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Isaiah 9:1-4

The people of Isaiah seem to be on the cusp of a new dawning reality. It is so close now that they can almost grasp it– or rather, be grasped by it– and it all feels like very, very good news.

The text gives a strong sense of the “before” for the people of God. They were “those who were in anguish” (v. 1). The ones who “walked in darkness” and “lived in a land of deep darkness” (v. 2). They bore a “yoke of burden” with a “bar across their shoulders” and knew the “rod of their oppressor” (v. 4).

At this point in their history the people of God have split into two nations, the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Isaiah is sent by God as a prophet to Judah, approximately 150 years before they would be hauled into exile. They’ve had a king ruling for a few centuries at this point, though always with varying degrees of faithfulness to God and geo-political safety.

The most recent king, King Ahaz, reigned for 16 years. Of his reign, 2 Chronicles 28:1-4 says, “He did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD, as his ancestor David had done,” and “made cast images for the Baals” and participated in child sacrifices and other sacrifices to neighboring deities. During his reign thousands of people would be killed by neighboring nations, with many others taken as captives. Out of fear, King Ahaz asked for help from Assyria, but God allowed Assyria to overtake Judah because of King Ahaz’s idolatry. If that all wasn’t bad enough, he even closed up the temple. In the eyes of scripture, he was a trainwreck. His unfaithfulness to God and God’s way led to the anguish, darkness, and oppression of God’s people.

We see this most clearly in verse 2 which includes two different words that describe what people were experiencing. First, the people walked in darkness,