The Rod, Stem of Jesse, the Branch and the Roots
What are we to make of this verse?
"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isaiah 11:1).
Ludlow thinks that verse 1 is an example of "synonymous parallelism" meaning the same concept is said twice but with different language. Essentially he thinks the Rod = the Branch and the stem = his roots. Following this line of reasoning, verse one is referring to one person - the Rod or the Branch. He summarizes what he thinks by stating, "the servant of Isaiah 11:1 appears to describe the great Jewish leader of the last days who will be called David. He will be an instrument (in somewhat the same manner as was Cyrus anciently - see Isaiah 44:28) used by the Lord to fulfill his divine plan of events before the Millennium" (169).
From D&C 113 we learn that the stem is Jesus Christ. We also learn that the Rod "is a servant in the hands of Christ, who is partly a descendant of Jesse as well as of Ephraim, or of the house of Joseph, on whom there is laid much power."
LDS commentators George Reynolds and Janne Sjodahl state that the Rod of the stem of Jesse is the Messiah or Jesus Christ (Commentary on the Book of Mormon vol. 1 ch. 21).
Another commentator suggested that this Rod is Joseph Smith (Isaiah Plain and Simple: the Message of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, by Hoyt W. Brewster. See chapter 11).
Yet another commentator has nicely summed up what various sources believe with regards to this passage. He says, "A partial explanation of this enigmatic prophecy is provided by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants 113 where he declares himself to be the "Stem of Jesse." (D&C 113:1-2, Note that "Stem" is capitalized in the Doctrine and Covenants but not in Isaiah. See Romans 15:12) Like the trunk (stem) of a great tree, Jehovah is the life-source of Israel with its many branches. A "rod" (shoot) will grow out of the "Stem," meaning a man will come forth from Christ. This "rod" is "a servant in the hands of Christ, who is partly a descendant of Jesse as well as of Ephraim." That is, this "servant" will have a dual lineage, being a descendant of both Judah and Joseph. Most commentators assume that Isaiah is employing synonymous parallelism (Synonymous parallelism occurs when the same thought is restated or amplified in the second clause or sentence. For example see Isaiah 1:10; 9:6; Psalm 24:1) in this passage and equate the "rod" with the "Branch." If the two clauses are wholly synonymous, then both "stem" and "roots" represent Christ, whereas the "rod" and the "Branch" represent his unidentified servant. If, however, Isaiah does not intend synonymous parallelism (as he sometimes does not), then at least three individuals are symbolized in verse one: the "rod," the "Stem of Jesse," and the "Branch." A fourth individual is described in verse 10 as "the root of Jesse." The Lord explained that this "root of Jesse" will be a "descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days." Like the "rod," he, too, will descend from both Judah and Joseph.
"The actual identities of the "rod," the "Branch," and the "root of Jesse" in Isaiah are conjectural. Some believe that both "rod" and "Branch" symbolize the second David. Others believe that the "rod" is David, and the "Branch" another latter-day figure.
"Regardless, the "root of Jesse" is almost surely the Prophet Joseph Smith. He holds the keys of this kingdom in both time and eternity and is the president of the last and greatest of all dispensations, the dispensation of the fulness of times. (See D&C 27:12-13; 90:1-3; 112:30-32; 128:18-21) He is the living ensign to which the present generation must gather. We cannot, in reality, come to Christ if we do not accept his servant, Joseph Smith.
"The Lord's works are first spiritual and then temporal, or physical. (See D&C 29:31-32) All of the spiritual keys, powers, doctrines, and ordinances revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith must be honored and implemented before Zion, the second ensign, can be literally established in fullness and glory. (See D&C 64:41-43; 105:3-5) That day is not far off (Witness of Jesus Christ: The 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament, Richard D. Draper. See ch. 14 "The Two Davids").
So any hope I had of finding a definitive answer on who the rod and branch is or are, is lost in a sea of opinions. It could be Christ or Joseph Smith or a powerful Jewish leader named David.
Characteristics (of the great leader or of the Lord)
Whoever this rod or branch is, he will have many great characteristics. The spirit of the Lord will be upon him. He will have the spirit of wisdom and insight; counsel and valor; devotion and reverence for the Lord. He will have a keen sense for the truth. He will not judge with his eyes or pass judgment with what he hears. He will judge the poor with equity and give justice to the lowly of the land. He will "smite the earth with the rod of his mouth." I find this phrase interesting. Christ uses this same phrase in D&C 19:15 when he commands us to repent.
Regardless of who the rod or branch is, all these characteristics apply to Christ as well. And if they apply to Christ, then we must apply them to ourselves since we must strive to be like Him.
In Isaiah 11:6-9 we read how peace will reign on the earth. Even the animals will not kill or injure one another.
While leading Zion's Camp, Joseph Smith taught the men a valuable lesson. "While making their camp at the close of the day after crossing the Embarras River in Indiana, the brethren discovered three prairie rattlesnakes, which they were about to kill. The prophet called to them saying, "Let them alone—don't hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the suckling child can play with the serpent in safety" (Church History and Modern Revelation, vol. 3. Joseph Fielding Smith. See Lesson 88 "Zion's Camp").
The Root of Jesse
"And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious." (Isaiah 11:10).
In verse 10 we have more tree terms applied to a man. D&C 113:5-6 states that this root is a "descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days."
There seems to be greater clarity from scholars who tend to think the root of Jesse is Joseph Smith. He indeed possesses the keys to the kingdom and is an ensign to all the earth in these latter days.
The Gathering of Israel
President Hinckley said the following in 1989, "Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and a handful of their associates hiked from their campground a little to the south of us, on past the ground where we are, and up the hill to the north of us. They climbed a dome-shaped peak, President Young having difficulty because of his recent illness.
"When the Brethren stood on the summit, they looked over this valley to the south of them. It was largely barren, except for the willows and rushes that grew along the streams that carried water from the mountains to the lake. There was no building of any kind, but Brigham Young had said the previous Saturday, “This is the place.”
"The summit where they stood was named Ensign Peak out of reference to these great prophetic words of Isaiah: “And he [speaking of God] will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come with speed swiftly.” (Isa. 5:26.)
“And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isa. 11:12.)
There is some evidence to indicate that Wilford Woodruff took from his pocket a bandanna handkerchief and waved it as an ensign or a standard to the nations, that from this place should go the word of the Lord, and to this place should come the people of the earth. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “An Ensign to the Nations,” Ensign, Nov 1989, 51)
The 10th Article of Faith states, "We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes."
Isaiah further teaches that "there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt" (Isaiah 11:16).
The restoration of the 10 tribes will truly be miraculous. Isaiah compares it to when "Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left" (Exodus 14:29).
D&C 133:22-27 says "And it shall be a voice as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, which shall break down the mountains, and the valleys shall not be found.
"He shall command the great deep, and it shall be driven back into the north countries, and the islands shall become one land;
"And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided.
"And the Lord, even the Savior, shall stand in the midst of his people, and shall reign over all flesh.
"And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence.
"And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep."
See also D&C 110:11.
Ludlow compares the psalm in Isaiah 12 with one's spiritual growth.
In Isaiah 12:1-2 the individual gains his own testimony of the atonement when he is forgiven his sins.
The next progression is when the individual wishes to share with other the joy of salvation (baptism … Isaiah 12:3).
Next, the individual exhorts others to "declare his doings among the people" (Isaiah 12:4).
Finally his testimony is manifested when he sings and testifies the truth of the gospel (Isaiah 12:5).