Isaiah 53 is one of the most profound messianic prophecies because of its list of details that were unquestionably fulfilled in Jesus Christ. One of those details is found in verse 2: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
Isaiah uses the metaphor “a root out of dry ground” to emphasize the unfavorable conditions in which the Messiah would appear and the lack of physical attractiveness He would possess. He would not fit the stereotype of previous Jewish leaders: He was not handsome like David (1 Samuel 16:12) nor tall and imposing like Saul (1 Samuel 9:2). A dry root in the barren ground does not appear to have much of a chance; it doesn’t appear to have life in it at all. However, God can make a dormant bulb produce incredible beauty. That is the point Isaiah is making when he compares the coming Messiah to a root springing out of dry ground.
The Lord came to earth “in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5–8). He did not arrive in a palace or make His appearance among the religious elite. He came without pomp and circumstance; rather, His coming was like the slow growth of an overlooked plant. God sent His Son to a peasant woman (Luke 1—2) in a region of Galilee that was not known for producing greatness (John 1:46). The Son took on the form of a common man in order to identify with us in our weakness (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was largely overlooked by His own people (John 1:11–12), as disregarded as a root out of dry ground. Even when He began His teaching ministry, those who heard Him were perplexed because He was thought to be only the “carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55).
The Jewish nation anticipated a Messiah who would display God’s glory, rally the people, and, by demonstrating of His power, lead them to magnificent victory over the Romans to usher in an age of prosperity and peace. But that’s not what they got. To borrow from Isaiah’s metaphor, the Messiah did not come like a luxurious, well-watered plant, springing from rich and fertile soil; rather, He came like a scrubby, withering plant struggling up from the arid desert sands. Their expectations went unmet. Once they saw Him face to face, the Messiah seemed to them rather stunted and fruitless.
Jesus had not come to be honored and to set up the kingdom. Jesus came to be humbled and to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He had to take care of the sin problem before He could bring people into the kingdom. His own people rejected Him (John 1:11), yet, like so many roots that appear dead and useless, Jesus had life within Him (John 11:25), and He brought new life to everyone who believed in Him (John 14:6). He provided the kind of life people cannot obtain on their own. The “root out of dry ground” proved to be the most beautiful, most glorious, and most life-giving Root. All who abide in Him bear fruit of their own (John 15:1–8).
Isaiah also writes of the Messiah’s future glory: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). The root out of dry ground seemed worthless, and they killed Him (Luke 24:20). Yet, when He rose from the dead, He proved that He contained more life than anyone had imagined, and He continues to offer that same life to all who trust in Him (John 3:16–18).