The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11:6-9 (ESV)
As a new convert to Jesus—many years ago—I was incredibly excited about all the new things I was learning about God, the Bible, and the worship of the church. I remember one day looking at the hymn board at my church, which announced that it was Epiphany II or III, and realizing that “Epiphany” was probably a Greek word meaning something. I looked it up. It is. I also remember reading in Revelation about the New Jerusalem where each gate was a single pearl (Revelation 21:21) and making the connection to the term “pearly gates.”
I enthusiastically devoured all of this knowledge as only an earnest young convert can. Whatever else was the outcome of this quest for information, it did make me a marginally useful niche player on trivia night.
Reading the appointed lessons for Advent II—a Latin root this time—we see this in Isaiah 11:
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain;
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
The image is arresting—the earth is as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is full of water. The sea is never empty; its waters completely cover most of the earth’s surface. Such will be our knowledge of the Lord. But also notice with me the outcome, the impact of this knowledge that fills the earth. It changes behavior. Verses 6 through 8 of Isaiah 11 paint a picture of the impact of the knowledge of the Lord. Even natural predators (wolf, leopard, lion, bear, cobra) behave differently. They will not harm or destroy because the earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
We know there is a knowledge that puffs up—Paul reminds us of this in I Corinthians 8:1. My early Christian-life-information quest had that danger: leading me to self-congratulation about how much I knew. This is clearly not the “knowledge of the Lord” that Isaiah is speaking of. This knowledge is not mere factoids. It is a personal, relational knowing that does much more than just inform us about Jesus. It is a knowing—that includes things that are factual and true—but that transforms our basest and worst behaviors.
This is the promise of the Gospel. This knowledge of Jesus changes us. Radically. If we are to take the scriptures seriously, it makes us into saints.
Isaiah 11 reminds us that Jesus came into the world not to make trivia champions, but to overcome the wolf and leopard within us and to make us holy.