Seeing Beneath the Surface

By Mark D. Roberts

August 8, 2022

Scripture – Isaiah 11:1-4 (NIV)

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
+++from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
+++the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
+++the Spirit of counsel and of might,
+++the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
+++or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
+++with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.


Isaiah foretold the day when a unique leader would be given to the people of God. Because this leader would be filled with the Spirit of God, he wouldn’t see only what’s on the surface. Rather, his judgment and decisions would see beneath the surface, so that he could rightly pursue God’s righteousness and justice. Jesus is this unique leader, but we can aspire to be like him in our leadership, learning to see what lies under the surface.


Isaiah 11 envisions the coming of a special ruler for Israel. He will be a “shoot” from “the stump of Jesse,” meaning that he will be a descendant of King David (11:1). This ruler will be endowed with God’s own Spirit, who will supply wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and knowledge (11:2). Because of his divine endowment, this king will not judge in the way of other sovereigns. He will go deeper than what can be seen or heard. As Isaiah puts it, “[W]ith righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (11:3-4). In the day of this messianic ruler, peace will prevail along with God’s justice: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat” (11:6). Indeed, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).

From the earliest days, followers of Jesus have seen in Isaiah 11 a prophecy concerning Jesus the Messiah. He is the one who sees beyond what is obvious, who can peer into the hearts of people. He is the ruler who brings God’s justice and righteousness. Under his reign, the earth will experience the all-embracing peace of God.

As I reflect on this passage from Isaiah, it moves me to honor Jesus Christ as God’s unique ruler. But it also stirs in me a desire to become more like Jesus in my own leadership. I want to be one whose judgment goes beneath the surface. I want to see more than what is apparent to my eyes, to hear more than I can hear with my ears. I want to exercise leadership based on God’s righteousness, God’s right order for all relationships. I want to make decisions according to God’s justice.

How will this happen? How can we become leaders who embody Isaiah’s messianic vision? Knowing our limitations, we realize that this will be possible only with God’s help. As we study and meditate upon Scripture, we will come to think as God thinks. Through our fellowship with God’s people, we will be sharpened, even as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). And, as we attend to the Spirit of God who dwells within us, we will be guided by God’s own wisdom and knowledge. In time, God will form us to be more like him, with our heart conformed to God’s own heart. Thus, we will lead in the way of God, yet always under the supreme authority and acknowledging the supreme wisdom of God.


What helps you to see beneath the surface in your life and leadership?

Can you think of a time in your life when the Spirit of God was especially clear in guiding your decision-making?

What helps you to become more like Christ in your thinking, feeling, and doing?


In a time of prayer, ask the Lord to help you to see what isn’t obvious to you now.


Gracious God, thank you for Isaiah’s vision of the messianic rule. Not only does this vision help us to know Christ better, but also it gives us a yearning to be more like him.

Help us, Lord, to exercise leadership by your wisdom. Fill us anew with your Spirit so that we might be guided by you. Form our hearts and lives so that our leadership – no matter the context – reflects your righteousness and justice. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Reverse Mentoring

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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