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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Isaiah 9

 

 

Verse 1

Isaiah 9:1. Nevertheless, &c. — In the Hebrew, this verse is joined to the preceding chapter, as it is also in Bishop Lowth’s translation; and if it be considered as connected therewith, and the connecting particle, כי, be translated for, (which is its usual meaning,) instead of nevertheless, the words may be understood to express an aggravation of the darkness, or misery, threatened in the two former verses, as the punishment of those who should reject the Messiah: thus, For the dimness — Or darkness; shall not be such as was in her vexation, &c. — That is, this shall not be so slight an affliction as that which befell these parts of the country by Pul, 2 Kings 15:19; nor as that which succeeded it, by Tiglath-pileser, 2 Kings 15:29; which was a heavier stroke than the former; but this shall be far heavier than either of them. Subsequent events, supposed to be here predicted, seem to confirm this interpretation, the calamities which, by the just judgment of God, befell the Jews for rejecting and crucifying the Messiah, being incomparably greater than those brought on the land by Zebulun and Naphtali by any, or all, of the Assyrian invasions. Our translation, however, and most commentators, consider this verse as containing a mitigation of the foregoing threatening, and that the sense of it is this: The calamity of this land and its inhabitants shall be great, yet not so great as that which was brought upon Zebulun and Naphtali by the king of Assyria, because then the Israelites were not only quite rooted out, and carried away into a dreadful captivity, out of which they were not to return; but their calamity was not alleviated by the coming of the Messiah and the gospel light; whereas, before and amidst this darkness, of which I have now spoken, shall a glorious light arise to cheer all who open their eyes to behold it. Thus interpreted, this verse is rather connected with the following than the foregoing verses, and is introductory to them, in which light Bishop Lowth considers it; although, as has been observed, following the Hebrew, he joins it to the preceding chapter. His translation of it, nearly the same with that of Dr. Waterland, is worthy of the reader’s attention, as it casts a new light on the words. It is as follows: “But there shall not hereafter be darkness in the land which was distressed: In the former time he debased the land of Zebulun, and the land, of Naphtali; but in the latter time he hath made it glorious: Even the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nation.” The reader must observe, that “Zebulun, Naphtali, and Manasseh, that is, the country of Galilee, all around the sea of Genesareth, were the parts that principally suffered in the Assyrian invasion under Tiglath-pileser; and they were the first that enjoyed the blessing of Christ’s preaching the gospel, and exhibiting his miraculous works among them.”


Verse 2

Isaiah 9:2. The people — Israel and Judah; that walked — Or sat, as it is in Matthew 4:16; in darkness — Both in the darkness of ignorance, and in the darkness of calamity; have seen a great light — The prophet speaks of what was future, and would not take place till after seven hundred years, as though it were already arrived. Though “there would be very many among the Jews, to whom the Messiah, arising with his new light, would be an offence; who would resist his salutary doctrine, and who would therefore fall into the most grievous calamities, and thick darkness;” yet, “there would be others to whom the Messiah would truly appear with the light of grace and consolation, and who should receive him with the greatest joy, as attaining the summit of their hope and desire.” Accordingly, after the prophet had described the misery of those who, he foresaw, should reject him, he turns his style to describe the felicity of those on whom this Sun of righteousness should arise, setting forth both their joy and the cause of it.


Verse 3

Isaiah 9:3. Thou hast multiplied the nation — Thou hast made good thy promise to Abraham, concerning the multiplication of his seed, 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. For, in the Scriptures, the believing Gentiles are accounted the seed of Abraham as well as the Jews, Galatians 3:7-9. Or, as the Hebrew may be rendered, Thou hast magnified the nation, honoured it with peculiar privileges above all other nations, and especially with this transcendent privilege, that the Saviour of the world should be born in it, and live among its people; of which he speaks more fully Isaiah 9:6-7. And not increased — Or rather, according to the marginal reading in the Hebrew, (which, instead of לא, not, has לו, it, him, or them,) confirmed by many of the ancient versions, Thou hast increased their joy, which reading, it is evident, the next words require. Dr. Waterland’s version of these two clauses is, Thou hast advanced the nation; hast heightened upon her joy. The meaning is, thou hast conferred upon it a very great benefit, and thereby prepared for it the highest joy: joy which shall be to all people; true joy arising from the consolations of the gospel. See Zechariah 2:10-11; Luke 2:10. They joy before thee — In thy presence, and in the place of thy worship; according to the joy in harvest, &c. — When men, with great joy, reap the long-expected fruit of their great labours and expectations, or as when, after a glorious victory, they come to take the spoil.


