The Great ‘O’ antiphon for today is ‘O root of Jesse’. This is another antiphon based on chapter 11 of Isaiah.
‘A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.’ Isaiah 11.1
In the Old Testament, Jesse is the father of King David, who was revered by the Jewish people as the greatest of their kings. David had conquered territory and extended the borders of kingdom. He had been accepted as king by all twelve of the tribes of Israel bringing them together as one country. Above all, in the words of the Old Testament, David was renowned as ‘a man after God’s own heart’.
By the time of Isaiah, the prophet there had been a great decline from the reign of King David. The tribes had become divided and large parts of the country had been lost through conflict. Isaiah would witness the destruction of David’s kingdom by the conquering Babylonian army. David’s successor as king would be forced to witness the execution of his sons by the victors. He was then blinded and with many of the people was taken into exile in Babylon. This is the event recalled in Psalm 137: ‘By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept.
Although times were bleak for the Jews and for King David’s descendants, God’s promise that David’s line would continue was remembered. This promise is the foundation for the prophesy in Isaiah 11.1. The line that runs from Jesse through David will grow again, like a shoot growing from an old stump. When the Angel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary he says:
‘The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end’.
Jesus is the promised successor to King David. Like David, he is ‘a man after God’s own heart’ and he will reign for ever. The full text of the antiphon is:
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us and delay no longer.