International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Isaiah 9:2-7Lesson Title: God's Promise of a Righteous Lord
The book of Isaiah is generally acknowledged to be the greatest of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Isaiah is the prophetic book most frequently quoted in the New Testament and is one of the most loved books of both Jews and Christians. Isaiah's prophecy was written by Isaiah, the son of Amoz, (Isaiah 1:1) who ministered as a prophet along with Hosea and Micah. His ministry was mostly centered around Jerusalem during the reigns of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). His ministry began in the last year of King Uzziah's reign (740 B.C.) and continued until shortly after the invasion of Sennacherib in 701 B.C (Isaiah 36:1). This would place his ministry from about 740 to 700 B.C.
While there are many wonderful themes throughout the book of Isaiah, the three great themes are; 1) The empty ritualism of the day and the idolatry of God's people; 2) The warnings and pleas of God to His people to return to Him; 3) The hope of redemption assured to those who would repent.
Isaiah 7:1-12:6 contains what is called The Immanuel prophecy. Immanuel is the symbolic name of the child, meaning "God with us." In these chapters we see Isaiah confronting the pagan King Ahaz of Judah; the sign of the virgin's Son, Immanuel; the predicted Assyrian invasion; the birth of the prophet's own son; and the coming Child who will rule on David's throne. Isaiah 7 opens during "the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham" (Isaiah 7:1). This section of Isaiah records the Syrian-Samarian alliance against Judah. Both Syria and Ephraim (another name for the northern kingdom of Israel) had plans to surround Jerusalem, capture her, and set up their own king on the throne. The leaders of the northern kingdom of Israel would then be able to use Judah's army with theirs in defense against the Assyrians (Isaiah 7:6). All of this political maneuvering unnerved the young King Ahaz and although Isaiah assured him the two invading kings would not prevail (Isaiah 7:4), he nevertheless asked for a sign. The Lord responded with the sign of the virgin Son to encourage his faith (Isaiah 7:14).
Our lesson text in Isaiah 9 opens with another powerful Messianic prophecy of the coming of the child Immanuel who, though not named, is the Child that is to be born and shall rule upon the throne of David. This is Jesus Christ.
Christ Brings Hope to the Hopeless (Isaiah 9:1-4)
" Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations."
For Isaiah, the northern tribes of "Zebulun" and "Naphtali" represented all that was obscure, exposed, degraded, and remote." The regions of "Zebulun" and "Naphtali" lay on the northern border in northeast Galilee and were the first tribes to suffer from the Assyrian invasion (2 Kings 15:29). This was the "first" or the beginning of dark days for Israel and "afterward" more days of gloom and heartache would follow. But God would change that gloom into glory in His own time and His own way. The territory of "Zebulun" and "Naphtali" was far from the capitol and the temple and was cursed with the intermingling of Jew and Gentile. It was in Isaiah's generation the last place on earth to expect the most significant event in man's history to take place. But these same regions that were exposed to the ravages of enemy invasions will be the first to experience divine deliverance according to Isaiah.
The "land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali" correspond with "Galilee" in the New Testament. The "land of the shadow of death" in Isaiah 9:2 is most likely a reference to this area. While this area would be the "first" to be in "darkness" because of their sin they will also be the people to see "a great light." Jesus grew up in Nazareth, "the land of Zebulun." Who would have ever believed that God could bring a "great light" out of all this "darkness?"
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined."
In bright contrast to the "darkness" (Isaiah 8:22; 9:2) and "dimness" of enemy oppression upon the nation, and especially the region of Galilee, Isaiah presents a view of the future with the promise of the appearance of "a great light." This region is referred to as "the land of the shadow of death..." and seems to magnify the hopelessness of this area. The "shadow of death" seemed to loom over the area and represents the fact that those living there had no desire to walk in this light. This is characteristic of our age where people have no desire for spiritual truth and justice. Jesus said, "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" (John 3:19-20).
"The people that walked in darkness" is a reference to the people living in the regions of "Zebulun" and "Naphtali" or, the Galileans in Jesus' day. The "people" of this region had "walked in darkness" for a long time. The "great light" is a prophetic reference to the coming of Christ and His ministry in Galilee, which is quoted in Matthew 4:15-16 and Luke 1:79. These people who had "walked in darkness" and in the "shadow of death," were suddenly given a "great light." This "great light" (Jesus Christ) will set them free and break their yoke of bondage, both physically and spiritually. So certain is Isaiah of this coming "light" that he speaks in past tense as if it had already happened.
