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.