“righteousness.” In this context, “righteousness” is doing what is right to God and others. The Messiah will not play favorites; he will be just and equitable toward everyone. He will not favor the rich or powerful, but he will do what is right (for “righteousness” referring to “justice” in some contexts, see commentary on Matt. 5:6).
“he will judge the poor.” It is chapters such as Isaiah 11 that caused the Jews to believe that when the Messiah came he would conquer the earth and set up his kingdom. There is no hint of a 2,000-year break between Isaiah 11:3 and Isaiah 11:4 (although one could argue the break is between verses 2 and 3), and certainly no hint that the Messiah would die for the sins of mankind. Instead, he would come and kill the wicked. The reader must get his understanding of the death of Christ from places such as Isaiah 53, although that was unclear to Jews before Christ. There are many Scriptures in the Old Testament that speak of the coming of Christ and God’s vengeance on the wicked as if they were going to happen at the same time (cp. Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9; 61:1-3; Micah 5:2; Zech. 9:9-10; Mal. 3:1-3; 4:1-3). Those many Scriptures, along with the fact that there are no clear Scriptures that portray the two comings of Christ, are the reason that at the time of Christ people did not think that Christ would die (cp. Matt. 16:21-22; Luke 18:31-34; 24:19-21, 44-46; John 12:34; 20:9).
Like several of the prophetic verses here in Isaiah 11, The Hebrew text of Isaiah 11:4 uses the prophetic perfect idiom, and states the future event in the past tense as if it had already happened. The Hebrew text has “he has judged the poor” to emphasize the fact that he will judge the poor.
[For more on Scriptures that directly connect the coming of Christ with him conquering the earth, see commentary on Isa. 61:2. For more on the prophetic perfect idiom, see commentary on Eph. 2:6].
“oppressed.” The Hebrew word refers to those people who are “low” and thus oppressed, afflicted, downtrodden, meek, humble, etc. In this context of judging with equity, the word “oppressed” fits very well. These oppressed people have not been given a fair trial on earth, but they will when Christ returns.
“spirit from his lips.” The Messiah’s prophetic word will kill the wicked. The word “spirit,” ruach (#7307), can refer (by metonymy) to the message that is spoken by the spirit. The Book of Revelation shows Jesus with a sword coming from his mouth (Rev 1:16; 2:16; 19:15, 21), and 2 Thessalonians 2:8 says the Lord Jesus will kill the Lawless One (the Antichrist) by the spirit from his mouth.
While the Hebrew word ruach, “spirit,” can also mean “breath” (cp. ESV, KJV, NASB, NIV), we do not feel that is the best translation in this context due to the use in both the Old and New Testaments of “spirit” referring to a message or prophecy spoken by the power of the spirit. Also, it is not like Jesus breathes out and the wicked die. It is his prophecies, his powerful word, that kills them, just like Joshua’s prophecy stopped the sun (Josh. 10:12), or Jesus’ prophecy caused the death of a fig tree (Matt. 21:20). The HCSB gets the sense correct, although their translation is not literal: “He will kill the wicked with a command from his lips.” Jesus’ prophetic command is powerful and effective. It will do its work. [For more on “spirit” being used for a message spoken by the spirit, see commentaries on 1 Cor. 14:12 and Rev. 19:15].
“he will kill the wicked.” When the Messiah comes from heaven, fights the Battle of Armageddon, and conquers the earth, he will kill the wicked. There are a number of verses that express that fact in various ways (cp. Rev 19:19-21; Isa. 11:4; 63:1-6; 2 Sam. 7:10; Ps. 45:3-5; Matt. 25:41-46). The fact that there will be no wicked people on earth when the Messiah rules it as king is one of the reasons that the next life will be wonderful and called “Paradise.”
There are many Christians who believe that Jesus is always this “nice guy” who would never hurt anybody for any reason. That is not the testimony of Scripture. In his first coming, Christ lived a very sacrificial life so he could die for the sins of humankind, but in his second coming he will be the king and will take very seriously his responsibility to carry out God’s laws and keep the good people of society safe from criminals and predatory people. Even our current fallen world would be a much nicer place if there were no criminals, and the next life will be Paradise in part because there will not be any evil people there.
[For more on the kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth. For more on why the future kingdom is called “Paradise,” see commentary on Luke 23:43].
The Devil and his cohorts have an aggressive program to get people to live ungodly lives and make them feel like it doesn’t matter. When Jesus Christ walked the earth the first time, he came as the sacrificial Lamb. When he comes to rule the earth, he will come as the Lion and rule with an iron rod. Submission to God matters now and in the age to come.
Verses: John 10:10; 2 Pet. 1:4; Eph. 5:1-5; James 3:1; John 1:29; Rev. 5:5; Ps. 2:1-4, 6, 8-9, 12; Isa. 11:1-5; Rev. 20:13-15
Teacher: John Schoenheit