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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 9

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. Nevertheless A transition word from the dark picture of Isaiah 8:5-22, describing the woes from Assyrian predominance to the bright dawn and consummation of the Messianic era.

The dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation It shall not always continue dark where there is now distress.

When at the first Literally, as the former time, namely, the time of the invasion by Assyria, under Tiglath-pileser, which had already taken place as described in 2 Kings 15:29, where we are told that he took “Ijon… and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.” Great contrast between Tiglath-pileser and the Messiah. See note on Matthew 4:15.

He lightly afflicted Rather, he brought contempt upon those regions, Zebulun and Naphtali. These sections were in the pathway of all invasions, Syrian and Assyrian, and so suffered extremely.

Afterward That is, in the later times.

Did more grievously afflict The verb in Hebrew may mean this or the reverse, as brought, or brings honour upon; and the apodosis of the sentence certainly requires the latter. As the former time brought distress, so the later brings glory.

The way of the sea The sea of Galilee; upon the north of which Zebulun and Naphtali abut.

Beyond Jordan And upon the other side of Jordan, also formerly distressed and depopulated.

Galilee of the nations The circuit of the Gentiles, is better. The description here is of the northern parts of Israel bordering on the little sea; which country, after its depopulation by Tiglath-pileser, was colonized by foreigners, forming ever after a mixed people, partly Israelitish, partly heathen, despised by the purer Jews in Judah, but more ready, though imbued more or less with the heathenish spirit, to receive the Messiah when he should come. And this is the honour brought upon them in the aftertime. This mixed people received, for the most part, the Jewish religion; yet during all the ages they were more liberal in thought and more free from bigotry than were the southern Jews.

Verses 1-4

Divine judgments specially upon Israel, Isaiah 9:1-4.

Does this prophecy treat of judgments historically inflicted; or does it view events in space, not in time, as in chaps. iv and v? The latter is the more probable, if the apparent usage with Isaiah is to decide. The perspective peculiarity prevailingly attaches to his prophecies. The near future is seen in clear sketches, with a commingling of the present and the past in the entire picture. The more remote future shades away with diminishing features into increasing obscuration, but always with reference to the furthest and highest limit, namely, the complete fulness of Messiah’s kingdom. Here the picture is of successive judgments befalling Israel without improving it; some in the past, some in the present, and some in the future, but represented in single groups, with the time element little regarded.

Verse 2

2. The people that walked in darkness The “darkness” of commingled Judaism and paganism.

Upon them hath the light shined The light, namely, of Messiah’s own presence and preaching.

Verse 3

3. Hast multiplied the nation What nation? The true spiritual Israel all adherents to Messiah who come in place of the old Israel, undoubtedly come now into the prophet’s foreground.

And not Better, to him, as marginal reading. For the true Israel thou hast… increased… joy This spiritual joy is compared with joy in harvest. The Hebrew word for “joy” is in the construct state. “Joy of” , and the ellipsis is thus filled: “ Joy of the people,” etc. See Gesenius’s Grammar, § 116. Hilarious joy is still a common usage in Palestinian festive seasons after harvest and after vintage; and spiritual joy in the text is, in its outward manner not in its quality or kind compared with this; also with the joy which occurred in old time in the division of spoils of war after great victories.

Verse 4

4. Thou hast broken In speaking of Messianic times the prophet sees things prospective as though past: but facts of those times he sees in a group, and all in the present tense, as in verse six.

Yoke of his burden “His” refers to Judah. From the Assyrian tributary burden upon him, the thought here rises to the complete unburdening of the future true Israel.

Staff Or, stick, for the yoke Oriental is merely such a pole across the neck of oxen.

Rod The symbol of the oppressor’s power, as the ox-goad (as the word may be interpreted) is the implement with which the driver asserts his power. All are broken together. The ground idea is, that of complete deliverance from the Assyrian rule for the time being. But the antitypical idea of the Messianic deliverance is that which mostly fills the prophet’s vision. This deliverance is to be the counterpart of the Egyptian, in which the whole of Israel was redeemed, though here spoken of the “remnant” only. But the result shall be as in the day of Midian. See Judges 7:0. In a worldly view, the delivering force is small, but it is God’s force, as it was in the days of Gideon. But who is Gideon’s antitype, through whom all this is to occur? It is not stated. But the reason for the cessation of Assyria’s oppression is given in the next verse.

Verse 5

5. For every battle of the warrior Others render it, “Every boot of tramping warrior,” or this in substance, for the words “of battle” and “warrior,” occur in the original only here, and their meaning has to be made out from the context.

With confused noise Or, “in battle fray.”

The boot, or greave, may be generic for battle accoutrements, and all these shall be destroyed. Both the greaves and garments, or martial cloaks rolled in blood, bespattered and soaked, shall in the Messianic era of peace (Isaiah 2:4) be with burning, as of no use whatever except for fuel. The scenes, so often witnessed on these Galilean fields, of war and of bloodshed, shall cease forever, and war weapons shall be no more. And as on these once dark regions, so shall it be in that era in all the earth.

