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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 9

This chapter Isaiah 9:0 is a continuation of the prophecy begun in Isaiah 7:0, and continued in Isaiah 8:0. It is composed of mingled threats and promises. Its characteristic may be said to be “rays of light thrown into the midst of shades.” It promises comfort and deliverance, while at the same time it denounces the sins of the nation, and assures the nation that the anger of the Lord is not turned away. The previous chapter had closed by describing a time of general calamity and darkness. This begins Isaiah 9:1-4 by showing that the calamity would not be so great as in former times. It would be mitigated. There would be light - particularly in the dark regions of Zebulun and Naphtali - the provinces lying most exposed to the Syrian invasion. This light or deliverance was connected with the birth of the promised child Isaiah 9:6-7; and the mention of this leads the prophet into a magnificent description of his names, character, and reign. The prophet then returns to the threatened destruction of Israel and denounces the divine judgment against it. By the Syrians and the Philistines it would be invaded and destroyed, Isaiah 9:8-12. The effects of this, in cutting off their sources of strength, and producing general dismay and ruin, are described in the remainder of the chapter, Isaiah 9:13-21. The chapter, therefore, would impart consolation to the inhabitants of Judah, and is designed to confirm the promise that it should be safe from the threatened invasion; compare Isaiah 8:1-4.

Verse 1

Nevertheless - Notwithstanding what is said in the previous chapter of the calamities that are coming upon Israel. Hengstenberg renders this whole verse: ‘For darkness shall not be upon the land upon which there is distress; as the former time has dishonored the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; so shall the time come to honor it, the region on the border of the sea, by the side of the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.’

The dimness - The Hebrew word hero denotes obscurity, or darkness; and is used here, as the word darkness often is in the Scriptures, to denote calamity or affliction. The dimness, or calamity, here referred to, is that which is threatened, Isaiah 8:21-22.

Shall not be such - It shall not be unbroken darkness, and unalleviated calamity; but it shall be interrupted by the rising of the great light that shall shine on the dark land of Zebulun and Naphtali.

In her vexation - The word ‘her’ refers to the whole land of Palestine, to the afflictions that came upon the whole region. The word vexation, מוצק mûtsâq means oppression, calamity, or being “straitened, or pressed.”

When at the first - In the former time; on a former occasion.

He lightly afflicted - The word used here, קלל qâlal, means properly, to be, or make light, or small; and in Hiphil, the form which occurs here, it often means to “esteem lightly, to despise, to hold in contempt;” 2 Samuel 19:43; Ezekiel 22:7. It probably has that sense here, as the design of the prophet is evidently to speak, not of a light affliction in the former time, but of a grievous, heavy calamity - a calamity which would be well denoted by the expression, ‘he made them vile; he exposed them to contempt and derision.’ The time to which reference is made here, was probably the invasion of the land by Tiglath-pileser; 2Ki 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26. In that invasion, the parts of Zebulun and Naphtali were particularly afflicted. ‘Tiglath-pileser took Ijon, and Gilead, and Galilee, and all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria;’ 2 Kings 15:29. This region had also been invaded by Benhadad two hundred years before the time of Isaiah; 1 Kings 15:20, and there might have been a reference to these various invasions to which this northern part of the land of Palestine had been subjected.

The land of Zebulun - The region occupied by the tribe of Zebulun. This tribe was located between the sea of Tiberias, or the lake Gennesareth, and the Mediterranean. It extended entirely across from the one to the other, and as it was thus favored with a somewhat extended seacoast, the people were more given to commerce than the other tribes, and hence, mingled more with surrounding nations.

And the land of Naphtali - The region which was occupied by this tribe was directly north of Zebulun, and of the sea of Galilee, having that sea and the tribe of Zebulun on the south and southeast, Asher on the west, and a part of the tribe of Manasseh, on the east.

And afterward - That is, in subsequent times; meaning times that were to come after the prophecy here delivered. The previous part of the verse refers to the calamities that had come upon that region in former times. The expression here refers to what was seen by the prophet as yet to occur.

Did more grievously afflict - הכביד hı̂kebbı̂yd. This verb has very various significations. It properly means “to be heavy, to be grievous, to lie or fall heavy on anyone, to be dull, obstinate; also, to be honored, respected;” that is, of weight, or influence in society. It means, in Hiphil, the form which is used here, “to make heavy, or grievous;” 1 Kings 12:10; Isaiah 47:6; “to oppress,” Nehemiah 5:15; and it also means to “cause to be honored, or distinguished, to favor. - Gesenius.” The connection requires that it should have this sense here, and the passage means, that the land which he had made vile in former times, or had suffered to be despised, he had purposed to honor, or to render illustrious by the great light that should rise on it. So Lowth, Rosenmuller, and Gesenius, translate it; see a similar use of the word in Jer 30:19; 2 Chronicles 25:19; 1 Samuel 2:30.

By the way of the sea - The sea of Galilee, or Gennesareth. All this region was in the vicinity of that sea. The word “way” here, דרך derek, means toward, or in the vicinity of. The extensive dark region lying in the vicinity of that sea, Both those tribes bordered on the sea of Tiberias, or had that as a part of their boundary.

Beyond Jordan - This expression - הירדן עבר ēber hayareddēn - means in the vicinity of Jordan; the land by the side of the Jordan, or perhaps that large region through which the upper part of the Jordan passed. It does not mean strictly on the east of Jordan, but rather the northern portion of the land. It is such language as a man would use who was describing the upper and imperfectly known regions of the country - the dark, uncivilized region through which the upper part of the Jordan flowed, and the word עבר ēber, rendered here “beyond,” means “side” - by the side of the Jordan.

