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ISAIAH CHAPTER 9
Joy in the midst of affliction, Isaiah 9:1-5.
The birth, person, office, and kingdom of Christ, Isaiah 9:6,Isaiah 9:7.
Judgments for their pride, Isaiah 9:8-12;
for their impenitency and hypocrisy, Isaiah 9:13-21.
The dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation: the words thus rendered contain a mitigation of the foregoing threatening; and so the sense of the verse may be this, The calamity of this land and its inhabitants shall be great, yet not such as that which was brought upon the kingdom of the ten tribes by the king of Assyria, who at first indeed dealt more gently with them, but afterwards quite rooted them out, and carried them away into a dreadful captivity, from whence they were not to return, no, not when the Messiah came into the world; for after this darkness of which I have now spoken, there shall come a glorious light, as it follows in the next verse. The Dutch interpreters take it in the same sense, and render the words thus, But the land that was distressed shall not be utterly darkened. To the same purpose they may be thus rendered, according to the Hebrew, But darkness shall not be (i.e. shall not abide or continue; for to be is sometimes put for to abide or continue to be, as 1 Samuel 12:14; Proverbs 23:5; Matthew 17:4; Hebrews 8:4) unto her, (to wit, the land, which by the consent of interpreters is understood here, as it was Isaiah 8:21) to whom this distress is or shall be. She shall be distressed and darkened, as I said before, Isaiah 8:22, but not irrecoverably, nor for ever. Some understand the words to be an aggravation of the darkness or misery threatened Isaiah 8:22, rendering the words thus, for the dimness shall not be, &c. And so the sense is, This shall not be so slight an affliction as that which befell them by Pul, 2 Kings 15:19, nor as that which succeeded it by Tiglathpileser, who, at the desire of Ahaz, did about this time make another invasion into the land of Israel, 2 Kings 15:29, and was a heavier stroke than the former; but this shall be far heavier than either of them. But the former sense seems better to agree, both with the following verses, and with Matthew 4:14-16, where these words are expounded as a promise, and said to be fulfilled by Christ’s preaching the gospel in these parts. At the first; in the first invasion which the king of Assyria made upon Israel. He, to wit, God, who is oft understood in such cases, and who is here supposed to be the author or inflicter of this judgment. Or it is an impersonal speech, he afflicted for was afflicted, than which nothing is more common in the Hebrew language. Lightly afflicted; either,
1. By Pul; or rather,
2. By Tiglath-pileser, who at this time invaded and subdued these parts, as it is expressed, 2 Kings 15:29; the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali: these parts are particularly mentioned, because this storm fell most heavily upon them; but under them the other parts of the land are understood by a common figure called synecdoche. Did more grievously afflict her; either,
1. By Tiglath-pileser; or rather,
2. By Shalmaneser, who took Samaria, and carried Israel into captivity, 2 Kings 17:5,2 Kings 17:6; of which calamity, though yet to come, the prophet speaks as if it were past, as the manner of the prophet is. By the way of the sea; in that part of the land which bordereth upon the sea, to wit, the lake of Gennesaret, which is very commonly called a sea, as Matthew 4:18; John 21:1, &c., and upon which the portions of Zebulun and Naphtali bordered. Beyond Jordan; or, on this side Jordan; for this preposition is used both ways, and this land might be said to be either beyond or on this side Jordan, in divers respects. Galilee of the nations, or Galilee of the Gentiles, to wit, the Upper Galilee, so called because it bordered upon the Gentiles. But this last clause, and the two foregoing clauses, are otherwise rendered and interpreted by divers learned men, as a prophecy concerning the light of the gospel that should shine in those parts: As at the first time (to wit, in the former ages of the Israelitish church and commonwealth) he made the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali vile or contemptible; (as he might be said to have done, partly, by putting those people at so great a distance from his sanctuary; partly, by exposing them to some calamities which other tribes escaped; and partly, by denying them those honours and privileges which he afforded to other tribes, of which see John 7:52, Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet; and John 1:46, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? which was an eminent city of Galilee;) so in the latter or last time (to wit, in the days of the Messiah, or of the gospel, which are frequently so called in the Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament) he made it (i.e. he will make it, for the prophet speaks of things to come as past, as he doth most commonly in this prophecy) glorious (to wit, by Christ’s first preaching the gospel in those parts) in or towards the way of the sea, (to wit, of Galilee or Gennesaret,) beyond or on this side Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles: which interpretation I thought fit to propose, as deserving further consideration.
The people; the people of God, Israel and Judah, and especially those of them mentioned in the foregoing verse.
