This devotional is Day 2 of the 25-Day Advent Series “The Wonders of His Love.” Follow along with us as we grow in grace through the Christmas story by subscribing or bookmaking the home page above!
Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-5
Behold, the Lord, the God of hosts, will lop off the boughs with a terrible crash; those who are tall in stature will be cut down and those who are lofty will be abased. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an iron axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Mighty One.
It’s the second day of Advent, and maybe you’re wondering if I missed the memo, or opened up my Bible to the wrong chapter. I admit: these don’t sound like Advent verses.
A wrathful, axe-wielding God is not the God I often reflect on in the days leading up to His greatest and most sacrificial gift.
No, I’m far quicker to open my Bible to the joyous prophecies, the most obvious reminders of God’s love and grace and faithfulness. And indeed, when I set out to write this Advent devotional, I intended to start here instead:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
However, I couldn’t fully quiet the nagging voice of my inner Bible scholar, reciting to me the first three rules of excellent Biblical study: Context, context, and context. Chapter 11 of Isaiah begins with the word then – an adverb meaning “next” or “after that,” which begs us to ask the question, “After what?”
And our search for the answer leads us backward, to the end of Isaiah chapter 10, with those verses that don’t really sound like Advent verses.
A Gracious Wrath
Behold, the Lord, the God of hosts, will lop off the boughs with a terrible crash; those who are tall in stature will be cut down and those who are lofty will be abased. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an iron axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Mighty One. Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Can you hear it? The violence, the thunderous crash of God’s might as He rebukes the pride of His people who have rejected Him and the worldly nations who have hated Him.
These are military terms: “God of hosts” could be translated “Yahweh of war.” It is the sound of warfare and the vision of butchered forests – not melodies of joy or twinkling Christmas trees – that set the stage to reveal God’s glory.
This tiny word alone embodies the resounding stillness that seems to fall in the wake of God’s rebuke. The tall have been cut down. The lofty have been abased. The world has been humbled into silence.
The words of King David come to mind: “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken” Psalm 62:1-2
Israel waits in silence, in the space of “then,” for God only. From Him alone comes salvation.
Wrathful, axe-wielding God. Terrifying Warrior-God. God of hosts, Yahweh of war – for Him we wait, silent, for our salvation, because even His wrath is an act of grace, a labor of love. With it, He clears the way for the Messiah and makes space to pour out His Spirit like water on a dry and thirsting land.
“For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants.” Isaiah 44:3
A Gracious Wait
If new life is to spring forth from this spiritually desolate land, preparations must be made. Hearts must be humbled, stripped of their idols and counterfeit sustenance, and allowed to develop a thirst for God’s goodness again—even if it takes centuries. Even if it costs lives.
The warring and the waiting seem harsh until we realize that it is eternal life, not immediate, that God is fighting for.
And at last, the silence is broken by sounds of life as God brings forth from one of Israel’s uprooted vines a tender green shoot, a tiny sprig of hope reaching out of the dark earth toward heaven.
This fragile seedling, both Son of God and Son of Man, matures into a fruitful branch upon which a brilliant white dove alights:
Jesus Himself was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” Luke 3:21b-22
Behind the scenes, in the silent “then,” God was at work. To the dark places, in the wake of gracious destruction, He gave light, healing, hope.
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:1-2
The Messiah of God was born and the Spirit of God was poured out at a time when Israel, and indeed the whole earth, was dark, broken, and hopeless.
The space of “then” had lasted over four centuries. God’s people had been waiting in silence for His salvation so long that whole generations had passed away with their hopes unfulfilled.
The Advent of the Christ, for them, was in many ways a time of pain.
But our God works in the darkness.
He works in the wait.
He works even in the pain.
And our Christ, our Rescuer, our death-defying shoot of life, overcomes it all.
A Gracious God
Though we may wish otherwise, our own seasons of Advent can be painful, too. We often come to December burdened by the brokenness, darkness, and hopelessness that resides within ourselves, our loved ones, and our world.
Sometimes it feels like we’re still stuck in the space of “then” with broken Israel, still waiting in silence, still wondering if any kind of fulfillment or healing or rescue is even possible anymore.
But just as the earth spends all of winter in silent preparation for spring’s glorious life, so God does not waste the darkness. It’s into darkness that He shines His light, into parched ground that He pours His Spirit, and into dead souls that He imparts His life.
He is unfailingly gracious, even in times of wrath and times of wait.
So whether we find ourselves today in the storm of destruction, in the silent waiting of “then,” or in the life-giving dawn of God’s victory, the truth we celebrate in this season remains the same: The One whose very life defies our world of death has come, and He is our salvation. He is our gracious God’s greatest gift.
Questions for Your Heart:
- Do you believe that God is at work in your waiting? Do you believe He doesn’t waste your pain?
- Jesus came perhaps when Israel least expected it. How can your prayerfully look for Jesus in your current hardship?
- God’s discipline is blessing, because it clears our hearts of idols and makes room for worship. What idols do you need to lay before Him so you can rejoice in Christ?
About the Author
Hallie Leining is a Washington State native, a lifelong follower of Jesus, and a student and educator of the Bible at www.halliewrites.com. Her passion is to teach others how to handle God’s Word with confidence and live restfully in the truth of His character. When she’s not studying, writing, or teaching, you can find her soaking up Eastern Washington scenery on horseback, attempting to leash-train her cat Thor, or spending a cozy night in with her husband and a bowl of Tillamook ice cream.