Root and Branch
Q: When studying prophecy about the “branch” of a tree, I assume that this is a reference to Jesus. How does the Branch then relate to Jesse and to David?
A: Obviously a branch is the outgrowth of a tree. Regarding this Biblical Branch, interpretations make sense especially when we think of the “family” tree. The Lord promised David the son of Jesse an everlasting throne, so whomever followed him would have to be of his family in order to be a true king of the Lord’s people.
Prophetic references to this throne include 2 Samuel 7:11-13; Psalm 89:4; and Isaiah 9:6-7. Gabriel’s words to the Virgin in Luke 1:32-33 clearly indicate that Jesus is the One who fulfills this prophecy: “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Jeremiah 33:15 is one of the Messianic prophecies citing a branch: “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David.” This Branch would unite Israel’s sundered tribes under the Lord’s righteous rule. Meanwhile, in Isaiah 11 the Lord “ignored” David, choosing instead to “root” the prophecy in David’s father Jesse. Speaking of the promised Messiah, He said, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (v. 1)”
Some speculate that the Lord chose to mention Jesse rather than David both as a reminder that the promise extended beyond royalty, since Jesse was a herdsman. Perhaps David’s own sins, particularly his adultery and subsequent murder of Uriah, also prompted this wording. It wasn’t because Israel deserved such a Branch — but rather, because it needed Him — that the Lord made His promise.
At any rate, by the time Jesus was born, Jesse’s family truly resembled a “stump.” No real vitality had been detected for centuries. Even though many genealogies carefully traced his descendants through David and beyond, there was no living memory of the last time a king from this house had ruled from Jerusalem. Indeed, the stump of Jesse seemed completely lifeless — as do the stumps we find elsewhere whenever mighty trees are felled.
However, while the kingly household appeared dormant, God remained active. At His appointed time, the dead stump finally showed signs of life. Yet in fulfilling the prophecy, the Lord followed His own plan rather than man’s expectations. The King’s coronation processional saw Him riding into the royal city not on a war horse or in a chariot but, as Zechariah predicted, “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (9:9)”
By human estimation, this Branch never finished growing before being cut down. His own words to the crowd as He carried His cross out of Jerusalem would almost support this thought: “Turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.... For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ (Luke 23:28, 31)”
However, the story didn’t end with the Lord’s crucifixion since He was raised from the dead. This resurrected branch, “the root of Jesse, [stands] as a signal for the peoples. (Isaiah 11:10)” He who grew as a branch of David’s family tree, who sprouted forth from Jesse’s stump, now has His own family tree. Jesus, the true Vine, bears His own branches (John 15:1-11). We weren’t born into this family but were grafted to our Lord and thus also made part of the house of Israel (Romans 11:11-24).
The Church’s liturgy and hymnody have long confessed Jesus as the incarnation of the promised Root and Branch. During Advent, the ancient O Antiphons and hymns such as Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel and Behold, a Branch is Growing bear testimony of these Scriptures:
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)” “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. (Isaiah 11:10)” See also Micah 5:2, Romans 15:12; Revelation 5:5.
℣ O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur;
℟ veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardere.
℣ O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom they will do | homage:*
℟ Come quickly to de- | liver us.
O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,
Free them from Satan’s tyranny
That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Behold a branch is growing
As of loveliest form and grace,
As prophets sung, foreknowing;
It springs from Jesse’s race
And bears one little Flower
In midst of coldest winter,
At deepest midnight hour.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
Send email to Ask the Pastor.
Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.
Technorati Tags: branch | root | stump | tree | David | Jesse | prophecy | Jesus | Jesus Christ | Christ | theology | exegetical theology | exegesis | Bible | Old Testament | Scripture | Pastor Walter P. Snyder | Walter Snyder | Ask the Pastor
Newspaper column #586:2