Galilee of the nations - This was sometimes called upper Galilee. It was called ‘Galilee of the nations,’ or of the Gentiles, because it was surrounded by them, and because the pagan were extensively intermingled with the Jews. In this region, Solomon had given to Hiram, king of Tyre, twenty cities; 1 Kings 9:2. Adjacent to this region were the countries of Phenicia, Tyre, and Sidon; and the people would naturally mingle much with them in commerce. The country abounded with hills and caverns, and, consequently, it was never possible completely to dislodge from the fastnesses the former inhabitants of the land. Strabo enumerates among the inhabitants of Galilee, Arabians and Phenicians. The inhabitants of this country are represented as having been bold and courageous, but as seditious, and prone to insolence and rebellion. If it be asked here, in what way this land had been made contemptible, or why it was regarded as an object of contempt? we may reply,

(1) The district in which these two tribes dwelt constituted the border-land toward the pagan nations.

(2) The Galileans not only dwelt in the vicinity of the pagan, but a large number of them had actually remained in the country, and it had been found impossible to expel them from it; Judges 1:30-35.

(3) The Phenicians, with whom they held commercial contact, and with whom they dwelt intermingled, were among the most corrupt of the pagan nations. To this may be added,

(4) They were far from Jerusalem, and, consequently, the influence of religion may be supposed to have been less felt among them than among the other Jews. The true religion was, in a great measure, lost upon them, and ignorance and superstition took its place. Hence, in the New Testament, they are spoken of as almost proverbially rude and ignorant.

Verse 2

It is thus an image of chills, and gloom, and night - of anything that resembles the still and mournful regions of the dead. The Chaldee renders these two verses thus: ‘In a former time Zebulun and Naphtali emigrated; and those who remained after them a strong king shall carry into captivity, because they did not remember the power which was shown in the Red Sea, and the miracles which were done in Jordan, and the wars of the people of the cities. The people of the house of Israel who walked in Egypt as in the midst of shades, came out that they might see a great light.’

Verse 3

Thou hast multiplied the nation - Thou hast rendered the nation strong, powerful, mighty. Several interpreters, as Calvin, Vitringa, and Le Clerc, suppose that the prophet here, and in the two following verses, speaks in the first instance of the prosperity near at hand, and of the rapid increase of the Israelites after the return from the Babylonian exile, in which the inhabitants of Galilee must have participated, as may be inferred from the accounts of Josephus respecting the great population of that province in his time; see Jewish Wars, i. 20, 23. Vitringa also directs our attention to the fact, that the Jewish people, after the exile, not only filled Judea, but spread themselves into Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. But there seems to be no necessity for referring it to such an increase of the inhabitants. It may refer to the great increase of the Messiah’s kingdom, or of the kingdom which he would set up, and whose commencement would be in Galilee; see Hengstenberg, Christol., vol. i. p. 354.

And not increased the joy - The Masoretes here read in the margin לו lô “to it,” instead of לא lo' “not.” Eleven manuscripts, two of them ancient, have this reading. This reading is followed by the Chaldee Paraphrase, the Syriac, and the Arabic. The Septuagint seems also to have so understood it. So also it is in the margin, and so the connection demands; and it is unquestionably the correct reading. It would then read, ‘thou hast increased for it (the nation) the joy.’ Hengstenberg, however, suggests that the phrase may mean, ‘whose joy thou didst not before enlarge,’ that is, upon whom thou hast before inflicted heavy sufferings. But this is harsh, and I see no reason to doubt that an error may have crept into the text.

They joy before thee according to the joy of harvest - This is a beautiful figure; and is found frequently in ancient writings. The harvest was a time of exultation and joy, and was commonly gathered amid songs and rejoicings, and concluded with a festival. The phrase ‘before thee’ refers to the fact that the first-fruits of the harvest among the Hebrews were presented with thanksgiving before God in the temple; Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 14:22-26.

And as men rejoice ... - This is also an expression of great joy and rejoicing. Such an occasion, at the close of a battle, when great spoil or plunder had been taken, would be one of great rejoicing; see Judges 5:30; 1 Samuel 30:16; 2 Chronicles 20:25-28.

Verse 4

For thou hast broken - This verse, and the following, show the way in which the occasion of the joy had been furnished. The expression ‘thou hast’ does not necessarily refer to the past, but is a form of expression derived from the nature of the prophetic visions, where that is described as past which is seen to pass before the eyes of the prophet; see the Introduction, section 7.

The yoke - This word is often used to denote oppression, or tyranny; Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 28:48 - where oppression is described as ‘an iron yoke;’ compare 1 Kings 12:4; Isaiah 47:6; Isaiah 58:6.

The staff of his shoulder - The word rendered staff here may mean a bough, a branch, a staff, stick, or rod. Gesenius supposes that the expression here means the rod by which punishment is inflicted, and that the, phrase ‘rod of, or for the shoulder,’ denotes oppression and servitude. Rosenmuller thinks, that it refers rather to the custom among the ancients of placing a piece of wood, not unlike a yoke, on the necks and shoulders of slaves, as a mark of servitude. Hengstenberg understands it, ‘the staff which strikes the neck or back.’