Walked; in Matthew 4:16, it is sat. It notes not their gesture, but their state or condition, they lived or abode. Only walking in darkness is more perilous than sitting. Darkness: the expression is general, and so may well comprehend both the darkness of calamity, and the darkness of ignorance, and idolatry, and profaneness, in which those parts were eminently involved, by reason of their great distance from God’s sanctuary, and by their frequent converse with the Gentiles, who bordered upon them, and of which this place is expounded, Matthew 4:0.
Have seen, i.e. shall see, at the coming of the Messiah.
The land of the shadow of death; which notes both extreme, and dangerous, or deadly darkness.
Thou hast multiplied the nation; thou hast made good thy promise to Abraham concerning the multiplication of his seed, Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17, by adding his spiritual seed unto the carnal, by gathering in the Gentiles to the Jews, and making them both one people in Christ, John 10:16; Ephesians 2:14, &c. For in Scripture account the believing Gentiles are the seed of Abraham as well as the Jews; of which see Galatians 3:7-9. Or,
thou hast magnified the nation; honoured them with peculiar privileges above all other nations, and especially with this transcendent privilege, that the Messiah and Saviour of the world should be born of them, and live among them; of which he speaks more fully Isaiah 9:6,Isaiah 9:7.
And not increased the joy; or, yet not increased their joy; which might very truly and fitly be said of the Jewish nation upon this occasion, partly because they did not rejoice in the conversion of the Gentiles, as they should have done, but murmured, and grieved, and stumbled at it; and partly because, through their perverseness and unbelief, that would be unto them an occasion of their utter ruin, the conversion of the Gentiles being attended with the rejection of the Jews. But because this translation seems not to agree with the following words, which ascribe great joy to them, some render the words otherwise; either thus, and
wilt thou not increase their joy? to which question the next words give an affirmative answer. So the Hebrew particle lo is put interrogatively for halo, as it is in many other places, which I have formerly observed. Or thus, and hast increased to it, or him, or them (to that nation) their joy. For though the Hebrew lo be written like an adverb, yet it may be read like a pronoun, as it is both by Jewish and Christian interpreters acknowledged to be in many places; of which see more in my Latin Synopsis.
They joy before thee; in thy presence, and in the place of thy worship; not with a carnal and worldly, but with a spiritual and religious joy, giving thee the praise and glory of all thy favours afforded to them.
According to the joy in harvest; when men receive with great joy that for which they have laboured much and long waited. See Psalms 126:5,Psalms 126:6.
When they divide the spoil; when, after a bloody fight, and a glorious victory, they come to take the spoil.
Thou hast broken: this notes the matter and occasion of the foregoing joy.
The yoke of his burden; his burdensome and heavy yoke, as the throne of holiness is put for the holy throne, Psalms 47:8.
The staff of his shoulder; either the staff wherewith his shoulders were smitten, or the staff or staves by which he was forced to carry burdens upon his shoulders.
The rod, wherewith he beat him. Or, the sceptre; the power and tyranny which he exercised over him.
Of his oppressor; of all his oppressors, but especially of sin and of the devil.
As in the day of Midian; when God destroyed the Midianites in so admirable a manner, and by such unlikely and contemptible means, by three hundred men, and they not fighting, but only holding lamps in their hands, and sounding their trumpets; which was an eminent type of Christ’s conquering the devil, and all his enemies, by dying upon the cross, and by the preaching of a few unlearned and despicable persons, &c.
With confused noise; with the triumphant exclamations of the conqueror, and the bitter lamentations of the conquered, and the differing cries of the same persons, sometimes conquering, and sometimes conquered.
And garments rolled in blood; with great difficulty and slaughter.
But this shall be with burning and fuel of fire; but this victory which God’s people shall have over all their enemies, shall be more easy to them, and more terrible to their adversaries, whom God will suddenly and utterly consume, as it were by fire.
Having spoken of the glorious light, and joy, and victory of God’s people, he now proceeds to show the ground of it, and by what person these things are procured.
Unto us; unto us Jews, of whom Christ was born, and to whom he was primarily sent, Matthew 15:24, for our use and benefit.
A Child; the Messiah, by the consent of interpreters, not only Christian, but Jewish; for so the ancient Hebrew doctors understood the place, and particularly the Chaldee paraphrast; although the later Jews, out of opposition to Christ, wrest it to Hezekiah; which extravagant conceit, as it hath no foundation at all in that or any other text of Scripture, and therefore may be rejected without any further reason, so it is fully confuted by the following titles, which are such as cannot without blasphemy and nonsense be ascribed to Hezekiah, nor indeed to any mere mortal man, as we shall see. But all the following particulars do so truly and exactly agree to Christ, that they cannot without great violence be alienated from him, or ascribed to any other.
