Your Part in the Peaceable Kingdom
Please read Isaiah 11 in your Bible of choice.
The scene depicted in Isaiah 11:6-9 has been celebrated in the paintings of Edward Hicks. His depictions were titled “The Peaceable Kingdom” and the name stuck. As we begin, I want to share Hicks’ story with you. (Quotes are from a December 6, 2016 article by Victoria Emily Jones posted on the Art & Theology website.
Isaiah 11:6–9 was popularized by the Quaker preacher-artist Edward Hicks, born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1780. He painted it sixty-two times during his career: predators and prey lying down together in harmony, and a little rosy-cheeked child—the Christ child—leading them.
Hicks did not come to this peaceful view of life by nature or nurture, but by faith. In this life, Edward Hicks was eighteen months old when his mother died. Unable to support him, His father sent Edward to board with friends who introduced him to Quakerism. Hicks was apprenticed to a coach maker and it was there he developed a talent for ornamental painting. In 1800 he went into business painting decorative motifs on carriages, signs, furniture, and household objects.
Hicks grew in his love of painting and in his faith, being passionate about both. At age thirty-one, he set up a painting shop in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and became a minister. It was during this period that Hicks first pursued the subject of the Peaceable Kingdom to “express his yearning for unity and peace.
While Hicks was not the first to paint the Peaceable Kingdom, only a few such images before Hicks’ time have been documented worldwide. He can certainly be credited with popularizing this motif.
“Although Edward was initially hopeful about mankind’s ability to establish peace on earth by simply exercising biblical principles, over time he became more and more cynical, an attitude that’s reflected in his work. While his early Kingdom paintings from the 1820s show animals in joyful company with one another, the animals in many of his middle- and late-period paintings are tense or exhausted, or even bare their teeth in open hostility. Hicks wrote later in life that all the dissension he witnessed had destroyed his hope of ever seeing established in the here and now a kingdom like the one Isaiah envisioned. But that realization only caused him to cling to Christ even more tightly.”
That is often the case, isn’t it? The Bible gifts us these wonderful, hopeful, utopian visions and then, when we turn our gaze to this sinful and messed-up world, we find the visions hard to believe. That is why we must turn to God’s promises again and again and why we must keep our eyes on Him.
Do not wait for God’s kingdom to come; experience part of it now.
1. Get to know the King. (1-5)
The King (aka the SHOOT or BRANCH) is a figure rooted in history. (1) Get it? Rooted? This is a picture of regrowth - of new life - coming from death. It was a two-fold promise to the people of God. One, even though they would suffer loss, a remnant of the people would survive, and their nation would be reestablished. Two, a Redeemer - the Messiah - would be raised up to accomplish this. He would be a descendant of David. Jesse was David’s father; this was a roundabout way of referring to David.
This SHOOT would grow and mature and accomplish God’s will: He would BEAR FRUIT. This is a biblical figure of speech for being righteous and leading others to righteousness.
The King exercises divine power: He is the ideal ruler. (2-5) He will DELIGHT in His relationship with the LORD. He is gifted with the Holy Spirit, the SPIRIT OF THE LORD, resulting in the following pairs of virtues.
WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING pertain to his truthfulness.
COUNSEL and POWER are practical uses of the truth.
KNOWLEDGE and FEAR OF THE LORD are spiritual uses of the truth.
With these gifts, He will be the most righteous Judge. (3-4) He will not judge by externals; His judgments are not based on factors perceived by the five senses, for he has spiritual understanding. With His greater insight, this King will show RIGHTEOUSNESS and JUSTICE to the people least likely to get it.
His judgments will be characterized by two things. (4-5) They are powerful: His word alone will bring down the wrath of God on wicked people who refuse to repent. RIGHTEOUSNESS and FAITHFULNESS will be the foundation (the BELT and SASH were the things that held ancient garments together, so they are a symbol of foundation) of all His judgments. This King has perfect integrity; you can trust Him to be fair as He carries out His judgements.
2. Experience supernatural redeemed relationships. (6-16)
In the New Creation, virtue will be the norm, not the exception. (6-9) Two virtues characterize it: PEACE and relationship with God.
