Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Isaiah 9: 4-7

For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,
The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

This is going to be an interesting post. I say that because even though it contains one of the most oft-quoted passages of Scripture for this upcoming season, I find myself reading it with new eyes. I've spent enough time with the prophets, thinking about their call and how they carried it out, that I'm starting to see this more from the point-of-view of the prophecy's first audience. That's good for my understanding, but, knowing how Judah and the nation of Israel have yet to come around to the true knowledge of the passage makes reading this not nearly as exciting as it should have been, perhaps.

Last week's passage left off with a time of celebration and thanksgiving, with God being the One celebrated and thanks being given to Him for what He had done. Celebrate "as men rejoice when they divide the spoil." (vs. 3) The next verse picks up with similar thoughts, as the people will celebrate as conquerors because God has broken the yoke of their oppression. (vs. 4) God had freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and He would do it again in breaking the yoke of the nation's ties to foreign nations. They would not be in alliance with them nor would they be held in captivity by them. More figuratively, God would also break the yoke of the Law, once and for all, in the manifestation of His Son as King upon this earth. The invitation for yoke-breakage is available now:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
--Jesus speaking in Matthew 11: 28-30 

Before we leave verse 4, just a note on the reference to the "battle at Midian." This is the story of Gideon's victory over the Midianites, as mediated by God. (You can read this wonderful account of God's hand and provision in Judges 7.) Such a trust Gideon had built up through God's working in him. God also helped him to understand that the battle truly does belong to the Lord, and success comes through Him and not the power of the people alone. Judah needed to hear that message again in light of its kings and its kings' ways.

"If God makes former deliverances his patterns in working for us, we ought to make them our encouragements to hope in him and to seek to him."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Love Matthew Henry! Feel like you don't see God at work? Sometimes, it's just a matter of looking to the past and remembering. This is advice passed down through the generations back to Abraham. How many times does God tell people in His Word to remember?

Verse 5 continues on the theme of battle, speaking of a time of no war, as the boots and cloaks of warfare will be burned. According to the Reformation Study Bible, "The debris left from battle can be removed and burned when the fighting stops." "Every boot," the passage says will be available for burning. A time of ultimate peace was coming, and it would come through the sign that Isaiah revealed in Chapter 7.

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel."
--Isaiah 7:14
As we go through these phrases, try to put yourselves in the shoes of the first hearers. What were their impressions of this prophecy? Not trying to be cynical. Just remembering what it was like not to know the Truth.

"A child is born...a son will be given"--Isaiah revealed the sign of the Lord, that a newborn son would usher in an era of unknown and lasting peace. From Chapter 7, we know his name is Immanuel, which means God with us. Every name in Hebrew is significant. But were the people thinking literally or that this was just the announcement of another birth of a son, born under very unusual [unexplainable] circumstances?

"Government will rest on His shoulders"--With the addition of this phrase, it now suggests that Isaiah is announcing the arrival of another king. Good news or same-old/same-old? Later, in verse 7, he says that this king will be "on the throne of David." Would that create a flurry of activity as present-day family members were sought for clues and details? Despite his shortcomings, David was still an honored name as far as kings went. "Justice and righteousness" would be established and upheld. (vs. 7) The longing for a good and proper king would be fulfilled. I can see how anyone in the nation of Israel at that time would be anxious for restoration of government. But, did anyone understand that this King's kingdom was not known of this world?

"Wonderful Counselor"--This phrase denotes a thoughtful wisdom. All kings should possess this quality, and smart Judeans should have questioned King Ahaz's counsel, especially in conspiring with nations that would ultimately defeat and haul away the homeland. Did anyone suspect that the King to come would truly display signs and wonders, not to mention the wisdom of the ages?

"Mighty God"--Strength! This king would not be a wimp. But, Judah would not understand that it was literally God who would be--and should have always been--its King. Had they only embraced His power and might in seeking Him sooner.... Would this king be a mighty warrior, like a Gideon or David or Joshua, or would they understand that He would come with the might to save them for all eternity?

"Eternal Father"--Looking at the line of kings, they were fathers, but many not great fathers. What would an "eternal" father have looked like to them? Did they understand that God the Father had been their Father from the beginning of time and was providing them an eternal salvation? Maybe so, yet this eternal salvation would come not through their own efforts or merit or history, but through the giving of His Son, the child born?

"The Jewish nation, and particularly the house of David, were preserved many a time from imminent ruin only because that blessing was in them. What greater security therefore could be given to the church of God then that it should be preserved, and be the special care of the divine Providence, than this, that God had so great a mercy in reserve for it?"
 --Matthew Henry

"Prince of Peace"--King and Prince? A champion of peace? In a nation that to this very day continues to be warring, could Israel accept the arrival of a Prince of Peace?
"As a King, he preserves the peace, commands peace, nay, he creates peace, in his kingdom. He is our peace, and it is his peace that both keeps the hearts of his people and rules in them. He is not only a peaceable prince, and his reign peaceable, but he is the author and giver of all good, all that peace which is the present and future bliss of his subjects."
--Matthew Henry

This was a kingdom that would have no end to its increase or its peace. (vs. 7) Unheard of, right? So many things desired. So much to put one's hope toward. But, what is Isaiah really saying? When? Who? Really?! Given the political climate and worldview of the day, it strikes me, not surprisingly, that people missed it. Even with the heritage, the covenants, the promises, the teachings.... They were still looking to fill holes on the outside instead of those in the inside. What do you think?

But, if you do believe, you know that hearing these words of prophecy throughout this Advent season is a source of great comfort, encouragement, hope and joy!

"'...Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.'"
--Luke 2: 10-14

"God's anger with Israel's arrogance." 'Til next Wednesday.... 

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Next week: Isaiah 9: 8-12

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).