Rev. Peter shares from Isaiah 9:1-7, continuing his series about the prophecies leading up to the birth of Jesus.
In spite of all the advances of civilization, the world today is still consumed with a desire for peace and a fear of war. WWW3 Trump North Korea and Kin Jongun. When people observe the conflicts and the rumours of wars, gloom and despair often engulf them like a thick darkness. Not the least of the trouble spots is the Middle East. Peace there has been the pursuit for centuries. While there have been scores of efforts to bring about peace between Israel and Syria and the Palestinians, no one would be surprised if war broke out tomorrow.
Peace movements and peace negotiations proceed all over the world. Stronger countries believe that peace must be negotiated from a position of power; radical groups believe that terror will force the issue. But we are left with a more dangerous and more frightening world than ever before. And we are left wondering if anyone is really interested in peace and righteousness and justice for all, or just in securing their own interests?
The problem is still the presence of evil. It sets brother against brother, and nation against nation. Ultimately, the world’s gloom and despair is linked to spiritual darkness.
The Bible comforts and reminds those of us who have come to trust in Jesus Christ not to despair as if there was no hope. We have the revelation of our Lord that not only announces His sovereign reign but also charts the course of world events. One of the most significant revelations is found in Isaiah 9.
Against the background of the prophecy of war and destruction, darkness and gloom (chapter 8) Isaiah gave this prophecy about the Messiah—the glorious coming king. “Messiah” is a Hebrew term that means “anointed one,” that is, the anointed king. In a sense, every king who was anointed in Jerusalem as a descendant of David would be called a “mashiah” (pronounced mah-she-ack), a messiah. But the Bible tells how ultimately a son of David would come who would be known as “the Messiah.” We believe that Jesus Christ is that Messiah. The New Testament word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” This Messianic Prophecy, then, holds out hope for peace and righteousness through the reign of Jesus the Messiah.
The text can be divided into two sections: the Dawn of the Messianic Age (verses 1-5) and the Righteous Reign of the Messiah (verses 6 and 7).
While the entire passage is instructive for the message, the verses that focus on the nature of the Messiah are critical, for therein lies our hope for everlasting peace. So most of our attention will be given to the meanings of the name of the Son, showing how these description fit perfectly the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah declares that in contrast to his present age of war, gloom, and despair, there is coming an age when peace will reign universally. It will begin with the coming of the Messiah, the promised future king. So we call that period the Messianic Age. The prophet here shows how it will unfold.
- He will honour Galilee.
The passage begins with the announcement of the change: there will be no more gloom for those in anguish; in the past the LORD humbled the northern lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee. Why? That is where the Messiah will first appear—Galilee of the Gentiles, a place looked down on for so long as less spiritual, less pure than Judea. The back end of Israel becomes the front door of God’s masterplan.
The explanation of this exaltation is found in verse 2. Those who walk in darkness have seen a great light, on those in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. The language is poetic: darkness signifies adversity, despair, gloom and evil, and the light signifies prosperity, peace, and joy.29 The language is used elsewhere of the Messianic Age—Malachi says that the “sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings” (4:2). So the people in the north who have suffered so much have the prospect of a wonderful new beginning.
We should note in passing that Isaiah’s verbs are in the past tense—he writes as if it has already happened.
- Light will shine on people walking in darkness.
So “light” will shine on people who were walking in “darkness.” The initial fulfilment of this prophecy is beyond doubt. Matthew quotes this text in conjunction with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He is the true light of the world that lights every person. He brings to a darkened world grace and truth, and the sure promise of peace. When He began to minister in Galilee with His teachings and His miracles, He demonstrated that He was indeed this Messiah. His proclamation of the kingdom through salvation is what ends the despair, for believers in Him are not lost in gloom and despair, for they know that what He promised will come to pass at His second coming.
- Joy and prosperity (to be in a place of peace) will follow.
The prophet turns to address the LORD directly. His words explain what it means that light will dispel the darkness—joy and prosperity will follow. The prophet gives no clue as to how soon this would happen.But we who have the full revelation of God know that Jesus made it clear that he was the Messiah, and that the age of peace and righteousness was yet future.
