- Darkness and Light
- No Joy?
- Other Translations
- Who is the Oppressor?
- A Messianic Prophecy
- Related (External) Posts
- A Message for Israel
- Why is God Angry?
- Brick vs. Stone
- Sycamore vs. Cedar
- Syria and Palestine
- Head and Tail
- Ephraim and Manasseh
- Anger and Compassion
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
I'm not sure why whomever split the books into chapters and verses chose this place to break Isaiah 8 into Isaiah 9, because Isaiah 9:1 is a direct continuation of Isaiah 8:22. Isaiah goes on to explain and describe the dimness (or darkness) that comes upon Israel. Darkness always represents spiritual deprivation and turning away from God. God is light, so as long as we look toward Him we can never be in darkness.
The chapter goes on to give us a bit of prophecy, specifically Messianic prophecy, and some harsh words for Israel, that still apply to us today.
Darkness and Light
Isaiah 9 starts off talking about the darkness set to come over Israel, but promises that it won't be as bad as the one in the northern kingdom. Remember that God is light, so darkness must mean the absence of God. It is not a literal darkness. Knowing this makes me wonder about end times passages on the darkening of the Sun, moon, and stars—is this just a symbolic way of saying that God's presence will be missing from the world? We'll look into those verses when we get there, but I wanted to point out the importance of connecting scripture to scripture.
The next couple verses are not as straight forward. God says that even though they have increased in multitude and built the nation, they haven't increased in joy. Or have they? This is one of those passages that greatly differs between translations. Isaiah 9:3 KJV says the opposite of Isaiah 9:3 ESV.
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.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
I think I've talked about how the Bible was translated before—one day I'll add a post specifically on this topic—but let's revisit the topic for a moment. Translations are generated using one of two methods: word for word or thought for thought. Although word for word tends to read more harshly and is can be difficult to understand due to the nuances of language, thought for thought requires more of the translator interjecting their interpretation. The KJV and ESV are both considered word for word translations, while the NIV is considered a thought for thought translation. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum are translations like The Message, in which everything is basically paraphrased.
So why does the ESV still differ from the KJV in meaning here?
This particular difference is about how the translators decided to handle a note in the margins of the "original" manuscript, known as the Masoretic Text (I say "original" because the Bible was continually copied by the scribes to be preserved, so the Masoretic Text is really a copy of the original). The KJV follows what is written directly in the text, while most other translations follow the note in the margins.
What you get from this verse depends on which translation you trust. Both can actually make sense, which is probably why scholars can't figure out which is more accurate.
In the KJV, the understanding hinges on who the people in Isaiah 9:2 are and who the nation in Isaiah 9:3 is. When I first read the passage I assumed the people and the nation were the people of Israel. In that case, the translation doesn't actually make sense; why isn't there joy? However, if we go to Matthew 4:12-17 we see the fulfillment of this prophecy. Jesus is the light given to the people and the people are the Jews. At this time, Israel was occupied and oppressed by Rome. Scholars who favor the KJV translation argue that the nation that is increased is Rome, who is oppressing Israel, which is why they (the people of Israel) do not have joy.
If you believe the nation mentioned in Isaiah 9:3 is still referring to Israel, you'd be more inclined to go with the other translations that proclaim increased joy. This fits the prophecy and timing of Matthew 4 if you consider that Jesus began a message to expand God's nation beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. Thus, His nation did increase. Due to the heavy persecution that followed, I'm not sure how we reconcile the idea that joy increased, unless this is meant for the time after the kingdom comes (Matthew 4:17).
Who is the Oppressor?
Isaiah 9:4-5 talks about about the defeat of an oppressor, which I found interesting. It could reference a literal nation, like Babylon or Rome. However, given the fulfillment of the prophecy in Matthew 4, I'm inclined to think it references the devil. Jesus released us from the yoke of slavery (burden) and defeated Satan (the oppressor). Further, He paid the price with blood just as the verse says. Ultimately that battle ends in fire, also as stated in the passage.
I think it's also important to point out that the battle Isaiah is pointing us back to is in Judges 6 and 7. Gideon defeats the powerful Midian army by the grace of God, because Israel was sorely outnumbered. Similarly, we can not win the battle against sin on our own; it is only through Jesus' sacrifice that we are able to overcome.
A Messianic Prophecy
As I said earlier, Isaiah provides us with quite of few Messianic prophecies—one reason why I'm taking my time with these chapters.
Isaiah 9:6-7 provide us with a few pieces of information of the promised Messiah.
