Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentISAIAH 9
One of the marvelous characteristics of the sacred writings is their strange intermixture of prophecies for darkness and disaster, followed by the most extravagant promises of blessing, victory and salvation. The chapter before us is an example.
Beginning back in Isa. 8, there is a terrible prophecy of doom and destruction for Ephraim, especially, and involving Judah also, but not as extensively. Then there suddenly appears right here the promise of joy, light, gladness, victory and success in the most glowing terms possible. Of course, a case like this always sends the critical scholars in a frenzy looking for glosses, misplaced chapters, various authors, or multiple authors, or anything else as an excuse for denying the authenticity of the passage. We could cite a hundred such examples, but one is enough. Peake resorted to the old critical standby, that of giving different dates to such passages, "This passage on the Messianic King is now by several regarded as late."F1
Peake's observation here has no importance whatever; but the reason behind his remark should be noticed. That reason lies solely in the rules followed by many seminarians, the particular rule responsible here is the inaccurate and unreasonable dictum that glorious promises cannot come from an author who is also delivering terrible prophecies of doom! Well, where does a canard like that originate? and the answer is: "only in the minds of Biblical enemies." To demonstrate how evil this false rule actually is, turn to Hos. 13:14, where in the midst of terrible warnings of evil things to come, the prophet suddenly declared, "I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death; O Death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction?" Now, that this is indeed a glorious promise of resurrection from the dead is proved, absolutely, by Paul's quotation of the passage as just such a glorious promise (1 Corinthians 15:55).
But now watch the critical enemies start to work on the passage. Henry McKeating stated that, "Modern scholarship is virtually unanimous in taking this verse as a threat."F2 And how do the all-wise "modern scholars" render the place? Here it is: "I will not save this people from the world of the dead or rescue them from the power of death. Bring on your plagues, Death! Bring on your destruction, world of the dead."F3 They even had the gall to name the corrupt translation that carries this perversion of God's Word, THE GOOD NEWS BIBLE! May God deliver all men from this kind of "good news."
DARK AND HAPPY PROPHECIES MINGLED
A few more words are appropriate concerning that silly and ridiculous "role" so dear to the critics that they will repudiate a quotation by the apostle Paul in order to honor their crooked "role." Their role is contrary to everything in the Bible. One would think that the critics who invented such rules have never read the Sermon on the Mount, or anything else in the Holy Bible. Christ himself spoke of heaven and hell in the same passage, of the strait gate and the wide gate in the same verse, and of such contrasts as the wheat and the chaff, the sheep and the goats, the foolish builders and the wise builders, the wise virgins and the foolish virgins, the saving of the good fishes and the casting away of the bad, and the bliss of heaven and the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone -- all of these diametrically opposed entitles, he spoke of jointly and together in literally hundreds of passages in the New Testament. Furthermore, in the very prophecy we are studying, Isaiah, like all of the other prophets mingled predictions of terror and defeat with those of joy in salvation. Our only marvel is the profound ignorance of this basic truth so widespread among critical scholars. This is such a fundamental thing in the Bible that we would be extremely suspicious if a prophet did not mingle the tragic predictions with the happy ones. (See further extensive comment on this subject in Vol. 2 of my series on the minor prophets, pp. 219-222.)
The outline of this chapter is: the troubles of Israel shall end through the birth of a marvelous Child (Isaiah 9:1-7); more threats and warnings addressed chiefly to the Northern Israel (Isaiah 9:8-21).
But there shall be no gloom to her that 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 hath he made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased their joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as in the day of Midian. For all the armor of the armed man in the tumult, and the garments rolled in blood, shall be for burning, for fuel of fire. 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, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this.
This was not a prophecy of the immediate future when Isaiah delivered it; but it is predictive prophecy of the "latter" times, and therefore, invariably in the Old Testament related to the times of the Messiah. The anguish that came upon Zebulun and Naphtali in the pre-Christian era was due partially to their physical location on the northern border of the Promised land. They were the first to reap the bitter fruit of repeated invasions; and Isaiah's prophecy here shows that the treatment of the lands of these tribes was worse than that of some of the others, and that they would also be the first to enjoy the benefits of Christ's kingdom. Look at this passage from Matt. 4:12-16 --
When Jesus heard that John was delivered up he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying:
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
Toward the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people that sat in Darkness
Saw a great light.
