But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
Isaiah declares hope when he declares that the darkness of judgment would not cover the land forever. Focusing on the northern regions of Israel, Isaiah described a time when God would reverse the humiliating judgment he had poured out on the ancient tribal regions of Zebulun and Naphtali (verse 1). In 734 B.C. – 732 B.C., Assyria annexed most of Israel’s territory and reduced Samaria to a puppet state, governed by a ruler handpicked by the Assyrians. The Assyrians organized the annexed areas into the three provinces mentioned in verse 1: Megiddo – Galilee of the Gentiles, Dor – the way of the sea, and Gilead – the region along and beyond the Jordan. Isaiah is proclaiming that the light of God’s deliverance would overcome the darkness of Israel’s rebellion and Assyria’s rule in this entire region. A conquering Davidic king (9:7 and 11:1,10) would deliver Israel from their oppressive enemies, just as Gideon of old had shattered the cruel Midianites (Judges 7).
Expository Context of 9:1-5
Peace and hope will come with the arrival of a Messiah – Savior – King.
Isaiah declares that in contrast to his present age of war, gloom, and despair, there is coming an age when peace will reign universally. It will begin with the coming of the Messiah, the promised future king. So we call that period the Messianic Age. Isaiah miraculously details how it will unfold.
9:1-2 A Miraculous Change in Circumstances Will End the Peoples Despair and Hopelessness.
The passage begins with the announcement of the change: there will be no more gloom for those in anguish; in the past the LORD humbled the northern lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee. Why? That is where the Messiah will first appear—Galilee of the Gentiles, a place looked down on for so long as less spiritual, less pure than Judea.
The explanation of this exaltation is found in verse 2. Those who walk in darkness have seen a great light, on those in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. The language is poetic: darkness signifies adversity, despair, gloom and evil, and the light signifies prosperity, peace, and joy. The language is used elsewhere of the Messianic Age—Malachi says that the “sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings” (4:2). So the people in the north who have suffered so much have the prospect of a wonderful new beginning.
[note] Isaiah’s verbs are in the past tense—he writes as if it has already happened. That is prophetic language. The prophet was a “seer” or visionary. He received divine revelation and recorded what he saw. As far as he was concerned, if it had been shown to him from God, it was as good as done, so he spoke as it were. It was certain, even though it had not yet been lived out in history.
So “light” will shine on people who were walking in “darkness.” The initial fulfillment of this prophecy is beyond doubt. Matthew quotes this text in conjunction with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He is the true light of the world that lights every person. He brings to a darkened world grace and truth, and the sure promise of peace. When He began to minister in Galilee with His teachings and His miracles, He demonstrated that He was indeed this Messiah. His proclamation of the kingdom through salvation is what ends the despair, for believers in Him are not lost in gloom and despair, for they know that what He promised will come to pass at His second coming.
9:3 The Messiah Brings Joy and Prosperity
The prophet turns to address the LORD directly. His words explain what it means that light will dispel the darkness—joy and prosperity will follow. The prophet gives no clue as to how soon this would happen. But we who have the full revelation of God know that Jesus made it clear that he was the Messiah, and that the age of peace and righteousness was yet future.
The joy described here is extravagant. It is the kind of joy that comes at the harvest, or at the dividing of the plunder. Harvest was a regular time of joy in Israel; after a long time of labor in the fields the people would gather to eat and drink and celebrate. The Bible often uses the analogy of the harvest to describe the coming of the LORD (see Matthew 3:12 for the harvest and winnowing imagery). It is a thanksgiving celebration for the completion of the harvest.
Dividing the spoils, the other image here, is a bit more direct since wars will lead up to the end of the age. The image is about the victors after the battle is over, dividing up the rightful possessions and wealth of the conquered enemy. Such would be an almost delirious celebration of triumph that would usher in an age of peace.
9:4-5 Joy Will Come Through the Ending of War
The imagery of joy at the division of the enemy’s goods leads directly into the explanation: the prophet foresees the time when the LORD will break the oppression of the enemies. He draws the analogy with the time of Israel’s victory over Midian through Gideon by the power of the LORD. So will it again be.
But this victory will be greater. Verse 5 says that the instruments of war will be destroyed. This will be no break in the action, no temporary peace treaty. War will end. Isaiah goes on, “They will beat their swords into plow-shares,” meaning, military weapons will not be needed in a time of lasting peace.
How can this happen, given the world situation as we know it? The answer to this question is found in the second half of the oracle which describes the nature of the Messiah who will bring in the reign of peace and righteousness. If there is such peace and that peace will come, someone must have the ability to produce and maintain it.