The rod of his oppressor - This, doubtless, refers to the chastisement which was inflicted on those in bondage, and is a phrase denoting oppression and servitude. The word ‘his’ here refers to Israel.

As in the day of Midian - This refers to the deliverance that was accomplished under Gideon against the Midianites; see Judges 7:0; Judges 8:0. That deliverance was a remarkable interposition of God. It was accomplished not by human strength; but was a signal manifestation of the power of God in delivering the nation from the long oppression of the Midianites. So the prophet says here, that the deliverance will be as signal a proof of the presence and power of God as is was in that day. Herder (Hebrew Poetry, vol. ii. p. 296) says, ‘At that period, in the north part of the country, a great deliverance was wrought. Then, in the obscure forests of Naphtali and Zebulun, the light of freedom went forth over all the land. So now, also, in this northern press of nations, in the way along the sea of Galilee, where now the hostile Syrians are exercising their oppressions, the light of freedom is going forth, and there shall be joy and jubilee, like that of the song of Deborah.’

Verse 5

There can be no doubt, I think, that the prophet here has his eye on the victories of the Messiah, and that he means to say, that in those victories all armor would be for fuel of fire; that is, that they would be achieved without hostile arms. Applied to the Messiah, it means either that his victories would be complete, or that in his victories all necessity of such armor would cease. According to this, the passage teaches that peace should be introduced by him without a conflict, and thus harmonizes with the numerous parallel passages in which peace is represented as a characteristic mark of the times of the Messiah, when contention, war, and destruction shall cease; see Isaiah 11:6-7.

Verse 6

For - This is given as a reason of the victories that were predicted in the previous verses. That it has reference to the Messiah has been almost universally conceded; and indeed it does not seem possible to doubt it. The eye of the prophet seems to have been fixed on this great and glorious event - as attracting all his attention. The scenes of coming times, like a panorama, or picture, passed before him. Most of the picture seems to have been that of battles, conflicts, sieges, dimness, and thick darkness. But in one portion of the passing scene there was light. It was the light that he saw rising in the distant and darkened Galilee. He saw the joy of the people; the armor of war laid aside; the image of peace succeeding; the light expanding and becoming more intense as the darkness retired, until he saw in this region the Prince of Peace - the Sun of Righteousness itself. The eye of the prophet gazed intently on that scene, and was fixed on that portion of the picture: he sees the Messiah in his office, and describes him as already come, and as born unto the nation.

Unto us - For our benefit. The prophet saw in vision the darkness and gloom of the nation, and saw also the son that would be born to remove that darkness, and to enlighten the world.

A child - (ילד yeled). This word usually denotes a lad, a boy, a youth. It is commonly applied to one in early life; but no particular stress is to be laid on the word. The vision of the prophet is, that the long-expected Messiah is born, and is seen growing up amidst the surrounding darkness of the north of Palestine, Isaiah 9:1.

Is born - Not that he was born when the prophet spake. But in prophetic vision, as the events of the future passed before his mind, he saw that promised son, and the eye was fixed intently on him; see the Introduction, section 7, and the note at Isaiah 1:1.

A son - בן bên. This word does not differ materially from the word translated child. In the future scenes, as they passed before the mind of the prophet, he saw the child, the son that was to be born, and described him as he appeared to his view - as a child. Fixing the eye on him, he proceeds at once to designate his character by stating the appropriate names which he would bear.

Is given - The Messiah is often represented as having been given, or sent; or as the rich gift of God; the note at Acts 4:12; John 3:16; Ephesians 1:22; John 17:4. The Messiah was pre-eminently the gift of the God of love. Man had no claim on him, and God voluntarily gave his Son to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

And the government shall be upon his shoulder - The sense of this passage is, that he shall rule, or that the government shall be vested in him. Various interpretations have, however, been given of the phrase ‘upon his shoulder.’ Some have supposed, that it means simply he shall sustain the government, as the shoulder is that by which we uphold any thing. Pliny and Cicero thus use the phrase; see Rosenmuller. Others, that it means that he should wear the royal purple from a child. - Grotius. Lowth supposes that it refers to the ensign of government - the scepter, the sword, the keys, or the like, that were borne upon the shoulder, or suspended from it; see the note at Isaiah 22:22. It is evident, from this latter place, that some ensign of office was usually borne upon the shoulder. The sense is, that he should be a king, and under this character the Messiah is often predicted.

And his name shall be called - That is, his attributes shall be such as to make all these applications appropriate descriptions of his power and work. To be called, and to be, in the Hebrew, often mean the same thing. The word ויקרא vayı̂qerâ' may possibly mean, Yahweh shall call him; or it may be regarded as taken impersonally. Such a use of a verb is not uncommon in Isaiah. ‘One calls him,’ is, according to the usage in Isaiah, as ranch as to say, he will justly bear this name; or simply, he will be.

Wonderful - פלא pele'. This word is derived from the verb פלא pâlâ', to separate, to distinguish, or to make great. It is applied usually to anything that is great or wonderful, as a miracle; Exodus 15:2; Lamentations 1:9; Daniel 12:6. It is applied here to denote the unusual and remarkable assemblage of qualities that distinguished the Messiah. Those are specified more particularly in the other part of the verse; such an assemblage of quailties as to make proper the names Mighty God, etc. ‘The proper idea of the word,’ says Hengstenberg, ‘is miraculous. It imports that the personage here referred to, in his being and in his works, will be exalted above the ordinary course of nature, and that his whole manifestation will be a miracle.’ Yet it seems to me, that the proper idea of the word is not that of miraculous. It is rather that which is separated from the ordinary course of events, and which is suited to excite amazement, wonder, and admiration, whether it be miraculous or not.

