The last verse of chapter eight is the convergence of the twofold rhythm of discipline and redemption. 8:23 [9:1] it both completes the certain coming devastation and ignites the future hope of the prophet’s words. Thus we begin our study of Chapter 9 at the last verse of chapter 8.
Text of Isaiah 9:
Isa 8:23 (9:1) Nevertheless there will be no lasting gloom on her in her anguish, the first will be light affliction on the land of Ze-vu-lun (Exalted) and the land of Naphtali (Wrestling) and afterward heavy glory by way of Ha-yam the body of water beyond ha-Yardein (Descender) Jordan, Geliyl (Circuit, turning) Galilee ha-Goyim of the nations.
A plain reading of the Hebrew text from the context of Isaiah’s view from Jerusalem would seem to indicate that the prophet is speaking in regard to the Galilee itself when he says Ha-yam (The body of water: yam being the Hebrew referring to a body of water and not necessarily an ocean) beyond the Jordan (meaning beyond that place where the Jordan river flows out of lake Galilee (Yam Kinneret), as perceived from the prophet’s position in Jerusalem). Then he concludes by naming the area of the Galilee that was at times in Israel’s history, and would come to be in her future (Decapolis: 10 towns of foreigners [goyim] First century CE/AD), a location where people of other nations would dwell (East bank of the Galilee and extending down toward Pella). Thus both Israel and the nations will behold the heavy glory that will be manifest in the Galilee region. The glory of the Messiah.
This glorious hope concludes chapter 8 and illuminates the beginning of chapter 9. Of course, the scroll of Isaiah has no such chapter divisions and the rhythm remains intact for the reader who is devoid of the ordered divisions of scholarly interference.
The message of the prophet is clear and redemptive, “Turn from your sins and be saved by the Imanu-el God with us, the light is dawning!”
"Now when Yeshua heard that Yochanan had been handed over, He withdrew to Yam Kinneret (the Galilee). Leaving Natzeret, He came and settled in Kfar Nachum (village of comfort: Capernaum), which is by the yam (Body of water) in the regions of Zevulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfil what was spoken through Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) the prophet, saying,
“Land of Zevulun and land of Naphtali,
the way of the lake, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the nations—the people sitting in darkness have seen a great light, and those sitting in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
From then on, Yeshua began to proclaim, “Turn away from your sins, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
–Matthew 4:12-17 (Isaiah 8:23-9:1[9:1-2])
Isa 9:1 (2) Ha-am The people that walked ba-choshek in the darkness have seen Or gadol Great Light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death (deep darkness), Or light shines upon them.
Ha-am refers to a specific and singular people, the people of Israel (ethnic, religious). The darkness is the spiritual darkness that Israel walks in when she turns her back on Hashem and His love for her. Like the darkness (choshek Gen. 1:2) present in creation which was over the earth before the earth in its formless state was given form and in its emptiness was filled, the light (Or) will give form to a people who have lost their form and fill their emptiness with God’s love. After all, in the beginning Elohim said, “y’hi or va’ye’hi or”, “There has been Light (Or) and Light was” (Notice the past tense which denotes pre-existent and uncreated light).
The Or gadol great light of Isaiah 9:2 and the light of Genesis 1:2 are associated to Imanu-El (God with us), and the shadow of death is not only the potential finality of physical death but also an allusion to the coming eternal death that awaits those who reject the light (dawn, salvation) of God. However, those living under the fear of the shadow of eternal death are to be illuminated by the Or gadol great light. That is, the light Or that precedes the created lights of the sky (Sun, moon and stars) [Gen. 1:2].
This Great Light is a manifestation of God’s speech, “And Elohim said ‘There has been light’”. This light is what the Zohar calls the “ketvi” (Written Word) and the Talmid Yochanan (John 1 &12) calls the “D’var” (Word essence). Thus both the traditions of mystical rabbinical Judaism and the far more ancient teachings of Isaiah and subsequently Yochanan (The Disciple of Yeshua) illuminate the nature of the Great Light.