Is born, for shall be born, as the prophets generally speak.
A Son; so he determines the sex of the child. Or, the Son, to wit, of the virgin, of whom I spake before, Isaiah 7:14.
Is given; is freely and graciously given to us by God. Other children also are said to be given by God, Genesis 30:6; Genesis 48:9, but this in a peculiar manner, and therefore he is called the gift of God, John 4:10.
The government, to wit, of Israel, or of God’s people, to whom he is given,
shall be upon his shoulder, i.e. upon him, or in his hands. He mentions shoulders, because great burdens are commonly laid upon men’s shoulders; and as all government, if it be rightly managed, so this especially, is a very heavy burden, requiring extraordinary care, and diligence, and self-denial. Possibly here may be also an allusion to the ancient custom of carrying the ensigns of government before the magistrate upon the shoulders of their officers; or to the cross of Christ, which was laid upon his shoulders, John 19:17, which also was the way to his kingdom or government, Luke 24:26.
His name shall be called; either,
1. He shall be called; for names are oft put for persons, as Acts 1:15; Revelation 3:4; Revelation 11:13. Or,
2. His name shall be; for to be called in Scripture is off put for to be, as I have noted before on Isaiah 1:26, and oft elsewhere. But this is not to be taken for a description of his proper name, by which he should be commonly called, but of his glorious nature and qualities. See my notes on Isaiah 7:14.
Wonderful, Counsellor: these words may be taken either,
1. Severally, as they are in our translation, and by many others. This the Jews apply to Hezekiah, who, as they say, is called wonderful, because of the miracle which God wrought for him, 2 Kings 20:2, &c.; and counsellor, because he took counsel with his princes about God’s worship, and the defence of the city, 2 Chronicles 29:4, &c., and gave good counsel to others; which ridiculous account is sufficient to overthrow that exposition. But they agree most eminently to the Lord Christ, who is truly wonderful, in his person, and natures, and words, and works, being made up of wonders, in whom there was nothing which was not wonderful; who also may well be called Counsellor, because he knew the whole counsel of God, and (so far as it was necessary) revealed it to us, and is the great Counsellor of his church and people in all their doubts and difficulties. Or,
wonderful Counsellor; which may seem best to agree both with the following titles, each of which is made up of two words, and with Isaiah 28:29, where God is called wonderful in counsel, and makes the title more full and emphatical. To call Christ simply a Counsellor, may seem too mean a character, being common to many others with him; but to say he is a wonderful Counsellor, is a singular commendation. And so Christ is, because he hath been the Counsellor of his church in all ages, and the author and giver of all those excellent counsels delivered not only by the apostles, but also by the prophets, as is evident from 1 Peter 1:10,1 Peter 1:11, and hath gathered, and enlarged, and preserved his church by admirable counsels and methods of his providence, and, in a word, hath in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, Colossians 2:3.
The mighty God: this title can agree to no man but Christ, who was God as well as man, to whom the title of God or Jehovah is given, both in the Old and New Testament, as Jeremiah 23:6; John 1:1; Romans 9:5, and in many other places. And it is a most true observation, that this Hebrew word El is never used in the singular number, of any creature, but only of the Almighty God, as is evident by perusing all the texts where this word is used. And although the title of Elohim, which is of the plural number, be twice or thrice given to some men, yet there is constantly added some diminishing expression to it, as when they are said to be afraid, Job 41:25, and to die, Psalms 49:10; whereas here he adds the epithet of mighty, which is ascribed to the great God, Deuteronomy 10:17, and elsewhere.
The everlasting Father, Heb. the Father of eternity, Having called him a Child, and a Son in respect of his human nature, lest this should be misinterpreted to his disparagement, he adds that he is a Father also, even the God and Father of all things; the work of creation being common and commonly ascribed to each of the persons of the blessed Trinity, the Maker and Upholder of all creatures, as he is said to be, John 1:3; Hebrews 1:3, and the Father of all believers, who are called his children, Hebrews 2:13, and the Father of eternity; either,
1. The first author (such persons being called fathers, as Genesis 4:20, and elsewhere) of eternal salvation, as he is called, Hebrews 5:9. Or,
2. As we render it, the everlasting Father, who, though as man he was then unborn, yet was and is from everlasting to everlasting. They who apply this to Hezekiah render it, the father of an age, and expound this of his long life and numerous posterity; which I the rather mention, to show what absurd shifts they are forced to use who interpret this text of any other but Christ. For he did not live very long, nor had he, that we read of, more than one son, Manasseh. And if both these things had been true of him, they were more eminently true of many other men. Besides, this Hebrew word being used of God, as here it is of him who was now called the mighty God, constantly signifies eternity, as Isaiah 26:4; Isaiah 57:15, &c.