This will be apparent if the following places are examined, where the word occurs in various forms. It is rendered marvelous, Psalms 118:23; Psalms 139:14; Psalms 98:1; Job 5:9; wonderful, 2 Samuel 1:26; Psalms 139:14; Proverbs 30:18; Job 42:3; Psalms 72:18; Psalms 86:10; hidden, Deuteronomy 30:2; things too high, Psalms 131:1; miracles, Judges 6:13; Exodus 15:2; Psalms 77:14; Psalms 88:10; Psalms 89:5; the word is translated wonders, in the sense of miracles, in several places; and hard, Deuteronomy 17:8; Jeremiah 32:17. From these passages, it is clear that it may denote that which is miraculous, but that this idea is not necessarily connected with it. Anything which is suited to excite wonder and amazement, from any cause, will correspond with the sense of the Hebrew word. It is a word which expresses with surprising accuracy everything in relation to the Redeemer. For the Messiah was wonderful in all things. It was wonderful love by which God gave him, and by which he came; the manner of his birth was wonderful; his humility, his self-denial, his sorrows were wonderful; his mighty works were wonderful; his dying agonies were wonderful; and his resurrection, his ascension, were all suited to excite admiration and wonder.

Counsellor - This word has been sometimes joined with ‘wonderful,’ as if designed to qualify it thus - “wonderful counselor;” but it expresses a distinct attribute, or quality. The name “counselor” here, יועץ yû‛ēts, denotes one of honorable rank; one who is suited to stand near princes and kings as their adviser. It is expressive of great wisdom, and of qualifications to guide and direct the human race. The Septuagint translates this phrase, ‘The angel of the mighty counsel.’ The Chaldee, ‘The God of wonderful counsel.’

The mighty God - Syriac, ‘The mighty God of ages.’ This is one, and but one out of many, of the instances in which the name God is applied to the Messiah; compare John 1:1; Romans 9:5; 1 John 5:20; Joh 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:8. The name ‘mighty God,’ is unquestionably attributed to the true God in Isaiah 10:21. Much controversy has arisen in relation to this expression; and attempts have been made to show that the word translated “God,” אל 'ĕl, may refer to a hero, a king, a conqueror. Thus Gesenius renders, it ‘Mighty hero;’ and supposes that the name ‘God’ is used here in accordance with the custom of the Orientals, who ascribe divine attributes to kings. In like manner Pluschke (see Hengstenberg) says, ‘In my opinion this name is altogether symbolical. The Messiah shall be called strength of God, or strong God, divine hero, in order by this name to remind the people of the strength of God.’ But after all such controversy, it still remains certain that the natural and obvious meaning of the expression is to denote a divine nature. So it was evidently understood by the ancient versions; and the fact that the name God is so often applied to Christ in the New Testament proves that it is to be understood in its natural and obvious signification.

The everlasting Father - The Chaldee renders this expression, ‘The man abiding forever.’ The Vulgate, ‘The Father of the future age.’ Lowth, ‘The Father of the everlasting age.’ Literally, it is the Father of eternity, עד אבי 'ĕby ‛ad. The word rendered “everlasting,” עד ad, properly denotes “eternity,” and is used to express “forever;” see Psalms 9:6, Psalms 9:19; Psalms 19:10. It is often used in connection with עולם ôlâm, thus, עולם ועד vā‛ed ‛ôlâm, “forever and ever;” Psalms 10:16; Psalms 21:5; Psalms 45:7. The Hebrews used the term father in a great variety of senses - as a literal father, a grandfather, an ancestor, a ruler, an instructor. The phrase may either mean the same as the Eternal Father, and the sense will be, that the Messiah will not, as must be the ease with an earthly king, however excellent, leave his people destitute after a short reign, but will rule over them and bless them forever (Hengstenberg); or it may be used in accordance with a custom usual in Hebrew and in 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 durations, as a Hebraism involving high poetic beauty. lie is not merely represented as everlasting, but he is introduced, by a strong figure, as even the Father of eternity. as if even everlasting duration owed itself to his paternity. There could not be a more emphatic declaration of strict and proper eternity. It may be added, that this attribute is often applied to the Messiah in the New Testament; John 8:58; Colossians 1:17; Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:17-18; Hebrews 1:10-11; John 1:1-2.

The Prince of Peace - This is a Hebrew mode of expression denoting that he would be a peaceful prince. The tendency of his administration would be to restore and perpetuate peace. This expression is used to distinguish him from the mass of kings and princes who have delighted in conquest and blood. In contradistinction from all these, the Messiah would seek to promote universal concord, and the tendency of his reign would be to put an end to wars, and to restore harmony and order to the nations; see the tendency of his reign still further described in Isaiah 11:6-9; the note at Isaiah 2:4; see also Micah 5:4; Hosea 2:18. It is not necessary to insist on the coincidence of this description with the uniform character and instructions of the Lord Jesus. In this respect, he disappointed all the hopes of the Jewish nation, who, in spite of the plain prophecies respecting his peaceful character. expected a magnificent prince, and a conqueror.

