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Darkness Will Not Remain
The deep darkness of the previous verses does not have the last word. The “but” beginning of Isaiah 9:1 heralds a new section that contrasts with the previous section. There it is about darkness that will come as judgment on the people, while here God provides a light that He will send in the coming of the Messiah in the darkness for those who will accept Him. He is the light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5).
He has especially “the land of Zebulon” and “the land of Naphtali” in mind. The LORD has brought “contempt” over that area. We can think of the time when Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee for his help, cities which Hiram despicably called “the land of Kabul”, meaning: the land of nothing (1 Kings 9:11-Ezra :). He cannot appreciate that gift. Furthermore, we see that after the division of the empire, the judgment of the LORD came in different stages over the ten tribes through Assyria (2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:1-Ruth :2 Kings 17:22-Isaiah :). These two tribes, Zebulon and Naphtali, were first conquered by the Assyrians.
Instead of the defamation of the past, “in earlier times” (cf. John 1:46-2 Corinthians :; John 4:9), later on the LORD “shall make [it] glorious”. This will happen through the coming of the Messiah. Precisely in this area, where darkness is at its deepest, God will let His light shine in the coming of Christ. So it is not in Jerusalem, the capital, but in the despised Galilee.
The Christ will be born in Bethlehem in Judah, but shortly after His birth He will live and grow up in Nazareth in Zebulon (Matthew 2:22-Isaiah :). Later He lives in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13; Matthew 9:1) which is in Naphtali. There He begins His service (Mark 1:21). Here the prophet moves again from the darkness of the actual situation where the invasion is imminent to the days of the shining light in the coming of Christ in the flesh in the midst of the people, especially in Zebulon and Naphtali.
This area is further described with three names.
1. “The way of the sea” (the Via Maris), which is the trade route between Syria and Egypt through Galilee along the Mediterranean Sea. This indicates that many heathens passed through Galilee.
2. “The other side of Jordan”, which is east of Jordan.
3. “Galilee of the Gentiles”, which indicates that the region is strongly under heathen influence and that there has also been mixing of God’s people with the heathen.
Everything speaks of contempt. But what is not regarded among God’s people and is in darkness for God, is not despised by Him, but visited in His grace in His Son. He did not despise the Gentiles either.
Prophetically this verse points to the deep darkness in which the faithful remnant will be, first by the government of the antichrist and then by the invasion of Assyria, here the king of the North (Daniel 11:40-Mark :). If in the future the unbelieving part of Israel is exterminated by the Assyrians – “two parts” of three parts (Zechariah 13:8) – and the darkness and distress are greatest, there is the promise: “But” the LORD “shall make” this northern part of Israel “glorious” through the appearance of Christ. Then He will grant salvation, partly through the destruction of the army of the king of the North. This will be explained in detail in the next verses.
The Appearance of the Messiah
Here we come to the climax of the part that begins in Isaiah 7:1. Instead of the short-sighted unbelief of King Ahaz, who plunges his people into deep darkness, we find the King Messiah, who, though a Child, is the promised Immanuel. He will end all strife and misery and introduce an eternal kingdom based on law and righteousness.
The first fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1 and Isaiah 9:2 can be seen in Matthew 4. The evangelist cites this part of Isaiah to describe the work of the Lord Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 4:12-Nehemiah :). He is “a great light” offering salvation to people who are “in darkness”. He is the great light, the sun of the fourth day of creation (Genesis 1:16), Who illuminates everything (Malachi 4:2). He shines like the light for people who live in a land where “the shadow of death” hangs over and brings light and life there (John 1:4).
The full fulfillment of these verses will take place at the end of the anger of the LORD (Isaiah 10:5). When the king of the North is back in the land after defeating the king of the south, the judgment will be executed, not in Judea, but in Galilee. Also at the first coming of Christ, His service is mainly in Galilee in the north. The army of the restored Western Roman Empire (Europe) and the army of the king of the North will both be destroyed at the appearance of the Lord Jesus.
From the moment the people see the great light, the prophet in Isaiah 9:3-Judges : goes to an event even further into the future. He speaks in those verses about the breaking of the power of the antichrist and the establishment of the realm of peace and justice of the Messiah. We see
1. great light (Isaiah 9:2) instead of darkness (Isaiah 9:1),
2. great joy (Isaiah 9:3) instead of distress (Isaiah 8:21),
3. liberation (Isaiah 9:4) instead of slavery, and
4. peace (Isaiah 9:7) instead of struggle (Isaiah 9:5).