The Prince of peace: this title doth not fully agree to Hezekiah, whose reign was not free from wars, as we see, 2 Kings 18:0; but it agrees exactly to Christ, who is called our peace, Micah 5:5; Ephesians 2:14, and is the only purchaser and procurer of peace between God and men, Isaiah 53:5, and of peace between men and men, Jews and Gentiles, Ephesians 2:15, and of the peace of our own consciences, and leaves peace as his legacy to his disciples, John 14:27; John 16:33.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end; his peaceable and happy government shall be enlarged without end; either without end of duration, for ever; but that is expressed in a following clause of this verse: or without end of limitation, or without bounds. It shall not be confined to a narrow spot of ground, the land of Canaan, but shall be extended far and wide to all the ends of the earth.
The throne of David; which was promised to David, and to his seed for ever.
With judgment and with justice; not with oppression and tyranny, by which other kingdoms are commonly managed, but by the administration of justice.
From henceforth even for ever; from the beginning of it unto all eternity.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this; this great work, which surpasseth all the power and skill of men, shall be brought to pass by Almighty God, out of that fervent affection which he hath to his own name and glory, and to the honour of his dearly beloved Son, and unto his church and people.
Sent a word; a prophetical and threatening message by me; for now the prophet, having inserted some consolatory passages for the support of God’s faithful people, returns to his former work of commination against the rebellious Israelites.
It lighted, Heb. it fell, i.e. it shall fall, in the prophetical style. It shall certainly be accomplished.
Israel; the same with Jacob in the former clause, the posterity of Jacob or Israel.
Shall know, to wit, by experience; they shall know whether my word be true or false; they shall feel the effects of it.
Even Ephraim; the people of the ten tribes, and particularly Ephraim, the strongest and proudest of them all.
The inhabitant of Samaria; the strongest place, and the seat of the king and court, who were most secure and presumptuous.
That say within themselves, and one to another. They purpose and boast of it.
The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones. It is true, we have received some damages from our enemies; but Rezin and the Syrians being now our friends and confederates, we doubt not we shall quickly repair them with great glory and advantage.
Sycomores; wild fig trees, a contemptible sort of trees, if compared with cedars, 1 Kings 10:27.
We will change them into cedars; putting cedars into our buildings instead of sycomores. See Jeremiah 22:13,Jeremiah 22:15.
Therefore; to chastise your pride, and defeat your hopes and resolutions.
Set up, Heb. exalt; advance their power, and give them success against him.
The adversaries of Rezin; the Assyrians, who, presently after this prophecy, fought and prevailed against him, 2 Kings 16:7. He mentions Rezin, partly because he was confederate with Ephraim, and so his enemies were their enemies also, and partly because the Israelites trusted to his powerful assistance.
Against him; either,
1. Against Rezin last mentioned; or rather,
2. Against Ephraim or Israel, who may easily be understood either from the foregoing or following verse; for against them this prophecy is directed, and of them he speaks both in the next clause of this verse, and in the next verse; and it seems reasonable that him in this clause, and his in the next clause, should be understood of the same persons.
Join, Heb. mingle, i.e. unite them so that they shall agree together to fight against Israel, and shall invade him from several quarters.
His; not Rezin’s, but Ephraim’s, as appears from the next verse, which is added to explain this clause.
The Syrians; for although Rezin king of Syria was destroyed, yet the body of the nation survived, and submitted themselves to the king of Assyria, and served under him in his wars, and upon his command invaded Israel afterwards.
Before, Heb. on the east; for Syria stood eastward from Israel.
The Philistines behind; on the western side of the land of Israel.
With open mouth; like wild and furious beasts, with great greediness and cruelty.
His hand is stretched out still; his justice is not fully satisfied, but he will yet take further vengeance upon them.
Turneth not from their wicked courses unto God by true repentance.
Neither do they seek the Lord of hosts; they do not study and endeavour to procure his favour by sincere and fervent supplication, and by removing the causes of his just displeasure.
Head and tail; high and low, honourable and contemptible, as the next verse explains it.