And to them that sat in the region and shadow of death,
To them did light spring up.
Thus it was in those very places of Israel which had formerly suffered the most that Christ first came forward to teach in a synagogue, and there he did his first miracle in Cana of Galilee. See Luke 4 and John 2. "Thus the light began to shine in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali where the gloom had first settled centuries earlier."F4
The present tense in this marvelous passage should not be confusing. "These tenses are factitive, or prophetic tenses,"F5 or, as McGuiggan stated it, "The language is in the present or the past because of the certainty of the prophecy."F6
As in the day of Midian
This brings up a question as to why that particular deliverance was the one selected for mention here. Rawlinson has the best explanation of this we have seen. The great deliverance promised under the reign of Messiah in this passage would not be accomplished by military power. The Prince of Peace would have no use for the weapons of military might but would rely upon spiritual weapons; and the deliverance from the Midianites accomplished by Gideon was the most effective illustration for the peace that would be won under the Messiah. Gideon's deliverance was accomplished without military prowess by a small group selected out of Israel expressly for the purpose, so that Israel might not vaunt itself against the Lord, saying, My own hand hath saved me (Judges 7:2).F7
All the armor of the armed men. and the garments rolled in blood ... shall be for burning (Isaiah 9:5) ..
The first of these words, armor, could also bear the rendition boots as in some versions. We would then have the meaning of rough military boots and bloody clothes.
The burning of military weapons, clothing, and equipment are spoken of here as being abolished so as to prepare our minds for the New Era under Messiah; but instead of the glorious New Age being foretold as the work of some new Joshua or Gideon, "It is the Child already foretold as Immanuel in Isa. 7:14."F8 who suddenly appears as the hope of the whole world.
And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
Thus the world's Deliverer is hailed as a child, a son, given by God Himself and destined to achieve eternal redemption for all of the sons of Adam willing to accept it upon the terms under which it became a gift to mankind.
The five names given here are understood in various ways; but as Rawlinson suggested, "Perhaps it is not very important"F9 just how we construe these names, whether four, or five or, as including certain compounds such as "Wonderful Counselor." Cheyne pointed out that when the angel refused to give God's name to Manoah, he said, "Wherefore askest thou after my name, seeing it is wonderful"? (Judges 13:18). From this it is clear that the Angel of Jehovah described his name as "wonderful," but that was not his name. It may be, therefore, that these are descriptions of Immanuel's name and not actually the name itself. "The royal titles of Rameses II took up six lines on a monument;"F10 and any number of the recent kings of England have had as many as a half dozen names or more. The suggestion of McGuiggan appears to have merit. He wrote, "The expression, `His name shall be called,' is probably idiomatic for, `This will be his character and nature.'"F11
However, these names are of such interest that we shall devote some study to each of them.
This name has sometimes been given as "Wonder," and sometimes combined as an adjective as in "Wonderful Counselor." We prefer the view that there are five of these names and that the first one is "Wonderful." We still remember reading Spurgeon's magnificent sermon on this name many years ago. Christ is indeed Wonderful in whatever dimension one views him.
He is wonderful in his pre-existence, in his Virgin birth, in his role as executive in Creation and in the "upholding" of our universe. He is indeed wonderful in his mighty miracles, his unsurpassed teaching, his sufferings, his prophecies, his death, burial, and resurrection. He is wonderful in the great Christophanies of the Old Testament and his appearance as "The Angel of Jehovah!" He is wonderful in the establishment of his kingdom, the Church, and in his providential protection and blessing of his Holy Bride throughout history. He is wonderful in what he will yet accomplish when he appears the Second Time, apart from sin, and shall judge the living and the dead, and assign to every man who ever lived his eternal destiny.
When God said, "Let us make man in our own image," the most logical view places Christ in that Council as a member of the Godhead. What a Counselor! that even the Father in heaven would discuss with the Son the creation of mankind! He is the only Counselor who ever had "the words of eternal life" (John 6:68); his counsel alone is truthfully described as "The Light of the World." His counsel only will judge men at the last day (John 12:48). The counsel of the Son of God is eternal. "Heaven and earth shall pass away," but Christ's word abideth forever. A single line of teaching from this Counselor is more valuable than libraries stacked full of the books of human wisdom. His counsel is the one and only authentic Handbook and Guide to the Christian religion. No other authority exists, except through the devices of sinful men. When at the Last Day all the nations of earth have been summonsed to appear before the Great Assize, the word of this Counselor will be enforced as the final and ultimate determiner of the fate of every man ever born.