9:6-7 Peace Will Finally Come With the Righteous Reign of the Messiah
Isaiah moves on to introduce the One (only one) who will transform the gloom and despair of war into the joy and peace of a time of righteousness — the Messiah. The first part of his prophecy is very familiar to Christians: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.” Isaiah is very precise here, as we now know. A child will be born into the family of David, and that there was a birth in Bethlehem is beyond question; but the Messiah will also be a Son that is given, and that Jesus did not come into existence in Bethlehem is clear from the Bible.
According to the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:14), the term “son” is a title for the king. The same is true in the vision of Daniel where the expression “Son of Man” is used (7:9-14). Daniel’s vision shows this glorious king in the presence of the Almighty, the Ancient of Days, and that he would be given the kingdom of peace. Isaiah announces that the child to be born will be this Son given. This idea is then clarified by Paul: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman …” (Galatians 4:4).
The New Testament bears witness that Jesus is this Son who came into the world. In fact, Jesus Himself set about to prove His origin was in heaven, not in Bethlehem. When He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he prayed and included these words in His prayer: “that they might know that You sent Me” (John 11:42). By this He meant that He was from above, and they were from below. Or, in debating with the religious leaders Jesus asked how David could call his descendant his “Lord,” clearly showing that the “Son of David,” the Messiah, was greater than David (Mark 12:35,36, regarding Psalm 110). And of course, to the woman at the well Jesus clearly revealed Himself: she said, “When the Messiah comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said, “I that speak to you am He” (John 4:25, 26).
It is clear, then, that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Christ, the child born into the house of David, the Son given by God to be the long expected King. The first advent of Jesus established His identity; it did not begin His reign, however, for He has yet to put down all enemies.
The prophecy that “the government will be upon His shoulder” will come to complete reality at His second coming—an aspect of the Messianic prophecies that the prophets did not see (1 Peter 1:10, 11). The reference to the shoulder is probably a reference to the wearing of an insignia of office on the shoulder (see Isaiah 22:22). There will be a time when this Son will rule as king.
We may say that Jesus now reigns above, and that is certainly true. But Isaiah envisions a time of universal peace and righteousness in this world. That has not happened yet. Hebrews chapter 1 says that this exaltation will be complete when the Father again brings His firstborn into the world. So Isaiah does not know when all these things will take place; only that they will happen because the Word of the LORD has declared it.
The nature of the Messiah is now portrayed in the listing of His throne names. It must be noted that these are not names in the sense that we have names. These are character descriptions. They are intended to give the nature or the significance of the person named. We use the word “name” at times in this way. We may say, “She made a name for herself,” that is, a reputation. The names in this section describe the nature of the glorious king.
In the ancient Near East kings were in the habit of taking throne names when they ascended the throne. They took titles and added epithets to their names. Usually the epithets they chose were too generous for mere mortals. For example, in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt the rulers took five titles when crowned — each name referring to some god, some land, some aspiration they had for their administration. One king who was crowned heard the priest say, “Let the great names of the good god and his titles be made like those of the gods. So in these epithets the King would be extolled as the possessor of might, wisdom, wonders, truth, and all life. These are, to be sure, rather ambitious for mere mortals.
There is evidence of such titling in Israel, especially in cases where God bestowed names on new kings. Psalm 2, the coronation psalm, says, “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you.” So on the day the king ascended the throne he was declared to be the Son, that is, God’s anointed King. So too in 2 Samuel 23:1 do we find a proliferation of names for David: “David, the son of Jesse, the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs.”
But there is nothing biblically to compare with the type of names found in Isaiah 9. Isaiah proclaimed the coming Messiah the names: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace as the permanent titles; wonderful, mighty, everlasting, and peace are the variable ones. Isaiah is affirming that the one who is coming will not merely have great titles, but will in reality be what those titles claim. What had been a hope, a wild dream, or monarchs for ages will surely become a reality someday. With a king such as this, peace is assured. There is no hope in some pagan Egyptian king who made great claims; the only hope is in the Word of the LORD that promised Immanuel – God with Us. Let’s take a look at these four prophetic titles.
The first words used to describe this Son have usually been separated in the English Bibles to form two epithets. But Isaiah himself joins these two terms together in Isaiah 28:29. So probably, as with the other titles, the one word serves to qualify the other—he is a wonder of a counselor.
“Wonderful” is a word that primarily describes the LORD or extraordinary or supernatural things in the Scriptures; it means “extraordinary, surpassing, marvelous, wonderful.” It was not used in a trivial sense, as we often use the English word “wonderful.” For example, in Genesis 18 the LORD announced the birth of Isaac to the aging Abraham and Sarah. When Sarah laughed in her heart, the LORD, knowing she laughed, said, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” “Hard” is our word—Is anything too marvelous, wonderful, extraordinary, for the LORD? Or again, David, meditating on the knowledge of the LORD, came to realize that the LORD knows everything about him, his thoughts, his intentions, even the words he is trying to say, all of it (Psalms 139:1-6). He marvels, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me!” Or again, when the Angel of the LORD appeared to Manoah, Manoah inquired, “What is your name?” To this the visitor responded, “Why do you ask my name, seeing that it is Wonderful?” Then, when the flame on the altar blazed up, the Wonderful Angel ascended to heaven.
