Deep Darkness Before Dawn

The prophets are not always immediately applicable unless we broaden our view of application and consider the story behind the symbols.

My family has endured the most difficult year of our lives. We’ve experienced unexpected grief and have, at times, felt overwhelmed by darkness. But in the midst of our sorrow, we have found hope in this image from Isaiah. The picture of new life emerging from the old stump has helped us place the sorrows of the past year within a bigger story.

 

The prophetic books of the Old Testament don’t always lend themselves to easy application. When I preach, I try to set these ancient prophecies in context, explain their meaning, and show how some have already been fulfilled in Christ.

The prophets are illuminating, yes. But immediately applicable? Not always . . . unless we broaden our view of application and consider the story behind the symbols.

Shoot from a Stump

I preached recently from Isaiah 11, where the prophet foretells the coming of a future Ruler who would be “a shoot from the stump of Jesse.” Isaiah’s audience would have known Jesse as the father of David, the greatest king in Israel’s history. In other words, a King was coming, a descendant of the great king David. We see the fulfillment of that prophecy in the coming of Jesus.

To apply this verse, I pondered the imagery of a shoot coming from a stump—a picture of new life rising out of the place of death.

Originally, this imagery indicated a future for Israel in which things would get worse before they got better. God warned that he would discipline his people for their persistent sinfulness. Through the prophets, he foretold a time he would whittle down the numbers of his chosen people until there would be only a remnant left.

But out of that stump, a shoot would come forth. A stem. Life out of death! Exile would not be the last word for God’s people. A return would take place.

Darkness Before Dawn

My family has endured the most difficult year of our lives. We’ve experienced unexpected grief and have, at times, felt overwhelmed by darkness. But in the midst of our sorrow, we have found hope in this image from Isaiah. The picture of new life emerging from the old stump has helped us place the sorrows of the past year within a bigger story.

The best stories chronicle a journey toward redemption. Just when you think the main characters have made substantial progress toward the goal, whether it be in a relationship or in a physical journey through danger toward safety, there’s always a moment when some awful setback happens—something so dramatic that it makes the reader think the situation is utterly hopeless. But then the climax turns everything around. That last surprise is what J. R. R. Tolkien called the eucatastrophe. It’s the opposite of the catastrophe that started the story’s drama. This is the moment when everything reverses. It’s what paves the way for the story’s resolution.

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