To Us a Child is Born, 1-7
This whole passage is evidently a birth announcement. But whereas ‘the birth announcement in Isa 8:1-4 was evidently intended by Isaiah to refer to the coming of the first “Immanuel,” Isaiah’s son, while the birth announcement in Isa 9:1-7 was manifestly intended to refer to the coming of the second, greater “Immanuel,” the Messiah.’ (Nicholl, The Great Christ Comet, p209).
Isa 9:1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-
Nevertheless – ‘As always, the people of God must decide what reading of their experiences they will live by. Are they to look at the darkness, the hopelessness, the dreams shattered and conclude that God has forgotten them? Or are they to recall his past mercies, to remember his present promises and to make great affirmations of faith?’ (Cf. Ps 74:2-17 77:5-15) (Motyer)
‘Note, In the worst of times God’s people have a nevertheless to comfort themselves with, something to allay and balance their troubles; they are persecuted, but not forsaken, (2 Cor 4:9) sorrowful yet always rejoicing, 2 Cor 6:10. And it is matter of comfort to us, when things are at the darkest, that he who forms the light and creates the darkness (ch. 45:7) has appointed to both their bounds and set the one over against the other, Gen 4:4. He can say, “Hitherto the dimness shall go, so long it shall last, and no further, no longer.”‘ (MHC)
‘In place of an unfaithful monarch whose shortsighted defensive policies will actually plunge the nation into more desperate straits, there is lifted up the ideal monarch who, though a child, will bring an end to all wars and establish an eternal kingdom based upon justice and righteousness.’ (Oswalt)
There will be no more gloom – There is light at the end of the tunnel! The theme of light and darkness is continued from 8:20-22. The Redeemer will bring to the world the dawning of a new day, v2; cf. Lk 1:78-79 Jn 8:12. The applicability of this prophecy to Christ is confirmed by Mt 4:13-15.
According to Marvin A. Sweeney, ‘The contrasting images of light and darkness in this passage have defied adequate explanation.’ Colin Nicholl (The Great Christ Comet p211), who cites Sweeney, comments: ‘When, however the imagery is interpreted in the light of Yahweh’s offer to do a celestial sign in Isa 7:10-14, it can be readily explained.’ (For Nicholl, of course, the explanation is to be found in the form of a comet).
In the past – The future is spoken of as already accomplished. ‘The future is written as something which has already happened, for it belonged to the prophetic consciousness of men like Isaiah to cast themselves forward in time and then look back on the mighty acts of God, saying to us, “Look forward to it, it is certain, he has already done it!”‘ (Motyer) The impending devastation of the northern kingdom by Assyria is relegated to the past. ‘By faith he sees a glorious reversal that will one day be effected by God’s grace.’ (Webb)
He humbled – The action is all on God’s side. The devastation of the northern lands took place around 733 BC.
Zebulum…Naphtali…Galilee – The northern and eastern parts of the northern kingdom, which were the first to fall the Assyria. Naphtali was situated on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Zebulun was between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean. But grace will re-visit those very regions that were the first to experience God’s judgement. Matthew will be at pains to point out that Jesus brought the gospel first to these same regions, Mt 4:12-17.
Galilee of the Gentiles – The northern extension of Naphtali. It was an area with a mixed population; Zebulun and Naphtali having failed to oust the original Canaanites from the area, Jud 1:30,33. Even the Gentiles are involved in the message of hope, Isa 11:10 42:1,6; 496; 60:1-3.
By the way of the sea – That is, Zebulun, the land between the Sea of Galilee and the Meditteranean.
Along the Jordan – or, ‘over the Jordan’.
‘The gloom of Gods judgment upon his people would not be permanent. Those regions around the Sea of Galilee which were the first to be overrun by northern enemies, would be the first to see the dawn of a new day of great light, i.e., a new revelation from God (9:1f.). The passage forecasts the great work of Christ and all the blessings which he would bring. (cf. Mt 4:13ff) In four beautiful word pictures that glorious day is described. First, the day of Messiah would be a day of expansion. God would enlarge the nation (9:3a). The reference probably is to the incorporation of Gentiles into the new Israel of God, the church of Christ. Second, that would be a day of joy like unto that which follows a successful harvest or battle (9:3b). Third, Messiahs coming would usher in a day of deliverance. The rod and yoke of the Great Oppressor would be shattered as in the day when Gideon crushed the hordes of Midian (9:4). Finally, that would be a day of peace. The picture is that of the clean-up after war. Warriors boots and blood-stained garments would be consigned to fire (9:5).’ (Zuck, OT Survey)
Instead of darkness there will be light, v2; instead of sorrow there will be joy, v3; instead of defeat there will be victory, v4; and instead of war there will be peace, v5.