The expressions used here imply that he would be more than human. It is impossible to believe that these appellations would be given under the Spirit of inspiration to a mere man. They express a higher nature; and they coincide with the account in the New pressions of a pompous and high-sounding character were commonly assumed by Oriental princes. The following is a single instance of their arrogance, ostentation, and pride. ‘Chosroes, king of kings, lord of lords, ruler of the nations; prince of peace, saviour of men; among the gods, a man good and eternal, but among people, a god most illustrious, glorious; a conqueror rising with the sun and giving vision at night.’ - Theoph. Simocatta Chr., iv. 8, quoted by Gesenius. But it cannot be pretended, that the Spirit of inspiration would use titles in a manner so unmeaning and so pompous as this. Besides, it was one great object of the prophets to vindicate the name and character of the true God, and to show that all such appellations belonged to him alone.

However, such appellations might be used by surrounding nations, and given to kings and princes by the pagan, yet in the Scriptures they are not given to earthy monarchs. That this passage refers to the Messiah has been generally conceded, except by the Jews, and by a few later critics. Jarchi and Kimchi maintain that it refers to Hezekiah. They have been driven to this by the use which Christians have made of the passage against the Jews. But the absurdity of this interpretation has been shown in the notes at Isaiah 7:14. The ancient Jews incontestably referred it to the Messiah. Thus the Targum of Jonathan renders it, ‘His name shall be called God of wonderful counsel, man abiding forever, the messiah, משׁיח mâshı̂yach, whose peace shall be multiplied upon us in his days.’ Thus rabbi Jose, of Galilee, says, ‘The name of the Messiah is שׁלום shâlôm, as is said in Isaiah 9:6, “Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.” ‘Ben Sira (fol. 40, of the Amsterdam Edition, 1679) numbers among the eight names of the Messiah those also taken from this passage, Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace. The later Jews, however, have rejected this interpretation, because the Messiah is here described as God.

Verse 7

Of the increase ... - The word rendered “government” here, משׂרה mis'râh, means properly his government as a prince - his principality, and is a continuation of the idea in the previous verse, ‘the Prince of Peace.’ It means that his reign as a prince of peace - in extending and promoting peace, shall be unlimited.

And peace - This does not signify in the original, as our translation would seem to do, that there should be no end to the increase of his peace, but that there should be no limit to peace, that is, that his reign should be one of unlimited peace. The whole is a description of a prosperous, wide-extended, ever-growing and unlimited empire of peace.

No end - The word used here - קץ qêts - may refer either to space or time. The connection, however, seems to confine it to time, and to mean simply that over his wide-extended and peaceful principality he should reign forever.

Upon the throne of David - See the note at Acts 2:30. This was in accordance with the promise made to David; 1 Kings 8:25; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalms 132:11. This promise was understood as referring to the Messiah. The primary idea is, that he should be descended in the line of David, and accordingly the New Testament writers are often at pains to show that the Lord Jesus was of that family; Luke 2:4. When it is said that he would sit upon the throne of David, it is not to be taken literally. The uniqueness of the reign of David was, that he reigned over the people of God. He was chosen for this purpose from humble life; was declared in his administration to be a man after God’s own heart; and his long and prosperous reign was a reign over the people of God. To sit upon the throne of David, therefore, means to reign over the people of God; and in this sense the Messiah sat on his throne. There is also a similarity in the two administrations, in the fact that the Messiah was taken from humble life. and that his reign will be far-extended and prosperous. But the main idea of resemblance is, that the reign of each extended over the people of God.

And upon his kingdom - That is, over the kingdom of the people of God. It does not mean particularly the Jews, but all those over whom the divine administration should be set up.

To order it - To raise up, or confirm it. The word, also, is sometimes used to denote to found a kingdom. Here it means to confirm it, to cause it to stand.

And to establish it - To place it on a firm foundation; to make it firm.

With judgment ... - That is, under an administration that shall be just and right. Most kingdoms have been those of blood, and have been established by iniquity, and by the unjust overthrow of others. But the administration of the Messiah shall be established in righteousness, and shall be destined to extend and perpetuate justice and righteousness forever. “From henceforth.” That is, from the time which was the period of the prophet’s vision, when he saw in vision the Messiah rising in the dark parts of Galilee; Notes, Isaiah 9:1-2.

The zeal - The word used here denotes “ardor,” intense desire in accomplishing an object; and means that the establishment of this kingdom was an object of intense and ardent desire on the part of Yahweh. It is also implied that nothing else than the zeal of Yahweh could do it. We may remark here:

(1) That if Yahweh feels so intense a desire for this, then the subjects of the Messiah’s reign should also feel this.

(2) If Yahweh feels this zeal, and if he will certainly accomplish this, then Christians should be encouraged in their efforts to spread the gospel. His purpose to do this is their only encouragement - and a sufficient encouragement - to excite their zeal in this great and glorious work.

Verse 8

The Lord sent - Not Yahweh here, but “Adonai.” It is apparent that this verse is the commencement of a new prophecy, that is not connected with that which precedes it. The strain of the preceding prophecy had respect to Judah; this is confined solely to Israel, or Ephraim. Here the division of the chapter should have been made, and should not have been again interrupted until Isaiah 10:4, where the prophecy closes. The prophecy is divided into four parts, and each part is designed to threaten a distinct judgment on some particular, prominent vice.

I. “Crime” - their pride and ostentation, Isaiah 9:8-9. “Punishment” - the land would be invaded by the Syrians and the Philistines, Isaiah 9:11-12.

