For the past two days, I have been delving more deeply into what are known as the O Antiphons, readings in the Octave — eight days — prior to Christmas.

Here are the links to the readings for December 17 and December 18.

Whilst this period is one of hope and anticipation, a few readers have been disappointed (apparently) because of the reference to sin and wickedness.

To recap, because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, Holy Scripture tells us that they bestowed Original Sin upon every human born subsequently. Hence, we live in a fallen world. We are all sinners, whether we admit to it or otherwise. As such, there are also those who sin more greatly and readily than others. The Bible speaks to all sin, but in terms of eternal condemnation, those great and deliberate offences against God, which we commit against our fellow man. Therefore, those who are offended might be troubled by the soul-searching which lies ahead. The rest of us can accept this as an inviolable given and a seriously urgent call for repentance, in which we take a new direction called the path of righteousness.

The Octave verses are referred to in the haunting Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

Today, we explore the first ‘R’ — ‘O Radix Jesse’ — root of Jesse’s tree. Jesse was David’s father; this explains the popularity of the name throughout history, particularly during the 19th century in the United States. Note the number of biblical names in America at the time and their scriptural significance.

What follows are two versions of Isaiah 11:1 from the King James and English Standard versions, respectively:

1And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

1There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
   and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

What follows — more at the links provided — are reliable biblical commentaries which discuss one or both versions of this verse.

What these tell us is that Jesus, all divine and all human, was sent to us from the line of David, descended from Jesse. Our Saviour is one of us and dwelt among us. Although divine and descended from royalty, He was born and grew up in humble circumstances. We, too, live in humble circumstances, unworthy of the mercy and love of Almighty God, which, nonetheless, He shows to us on a daily basis, even if we find it hard to see at the time.

Emphases mine below.

Barnes’s Notes on the Whole Bible:

And there shall come forth a rod – In the previous chapter, the prophet had represented the Assyrian monarch and his army under the image of a dense and flourishing forest, with all its glory and grandeur. In opposition to this, he describes the illustrious personage who is the subject of this chapter, under the image of a slender twig or shoot, sprouting up from the root of a decayed and fallen tree. Between the Assyrian, therefore, and the person who is the subject of this chapter, there is a most striking and beautiful contrast. The one was at first magnificent – like a vast spreading forest – yet should soon fall and decay; the other was the little sprout of a decayed tree, which should yet rise, expand and flourish.

A rod – (חטר choṭı̂r ). This word occurs in but one other place; Proverbs 14:3: ‘In the mouth of the foolish is a “rod” of pride.‘ Here it means, evidently, a branch, a twig, a shoot, such as starts up from the roots of a decayed tree, and is synonymous with the word rendered “branch” (צמח tsemach ) in Isaiah 4:2; see the Note on that place.

Out of the stem(מגזע mı̂geza‛ ). This word occurs but three times in the Old Testament; see Job 14:8; where it is rendered “stock:”

Though the root thereof wax old in the earth,

And the stock thereof die in the ground;

And in Isaiah 40:24: ‘Yea, their “stock” shall not take root in the earth.‘ It means, therefore, the stock or stump of a tree that has been cut down – a stock, however, which may not be quite dead, but where it may send up a branch or shoot from its roots. It is beautifully applied to an ancient family that is fallen into decay, yet where there may be a descendant that shall rise and flourish; as a tree may fall and decay, but still there may be vitality in the root, and it shall send up a tender germ or sprout.

Of Jesse – The father of David. It means, that he who is here spoken of should be of the family of Jesse, or David. Though Jesse had died, and though the ancient family of David would fall into decay, yet there would arise from that family an illustrious descendant. The beauty of this description is apparent, if we bear in recollection that, when the Messiah was born, the ancient and much honored family of David had fallen into decay; that the mother of Jesus, though pertaining to that family, was poor, obscure, and unknown; and that, to all appearance, the glory of the family had departed. Yet from that, as from a long-decayed root in the ground, he should spring who would restore the family to more than its ancient glory, and shed additional luster on the honored name of Jesse.

And a branch – (נצר nêtser ). A twig, branch, or shoot; a slip, scion, or young sucker of a tree, that is selected for transplanting, and that requires to be watched with special care. The word occurs but four times; Isaiah 60:21: ‹They shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting;‘ Isaiah 14:19: ‹But thou art cast out of thy grave as an abominable branch;‘ Daniel 11:7. The word rendered branch in Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15, is a different word in the original (צמח tsemach ), though meaning substantially the same thing. The word “branch” is also used by our translators, in rendering several other Hebrew words; “see” Taylor‘s “Concordance.” Here the word is synonymous with that which is rendered “rod” in the previous part of the verse – a shoot, or twig, from the root of a decayed tree.

Out of his roots – As a shoot starts up from the roots of a decayed tree. The Septuagint renders this, ‘And a flower ( ἄνθος anthos ) shall arise from the root.‘ The Chaldee, ‹And a king shall proceed from the sons of Jesse, and the Messiah from his sons‘ sons shall arise;‘ showing conclusively that the ancient Jews referred this to the Messiah.

That this verse, and the subsequent parts of the chapter, refer to the Messiah, may be argued from the following considerations:

(1) The fact that it is expressly applied to him in the New Testament. Thus Paul, in Romans 15:12, quotes the tenth verse of this chapter as expressly applicable to the times of the Messiah.

