What does the scripture mean in Isaiah 11 where the wild animals dwell together in peace?
Let us consider the passage in question. “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. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den” (Isaiah 11:6-8).
This is an important and valid question as there are many pictures that show a lion laying down with a lamb depicting a millennial reign here on this earth when Christ sets up an earthly kingdom. That is a wrong and scripturally incorrect interpretation of the referenced passage in Isaiah 11. People have dreamed and imagined an age to come in which there is world peace and an absence of violence even amongst the animals. Man has used many colorful pictures and fanciful words to depict such a time of earthly glory.
Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly kingdom. Isaiah 11 is a beautiful, symbolic prophecy of the wonderful experience of peace and harmony that comes from salvation through Jesus Christ. We need not look to the future to find the fulfillment of this prophecy, for it was fulfilled with the first coming of the Messiah.
Let us look at some surrounding verses to get the proper context of this prophecy. “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). This and the proceeding scriptures point to none other than Christ Himself who was of the ancestry of Jesse, the father of King David. “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). This is further referenced to Christ in Jeremiah 23:5 and in Revelation 5:5 which reads ”
…the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed….”
The Apostle Paul refers to Isaiah 11 and enlightens the reader to the fulfillment in Christ. Speaking of Jesus, he says: “And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:8-13).
Paul was instructing the church at Rome to accept their Gentile brethren whom had gained entrance into the Kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit. Christ was lifted up on the cross and through His death and resurrection all mankind had access to the privileges of the kingdom. Jesus was reigning not only in the Jewish Christians but in the lives of the Gentile Christians. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11-12).
The glorious rest that was referenced in Isaiah 11:10 was introduced to the believer in the time of Christ. The message of the Messiah was “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). That wonderful rest and peace of the prophecy pointed directly to the peace that Jesus brought to the earth. No wonder the angels declared at the birth of the Messiah, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).
With this proper scriptural context, we can now begin to interpret the passage in question. We know now that we need not look to the future but to the past and present to understand what it means for wild animals to be living in harmony. Clearly, that has not happened in the animal kingdom up to this time. Let us remember that the Kingdom of God is spiritual and the rest and peace existed and still does today amongst true children of God. So we turn to a spiritual understanding of the passage. Prophecy is often given in symbolic language and so it is here in Isaiah 11. The animals listed are not speaking of the literal animal but of the corresponding animal-like characteristics of people. This is a common practice not only in the Old Testament but also of the New.
The prophet Ezekiel said, “Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood… (Ezekiel 22:27). Jesus told His disciples, “Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). Jesus, referring to Herod said, “Go ye, and tell that fox… (Luke 13:32). The people referred to were reflective of the nature of the analogous animals. Wolves represent people who were out to destroy others. Lambs are reflective of humility and meekness. A fox would represent someone who is crafty.
So Isaiah 11:6-8 tells a story of natural enemies being at peace one with another. This represents a wonderful state of harmony amongst people of all different backgrounds, characteristics, and personalities. People who are by nature defenseless live in harmony with those whom were by nature strong and devouring. The weak and the strong, the wild and the tame, the harmful and harmless all quietly abide together. How is this possible? It is not only possible but is a reality in the Kingdom of God. People of all nationalities and dispositions enter the kingdom through Jesus Christ. Their old nature is transformed and all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
God’s people today, under the reign and dominion of the Messiah, are safe and in unity. They have been partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) and the old hostile, ferocious, carnal tendencies are transformed into natures of love and peace. What a wonderful experience to be in this Kingdom today. Isaiah 11:6-8 paints a picture of the beautiful reality of God’s Kingdom that is reigning today.
While we enjoy the blessings of this spiritual kingdom of peace in this life through Jesus Christ, we also look with great anticipation to the time when we shall be in Heaven in the very presence of God.