Stumps and Shoots
Thinking about Isaiah’s stumps this week resonated with me. In Ch. 6 v.13, after Isaiah was awesomely given the prophetic commission to bring dire and scary warnings of judgement to rebellious Israel we read “Even if a tenth of the people remain there, the land will be completely destroyed again. But as a terebinth or oak tree leaves a stump when it is cut down, so Israel’s stump will be a holy seed.” I had to do a bit of Google research to find out what on earth a terebinth tree was, because they seem to crop up a lot in the Bible, only to find it’s sometimes called a turpentine tree! But I also discovered that it develops a very deep and extensive root system and therefore remains green even in years of drought, and that it often sprouts from the stump after being cut.
And then in Ch. 11 v.11, Isaiah says, “The royal line of David is like a tree that has been cut down; but just as new branches sprout from a stump, so a new king will arise from among David’s descendants.” In our front garden we have the stumps of a flowering cherry tree and a pussy willow tree. Neither of them have thrown up sprouts at all; they are as dead as the proverbial dodo, so these sprouts of Isaiah are painting a very special picture of the fresh life of the Messiah, the Son of David, a kingly sprouting from apparent lifelessness. From childhood, walking in woodlands, I have always got inexplicably excited when I’ve seen vibrant green leaves and growth appearing miraculously from dead old woody stumps – it’s been something very wondrous and exhilarating.
I’ve always found it a bit hard to make head or tail of the story of God’s appointed Judge Samson, but it was right at the end of his life, disgraced and a prisoner of the Philistines, having lost all his former glory and strength and favour – as well as his eyes, that God enabled him to die by pulling the Temple of Dagon down on 3,000 pagan worshippers (see Judges 16:28-30) I talked this week with a friend whose wife was buried on Thursday – he had watched her with motor neurone disease slowly lose the function of one muscle after another over 17months, until she had the movement in only one finger, with which she could just spell things out on her iPod, having already lost her speech and all other mobility. On the day of her death, when their homegroup were gathered around her hospital bed for their weekly meeting, Peter said that Sylvia could do nothing physically, and yet did more than she had ever done before, through her contributions from her spirit, and prayers for them all
Maybe, like me, you feel you’re just an old stump with very little sap left in you, but I’m getting a bit excited at the possibility that sustained by the deep roots I’ve put down into the soil of God’s love, glorious new green growth could just burst out of the deadwood!