The Light and Word of God are echad (One). This great light is the very breath of God and His essence. This Light that is also Word, is the very substance that holds all creation together in God. Yochanan (John) tells us Who this Light is: the Great Light is Messiah Yeshua. Thus the burden of Israel’s disciplining is set ablaze with the future hope of her redemption.
“All things were made by Him; and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness cannot overcome, understand, comprehended it.” –John 1:3-5
Suffering is coming as a result of Israel’s rejection of Love (God) but Love (God) will offer His own essence (Blood) as the means of her redemption. Although the blood of animals could not permanently cover sin, none the less, the blood (essence) of God would not only cover but also blot out sin for those who receive the Great Light that shines in the darkness that has been made manifest as a consequence of humanity’s sinful actions.
Yeshua said, “I AM the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of living.” –John 8:12
Isa 9:2 (3) You have made great ha-goy the nation, never before has there been such great rejoicing: they rejoice before You like the rejoicing in the harvest, like rejoicing when dividing the spoil.
Ha-goy refers to Judah (the tribe), whereas the use of ha-am in verse 1 (2) refers to the entire ethnic people of Israel (All twelve tribes). Thus, speaking of the future redemption of the tribe of Judah, Hashem is said to have made Judah great and she has responded in great rejoicing.
This great rejoicing is in the Great Light, the Messiah, Who, having come forth from Judah now brings salvation to Judah, Israel and the ends of the earth.
Isa 9:3 (4) For the yoke of his burden, and the matai staff on his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, You have shattered, broken, abolished; as in the day of Midyan (strife).
All the varied forms of Judah’s oppression are named and shattered or abolished. This is part of the cause of her great rejoicing. All this is the result of the entire people (Israel) having received the Great Light.
“As in the day of Midyan (Strife)” is a reference to the former days when Israel was being severely oppressed by Midyan. It was at that time that Gideyoni (My cutter) gathered 300 men in order to defeat the Midianites using shofarot (Ram’s horns) and lamps within pitchers (Light in the darkness): two symbols of the Messiah, the Great Light (Judges 7:16-25).
Notice the correlation between the shattering of Israel’s oppression and the shattering of the pitchers of light during Israel’s days of oppression under Midyan. On both occasions light appears in the darkness. In the case of the attack of Gideon against the Midianites the shattered lamps from within the pitchers set the hills ablaze surrounding the Midianite hoards with wild fire. This light both dispersed the enemies of Israel and at the same time unified the tribes of Israel. To the enemies of God’s people the light was a fierce judgement but to God’s people Israel it was the light of hope and redemption.
Isa 9:4 (5) For the boots of warriors, tramping will be quaking, and garments rolled in blood; and it will come to pass with burning fuel (devouring), fire.
The opening clause denotes the end to the warfare of humanity. This will come about through burning and fire, both physical and spiritual.
“I am come to throw fire on the land, and I wish that it now be kindled” –Yeshua (Jesus) [Luke 12:49]
Fire is both judgement and purification. The fuel of wickedness is consumed in judgement unto death but the fuel of righteousness is ignited through redemption unto life eternal. Thus the Messianic Kingdom will be ushered in with the fire of judgement and cleansing. This fire will fall on Judah, Israel and all humanity and begin to consume the wicked and refine the righteous. Just as the fire of Gideon surrounded and expelled the enemies of Israel, so too the fire of the Messiah will expel the wicked and become a beacon to the righteous. When will this begin and what will be the sign?
Isa 9:5 (6) For a yeled child is born to us, a ben son is natan given to us: and ha-misorah the dominion (All rule) shall be upon His shoulder: vake’ra and proclaimed she’mo His name, ‘Pele Yo’eitz Wonderful Counsellor, El Gibor God mighty, Aviyad My Father eternal, Sar Shalom Prince of Peace.