The table below summarizes the prophecies given by Isaiah and show their fulfillment in Jesus. Disclaimer: some versions of the text place a comma between Wonderful and Counselor identifying them as distinct names, while other translations do not have a comma, implying one name. The original text would not have had commas at all, thus it is difficult to say which translation is correct. In the table, I separated them.
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.
Male child, born to the Israelites
Government on His shoulders
Called Mighty God
Called Everlasting Father
Called Prince of Peace
Descendant of David
Random information: Fred Hammond placed these verses in the chorus of his song "His Name is Jesus." (I love songs that are basically just scripture set to music)
Related (External) Posts
- "What does it mean that Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)?"
- "What does it mean that Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)?"
- "What is the meaning of “Everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9:6?"
- "Jesus: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" — Note: this person relates the passage to Christmas, which as I've covered on my blog, has more to do with secular consumerism and paganism than Jesus' birth. Nonetheless, I agree with their point that if you are going to celebrate Christmas as Jesus' birthday, you should consider this passage to remember Who He is and where He came from.
- "When and Where Does Christ Sit Upon the Throne of David?"
A Message for Israel
God prefaces the next passage as a message for all of Israel, both the northern (Samaria) and southern (Judah) kingdoms.
Why is God Angry?
Obviously, God is angry with Israel. Unlike some of us, God is a master at communicating His feelings. He doesn't act without cause or become enraged without explanation. Isaiah 9:13 and 16 tell us exactly why God is upset with Israel. The people have turned away from God and the leaders are corrupt, leading the people into sin. How can you have a righteous people with unrighteous leaders? I remind myself of this every time I see an unruly child in a store; the child doesn't know any better because their parents haven't taught them better.
This message is especially important to us today. When you see what happens within the church, you can't be surprised that people are turning their backs on God. From allegations of sexual abuse, to evangelicals supporting various politicians who endorse sexual assault, racism, and classism. We even have several denominations endorsing behaviors that are identified as sins. With all this confusion, how is the average person supposed to know who God is or what He stands for? If you've never been taught properly, it's easy to turn away from God without even knowing you're doing so.
God doesn't just condemn the behavior, He calls them hypocrites. To be a hypocrite, they must have been judging others and holding others to standards they couldn't keep themselves. This sounds a lot like the Pharisees, and the Pharisees sound a lot like us today.
In the past month, there was a incident where a friend of mine said something that could be taken two different ways—one, the way she actually meant it and two, in a suggestive manner. A mutual friend continued the statement with something equally ambiguous but led the group of us to think on the second meaning. Because the conversation happened at a church event, there was a discussion about how it should have been handled. While some people were adamant that the mutual friend should be reprimanded, many of us realized that it would be hypocritical of us to condemn that person without taking blame as well. We all thought on the same page; we were no better or worse than the person who stirred the pot.
It takes a lot of maturity, both spiritually and in general, to see the wrong we've committed. It's easy to point fingers at other people; in fact, sometimes we point fingers to make ourselves feel better about our own sins. It's important to be aware of this flaw we all have. When I find myself praying for others because I think they're caught in sin, I take the time to pray for myself as well, because I'm probably in sin too. With each prayer, I ask God to show me my own faults and as I see my own faults, I become less critical of others.
Have you ever heard fire makes a field grow better? Well, I grew up on a farm and we often burned the field to yield better grass for the cattle. When you read God's plans for Israel, it sounds very similar.
First God mentions that brick would be thrown down and hewn stone will replace it. Then, He states that sycamores will fall, but cedars will replace them. I think it's pretty evident God is saying whatever is built to replace destruction will be stronger, but I couldn't help feel that there was more to it. Probably because the Bible constantly talks about "the corner stone." From Job (Job 38:6) to Psalms (Psalm 118:22), even later in Isaiah (Isaiah 28:16), and all the way into the New Testament (Mark 12:10, Acts 4:11, Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:6-7), we see references to the corner stone. That corner stone is Jesus.
Brick vs. Stone
This leads me to question the spiritual significance of the hewn stones versus the brick it replaces. I looked up references to brick in the Bible and they all seem connected to sin and oppression. In Genesis 11:3, the people are using brick to build the Tower of Babel. Exodus 1:14 and Exodus 5, talk about the Israelites being forced to make brick while enslaved in Egypt.
On the other hand in, Genesis 28:11-22 Jacob uses stones for a pillow (comfort) and an altar (worship). There are other places in Genesis where stone is used for a monument or pillar marking something God has done. Further, in Exodus 4:25, Zipporah uses a stone to circumcise her and Moses' son to be in accordance with the covenant and pacify God's anger. In Exodus 20:25, God requests an altar of stone. There are, of course, countless references to stoning. It seems that stones are used in conjunction with righteousness and dispelling sin.