Isaiah 9:3 has not yet been fully fulfilled. Only a remnant has returned from exile and not a “multiplied” people. Among the successive heathen rulers there has never been a situation of the joy described in this verse. If in the future the Lord Jesus comes at the end of the great tribulation to personally liberate His earthly people, there will be great joy with the remnant.
They have had a very hard time. During the great tribulation they will go through a heavy persecution caused by the antichrist, who will be king of Israel, with the help of the beast of the sea, the restored Roman Empire (Revelation 13:1-2 Samuel :). Because of the great tribulation, the remnant will be scattered all over the land (Matthew 24:21-Song of Solomon :), over the mountains and in the farthest corners of the land. But if the king of the North overruns the land of Israel, it is these faithful Israelites who will survive the massacre – just like the Christians who fled in the year 70 at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 12:16-Esther :).
The people will become numerous with the return of the remnant of both the two and the ten tribes. The joy that will then be there will be compared to the joy that will be there when the harvest is brought in and when the booty is distributed. The first joy is that of the blessing of the land, the second is that of the defeated enemies.
The joy before the Lord’s face can already be experienced by us now. It should always be like this. This is not an expression of a natural joy over earthly prosperity, but a joy in Him that He is always with us.
Isaiah 9:4 indicates the reason for the joy in the previous verse. It is the joy of salvation from the LORD. This verse is in the completed time, the so-called prophetic perfectum, the prophetically perfect time. This means that the event has yet to take place, but it is described as if it had already taken place.
“The yoke”, “the staff” and “the rod”, the symbols of the powers that have oppressed Israel, are all broken. The people have been freed from them. All disciplinary instruments, the yoke of the antichrist on the religious remnant and the staff and the rod of the surrounding hostile peoples on Israel – the king of the North – have been broken.
The “battle of Midian” recalls Gideon’s victory over Midian (Judges 7:19-Lamentations :). Then the LORD redeemed His people, not by the military strength of that people on whom he trusts so much today, but by His own choice of a small company. Therefore, they could not attribute the victory to their own strength (Judges 7:2). In this way, the Lord Jesus will also appear in the future and personally stand up for His people and be assisted in this by a small remnant that is in the greatest weakness, but becomes strong through their connection with Him.
This also applies to us. If we want to fight the enemy in our own strength, it only plays into the hands of the enemy. But if we are weak, then we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10; cf. 2 Chronicles 28:21), because then He is our strength. We are able to do everything through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).
In the description of Isaiah 9:5 we find again the prophetic Assyrians, who go up for the great battle against Israel. The ground is pounding with the pounding of the boots of the soldiers of the advancing armies (Joel 3:9-2 Chronicles :). The cloak of the soldiers are dripping from the blood of the victims that will flow abundantly in this final battle (Isaiah 63:3; Revelation 14:20). The end of all this violence is described briefly and powerfully. It will be burned as “fuel for the fire”. The judgment of the LORD will consume all opposition (Isaiah 66:15-Nehemiah :).
The third “for” (Isaiah 9:6) indicates the reason for the salvation (Isaiah 9:4-Deuteronomy :) and the joy (Isaiah 9:3). There is joy because God gives salvation, but how does He do that? It all begins with the birth of the King Messiah, the Christ, and ends with His eternal reign.
In Isaiah 9:6 both the first and the second coming of Christ are mentioned in one verse. That there is a first and a second coming is due to the rejection of the Messiah. If He had not been rejected, the kingdom would have been established by Him immediately after His first coming. His rejection makes a second coming necessary.
The time in between has been foreseen by God, but not foretold by Him in the Old Testament. The church is not part of the prophecy, because it is a secret for the prophets (Ephesians 3:5). In the prophecy the first and the second coming are always directly connected, without mentioning or referring to the meantime in which we now live, the time of the coming into being and the formation of the church.
In Isaiah 9:6-Judges : we have one of the richest descriptions of Christ in the Old Testament. The hope of Israel begins with “a Child” in the manger. The mention of His birth is a digression of the meaning of “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). In Isaiah 7:14 is spoken about Him as a sign. Here He is a gift. He was born a “Child”, which means that He “partook in blood and flesh” (Hebrews 2:14). He is real and perfect Man, He is “[the] Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
The “us” among whom this Child was born are those who have looked forward to Him, among whom Isaiah also counts himself. We see them at the beginning of the Gospel according to Luke, in Joseph and Mary, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna. They are a picture of the faithful remnant and the core of the reborn nation, the whole of Israel that will be preserved through the great tribulation. The Child was born long before that time, but they will greet Him as if He were just born (cf. Isaiah 66:7-Ruth :). It is the time for God to bring His Son back into the world, then to accept dominion over the world (Hebrews 1:6).