Isa 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Now comes the climax of 8:1-9:7. Indeed, we can go back as far as Isa 7:1, for in place of an unfaithful monarch whose shortsighted defensive policies will actually plunge the nation into more desperate straits, there is lifted up the ideal monarch who, though a child, will bring an end to all wars and establish an eternal kingdom based upon justice and righteousness.’ (Oswalt) Three things are promised here: (a) a great and gladdening light, v2; (b) national enlargement and prosperity, v3; (c) peace and liberty, v4f. They ‘all point ultimately at the grace of the gospel, which the saints then were to comfort themselves with the hopes of in every cloudy and dark day, as we now are to comfort ourselves in time of trouble with the hopes of Christ’s second coming, though that be now, as his first coming then was, a thing at a great distance. The mercy likewise which God has in store for his church in the latter days may be a support to those that are mourning with her for her present calamities.’ (MHC)
Darkness…light – This transformation points to the creative act of God, cf. Isa 4:5; Gen 1:2-3; 2 Cor 4:6. We might reflect on the extent to which our own generation might be described as ‘walking in darkness’.
A great light – God’s presence is often likened to light, Isa 42:16; 2 Sam 22:29; Job 29:3; Ps 139:11-12; 1 Jn 1:5; see also Lk 1:78f; Jn 1:4; 8:20; 2 Cor 4:4. Colin Nicholl (The Great Christ Comet) notes that this description is suggestive of a conspicuous celestial display, given that the sun and the moon are referred to as ‘great lights’ in Gen 1:16. He thinks that a prominent comet is predicted, consistent with the one that led the magi to the birth-place of Jesus, Mt 2 (see also Rev 12).
Seen…has dawned – point to the subjective experience and objective fact respectively. The former is the human reaction; the latter the divine action.
The shadow of death – the kind of trouble that casts a death-like shadow.
Isa 9:3 you have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.
The great joy expressed in this verse is occasioned by release from oppression, v4, the cessation of war, v5, and the birth of a great king, v6. ‘The alternation of past and future tenses expresses the bold confidence with which the oracle is delivered.’ (Webb) This confidence comes from an assurance that ‘the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this’, v7.
Harvest…plunder – These two similes ‘express the idea of every sort of joy, joy in its completeness’ (Motyer). The first occurs in the sphere of nature, the second in the arena of history. One indicates deliverance from adverse circumstances, from material want, the other from adversaries themselves, from military oppression.
Isa 9:4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
As in the day of Midian’s defeat – Gideon’s victory over the Midianites is recorded in Judg 6-8. The imagery, however, is that of the Exodus. There is a threefold oppression from which they will be relieved: the burden of carrying heavy loads, the pain of being hit with a stick (not ‘bar’, says Motyer) across the shoulders, and the hostility of their taskmasters.
Isa 9:5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
The final victory of the king will bring and end to war and will usher in a time of wise rule and lasting peace (cf. vv6f.)
Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The coming dawn and the abolition of the trappings of war prepare us to meet a deliverer, already foretold as Immanuel in 7:14; 8:8. Whereas Isa 7:14 concentrates on his birth and 11:1-16 on his kingdom, vs 6-7 chiefly emphasize his person.
For… – Here is the ultimate explanation for the great reversal of fortunes; for the relief of oppression and the ceasing of warfare..
Some scholars, especially Jewish commentators, relate all of this to the birth of Hezekiah. However, it is clear from the language that no human king is being described. ‘To whom is the prophet referring? Certainly, the Davidic king was sometimes spoken of in terms of divine sonship, Psa 2. But this was ‘at best an adopted sonship, a “grace and favour” title; likewise, the deity of the king in Ps 45:7. But here is a born king, (cf. Mt 2:2) actually divine. In him everything that was envisaged is embodied; he is the eschaton.’ (Motyer)
A child is born…a son is given – The first expression emphasises his humanity, the second his divinity. Calvin is of the opinion that ‘son’ can only mean ‘Son of God’, as in 2 Sam 7:14 Ps 2:7. ‘The emphasis falls not on what the child will do when grown up but on the mere fact of his birth. In his coming all that results from his coming is at once secured.’ (Motyer)
‘Child relates him to his ancestry; son expresses his maleness and dignity in the royal line; he is born as from human parentage and given as from God.’ (Motyer)
Oswalt says that the reference to child indicates two things in particular: (a) he will be truly human (i.e. with a truly human arrival), though with divine attributes; (b) ‘But the language also makes another point. This point underlines the central paradox in Isaiah’s conception of the Yahweh’s deliverance of his people. How will God deliver from arrogance, war, oppression, and coercion? by being more arrogant, more warlike, more oppressive, and more coercive? Surely, the book of Isaiah indicates frequently that God was powerful enough to destroy his enemies in an instant, yet again and again, when the prophet comes to the heart of the menas of deliverance, a childlike face peers out at us. God is strong enough to overcome his enemies by becoming vulnerable, transparent, and humble – the only hope, in fact for turning enmity into friendship.’
