A LIGHT FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS
Isaiah 9:6-7 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
Isaiah chapter nine points to the coming of the Messiah and culminates in the coming of the Word made flesh into this world. It’s a wonderful way to overview redemptive history and to be reminded of the gospel. He who is “born of a woman” must be man; He whose name is “Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace,” must be “equal with God.” Thus the union of a divine with a human nature, in the person of the Messiah, was clearly revealed to the prophets of the Old Testament.
This passage is occurring in about 733 B.C. and that means that the Northern Kingdom of Israel has not yet fallen. That will not happen until around 722, eleven years later. And so the kingdom of Israel has been divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). And Isaiah in this passage is speaking about the fate of part of that Northern Kingdom — in fact, the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, two of the tribes that made up the territory occupied by the nation-state of Israel, as distinct from the nation-state of Judah. And Isaiah is talking about the fact that they are already experiencing the oppression of a foreign invader: the Assyrians who are eventually going to overthrow the whole Northern Kingdom. Isaiah is giving us a prophecy about the coming invasion and the ultimate fall of the Northern Kingdom, an event which has not yet happened; and then, he is giving us a prophecy about the Lord’s rescue and salvation of that people. And so it’s not a passage that at first glance you’d expect to contain a clear foreshadowing and prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ, but of course the New Testament tells us that that is precisely what it does.
Notice now Isaiah pins hope and joy on the names and the attributes, of a prince who is yet to be born, and Isaiah describes that prince, what He would be like, through a list of beautiful names or attributes, or characteristics.
And then finally at the very end, notice how he attributes all the hope and all the joy of Israel to God’s own zeal. We’ll consider each of those things as we work through the passage.
Isaiah, in this great prophecy in Isaiah chapter 6 is showing us the nature of Israel’s distress, and describing it graphically in terms of darkness. But he is also showing us the prospect of their joy, and the person of their Savior, and the fervency of their God. We will look at all four of those in this study: the nature of their distress, and ours; the prospect of their joy, and ours; the person of their Savior, and ours; and the zeal of their God, and ours.
THE NATURE OF ISRAEL’S DISTRESS & OURS
Isaiah, in this great prophecy, is showing us the nature of Israel’s distress. The first thing we need to note is that almost all of this prophecy is written in the past tense. That is a typical pattern for Hebrew prophets. They oftentimes gave foretelling’s of the future as if they had already occurred. This was one way they could emphasize the certainty of God’s prophecy to the people of God. To say that what is going to happen in the future has already happened is a way of emphasizing the sureness, the certainty of God’s Word. And from verse 1 all the way to the end of verse 7, this prophecy is given in the past tense. And so, for instance, in verse two we read: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light…”
Isaiah is letting us know in this prophecy that the fullness of their darkness has not even come yet; that it is dark now already in Zebulun and Naphtali, but eleven years from now it is going to be even darker. And their light which is going to shine is not going to shine for 700 years. But Isaiah will speak as if they have already walked through their darkness, and as if they have already seen their great light, because the Word of God’s promise is certain and sure. And so Isaiah speaks this prophecy in the past tense.
A lifting of the darkness – Isaiah prophesies a lifting of the darkness, the context is one of military invasion and national oppression. The Assyrians are coming down on the Northern Kingdom, and they are going to take it over. And of course there is a reason why this is happening. Isaiah has made it clear in this book, that reason is because of the sinfulness of the Northern Kingdom. There will always be consequences for sin and if you are God’s child He will chasten you out of love as you dwell in sin.
Hebrews 12:6-7 – For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
Judging of national sins – From the very beginning, when Jeroboam broke the Northern Kingdom off from the Southern Kingdom after the reign of Solomon, and he became the king of Israel (to the north) and Rehoboam became the king of Judah (to the south), all of the kings of the Northern Kingdom had followed after false gods. It was under the reign of the kings in the Northern Kingdom that Baal worship came to be practiced by the people of the Northern Kingdom, and Isaiah is announcing God’s judgment through the Assyrian invaders because of the sin of idolatry in the Northern Kingdom. God judges nations because of national sins just as was being pronounced here. Think about our own nation and its indefensible national sins. We need to pray for God’s grace for our own nation, and we need to pray for revival for our own nation.
II Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Darkness was brought about by sin – In other words, the misery that is being experienced by the Northern Kingdom and which will be experienced by the Northern Kingdom is God’s judgment on them for their national sins. So their distress is a distress which has been brought about by sin. The darkness of death which is upon them is in fact God’s judgment for their sins, and there is no distress which is deeper than the misery which is brought by sin.
Help with the darkness and misery of sin – There is a reason why Jesus had to come into this world, and that reason is the darkness of sin and the misery that comes with it. Matthew beautifully shows how this passage points to exactly that truth in Matthew chapter four. Matthew tells us that this passage is fulfilled over 700 years later, when Jesus, having come out of the wilderness — where who was tempting Him? Satan was tempting Jesus, in the first verses of chapter four. And He comes into the city of Nazareth, and He departs from it into Capernaum — where? Into Galilee of the Gentiles, into the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, and He preaches the gospel.