Then it is said that He is given as a “Son”, which refers to His Godhead, giving Him the right to exercise power as God. This might and power are expressed in the statement “the government will rest on His shoulders [Darby Translation: shoulder, singular]”. As Creator and Redeemer (Revelation 4-5), He carries all dominion and all burden. All responsibility rests on Him. But this task is not too great for Him. He will solve all problems and exercise His dominion in a perfectly righteous way. As the One Who brought about salvation, He can say: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He will use that power in blessing and in judgment.
In the parable of the lost and found sheep that the Lord Jesus tells us, we read that He puts the sheep “on His shoulders” (plural) (Luke 15:4-Joshua :). For the dominion of the world, one shoulder is enough; to bring a lost sheep back to the flock, He uses both His shoulders. The High Priest in the Old Testament also carries in the picture of the two precious stones with the names of the twelve tribes on both His shoulders (Exodus 28:9-1 Chronicles :).
That He is the Son Who is “given”, shows that He is already a Son before He is born as a Child. He is the eternal Son who became Man and was given in that way. The fact that the Son is “given” also recalls the grace and love of God for lost people: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The Son is not only worthy, but He is also able to exercise dominion. His Name, which describes features of Him, demonstrates that. His Name is He Himself in His Person. His Name is in the first place “Wonderful” (cf. Judges 13:18). He is beyond our human thinking in His Person, for “no one knows the Son but the Father” (Matthew 11:27; Revelation 19:12). His Name is “Wonderful” because He is wonderful in Himself and because He did a wonderful work on the cross for the glory of God and for our salvation. Above all, reverence and admiration befits us toward Him.
It immediately follows that He is “Counselor”. That indicates His wisdom. Nobody advises Him, He never has to consult anyone. “Who became His counselor?” (Romans 11:34). He works according to a plan perfectly conceived by Himself, which He carries out in wisdom without hesitation and without ever having to return to anything. All those He involves in His plans and to whom He makes them known, He gives counsel (Isaiah 11:2; Psalms 32:8). The counsel He gives is wonderful; it transcends human capabilities. The two features ‘wonderful’ and ‘counsel’ are also found in Isaiah 25 and 28 (Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 28:29).
It is also possible to consider these two expressions as one Name, a double name: Wonderful Counselor. That unity in the Name or double name can also be seen in the three following Names: Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The Messiah, He Who is Child and Son, has four wonderful Names with in each Name a combination of His Being and a feature that enlarges His glory. They are all honorary names of the Messiah.
He is able to carry out all His intentions, for He is the “Mighty God” (cf. Isaiah 10:21). That Name indicates the great contrast with the failing, weak, mortal man. The Name “Eternal Father” is literally “Father of Eternity”. The Lord Jesus, because He is the One this description is about, is clearly distinguished in the Godhead as the eternal Son from the eternal Father. The name “Father” therefore has here the meaning of origin, from Whom something originates. The Lord Jesus is ‘Father of eternity’ in the sense that He is the origin of eternity. This is how the Septuagint translates this verse with: Father of the coming age (cf. Hebrews 6:5).
In the Old Testament ‘eternity’ often refers to the millennial realm of peace. The many times that it is said “His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psalms 118:1-Numbers :; Psalms 136:1-Ezekiel :) indicates that time. The realm of peace is the time when He will openly reign as the “Prince of Peace”. He will subdue every rebel, remove every disruptive element, and thus work peace for His people and all nations. This is the “peace on earth” the angels announced at His birth (Luke 2:14).
He wants to give His peace right now in the hearts of all those who have peace with God through Him. When Christ says “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you” (John 14:27), the first “peace” is peace with God. It is the peace that Christ “leaves” behind through His death for all who believe. The second “peace” refers to the peace of God that Christ experienced on earth through perfect fellowship with God and that He now “gives” to all who allow themselves to be guided by Him.
Peace with God is given to the sinner when he confesses his sins and believes in the work of the Lord Jesus and that God has accepted that work (Romans 4:24-Lamentations :; Romans 5:1). The peace of God is the part of the believer who brings all things to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6-Judges :). Prayer is one of the proofs that someone puts his life under the dominion of the Lord Jesus and already now acknowledges Him as Lord, while the world does not yet.
