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Go to Bible: Isaiah 9
“there will be no more gloom.” The reason there will be no more gloom is that the Messiah will come and rule the earth in a godly manner (Isa. 9:6-7; see commentary on Isa. 9:6).
“those who were.” The Hebrew text is singular, “she who was,” speaking of Israel as a woman, but due to the context which is involved, that literal English rendering is somewhat unclear, so many English versions opt for a clearer English translation, and treat Israel as a nation of people and say “those who were.”
“he treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt.” The “land of Zebulun” and the “land of Naphtali” are the historic areas of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali that were assigned by Joshua (Josh. 19:10-16, 32-39). The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali are said to be “treated…with contempt” because of what happened to those tribes. Because of Israel’s disobedience to God, it was afflicted by outside armies. The northern tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali (and Dan) bore a lot of the burden of those attacks because those tribes were attacked first when armies from the north invaded Israel. Before the time Isaiah wrote in the 700s BC, the Syrians had invaded Israel, and by the time Isaiah wrote Isaiah 9, perhaps even the Assyrians had started invasions. In fact, by the end of 722 BC, the Assyrians had conquered Israel and then they carried all Israel away captive back to Assyria (2 Kings 17:6, 23).
But Isaiah 9:1 foretells “there will be no more gloom” for the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and they will be glorious. In fact, the whole Galilee and even land east of the Jordan River will see a great light, and light will shine on them (Isa. 9:2). We should notice that God specifically mentioned Zebulun and Naphtali, because a great light did shine in those areas because much of the Messiah’s life and ministry happened in those two tribal areas. For example, the town of Nazareth where Jesus grew up is in the tribal area of Zebulun, so the people of Zebulun got to experience the Messiah more intimately than most of the other tribes of Israel. Also, the town of Capernaum is in the tribal area of Naphtali, and Capernaum was where Jesus lived during most of his ministry.
In fact, much of what Jesus did in his life and ministry was in Zebulun and Naphtali. He announced his ministry in Nazareth in Zebulun (Luke 4:16-21). He turned water into wine, his first miracle, in the town of Cana in Naphtali, and also taught the Sermon on the Mount, his first public sermon, in Naphtali (Matt. 5-7). Also, he called most of his apostles in Naphtali as well. He pronounced woes over Capernaum and Chorazin, two towns in Naphtali where many of his mighty works were done because they did not generally accept who he was (Matt. 11:20, 21, 23).
Isaiah 9 does not specifically say that the Messiah would spend most of his life and ministry in Zebulun and Naphtali, and in fact it says the Messiah will reign on David’s throne, which is in Jerusalem (Isa. 9:7). However, given the fact that the Messiah had to grow up before he ascended to the throne, and given the fact that no other tribes besides Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned by name in Isaiah 9, it is possible that godly people suspected that the Messiah would somehow be closely associated with the northern tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali even though he was foretold to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and reign as king in Jerusalem.
“in the latter time he will make glorious.” The text says, “he has made glorious” (past tense), even though the event is future. This is a great example of the Hebrew idiom of the prophetic perfect. The prophetic perfect idiom occurs when a future event is spoken of as if it had already happened. The Semitic languages do this for emphasis, to emphasize the event will absolutely happen. Especially in Hebrew, which does not have a specific future tense like Greek or English does, it was important to be able to express that a future event was sure to happen. The idiom that accomplished that was the idiom of the prophetic perfect, which spoke of the future as if it was in the past and had already happened, thus assuring the reader that the event would happen.
Often the prophet was taken into the future in a prophetic vision, and thus in his vision he saw the events that he wrote about actually happening or having already happened, and then he wrote it as he saw it. Isaiah 9 is about the coming Messiah and what he will accomplish, so it makes sense that it has a lot of prophetic perfect idioms. A comparable chapter is Isaiah 53, which is about the life and death of the Messiah, because it also has a lot of the prophetic perfect idioms. One clear prophetic perfect in this context is Isaiah 9:6, which says a child “has been born” even though Isaiah wrote more than 700 years before the Christ was born (cp. Young’s Literal Translation of Isa. 9:6).
The prophetic perfect idiom is a challenge to translators because if they translate it literally as a past tense, it may confuse the English reader, whereas if they translate the text idiomatically, it may be easier to read the English but what the Hebrew text actually says is lost. The translators and versions are divided about what to do, as we can see by the English versions. For example, in Isaiah 9:6, some English versions say, “a child is born” (ESV; KJV; NIV); some say, “a child has been born” (NET; NJB; YLT); and some say “a child will be born” (HCSB; GWN; NASB; REV).
