7th Day of Advent
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.
3You 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,
and 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.
6For 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.
For to us a child is born… How often have you seen those words inscribed on a Christmas card? The magnificent poetry of Isaiah 9 stirs the heart. Its words have been incorporated in countless hymns and carols. But beyond the beauty of the composition is the even greater beauty and power of the fulfilled promises of God that the prophet foretold.
Isaiah wrote these words in the waning days of Israel’s Northern Kingdom. By this point the armies of the Assyrian King had already conquered Galilee. In less than a dozen years the capital city of Samaria would fall and Israel would be dragged into exile.
At dusk on the evening of August 3, 1914, the eve of Great Britain’s entry into World War I, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey stood beside a friend at the Foreign Office windows and watched the gas lamps being lit on the street below. “The lamps are going out all over Europe,” he commented, “and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” So it must have felt for the people of Israel as the darkness of Assyrian conquest descended on the land. Fear gripped every heart and there was no hope in sight. This is the startling context for the joyous words of Isaiah 9.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Prophet Isaiah writes about events still in the distant future from the perspective of one standing in the far distant future. He speaks of events yet to come as if they were already in the past. So sure is he about the promises of God that he can talk about the current anguish—that had only recently just begun—as if it were already over. “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.” The Assyrian army is still looting the countryside and Isaiah writes as if they are nothing but an ugly memory.
Isaiah uses the language of great rejoicing, filled with images of harvest celebrations (verse 3), reminders of the joy of the Exodus, and recollections of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites (verse 4). Finally, verse 5 depicts a victorious army burning the uniforms of their vanquished foes. All of this some 200 years before the very first Jewish exiles began to trickle back to into Judea and even longer before Jews resettled Galilee.
But with verse 6 Isaiah makes an even bolder leap forward, speaking of an event fulfilled another 500+ years further into the future, this time as if it were happening in the present. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” As the angels in the night skies over Bethlehem proclaimed the birth of Jesus, they were merely echoing Isaiah’s own words from the far distant past.
God’s covenant promises WILL be fulfilled. A son of David will reign, not only over Israel but over the entire universe, and his kingdom will never end.
Questions to Ponder
- Can you think of a time in your past when it seemed like God was absent but later on you could discern how He was with you and guiding you all along?
- We have the benefit of living in the age where the things Isaiah prophesied have come to pass. How should we live in response to knowing that Jesus has come?