As you think about the significance of what Isaiah is saying in these verses the hopelessness if obvious. Because of enemy invasions and their distance from temple and the capital the people were left in despair. They could not look forward to anything promising. The pursuit of life was constantly overshadowed by the emptiness and meaninglessness of life. Much like today people just lived in a land where everyone's opinion was treated as truth and life was about surviving one day at a time. But thank God in the midst of that "darkness" and "shadow of death" the "light" came.
"Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil."
The "nation" is Israel. God has "multiplied the nation" or made them great even in the midst of oppression and domination by other nations throughout history. The words in this verse are repeated confirmation by the Lord of His covenant with Abraham to multiply his descendants and by sending the "light" through them. By multiply them and using them to bring the "light" into the world, "men rejoice" or experience the same type of joy one would experience "in harvest" or when "they divide the spoil" of harvest.
Note: The statement "not increased the joy" seems to contradict the statements that follow in the verse. However, we know there are no contradictions in God's Word. The word "not" may be attributed to a misspelling of an ancient Hebrew word in translation. Obviously, the message of this verse is that God, by using Israel to bring Messiah (Jesus Christ) the light into the world, has caused great joy and brought hope to a hopeless people. "Joy" is used three times and "rejoice" once in this verse, so we know the text is not saying that God did not increase their joy. It is possible the word "not" properly spelled in translating from Hebrew would read "to it." If that is the case, the writer was saying "Thou hast multiplied the nation, and to it increased the joy..." This writer's inability to explain fully the word "not" in our Authorized Text does not suggest error in God's Word nor does it cause me to question the inerrancy of Scripture.
"For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian."
Again Isaiah speaks in the past tense as he gives a prophecy of a future event. The coming of the "great light" (v.2) shall break "yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor," indicating total victory of Jesus Christ over the enemies of His people. The "yoke" is a symbol of control. The "staff" represents a stick of control. The "rod" is symbolic of tyranny and political control. All of these items present an imagery of a people who were under the control and domination of others. This was true in Isaiah's day when God's people were under Assyrian control and it would be true in Jesus' day when the Jews were in Roman control.
"As in the day of Midian," is a reference to the days of Gideon when the Israelites were sorely afflicted and dominated by the Midianites (Judge 6-7). God saved the nation of Israel, not by her military ability, but by His own selection of a small company of men. In doing so Gideon, the men selected, and the nation had no choice but to glorify the Lord for His delivering power (Judges 7:2). Isaiah is saying that in the coming day, it will be all the Lord's action and power to deliver His people through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And when He does, mankind will know it is God and none other.
Isaiah's words are clear and saturated with meaning. What we seek to accomplish through religion, politics and our own power only puts us deeper into the chains and bondage of our spiritual enemies. Compare that truth with what is said of King Ahaz himself in 2 Chronicles 28:21, "For Ahaz took away a portion out of the house of the Lord, and out of the house of the king, and of the princes, and gave it unto the king of Assyria: but he helped him not." His self-efforts didn't help him. That is why people have no hope and the world is so depressed in hopelessness. Self help sounds so noble and so possible and yet it leaves sinful man without any hope. The only real hope is in Jesus Christ.
Christ Brings Peace to the Peaceless (Isaiah 9:5)
"For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire."
The first coming of Jesus Christ into the world at Bethlehem brought salvation to everyone who would believe. Multitudes have rejected the gospel of grace and nations and individuals continue to wage war upon one another. When Jesus Christ comes again the world will no longer need the accessories of warfare because a time of universal peace will follow the return of Christ. "But this shall be..." means it will happen.
War has "warriors...confused noise" and blood soaked "garments." And when the war is over all these accessories are destined for the "...burning and fuel of fire." Christ's coming will end the "need" of war for He has made a way to peace. His coming will end the "noise" of war for He has composed a song of redemption for sinners. His coming will bring an end to the "evidence" of war because all the implements will be burned." While we parade the instruments of war and build museums in which to display them, Isaiah says, "this shall be with burning and fuel of fire." This is consistent with what Isaiah has already prophesied in Isaiah 2:4, "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Christ Brings Government to the Ungovernable (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."