Sycamore vs. Cedar
Next, God says the sycamores would fall but they would be replaced with cedars. Cedars were clearly more valuable to God because in Leviticus 14, we find the Israelites using cedars to construct the Temple. Let's think about the differences between the two trees for a moment. Sycamore trees are deciduous and have a typical "tree shape" (a trunk at the bottom with the leaves and branches up top). Cedars on the other hand are evergreens and the branches/leaves cover the entirety of the base (unless a human trims the bottom branches).
Spiritually, we want to be like the cedar. Think about the armor of God spoken of in the New Testament. Do you want it just protecting your torso up, or your whole body? Think about the fruits of the Spirit. So you want to bear them only during the Spring and Summer, or do you want to bring forth these fruits all the time? God's message in replacing the sycamore with the cedar was that He would eliminate the wishy-washy nation of believers and replace it with a nation of strong, unchanging believers.
Syria and Palestine
The coming destruction seems to be led by Syria and the Philistines. Remember that Syria and the Philistines were pagan nations. The only time pagan nations were able to defeat God's people is when they went into battle without God. This is a powerful message because it holds today. When we walk with God, we are protected, but the moment we turn our back on Him, the enemy's armies will swarm us from every direction and we will lose.
Head and Tail
14 Therefore the Lord will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, in one day. 15 The ancient and honourable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.
I often hear people quote Deuteronomy 28:13 to speak on prosperity and success—of course, they often leave out the latter portion of the verse about following the commandments. When you get to Isaiah 9:14-15, it becomes a little more obvious why the latter part of Deuteronomy 28:13 is important.
Throughout the Bible, there are references to "the head" and "the tail" (see Revelation 9:19; Revelation 12:4; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 11:3). It's easy for us to make the connection that "head" refers to a position of power or elevated status, therefore "tail" must refer to a lower station. What we often miss is the spiritual significance of the phrase.
Isaiah 9:15 makes it glaringly obvious that it isn't just about prosperity or success, but about who's side you're fighting on.
In Revelation 9, an army of horsemen is sent out to kill a third of mankind; Revelation 9:19 not only tells us that their power is in their tail, but the tail is likened to a serpent. Later, in Revelation 12:4, we see the dragon (Satan) use his tail to cast down one third of the stars (angels) to Earth. Just as Isaiah 9:15 tells us that the tail is associated with a false prophet, Revelation links the tail with the devil and rebellious activity. It's important to make this connection, because while we know that rebellion against God will eventually be punished, that's not to say these people won't appear to be living prosperous lives. A quick glance at the history of the world will make it look like the devil is winning, but in truth, he's being backed into a corner to face his ultimate demise. The same is true of false prophets and those living in rebellion against God.
If the tail represents the devil, you probably already guessed Christ to be the head. Ephesians 4:15 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 explicitly tell us that Christ is the head. The head represents allegiance to God, hence the clause in Deuteronomy 28:13 about obeying the commandments. Our decision to follow God probably won't look like being "the head" in the worldly sense—wealth, fame, power, etc. Instead, we should remember that many of our rewards come after judgement day.
Now that we know what the head and tail represent, let's talk about the significance of God cutting both off from Israel.
My initial thought was that eventually there has to be a divide. At some point in time, people will have to make an absolute choice between God and the world. As societal norms become increasingly more sinful, it becomes increasingly harder to live in our society. You can't just go along with the flow or participate in these behaviors! Naturally, the head and tail must be severed from each other for each to continue in their own way.
However, in this verse the severing isn't between the two opposing sides—Israel seems to be cut off from both. If we continue the to the next verse and pull in verses like Revelation 12:3, we can understand more clearly. Isaiah 9:16 tells us that the leaders ("the head") of the people were corrupt and leading them astray. Revelation 12:3 shows us that the beast (antichrist) has multiple heads. This is relevant for two reasons. First, the devil is trying to replace the true head (Christ) with himself. Second, the reason there are so many heads and horns is because there are many powers acting as head. You see God is one; there is no disagreement between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise, when we submit to His will, there is only one head. However, the devil is about confusion, and when we chose his ways instead of God's, we typically try to do our own thing. "Do what thou wilt" is in fact a satanic motto. We see the struggle between different powers in our world all the time. Whether the pastor is striving with deacons, or whether two countries are striving with each other, there cannot be multiple heads without conflict.
This is why God has to separate Israel from both the head and the tail. Their head wasn't Christ; it was toxic and not the head He established. Meanwhile the devil (the tail) was tempting them into sin. For Israel to find their way back to God and the true head, both influences needed to be removed.
What's worse than a cannibal? Someone who eats their own flesh! That seems to be what Isaiah 9:19 is suggesting the Israelites will become.