PEACE is illustrated in two kind of idyllic pictures repeated over these verses. First, predator and prey animals living peaceably with one another. This is because they will share a new nature; both will be herbivores. The reference to their YOUNG shows this is a permanent change. These examples illustrate the meaning of v.9: THEY WILL NEITHER HARM NOR DESTROY IN MY HOLY MOUNTAIN.
Second, children are paired with snakes (8). You realize this pairing is no accident when you recall Genesis 3:15 where God declared there would be enmity between the woman’s offspring and the serpent. That specific consequence of sin is erased in the New Creation, as are all the rest. Children playing safely in the presence of venomous snakes also means the dominion of man over creation - given at the time of man’s creation - will no longer result in exploitation but will be characterized by gentle and peaceful interactions.
The words A LITTLE CHILD WILL LEAD THEM reference IMMANUEL, the child born to be Savior. We are introduced to Immanuel in chapters 7+9.
The reason given for this miraculous level of harmony is THE EARTH WILL BE FULL OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD. KNOWLEDGE = personal experience of God. Yes, we approach God using the Bible, but we also learn about Him by our experience of fellowship with Him. When it said FULL, an analogy was offered to define what FULL meant: AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA. It is through our personal relationship with God that we know peace.
The kingdom will be established when the King gathers all His people to one place and time. (10-16) Twice the ROOT OF JESSE is described as a BANNER (10 + 12). At this time, a BANNER served as a rallying-point for soldiers. Typically, the military’s battle flag was set atop a hill and the soldiers would rally to it. The sight of God’s people coming from all nations and gathering in His presence is truly GLORIOUS to consider (v.10).
The BANNER is a reference to Jesus Christ, who said of Himself, “JUST AS MOSES LIFTED UP THE SNAKE IN THE DESERT, SO THE SON OF MAN MUST BE LIFTED UP, THAT EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM MIGHT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.” (John 3:14-15) HE also said, “BUT I, WHEN I AM LIFTED UP FROM THE EARTH, WILL DRAW ALL MEN TO MYSELF.” HE SAID THIS TO SHOW THE KIND OF DEATH HE WOULD DIE. (John 12:32-33)
The people rallying to the BANNER came from all points of the ancient map. God will gather His people out of all the nations, FROM THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH. (12).
Verse eleven promises that the great King will reach out His hand a SECOND TIME TO RECLAIM THE REMNANT THAT IS LEFT OF HIS PEOPLE. The first time the REMNANT was reclaimed to bring Judah back from Babylon. The SECOND TIME will be when He will take His people from all their nations of residence and bring them together on His HOLY MOUNTAIN.
In line with a BANNER’s function of mustering an army, this great victory of faith (including the reunification of Israel and Judah) will enjoy success against their enemies, the nations who acted on behalf of the forces of darkness (Philistia, Edom, Moab, Ammon). The victory is not won by the army of God’s people: the Lord will DRY up the Nile and Euphrates rivers, the source of the earthly power of the Egyptians and the Assyrians. The Hebrew is more aggressive than the English translation DRY UP; the Hebrew word means to “utterly destroy.” This action removes the rivers as natural obstacles to travel; with them out of the way, the King will have no trouble constructing His HIGHWAY. God will provide a smooth road - a HIGHWAY - for the remnant to return from Assyria and Egypt. The journey back from the lands to which their conquerors took them may not be easy, but the LORD makes it possible.
Do not wait for God’s kingdom to come; experience part of it now.
It is obvious that Isaiah is given a view of the New Heavens and the News Earth, though he might not have understood it in those terms. There has been no earthly kingdom as peaceable as the one pictured in this chapter.
“Today we live between the two advents of Christ. The Prince of Peace has come as a little child to tame our wild hearts, but somehow peace still seems so elusive. Edward Hicks wrestled constantly with the tension between the already and not-yet aspects of Christ’s kingdom, and we are called to do the same. So let us look back to the manger birth and forward to the eschaton, meanwhile living in the light of him whose law is love, and whose gospel is peace.”
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, Isaiah, Goeffry W. Grogan
The Daily Study Bible Series, Isaiah, John F. A. Sawyer
Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Isaiah, J. Alec Motyer