II. “Crime” - they had apostatized from God, and the leaders had caused them to err, Isaiah 9:13, Isaiah 9:16. “Punishment” - Yahweh would cut off the chief men of the nation, Isaiah 9:14-15, Isaiah 9:17.

III. “Crime” - prevalent wickedness in the nation, Isaiah 9:18. “Punishment” - the anger of Yahweh, consternation, anarchy, discord, and want, Isaiah 9:19-21.

IV. “Crime” - prevalent injustice; Isaiah 10:1-2. “Punishment” - foreign invasion, and captivity; Isaiah 10:3-4.

The poem is remarkably regular in its structure (Lowth), and happy in its illustrations. At what time it was composed is not certain, but it has strong internal evidence that it immediately followed the preceding respecting Judah.

A word - A message, or prediction; Note, Isaiah 2:1.

Into Jacob - Jacob was the ancestor of the nation. But the name came to be appropriated to the ten tribes, as constituting the majority of the people. It was at first used to denote all the Jews Numbers 23:7, Numbers 23:10, Numbers 23:23; Numbers 24:17, Numbers 24:19; Deuteronomy 32:9; 1 Chronicles 16:13; Psalms 14:7; Psalms 20:1; but it came, after the revolt of the ten tribes under Jeroboam, to be used often to denote them alone; Amos 6:8; Micah 1:5; Micah 3:1; Micah 5:8. The word or message which was sent, refers undoubtedly to that which immediately follows.

And it hath lighted upon - Hebrew ‘It fell.’ This is but a varied expression for, he sent it to Israel.

Israel - The same as Jacob the ten tribes - the kingdom of Ephraim.

Verse 9

And all the people shall know - Shall know the message; or shall know the judgment which God denounces against their crimes. The Chaldee renders this, ‘All the people have exalted themselves, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, in their magnitude, and in the pride of thee heart.’

Ephraim - This is another name for Israel, as Ephraim was the principal tribe; Note, Isaiah 7:2.

And the inhabitants of Samaria - The capital of Ephraim or Israel; Note, Isaiah 7:9.

That say in the pride - This is a description of general and prevalent pride; and it is traced to the source of all pride - the heart. It was a desire of splendor, power, and magnificence, originating in the heart, and manifesting itself by the language of self-confidence and defiance at the judgments of God.

Stoutness - Hebrew ‘Greatness.’ It means a self-confident purpose; and indicates the state of feeling in a man when he trusts to his own resources, and not to God.

Verse 10

The bricks are fallen down - The language of this verse is figurative; but the sentiment is plain. It contains the confession of the inhabitants of Samaria, that their affairs were in a ruinous and dilapidated state; but also their self-confident assurance that they would be able to repair the evils, and restore their nation to more than their former magnificence.

Bricks, in oriental countries, were made of clay and straw, and were rarely turned. Hence, exposed to suns and rains, they soon dissolved. Walls and houses constructed of such materials would not be very permanent, and to build with them is strongly contrasted with building in a permanent and elegant manner with hewn stone.

The meaning is, that their former state was one of less splendor than they designed that their subsequent state should be. Desolation had come in upon their country, and this they could not deny. But they confidently boasted that they would more than repair the evil.

We will build - Our ruined houses and walls.

With hewn stones - At once more permanent and elegant than the structures of bricks had been.

The sycamores - These trees grew abundantly on the low lands of Judea, and were very little esteemed; 1 Kings 10:27; 2Ch 1:15; 2 Chronicles 9:27.

‘This curious tree seems to partake of the nature of two different species,’ says Calmet, ‘the mulberry and the fig; the former in its leaf, and the latter in its fruit. Its Greek name, συκόμορος sukomoros, is plainly descriptive of its character, being compounded of συκος sukos, a fig tree, and μορος moros, a mulberry tree. It is thus described by Norden: “They have in Egypt divers sorts of figs; but if there is any difference between them, a particular kind differs still more. I mean that which the sycamore bears, that they name in Arabic giomez. This sycamore is of the height of a beech, and bears its fruit in a manner quite different from other trees. It has them on the trunk itself, which shoots out little sprigs in form of a grapestalk, at the end of which grows the fruit close to one another, most like bunches of grapes. The tree is always green, and bears fruit several times in the year, without observing any certain seasons, for I have seen some sycamores which had fruit two months after others. This sort of tree is pretty common in Egypt.”’ They were not highly valued, though it is probable they were often employed in building.

They are contrasted with cedars here -

(1) Because the cedar was a much more rare and precious wood.

(2) Because it was a much more smooth and elegant article of building.

(3) Because it was more permanent. The grain and texture of the sycamore is remarkably coarse and spongy, and could, therefore, stand in no competition with the cedar for beauty and ornament.

We will change them - We will employ in their stead.

Cedars - The cedar was a remarkably fine; elegant, and permanent wood for building. It was principally obtained on mount Lebanon, and was employed in temples, palaces, and in the houses of the rich; see the note at Isaiah 2:18.

The sycamore is contrasted with the cedar in 1 Kings 10:27 : ‘Cedars he made to be as sycamore trees.’ The whole passage denotes self-confidence and pride; an unwillingness to submit to the judgments of God, and a self-assurance that they would more than repair all the evils that would be inflicted on them.

Verse 11

Therefore - This verse indicates the punishment that would come upon them for their pride.

The Lord shall set up - Hebrew, ‘Shall exalt.’ That is, they shall overcome and subdue him.