“the Way of the Sea.” This was the major road from Egypt to Syria, often called the “Via Maris,” its Latin name.(top)
“have seen a great light…the light has shined.” This is an example of the prophetic perfect idiom, when a future event is spoken of as if it had already happened. The NLT translation catches the correct sense in modern English: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.” [For more on the idiom of the prophetic perfect see commentary on Ephesians 2:6, “seated”].(top)
“have enlarged...have increased.” God will enlarge the nation in the future, but it is written about as if it had already happened to emphasize that it will happen. This is the idiom of the prophetic perfect (see commentary on Isa. 9:1).(top)
“their…their…their.” The Hebrew text reads in the singular, “his,” but it refers to each of God’s people who were oppressed together, so we, like many other versions, pluralized it for clarity.
“have broken.” God will break the yoke of Israel’s oppressors in the future, but it is written about as if it had already happened to emphasize that it will happen. This is the idiom of the prophetic perfect (see commentary on Isa. 9:1).
“day of Midian.” This refers to the record in Judges 6-8 when God defeated Midian through the hand of Gideon. With only 300 men, Gideon defeated an army of 135,000 Midianites (Judges 7:7; 8:10).(top)
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“For a child.” Isaiah 9:6ff gives us the reason why “there will be no more gloom for those who were in anguish” (Isa. 9:1), and the people who walked in darkness will see great light (Isa. 9:2), and people will rejoice (Isa. 9:3), and the yoke of their burden and the rod of their oppressor will be broken (Isa. 9:4), and garments used in war will be burned (Isa. 9:5). It is because the Messiah will come and rule the earth in righteousness forever (Isa. 9:6-7).
“And he will call his name.” “he will call” (active voice verb) is the reading of the Massoretic Hebrew text and the Qumran texts of Isaiah. The Septuagint has the verb in the passive voice, “he will be called.” However, since we have multiple witnesses in the Hebrew text of the reading of Isaiah, there is no reason to assume the Greek translation is different. The most logical choice for who would name the child was Yahweh, his Father. Young’s Literal Translation has the verb in the active voice. Yahweh sent Gabriel to tell Joseph what to name the child in Matthew and Luke.
“a child will be born.” The Hebrew text reads, “a child has been born...a son has been given.” In English we would say, “a child will be born,” because the birth of Jesus Christ was still more than 700 years in the future. The Hebrew text is an example of the Hebrew idiom of the prophetic perfect, which occurs when a future event is spoken of as if it had already happened because it absolutely will happen. The prophetic perfect idiom was a way of letting people know a future event was not in doubt but would absolutely happen.
In the prophetic vision, the prophet is taken into the future such that the event he envisions has happened. By revelation, he sees the event as already having taken place, and writes that way. Isaiah 9 has a lot of prophetic perfect idioms in it (see commentary on Isa. 9:1). [For more on the idiom of the prophetic perfect see commentary on Ephesians 2:6, “seated”].
“and the government will be on his shoulders.” Isaiah 9:6-7 is one of the many verses in the Old Testament that portray the Messiah as being born and then growing up to destroy the wicked and rule the world in righteousness without saying anything about his death, resurrection, ascension, or the Great Tribulation and Battle of Armageddon. There are many Scriptures in the Old Testament that speak of the coming of Christ and God’s vengeance on the wicked as if they were going to happen at the same time (cp. Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-9; 61:1-3; Micah 5:2; Zech. 9:9-10; Mal. 3:1-3; 4:1-3). Those many Scriptures, along with the fact that there are no clear Scriptures that portray the two comings of Christ, are the reason that at the time of Christ people did not think that Christ would die (cp. Matt. 16:21-22; Luke 18:31-34; 24:19-21, 44-46; John 12:34; 20:9). [For more on Scriptures that directly connect the coming of Christ with him conquering the earth, see commentary on Isa. 61:2].
“Mighty Hero.” The phrase is usually mistranslated as “Mighty God” in most English Bibles. Actually, “mighty god” would not be a bad translation if people realized that in the Hebrew language the word “god/God” (Elohim; also El) had a much wider range of application than it does in English. People familiar with the Semitic languages know that a man who is acting with God’s authority can be called “god.” Although English makes a clear distinction between “God” and “god,” the Hebrew language, which has only capital letters, cannot. Hebrew only would have GOD, no matter if it referred to the Father or a person acting with divine authority. Thus, a better translation of Isaiah 9:6 for the English reader would be “mighty hero,” or “divine hero.” Both Martin Luther and James Moffatt translated the phrase as “divine hero” in their Bibles. (For more on the flexible use of “God,” see the commentary on Heb. 1:8).
A clear example showing that the word translated “God” in Isaiah 9:6 can be used of powerful earthly rulers is Ezekiel 31:11, which refers to the Babylonian king. The Trinitarian bias of the translators of most English versions can be clearly seen by comparing Isaiah 9:6, where the Hebrew word el (#0410 אֵל) is translated “God” with Ezekiel 31:11, where el is usually translated as “ruler.” Whether the word el refers to God or a human ruler has to be decided by context, and the Messiah is not God. If simply calling the Messiah el made him God, then the Babylonian king would be God also. Isaiah is speaking of God’s Messiah and calling him a mighty ruler, which of course he will be.