The joy described here is extravagant. It is the kind of joy that comes at the harvest. Harvest was a regular time of joy in Israel; after a long time of labour in the fields the people would gather to eat and drink and celebrate. The Bible often uses the analogy of the harvest to describe the coming of the LORD (see Matthew 3:12 for the harvest and winnowing imagery). It is a thanksgiving celebration for the completion of the harvest.
Debbie’s bit on joy.
But this victory will be greater. Verse 5 says that the implements of war will be burnt up. This will be no lull in the action, no temporary peace treaty. War will end. Elsewhere Isaiah has says, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,” that is, military weapons will not be needed in a time of lasting peace.
How can these things be, given the world situation as we know it? The answer to this question is found in the second half of the oracle which describes the nature of the Messiah who will bring in the reign of peace and righteousness. If such peace is to come, someone must have the ability to produce and maintain it.
- PEACE WILL FINALLY COME WITH THE RIGHTEOUS REIGN OF THE MESSIAH (9:6,7).
Isaiah now turns to introduce the One who will transform the gloom and despair of war into the joy and peace of a time of righteousness—the Messiah.
The first part of the prophecy is very familiar to Christians: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.” Isaiah is very precise here, as we now know. A child will be born into the family of David, and that there was a birth in Bethlehem is beyond question; but the Messiah will also be a Son that is given, and that Jesus did not come into existence in Bethlehem is clear from the Bible.
According to the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:14), the term “son” is a title for the king. The same is true in the vision of Daniel where the expression “Son of Man” is used (7:9-14). Daniel’s vision shows this glorious king in the presence of the Almighty, the Ancient of Days, and that he would be given the kingdom of peace. Isaiah announces that the child to be born will be this Son given. This idea is then clarified by Paul: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman …” (Gal. 4:4).
The New Testament bears witness that Jesus is this Son who came into the world. In fact, Jesus Himself set about to prove His origin was in heaven, not in Bethlehem. When He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he prayed and included these words in His prayer: “that they might know that You sent Me” (John 11:42).
- The prophecy that “the government will be upon His shoulder” will come to complete reality at His second coming.
The reference to the shoulder is probably a reference to the wearing of an insignia of office on the shoulder (see Isa. 22:22).37 There will be a time when this Son will rule as king.
We may say that Jesus now reigns above, and that is certainly true. But Isaiah envisions a time of universal peace and righteousness in this world. That has not happened yet. Hebrews 1 states that this exaltation will be complete when the Father again brings His firstborn into the world. So Isaiah does not know when all these things will take place; only that they will happen because the Word of the LORD has declared it.
- Wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of peace.
These are character descriptions. They are intended to give the nature or the significance of the person named. We use the word “name” at times in this way.
Moreover, in the ancient Near East kings were in the habit of taking throne names when they ascended the throne.
There is evidence of such titling in Israel, especially in cases where God bestowed names on new kings. Psalm 2, the coronation psalm, says, “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you.” So on the day the king ascended the throne he was declared to be the Son, that is, God’s anointed King. In 2 Samuel 23:1 do we find a spread of names for David: “David, the son of Jesse, the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs.” And then we have the LORD’s sending prophets to rename kings, such as calling Solomon Jedidiah (2 Sam. 12:25).
Isaiah is affirming that the one who is coming will not merely have great titles, but will in reality be what those titles claim.
Wonderful Counsellor. The first words used to describe this Son have usually been separated in the English Bibles, but Isaiah himself joins these two terms together in Isaiah 28:29. So probably, as with the other titles, the one word serves to qualify the other—he is a wonder of a counsellor.
“Wonderful” is a word that primarily describes the LORD or extraordinary or supernatural things in the Scriptures; it means “extraordinary, surpassing, marvelous, wonderful.” It was not used in a trivial sense, as we often use the English word “wonderful.” For example, in Genesis 18 the LORD announced the birth of Isaac to the aging Abraham and Sarah. When Sarah laughed in her heart, the LORD, knowing she laughed, said, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” “Hard” is our word—Is anything too marvelous, wonderful, extraordinary, for the LORD? Or again, David, meditating on the knowledge of the LORD, came to realize that the LORD knows everything about him, his thoughts, his intentions, even the words he is trying to say, all of it (Ps. 139:1-6). He marvels, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me!” Or again, when the Angel of the LORD appeared to Manoah, Manoah inquired, “What is your name?” To this the visitor responded, “Why do you ask my name, seeing that it is Wonderful?” Then, when the flame on the altar blazed up, the Wonderful Angel ascended to heaven.
