O Root of Jesse

Today's O Antiphon:

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave
It's the prophet Isaiah who introduces us to the Rod of Jesse: 

“There  shall come forth a Rod from the stem of  Jesse, And  a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1)

Isaiah had been prophesying the destruction of the nation. And not just a bit of destruction, but proper destruction:

“Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, The houses are without a man, The land is utterly desolate, The  Lord  has removed men far away, And the forsaken places  are  many in the midst of the land." (Isaiah 6:11-12)

The outlook was bleak. Yet, God had a promise for His people. The prophecy of destruction in Isaiah 6 ends with the image of a tree chopped down, but then comes the promise:

“As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump  remains  when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump.” (Isaiah 6:13)

Then in Isaiah 11 the prophecy of the Rod of Jesse picks up on that glimmer of promise and expands on it. You see, it's not simply a promise, but a Person that Isaiah's prophesying about. This Person is the Holy Seed. He is the stump that's left when the tree is cut down. He is the Rod from the stem of Jesse. He is the Root of Jesse (Isa. 11:10).

So, if the Rod of Jesse is the Holy Seed, then that means He's the Saviour promised from the very beginning, back in Genesis 3:15. He's the long promised One who would come to crush the serpent's head.

But He's going to come when it looks like there's no hope. He's going to come from the royal family, but not when the House of David is a thriving, flourishing tree. No, He's going to come when nothing but a stump remains. 

When all that can be seen is death and despair, He will come to bring life through death. A stump os dead, but out of the stump will grow a rod, a branch. And the word for branch in the second half of verse 2 isn't a dead branch like you'd find on the forest floor, but a living, growing, fruit-bearing branch. The Rod of Jesse brings life out of death.

And notice, He's the Rod of Jesse, not the Rod of David. It was always the House of David. All the kings were compared to their father David. Only one was Jesse's son: David himself. So that means this long promised, serpent-crushing King isn't simply another son of David. No, like David he's Jesse's son — that makes Him a new David.

And not only a new David, a better David. Unlike the old, sinful David, this David will be righteous (Isa. 11:5). Unlike the old David of continual war, this David will reign over a Kingdom of peace (Isa. 11:6-9). Unlike the old David of Israel, this David will rule over the whole earth (Isa. 11:9-10). He is truly a better David: as the Advent hymn puts it, “Great David's Greater Son”!

So, this long-promised, saving, Davidic King comes to bring life through death. Not life avoiding death, but life through death. The tree must be cut down to the stump. Death comes first and then through it life. That's His way.

And that's exactly what He does when He comes. He brings life through death, His death, the death of the Cross. And that's how He saves us — He unites us to Himself in His death and resurrection. He Himself is our safe refuge though the judgement of death and brings us safely through and out the other side, raising us with Him to newness of life.

The Rod of Jesse is the fruitful Branch who brings life through death.