The phrase in Isaiah 9:6 that most English versions translate as “Mighty God” is el gibbor in the Hebrew. That very phrase, in the plural form, is used Ezekiel 32:21 of “heroes” and mighty men. The NIV translates the phrase in Ezekiel as “mighty leaders,” and the KJV and NASB translate it as “the strong among the mighty.” The Hebrew phrase, when used in the singular, can refer to one “mighty leader” just as when used in the plural it can refer to many “mighty leaders.”
There is no justification in the context of Isaiah 9 for believing that this verse refers to the Messiah as part of the Trinity. It refers to God’s appointed ruler. The opening verse of the chapter foretells a time when “there will be no more gloom for those who were in anguish.” All war and death will cease, and “every boot of the tramping warrior…and the garments rolled in blood…will be fuel for the fire” (Isa. 9:5). How will this come to pass? The chapter goes on: “for to us a child is born” (Isa. 9:6). There is no hint that this child will be “God,” and reputable Trinitarian scholars will assert that the Jews of the Old Testament knew nothing of an “incarnation.” For them, the Messiah was going to be a man anointed by God. He would start as a child, which of course Yahweh, their eternal God, could never be. And what a great ruler this man would grow to be: “the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Hero, Father of the Coming Age, Prince of Peace.” Furthermore, “he will reign on David’s throne (Isa. 9:7), which could never be said of God. God could never sit on David’s throne. But God’s Messiah, “the Son of David,” could (cp. Matt. 9:27). Thus, a study of the verse in its context reveals that it does not refer to the Trinity at all, but to the Messiah, the son of David and the Son of God.
[For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”].
“Father of the Coming Age.” Almost every English Bible mistranslates Isaiah 9:6. Not understanding the prophecy combined with a bias to support the doctrine of the Trinity has influenced almost every English translation. A good place to have caught the mistranslation of Isaiah 9:6 was in this phrase, which almost all English Bibles translate as “Everlasting Father,” because Jesus is never called the “Everlasting Father” anywhere else in Scripture. Furthermore, Trinitarians correctly deny that Jesus is the “Everlasting Father.” It is a basic tenet of Trinitarian doctrine that Christians should “neither confound the Persons nor divide the Substance” (Athanasian Creed). So, if “Everlasting Father” is the correct translation of the Hebrew text, then Trinitarian Christians have a real problem. However, “Everlasting Father” is a mistranslation.
The Hebrew word translated “age” (or “everlasting” in most Bibles), is `ad (#05703 עַד), and refers to something that lasts a long time or forever, or something that endures for an age or ages, and that can be of the past or future. Thus, when Habakkuk 3:6 speaks of the mountains that will be shattered at some point in the future, they are called “the ancient mountains” in some translations (cp. NAB; NET), or by hyperbole, “the everlasting mountains” (cp. KJV). Of course, when it refers to God it means everlasting, and the coming Age is everlasting as well, although if this verse in Isaiah only had in mind the first phase of the future reign of Christ, then Age-long or even “long enduring” would be more accurate.
We believe that since the Word of God shows the two ages, the present evil age and the Messianic Age to come, an excellent translation is that Jesus will be called “father of the [coming] age.” In the culture of the Bible, anyone who began anything or was very important to something was called its “father.” For example, because Jabal was the first one to live in a tent and raise livestock, the Bible says, “he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock” (Gen. 4:20). Furthermore, because Jubal was the first inventor of musical instruments, he is called, “the father of all who play the harp and flute” (Gen. 4:21). Scripture is not using “father” in the sense of literal father or ancestor in these verses, because both these men were descendants of Cain, and all their descendants died in Noah’s flood. “Father” was being used in the cultural understanding of either one who was the first to do something or someone who was important in some way.
The Messiah will be the one to establish the age to come, raise the dead into it, and rule as king in it, so he is rightly called “the father of the coming age.” Adam Clarke, the noted Methodist minister and author of Clarke’s Commentary, has in his commentary for Isaiah 9:6 that what is usually translated “everlasting Father” should be “the Father of the everlasting age” which is also an excellent translation. [For more on the use of “father,” see commentary on Genesis 4:20].
The “Coming Age” is not generally understood by Christians because orthodox doctrine is that when a person dies his soul goes to heaven and lives there forever with Jesus. But the Bible says that Jesus will come back to earth, fight the Battle of Armageddon, conquer the earth, and reign on it as king. At that time the earth will be restored to a pristine condition like the Garden of Eden, and it will be called “Paradise.” That “age” is the Coming Age; the Messianic Age.
[For more on the Coming Age and Jesus’ kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth. For more on the earth becoming a “Paradise,” see commentary on Luke 23:43, Paradise].
Isaiah 9:6 - “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” John Schoenheit teaches on this verse from a Biblical Unitarian perspective.
“on the throne of David.” The Messiah was foretold to be a descendant of David and will rule “on the throne of David,” meaning, from Jerusalem where David’s throne was. When Christ sets up his kingdom on earth, he will reign from Jerusalem. [For more on Christ’s future kingdom being on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].(top)
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