 11:12  And he shall set up a standard unto the nations, and shall assemble the fugitives of Israel, and shall gather together the dispersed of Juda from the four quarters of the earth.
Isa 11:13  And the envy of Ephraim shall be taken away, and the enemies of Juda shall perish: Ephraim shall not envy Juda, and Juda shall not fight against Ephraim.
Isa 11:14  But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines by the sea, they together shall spoil the children of the east: Edom, till Moab shall be under the rule of their hand, and the children of Ammon shall be obedient.
Isa 11:15  And the Lord shall lay waste the tongue of the sea of Egypt, and shall lift up his hand over the river in the strength of his spirit: and he shall strike it in the seven streams, so that men may pass through it in their shoes.
Isa 11:16  And there shall be a highway for the remnant of my people, which shall be left from the Assyrians: as there was for Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.

In that day shall be the root of Jesse. The ensign mentioned is, according to the Hebrew text, a military standard for the rallying of troops. The root of Jesse is therefore to be the standard around which the nations will gather, and which the Gentiles will seek. The word sepulchre means according to the Hebrew text resting-place, and has been thus interpreted in the LXX. , the Syriac, and the Arabic versions. St. Jerome used sepulchre in order to make the meaning of the passage clearer. But in point of fact there is no question of the Messias sepulchre in the context, so that Jerome s version obscures the meaning. For the resting-place refers to the Messias heavenly throne of glory (cf. Ps 101:8, 14 [102:8, 14]; 1 Kings 8:56; Num 10:33; Deut 12:9, Col 3:1; Matt 11:28, 29; 1 Pet 2:7). The Lord shall possess the remnant of his people the second time, because he possessed it for the first time on its leaving the Egyptian captivity (cf. Ex 13:3, 9, 14, 16; Deut 6:21; Ps 43:2). Phetros is Upper Egypt, Ethiopia is Nubia and Abyssinia, Elam is Persia, Sennaar is the country round about Babylon, Emath is on the banks of the Orontes, the islands of the sea are the islands of the Mediterranean. And after the king has set up his standard for the nations (Rom 11:13, 14 ff.), he shall gather the outcast sons of Israel and collect the scattered daughters of Juda, and so all Israel shall be saved (Rom 11:26). Then Ephraim, which had kept the ark of the covenant for about 400 years, shall no more be jealous of Juda, and in fact all Juda’s enemies shall perish. From the remotest parts the returning exiles shall fly to the border-land of the Philistines, and shall possess themselves of the regions of the eastern enemies of Juda, Palestine not being spacious enough to furnish dwelling-place to all the returning Jews. As in the days of old, so shall God in the Messianic times remove all impediments obstructing the return, represented by the Red Sea and the Euphrates.

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One Response to Father Maas’ Commentary on Isaiah 11:1-10

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