Many Christians and practically all commentators have trouble with the application of words like these to Christ, and yet they are surely appropriate.
In the New Testament, the following texts refer to Jesus Christ Our Lord as "God."
John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
John 1:18: "No man hath seen God at any time; God only begotten (from the margin of the ASV), who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." Without any reasonable doubt this is the correct rendition in this verse. See the technical dissertation on this in Vol. 4 of my New Testament Series of Commentaries. pp. 30-32.
John 20:28: "Thomas (the apostle) answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God."
Acts 20:28: "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops to feed the church of God which he purchased with his own blood."F12
Rom. 9:5: "Of whom (the Israelites) is Christ as concerning the flesh, WHO IS OVER ALL, GOD, BLESSED FOREVER. AMEN!." (See a more complete discussion of this text in Vol. 6 of my New Testament Series of Commentaries, pp. 315-318.) The noted Charles Hodge stated that the rendition given here is the only correct rendition, pointing out specifically, that "over all" actually means "over all things." "It is supremacy over the universe that is here expressed."F13
"Great is the mystery of godliness:
He (God) who was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen of angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory." (1 Timothy 3:16)
The use of the pronoun for the first word is very misleading, because it obscures the identity of just who was "manifested in the flesh." The antecedent of "who" in this passage is God and cannot be anyone else. The KJV is correct here.
Titus 2:13 -- "Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." The margin (American Standard Version) here gives the alternate reading, "Our Great God and Saviour," which is doubtless correct, as honored in the NIV. Also, see Titus 2:10.
Phil. 2:5,6 -- "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped."
Heb. 1:8 -- "Of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; and the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of thy kingdom."
James 1:1 -- "James a Servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." James had heard the Master say that no man can serve two masters; and could he have meant here that he was indeed serving "two masters"? Did he not rather mean that Christ and God were one?
2 Pet. 1:1 -- "A like precious faith with us with the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ." Here we took out the italics word "the," the italics indicating that it is not in the Greek, leaving the correct reading here as, "Our God and Saviour."
1 John 5:20 -- "And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life."
In the Bible, especially the New Testament, it is frequently said that God, the Holy Spirit, or the Son of God did certain things that in other passages may be attributed to a different member of the Godhead; and while it is true that the New Testament nowhere says that Christ begot us through the gospel, it is stated that God did so (James 1:18; 1 Pet. 2:3); and since the "gospel" delivered to mankind is the word of Christ delivered through him and his apostles, it is no violation of the scriptures to say that Christ indeed is the "father" of all who believe in him through his word. It may be that "Everlasting Father" includes something of this meaning. Kidner also pointed out that, "Father signifies the paternal benevolence of the Perfect Ruler over the people whom he loves."F14
Christ is called the "Author and Finisher" of our faith (KJV), and the author and protector of our faith (ASV) in Heb. 12:2. In the same sense, therefore, that Abraham is called "The Father of the Faithful," Jesus Christ is entitled to be called the "Everlasting Father."
PRINCE OF PEACE
Jesus Christ is the only true Prince of Peace the world ever knew, and the only one that shall ever be. When the angels announced his birth over the hills of Judaea, their first word was, "Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased (Luke 2:14)." Implicit in this verse, is the declaration that the promise of peace is not given to all men on earth, but only to those with whom God is pleased. Only the obedient and faithful shall know the blessedness of that peace which only the Lord can give.
Alas, the rebellious majority of mankind shall continue to travel in the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). The prophecy of Revelation also reveals in the visions that attended the opening of the seals that wars and desolations shall continue to the end of time. "Wars and rumors of wars ... but the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6). Furthermore, the peace which the Lord gives is a glorious inner tranquillity that has no relation whatever to any turbulence on earth, whether general or personal. It comes from a oneness with God that securely rests in the confidence that no matter what may happen to one's person, his health, his property, his country, his family, or anything else, absolutely nothing can happen to him, because he is the Lord's; and as Paul stated it, "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8).