‘See him in his humiliation. The same that is the mighty God is a child born; the ancient of days becomes an infant of a span long; the everlasting Father is a Son given. Such was his condescension in taking our nature upon him; thus did he humble and empty himself, to exalt and fill us. He is born into our world. The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. He is given, freely given, to be all that to us which our case, in our fallen state, calls for. God so loved the world that he gave him. He is born to us, he is given to us, us men, and not to the angels that sinned. It is spoken with an air of triumph, and the angel seems to refer to these words in the notice he gives to the shepherds of the Messiah’s having come, (Lk 2:11) Unto you is born, this day, a Saviour.’ (MHC)
The government – this word suggests the executive authority of a prince – will be on his shoulders – When he takes up the burden of rule, the burden of oppression will be lifted from the people’s shoulders, v4. He will not only wear the badge of government, he will bear the burden of it. (MHC)
‘Other scriptures confirm that the first three titles imply divinity; e.g. Wonderful regularly means ‘supernatural’ (cf. especially Jdg. 13:18), and it is Yahweh who is ‘wonderful in counsel’ in Isa 28:29. There have been attempts to reduce Mighty God to ‘god-like hero’, (cf. Eze 32:21, where, however, the term is plural) but 10:21 uses the identical term alongside ‘the LORD, the Holy one of Israel’ (10:20). Everlasting Father has no exact parallel but there is a paradox in so naming a child yet to be born. Father signifies the paternal benevolence of the perfect Ruler over a people whom he loves as his children. Peace in Hebrew implies prosperity as well as tranquillity, and v 7 takes up the Hebrew of Prince (in the word government) as well as peace, adding now the first explicit assurance that the prince will be Davidic (cf. 11:1). (Kidner, NBC)
Wonderful Counselor – The first word has resonances of wonder-working, of miracles, Jud 13:18. Think of the wonders that attended the earthly life of Christ, and of the wonder that these invoked in those who witnessed them. The second term suggests immense wisdom. Christ, being intimately acquainted with the mind of God from the beginning, is referred to as the very word of God, Jn 1:1; the word who became flesh, Jn 1:14.
It is anachronistic to regard this title as suggesting something akin to modern psychotherapy (this mistake is made by Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling, art. ‘Counseling and psychotherapy: Biblical themes’). The ‘counsel’ here is that of a wise ruler or judge, rather than that of a psychologist or therapist.
Mighty God – a divine warrior, answering to the military allusions in vv3-5. This term is applied to Yahweh in Deut 10:17; Isa 10:21; Jer 32:18.
Everlasting Father – Or, ‘Father of eternity’. To the Jew, the word ‘father’ indicated a source, or originator. Hence, Satan is called ‘the Father of lies’, Jn 8:44. ‘This is surely a reference to the fact that Jesus alone can give eternal life; he is its father for it originates with him. “As many as believed in him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.”‘ (Stedman)
‘The Messiah is not here called “Father,” by way of any confusion with him who is pre-eminently called “The Father.” Our Lord’s proper name, so far as the Godhead is concerned, is not the Father, but the Son…Our text has no bearing upon the position and titles of the three Persons with regard to each other; it does not indicate the relation of Deity to itself, but the relation of Jesus Christ to us.’ (Spurgeon)
What does Isaiah teach about “Fathers” – both human and divine? See Isa 22:21-23,43:27,51:2,58:14,63:16,64:8.
‘The phrase may either mean the same as Eternal Father – and the sense will be, that the Messiah will not, as must be the case with an earthly king, however excellent, leave his people destitute after a short reign, but will rule over them and bless them for ever (Hengstenberg;) or it may be used in accordance with a custom usual in Hebrew and Arabic, where he who possesses a thing is called the father of it. Thus the father of strength means, strong; the father of knowledge, intelligent; the father of glory, glorious; the father of goodness, good; the father of peace, peaceful. According to this, the meaning of the phrase, the Father of eternity, is properly eternal. The application of the word here is derived from this usage. The term Father is not applied to the Messiah here with any reference to the distinction in the Divine nature; for that word is uniformly, in the Scriptures, applied to the first, not to the second person of the Trinity. But it is used in reference to duration as a Hebraism involving high poetic beauty. He is not merely represented as everlasting, but he is introduced, by a strong figure, as even the Father of eternity. It may be added, that this attribute is often applied to the Messiah in the New Testament: Jn 8:58 Col 1:17 Rev 1:11,17,18 Heb 1:10-11 Jn 1:1-2.’ (Barnes)
The Messiah is described as both a Son (“unto us a Son is given”) and a Father (“his name will be called…Everlasting Father”). He became a child in time (through the incarnation), but he is the Father of eternity.