In Isaiah 7:14 the prophet had prophesied a sign/wonder that would be for the house of Israel. A virgin was to give birth to a son and His name, that is, His identity would be, Imanu with us, El, God. Now, following the description of fire that would result from the arrival of the Great Light, the prophet speaks of the source of that Great Light and its refining fire. The source is the child Imanu El: He is to be born to us, that is, Judah, Israel (Isaiah is a prophet of Israel, it is he that says “unto us”). He will break the yoke of oppression that has been upon the shoulder of Judah (v.4) and upon His shoulder He will carry all dominion. The Son’s name will be proclaimed (va’kera). All will hear and all will be without excuse.
The descriptive titles in this verse are obviously not proper nouns. As in the case of the phrase “Imanu-El” we are being given a description of the child’s identity, essence, character and attributes. No king or ruler of Judah or Israel before the birth of Yeshua, nor any ruler following His birth (approx. 3-6 AD/CE) has ever meet the standard required in order to be defined by even one of these titles, not to mention the sum of them. Yeshua alone qualifies as the owner of these titles, in birth and in life, in pre-existence and in sacrifice, in character and in action: with us, God.
There is no doubt that the child being described is the same child prophesied in chapter 7:14 as Imanu El (with us God). Here He is also called God, “El Gibor”. The Hebrew text is plain in its meaning, whoever this human child is He is also in some way, God manifest.
Some have argued that the Tanakh (OT) includes many given names that refer to aspects of God’s character and that therefore the titles in question do not describe the Messiah in terms of divine attributes. However, they neglect to note that the names given to other Israelites which denote attributes of God are almost always contractions. For example, the name Israel is written as a contraction Yisrael (Yisra + El) and is used as a proper noun, however, Imanu El is written as two separate words and is therefore a title or description rather than a proper noun, the same is true of each of the titles of Isaiah 9:6 with the exception of the title Aviyad, meaning “my father is God”. This contraction is used nowhere else in Hebrew Scripture. Thus the argument regarding contracted proper nouns becomes redundant. It is a desperate attempt to deny the reality and plain meaning of the Isaiah text. In addition, from the standpoint of grammar, context and construction of the text, the mistranslations of this text by Jewish commentators like Kimchi (medieval), which infer that the names pertain to God rather than the child, are untenable.
Whoever this child is, He is a Wonderful Counsellor, God with us, God Mighty, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and all dominion is on His shoulder. Yeshua alone qualifies.
It is interesting to note that prior to the more modern polemic arguments proposed by rabbinical Judaism, Jewish thought regarding this passage agreed with Messianic and Christian thought.
“And there was called His name from of old, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, He Who lives forever, the Messiah in whose days peace shall increase.” –Targum Yonatan (2nd Century AD/CE)
The Descriptive Titles of the Boy Child:
“And Manoach said to Malakh HaShem (YHVH), ‘What is Your Name?’ And the Malakh Hashem (YHVH) answered ‘Why do you ask My Name seeing that it is peliy (Wonderful, incomprehensible, secret)?’… And Manoach said to his wife, ‘We will surely die because we have seen God’.”
The Psalmist writes:
“For their fathers He did pele (wonders) in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan” (Psalm 78:12; 88:12)
The word “pele” refers to a mysterious wonder or revealed secret of God that is beyond human understanding. Like kadosh Holiness, pele (mystery, wonder) is an attribute of God. Thus the child is to be a Wonderful Mysterious Counsellor Who partakes in the nature of God Himself (Isaiah 28:29).
There is no doubt that this title denotes divine character.
The prophet Jeremiah agrees with Isaiah’s description of God:
“Ha El Ha Gibor, the God Who is mighty, His Name is HaShem YHVH Tzevaot of heavens armies” (Jer. 32:18)
Thus the boy child is being directly identified with God Himself. Bearing witness to His divinity.
