The Sign of the Branch: The Dead Stump Reborn

Jesus had critics who questioned his authority.  He would answer them by pointing to the prophets that came before, claiming that they foresaw his life.  Here is one example where Jesus said to them:

… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)

In other words, Jesus claimed that he was prophesied in the Old Testament, which preceded him by hundreds of years. The Old Testament prophets claimed that God inspired their writings. Since no human can predict with certainty hundreds of years into the future, Jesus said this was evidence to check if he had really come as God’s plan or not. It is a test to see if God exists and if He speaks.  The Old Testament is available for us to examine and consider this same question for ourselves.

First some review.  Jesus’ coming was hinted at the very beginning of the Old Testament.  Then we saw that Abraham’s sacrifice foretold the spot where Jesus was to be sacrificed while the Passover foretold the day in the year that it would occur.  We saw that Psalm 2 was where the title ‘Christ’ was used foretell a coming King.  But it did not end there.  Much more was written looking to the future using other titles and themes. Isaiah (750 BC) began a theme that later Old Testament books developed – that of the coming Branch.

Isaiah and the Branch

The figure below shows Isaiah in a historical timeline with some other Old Testament writers.

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

You will see from the timeline that Isaiah’s book was written in the period of David’s Royal dynasty (1000 – 600 BC). At that time (ca 750 BC) the dynasty and the kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded that the Kings return back to God and the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law. But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he also prophesied that she would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would end.

He used a specific metaphor, or image, for the royal dynasty, picturing it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty as a tree

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

Isaiah wrote that this ‘tree’ dynasty would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. Here is how he began the tree image which then he turned into the riddle of a stump and Branch:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse – father of David

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, around 600 BC, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king to Babylon in exile (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor to the coming shattering of David’s dynasty.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

Shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

But this prophecy also looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings. Isaiah predicted that though the ‘stump’ would look dead (as stumps do), one day in the far future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that stump, just like shoots can sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of God would be resting on him.

Jesus … A ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

Jesus fits the requirement of coming ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. What makes Jesus very unusual is the wisdom and understanding he possessed.  His shrewdness, poise and insight in dealing with opponents and disciples continue to impress both critics and followers ever since.  His power in the gospels through miracles is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Jeremiah and The Branch

It is like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history. But it did not end there. His signpost is only the first of several signs. Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when David’s dynasty was actually being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our Righteousness“. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

Jeremiah expands on the Branch theme of David’s dynasty started by Isaiah 150 years earlier. The Branch will be a King who reigns. But this is exactly what the Psalm 2 prophecy said of the coming Son of God/Christ/Messiah. Could it be that the Branch and the Son of God are one and the same?

The Branch: The LORD our Righteousness

But what is this Branch to be called? He would be called the ‘LORD’ who will also be ‘our’ (that is – us humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and so we need ‘righteousness’.  Here, in describing the Branch, we see a hint that people in Jeremiah’s future would get their needed ‘righteousness’ by the LORD – YHWH himself (YHWH is the name for God in the Old Testament).  But how would this be done?  Zechariah fills in further details for us as he develops further on this theme of the Coming Branch, predicting even the name of Jesus – which we look at next.

The Final Countdown – Promised in the Beginning

We have looked at how mankind fell from their first created state. The Bible tells us God had a plan based on a Promise made at the beginning of history.

The Bible – Really a Library

First, some facts about the Bible.  The Bible is a collection of books, written by many authors.  It took more than 1500 years for these books to all be written from start to finish.  This makes the Bible  more like a library and sets it apart from other Great Books. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group that knew each other we may not be surprised at its unity, but the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds and even thousands of years.  These writers come from different countries, languages, and social positions.  But their messages and predictions connect with each other and the facts of history recorded outside the Bible.  The oldest copies of the Old Testament books (the books before Jesus) that still exist today are from 200 BC.  Existing copies of the New Testament are dated from 125 AD and later.

The Gospel Promise in the Garden

We see at the very beginning of the Bible an example of how the Bible predicts into the future. Though it is about the Beginning, it was written with the End in mind.  Here we see a Promise when God confronts Satan (who was in the form of a serpent) with a riddle just after he brought about the Fall of mankind.