The adversaries of Rezin - King of Syria, Isaiah 7:1. It should be observed here, that twenty-one manuscripts, instead of adversaries, read princes of Rezin. The sense seems to require this; as in the following verse, it is said that the Syrians will be excited against them.

Against him - Against Ephraim.

And join his enemies together - Hebrew, ‘Mingle them together.’ They shall be excited into wild and agitated commotion, and shall pour down together on the land and devour it. In what way this would be done is specified in Isaiah 9:12.

Verse 12

The Syrians - Isaiah 7:1. The Syrians had been the allies of the Israelites. But after the death of Rezin, it is probable that they joined the Assyrians, and united with them in the invasion of Samaria. - Aben Ezra; Grotius. “Before.” Hebrew ‘From the east.’ Syria was situated to the east of Samaria, and the meaning is here, that they would pour in upon Samaria from that side.

And the Philistines - The Philistines occupied the country southwest of Samaria, lying along on the shores of the Mediterranean. It is not particularly mentioned in the Scriptures that they invaded Samaria after this prediction of Isaiah, but such a thing is by no means improbable. They were long unsubdued; were full of hostility to the Jewish people; and were many times engaged with them in wars and several times subdued them; Judges 13:0; Judges 14:0; 2 Chronicles 28:18. The name Palestine is derived from Philistine, although this people occupied but a small part of the country; see Reland’s Palestine, c. vii.

Behind - That is, from the west - the region where they dwelt. The sacred writers speak as if looking toward the east, the rising sun, and they speak of the west as the region behind them; see the notes at Job 23:8-9.

And they shall devour - Hebrew, ‘They shall eat.’ This figure is taken from a ravenous beast; and means that they should come up with raging desires, and fierce impetuosity, to destroy the nation.

With open mouth - Hebrew, ‘With the whole mouth.’ The metaphor is derived from raging and furious animals. Chaldee, ‘In every place.’

For all this - Notwithstanding all this.

His anger ... - see the note at Isaiah 5:25.

Verse 13

For the people ... - This is a reason why his anger would not cease, and it is, at the same time, the suggestion of a new crime for which the divine judgment would rest upon them. It commences the second part of the oracle.

Turneth not - It is implied here that it was the design of the chastisement to turn them to God. In this case, as in many others, such a design had not been accomplished.

Unto him that smiteth them - To God, who had punished them.

Neither do they seek - They do not seek his protection and favor; they do not worship and honor him.

The Lord of hosts - Note, Isaiah 1:9.

Verse 14

Will cut off head and tail - This is a proverbial expression, which is explained in the following verse; see also Deuteronomy 28:13-14. The head is often used to denote those in honor and authority. The tail is an expression applicable to the lower ranks, and would commonly indicate more than simply the common people. It would imply contempt; a state of great abjectness and meanness.

Branch and rush - This is also a proverbial expression, meaning the highest and lowest; see the note at Isaiah 19:15. The word here translated branch, means properly the bough or top of the palm tree. The palm grew to a great height before it gave out any branches, and hence, the image is a beautiful one to denote those high in office and authority. The word rush means the coarse, long-jointed reed, that grows in marshes - an apt emblem of the base and worthless classes of society.

Verse 15

The ancient - The elder; the old man.

And honorable - Hebrew, ‘The man of elevated countenance.’ The man of rank and office.

The prophet that teacheth lies - The false prophet. Of those there were many; and probably at this time many in Samaria.

Verse 16

For the leaders of this people ... - Note, Isaiah 3:12. Hebrew ‘They that call this people blessed’ - referring more particularly to the false prophets.

They that are led of them - Hebrew, ‘They that are called blessed by them.’

Are destroyed - Hebrew, ‘Are swallowed up;’ see the note at Isaiah 3:12. They are ruined; or swallowed up as in a vast whirlpool or vortex.

Verse 17

Shall have no joy - He shall not delight in them so as to preserve them. The parallel part of the verse shows that the phrase is used in the sense of having mercy.

In their young men - The hope and strength of the nation. The word used here commonly denotes those who are chosen, particularly for purposes of war. The sense is, that the hope and strength of the nation, that on which the chief reliance would be placed, would be cut off.

Neither shall have mercy ... - Judgment would sweep through the nation, even over those who were the usual objects of the divine protection - widows and orphans; compare Psalms 10:14, Psalms 10:18; Psalms 48:5; Deuteronomy 10:18; Jeremiah 49:11; Hosea 14:3. These passages show that the fatherless and the widow are the special objects of the divine favor; and when, therefore, it is said that the Lord would not have mercy been on these, it shows the extent and severity of the divine judgments that were coming on the nation.

For every one is a hypocrite - A deceiver; a dissembler. The word used here, however. חנף chânêph, means rather a profane or profligate man, a man who is defiled or polluted, than a dissembler. It is applied often to idolaters and licentious persons, but not to hypocrites; see Job 8:13; Job 13:16; Job 15:34; Job 17:8; Daniel 11:32.

Every mouth speaketh folly - The word rendered folly, may denote foolishness, but it is also used to denote wickedness or crime; 1 Samuel 25:23. Probably this is the meaning here. That the character here given of the Ephraimites is correct, is abundantly shown also by other prophets; see particularly Hosea.

For all this - Notwithstanding all the judgments that should come thus upon the young men, and widows, and orphans, still his anger was not turned away. This is the close of the second strophe or part of this prophecy.

