Sunday, June 17, 2018

Root and Shoot

There’s an odd and rather bleak passage in Job in which he compares human beings to trees. “A man dies and is laid low,” says the beleaguered believer, but “there is hope for a tree.”

Why? “Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant.”

Pouring water on a headstone does not generally produce similar results.

Life Under the Surface

April Sanders explains:
“A tree’s roots stop growing when the tree is chopped down. Without leaves, the plant cannot produce food, and food is what fuels root growth. The roots, however, might have enough fuel from food left in them to produce sprouts from themselves or from the remains of the trunk, the stump. If a sprout develops enough leaves, then it can grow into a new tree.”
So even in a stump, there remains the potential for life and productivity under the right conditions.

… Whose Essence is Concealed

In scripture, a root is something both essential and concealed. It may produce good fruit or bad. The point is that (i) the fruit always reflects the essential nature of its concealed source, and (ii) the fruit is not immediately seen; the life below the surface produces it in due course.

When we come to Isaiah 11, David’s kingly line is pictured similarly to Job’s old stump: a tree cut off, with no branches, greenery or sign of life visible.
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
Jesse, of course, was David’s father.

A Tree Still Standing

Interestingly, Isaiah wrote his prophecy at a time when the tree had yet to be chopped down. It was still green and growing, and four different descendants of David would rule during his lifetime, kings both good and bad: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. In fact, when the old prophet died, the Davidic line still had almost 100 years left to go in its original run before the armies of Nebuchadnezzar would carry off the second-last king of the Jews into captivity. Nevertheless, Isaiah visualized the house of David as a stump; temporarily cut off from God’s blessing and dead from the perspective of the world.

And yet we read this:
“A branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
So here Isaiah anticipates a day when a descendant of David will appear just like a green branch in an old stump.

Coming to Rest On Him

When we turn to the New Testament, we find just such a descendant of David: one on whom the Spirit rests:
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ ”
Here then was the prophesied branch from Jesse’s roots destined to bear fruit for God like no branch the world has ever seen. But he wasn’t just a branch.

Not Just a Branch

Later in the same prophetic passage, Isaiah tells us this:
“In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples — of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”
Now we find that Jesus is not just the shoot of Jesse — not just a descendant of David’s line — but also Jesse’s “root”. How can that be? The promised Messiah appears here at both ends of Isaiah’s tree picture. No mere human can be both descendant and antecedent to the same man.

A Pre-Established Pattern

But God can. The son of Jesse was not chosen arbitrarily or for his own sake to be king of Israel. He was selected because God knew that at least in some respects he would conform to an established heavenly pattern. When speaking in a synagogue in Antioch, Paul says this about God:
“… he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.”
David’s whole value was in his spiritual resemblance, however imperfect, to a vastly greater King, his “root”. The blessings of David’s reign were most apparent on the occasions when he did “all my will” rather than his own.

And surely we don’t think David tended his father’s sheep by mere coincidence. The circumstances of his life were ordered by Heaven to remind us of his greater Son to come.

Jesse’s Root is Jesse’s Shoot

So Jesse’s root is Jesse’s shoot, or as John the Baptist perceptively put it, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” That “shoot” gave evidence throughout his life on earth of a wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord that David’s reign could only hint at. The shoot speaks to the perfect manhood of Christ, while the root speaks to his essential godhood; remember, the fruit produced can only be consistent with the nature of the root.

Perhaps to the extent that we display the essential nature of our Root, we too will bear fruit in him.

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