Branch; the goodly branches of tall and strong trees, the mighty and noble.
Rush; the bulrush, the weakest and meanest persons.
In one day; all together, one as well as another, without any distinction.
He is, i.e. signifies, as that word is commonly used in the Hebrew tongue, as Genesis 41:26,Genesis 41:27, and every where.
The prophet that teacheth lies; whose destruction he mentions, not as if it were a punishment to them to be deprived of such persons, but partly to show the extent of the calamity, that it should reach all sorts of persons; and partly to beat down their vain presumptions of peace and prosperity, by showing that those false prophets, which had fed their vain hopes, should perish, and all their false prophecies of peace with them.
He is the tail; these I mean by the tail, as being in’ truth the basest part of the whole body of the people.
The leaders; their governors, both civil and ecclesiastical, and especially the latter, their teachers, even the false prophets last mentioned. Or, they that bless or praise them, to wit, the false prophets, that flatter them in their wicked ways, with hopes and promises of peace, as their manner was, Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 28:9. Both ways the sense is the same.
Cause them to err; either compelling them by power, or deceiving them by false doctrines and evil counsels and persuasions.
Are destroyed; shall certainly perish; nor will it excuse them that they followed the counsel and conduct of their leaders.
Shall have no joy in their young men; shall not rejoice over them to do them good, as he doth to his people, Isaiah 62:5; Zephaniah 3:17; will not have mercy or pity on them, as the next clause explains it. but will abhor and utterly destroy them; for more is here intended than is expressed, as Proverbs 17:21.
Neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows, who are the special objects of his care and pity, Deuteronomy 16:11,Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 24:19,Deuteronomy 24:20, and much less upon others.
Every one; not precisely, for there were seven thousand elect persons among them, when they seemed to Elijah to be universally corrupt, 1 Kings 19:18; but the body or generality of the people.
Is an hypocrite; for though they professed to worship and serve the true God, yet indeed they had forsaken him. Or, a profane person, as this word is rendered, Jeremiah 23:15, as also Isaiah 32:6.
An evil-doer; elsewhere called a worker of iniquity, as Job 31:3; Psalms 5:5; Matthew 7:23; one that gives up himself to a constant course and custom of sinning.
Speaketh folly, i.e. wickedness, which is commonly called folly. They are not ashamed to proclaim their own wickedness, and the corruption of their hearts breaketh forth into ungodly speeches.
Wickedness burneth, i.e. shall burn you, as it follows, shall devour. Your
iniquity shall be your ruin, as God threatens, Ezekiel 18:30.
The briers and thorns; either,
1. The wicked, who are oft compared to briers and thorns, as 2 Samuel 23:6; Isaiah 27:4; or rather,
2. The low and mean persons; for these are opposed to
the thickets of the forest, in the next clause. In the thickets of the forest; in the wood, where the trees are tall, and stand thick, having their boughs entangled together, which makes them more ready both to catch and to spread the fire.
Like the lifting up of smoke; sending up smoke like a vast furnace. Heb. with height or pride of smoke, i.e. with aspiring smoke, which in that case riseth high, and spreadeth far, and filleth all the neighbouring air.
Darkened, either with the smoke last mentioned, or with misery. Or, burnt up, as the LXX., Chaldee, and Arabic interpreters render it.
No man shall spare his brother; they shall destroy one another, as they did in their civil wars, which were frequent among them. The name brother is oft largely used among the Hebrews, even of the remoter kindred, yea, of the fellow members of one city, or tribe, or nation.
Shall snatch; every one shall greedily and violently seize upon any provisions that come in his way; which implies, either great scarcity, or insatiable covetousness, as is manifest from the next clause.
Shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm; either,
1. Properly; so it notes extreme famine; in which case men are apt to eat their own flesh. Compare Jeremiah 19:9. Or,
2. Metaphorically, which seems best to suit with the following verse, the flesh of his brethren by nation and religion, which are as it were our own flesh, and are so called, Isaiah 58:7; Zechariah 11:9; and, consequently, the flesh of their arm is in a manner the flesh of our own arm. And one tribe was to another as an arm, i.e. a support or strength, which is called an arm, 2 Chronicles 32:8; Jeremiah 17:5, and elsewhere.
Manasseh, Ephraim; though more near and dear to one another than any other tribe, being both sons of Joseph.
They together shall be against Judah; which might be accomplished either before Shalmaneser took Samaria, or afterwards. For though the Israelites were miserably destroyed at that time, yet they were not utterly rooted out; of which See Poole "Isaiah 7:8".
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Isaiah 9". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24