“… and I (God) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

You can see that this is prophetic by ‘will’s in future tense.  There are also five different characters mentioned. They are:

  1. I = God
  2. you = serpent or Satan
  3. The woman
  4. The offspring of the woman
  5. The offspring of serpent or Satan

The Promise predicts how these characters will relate in the future. This is shown below:

Relationships between the characters depicted in the Promise
Relationships between the characters in the Promise

It does not say who ‘the woman’ is but God will cause both Satan and the woman to have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these offspring and between the woman and Satan. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the woman’s offspring while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan.

Who is the Offspring? – a ‘he’

We have made some observations, now for some conclusions. Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman is a ‘he’ we can discard some possibilities.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘she’ and is not a woman.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘they’, so it is NOT a group of people or a nation.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is a person and not an ‘it’.  The offspring is not a philosophy, teaching, political system, or a religion – since these are all ‘it’s. An ‘it’ like these would have been our preferred choice to fix the corruption since people are always thinking up new systems and religions. God had something else in mind – a ‘he’- a single male human.   This ‘he’ would crush the head of Satan.

Notice what is not said. God does not say that this offspring will come from the woman and the man, but only from the woman. This is especially unusual since the Bible almost always records only the sons coming through fathers.  Some see the Bible as ‘sexist’  because it just records fathers of sons. But here it is different – there is no promise of an offspring (a ‘he’) coming from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man.

A much later Prophet builds on that Promise

Hundreds of years later, an Old Testament prophet added the following:

the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). (Isaiah 7:14, 750 BC)

More than 700 years after Isaiah, Jesus was born (the New Testament says) from a virgin – fulfilling Isaiah. But is Jesus being foreseen even this early – right at the beginning of human history? This fits with the offspring as a ‘he’, not a ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘it’. With that perspective, if you read the riddle it makes sense.

‘Strike his Heel’??

But what does it mean that Satan would strike ‘his heel’? One year I worked in the jungles of Cameroon. We had to wear thick rubber boots in the humid heat because the snakes lay in the long grass and would strike your foot – your heel – and kill you.  After that jungle experience it made sense to me.  The ‘he’ would destroy Satan, the serpent, but ‘he’ would be killed in the process.  That does foreshadow the victory gained through the sacrifice of Jesus.

‘The woman’ – a Double Meaning

So, if this Promise at the Beginning concerns Jesus, then the woman would be the virgin woman who gave birth to him – Mary.  But there is a second meaning.  Notice how another Old Testament prophet refers to Israel.

O Israel, … I will make you my wife forever, … I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord. (Hosea 2:17-20.  800 BC)

Israel, in the Bible, is referred to as the wife of the LORD – a woman.  Then, the last book in the Bible, describes a conflict which this woman will have to go through with her enemy

I saw a woman clothed with … a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.

Then …I saw a large red dragon … in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.

She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. …

This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels…

When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child… And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children…  (Revelation 12:1-17, 90 AD)

Since Jesus was a Jew, he is at the same time the offspring of Mary, the woman, and Israel, the woman.  The Promise came true both ways.  The ancient serpent is in enmity with Israel, ‘the woman’, and has declared war on her.  This explains the unique troubles that Jews have suffered through their long history, and it was predicted in the very beginning.

The offspring of the Serpent?

But who is this offspring of Satan?  In the last book of the Bible, many pages and thousands of years after the Promise in Genesis, predicts a coming person. Note the description:

The beast you saw was once alive, but now it is not. However, it will come up out of the bottomless pit and go away to be destroyed. The people who live on the earth will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was once alive, is no longer living, but will come again. These are the people whose names have never been written in the book of life since the beginning of the world.

“You need wisdom to understand this.

(Revelation 17:8-9; written by John ca 90 AD)

This describes a fight between the offspring of the woman and Satan’s offspring. But it is first revealed in the Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of the Bible, with the details filled in later. The countdown to a final contest between Satan and God started long ago in the Garden.  It could almost make you think that history is really His-Story.