What every battle and war could never fix or bring to the world, Christ will bring. Some eight hundred years before Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, the prophet Isaiah looked forward and once again in past tense language spoke of a coming Somebody more powerful and potent than all man's sin and battles. Although King Ahaz refused to accept the "sign" given to him of this coming Child, He is a gift to us from God, a "child born" that will carry the "government...upon his shoulder.
Jesus Christ will be Governor, Ruler, and the ultimate King of this universe. His coming government will be personal for it is "unto us." One of the sad things about governments today is that they are often so remote, so far away. Elected leadership is supposed to stay close to their constituents but that rarely happens until election time. Because of Christ and His death on the cross the government of God is as close as your faith in Him. His coming government is experiental. We all wish we could say that we see hope for our nation and government in the future. But in all honesty we know that isn't going to happen. Isaiah said, "the government shall be upon his shoulder." By faith I can see that! The first time Jesus came He was the Servant who served, and His government was not visible except to His own few who trusted Him. But praise God the next time He comes, He will be the King who rules and all men will reverence Him and bow before Him.
His coming government will be continual, "there shall be no end." All presidents, governors, mayors, legislators, dictators, kings, and whoever reigns eventually die or see their kingdoms come to an end. But not Jesus! His kingdom is forever! And His coming government will be purposeful. "With judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever" He will rule. Men seek governing position for the position and powers sake alone. But God has granted His Son power for justice's sake.
How is all of this going to come about? "The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this." Nothing but the "zeal" or power of God could cause this to happen and bring this to pass. God will see to it that what He has promised will come to pass. What is promised for our future is not dependent upon us, but rather dependent upon Him!
Who is this "child" born? Who is this "son" given? The Gift-Child in this passage is certainly to be understood as the same person as the Immanuel who appeared earlier. This "Child" is none other than the virgin's son. He is the Son of David and the Son of God (Psalm 2:7). In contrast to the Syria and Ephraim alliance against Judah, this "Child" will bring deliverance to the people of God.
Isaiah gives a list in verse 6 of the names of Immanuel. These are more than just names in the modern sense, they are also attributes of the One to whom they are given. First, His name is "Wonderful, Counsellor." While appearing as two words in our English text, literally translated it is one word "Wonderful-Counselor." It means that Jesus Christ, God's righteous Lord is a wonder, a mysterious act of God, beyond human grasp. He is and has the very nature of God. This "child" to be born and this "son" that is given to rule the world is full of wonder and wisdom in his person and performance. Second, His name is "the mighty God." Elsewhere Isaiah calls "God" El Gibbor (Isaiah 10:21). Jeremiah also refers to God as "the mighty God" (Jeremiah 32:18). Isaiah calls the Messiah "the mighty God," the same name as God, thus clearly bearing witness to the deity of the Messiah. Christ the coming ruler is not a God-like hero, He is "mighty God." Third, His name is "the everlasting Father" which means, "Father of eternity." This means that Jesus Christ, the Messiah is eternal and paternal in relation to His people (Psalm 103:13). Fourth, Jesus is "the prince of peace." As stated clearly in verse 5 of our text, the government of Immanuel will secure and everlasting peace among the nations of the world (Isaiah 11:6-9; Micah 4:3). "Prince" is one qualified to rule. And certainly Jesus Christ is qualified and worthy to rule. "Peace" is the Hebrew word shalom and means so much more than just "absence of war." It also means "well-being, harmony within and without."
The prophet Isaiah looked at his own country and saw a need for hope and encouragement. He saw the spiritual darkness that engulfed many areas especially in the north around the Sea of Galilee. This area had been conquered by the enemy and become a melting pot of Jews and Gentiles. The situation looked hopeless as this area became a stronghold of darkness and spiritual death.
As we look at our own county we also see a need for hope and encouragement. Our country is saturated in the spiritual darkness of immorality, tolerance, and exaltation of self. The situation before us looks hopeless as well.
In the midst of the darkness of Isaiah's day he saw a light break forth. Hundreds of years later, when the apostles began to preach the resurrected Christ, this same area that Isaiah saw steeped in spiritual darkness and hopelessness, became the center of a great revival (Acts 8:5-8). No matter who you are and where you live, the light of Jesus Christ can make a difference. In the darkness of sin, you can find the light of personal forgiveness. In the darkness of ignorance, our nation can once again find her way if she will seek the light of God's wisdom.
Whatever darkness is overshadowing your life, ask Jesus to be the light that drives it away. He is the light of the world (John 9:5).
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