Verse 4

Isaiah 9:4. For thou hast broken, &c. — Bishop Lowth translates this verse, For the yoke of his burden, the staff laid on his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor hast thou broken, as in the day of Midian. The Jews had been under the yoke repeatedly, to one hostile people or another, and had been sorely oppressed by them; formerly by the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and Midianites, and, in after times, by the Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, and Macedonians; and many and successive deliverances from their oppressors had God granted them. Now, as the yokes which they had been under were emblematical of those of Satan, sin, and death, the spiritual enemies of God’s people, so their deliverances were figures of the spiritual deliverance which believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, receive through Christ. And of this spiritual deliverance and salvation, as the context shows, this verse is to be understood. For the preceding verses foretel the diffusion of gospel light, and those that follow attest the birth of the Messiah, unfold his characters and offices, and set forth the blessings of his peaceful and righteous reign. See Jeremiah 23:6; Luke 1:70-74, where Zacharias, full of the Holy Ghost, seems most admirably to expound this passage of the prophet. As in the day of Midian — When God destroyed the Midianites in so admirable a manner, and by such unlikely and contemptible means, which was an eminent type of Christ’s conquering the powers of darkness, and all his enemies, by dying on the cross, and by the preaching of a few unlearned, and poor, despised men.


Verse 5

Isaiah 9:5. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, &c. — With the triumphant exclamations of the conqueror, and the bitter lamentations of the conquered, and the different 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, &c. — But this victory, which God’s people shall have over all their enemies, shall be more terrible to their adversaries, whom God shall utterly consume, as it were, by fire. The reader must observe, however, the words סאון סאן, here rendered battle of the warrior, occurring only here, are of very doubtful signification, and of consequence are rendered differently by learned men. Dr. Waterland, from Vitringa, translates the verse, “Every clashing of the noisy warrior, and the garment rolled in blood, shall be thrown to be burned; fuel for the fire.” Bishop Lowth renders it, “For the greaves of the armed warrior in the conflict, and the garment rolled in much blood, shall be for a burning, even fuel for the fire.” It is probable, as Vitringa observes, that the words are intended to signify, that, in consequence of Christ’s appearing in the flesh, and destroying the enemies of his church, a time of peace and tranquillity shall take place on earth, and the instruments of war and slaughter be of no further use.


Verse 6

Isaiah 9:6. For, &c. — Having spoken of the glorious light, and joy, and victory of God’s people, the prophet now proceeds to show the foundation and cause thereof. And, “though he is everywhere most excellent, he is peculiarly so in this passage, which contains an emphatical description of the person and kingdom of the Son of God; the kingdom of peace; the eternal and universal kingdom, in which the church should have the highest cause for joy; which should bring with it an abolition of the whole yoke of sin, and the ceremonial law, and a destruction of all hostile and adverse powers with respect to the saints.” Who then can wonder at the joy of the church in so great a light, in so excellent a Teacher, Mediator, Saviour, and Governor, King, and Lord? Unto us a child is, or, shall be, born — The prophet, as usual, speaks of a blessing which he foresaw with certainty would be bestowed, as if it were conferred already. That the Messiah is here intended, not only Christian but Jewish interpreters, in general, of any credit or reputation, agree. For so the ancient Hebrew doctors understood the place, and particularly the Chaldee paraphrast; although the later Jews have laboured, out of opposition to the Lord Jesus, to apply it to Hezekiah. Which extravagant notion, as it hath no foundation at all in this 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 man or mere creature, as we shall see. The human nature of the Messiah is here first set forth. He shall be the child born, the Word made flesh, and that for us; not only for us Jews, but for us men, for us sinners, and especially for us believers. Unto us a son is given — Or, the son, namely, of the virgin, spoken of Isaiah 7:14; the Immanuel, the Son of God, so called, not only on account of his miraculous conception, but because of his eternal generation, the Word, who was in the beginning with God, had glory with the Father before the world was, was loved by him before the foundation of the world, and by whom he made the worlds, and created all things. See John 1:1-3; John 17:5; John 17:24; Hebrews 1:2; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16. This person, the Father’s own Son, his only-begotten Son, is given, John 3:16; sent forth, Galatians 4:4; sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3; though rich, and in the form of God, made in the likeness of men, poor, and of no reputation, Philippians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 8:9; given to be our infallible Teacher, our prevalent Mediator, our almighty Saviour, our righteous Ruler, and our final Judge. Accordingly, The government — Of the church, of the world, yea, of all things, for the church’s benefit, Ephesians 1:21-22; shall be upon his shoulder — That is, upon him, or in his hands; all power being given to him in heaven and on earth. In mentioning shoulder, he speaks metaphorically; great burdens being commonly laid upon men’s shoulders, and all government, if rightly managed, being a great burden, and this especially being, of all others, the most weighty and important trust. Possibly here may be also an allusion to the ancient custom of carrying the ensigns of government before the magistrates, upon the shoulders of their officers, or, as some think, to the regal robe worn by kings and governors. And his name shall be called — That is, he shall be: for the following particulars are not to be taken for a description of his proper name, but of his glorious nature and qualities; Wonderful — He is wonderful in his person, as God and man, God manifest in the flesh, which union of two such different natures in one individual, intelligent, and self-conscious being, is a great and incomprehensible mystery. Hence we are told, No man knoweth the Son but the Father, Matthew 11:27; and he is said to have had a name written, which no man knew but himself; and hence, when appearing to Manoah, he said, Why askest thou after my name, seeing it is secret: Hebrew, פלא, wonderful, the same word here used, 13:18. He is also wonderful with respect to his birth, life, doctrine, miracles; his love and sufferings; his death, resurrection, and ascension; his humiliation and exaltation; his cross and crown; his grace and glory. Counsellor — He is so called, because he knew the whole counsel of God, and, as far as was necessary, revealed it to us, and is the great counsellor of his church and people in all their doubts and difficulties, in all ages and nations, being made of God unto them wisdom. He also is the author and giver of all those excellent counsels, delivered not only to the apostles, but also by the prophets, (1 Peter 1:10-12,) and hath gathered, enlarged, and preserved his church by admirable counsels, and the methods of his providence; and, in a word, hath in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 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 Testaments, as Jeremiah 23:6; John 1:1; Romans 9:5; and in many other places. And it is a true observation, that this Hebrew word אל, eel, 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 occurs. The everlasting Father — Hebrew, אבי עד, The Father of eternity: having called him a child and a son, lest this should be misinterpreted to his disparagement, he adds that he is a Father also, even the Father of eternity, and, of course, of time, and of all creatures made in time. Christ, in union with the Father and the Holy Ghost, is the God and Father of all things, the maker and upholder of all creatures, John 1:3; Hebrews 1:3; and especially the Father of all believers, who are called his children, (Hebrews 2:13,) and the author of eternal life and salvation to them, Hebrews 5:9. Or, this title may be given him because he is the father of the new and eternal age, that is, of the economy which is to endure for ever; for Christ is the father of a new generation, to continue through all eternity; the second Adam, father of a new race; the head of a new and everlasting family, in which all the children of God are reckoned. The Prince of peace — This is another title, which certainly does not agree to Hezekiah, whose reign was far from being free from wars, as we see 2 Kings 18., 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 between men and men, between Jews and Gentiles, Ephesians 2:15; and of the peace of our own consciences; and who leaves peace as his legacy to his disciples, John 14:27; John 16:33.


