Today’s scripture passage begins, “But there will be no
gloom for those who were in anguish.” Assyria has
conquered Israel and Judah, causing the people anguish
and despair. Some Israelites turned to superstition to
“consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living”
(Isaiah 8:19) to find answers and comfort. God would
leave them in despair. But for those who are faithful,
there is no gloom.
Isaiah used two different phrases for the land of
Galilee in the first verse of chapter 9. The first is
“the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,” two of
the tribes of Israel that occupied Galilee before the
conquest. The other phrase is “the way of the sea,”
which refers to the caravan route from Damascus to
Galilee. This road is the path the Assyrians took in
their conquest. The prophet tells the people that it
doesn’t matter who rules this land. It doesn’t matter
how human beings name it. God will turn Galilee from a
defeated land into one that reflects the glory of God.
The prophet repeats the assurance in poetic language in
verse 2. Those who were most affected by the Assyrian
conquest felt that darkness had descended on their land.
But they would be blessed by God’s light. Isaiah may
have originally intended this passage as an expression
of joy at the coronation of a new king when the people
were restored to their land. Or he may have been
assuring the people that a time would come when they
would celebrate the coming Messiah as an ideal king.
This image is so powerful in prophetic literature that
it influenced many other scripture passages in the
Hebrew and Christian Bibles. Matthew 4:15–16 quotes
Isaiah 9:1–2 and proclaims Jesus as the light of God
that fulfills this prophecy. Other Christian scripture
passages, such as John 1:5, John 3:19, John 8:12, and 2
Corinthians 4:6 build on this understanding of Jesus as
the light shining on those who live in darkness.
Verses 3 and 4 are addressed directly to someone simply
named “You.” Is this a shift from saying what God has
done, to addressing God directly? Or is the “You” of
these verses the mighty and powerful messianic king,
whose light shines? The prophet refers to this personage
as the one who broke the rod of oppression on the “day
of Midian” (v. 4). The sixth and seventh chapters of
Judges relate how Gideon fought and overthrew the
Midianites. The story gives God credit for the victory.
So perhaps it is that in Isaiah 9:3–4 the prophet is
God multiplies the nation and gives joy. The nation
rejoices before God. God relieves the peoples’ burden,
lifts the weight from their shoulders, and breaks the
rod of their oppressor. No timeline is given for this
assurance. Humankind is impatient and quick to abandon
faith when God’s acts of salvation don’t fit our
timetable. But these verses assure us that God is
faithful. God will be the victor and bring about light,
peace, freedom, and joy in God’s own time.
As Christians, we look to Jesus as the Messiah (Christ)
who fulfills God’s purposes and offers new light and
life. God defeats our darkness in the revelation of
Emmanuel, God-with-us, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.