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Isaiah 11:1–9: The King of Peace (a poem)

Continuing the series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Strictly speaking, the reading for today is Isaiah 11:1–3a;4a;6–9.

When I looked at this passage, the thing that stayed with me most was the concept of a hendiadys. Literally meaning “one from two,” a hendiadys is where a single thought is expressed in two words joined with “and”. 

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For example: “nice and hot” in “this coffee is nice and hot.” The niceness and the hotness of the coffee are not independent. The coffee would not be nice if it was not hot. The intended meaning is therefore not so much that the coffee is both nice and hot, but that its hot temperature is right (and nice). (This example is from Wikipedia.) 

In Isaiah 11:2, Isaiah writes about the shoot from Jesse (i.e. a future king from the house of David) saying that he will have the Spirit (i.e. Holy Spirit) of “counsel and might”. This is a hendiadys. As the NET observes, “The point is that he will have the strength/ability to execute the plans/strategies he devises.”

Similarly, the NET translates “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding” as “a Spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom.” 

I thought I would play with that for today’s poem. 

PS You remember how I said last week that Hebrew verbs have different “stems” that can change their meaning from active or passive (or something else)? Well, “ruach” is the noun for spirit, breath or wind. Today I learned that that the Niphal (passive) form of the verb ruach, is “to smell.” In verse 3, the NIVUK says “he will delight in the fear of the Lord”; the Hebrew is literally “his smelling is in the fear of the Lord” but it carries the overtones of smelling with pleasure. I love linking the ideas of fragrance and breath/spirit. 

The King of Peace

A king is coming:
Stock and stem of David’s house,
Of his pasture, born and bred,
Root and branch to be renewed. 

God’s Spirit will rest on him:
Reverence and godliness,
Governance and graciousness,
The sceptre of fragrance and fellowship.

He will dress himself with justice:
Not seemliness and appearance,
But compassion for the poor and oppressed,
Humbling the proud and powerful. 

Peace will mantle the earth:
The end of injury and harm,
No longer predator and prey,
Rather, children and heirs of his kingdom.

Photo by Tamara Menzi on Unsplash

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