• Lori

Isaiah 9: What was it Isaiah said?

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

Photo by Jaime Top on Unsplash

If you’ve read chapter 8 of Isaiah, the first word of chapter 9 is a word filled with hope: Nevertheless.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.

Israel’s refusal to trust God had plunged them into darkness (Isaiah 8:22), but God was unwilling to leave them there. He’d made a promise. He showed His plan to Isaiah, and Isaiah told His people:

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned."

It started where few might expect. The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, in the northernmost region of Israel, were first to fall when the Assyrians rushed in. When the battle was over and they were defeated, nearly all of the inhabitants were deported, and the land was filled with pagan immigrants. Those immigrants became the despised Samaritans and the region became known as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” When we see the word “gentile” we may get a warm, fuzzy feeling—because that’s what we are. It even sounds nice – kind of like “genteel.” But in the Hebrew, the word is goy. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? The definition itself isn’t so bad: goy literally means “belonging to a people.” “What people?” you ask. Any people but the Jewish people. Goy didn’t define who you were, but rather who you were not. As I said, in a literal sense, it wasn’t a bad word, but in common use, it became synonymous with unclean or inferior or even contemptible. Now, in Galilee of the Gentiles, there was a city named Nazareth and Nazareth must have been the worst of the worst, because a man named Nathanael, himself a Galilean, said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)

Yet when Jesus arrived on the scene, He chose to fill that region, Galilee of the Goy, with more of the light of His presence and the power of His ministry than the region of the pureblooded, privileged Judeans. He was raised in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23), began his ministry there (Luke 4:14-15), first hinted at who he was in their synagogues (Luke 4:16), did his first miracle in Cana of Galilee (John 2:11); chose Galileans as his first disciples (Matthew 4:18 and John 1:43-44), and made Capernaum in Galilee his home town (Matthew 4:13). So when Isaiah looked ahead to the coming of their Messiah, he saw that the first region to be humbled by Assyria would also be the first to see their Deliverer.

Now, isn’t that just like God!

Here is what Isaiah said regarding that Deliverer:

You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

As soon as Isaiah spoke those words, the remnant started looking for that warrior who was going to break the power of their enemies. They would gain more land. They would become a people of joy and rejoicing. They would be out from under the yoke King Ahaz had brought down on them. When Isaiah recalled for them the time that Gideon and his small band of warriors had defeated the pesky Midianites, they must have been overflowing with hope. The fact that they were the minority in the midst of the land God had given them was about to change—their deliverer was coming! They would be free! And they wouldn’t need their army boots anymore.

When good king Hezekiah took the throne a couple of decades later, many thought he was the man. But when he died and evil king Manasseh took his place, their hopes started to fade, and by the time the Babylonians carried them off 100 years later, they must have been hopeless indeed.

The remnant’s children and their children’s children, those who had remained faithful, must have gotten together at times and asked, “Now what was it Isaiah said?” And someone would pick up the scroll and read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.” And they held on. For seven centuries they held on.

Some crazy shepherds came running into town one night, babbling about some baby that had been born in a barn, and Herod got nervous. He responded by killing every baby boy he could find, and nothing seemed to come of it. Then some majestic men on camels passed through bearing gifts, but they were never heard from again. Where was this Messiah Isaiah promised? There were some, the Zealots and the Sicarii, who like Father Abraham, tried to help God along, to speed up the plan or replace it completely with one that could bring some real results. But what was it Isaiah had said?

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Those names left no room for an earthly king.

He would be an infallible, inexhaustible source of wisdom and guidance.

His politics would be marked by justice and righteousness.

He would be a God with real power, able to deliver. A divine hero.

He would be their forever, wherever, whenever, compassionate provider and protector.

He would make sure that His kingdom would be a place of rest and restoration.

His reign would end the nightmare. No more being passed from one nation to another. No more revolving door of good and evil overlords. Their identity as the descendants of great King David would be restored:

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

Isaiah stood in the midst of an unjust, unrighteous kingdom and defined the characteristics of the kingdom that was coming: righteousness and justice, peace without end. What did that look like in the minds of those who listened? Because when Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and presented himself as their Messiah, he looked nothing like their Messiah was supposed to look. It was easy for the Jews to reject Him because He wasn’t bringing what they felt they so desperately needed: deliverance from their oppressors. That arrogant young man Jesus told them they needed to give up their rights. That traitor Jesus was telling them to make themselves even more vulnerable to the Romans, the Gentiles, the goy (Matthew 5:39-41). That lunatic Jesus said the kingdom of God was already there (Luke 17:21), yet in the eyes of those first-century listeners, nothing had changed.

Oh, but it had! As soon as the word passed through Isaiah’s lips, prophecy was set in motion. The remnant had a blueprint to inform their prayers. In the years that followed, they lifted their voices to heaven to remind God of what He had promised. I’m certain it was with tears sometimes, as they watched evil kings come and go, while they watched their people, drowning in sin, in gloom and distress. That light must have seemed barely a flicker at times, but they held on. Prophecy was in motion. Through 400 years of silence from the prophets, their words were still at work, and God was watching over His word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). And He still is. To this day, God’s word to Isaiah is moving to its fulfillment.

The apostle Paul had some words for the goy who were getting tired of waiting for the Jews to get it together: Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring! (Romans 11:11-12)

Because of Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Jesus and Paul, with anticipation, I am waiting too.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. – Isaiah 9:7