1. He lives forever, Isa 57:15
2. He is pre-existent, Mic 5:2 Jn 1:30 3:13 8:57-58 16:27-28 17:24 19:9-11 Col 1:17 Heb 7:3. ‘Christ was unique among men in that his life did not mark his origin but merely his appearance as a man on the stage of time. Of him alone can it be said that his life did not begin when he was born. He was “the meeting-place of eternity and time, the blending of deity and humanity, the jundtion of heaven and earth”.’ (Sanders, Christ Incomparable, 16)
3. He is the beginning and the end, Ps 90:2 Rev 1:8 (cf. Rev 21:6)
4. He is the giver of everlasting life, Heb 5:9 Rev 21:7
5. He is self-existent, Ex 3:14 Jn 8:58
6. His character is unchangeable, Heb 13:8
Christ is therefore described as being a source of timeless fatherless protection and provision:-
1. He will never leave us nor forsake us, Heb 13:5
2. He maintains an everlasting presence, Mt 28:20
3. He gives eternal life, Jn 14:19
4. He has an everlasting throne and kingdom, Heb 1:10.
5. He is able to save completely and for ever, Heb 7:25
‘The father of the age. The Greek translator has added future and, in my opinion, the translation is correct, for it denotes eternity, unless it be thought better to view it as denoting “perpetual duration,” or “an endless succession of ages,” lest any one should improperly limit it to the heavenly life, which is still hidden from us. (Col 3:3) True, the Prophet includes it, and even declares that Christ will come, in order to bestow immortality on his people; but as believers, even in this world, pass from death to life, (Jn 5:24 1 Jn 3:14) this world is embraced by the eternal condition of the Church.
The name Father is put for Author, because Christ preserves the existence of his Church through all ages, and bestows immortality on the body and on the individual members. Hence we conclude how transitory our condition is, apart from him; for, granting that we were to live for a very long period after the ordinary manner of men, what after all will be the value of our long life? We ought, therefore, to elevate our minds to that blessed and everlasting life, which as yet we see not, but which we possess by hope and faith.’ (Rom 8:25) (Calvin)
He will be an enduring and compassionate provider and protector of his people. Cf. Isa 40:9-11.
‘Father is not current in the Old Testament as a title of the kings. Used of the Lord, is points to his concern for the helpless, (Ps 68:5) care or discipline of his people (Ps 103:13 Pr 3:12 Isa 63:16 64:8) and their loyal, reverential response to him. (Jer 3:4,19 Mal 1:6) For similar ideas used regarding the Davidic King see Ps 72:4,12-14 Isa 11:4. Probably the leading idea in the name Father here is that his rule follows the pattern of divine fatherhood. As eternal/’of eternity’, he receives ‘such an epithet as could, of course, be applied to Yahweh alone’. G.A.F. Knight Isaiah uses ‘eternity’ more than any other author, sometimes in a general sense (e.g. 26:4; 30:8) but also in its unmistakeable sense (e.g. 57:15; 64:9; 65:18). When the people asked for a king they had in mind that a continuing institution would provide them with a security greater and more reassuring than the episodic rule of the judges. But total security requires more even than this stop-go rule and is achieved in a king who reigns eternally.’ (Motyer)
‘He is God, one with the Father, who is from everlasting to everlasting. He is the author of everlasting life and happiness to them, and so is the Father of a blessed eternity to them. He is the Father of the world to come (so the Septuagint reads it), the father of the gospel-state, which is put in subjection to him, not to the angels, Heb 2:5. He was, from eternity, Father of the great work of redemption: his heart was upon it; it was the product of his wisdom as the counsellor, of his love as the everlasting Father.’ (MHC)
Recall that Jesus said to Philip, Jn 14:9 “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” On the equality of the Father and the Son, see also Col 1:19 2:9.
This word means, “father; grandfather; forefather; ancestor.” It occurs some 1,120 times in the OT. It covers the following meanings:-
1. Father, the male parent, Gen 2:24 Le 19:3.
2. Grandfather, greatgrandfather, or other paternal ancestor, Gen 28:13 1 Kings 19:4
3. The head or founder of a clan, Jer 35:6, tribe, Jos 19:47, group with a special calling, 1 Chron 24:19, dynasty, 1 Kings 15:3, nation, Jos 24:3.