Thus the boy child carries the paternal and eternal attributes of God.
“I and the Father are echad (complex unity)” –Yeshua (Yochanan [John] 10:30)
As the text previously states, He is to have all dominion, and over all His dominion He will reign in peace. Who alone can bring true peace to humanity? God alone. The boy child, Who is the Messiah Yeshua, is Imanu El (with us God).
Isa 9:6 (7) Of the abundant increase of dominion and of shalom peace, wholeness, integrity, and well being, there will be no end: He will sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to sustain it with be’mishpat judgement and with be’tzedakah righteousness from now and as far as forever perpetually. The zeal of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tze’vaot goes forth in war to accomplish this.
Some commentators believe Hezekiah to be the fulfilment of this prophecy. This is nothing short of ludicrous. Hezekiah, who had a flawed, even bipolar relationship with Hashem, and was a man of war rather than a prince of peace, in no way qualifies as the child born to fill the role of the redeeming Imanu El, God with us. The divine attributes given as descriptions of the coming Messiah in no way describe Hezekiah, nor did the fullness of these prophetic words find any sense of completion during his tumultuous and temporary (rather than eternal) reign over Judah (not having reigned over all dominion).
The kingdom of the Messiah will extend exponentially and eternally. He will unite the rule over Judah and humanity (Dynasty of David) with the rule of Hashem. He will establish and will sustain the kingdom. Through judgement and right action He will make the redemption of Judah, Israel and humanity possible. Thus He will sustain those who receive Him throughout eternity. It is HaShem Himself, going forth to war, Who will establish the Prince of Peace with great zeal.
The Temporary Disciplining of Israel:
9:12-10:4 is divided into four sections of rebuke aimed at four specific types of sin. Each section is cemented with the refrain, “For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 9:12, 17, 21 & 10:4).
In its plain sense the repeated phrase denotes a continuation of the discipline until such a time as the people repent. Thus, “His hand is stretched out still”. However, the phrase, “His hand is stretched out still” is in itself an ambiguous one. It means that God is stretching out His hand both in order to perpetuate the discipline and in a gesture of supplication, pleading for His people to return. Therefore the outstretched hand is punishment to those who continue to reject His good purpose but hope of deliverance to those who seek to take hold of His offer of mercy.
Isa 9:7 (8) Adonai sent d’var word into Yaakov (Follower after the heel, Jacob), and it fell upon Yisrael (Overcome in Elohim).
The plain meaning denotes the warning of the prophet Isaiah and the coming devastation resulting from Israel’s sin.
The remez (hint) reveals the D’var, Who is born into Jacob. As a result of His (D’var) death and resurrection Israel will be refined and overcome through Elohim (The Judge). However, the rejecting of Him (D’var) will bring discipline and an outstretched hand until such a time as the nation repents.
Isa 9:8 (9) And all ha-am the people will know, even Ephraim (Doubly fruitful) and the inhabitant of Shomeron (watch mountain, Samaria), who say in the pride and insolence of their leivav core being (inner person, heart), Isa 9:10 “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the shike’miym fig trees are cut down, but we will grow cedars.”
“Ha-am” are the people of Israel. This is why the former verse speaks of Jacob and Israel rather than isolating Judah. Therefore, all Israel are included in this rebuke.
In her arrogance Israel continues to rely on human strength. When she experienced the smaller incidents that had foretold future destruction she simply mocked and said, “No big deal, we don’t need God, we can rebuild ourselves. If we lose our fruit trees we’ll replant strong cedars.” These are haughty words of open rebellion.
Isa 9:10 (11) Therefore HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) shall set up the adversaries of Reztin (Firm) against him, and join his enemies together; Isa 9:11 (12) Aram (exalted, Syrians) from the east, the Pelishtiym (Immigrants, Philistines) from behind; and they will devour Yisrael with open mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
It is Israel’s own arrogance that has brought about her destruction. Her own alliances have opened the door to her enemies. HaShem has set these things up in the sense that He has established justice from the beginning. However, as wicked as His people have become and in spite of their continued rejection of His love, His hand remains stretched out toward them in supplication.