Matthew 4:13-17 “And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:13-17 gives the account of the direct fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 9:1-7. God’s Word is true, every part of it is true and it all can be trusted and it all is for our benefit, teaching and admonishment. And so the person and preaching of Jesus in Galilee of the Gentiles, Matthew says, fulfills the passage we have just read in Isaiah chapter nine.
The New Testament writers all understood that it was Jesus who fulfilled this prophecy in Isaiah chapter nine. He was the light that came to the people who were walking in darkness. Now one thing that tells you is that their deepest distress was not the fact that they were being oppressed and occupied by an alien invader, because when Jesus was born into this world, guess who was occupying the land of Palestine? The Romans. And when Jesus died, guess who was occupying the land of Palestine? The Romans. And forty years after Jesus died, guess who burned the temple down? The Romans. So what Jesus came to do was not ultimately to liberate Israel from a physical national oppression: He came to give them deliverance from something far more serious and significant. He came to give them deliverance from sin, to make them the children of God, to prepare them for the life of eternal fellowship with the living God…to preach the kingdom of heaven. We all are sinners in need of Jesus our Savior to deliver us from our sins.
Jesus is the light of the world – He is the one who answers the nature of the distress of Israel in 733 B.C. and of the people of God in Palestine, in Galilee of the Gentiles, at the very beginning of the first century, and of you and me today. Jesus is the answer to whatever is distressing us in our life today. Reach out to Him, call upon Him, He is always there; He is always wanting to help lift our burdens. We need to trust Him fully, have faith in Him fully and lean on Him always and in every distress.
Hebrews 13:5b – for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
THE PROSPECT OF JOY
Then in Isaiah 9:3-5, we see the prospect of joy, which is prophesied by Isaiah. “Thou hast multiplied the nation….” Now Isaiah turns and begins speaking to God Himself directly, though this is a Word from God to the children of Israel. So what exactly is happening here? Isaiah is telling them what they will say to God after God has revealed His marvelous salvation. Isaiah is saying that God’s salvation always brings with it an extension of His people’s joy. The result of this mighty act of God of unburdening them from their deepest distress and the darkness in which they are walking is that they will have joy, joy in God, and joy in the salvation that He has given to them and others. There are at least two lessons in this for us, and those two lessons are this. First of all, Isaiah is reminding us that the salvation of sinners always produces joy in the hearts of God’s people, because we ourselves are sinners who have been saved, and those who are sinners who have been saved rejoice when we realize our own salvation, and we take joy in the salvation of others.
It is interesting that when Jesus is in Galilee of the Gentiles and He is proclaiming the kingdom of God, and preaching repentance. Many are coming to Him in faith, including Gentiles. But His own people are not rejoicing in the salvation of the Gentiles, and that in and of itself is a sign that they themselves had not experienced the joy of salvation, because they have not trusted in Him and Him alone for their salvation. Had they experienced the joy of salvation, had they realized the mercy of God to them in the forgiveness of their sins, and experienced that joy which inexorably flows from it, they would have been rejoicing when both Jew and Greek, bond and free, male and female, came to Christ. And the fact that they are not rejoicing in the Gentiles coming to Him was a sign that they had not known salvation themselves.
What is your greatest joy? – That is an important thing for us to realize today. What is the greatest joy that we have in this world? Is it joy in things? Is it joy in position or status? Is it joy in the esteem of others, and social connections? Or is the greatest joy we have in this world our salvation and the knowledge we will get to spend eternity with Him? – What is your greatest joy today? If it is not your salvation and Jesus then there is something wrong in your heart and life that needs to get corrected and repented from.
What do you take most joy in? – Isaiah is reminding you that those who have been shown mercy take the greatest joy in God as they see Him work salvation in sinners, as sinners are converted to Him. Do we take joy in that? Is our deepest joy in God, and in the salvation of sinners? And if so, how does that show itself in our living? Does is show in how we share the gospel with others, with friends and family who don’t know Jesus Christ? Do we have a deep joy and concern when we see those who were lost get found by Jesus Christ, and adopted into His family and pardoned for their sins? Do we celebrate our own redemption, whether it was this year or last year, or fifty years ago, with joy in our hearts? Do you remember when you first knew the forgiveness of your sins? Do you remember the joy that dawned in your heart when you realized that you would stand before God acquitted and accepted, not because of anything in you, but because of what the Lord Jesus Christ had done for you? Do you remember that joy? Do you experience that kind of joy in seeing others come to Christ? Where is your joy? (Philippians 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.) – Again, where is your joy?
John 15:11 – “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
THE PERSON OF THE SAVIOR
The promised Messiah is described for us in verses 6-7, and He is said by Isaiah to the children of Israel…He is said to be their light and their reason for joy and hope. And it is this promised Messiah who is the Lord Jesus Christ. And you see five ways that Isaiah describes Him in this passage. We do not have the space in this study to do justice to it, but let’s briefly touch on these five things Isaiah says about Him here.
