Please stop saying “And a little child shall lead them”…

Okay, for the millionth time, I have heard someone say “And a little child shall lead them” out of context.  Today it happened on the news as I heard the story of a young boy who is raising money for a children’s charity.  The newscaster praised the young man for his efforts, which was a wonderful gesture.  At the end of the segment, another newscaster commented on the maturity and kind heart of the boy and then said to everyone watching: “And a little child shall lead them.”  In the context of the newscast, this statement meant that adults can learn from the leadership of a child.  Or, that in some way, the leadership of a child is superior to that of adults.

Now, I am not denying that this boy is a fine example to us all and that we would do well to follow his lead in being more concerned about the needs of others.  However, I am startled at how often the phrase “And a little child shall lead them” is taken completely out of context.  The original quote has nothing to do with children teaching or leading adults.

First, you have to understand that the phrase is actually a quote from the Old Testament.  It comes from Isaiah 11:6, which reads:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

As you can see right away, the text has nothing to do with a child leading adults.  It states that a child shall lead the wolf, lamb, leopard, young goat, calf, lion, and fattened calf.  This may seem strange if we do not continue to read a few more verses to get a better understanding of what is being discussed here.  Verses 7-9 continue:

The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

This passage is a discussion of the Day of the Lord.  This is the day that Christians look forward to when Jesus Christ will remove the curse of sin from our world and restore peace to all of creation.  As a result of this peace, wolf, lion, lamb, cobra, calf, bear, and children will all live in harmony.  A child will be able to lead a lion (or a wolf, etc.) around without fear of harm.

Let us stop using this phrase as if the Bible tells us that children will one day lead adults.  It says nothing of the sort.  If we are going to quote Bible verses, let us quote them in context.  Isaiah 11:6-9 is a wonderful passage that describes what God has in store for this fallen world that has so much violence, fear and death.  It will be a world of peace.

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10 Responses to Please stop saying “And a little child shall lead them”…

  1. wow says:

    I don’t think it was taken out of context. The boy was doing a wonderful thing – if everyone did what he was doing – there would be peace in the world. I think you are over-reacting. FYI if we all had a child’s mind and innocence – the world would be Peace. I know many adults who do wrong..molest children – beat children/wives – rob – steal

    are children born doing these?

    no

    they learn from adults

    …and a little child shall lead them

    is right on.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    wow:

    The passage is speaking of a little child leading a wolf, a bear, a lion, etc. I do not care how “innocent” a child is, it cannot happen in this world because the child would be harmed. The point of the passage is that when the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (v. 1) emerges and reigns as king, the world will be brought to peace. Jesus is that king, not some little child. To read it any other way is to miss the point of Isaiah 11. If you want to say “and Jesus shall lead them”, then you will be reading this passage correctly.

  3. Sandy says:

    IS THERE SUCH A VERSE IN THE BIBLE THAT SAYS NO CHILD SHALL BE HARMED? NEED THIS ASAP PLEASE CAN YOU HELP? THANK YOU

  4. Tim Farley says:

    Sandy:

    I think the verses quoted above in the original post, Isaiah 11:6-9, are the closest thing to what you are looking for. If you would like to search on your own, you could use BibleGateway.com . It is an excellent website for Bible study.

  5. Heysoos says:

    your inflexibility is making the baby jesus cry

  6. Tim Farley says:

    heysoos: Inflexibility in what way?

  7. linnhe says:

    Inflexibility by fact that you’re choosing to interpret the passage from your personal POV on bible study, and we all know that interpretation is a matter of how ones mind is made up, and from whom they get their education and instruction (because I’m certain these ideas of yours are not originally your own, sir). Perchance when the child is able to lead the wolf, the bear and the lion without fear, it will be by the ‘Grace of God’ he will be able to do so when peace shall reign upon earth … and if God chooses a child, or his only child as it well may be, to lead humanity into the realisation that there is a glorious day when we shall all live in harmony … including all wild creatures … without fear, then so be it … I’ll be taking him at his word, no matter who is leading whom. To bad you didn’t get to live long enough ago to make your corrections fit the message whilst writing along Isaiah … whatever ones idea of how the words fit together it is a beautiful passage, and one a stickler like you can’t possibly deminish the beauty of. Now I really must go … I need to attach Isaiah’s words to a beautiful image I have of a child hugging a lion … context be damned!

  8. Tim Farley says:

    linnhe: While it is true that interpretations of some passages are influenced by one’s presuppositions, that is not the case in this passage. It is basic grammar we are discussing. The passage is about a child leading dangerous animals around and not being harmed – because the world is at peace (nature is in harmony). The child is not leading adults in the passage. I do not care what your theological persuasion is. If you understand basic grammatical constructions, you know that is what the text says. And you do not need any more context than Isaiah 11:6 to determine that the word “them” in this verse refers to the wolf, leopard, and lion. I hope you can agree on that.

  9. M says:

    The person who wrote this article I think should realize this fact… A little child did lead them. If memory serves one of the children was born in a manager

  10. Tim Farley says:

    M: When did the child Jesus (the baby born in a manger) lead the wolf, leopard, and lion? The passage speaks of the future peace on earth when nature is restored to harmony. This has not taken place. It is the hope that Christians hold to, but it is future. We still live in a world where wolves, lions, and leopards are dangerous and we would not allow our children to play with them. The picture painted in Isaiah is a world where there is no longer a danger of harm. Jesus makes this picture possible, but it has not yet happened.

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