“Light from Darkness”
December 6, 2015
We who live in a dark world have nonetheless seen a great light.
I. Darkness Ended (Isaiah 9:1-2)
II. Warfare Ended (Isaiah 9:3-5)
III. The Prince of Peace Given (Isaiah 9:6-7)
When we last left our story it was dark. We talked last week in Isaiah 8 about fear, about embracing man’s fears or embracing the fear of the Lord. We said that as we move from the world to the Word we move from darkness to light. That’s the direction of movement Isaiah desires: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” “20To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” We can move from the fearmongering world to the promises of the Word.
But that is not the direction Isaiah pictures his people moving even after this warning. “They have no dawn. They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.” Notice that those who will not turn from the world to the Word get all the things they fear, distress and hunger in particular. Their world eventually falls apart, despite their best efforts to identify the conspiracies around them, despite their listening to the voices of the world, the mediums and the necromancers who mutter and chirp.
And the end of these things is darkness. A culture that despises God and his Word moves from light to darkness. This is what happened to Israel. In Isaiah’s day they made, again, the choice to trust idols and the pagan nations around them. The result was the destruction of Israel and the captivity of Judah and the tyranny of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, Greeks and Romans. It is true that a remnant returned from exile, having learned that only allegiance to the One True God was of any value, but their nation was never restored to its former place and sovereignty. And worse, in the years after the Exile God left His people in silence. There was no new revelation for 400 years from Malachi to Jesus. They had chosen darkness and the darkness endured and in that darkness they received no light.
But darkness has always been the end point of man’s words and man’s ways. Thomas Hobbes was a 17th century philosopher, though his name is most famous as the tiger in Calvin and Hobbes. He talked about man in his natural state, and coined the phrase ‘nasty, brutish and short,’ which isn’t the name of an unpleasant law firm, but a description of man without government, though many theologians have recognized it as a description of man without God.
Hobbes says. "Therefore whatever the consequences of a time of war, when every man is enemy to every man; the same are consequences of a time when men live with no other security than what their own strength, and their own invention provide.” He says the result is no industry, no agriculture, no trade, no building, no transportation, no knowledge, “no arts; no letters; no society; and worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death. And the life of man? Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
If you look around the world today you see that in places from Nepal to Syria to Ferguson Missouri, the life of man tends to be continual fear, violent death, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. There is common grace so that in some places and times the remnant of the nobility in man is displayed and the life of man is lifted up. Good government and culture, as Hobbes would affirm, can help. There can be times of prosperity and even peace. But even there, inwardly most people are walking in darkness and in sin against each other and with rebellious fists raised in the face of God. Even in the best of times, which these are not, individuals live with relational hurts, with sickness and death, with sin and its consequences, with doubt and despair and darkness.
That’s the condition Isaiah saw at the end of chapter 8: They have no dawn, they are thrust into darkness. But chapter 8 isn’t the last word. Chapter 9, this beautiful Christmas prophecy, is the answer to chapter 8. Isaiah 9:1-2 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Israel, the northern kingdom, suffered an earlier and in many ways crueler fate than Judah, the southern kingdom. Judah went into exile, 70 years in Babylon, but then a remnant came back to the land and they even rebuilt the temple and kept alive the promises of God. But Israel was conquered by Assyria in 723 B.C. and there was no return for them. They were dispersed among the nations and though Jewish communities survived this dispersion, the tribes of the northern kingdom, Naphtali and Zebulon and Asher and Dan and the six others were never restored. There were Jews in Galilee, but many, like Joseph and Mary, were from Judean stock. There were no tribes in Galilee.
And yet God makes a promise for Galilee, by the lake, the former homeland of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. Once they had no dawn and were thrust into darkness, distressed and hungry, but now, he says “there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.” God has a plan to give his people light again.
And it’s not just the people of Galilee, though that’s the focus of this prophecy. “In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” "The way of the sea" refers to the trade route along Israel’s coastline, and "Galilee of the Gentiles" is another way of saying Zebulon and Naphtali. Israel’s kings had already ceded much of this land to the Gentiles, and soon Assyria would cruelly conquer it.