The area of His reign will expand more and more and be all-encompassing (Isaiah 9:7). It will encompass heaven and earth with all imaginable powers and result in God being all and in all (1 Corinthians 15:20-Hosea :).
The duration of His reign will be endless (Luke 1:33; Revelation 11:15). He will not be succeeded by another ruler (Daniel 2:44). The promise that He will sit on the throne of His father David (2 Samuel 7:16) will be fulfilled. It is a throne that is “forever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8). His endless reign will culminate in “the day of God” with its “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
This splendid result will not be achieved by human effort. No human will be involved. The “zeal of the LORD of hosts”, that is the Lord Jesus, is the driving force behind everything. His zeal was ignited when the honor of His Father was tarnished (John 2:13-Esther :). With the same zeal with which He cleansed the temple, He will also cleanse the earth, which belongs to Him as well as the temple (Psalms 24:1). His zeal is the fire of His indignation toward all those who have wickedly treated His earthly, chosen people, who have tried to destroy it. His zeal is also the fire of His love with which He will do good to His people. Therefore, this fire must consume all unfaithfulness from among them.
Phinehas shows such a zeal for which he is praised and rewarded (Numbers 25:6-2 Chronicles :). This zeal of the LORD for His people is also seen in Paul for the church (2 Corinthians 11:2). It is a zeal by which all elements are judged that stand in the way of the full dedication to the Lord Jesus. What is true for a local church like Corinth, is true for every local church today. It also applies to the life of each individual believer.
Pride of Ephraim Judged
The promises of Isaiah 9:6-Judges : are in the following section, Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4, followed by further public condemnations of evil and warnings for the impending judgment. The previous section, Isaiah 6:1 to Isaiah 9:7, can be seen as an intermediate phrase, an important one, because it says so much about Christ. The latter only confirms that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
From Isaiah 9:8 we are back in the atmosphere of Isaiah 5 after a long interval. In Isaiah 5, the expression that appears in the next section, Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4, as a refrain comes back: “In [spite of] all this, His anger does not turn away And His hand is still stretched out” (Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 9:11Isaiah 9:16; Isaiah 9:20Isaiah 10:4). This expression has to do with God’s judgment of an unfaithful and apostate people. The people need to be reminded of this again and again.
The refrain divides the next section into four parts. The first mention of the refrain is preceded by the fact that the Lord (Adonai) sends a message against Jacob, a message that falls in Israel (Isaiah 9:8; cf. Amos 3:1; Amos 4:1Amos 5:1). Their sinful practices make this necessary. The message that is sent to them and falls on them in accordance with the covenant made with them expresses God’s constant wish that they will repent.
Their sinful conduct repeatedly results in the discipline of the LORD in accordance with the covenant (Deuteronomy 28-30; 1 Kings 8; Amos 4). Therefore the expression ‘message’ here is translated by the Septuagint as ‘plague’. Those plagues will reach a climax and bring about conversion before the promised blessing and light can be given.
Although it is a message for “Jacob” and “Israel”, i.e. for “all the people”, it mainly refers to “Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria”, i.e. the ten tribes (Isaiah 9:9). The inhabitants of Ephraim are guilty of pride and arrogance. They show a continuous hardening of their hearts. Prophetically, the north of Israel in particular will have to endure a hard time because of the invasion of the king of the North.
Despite the failure of the alliance with Syria – because that alliance did not help to stop Assyria – there is no conversion. The LORD has called them to listen to His rod, Assyria (Micah 6:9). Instead, they are making even greater plans in their pride. They will do even better than last time, the results will surpass the previous situation (Isaiah 9:10). How hard learning, yes, how incorrigible is man.
Assyria seems supreme, but Israel must learn the lesson that Assyria is only an instrument in the hand of the LORD. This is a lesson that all believers of all times should take to heart. It means putting the call into practice: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6).
Today, people react in exactly the same way to disasters, which come across the world as a call from God to repent. What has been destroyed, they will rebuild with better materials and even bigger and more luxurious. It also benefits the economy. With this same indestructible enthusiasm, the politicians are injecting themselves with courage to do even better in the next term of government.
Because of the stubborn pride of the ten tribes, the LORD Himself will “raise” and “spur on” new enemies against them, so that they will come to them (Isaiah 9:11). This shows that their mighty enemies are only instruments in God’s hand. This is true for Israel at the time of King Pekaiah, and will also be true at the time of the invasion of the king of the North.
