The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him

The Psalm for the first half of this week in the Revised Common Lectionary is from Isaiah 11:1-9.

[If you don’t read daily from a lectionary, it is a practice I highly recommend. To me, it is much more helpful than most of those devotional books I’ve seen.]

From this passage in Isaiah I saw something I had never noticed before. I’ll paste in the first two verses, but my focus is on verse 2.

Isaiah 11:1–2 (ESV)

(v1) There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
(v2)  And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

The Jews, during and after the exile, would have read this is a prophecy of the renewal of the glory of Israel as it had been in the time of King David. We now know that never happened, and we might choose to look it as if the exile had never really ended and the prophecy will be fulfilled in the eschaton, when Jesus returns to end the exile and sets the world right.

I see here six descriptions of the Spirit of YHWH—the one (I believe) we usually call the Holy Spirit—in three pairs. This Spirit rested and rests on Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And according to Paul and Luke, this Spirit is also available as the presence of God in our lives, enabling us in our journey with Jesus.

The paired attributes seem to be related to one another. The Spirit is the Spirit of:

  1. Wisdom and understanding
  2. Counsel and might
  3. Knowledge of the YHWH and fear of YHWH

[If you are a preacher and you haven’t yet prepared your sermon for Sunday, feel free to take this outline and give it your special treatment. Or lock it away until Pentecost Sunday, if you know what that is. If you work hard enough, you might be able to make it alliterative. Give the people some Bible.]

The Spirit gives wisdom and understanding. Lord, we need both. I’ve never met a person who is wise enough on his own. Or who has enough understanding. Life is full of puzzling situations and even fuller of puzzling people. If we had a source to help us understand the people and be wise about the situations, we would be in the catbird seat.

The Spirit gives counsel and might. That is, advice for the battle and strength to carry it out. I am getting weaker and weaker, but God’s arm is still as powerful as ever.

The Spirit gives us knowledge of God, and that knowledge of God will lead us into reverence. Philosophy is the art of thinking what God must be like and building that out into a system. That is where we get all these lists of supposed attributes of God. But true theology is the art of reading the Bible, which is inspired by the Spirit, and seeing who God really is. This is more about his desire to be in relationship with us than it is about his immensity and glory.

This knowledge of God makes me love him and want to honor him and serve him. This knowledge of God inspires trust in him, which is kind of what faith really is. This knowledge of God makes me loyal to him, come what may.

You never know what you’ll find when you dip into the scriptures. I hope this means as much to you as it does to me.

Merry Christmas.


The Christian faith is not “kept alive” or “advanced” by mere repetition of normative doctrines or use of standard expressions—important as these may have been in the past and significant as they may continue to be in certain localities and situations and/or among certain people today. There is in the proclamation of the Christian gospel the need to be (1) constantly in continuity with the biblical revelation, both OT and NT, (2) continually in conversation with all the various presentations of that biblical revelation of both the past and the present—especially where a “sense of center” is retained, and (3) always endeavoring to contextualize that biblical revelation and its Christian message today in different localities, within differing cultural situations, and among people of diverse ideological perspectives.

Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary on the Greek Text, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 188.

Not a Technique

Religion is not just a technique for keeping our spirits up, a pious anaesthetic to dull some of the pain of real life. The central religious question is the question of truth. Of course, religion can sustain us in life, or at the approach of death, but it can only do so if it is about the way things really are.

John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos and Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion, Second Edition (London: SPCK, 2005), 95.

Studying Romans

I started a new study of Romans about two-and-a-half weeks ago. I’m not going fast because I’m taking it down to the bare metal and my Greek is a little rusty.

I am impressed by Paul’s desire to proclaim the gospel of Jesus to everyone, whether they are cultured or not, whether they are receptive or not, whatever their ethnicity.

At the same time, he knew the necessity of contextualization for the specific receivers of the message.

It is no surprise to realize that we could learn a lot from Paul.