How often does God speak a word to us that takes longer than we’d like before it begins to make sense?
In this text, Isaiah is prophesying a coming king meant to right the wrongs of King Ahaz, who failed to lead Judah in its occupation by the Assyrians. The coming king Isaiah believes he was speaking of would most likely be King Hezekiah, who would go on to marry Isaiah’s daughter and become a profoundly righteous and holy leader of Judah.
But, we read it today and know that Hezekiah’s kingdom, dedicated by Hezekiah to YHWH’s rule and reign, lived only as long as he did. His son, Manassah, inherited the crown and instituted polytheistic religions of both native pagans and neighboring kingdoms, slaughtering prophets and disciples of the prophets in the process. Many passages of scripture condemn him for his brutality and bloodthirst.
Who, then, is this child of endless peace, of righteousness from this time onward and forevermore? Who is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?
This prophecy was spoken in a time of darkness, a season of injustice and distrust, as the land of God’s people is occupied by foreign, pagan powers. Isaiah speaks a word of a great light soon to dawn on this deep darkness which has settled over his nation like a fog. The hearer of the text in its original time might have perceived this as a prophetic declaration of what this coming King would one day do. However, the prophecy is in the present tense. The child is not king yet, Assyria has not left Judah, the cloud of oppression doesn’t appear to have lifted, but Isaiah says that a great light has arisen, that joy has been restored, that the rod of the oppressor has been broken. The Hebrew language may just have less concrete rules of language surrounding the tenses translated here into English. But, there may also be some element of spiritual truth, beyond the scope and immediacy of Isaiah’s present moment, where this prophecy reveals some core truth about the character and persons of the trinity that will one day be made flesh in Christ Jesus.
In the prophecy, Isaiah speaks first of the righteousness that has and will take place, describing it in vivid detail, and then tells us who it is that will accomplish it. The people of God have had their lives colored by sorrow, lament, oppression, and loss. Isaiah’s prophecy engages with that dark coloring and repaints it, piece by piece.
First, the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. The people of God have caught a glimpse of light dawning like the sunrise, replacing their sorrow with hope.
Exultation has been multiplied, joy has been increased. The lament of the people has instead turned to exultation, spectacular joy, praising as if celebrating a hard-fought victory over an enemy. They treat their harvest, the reward of their work, with excitement and joy, rejoicing in their God.
The rod of their oppressor, You have broken. The hold of their captors has been removed. The yoke and burden of the occupying force has been removed. The people of God have been abused; their crops have been stolen, their land has been burned, yet the yoke, burden, and rod of the oppressor has been broken.
All the garments rolled in blood shall be burned. The boots of the troops which trampled on their homes have been removed. The uniforms these soldiers wore and stained with Israelite blood have been removed and burned like fuel for their fires that cast light on their praise.
All this was done because “a child” has been born, a son given to the world. But the child had not done these things, yet. At least, not to those who first heard the prophecy. It would’ve appeared, during Hezekiah’s rule, that this prophecy was fulfilled in his kingship. But, then came Mannassah. “Endless peace” had ended. Justice and righteousness had their say and were executed in the city square.
These words are echoed, hundreds of years later, when Luke tells us of a priest named Zechariah. His wife, Elizabeth, has suffered from years of barrenness. His home has been occupied by foreign, pagan powers. The land has been colored in darkness, sorrow, and lament for so long, the people hardly remember the color of light.
But Elizabeth is blessed with a pregnancy, and her cousin comes forward pregnant herself, this news delivered by an angel. Zechariah is struck dumb in the sight of a messenger of the Lord, an angel, until the birth of his son. Once Zecheriah opens his mouth again, he speaks a prophecy– a word spoken by the Holy Spirit through one who is faithful:
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
These words end the prophecy of Zechariah, but opens Isaiah’s prophecy of the child who has come to be king. Zechariah is quoting Isaiah and connecting Isaiah’s prophecy with his own. Isaiah seemed to have believed that king was Hezekiah, but the prophecy was not made complete in the person of Hezekiah. The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, are all made flesh in the person of Jesus. Zechariah speaks this in his prophecy. His son is the prophet sent to prepare the way for this child to sit on the long-empty throne of David.
Grace Song, in her paper Hezekiah or Jesus, says “In the end, there will be a seed of David who will not fail but bring to full realization the hopes for eternal peace and…righteousness.” The context of this prophecy is only properly understood in light of the work of the Holy Spirit who spoke it, and this work stretches beyond the scope and immediacy of Isaiah’s present moment.
It could also be that Isaiah knew that something was spoken that was eternal, not given to his specific and particular context, revealing something about the nature and work of God. He might have felt comfort in the hand of the Almighty and His promise of peace, even when looking out at a world still occupied by the enemy, and found a hope for the Kingdom.
Do you feel that same comfort, reading these words in Isaiah and Luke, looking at our world today? Might you find that same peace in knowing that although the world may not quite resemble it, the Kingdom of God is at hand, and with it, righteousness, justice, freedom, and spectacular joy? Do you know that darkness has been swallowed up by a great light? How often does God speak a word to us that takes longer than we’d like before it begins to make sense?
Song, G. (n.d.). Hezekiah or jesus: Who is the child of isaiah 9:6-7 (HTML). Thirdmill. Retrieved December 17, 2022