Lately, I’ve been introduced to an interpretative school known as the canonical approach to biblical interpretation. In the canonical method of reading, the Scripture is treated not as some source document to be picked apart and dissected by scholars of all kind, but as a canon of writings that together talk of the experience of people across the ages as they try to live together in a community of faith.
There is much that the scholars can say about this text, as there is most of the text in Isaiah, but sometimes you simply have to surrender to the beauty of the poetry and of the metaphors used to carry a message of hope across the ages. And that is all I can really hear as I read this passage tonight:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Volumes have been written over these words and their meaning — the meaning for the continued kingship of Israel, does it or does it not foretell the coming of the Christ-child, what are the links to Sumerian mythology that came before, where does this text fit in the cycle of Exodus-King-Exile-Return that tells the stories of the beginnings of our faith.
But tonight, in the waning days of Advent, all I can see are the animals…the lion with the lamb, the cows and the bears, the kid and the calf…all of these unlikely friends at peace with one another…waiting for a the little child that will lead them.
I hear the quiet, I hear the peace…I see the possibility: when the lions inside of me can lie down with my inner lamb; when things and people that are so different on the outside can learn to live together in community and cooperation.
On this night when the world around us is so troubled…when many of us are so troubled within…maybe we can learn something about being in this world together, if we just look to the lions and the lambs in Isaiah 11.