4. Founder of a class or trade, Gen 4:20.
5. As a title of respect, any older man, 1 Sam 24:11, teacher, 2 Kings 2:12, prophet, 2 Kings 6:21, priest, Jud 17:10.
6. Again, as a title of respect, husband, Jer 3:4.
7. Adviser, Gen 45:8.
8. The plural form of the word can mean ‘family’, Ex 6:25.
‘God is described as the “father” of Israel. (Deut 32:6) he is the one who begot and protected them, the one they should revere and obey. Mal 2:10 tells us that God is the “father” of all people. He is especially the “protector” or “father” of the fatherless: “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.” (Ps 68:5) As the “father” of a king, God especially aligns himself to that man and his kingdom: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men.” (2 Sam 7:14) Not every king was a son of God-only those whom he adopted. In a special sense, the perfect King was God’s adopted Son: “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” (Ps 2:7) The extent, power, and duration of his kingdom are guaranteed by the Father’s sovereignty. (cf. Ps 2:8-9) On the other hand, one of the Messiah’s enthronement names is “Eternal Father:” “… And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6)
Prince of peace – cf. Heb 13:20n
‘It is a might marvel that he who was an infant should at the same time be infinite.’ (Spurgeon)
Isa 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end – Earthly rule has a tendency to decadence: what begins as gold ends up as clay. But Messiah’s kingdom goes from strength to strength.
He will reign on David’s throne – Therefore, the ‘son’ referred to in v6 must be ‘the son of David’.
‘What the OT, including Isaiah, can only record as promises and ideals that contrast starkly with human reality, the NT invites the Christian to see fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Son of David and Divine King of Heaven and Earth.’ (Watts)
‘Here is the Old Testament Messianic enigma: how can a veritable son of David be Mighty God and “Father of eternity?” This was precisely the tension in Old Testament truth which the Lord Jesus tried to make the blinkered Pharisees face in Mt 22:41-46.’ (Motyer)
This verse summarises four great elements of OT teaching:-
When was this kingdom established? It did not take place in the time of any Old Testament monarch. But everything begins to fall into place when a Descendant of David is baptized and anointed with the Spirit and begins to preach in Galilee that the kingdom of God has arrived-although he refuses to allow the crowd to make him a political king.
The Lord’s Anger Against Israel, 9:8-10:4
Isa 9:8 The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel.
The present section runs from 9:8 to 10:4. The focus returns to present realities – in this case, the plight of the nothern kingdom and its imminent demise (Webb).
This passage has much in common with 5:8-25. The evils denounced are similar in both passages: arrogance, bad leadership, civil strife and oppression. The former passage, however, dealt with Judah, whereas the present one deals with Israel.
Motyer describes this pasage as ‘a classic of biblical social analysis, impressive in its logic, frightening in its inevitability.’ The four stanzas indicate:
1. National decline, 9:8-12. Internal setbacks, v10, will be followed by external attack, v11.
2. Political collapse, 9:13-17. Because of failure to repent, v13, leadership will be undermined, vv14-16, and there will be widespread suffering, v17.
3. Social anarchy, 9:18-21. A spirit of total self-concern, v19, brings no satisfaction, v20. The nations falls apart, united only in its hostility to Judah, v21.
4. Systematic injustice, 10:1-4. The basis of morality, undergirded by law, is overturned. The suffering of the helpless, v2, is matched only by that of the perpetrators in the day of judgement, v3f.
Note in this verse the power of the word of the Lord, which seems almost to take on a life of its own.
Isa 9:9 All the people will know it-Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria-who say with pride and arrogance of heart,
Ephraim = Israel.
Isa 9:10 “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.”
Isa 9:11 But the LORD has strengthened Rezin’s foes against them and has spurred their enemies on.
Isa 9:12 Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west have devoured Israel with open mouth. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.
Isa 9:13 But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the LORD Almighty.
Isa 9:14 So the LORD will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day;
Isa 9:15 the elders and prominent men are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail.
Isa 9:16 Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray.
Isa 9:17 Therefore the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men, nor will he pity the fatherless and widows, for everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks vileness. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.
Isa 9:18 Surely wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns, it sets the forest thickets ablaze, so that it rolls upward in a column of smoke.
Isa 9:19 By the wrath of the LORD Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire; no one will spare his brother.
Isa 9:20 On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied. Each will feed on the flesh of his own offspring :
Isa 9:21 Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh; together they will turn against Judah. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.