To describe the king with this Hebrew word “wonderful” is to ascribe to him extraordinary, normally supernatural abilities. Jesus, by His mighty words, showed Himself to be wonderful in this sense.
Counsellor –The second word in the title is “Counsellor.” The word means “one who comes alongside- the Holy Spirit.” It means he has the wisdom to rule. Isaiah 11:2 will explain that this king, this Immanuel, has the Spirit of Counsel, that is, his wisdom to rule is God-given (compare Solomon’s wisdom). The word “king” as well as other related terms are related to the idea of decision-making. Kings make decisions; they give counsel. At times they must surround themselves with counsellors to make the right decisions. But this king will be a wonder of a counsellor.
The Mighty God. Not only was Messiah to be wonderful in counsel, he was to be the image of God as no other was. Isaiah uses the term “God” (‘el) he means deity. In fact, he has just announced in chapters 7 and 8 that this king would be known as ‘Immanu-’el, “God with us.” To say “a king is with us” would be of little effect. But to say that a king is coming whose power will display that God is with the people—that is a sign.
There is another passage that uses “mighty” and “God” together to describe Messiah. Psalm 45:3 says, “Gird your sword, O Mighty One … Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”
So the King would be known as the powerful one, the mighty God.
The Everlasting Father. The third title in many ways is the most striking. It is literally “father of perpetuity,” that is, one who will be perpetually the father. In Canaanite religion the high god is called “father of years,” and this title in Hebrew seems to carry a similar force. It describes one who produces, directs, and is lord over the ages.
The point in Isaiah is that the sovereign LORD who had always enthroned the Davidic kings would come and rule as the Messiah.
Now all this seems a bit confusing, but the statements of Jesus confirm the fact that the “Son” who is given is also known as the Father. Jesus said, “I am not of this world” (John 8:23), “I came in My Father’s name” (John 5:43), and finally, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). So Jesus is the expressed image of the Father, the Sovereign king-maker. By taking this title, Everlasting Father, the Messiah is to be known as the One who is the sovereign Lord over the ever changing years—he produces and directs eternity.
The Prince of Peace.
This last title means that the Messiah will be one who ensures for his people the blessings of peace. He will be a prince who brings peace.” Whenever the LORD visited his people, whether by the Angel of the LORD or by His promised Messiah, it was to announce or promise peace to the world (Isa. 11:6-9; Ps. 72:3,7).
To Isaiah, peace is a condition in which all things follow their destiny undisturbed. Therefore Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic Age will culminate in the prophecy of a new heaven and a new earth—there will be a whole new creation!
The prophet declares that peace and righteousness will characterize the reign of Messiah. It’s not the case now, but is to come. That is why Christians pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That reign will then issue into the eternal state (1 Cor. 15:23-25).
All of this will be accomplished by the “zeal of the LORD.”
The central idea of Isaiah’s oracle is as follows: Complete and lasting peace comes with the righteous reign of the divine Messiah. The prophet anticipates that the present gloom at the prospect of war will be replaced by the joy of peace. That peace can only be accomplished through a King who is a Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Righteousness and peace is impossible without Him; nothing is impossible for Him.
The words of the prophet held out hope for his generation. God was not abandoning His people to invasion and disaster, but was promising that in spite of the prospect of war there was a glorious future ahead. And on the eve of the birth of Jesus the nation also felt the oppression of world conflict and the despair it brings. Into that world Jesus came, clearly claiming to be the Messiah of Israel, this Wonder King. But His first coming was to lay the foundation of the glory that would follow, that is, His death on the cross would reconcile people to God, bringing them into eternal peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. And so now as we look forward to His coming again, the words of Isaiah hold out hope for us too. Wars and conflicts abound; despair and depression accompany the fear of danger and aggression. But the Word of God is clear: there is coming a time of complete and lasting peace with the coming of Messiah. There is hope. We who know the LORD by faith need not despair as those without hope.
But what then are we to do while we wait for this King? It is our task to carry on the ministry that Isaiah had, to announce to the world the only hope, Jesus the Messiah. Our primary concern is that people find eternal peace with God. We are the ambassadors for this King, calling others to be reconciled with God.