But these lands, the first to feel the wrath of the Assyrian warrior's boot, would be the first to see the new and great light God would focus on Israel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” This is called the prophetic past: to the prophet these events are so certain that they can be spoken of as already having happened. Matthew saw these two verses fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus in Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. But Luke saw the same verses fulfilled in Jesus’ birth. Zechariah prophecies that because of the tender mercy of our God, the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
This imagery of darkness and light is one of the Bible’s key ways of talking to the fallen world, to all of us who are living in the darkness of sin and separation from God, in a world of continual fear, and danger of violent death; solitary, poor, often nasty and brutish. Into this darkness, John tells us, God has sent his light, the light of Jesus: “In him was life and this life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has been unable to extinguish it.” This is the imagery of Christmas: into our darkness the incarnation has brought light, and we receive that light, and the forgiveness of our sins, and new life by believing in the one God has sent. He says “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
This is a personal promise to every person whose world is dark, whether the darkness is a result of your own sin, or the relationships in your family, or the disease and death that wring us out and wear us down, or the doubt and despair that Satan’s lies infiltrate into our mind, or just the weariness of work and financial pressure. Jesus comes as light into this darkness and calls us to trust in him.
Verses 3-5 say that in our warfare the Son comes to give peace. 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. 4For the yoke of his burden, the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
The sense of joy that entered the prophecy in verses 1 and 2, turns into praise as the nation, in the future, rejoices before God. The multiplication of the nation pre-supposes peace and prosperity. Both the farmer and the soldier rejoice when their work goes well, and these illustrate the joy that will come to God's people. The soldier one may strike you as blood-thirsty, but even in Isaiah 53, the description of the suffering servant who bore our sins, God promises that “I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” The messiah himself will rejoice to take away the enemy’s spoil.
In verse 4 the pronoun ‘him’ refers, I believe, to the people of God, to the nation of Israel and to us. We have been rescued from the yoke, the staff and the rod of our oppressor, from Satan, sin and death, just as Israel’s oppressor Midian was defeated in the days of the Judges. Isaiah may have chosen this example because in Gideon’s day, by the hand of a few, a mighty oppressor was defeated. The same rescue would be needed from the Assyria, and an even more miraculous rescue is needed from our enemies, Satan and sin, from our prison of darkness and despair. We are given peace by one man acting alone.
Isaiah uses vivid pictures to describe this peace. The boot of the soldier that trampled Israel's people, his garment soaked with the blood of the slain would now be collected and burned as fuel. In chapter 2 God had promised that the Messiah would judge between the nations, and bring peace: “they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” War and bloodshed will cease. Our media, if we have media in eternity, will not bring us these horrors. But this is also personal peace, as Isaiah says in chapter 26: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” That’s the promise to us who believe and trust. We have peace.
Like so many Biblical promises this is ‘now and not yet,’ or really, ‘not yet and not yetter.’ The Messiah would defeat the darkness of personal sin and separation from God in his first coming, by his death and resurrection. But not until his second coming would he defeat the war and bloodshed and misery that we associate with this fallen world. The wars of Syria and Sudan will cease, the bloodshed of radical Islam and drug violence will be no more, the violence of the thief and the mentally unhinged will be over, even the conflicts of husband and wife, parent and child will be gone. The deadly forces of nature itself will be transformed in a new creation moment. It’s a promise for us now, and for the physical land of Israel, but not yet, and for the whole world, but not yet.
Finally, Isaiah does something even more prophetically amazing in verses 6 and 7. He introduces us to the one who would come to make these things so:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
A child will be born, a son will be given, the promised Messiah-King, to rescue from darkness and oppression. This is the virgin’s child of Isaiah 7. But the key Old Testament idea about the messiah is that he will be the perfect ruler, who will establish David's throne forever. So Isaiah boldly makes the statement “a child will be born, a son will be given,” but the government, the sovereignty, the rule, will be on his shoulders. Isaiah gives him a series of titles which spell out his perfect suitability. If you want good government, whether you’re Israel or Thomas Hobbes, you have to find a person like this. If you want someone who is perfectly suited to be your Lord and your Ruler, find someone like this. If you want someone to reign on the throne of the world, here’s your man.
First, he is Wonderful Counselor or Wonderful and Counselor: it's not clear in the Hebrew. This doesn’t mean Jesus is a psychologist, though he certainly helps people more than most psychology. But it means that when the time comes to decide what to do, to make wise decisions concerning the rule of Israel or the rule of your life, He will always know what to do. Gail pointed out to me the other morning that the NET Bible translates these two words as ‘extraordinary strategist.’ This child has the wisdom to govern and his strategies never fail.