Isa 9:12 (13) For ha-am the people do not turn to Him Who strikes them, neither do they seek HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tzevaot Who goes to war (of hosts).
In spite of the knowledge that it is God Who is striking them in discipline, the people refuse to repent and turn back toward His Mercy (YHVH). Thus, rather than having Tzevaot go to war on their behalf, they instead are on the receiving end of His discipline.
Isa 9:13 (14) Therefore HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) will cut off from Yisrael head and tail, branch and bulrush, in yom echad one day. Isa 9:14 (15) The Elder who is exalted before the faces, he is the head; and the prophet that teaches lies, he is the tail. Isa 9:15 (16) For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led by them are destroyed.
The elders, like those of the generation of Joshua, had failed to properly pass on the teachings of Hashem l’dor ve’dor. The prophets born of the generation that has rejected those poorly conveyed teachings now prophecy lies and oppose the true prophets of Hashem.
Consequently HaShem will strike down both the elders of Israel and the false prophet, her strength of arms and the wet marshy parts of the land. He will remove all forms of rule and leadership from Israel, leaving her without shepherds (With the exception of His true prophets of course). Why? Because her leaders have caused her to reject God and are responsible for the coming destruction.
The couplets of head and branch, tail and bulrush, are literary devices that indicate a firmly established consequence. Something that Hashem has already seen completed outside of time and space.
Isa 9:16 (17) Therefore Adonai will have no joy in their young men, and for their fatherless and widows, no mercy: for everyone is a hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks senseless folly. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.
If a generation is wicked there is sometimes hope that the young among that generation might rebel against the wickedness of their elders. Not so with the generation of Israel at the time of Isaiah. The young men offer no hope for Israel’s return to Hashem. In fact, the people have become so wicked that even those among them who would usually turn to HaShem in desperation, such as the widows and orphans, are speaking folly and rejecting Him. Thus all are hypocrites and evil doers. Therefore, HaShem allows their punishment to continue but His hand is extended still, offering mercy to those who would turn back to Him.
Isa 9:17 (18) For wickedness burns as the fire: it will devour the briers and thorns, and will kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they will mount up like the lifting up of smoke.
The fire that consumes the people is fuelled by their wickedness. They are simply reaping what they have sown. God’s hand is stretched out to deliver them from the fire they have kindled, and yet they continue to resist His love.
Isa 9:18 (19) Through the outpouring/fury/wrath of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) tzevaot going forth in war (of hosts) the land is scorched, and the people will be as the fuel of the fire: no man will spare his brother. Isa 9:19 (20) And he will snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm: Isa 9:20 (21) Menasheh (Cause to forget), Ephrayim (Doubly fruitful); and Ephraim, Manasheh: and they together shall be against Yehudah (Praise, Judah). For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still…
Notice that God’s wrath is born of mercy (YHVH). He goes to war to deliver His people. The scorching of the land is purposed to cleanse and renew. But even in the midst of this suffering and torment the people do not turn back to God. Instead they turn on each other. One attempts to take the strength (Right hand) of another but is left hungry and when the strong right hand is exhausted they reach for the weak (left hand) but find no food. Then they will resort to the vilest of human consumptions, the consuming of one’s own flesh. This happens when a city is besieged and lacks all other sources of nutrition. It also means that those eating their own flesh have already preyed on the weaker ones among them and are left with no other option.
The allusion to Ephraim and Manasseh is tragic. The once doubly blessed sons of Joseph have now turned on one another and together have turned against the tribe of Judah from whom the boy child will be born. If not for God’s mercy they might have ended the line of David and the hope of Israel. However, HaShem’s hand of mercy is outstretched still…
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.