To describe the king with this Hebrew word “wonderful” is to ascribe to him extraordinary, normally supernatural abilities. Jesus, by His mighty words, showed Himself to be wonderful in this sense. In John 11:25 he said, “I am the resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Then, to authenticate His claims He raised Lazarus from the dead. That is extraordinary. It is marvelously surpassing. It is wonderful. We would have to say with Nicodemus that no man can do these thing apart from God. Jesus has the words of life because He has power over life and death. What a King He shall be!
The second word in the title is “Counselor.” The word means “one who plans.” It means he has the wisdom to rule. Isaiah 11:2 will explain that this king, this Immanuel, has the Spirit of Counsel, that is, his wisdom to rule is God-given (compare Solomon’s wisdom). The word “king” as well as other related terms are related to the idea of decision-making. Kings make decisions; they give counsel. At times they must surround themselves with counselors to make the right decisions. But this king will be a wonder of a counselor.
Jesus’ teachings and judgments showed that He was a great counsellor. His insight was supernatural—He knew what was in people. In John 1:48-51 He rightly analyzed Nathanael; He said, “I saw you while you were under the fig tree before Philip called you.” To which Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel.” He recognized the Wonderful Counselor when He appeared. So too did the woman at the well in John 4. She said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Is not this the Christ?” Or again, when the Jews sent men to bring Jesus bound hand and foot to them, they returned empty-handed. Their reason? “No man ever spoke like this man” (John 7:26). This work of our Lord continues today, for when He went away He promised to send another counselor (John 14:16), the Holy Spirit, who would continue to counsel by His Word, to convict, to teach, and to transform people.
What made Jesus such a wonderful counselor? He knew what was in man (John 2:25). He had that wonderful knowledge of which David spoke. And it continues. What is it in the seven letters to the churches in Revelation that is His constant theme? Jesus says, “I know your works.” That needs very little explanation; it is painfully clear.
Not only was Messiah to be wonderful in counsel, he was to be the image of God as no other was. The term “God” can be used of kings and judges in the Old Testament. But Isaiah does not use it that way, unless that is the sole meaning here. Every other time Isaiah uses the term “God” (‘el) he means deity. In fact, he has just announced in chapters 7 and 8 that this king would be known as ‘Immanu-’el, “God with us.” To say “a king is with us” would be of little effect. But to say that a king is coming whose power will display that God is with the people—that is a sign.
There is another passage that uses “mighty” and “God” together to describe Messiah. Psalm 45:3 says, “Gird your sword, O Mighty One … Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” So the King would be known as the powerful one, the mighty God.
This epithet, no matter how translated, would be too generous for a mere mortal. It actually brings the ideology of divine kingship into Jerusalem and applies it to some future king. But Jesus claimed such for Himself as well. He claimed to be divine. According to John 8:58 He identified Himself as the great I AM of the Old Testament, the sovereign Lord God of Israel. In Matthew 24:30 he announced, “All power is given to me.” “I AM”—”all power.” In sum, Jesus is the Mighty God.
The apostles bear witness to this. John declares He is God in the flesh, the agent of creation (John 1:1-3). And Paul reminds us of His deity and His power in Ephesians 1:18-21. What might have seemed to Isaiah’s audience to be an honorific title, or a description of one who would rule as God’s vice-regent, became historically true and literal in Jesus Christ, for the mighty God came in the flesh.
The third title in many ways is the most striking. It is literally “father of perpetuity,” that is, one who will be perpetually the father. In Canaanite religion the high god is called “father of years,” and this title in Hebrew seems to carry a similar force. It describes one who produces, directs, and is lord over the ages.
The title might be taken to mean that this wonder king has the durability to rule. But the use of the terms in the Old Testament suggests another view. The Messiah—the King—was to be known as the “Son,” not the Father, according to the Davidic Covenant. The covenant said that God would be to the king a father, and the king would be to Him a son (2 Sam. 7:14). But here in Isaiah the Son is called the Father. The point in Isaiah is that the sovereign LORD who had always enthroned the Davidic kings would come and rule as the Messiah.
This seeming confusion of “persons” shows up in a couple of other prophecies. In Isaiah 48:15-16 the LORD God Almighty is speaking and says, “I, even I, have spoken; Yes, I have called him, I have brought him, and his way will prosper. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the LORD God and His Spirit have sent Me.” The same phenomenon of the LORD being both the sovereign who sends Messiah and Messiah who is sent is found in Malachi 3:1-5.
