For many it is difficult to understand
the nuances of Bible prophecy, especially
when much of it is couched in figurative
One of the first courses we had in my
Bible studies training was D.R. Dungan’s
Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation,
particularly, that of interpreting Bible texts.
A problematic prophecy for many is Isaiah
chapter 11. Many deny that it is fulfilled
because they have not witnessed with
their eyes, the “nursing child” putting
its hand in the cobra’s den.
To answer this question, we’ll note a few
comments from Dungan’s Hermeneutics,
then dive right into the text.
Dungan asks, “How can we know figurative
- Rule 1. The sense of the context will
- Rule 2. A word or sentence is figurative
when the literal meaning involves an
impossibility. (p. 195)
Many, particularly Dispensationalists and other
literal futurists, assert that God has not
established his eternal kingdom.
Roadblocks of Literalism
They reason, that the demands of Isaiah 11,
must be fulfilled in a literal sense. Particularly,
verses 6–9, which speak of vicious wild
predatory animals lying down with docile
Most notably is the part of the text that
says a child shall lead them, and an infant
or nursing baby shall put his hand in the
Some reason that these verses must be
literally fulfilled before this prophecy can
Thus, they would deny that Jesus has
established his kingdom and regathered
the remnant of Israel.
Others demand that the prophecy must
literally tell us that it is a dream or vision
before we can accept the language as
We are not saying the entire prophecy
is figurative. Most importantly, the
prophet conveyed truths through the
use of the metaphors.
Dungan Comments on Figurative Language
Speaking of Oriental writings on p. 80,
“If they would read Oriental writings
on any other subject, they would be
convinced that much of it is highly
“but, coming to the Bible, it must be made
to bow down to a gross materialism, and
take a yoke upon its neck that will make
it the merest slave of the merciless
task-master, who allots the tale of bricks,
and will be satisfied with nothing less.”
Those are pretty strong words of caution
for those who want to hyper-literalize
the Bible when context forbids it.
Are there other grounds for interpreting
Isaiah 6-9, as figurative based on the
contents of the chapter? We think so.
For example, note verse one. “There
shall come forth a Rod from the stem
of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out
of his roots.”
Does Jesse have a literal stem? Was he
a literal plant? Would a literal Rod come
from this literal stem?
Would he sprout roots under his feet?
Is there a literal Branch that would
grow out of his roots?
This is a figurative way of describing the
“seed” or descendant of Jesse. Christ
is figuratively referred to as the Branch,
upon whom God’s Spirit would rest.
So, in the very first verse, we have
several examples of metaphoric of highly
In verse four, we’re told that this “Branch”
would strike the earth with the “rod” of
his mouth? Does Christ have a literal rod
shooting forth from his mouth?
Is he some sort of Pinocchio character?
The “breath of his lips” would slay the
wicked. Is this dragon-fire breath or just
a case of halitosis?
Does the “Branch” wear a literal belt
of righteousness and faithfulness around
Later, in the chapter, the text states
that the Lord would utterly destroy
the “tongue” of the Sea of Egypt, v. 15).
Can the river of Egypt speak with this
“tongue,” or lap the water from its
All of this is figurative language. So why
do some conclude verses 6–9, are literally
speaking of literal animals, venomous snakes
Will babies play with cobras in the kingdom?
This becomes quite a comical idea once the
text is properly understood to be figurative.
The language is about God’s redemptive
work through Christ (the Branch). He is
also called the Root of Jesse, (v. 10)
who stands as a banner to the people.
When Christ came he would make a
way for the Gentiles, (those at that
time who were outside of the covenant of
Israel (Eph. 2:11f), to seek God.
“And in that day there shall be a Root
of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner
to the people; for the Gentiles shall
seek Him, and His resting place shall be
glorious.” (Isa. 11:10).
Paul quotes this text to show that God
was fulfilling it during his apostolic
ministry and mission to the Gentiles
in the first century. (Rom. 15:9–11).
“And again, Isaiah says:
‘There shall be a root of Jesse;
And he who shall rise to reign over
the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall
hope.’” (Rom. 15:12)
With the Gentiles now a part of the body
of Christ, in fulfillment of the mystery,
(Eph. 3:6), the enmity that had existed
for centuries between Jew and Gentile
is dismantled through reconciliation in Christ.
That is the meaning of the figurative
language of wild and docile animals lying
together without harm.
That is the harmlessness of the figure of
the child playing in the vipers den. without
being bitten and poisoned by deadly venom.
Further, not only would God bring the
Gentiles into the New Covenant with
Israel, but it was also the time that
God regathered Israel from all the places
where they had been scattered to be
united with him in Christ.
The text has nothing to do with the
physical gathering of Jews to Palestine
or the establishment of a national
political state. 1948 has no biblical
Those notions derive from misreading
and misapplying figurative language in
the Bible and pressing literal concepts
on texts which were never meant to be.
For in the same time that God calls the
Gentiles, which both Peter and Paul
in the first century acknowledge, he
gathers the remnant.
This, Paul makes clear in Romans 9
through 11. All would be consummated
when Christ returned out of Zion, to
take away their sins.
Our explanation satisfies both rules
of Dungan. The context demanded
that the language be interpreted
figuratively verses literally.
Secondly, the literal meaning involved
impossibilities with respect to reality,
time, and inspired commentary on the
Christ returned to gather Israel in A.D.
70 before the first century generation
passed, (Matt. 24:31, 34). This marked
the coming of his eternal kingdom, Luke
All from every land and nation, from that
time and forever, may now seek the Lord
and rest in the glory of Christ.
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