By Sam E. Stone
Today’s text is one most readers associate with the Christmas season. It pictures the coming of Jesus (the Messiah) into the world. Today we see it is also a prophecy that goes back long before that. To the original audience—the people to whom Isaiah spoke—it simply meant hope for the future.
Isaiah predicted the coming attacks of Assyria upon the nation (chapters 7-12). King Ahaz was inexperienced and fearful. Things did not look good for his people. Isaiah urged him to put his trust in the Lord, and even encouraged him to ask God for a sign (7:12). Ahaz refused to ask, but God went ahead and provided one anyway! The Lord said he would send Immanuel (see 7:14; Matthew 1:23) to deliver his people. The prophecy has a dual nature. In addition to speaking about Isaiah’s son, it spoke about captivity, deliverance, and future glory.
The region described in v. 1 is the northern portion of Ephraim (Israel). This area lies north and west of the Sea of Galilee. The hopeless darkness in which the people were living could be replaced if they chose to return to God. Years later Jesus himself preached and lived in this very area. A major highway of that day ran from Egypt to Damascus, going through this area; it was called “the way of the sea” (see Matthew 4:13-15). Jesus’ ministry here fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. He spoke of those who choose darkness rather than light (John 3:19-21). The Jewish people were living in hopeless night—but when Jesus came, he brought with him light (Matthew 4:16).
He brought hope as well, not just for those in the Galilee region, but for all oppressed people. The nation would increase in size. Harvest times would be marked with celebration. The defeat of Midian alludes to the time that Gideon had conquered these people years before (Judges 7:22-24). In similar fashion, God will destroy the Assyrian army and break their power over Israel (Isaiah 37:36-38). The Messiah will shatter the yoke that burdens them . . . the rod of their oppressor. When Jesus came to earth, the Hebrew people were under the heavy yoke of the Romans who occupied their land. The Messiah would bring an end to bloodshed and usher in a time of peace. J.A. Alexander wrote, “The destruction of the oppressing power will be followed by profound and universal peace. This is characteristic of Messiah’s reign, both internal and external, in society at large and in the hearts of his people.” God still watches over his own.
The king for whom Israel has been longing and waiting is announced. Only he can deliver every soul from bondage, and provide peace in the heart of every man. The birth of a child marks the beginning of this new reign. This son is the coming Immanuel (see Isaiah 7:14; 8:1, 8, 10). He will be the absolute ruler of the entire world. All rule and dominion will be on his shoulders (see Matthew 28:18). One of the most moving descriptions of Jesus in all of Scripture follows. Four sets of names are used: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Although the term Wonderful can be taken as a separate name (thinking of his miracles), it seems better to take it as describing a wise leader. The Wonderful Counselor will have a reign that will cause all of the earth to marvel.
In addition, he will be known as Mighty God. He will be a divine child (John 1:1). His power as a warrior is stressed here also. He is known as Everlasting Father as well. This expression only occurs here in the Old Testament. He is the eternal provider and protector. His care for his people will never cease. Literally he is “Father of eternity.” He alone can give the gift of eternal life to others. The final term is a key description of the Messiah—Prince of Peace. While earthly kings cause war, the heavenly king brings peace. Christ can bring peace between God and man, peace between man and man, and peace between man and his conscience.
Jesus will reign eternally on David’s throne. This fulfills the promise given to David years before (2 Samuel 7:11-16). Under his reign, all of earth’s wrongs will be made right. Justice and righteousness (will be found) from that time on and forever. The Lord is always righteous and just. He alone can bring “light for darkness, joy for sorrow, liberty for oppression, and peace for strife.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.