This phrase has evolved from its biblical origins. Isaiah wrote about “the wolf dwelling with the lamb while the leopard lies down with the kid… and the young lion” (Isaiah 11:6). Yet, as with a phrase like “Pride goeth before a fall”, it’s the abbreviation that has survived the test of time: the lion shall lie down with the lamb.
But, however it’s phrased, what could sound more unnatural than a wolf or lion lying down with a lamb?
It’s a vision that has drawn mockery from many quarters:
– “Only in art will the lion lie down with the lamb, and the rose grow without thorn” (Martin Amis)
– “No absolute is going to make the lion lie down with the lamb unless the lamb is inside.” (D.H. Lawrence)
– “The lion will lay down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.” (Woody Allen)
Isaiah paints a deliberately provocative scene. Nature, as Tennyson reminded us, is red in tooth and claw. How absurd to think that it could be tamed! What could possibly bring about such a cosmic reversal?
As ever, Isaiah answers by pointing us to the Messiah. In the face of warring nations and warring nature, Isaiah continues to set our hope on a miraculous birth. The child will be called Immanuel or the Prince of Peace. Here in chapter 11 He’s called “the Branch.”
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. 6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them… 9 They shall not hurt nor 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 11:1-9)
When the true King reigns in righteousness, the world is set to rights. This is not a spiritual truth divorced from historical and physical reality. There will be a day when actual wolves and actual lambs graze together contentedly. When seals will swim happily with great white sharks. When children will play with crocodiles.
An impossible fairytale? No. You see Isaiah refuses to divorce “spiritual truths” from their earthly foundations. How can he, when the Messiah will be God with us. Christ is the God who becomes a Child. A God who really enters into our world – to be born as a human king. The power of heaven enters this world from the inside. Not just to grant spiritual benefits to spiritual people, but to remake His own creation.
We know that the false king, Adam, brought spiritual and physical death. But now, is Christ less powerful than Adam? Is His victory less decisive than Adam’s fall? No! Therefore Christ, when He comes again, will bring spiritual and physical redemption to the ends of the earth.
The believer in Christ has a physical hope – death defeated, wars vanquished, disease abolished, nature itself brought to peace and prosperity:
6 And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. 7 And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. 9 And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (Isaiah 25:6-9)