(2) The Chaldee Paraphrase shows, that this was the sense which the ancient Jews put upon the passage. That paraphrase is of authority, only to show that this was the sense which appeared to be the true one by the ancient interpreters. (3) The description in the chapter is not applicable to any other personage than the Messiah. Grotius supposes that the passage refers to Hezekiah; though, ‘in a more sublime sense,‘ to the Messiah. Others have referred it to Zerubbabel. But none of the things here related apply to either, except the fact that they had a descent from the family of Jesse; for neither of those families had fallen into the decay which the prophet here describes. (4) The peace, prosperity, harmony and order, referred to in the subsequent portions of the chapter, are not descriptive of any portion of the reign of Hezekiah. (5) The terms and descriptions here accord with other portions of the Scriptures, as applicable to the Messiah. Thus Jeremiah Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15 describes the Messiah under the similitude of a “branch, a germ or shoot – using, indeed, a different Hebrew word, but retaining the same idea and image; compare Zechariah 3:8. It accords also with the description by Isaiah of the same personage in Isaiah 4:2; see the note on the place. (6) I may add, that nearly all commentators have referred this to the Messiah; and, perhaps, it would not be possible to find greater unanimity in regard to the interpretation of any passage of Scripture than on this.

John Calvin:

But there shall come forth a rod. As the description of such dreadful calamities might terrify the godly, and give them reason for despair, it was necessary to hold out consolation; for when the kingdom was destroyed, cities thrown down, and desolation spread over the whole country, there might have been nothing left but grief and lamentation; and therefore they might have tottered and fallen, or been greatly discouraged, if the Lord had not provided for them this consolation. He therefore declares what the Lord will afterwards do, and in what manner he will restore that kingdom.

He pursues the metaphor which he employed towards the conclusion of the former chapter; for he had said that Jerusalem would be destroyed, as if a forest were consumed by a single conflagration. (Isaiah 10:33.) Its future desolation would be like that of a country formerly covered with forests, when the trees had been cut down, and nothing could be seen but ashes. That those things which are contrasted may answer to each other, he says, that out of the stock will come forth a branch, which will grow into a tree, and spread its branches and fruits far and wide. I have therefore preferred translating גזע (gezang) a dry stock, rather than a root, though it makes little difference as to the meaning, but the former expresses more fully what the Prophet meant, namely, that though the stock be dry, the branch which shall spring from it shall be more excellent than all the forests.

Thomas Coke:

… in the first part, the kingdom of Jesus Christ is described; in what manner, arising from the smallest beginnings, it should go on to increase, till at length it should attain the highest perfection, Isaiah 11:1-9. In the second part are set forth some remarkable events of that kingdom, illustrating its glory, with their consequences, Isaiah 11:10 to chap. Isaiah 12:6

After the prophet had said that the Assyrian forest and tree should be entirely cut off and destroyed, ch. Isaiah 10:33-34 he observes, that it shall be very different with the house of David; from whose trunk, though cut down, a king shall arise and flourish, who shall subject the whole world to himself. From a review of ch. Isaiah 9:4-6, Isaiah 16:4-5, Isaiah 31:8-9, Isaiah 32:1 the connection of these chapters will appear more evident. The prophet, borne away by the divine Spirit, saw more in the breaking of the Assyrian yoke, and the deliverance procured for the church in the time of Hezekiah by the hand of God, than is seen by the carnal eye: he beheld in this remarkable event an example of the true deliverance and vengeance which the Son of God, about to erect his kingdom in this world, would hereafter perform for his church: the whole scheme of that divine oeconomy was before his eyes: he saw the anti-type in the type; the truth in the figure; in the example of the deliverance from Assyria, an image of the true and perfect deliverance: in the fall of the king of Assyria he contemplated the fall of all the enemies, and of Satan, the chief of those enemies, who have opposed themselves to God and his kingdom in the world, from the birth of the church; and thence, in prophetic rapture, having mentioned the overthrow of the Assyrian, leaping over the intermediate times and events, he thus continues his prophesy: And there shall come forth a rod from the trunk of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. We may just remark, that a continued prophetic oration often coheres less with the parts preceding, than with the thoughts of the prophet, with which it ought truly to be connected; whence those various transitions so observable in all the prophetic writings; for, as the prophets thought more than they spoke or wrote, they left their discourse to be supplied by their readers and hearers; which is to be prudently interpreted, according to the analogy and history of other prophesies: as here when it is said, And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one; and there shall come forth a rod from the trunk of Jesse; we are thus to understand it, according to the mind and ideas of the prophet, “And after their fall, and other notable events, to happen in process of time, according to their order; among which will be the Babylonish captivity, the departure of the sceptre of the house of David, the kingdom of the Asmoneans, and afterwards of the Herods, to be joined with the remarkable humiliation of the house of David; a rod shall come forth from this trunk of David, so cut down and reduced, under whose kingdom the church shall obtain a perfect deliverance.

Such prophecies give us hope and joy for Christmas. The righteous — and repentant sinners — will be defended. Evildoers will be put to shame, if not in our world, the next to come. As it surely will.

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