Verse 7

Isaiah 9:7. Of the increase of his government, &c. — His peaceable and happy government shall be enlarged without end: either without end of duration, for ever, as is expressed in a following clause of this verse, or without limitation: his peaceable and happy government shall be extended to all the ends of the earth. Upon the throne of David — The throne which was promised to David, and to his seed for ever; from henceforth, &c. — From the beginning of it unto all eternity. The zeal of the Lord of hosts, &c. — This great work shall be brought to pass by Almighty God, out of that fervent affection which he hath to his own glory, to the honour of his Son, and to his people.


Verses 8-12

Isaiah 9:8-12. The Lord sent a word, &c. — 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; and it lighted — Hebrew, נפל, it fell, that is, it shall fall in the prophetical style. It shall certainly be accomplished; upon Israel — The same with Jacob in the former clause. We have here the third section of the fifth discourse, which reaches to the fifth verse of the next chapter, “and makes,” says Bishop Lowth, “a distinct prophecy, and a just poem, remarkable for the regularity of its disposition, and the elegance of its plan. It has no relation to the preceding or following prophecy, which relate principally to the kingdom of Judah; whereas, this is addressed exclusively to the kingdom of Israel. The subject of it is a denunciation of vengeance awaiting their crimes. It is divided into four parts, each threatening the particular punishment of some grievous offence; of their pride; of their perseverance in their vices; of their impiety; and of their injustice. To which is added a general denunciation of a further reserve of divine wrath, contained in a distich before used by the prophet on a like occasion, (Isaiah 5:25,) and here repeated after each part: this makes the intercalary verse of the poem; or, as we call it, the burden of the song.” And all the people shall know — Namely, by experience. They shall know whether my word be true or false. Even Ephraim, &c. — The people of the ten tribes, and particularly Ephraim, the proudest of them all. And Samaria — The strongest place, and the seat of the king and court. Here we have the first fault of the Ephraimites, namely, the pride and contempt with which they had received the threatenings of the true prophets of God, who had denounced to them the unhappy consequences of their undertakings. Elevated with vain hope, they had declared that they would never desist from their purpose of invading Judah for any denunciations of the prophets; on the contrary, they had boasted proudly, that, strengthened as they were by their present alliance with the king of Syria, though they had heretofore suffered great loss, they had no doubt of repairing their fortune. Though the bricks were fallen down, they would build with hewn stones, &c. — The expression is metaphorically elegant, and denotes the restoration of a fallen state for the better, and the change of a mean and low to a more honourable and excellent situation. For their pride and arrogance, the God who laugheth vain men to scorn, denounces their punishment in the two following verses; and, according to his usual justice, assures them that the union with Rezin, wherein they boasted, should itself prove their destruction. This prophecy was fulfilled by Tiglath-pileser. See 2 Kings 16:17, Vitringa, and Dodd. Dr. Waterland renders the beginning of the twelfth verse, “The Syrians from the east, and the Philistines from the west.” Though Rezin, king of Syria, was destroyed, yet the body of the nation survived, and submitted themselves to the king of Assyria, and upon his command invaded Israel afterward. And they shall devour Israel, &c. — Like wild beasts.


