Branch, Edward Taylor, Isaiah 11, Jeremiah 33, Literature, New Covenant, New Creation, poem, Poetry
At this point, Taylor turns to petition in his prayer. The first part of the poem lays the ground for the prayer, the nature of the need, the greatness of the Savior, and praise. But there he comes to ask that this “sovereign solder” come to repair.
It is a rather musical stanza, particularly relying upon alliteration of R: Rod, bRanch, repair, ridge, rib, rafter, gRace, renew, gRace; D: David, deck, do, ridge, guilD; B: Branch, bough, blood bad, ridge, riB.
There is the contrast of the Rod and Branch versus the “flesh and blood bag” (which is a ghastly image).
In line 25, Taylor puts the emphasis on Branch, by placing it immediately after the pause and beginning the second half of the stanza with a trochee rather than iamb: BRANCH of his BOUGH.
Thou Rod of David’s root, Branch of his bough (25)
My Lord, repair thy palace. Deck thy place.
I’m but a flesh and blood bag; Oh! Do thou
Still, plate, ridge, rib, and rafter me with grace.
Renew my soul, and guild it all within:
And hang thy saving grace on every pin. (30)
The prayer is direct, “Repair thy palace.” He gives details of the repair which must be done in lines 28-30:
Still, plate, ridge, rib, and rafter me with grace.
Renew my soul, and guild it all within:
And hang thy saving grace on every pin
Every element is to be remade “hang thy saving grace on every pin.” The revision is to be total.
The reference to Christ as a “branch” has prophetic warrant. In Isaiah 11, we read:
Isaiah 11:1–2 (AV)
1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
The Branch from the stem of Jesse (King David’s father) is plainly the Lord.
Jeremiah 33:14–16 (AV)
14 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. 15 In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness.
The prophetic references to Christ as the “Branch” are in the context of the coming of Christ are both in the context of the restoration and repair the Christ (the anointed one) will bring. The full context of the Isaiah prophecy reads:
Isaiah 11:1–9 (AV)
1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. 6 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. 7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. 9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
The theme of repair also has prophetic background. The repair comes after there has been a lapse. Thus, Elijah calls the people to repair the altar of the Lord which was torn down in the time of Baal worship (1 Kings 18:30); the repair of the temple by King Jehoash (2 Kings 12) after the usurpation of Athaliah; the repair of the temple by Josiah after the wicked rule of Amon (2 Kings 22); the repair of Jerusalem under Nehemiah after the return from exile.
Thus, this prayer of Taylor has deep biblical roots: He calls upon the Branch to repair the palace of God, the manner of the Kings and prophets who repaired temple and altar.
The next three stanzas add more detail to the prayer of repair.
In this next stanza, the musical effect is upon the assonance, particularly the “o’s”: soul, Lord, floor, o’re, orient, o’re, gold, glorious; and alliteration of p’s and g’s. The words of this stanza must be voiced to be appreciated.
My soul, Lord, make thy shining temple, pave
Its floor all o’re with orient grace: thus gild
It o’re with heaven’s gold: its cabins have
Thy treasuries with choicest thoughts up filled
Portray thy glorious image all about (35)
Upon thy temple wall within and out.
The general tenor of the prayer is plain: make this a golden palace. But of special interest are lines 34-36. Asking to be gilded by God does not have a plain reference in the life of a man. What does it mean to be “gilded”. He gives details here: First, it concerns the nature of his psychological life: it is to be filled with choice thoughts. He is asking specifically for a rational revision of his thought life.
Second, he asks that the image of God by made plain in him. This prayer is from Colossians:
Colossians 3:9–10 (AV)
9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; 10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
The Christian is being renewed after the image of God – which is in in Christ. He is asking to be like Jesus. The renewal is a life which is wholly remade in the image of God, which here would be seen in the way in which he thinks (and thus lives).
The next specific prayer is taken from Ephesians 6 in a well-known passage about “spiritual warefare”:
Ephesians 6:10–17 (AV)
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
Taylor reworks that imagery into a prayer as follows:
Garnish thy hall with gifts, Lord, from above
With that rich coat of mail thy righteousness
Truth’s belt, the Spirit’s sword, the buckler love
Hope’s helmet, and the shield of faith kept fresh.
The scutcheons of thy honor my sign.
As garland tuns are badges made of wine.
The last line is a bit difficult: a “tun” is a large barrel of wine. A garland tun would be a garlanded barrel. I assume this is a reference to festivity.
The last stanza partakes of two biblical allusions. First, the motto for the poem, 2 Corinthians 5:17 (AV) “Therefore if any man bein Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
The second reference is from David’s great prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:
Psalm 51:9–11 (AV)
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Note the repeated use of the word “new/renew” in this stanza:
New mold, new make me thus, me new create
Renew in me a spirit right, pure, true.
Lord make me thy new creature, then new make
All things of thy new creature here anew.
New heart, new thoughts, new words, new ways likewise.
New glory then shall to thyself arise.
A new heart is the great promise of the new covenant (which the Branch brings about). And all things “new” is the great eschatological promise:
Revelation 21:1–5 (AV)
1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
And so the renewal of one’s spirit in this life points to the eschatological new creation when all is made new.