Verse 18

For wickedness - This commences the third part of the prophecy, which continues to the end of the chapter. It is a description of prevailing impiety. The effects and prevalence of it are described by the image of a raging, burning flame, that spreads everywhere: first among the humble shrubbery - the briers and thorns, then in the vast forests, until it spreads over the land, and sends a mighty column of flame and smoke up to heaven.

Burneth as the fire - Spreads, rages. extends as fire does in thorns and in forests. In what respects it burns like the fire, the prophet immediately specifies. It spreads rapidly everywhere, and involves all in the effects. Wickedness is not unfrequently in the Scriptures compared to a fire that is shut up long, and then bursts forth with raging violence. Thus Hosea 7:6 :

Truly, in the inmost part of it, their heart is like an oven,

While they lie in wait;

All the night their baker sleepeth;

In the morning it burneth like a blazing star.

‘As an oven conceals the lighted fire all night, while the baker takes his rest, and in the morning vomits forth its blazing flame; so all manner of concupiscence is brooding mischief in their hearts, while the ruling faculties of reason and conscience are lulled asleep, and their wicked designs wait only for a fair occasion to break forth.’ - Horsely on Hosea; see also Isaiah 50:2; Isaiah 65:5.

It shall devour - Hebrew, ‘It shall eat.’ The idea of devouring or eating, is one which is often given to fire in the Scriptures.

The briers and thorns - By the briers and thorns are meant, doubtless, the lower part of the population; the most degraded ranks of society. The idea here seems to be, first, that of impiety spreading like fire over all classes of people; but there is also joined with it, in the mind of the prophet, the idea of punishment. Wickedness would rage like spreading fire; but like fire, also, it would sweep over the nation accomplishing desolation and calamity, and consuming everything in the fire oft God’s vengeance. The wicked are often compared to thorns and briers - fit objects to be burned up; Isaiah 33:12 :

And the people shall be as the burnings of lime;

As thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.

And shall kindle - Shall burn, or extend, as sweeping fire extends to the mighty forest.

In the thickets of the forests - The dense, close forest or grove. The idea is, that it extends to all classes of people - high as well as low.

And they shall mount up - The Hebrew word used here - יתאבכוּ yit'abekû from אבך 'âbak - occurs nowhere else. The image is that of a far-spreading, raging fire, sending columns of smoke to heaven. So, says the prophet, is the rolling, raging, consuming fire of the sins of the nation spreading over all classes of people in the land, and involving all in widespread desolation.

Verse 19

Through the wrath - By the anger, or indignation. This spreading desolation is the proof of his anger.

Is the land darkened - The word used here - עתם âtham - occurs nowhere else. According to Gesenius, it is the same as תמם tâmam to be or make complete; and hence means, “in this place, to be consumed, or laid waste.” Kimchi and Aben Ezra render it, ‘The land is darkened.’ Septuagint, Συγκέκαυται Sungkekautai. Chaldee, צרוכת chărôkat - ‘Is scorched.’ Jerome renders it, Conturbata est terra - ‘The land is disturbed.’ The effect is doubtless such as ascending and spreading columns of fire and smoke would produce, and perhaps the general word desolate had better be used in translating the word.

And the people shall be as fuel of the fire - This is an image of widespread ruin. The idea is, that they shall destroy one another as pieces of wood, when on fire, help to consume each other. The way in which it shall be done is stated more fully in the next verse.

No man shall spare his brother - There shall be such a state of wickedness, that it shall lead to anarchy, and strife, and mutual destruction. The common ties of life shall be dissolved, and a man shall have no compassion on his own brother.

Verse 20

Coepit; et infelix minuendo corpus alebat.

The flesh of his own arm - The Chaldee renders this, ‘Each one shall devour the substance of his neighbor.’ Lowth proposes to read it, ‘The flesh of his neighbor.’ but without sufficient authority. The expression denotes a state of dreadful faction - where the ties of most intimate relationship would be disregarded, represented, here by the appalling figure of a man’s appetite being so rabid that he would seize upon and devour his own flesh. So, in this state of faction and discord, the rage would be so great that people would destroy those who were, as it were, their own flesh, that is, their nearest kindred and friends.

Verse 21

Manasseh, Ephraim - This verse is a continuation of the statement in regard to the extent and fearfulness of the faction. Those who were hitherto most tenderly and intimately allied to each other, would now be engaged in furious strife. Manasseh and Ephraim were the two sons of Joseph Genesis 46:20, and their names are used as expressive of tender union and friendship; compare Genesis 48:20. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were near each other, and they always were allied together. The expression here denotes that they who had hitherto been joined in tender alliance, would be rent into contending factions, thirsting for each other’s blood.

And they together - They would be united in opposing Judah while they were devouring each other, as it is not an uncommon thing for those who are opposed to each other to unite in hostility to a common foe; compare Luke 23:12. This is an image that heightens the description of the anarchy - introducing implacable animosity against another tribe, while they were contending among themselves. That such anarchies and factions existed, is apparent from all the history of the kingdom of Israel; compare 2 Kings 15:10 ff; 2 Kings 15:30. In this last passage, the death of Pekah is describer as having occurred in a conspiracy formed by Hoshea.

For all this ... - see Isaiah 9:12, note Isaiah 5:25. This closes the third strophe or part of the prophecy under consideration. The fourth and last strophe occurs in Isaiah 10:1-4.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 9". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.