Isaiah 9:6-7 – For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
BORN FOR US
First of all, notice that he tells us that the child is born for us, on our behalf, and the government is laid upon His shoulders. In other words, Isaiah first says that a ruler will be born who will govern in the best interests of His people. In contrast to the wicked kings of the Northern Kingdom and a lot of our leaders today, this ruler will govern for the well-being of His people.
HE WILL BE WONDERUL, COUNSELOR
Secondly, He will be a Wonderful Counselor; or, a wonder of a counselor; or, a miraculous supernatural counselor. Again, in contrast to rulers like Ahaz, who were crafty, who were deceitful, who were tricky, who were shrewd–but who were not godly, who were not wise, and who did not care for God’s people as they should have; this ruler will be wonderfully, miraculously wise. Jeremiah puts it this way in Jeremiah 23:5 “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” And so what is being told here is that this King will be wonderful and wise. He will have heavenly wisdom in the way that He rules His people.
THE MIGHTY GOD
Thirdly, we are told that He will be called Mighty God…that He will be God Almighty, that He will be God the warrior, that He will be the Almighty God in the flesh. And the New Testament is all over this particular prophecy of Isaiah, so that John can remind us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Apostle Paul says in Romans 9:5 “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” Paul then says again in Titus 2:13 says “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” The New Testament understands precisely what Isaiah is saying here. This Messiah King, this son of David, is going to be more than human. He is going to be the mighty God in the flesh.
EVERLASTING ETERNAL FATHER
And then he says something interesting. He says He is going to be the Everlasting and Eternal Father. This passage is speaking about a ruler. And what is one of the metaphors for rulers in the Old Testament? Fathers. Spiritual fathers. They are a father to their people. And so this is yet another description of how this ruler will have a concern for the spiritual well-being of His flock. It is an assertion that Jesus will rule in a paternal way, in a fatherly way, for the well-being of His people.
THE PRINCE OF PEACE
And finally, He’s called The Prince of Peace. That is, He is the one who will accomplish peace and give peace, and reign in peace. And so in this description Isaiah tells us about the light who will dispel the darkness, and that light is Jesus the Messiah.
THE FERVANCY OR ZEAL OF GOD
God is the sovereign personal cause behind this hope and joy spoken of by Isaiah in this prophecy. In verse seven Isaiah says “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” The hope that they have is sure not because of anything that they will do, but because of Who is behind that hope. And who is behind that hope? The Lord. Compare this with our salvation, it is not of anything we can do, but it is because of what Jesus did. Our salvation rests in the finished work of Christ and there hope and salvation rests in, the already spoken of as finished and complete by Isaiah, work of God. And what does Psalm 124 say about this? That if it were not for the Lord, the anger of our enemies would have undone us. And here is Isaiah saying the anger of your enemies is no match for the zeal, the fire, the fervency, the fervor, the power of your sovereign God who has said, “I will do this.”
Psalm 124 – “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say; If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us: Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: Then the proud waters had gone over our soul. Blessed be the LORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
In our study Isaiah uses the picture or the image of darkness to characterize the dire situation that the people of Israel were in, because of their sin, and we can apply the same thing to us today, without the Messiah in our life we would be in a very dire situation as well. If you live in a perpetual sinful state, if you take pleasure in sin, seek out sin, and don’t joy in Christ as you should, you are in a very dismal and dark place. Isaiah contrasted the dismal dark state of living in sin with the joy that could be found living a victorious life in the Lord. Isaiah described the joy of having the Messiah in your life. If we have accepted Christ as our Savior that very fact alone should produce great joy in our hearts and in our life. Do you want to know the secret to true and lasting joy? It is having a properly maintained relationship with Christ as our Savior and not doing as you please or living to fulfill worldly sinful lusts. The “wisdom of men” is foolishness the Bible tells us.
Who can give us great hope in this life and who has done the work of salvation, who has defeated sin and death, who was provided the way of salvation for all? Verse seven in our text tells us it was God; it was the coming Messiah that would do this for all mankind, not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles too. “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” The hope that they have is sure hope, not because of anything that they will do, but because of Who is behind that hope. And who is behind that hope? The Lord Jesus, He is behind it, He guarantees it to all, once you have it you can never lose it, not like the sinful worldly things of this life which you can have one day and then the next have everything coming crashing down on you. Once you are saved you can never lose your salvation.
Have you accepted the Messiah, have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior? If you have, do you joy in Him and in your personal salvation like you should? Is your greatest joy in Christ or is it in things of this world? Where do you get your happiness from? Is it from Jesus which gives eternal happiness to “whosover will”? Or do you rely on temporal, worldly, even sinful things to bring you a type of “happiness”? Are you right with the Lord, with great hope, or are you a backslidden Christian living in worldly sin, that may bring temporary pleasure for a season but in the end will bring great misery, heartache, shattered dreams, depression and bondage. Is your joy and hope in the Lord? Is your greatest joy the Lord? – He should be.