THE GATHERING SHADOWS OVER ISRAEL
The remainder of this chapter and through the first four verses of the next, the prophecy returns to the great burden of much of Isaiah, namely, the total ruin and destruction of the sinful kingdom of the chosen people.
The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel. And all the people shall know, [even] Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in pride and in stoutness of heart, The bricks are fallen, but we will build with hewn stone; the sycomores are cut down, but we will put cedars in their place. Therefore Jehovah will set up on high against him the adversaries of Rezin, and will stir up his enemies, the Syrians before, and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
This whole paragraph is a "judgment against bravado."F15 So much is "hewn stone" better than the bricks of that day, and so much as "cedars" were superior to sycamores, Ephraim mockingly rejects the chastening of the Lord, boasting that things will be only better for them, no matter what God does! This terrible paragraph foretold a time for Ephraim when even their former allies, the Syrians, would join the besieging armies of Assyria, to bring about Samaria's final extinction. "All the leading classes who had failed to repent and turn to God and who had been unfaithful to their trust would be totally destroyed, with all their children."F16
Yet the people have not turned unto him that smote them, neither have they sought Jehovah of hosts. Therefore Jehovah will cut off from Israel head and tail, palm-branch and rush, in one day. The elder and the honorable man, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail. For they that lead this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed. Therefore the Lord will not rejoice over their young men, neither will he have compassion on their fatherless and widows; for every one is profane and an evil-doer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
Note the repeated sentence in these chapters, "For all this his anger is not turned away; but his hand is stretched out still." This is a kind of refrain, a tragic one, that is repeated over and over as the details of the ruin of Ephraim are recounted. It occurs again in Isa. 9:12,17,21, and Isa. 10:4, and also in Isa. 5:25. There are four stanzas, each ending in this refrain; and They prophecy the Assyrian invasion, the bravado, disdain, and arrogance of Ephraim, the turning of their allies against them, and the total ruin of the nation because of their repeated rebellions against the Lord.
Notice God's promise here to cut off "the head and the tail." This merely means the high and the low, the weak and the mighty. We are shocked that Cheyne thought the crooked priest should have been identified as the "head."F17 However, we truly believe that Isaiah is here exactly right. In every society the crooked exponent of false religion, no matter what might be his exalted position in a wicked society, is truly the "tail" of that society.
For wickedness burneth as the fire; it devoureth the briers and thorns; yea, it kindleth in the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. Through the wrath of Jehovah of hosts is the land burnt up; and the people are as the fuel of fire: no man spareth his brother. And one shall snatch on the right hand, and be hungry; and he shall eat on the left hand, and they shall not be satisfied: they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm: Manasseh, Ephraim; and Ephraim, Manasseh; and they together shall be against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.
The metaphor of a devastating forest fire is an appropriate one indeed to describe the holocaust that was awaiting God's rebellious people, as any dweller in western United States could testify.
The closing verses of this paragraph indicate the total breakdown of all law and order, as the Assyrians continue their attack. Civil strife and ruthless internal warfare shall hasten the min. They shall eat one another up!
Despite the primary thrust of these prophecies having been against the Northern Israel, it is quite evident that the kingdom of Judah itself was also involved, but not as extensively. Ephraim remained in the focus here because their punishment was to be complete, their ruin final, and their destruction as a nation total, whereas Judah, although destined to suffer destruction and deportation, would, after seventy years, return in the "small remnant" so often mentioned by Isaiah. This particular phase of the prophecy will be concluded in the first four verses of the next chapter.
Footnotes for Isaiah 9
1: Peake's Commentary Series, p. 443.
2: Henry McKeating, Amos, Hosea, and Micah (Cambridge: University Press, 1971), p. 148.
3: The Good News Bible (The American Bible Society, 1971), p. 983.
4: Homer Hailey, p. 100.
5: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary, p. 58.
6: Jim McGuiggan, p. 103.
7: The Pulpit Commentary, p. 166/
8: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 597.
9: The Pulpit Commentary, p. 166
10: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary, p. 60.
11: Jim McGuiggan, p. 103.
12: Ancient manuscripts, including the two oldest manuscripts, give this reading; and there is no doubt at all as to its accuracy. See the American Standard Version's margin.
13: Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 300.
14: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 597.
16: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 620.
17: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary, p. 65.