Now all this seems a bit confusing, but the statements of Jesus confirm the fact that the “Son” who is given is also known as the Father. Jesus said, “I am not of this world” (John 8:23), “I came in My Father’s name” (John 5:43), and finally, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). So Jesus is the expressed image of the Father, the Sovereign king-maker. By taking this title, Everlasting Father, the Messiah is to be known as the One who is the sovereign Lord over the ever changing years—he produces and directs eternity. Such a name belongs to a god, not just any divine creature or spiritual being, but to the God.
Prince of Peace
This last title means that the Messiah will be one who ensures for his people the blessings of peace. He will be a prince who brings peace. The word “peace” is used as an epithet for the LORD as well as the King. In Judges 6:24 because of the greeting of “peace” from the Angel of the LORD the place was called “The LORD is peace.” Whenever the LORD visited his people, whether by the Angel of the LORD or by His promised Messiah, it was to announce or promise peace to the world (Isa. 11:6-9; Ps. 72:3, 7).
But the Hebrew concept of “peace” is more than the absence of war. To Isaiah, peace is a condition in which all things follow their destiny undisturbed. Elsewhere the prophet will talk of the lion lying down with the lamb, and children playing at the viper’s nest. This can only occur, of course, when major changes in nature are made. Therefore Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic Age will culminate in the prophecy of a new heaven and a new earth—there will be a whole new creation!
It is at this point that we find a little difficulty in the New Testament. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, no doubt; but His teachings on peace seem to be contradictory. He said, “Come unto me all you who labor … and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He also said, “Peace I give you”—not as the world gives (John 14:27; 16:33). The peace that Jesus brings is a peace that passes all understanding.
But Jesus also said, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34); “In this life you shall have trouble and persecution” (John 16:33). So Jesus did not hold out the immediate prospect of Isaiah’s peace to His disciples. He said that He was sending them among wolves, that brother would rise against brother, and that people would hate them and drag them before magistrates. How would, how were, they to respond?
The simple and obvious conclusion is that Jesus brought peace with God through redemption by His death and resurrection, and will eventually bring total peace through His exalted reign over all the earth. His Peace is not our peace – His is eternal (forever) ours is temporal (a minute). Jesus said that the kingdom was within us, and that it would also come with lightning flashes in the heavens (Luke 17:20-25). So we yet await the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic vision of peace in this divided and hostile world.
The central idea of Isaiah’s oracle is as follows: Complete and lasting peace comes with the righteous reign of the divine Messiah. The prophet anticipates that the present gloom at the prospect of war will be replaced by the joy of peace. That peace can only be accomplished through a King who is a Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Righteousness and peace is impossible without Him; nothing is impossible for Him.
The words of the prophet held out hope for his generation. God was not abandoning His people to invasion and disaster, but was promising that in spite of the prospect of war there was a glorious future ahead. And on the eve of the birth of Jesus the nation also felt the oppression of world conflict and the despair it brings. Into that world Jesus came, clearly claiming to be the Messiah of Israel, this Wonder King. But His first coming was to lay the foundation of the glory that would follow, that is, His death on the cross would reconcile people to God, bringing them into eternal peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. And so now as we look forward to His coming again, the words of Isaiah hold out hope for us too. Wars and conflicts abound; despair and depression accompany the fear of danger and aggression. But the Word of God is clear: there is coming a time of complete and lasting peace with the coming of Messiah. There is hope. We who know the LORD by faith need not despair as those without hope.
But what then are we to do while we wait for this King? First, it is our task to carry on the ministry that Isaiah had, to announce to the world the only hope, Jesus the Messiah. Our primary concern is that people find eternal peace with God. We are the ambassadors for this King, calling others to be reconciled with God. And what goes along with this? Our lives must be purified from sin so that we may present to others the hope of righteousness. Our efforts must be tireless to declare to the world that the hope of peace rests with Jesus Christ and none other. And our promotion of causes of peace and righteousness must be consistent with our message, in our families, our communities and our world.
But secondly, this passage also instructs us about the resources available to us even now from our King. We know that Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor, so we may obtain instruction and guidance for our lives from Him and in His Word. He is the Mighty God, for all power is given to Him, so we may trust Him to accomplish great things in and through us. He is the Everlasting Father, so we may take comfort in the stability that knowing our sovereign Lord reigns brings. And, He is our Prince of Peace, so we may rest in Him, knowing that because of Jesus Christ all is well between us and God. In short, these descriptions of our Lord Jesus Christ are calls to greater prayer, greater confidence, and greater service.
1 Peter 2:9