Second, He is Mighty God: Not one who is like god, not just having power like God, but God himself, and mighty. I'm not saying Isaiah had full understanding of the Trinity. But Isaiah had already prophesied the virgin birth of “Immanuel,” God with us. It’s no surprise, then, that the same person who can be called "God with us" can also be called "Mighty God"
But it’s a wonderful paradox that this child is Mighty God. Children are weak and helpless. Certainly the babe born in Bethlehem had no earthly power or might. He was born in poverty and obscurity. But he was Mighty God, come to do the mightiest thing that ever God would do, to bear sin and wrath and gain for us that victory. The tribes of Israel didn’t need to stay in darkness, because it was ‘Mighty God’ who promised light. We don’t need to stay in the darkness and slavery of sin, because ‘Mighty God’ has redeemed us. And this world, in which there is war and sin and disaster does not need to despair. A day is coming when ‘Mighty God’ will descend from heaven with a shout to make all things new, all darkness light, and turn all mourning into dancing.
In an even more lovely paradox, this child is also "Everlasting Father." How can this be? How can the Son be called the Father? I’ve been using the Dallas Theological Seminary advent devotional, and just as I came to this phrase, that devotional came in my e-mail, asking the same question. Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla, professor of pastoral ministries, says “I recently realized there was one particular facet of our Lord Jesus that I had not paid much attention to—especially at Christmastime. It’s our Savior’s title from Isaiah 9:6—”Eternal Father.” Eternal Father? Isn’t Jesus the Son? The key,” he says, “is that these titles do not focus primarily on the Child’s deity, but on His function. “Wonderful Counselor” indicates Jesus’ sovereign design—He’s the Planning One. “Mighty God” stands for God who fights as a warrior: Jesus fought for our redemption—He’s the Fighting One. “Prince of Peace” depicts Jesus as the One whose reign alone brings peace—He’s the Ruling One. Since these are primarily functional titles, then so is “Eternal Father”—He’s the Fatherly One. This Child is the Eternal Fatherly One, our Savior, who loves us and gave Himself for us. Everyone else’s fatherhood is self-tainted, but His fatherhood is self-sacrificial. Every other father is inadequate. Not this One. Everyone else’s fatherhood is temporary; His is eternal. This Child is fatherly to us, and fatherly to us forever. His love for us will never end.” The only thing I would add is that Jesus himself said that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father. Since he was fully God he could represent the Father fully.
Finally, he is the Prince of Peace. Where the Messiah comes to reign there is peace. The longing of Israel through all this period and all the years of her exile was to be able to dwell in peace and safety. That’s our longing also - that our hearts would be at peace with ourselves, with our circumstances, and with our God. That our world would be at peace under his reign. Jesus answers that longing. We’ve already seen in this series that when we take our anxieties to him and focus our hearts on his beauty we receive not only peace, but the God of Peace. The Prince of Peace is with us. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” But in that end he will bring peace to the whole of creation.
Verse 7 emphasizes the Messiah’s eternal reign. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” The promise to David and Solomon that an everlasting kingdom would be established from their line had never been forsaken. The Messiah would be that king who would far exceed every king in his justice and his righteousness. And unlike every other king and ruler and authority, this king would reign forever and ever. Jesus will reign with justice and righteousness. He will establish peace forever. He is that kind of ruler, worthy to be our Lord.
Now, has all this prophecy been totally fulfilled? No. The physical fulfillment of his reign and his throne and his kingdom waits until he returns again and establishes it. The kingdom is not yet fully come. But it will come. The last phrase is our assurance: the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish it. This is a promise signed and sealed by God. He’s passionate about it and he always keeps his promises. The Kingdom comes. It cannot fail.
Hobbes said that mankind with no government leads a life that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. But in my opinion any human government of any sort is headed into darkness, and will ultimately inflict lives that are solitary, poor, nasty brutal and short. Only under the reign of Jesus, both in our hearts now, and in eternity is there hope for freedom from this great darkness.
The child who has been given to us is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Only under his reign do the people walking in darkness experience light and life, redemption and peace, Their lives are free of fear, free of darkness, free of nastiness and brutality, and eternal. With no fear and no danger of violent death, the life of the redeemed is communal, rich, benevolent, civilized and eternal. We who live in a dark world have seen this great light in the face of Jesus, the child, the king.