Their alliance with Syria did not bring any advantage, but on the contrary new enemies. Enemies of Rezin, the king of Syria (Isaiah 7:1) – meaning the Syrian enemies of Rezin who are at the side of Assyria – are now also hostile to Israel. Here we will be able to think of Assyria in particular. Also Syria itself will attack them, from the east (Isaiah 9:12). From the west come the Philistines. Thus Israel will be greedily devoured by them. Because of the persistent evil of His people, God does not turn away His anger from them and cannot withdraw His beating hand.
Unrepentance of Ephraim Judged
In these verses the prophet gives a second explanation of the causes and necessity of divine judgments. Because they continue to refuse to convert to the LORD and seek Him (Isaiah 9:13), he must also conclude this second verse with the refrain that the anger of the LORD has not been turned away and His hand is still stretched out against them in judgment (Isaiah 9:17).
The verdict this time is internal and consists of removing their political and religious leaders. “In a single day” they will come to their end (Isaiah 9:14), suddenly, while it has been announced so often. The “palm branch” are the leaders, the “bulrush” are those who are led. The leaders, “the elder and honorable man”, are “the head”, the most responsible (Isaiah 9:15). The false prophet is “the tail”. He is contemptuously compared to the moving tail of a dog. As it suits him, he prophesies. These false prophets do not allow themselves to be led by the LORD, but by the political leaders, just like a tail that reflects the state of mind of the head.
Thus, the leaders, palm branch or tall trees, those led by them, reed or low plants, are brought to confusion” (Isaiah 9:16). The deceivers do the same with those who allow themselves to be deceived. They can no longer discover the straight path, the path of the LORD, and therefore cannot go it.
The verdict comes on “their young men”, the hope and at the same time the pride of the nation (Isaiah 9:16). They count on their own strength. Therefore the LORD cannot rejoice over them, but must judge them. Judgment comes even on those who are God’s most caring, “their orphans or their widows,” because they too follow the deceivers (cf. Psalms 68:5; Psalms 146:9). Those who allow themselves to be deceived have consciously chosen to wander. They are all – the deceivers and the deceived – guilty of leaving the LORD and of not listening to His warnings. Therefore, His anger remains on them and His hand in judgment remains stretched out against them.
Wickedness of Ephraim Judged
For the third time a warning is given of the Divine anger. The prophet points to the wickedness they commit and through which they also work their own destruction (Isaiah 9:18). Today we recognize this in the dissolute way in which sexuality in particular and life in general is dealt with. All the boundaries God has given for that purpose are blurred and finally erased.
People consume their own lives through their wicked way of life. Wickedness does its consuming (“fire”) and suffocating (“smoke”) work among them. The rising smoke is also a characteristic of hell, the place where all wickedness is given up to eternal fire (Revelation 14:11; Revelation 19:3).
The LORD shall deliver the land to civil war with all the cruelty, hunger, and self-destruction that go with it (Isaiah 9:18). The land will be blackened, making it impossible to grow anything on it. Just as briars and thorns (Isaiah 9:19) are food for the fire, so the people consisting of hardened sinners are food for the judgment of the LORD.
One of the judgments to which the LORD gives up his people is that of civil war. Because of this, selfishness will also prevail. No one grants another a bite of bread (Isaiah 9:20). The need will be so great that not even one’s own brothers will be spared (Isaiah 9:21). Manasseh, the divided tribe with one half in the land and the other half outside, who therefore knows the consequences of division, goes up against the great leader Ephraim. Ephraim, for whom it has always been difficult to be the least (Judges 12:1), is not about to let this happen.
When they are ready with fighting, they turn against Judah together. Through the wrath of the LORD they do their best to take each other’s lives. Then for the third time the refrain sounds that the anger of the LORD does not turn away and His hand is still stretched out against them in judgment.
Also among us, Christians, a brotherly quarrel can be allowed by the Lord as a chastening of Him, because we do not acknowledge Him in our lives. If the relationship with Him is not good, it always has consequences for the relationships between the members of His people and between people in general.
When Christians boast of outward religiosity while not listening to the commandment of brotherly love, the consequence is that they bite and eat each other. If this is not stopped, they will devour each other (Galatians 5:15). In local churches where such situations are found, it is important to recognize this as a judgment of God. Then one can humbly turn to Him and to each other instead of boasting of his privileges any longer.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 9". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany