Tuesdays with Isaiah (Chapter 9)

The flow of thought from Isaiah 8 carries into chapters 9-10.  Both these chapters speak of God’s coming judgment on Assyria, the nation he sent to judge Syria, Israel, and Judah.  The darkness that shrouded Israel (Ephraim and Judah) due to the Assyrian invasion and their own internal spiritual apostasy (8:19-22), will give way to the dawn of the Lord’s coming (9:1-17).

The opening seven verses in chapter 9 give a glorious vision for Israel’s future.  The northern kingdom (Zebulun, Naphtali, Galilee of the Gentiles) will experience God’s light and joy.  The people who had stumbled in darkness will see a “great light” (2).  Where they had been decimated by war, they will now be “multiplied” (3).  Anguish will give way to joy—the kind of joy that accompanies a bountiful harvest or military victory (3).  For the heavy burden of foreign domination will be lifted (4) and the reminders of war will be destroyed (“boots, bloody uniforms”—5).

What will be the cause of this grand reversal?  The birth of another child.  But this child will be like no other child ever born.  His name (character, identity) will be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (6).  He will rule over His people, leading a government that will never end and a peace that will not be disturbed (7).  Justice and righteousness will prevail.  And how can we be confident that this glorious vision will become reality?  “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (7).

As is often the case in Isaiah’s anthology of prophetic words, a section bright and beautiful gives way to one foreboding and grisly.  The tone changes dramatically beginning in verse 8: “The Lord has sent a word against Jacob.” In verses 8-21 (and through 10:4), we have a terrifying depiction of the Lord judging His people for their sin and spiritual hardness.  God’s anger brings repeated, relentless destruction on “Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria” (8-9). Because they fail to respond with repentance, God’s judgment keeps coming.  Four times (9:12, 17, 21; 10:4) we read the frightening refrain: “For all this his anger has not turned away and his hand is stretched out still.”

God’s anger is particularly directed at the political and spiritual leaders of Israel who are “leading them astray” and causing those they lead to be “swallowed up” (16).  The elders and honoured men refer to the political leaders who “decree iniquitous decrees” to turn aside justice for the poor and needy (compare 9:15 with 10:1-2).  These leaders are the “head” of the nation (15).  The prophets, who are to be the spiritual leaders of the people, “teach lies”; the Lord refers to them as the “tail” (15).  Both head and tail will be “cut off from Israel . . . in one day” (14).  God will send sudden destruction upon them; however, for all this his anger will not be turned away.  His anger will only be abated when the leaders and people repent and return to Him.

In addition to the destruction brought to the nation by outside armies, the Lord speaks of an internal destruction caused by civil strife. The various factions or tribes in Israel (Ephraim and Manasseh) are pictured as devouring one another (20-21).  The Lord’s anger brings judgment from outside and inside the nation.  Still, his anger is not turned away.

Behold Your God

The Lord, not human effort, causes multiplication or decimation. The turnaround in Israel from gloom to glory (1) comes by the work of God: “You have multiplied the nation” (3).  Likewise, Israel’s determination to upgrade their situation is blocked by God’s decision (10-12).  While he works in and through human agency, God is behind the rise and fall of nations and peoples.  As Isaiah will later say, “you have indeed done for us all our works” (26:12).  It is folly to think we can, by our own skill and strength, win the day.

The Lord’s judgment can come through both external attack and internal conflict.  God judges his wayward people by sending foreign powers (Syria and Philistia) to attack.  At the same time, he judges them by allowing them to cannibalize themselves through internal strife (“Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh; together they are against Judah”—21).

The Lord, who is slow to anger, can remain angry with his obstinate people.  The four-fold refrain (“For all this his anger has not turned away”—12, 17, 21, 10:4) reminds us that God’s righteous anger remains hot against continued unrighteousness.  Only as we “turn to him” (13) is his anger “turned away” (17).

The Lord’s salvation comes through the birth of a boy who grows up to reign.  The deliverance Israel needs will come through a coming son.  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (6).  This boy will grow up to lead a government marked by continual and expanding peace.  This boy will be called “Mighty God.”  Who can this boy be?  The New Testament points directly to Jesus.  The angel Gabriel tells Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

Here Am I

There are tragic consequences when leaders mislead people.  Isaiah clarifies the danger of ungodly political and spiritual leadership: “for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up” (16).  Leaders can lead people over a cliff if they are not leading in God’s way.  No wonder God holds leaders to a high standard.  No wonder leaders must lead by following his will and ways.

My hope must firmly be in the promised, true King–Jesus.  The bright hope promised to the gloomy nation of Israel is the coming of a king who can be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (6).  He is the One who brings in a government marked by perpetual stability and peace (7).  His rule will be divinely backed for success: “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (7).  The New Testament reveals Jesus as the One who comes with total authority (Matthew 28:18) and who will reign over all forever (1 Cor. 15:25).  In him I will hope.

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