The One Set as the Standard Bearer

One of the easiest traps to fall into when reading the Law and the Prophets is to consider them, like a novel, as a progressive story with the climax in the final pages. The prophets especially, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have a pre-planned aim in mind.

However they are usually a series of messages given to highlight specific insights, maybe at first seeming to be disjointed if we read what they have written as a free-flowing story rather than a collection of messages and challenges from God.

Isaiah writes this way throughout the book bearing his name. The first twelve chapters contrast Israel's situation and dilemma with God's remedy. His answer to their predicament is wrapped up in the Babe born to rule (see THE VINEYARD March 2000).

As we read the prophet's message in chapter 11 we gain an insight into the origin, and the character, and the ministry, and the authority, and the high standing of the promised One, as well as the power invested in Him.

"There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots." (Isaiah 11:1) Here we are reminded of the lineage of the Standard Bearer. From the tribe of Judah the kingly line was to come as Jacob at his death foretold the roles his twelve sons would play in future days: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him shall be the obedience of the people" (Genesis 49:10).

Judah means praise, and the one who would ultimately take the throne of Israel would be to the praise and glory of the nation, and more than that, to the praise and glory of the everlasting God of the covenant.

He would also have a strong appeal to the Gentiles: "And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek him . . . " (Isaiah 11:10), so much so that they would forsake their idols and deeds of darkness and bow the heart and knee to the One the Lord established to reign.

Isaiah proclaims the descendant of Jesse as the One who will sit on the throne of David, the One who lives out righteousness as well as dispensing it. "With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth . . . righteousness shall be the belt of his loins, and faithfulness the belt of his waist" (Isaiah 11:4,5).

What a contrast with what was happening in the prophet's day! What a contrast with our day! What a day to look forward to! As we read Isaiah's words we realize that it points to a day unlike anything before it with the exception of the Garden of Eden.

God through the Child equipped to govern will have redeemed His creation from sin's destructive power, and will have reclaimed the peoples of the world. This He has foreshadowed. This He calls us to contemplate. This becomes our responsibility to heed.

What a day when "the wolf shall also dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them . . . the nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den" (11:6,8)!

This will be possible only because God has made the "Root of Jesse . . . a banner to the people." Isaiah uses the term banner ten times; in five of the uses there is judgement expressed covering both rebellious Israel and destructive Gentiles. The picture which comes from portrayals of ancient times is of the Lord of hosts swooping down with His banners flowing and terrifying those who have opposed Him, giving Him the picture of awesomeness.

So we read about God's banner (11:10,12), and that the Babe (7:14), who is the Child (9:6,7), becomes the Man who enters into His inheritance.

The fact that He is called Banner wraps Him up as God's awesome presentation to a world He is seeking to win back to Himself. To despise the One promised is to experience the crushing judgement of wrath. To bow the knee in submission through faith is to know that wrath has given way to grace.

This mercy is not only to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but also to the descendants of Ishmael, of Ham and of Japheth. The power of grace is seen in the words: "He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

"Also the envy of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim" (11:12,13).

Under His banner enemies become friends. That which is distrust dissipates through the common rule of the One whose banner covers both. What is the description of the Banner? How can we recognize that which will be either judgement or a testimony to grace? For in the economy of God the One who stands as God's Banner to the people has the authority to dispense both.

So it is that the prophet seeks to take us ever deeper into the wonders of God's unveiling of His mystery Man. And as we fit the pieces together there comes a certainty as to what He looks like, and it makes it possible for us to evaluate the real from the pretenders.

God has raised His Banner – we need to be standing beneath it.