Although some cultures are said to have practiced cannibalism as though it were normal, the practice is mostly associated with witchcraft and desperation. In fact, God foretells of Israel becoming so desperate in battle that they would resort to cannibalism in Jeremiah 19:9.
More recently, cannibalism was a problem on the Eastern Front of World War II. The battle of Leningrad and Japanese war crimes are two documented instances of cannibalism occurring. Looking at these cases it becomes obvious that cannibalism can only occur when people are acting in rebellion to God.
Much like the battle foretold in Jeremiah 19 (see also 2 Kings 6:28-29 and Deuteronomy 28:53), the battle of Leningrad forced citizens into starvation. Residents of the city had to decide if they would allow themselves to starve or if they would survive by any means necessary. Human nature doesn't lean toward suicide, so unless you're suffering from depression, you'll do all that you can to survive. That means eating whatever you can get your hands on to keep from starving. What makes this tragic isn't the desire to survive, but the fact that we place people in this predicament. Is it not a war crime to starve out a city of civilians? Can you imagine Jesus having a dispute with the Pharisees, cornering them, and cutting them off from their food supply for over two years? Of course not, because that type of behavior is not of God!
The Japanese, on the other hand, weren't always starving when they committed cannibalism. Instead, it was some sort of victory, team-building ritual among troops. I don't have to explain why that's evil and not of God, do I?
In Isaiah, I don't think God is speaking of literally eating one's own flesh, but evoking the nature and desperation of cannibalism, maybe turned up a notch. In this case I think the underlying issue is tied to greed (during war, the issue was power). Isaiah tells us that people are so busy taking from their left and right, they end up taking from themselves. Whether you are harming others or literally stealing from them, you eventually do harm to yourself, which is why Isaiah likens this to eating your own flesh. All these cases stem from coveting, which is condemned in the 10 commandments—coveting land, power, wealth, etc.
Isaiah 9:20 is a warning to us not let ourselves fall victim to this behavior.
Ephraim and Manasseh
Isaiah 9:21 mentions Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, whom Jacob blessed. They are 2 of the 12 Tribes of Israel and became part of the northern kingdom. In Judges 11-12, Ephraim starts a civil war in the northern kingdom because they felt slighted from being left out of a battle. Isaiah is telling us that they would rejoin the northern kingdoms, specifically Manasseh, against the southern kingdom of Judah.
We could dwell on the significance of those tribes, but I want to talk about the implications of passage instead. The beautiful thing about referring to nations and tribes by these names is that we can easily trace them back to their progenitor. In this case, we see two brothers (Ephraim and Manasseh) are coming together to fight or destroy their third brother (Judah). This has implications in our home life as well as our spiritual life.
Often, it is family that we strive with the most. Whether we are envious of siblings (this goes all the way back to Cain and Abel), or simply don't get along, there is usually tension between siblings and it can lead to dire consequences. Spiritually, everyone in the Body of Christ is our brother or sister. Have you ever noticed that many of the church's problems come from in house? Discord is sown between members and before you know it this family is allied with these families against another family. That's not what God wanted for His people. We have to be careful not to let the devil divide and conquer within the Body of Christ.
Anger and Compassion
Isaiah finishes the chapter with a word of hope. In all of this, God's hand is still stretched out. This means Israel always has the chance to repent and turn back to God. In the New Testament, Jesus tell us to forgive people 70 times 7 times—that's 490 times! That's a lot of forgiveness don't you think? Well, it may be hard for us to fathom, but God exemplifies all that He commands of us. Throughout His warning to Israel, there is a continual reminder that His hand is still outstretched. This means Israel is free to repent and turn back to Him at any time during their punishment. Just like your parents don't stop loving you because they have to punish you, God doesn't stop loving us either. He wants us to come back. So know, no matter what you've done in the past, God's hand is still stretched out, waiting for you to grab it and return to Him.
References and Footnotes
- "Did one third of the angels fall with Lucifer?". GotQuestions.org; visited April 2018
- "Bible Translation Guide". Mardel Christian Bookstores; visited May 2018
- ""Not increased the joy" or "Increased the joy" in Isaiah 9:3?". KJV Today; visited May 2018
- "Cannibalism". Encyclopædia Britannica. February 9, 2018
- Terry McCarthy. "Japanese troops 'ate flesh of enemies and civilians'". Independent. August 11, 1992
- Volker Wagener. "Leningrad: The city that refused to starve in WWII". Deutsche Welle. August 9, 2016
- Jacobe Grace. "Why Do Farmers Burn Their Fields?". Harvest Public Media. April 21, 2015
Other Pages to View