Verse 6

6. For unto us Jews first, then all the world.

A child is born The antitype of the child of chap. vii; a child of the Davidic house, as asserted in next verse.

Unto us Or for us for our benefit.

A son is given In chap. vii the child is given as a sign, but here as a gift of grace. He is the anointed Son of God. Psalms 2:7. It would seem, according to Hebrews 2:14, that he is partaker of the same nature with the children of Isaiah 8:18.

Government shall be upon his shoulder Princedom unlimited better accords with the original. Unlike Assyrian tributary rule, it is not oppressive to his people. Unlike all earthly potentates, he wears sovereignty as a robe everlastingly befitting him.

His name shall be called Literally, They shall call, etc. By universal admission he is Wonderful; rather, a Wonder; arresting the whole world’s attention by his incarnation, words, and acts.

Counsellor A supreme teacher and guide to men, collectively and individually.

Mighty God אל גבור , ( el gibbor.) Gesenius renders this, strong hero; and De Wette adopts the same rendering. But this is a case where a parallel phrase close at hand must settle the meaning. Now in Isaiah 10:21, the same phrase is applied to deity, and the context will bear no other sense. The remnant of Jacob shall return unto the “mighty God,” same words in the original. In Isaiah 10:20-21, (which see,) the parallel to “Holy One of Israel” which indisputably is the Lord Jehovah is אל גבור , ( el gibbor,) and this, if not to be regarded fully as strong, yea a stronger expression for deity, is violently opposed to the laws of parallelism in Hebrew poetry. It would be nonsense to regard it otherwise.

Everlasting Father Or, Father of eternity. So the words and order of the Hebrew; and this, in Hebrew rhetoric means eternal, or he is eternal, or the eternal One.

Prince of Peace Having absolute command of peace, to whom all willing people shall be subject. That all these predicates belong to Messiah has, with little dispute, always been conceded. The earlier Jews and the Targums explained them as referring to Messiah; the later Jews (in order to parry the Christian view) as referring to Hezekiah. Modern rationalists concede them to Messiah, but emasculate them of their strong, divine sense, so as to reduce Messiah to a mere, but exalted, creature. Such shifts in interpretation, in the face of the ancient view of this passage, confirmed by later unprejudiced exegesis, but too plainly show greater partisan-ship for theory than for simple truth.

Verse 7

7. Of the increase More literally, To the increase and prevalence.

Of his government His princedom, sovereignty, rule, and peace. The essence of his universal rule is peace and harmony and love.

No end No limit. From Zion, as the figurative starting point, over the whole earth and the whole universe it shall extend. 2 Samuel 7:11-16; Luke 1:32-34.

Upon the throne of David As explained by the above texts.

To order it The type of its construction is seen in 2 Samuel 13:13; Psalms 89:2. The heavenly antitype shall far exceed this.

To establish it Give it its eternally fixed character.

With judgment and with justice These are favourite terms with our prophet, (see Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 11:3,) denoting pure truth, and power and righteousness.

Such shall be the character of Messiah’s kingdom as the only proper spiritual succession to the Davidic kingdom. 2 Samuel 7:12. And for this will the zeal the earnest care, even jealousy of the Lord of hosts of Him who commands all agencies in the universe be manifest. Hitherto, Davidic sovereignty among the true Israel had been matter of faith and hope only. But prophecy now sees the zeal of Jehovah in earnest for its realization. The word “zeal” is an earnest word. Literally, it seems to mean glowing fire, from קנא , ( kana,) to be deep red. Delitzsch regards it as containing one of the deepest ideas of the Old Testament. It is two-sided. When used as here, it implies that Jehovah intensely loves his nation. But the fire of love has for its obverse side the fire of wrath. And upon this side the prophetic discourse is about to turn.

Verse 8

8. The Lord Not Jehovah this time, but Adonai, the universal Lord and proprietor. Furst.

Sent a word into Jacob “Word,” is a direct revelation, by prophets and by Moses.

It… lighted upon Israel Urgency of menace now enforces the broken divine law upon rebellious Israel.

Verse 9

9. And all the people shall know Or, the people shall know all of it. Shall experience the full meaning of divine threatenings.

Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria The particular people intended in this prophecy.

That say in the pride and stoutness of heart The people of the northern kingdom, as against those of Judah and Jerusalem, haughtily utter what follows in the next verse. The prophet here seems to see Israel in its attitude toward Jerusalem before Tiglath-pileser has yet humbled Ephraim and Samaria.

Verse 10

10. Whether yet chastised by the visitation of Tiglath-pileser or not, the people of Israel remain defiant and contemptuous toward the capital of Judah.

The bricks are fallen down An admission on the part of Israel of its own apparent weakness but stern resolution; its strength being seemingly but as a wall of mud-baked bricks, which had become disintegrated, and were already crumbling away.

We will build with hewn stones And so make their position stronger than ever. This expression displays the audacity and self-confidence of backslidden Israel.

Sycamores A mean timber for strong and finely finished buildings.