Verses 13-15

Isaiah 9:13-15. For the people turneth not, &c. — We have here the second crime of this refractory people, who, impenitent and stupid, regarded not the chastisement of the Lord, nor turned to him at his reproof. Therefore a total subversion of their state and polity is denounced as the severest punishment upon them. The Lord will cut off, &c., head and tail — High and low, honourable and contemptible, as the next verse explains it; branch and rush — The goodly branches of tall trees, the mighty and noble; and the bulrush, the weakest and meanest persons. In one day — All together, one as well as another, without any distinction. The ancient, &c., he is the head — That is, is signified by the word head, in the former verse; and the prophet that teacheth lies, &c. — 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 to 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 their false prophecies with them. He is the tail — The basest part of the whole people.


Verse 16-17

Isaiah 9:16-17. For, &c. — “We have here a defence of the divine judgment, taken from the universal corruption of the people, wherein God sets forth the justice of his proceedings, and shows, that not from choice, but from the iniquities of the people, he is compelled to punish. The leaders of this people — Their governors, both civil and ecclesiastical, especially the latter, their teachers, or the false prophets, last-mentioned; cause them to err — Their governors compelling them by power, and their teachers deceiving them by false doctrines, and evil counsels and persuasions. They that are led, &c., are destroyed — Shall certainly perish; nor will it avail them to plead, in their excuse, that they followed the counsel and conduct of their leaders. The Lord shall have no joy in their young men — Shall not rejoice over them to do them good, as he doth over his faithful people, Isaiah 62:5; Zephaniah 3:17. Neither shall have mercy on their fatherless — Who generally are the special objects of his care and pity, and much less upon others. For every one — Not precisely; for there were seven thousand pious persons among them, when they seemed to Elijah to be universally corrupt; but the body or generality of the people are intended; is a hypocrite — For though they professed to worship the true God, yet indeed they had forsaken him. Every mouth speaketh folly — That is, wickedness, which is commonly called folly. They are not ashamed to proclaim their own wickedness; and the corruption of their hearts breaks forth into ungodly speeches.


Verse 18

Isaiah 9:18. For wickedness burneth as fire, &c. — Rageth like a fire, destroying and laying waste the nation. We have here the third great evil, on account of which divine vengeance was about to come upon them; namely, the power of reigning and barefaced impiety; the punishment whereof, denounced in the subsequent verses, is, as usual, assimilated to the vice, namely, destructive factions, which should overthrow their republic. Having rendered themselves hateful to God by their crimes, they shall be destroyed by those crimes, by their dissensions, animosities, divisions, tumults, insurrections, and civil broils, arising from the wickedness of their own dispositions, and issuing in their mutual destruction. Inflamed by envy, avarice, and impurity, they shall perish in this very fire let loose among them by the wrath of God, and permitted to rage uncontrolled, like fire among briers and thorns, Isaiah 9:19. The latter state of the Israelitish government abundantly proves the exactness of this prophet’s prediction, 2 Kings 15:10; 2 Kings 15:30; 2 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 17:18-24.


Verse 20-21

Isaiah 9:20-21. He shall snatch on the right hand — They shall plunder and devour one another, without ever being satisfied, or ceasing. They shall eat every man the flesh, &c. — They shall destroy one another by their intestine wars: see Isaiah 49:26. But it was literally fulfilled when they were reduced to that extremity that they ate the flesh of their own children, 2 Kings 6:28; Jeremiah 19:8-9; a judgment denounced for their sins by Moses, Deuteronomy 28:53, where see the note. They together shall fall on Judah — When those tribes have preyed upon and nearly destroyed one another, they shall turn their rage on Judah. The prophet in the above verses describes the infatuation of the Israelites and Jews, who, instead of uniting in a confederacy against their common enemies, the Syrians and Assyrians, with whom they were not singly able to contend, fell out among themselves, and so far destroyed each other, that they became, one after the other, an easy prey to those heathen nations, whom, humanly speaking, they would have been able to have repelled, had they united in a league, and aided each other. But God suffered them to be infatuated, as a punishment of their sins.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 9:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/isaiah-9.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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