What Is the Meaning of “Tender Plant. . . out of Dry Ground”?

By Wayne Jackson

“In Isaiah 53, the coming Messiah is described as a ‘tender plant and as a root out of dry ground’ (v. 2). What is the meaning of this expression?”

Isaiah 53 is a veritable galaxy of prophecies regarding Jehovah’s suffering Servant — the Christ. Seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, God’s prophet declared that the Messiah would grow up under the Lord’s watchful eye, yet under the most disadvantageous conditions. The prophet symbolically describes the situation as being somewhat like a “tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground” (53:2). Hardly a plan for success, it would appear.

What was the significance of the prophetic declaration? And how was it to be fulfilled?

As noted already, a “tender plant,” attempting to survive in “dry ground” seems like an unlikely situation. In reality, however, such was by divine design! The text is intended to emphasize that what appears impossible with men, certainly is not with God. To use a gross but common figure of speech, the “deck was deliberately stacked” against the Messianic mission, the purpose of which was to demonstrate that the commencement and success of Christianity was orchestrated by Heaven. Such was not a result of a collection of “lucky” circumstances. Note:

  1. The Lord came from a paralyzed nation. The Jews had been laid low by several foreign powers in the centuries preceding the birth of Christ. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman invasions had held a stranglehold upon the Hebrew people. The nation of Israel had become but a “stump” compared to its glorious past. Yet from this apparent deadness, a “branch” would spring up to the amazement of humanity (Isaiah 11:1ff).
  2. Jesus arrived to commence his mission in the most vulnerable form imaginable — a newborn infant. Surely enemies, horrified by the prospect of a coming king, could extinguish this potential rival (as they perceived the matter). But not so; though Herod the Great attempted to exterminate the lovely child, he failed dismally in the effort (Matthew 2:13ff).
  3. Christ was reared in a despised community (John 1:46), yet such could not nullify his intrinsic divine nature. In fact, it further confirmed his humble background as previewed in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament (cf. Matthew 2:23).
  4. The Savior had no formal rabbinic education that he should amaze the people with a scholastic faade (John 7:15). Rather, his teaching was demonstrated to be from God (John 7:16; Matthew 7:28).
  5. The Messiah had no vast financial base, normally necessary to establish a successful regime. Actually, he was “poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9), without even a place to lay his head (Luke 9:57-58).
  6. Jesus possessed no political fame. The historians of the period virtually ignored him.
  7. The Hebrew people, Christ’s own national kinsmen, largely rejected him (John 1:11), and even his family initially scoffed at his claims (John 7:5).
  8. The Lord’s relatively small band of disciples were mostly unprofessional men, certainly not skilled in the implementation of a movement as powerful as Christianity turned out to be (cf. Acts 4:13). In fact, with such a heterogeneous mixture (e.g., Matthew, a tax-collector, and Simon a Zealot (Matthew 10:3; Acts 1:13), it is a wonder that the group held together at all.
  9. Jesus was put to death after only three years of public ministry, and at the young age of only thirty-three years — a fact that generally would signal the rapid evaporation of his influence.

Conclusion

In view of these startling facts, how does one reasonably account for the impact of Jesus and his Christian movement? If anything, his renown is all the more magnificent today — twenty centuries removed from his brief sojourn upon the earth — than it was in his own day. The answer is clear for all who are honest enough to acknowledge it. His success was divinely orchestrated. Christianity is not of human origin!

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.