Cedars A wood of much greater strength and durability. The thought is another illustration of the undue self-confidence and pride of these Israelites.

Verse 11

11. Therefore A consequence fearful to Israel opens up.

The Lord shall set up The expression means, Hath exalted against him.

Adversaries of Rezin These were either the Assyrians, or the allied Syrians, (now subject to Assyria,) after the overthrow of Rezin their king.

Verse 12

12. The Syrians before All enemies to Israel were to be combined: Syria (as above explained) on the north, fighting now as subjects of Assyria; and the Philistines on the southwest.

With open mouth The figure is strong. See the full description of the array against Israel in 2 Kings 16:9. Hints of Syria’s old enmity are seen, also, in 2 Chronicles 28:22-23.

For all this his anger is not turned away Here is resumed the refrain of Isaiah 5:25. It means that their impenitence still continued, and, to appearance, was likely to become unalterably confirmed.

But his hand is stretched out still God inflicts one stroke after another, and waits for penitence; and it failing, he revisits with still another stroke to the same end.

Verses 13-15

13-15. For the people turneth not One trial passes without result, except continued hardening; and now a new crime is suggested: the people know the object of the judgment, and they still repent not.

Unto him that smiteth them The “unto him” means, as far as him; so as fully to recognise the Smiter, and why he smites. Deuteronomy 4:30-31.

Neither do they seek the Lord of hosts This parallel member balances the former, as poetry; but there is broader meaning in it. Not simply should they repent thoroughly, but they should be in heart-sympathy with and dependence on him. And the extra judgment now impending for this is the cutting off from Israel the leaders to evil ways.

Head and tail High and low.

Branch and rush The former term denotes a palm branch; the latter a marsh production, a weak stalk of one of the grasses. The Palmyra palm had been called, twenty-five centuries previously, “The king of grasses.” Sanscrit, Trina zaja. Isaiah 9:15 explains these proverbial appellations. The false teacher, trimmer, and timeserver, are the meanest of bad leaders. This is always true.

Verse 16

16. The leaders… led See Isaiah 3:12. The “leaders” and the “led” are both swallowed up in misery: the former because of their bad leadership, the latter as the result of their wrong following. Numbers 16:30.

Verse 17

17. No joy in their young men God, because of the perversity of even their “young men,” can take no delight in them; for they are not, as they should be, the hope of the nation. And if due judgment is to sweep through the nation, it will take all.

Fatherless and widows The Old Testament religion enjoins extreme care of these classes; hence the expression that he will have no mercy on these implies an utter exhaustion of divine forbearance.

Every one… a hypocrite There is no sincere recognition of God among them, but every so-called service of him is a pretence.

Folly Wickedness.

For all this Because of all this: Israel’s resolute impenitence.

Stretched out still Notwithstanding severe judgments already, more will follow.

Verse 18

18. We have passed two strophes, and here enter on the third, which closes the chapter. They are apparently artificial and antiphonic. Possibly the prophet pronounced the grave causes of judgment upon judgment, and his disciple-adherents added the gloomy refrain. The scene may have occurred in the temple court, where were gathered, as by appointment, the king, nobles, false prophets and leaders, and the people. More gladly did they this time listen than if themselves were the immediate objects of the denounced judgments. They were, however, familiar enough with them as of their own deserving; and, probably, in their minds were likely to be yet more. There can be little doubt of Isaiah’s large indirect influence on the affairs of state. But Ahaz was so committed to an Assyrian policy, and so entangled by it, that the prophet’s statesmanship was less apparent in his reign; but obviously more in that of Hezekiah, his son and successor.

For wickedness Prevailing impiety and blasphemy.

Burneth as the fire Extends as fire does among thorns and thickets. Or, it smoulders, when long pent up, then bursts forth irresistibly. See Hosea 7:6. Wickedness produces its own punishment.

Briers and thorns An image, probably, of the lower grades of the population, where the fires of corruption and punishment are first seen.

Thickets of the forest Among ranks grading upward, till high and low receive the conflagration together.

Mount up like… smoke The “smoke” of their destruction ascendeth to heaven.

Verse 19

19. Through the wrath Prophecy breathes an intense ethical spirit, expressing how God feels toward wrong in itself.

Land darkened Or, blackened by fire of judgment the besotted people being the fuel thereof.

No man… spare When humanity loses all pity for itself the extreme of judgment has come.

Verse 20

20. Snatch on the right hand This figure is a famine view, as the result of inordinate self-will and cruelty in times of anarchy.

Verse 21

21. Manasseh, Ephraim The close tribal relationships in Israel are represented as broken, and each tribe as preying on the other, even of the same federation, while they are together scheming to break up Judah. The two tribes named are occasionally put for the whole of the northern kingdom, (see 2 Chronicles 30:1;) so here. Their territory lay beside each other, among the rich hills and plains of middle Palestine. The illustrative tropes of this strophe exhibit the nation of Israel in the last throes of dissolution.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/isaiah-9.html. 1874-1909.
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