This was originally delivered at Trinitas Christian School, for the first annual Lessons & Carols service.
From the outset of Isaiah’s vision, the Messiah will be someone set apart. It is not only that they will resume the line of kingship through the tree of David, though He will certainly do that. Isaiah tells us in no uncertain terms that the coming savior will operate out of the abundance of the Spirit of God. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. Such attributes will guide the Messiah as He comes to set the world aright. And through what means will the savior accomplish such things? How will He know where evil and injustice have taken root?
Isaiah anticipates such a question. He tells that the Messiah will sense righteousness through the fear of the Lord. But what might this mean? When we eliminate our senses relating to sight and hearing, as Isaiah does, what remains? Touch obviously. Taste as well. And then there is smell. Isaiah tells us in verse 3 that God’s messiah will not judge by sight nor by hearing. So what does this mean? Will the Christ taste his way to righteousness? Or perhaps feel around as though blind? Isaiah says that is through the coming savior’s “delight . . . in the fear of the Lord.” And in Hebrew, the word delight also means “smell.” So, will the messiah follow his nose to righteousness? In a sense, yes. Our eyes are easily deceived, and as any parent with children might attest, our hearing fails us often. But our nose? A keen sense of smell can make all the difference; a pleasing aroma can stick with someone for an extended time, while a foul odor might cause a very physical reaction. The sense of smell is one of the most powerful attributes a person has.
Perhaps this takes the picture too far, but it helps to get closer to what Isaiah is saying: the Christ will sense justice with a fine-tuned accuracy that is based in a reverence for the Lord. This sense will enable the Christ to not only identify the wicked, covered in the foul stench of sin, but He will then remove every trace of injustice and wrong from the world. Clothed in righteousness, the messiah will bring about an entirely different order, that makes God’s kingdom the only power on the earth. Thus, the wicked “shall not hurt nor destroy” anything on God’s holy mountain, and for the first time since Genesis 1, God’s presence will permeate the globe. Just as God took up residence in His temple of the entire created order on day seven, the earth will again fill the knowledge of who the Creator is.
Of course, this entire passage echoes so much of the Genesis account, that it should not be dismissed as coincidence. Animals and man, living together in peace. “The leopard shall lie down with the young goat” while “the nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole.” And the knowledge of God enveloping the world, just as His Spirit hovered over the deep in Genesis 1:2. It is sometimes difficult to envision the presence of God penetrating where we live. We have grown accustomed to thinking of God as being present only in limited circumstances. And there is good reason for us to do so, particularly at Advent. It is a reminder that the end has not yet come. In the appearance of the Christ, laid in a manger, is the emergence of all which Isaiah describes. It is not the fulfillment, mind you, but it is the breaking of dawn after a long, long night.
The image Isaiah paints of the lion and the ox dining upon grass together should be jarring. Everything we know the lion, from the form of his teeth to the strength of his paw, tells us that straw is not what he was made to eat. But Isaiah uses this picture to show us how different the kingdom of God will be. Mankind has been trying to return to Eden ever since we were expelled, but it is to the future that the prophet directs our eyes. The vision Isaiah is given is not a return to the idyllic past, but a restoration of creation through a new act of God; and all of this is completed through the reign of His righteous ruler. This is not a singular promise to humanity, but to all creation. Animosity in every sense of the word will be put away, and God’s kingdom will be established in tranquility. As a result of the Messiah’s righteousness and faithfulness, peace will reign “as the waters cover the sea.”
Goldingay, John. Isaiah for Everyone. London: SPCK Publishing, 2015.