The book of Isaiah opens with God’s displeasure upon the two kingdoms of Israel, the southern kingdom of Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. In Isaiah’s own lifetime, God will judge Israel and remove the people from his land, much as he judged the entire world by means of Noah’s flood. But just as God spared Noah, so he will spare a remnant who repent and trust in him (Isaiah 1:9).
But this cycle of disobedience, judgment, new beginning, followed by disobedience, judgment, and so on might continue forever. Fallen humankind is not able to consistently govern well. Israel’s history proves this. God has a plan, however. He announces the advent of a Child, an amazing Son.
6 … and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 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. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Who Is This Son?
So far, Isaiah has given glimpses.
Isaiah 2:4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into sickles: and nation shall not take up sword against nation, neither shall they learn to war any more. (Excerpted from Isaiah 2:2-4 LXE)
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel. (LXE)
But the view from chapter 9 is amazing. The Son is light and joy. God favors him so much that he decrees a government ruled by him that will last forever. He will be born from David’s line and in the land of the northern kingdom.
Messiah Is Isaiah’s Main Theme
Isaiah 9:1-7 brings Messiah to the forefront. He is everything God wants, and his theme is peace.
Isaiah 9:1 and he that is in anguish shall not be distressed only for a time. Drink this first. Act quickly, O land of Zabulon, land of Nephthalim, and the rest inhabiting the sea-coast, and the land beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
2 O people walking in darkness, behold a great light: ye that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you.
3 The multitude of the people which thou hast brought down in thy joy, they shall even rejoice before thee as they that rejoice in harvest, and as they that divide the spoil.
4 Because the yoke that was laid upon them has been taken away, and the rod that was on their neck: for he has broken the rod of the exactors, as in the day of Madiam.
5 For they shall compensate for every garment that has been acquired by deceit, and all raiment with restitution; and they shall be willing, even if they were burnt with fire.
6 For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Messenger of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him.
7 His government shall be great, and of his peace there is no end: it shall be upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to support it with judgement and with righteousness, from henceforth and forever. The seal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this.
How blessed the northern kingdom will be in that day!
1. The Orthodox Study Bible writes for Isaiah 9:4, “The day of Midian refers to the defeat of the Midianites by Gideon and his men without the use weapons (see Jdg 7:9-25). These men prefigure the apostles, who spread the gospel throughout the world with only ‘the weapons of peace,’ the preaching of the Cross.” (1)
2. Isaiah 9:5 in the Septuagint (see above) reads very differently than the Masoretic text. Luke 19:8, about the salvation of Zacchaeus, fulfills the Septuagint.
3. The initial view of Messiah is through the eyes of his people and the effect he has upon them, Isaiah 9:1-5.
But First, the Judgment Against Israel
But before all this can take place, Israel (the northern kingdom) must be judged and the people removed (Isaiah 9:8-10:4). This section opens with the statement–
The Lord sent death against Jacob, and it came on Israel. (SAAS) (2)
The remainder of chapter 9 and the first four verses of chapter 10 describe the manner of this death.
Verses of Note
1. Extreme hardness of heart: Isaiah 9:(12)13 “But the people did not turn until they were struck, yet they did not seek the Lord” (SAAS). Revelation 9:20-21 is reminiscent of this, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent…”
2. Deception in the guise of blessing: Isaiah 9:(15)16 “For those who bless this people lead them astray, and they lead them astray so as to destroy them.” (SAAS)
3. Brother against brother: Isaiah 9:(19b-20a)20b-21a “Manasseh shall devour Ephraim and Ephraim Manasseh. Together they shall besiege Judah…” (SAAS)
4. Laws written by design against the poor and needy: Isaiah 10:1-2 “Woe to those who write evil things, for when they write such things, they turn aside judgment from the poor, and rob judgment from the needy of the people, that the widow may be their prey and the orphan a spoil.” (SAAS)
5. God’s anger continues: Isaiah 9:(11, 16, 20 and Isaiah 10:4)12, 17, 21 and 10:4 “For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is still uplifted.” (SAAS)
Judgment Against Assyria
God used the armies of Assyria to execute his condemnation upon Israel (chapter 9). Assyria, however, did not recognize that God gave them the power to conquer Israel and take her captive. Attributing their success to their own prowess (Isaiah 10:7-14) rather than to God’s permissive will, they determined to attack the southern kingdom of Jerusalem, as well (Isaiah 10:5-14). But God had other plans.
Isaiah 10:12 But it shall come to pass, when the Lord has completed all He will do on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, He will go against the arrogant heart of the king of the Assyrians and the glory of his haughty looks. (SAAS)
The prophet Habakkuk, less than one century after the close of Isaiah, prophesied similarly concerning the nation of Chaldea, or Babylon. In the three chapters of Habakkuk, the prophet and God dialogue with each other. (This is called prayer). God explains in Habakkuk 1-3, the same as in Isaiah 10, how he uses a powerful but wicked nation to punish and cleanse his own people. Afterward, God also punishes the “punisher” for their wicked excesses in carrying out His plan. In short, God rules history and all nations. Nations are but tools in his hand.
Isaiah 10:15 Shall the ax glorify itself without him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself without him who saws with it? It is likewise if one should lift a rod or a piece of wood. (SAAS)
How Does the Remainder of Isaiah 10 Unfold?
- Isaiah 10:16-19 compares God to a light that burns like fire. The cleansing fire will consume the fleeing Assyrians, until there are none of them left but a small enough number a child could count. 2Kings 19 records in great detail the fall of Assyria in Judah. Note: The study note for Isaiah 10:17 in The Orthodox Study Bible (1) states, “The Light of Israel (v. 17) that will sanctify God’s people speaks poetically of the Holy Spirit.” That is, if the Assyrians poetically represent sin in the land, then the Light of Israel, the Holy Spirit, is what cleanses the believing church and individual from sin.
- Isaiah speaks of the remnant of Israel in Isaiah 10:20-22. Those who have ever been “wronged” know what a blessing of comfort these words are. So many victims of abuse are dependent upon their abusers. But a day will come when they will only trust in God, their Savior.
20 It shall come to pass in that day that the remnant of Israel and those of Jacob who were saved will never again obey those who wronged them; but they will trust in God, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. 21 The remnant of Jacob shall trust in the Mighty God. 22 For though the people of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them shall be saved… (SAAS)
- Verses Isaiah 10:22b-23 speak of how God’s righteous judgment will be accomplished quickly, and in all the world. This is exactly how the cross of Christ played out. In the timeline of all history, the judgment upon evil and the righteousness of salvation happened in a single day, overnight, as it were. Here, of course, the literal meaning applies to how the Assyrian army left Judah extremely quickly (2Kings 19:32-36).
22b … for He shall accomplish the word and cut it short in righteousness. 23 For God will accomplish the word and cut it short in all the world. (SAAS)
- Isaiah 10:24-31 continues to describe the details of Assyria’s downfall and the cities through which they pass.
- In the final verses of Isaiah 10, 32-24, God continues to instruct Isaiah concerning how he should comfort Judah at this point in their history. Their time has not yet come. First, “the Master, the Lord of hosts” will bring down the haughty and lofty Assyrians.
- Chapter 11 returns again to Messiah.
to be continued…
1 Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.
2 For this and all other quotations marked SAAS: “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”