One day in Hebrew class we were given the assignment of translating from Isaiah chapter 9. It was a breeze! The professor gave us break by allowing us to translate verses six through seven. All we had to do was remember the words to Handel’s “Messiah.” Everyone was humming the tune with a smile on their face, and quickly writing down the translation. (Most days were not that fun or easy in Hebrew class!)
Here’s the London Philharmonic Orchestra performing this famous majestic piece of music:
This passage, put to music by Handel, is certainly one of the most encouraging passages in the Old Testament, and has great relevance for us today. If you look around and feel discouraged by the news of the day, just remember that the way things are now, won’t be this way for ever. That’s because of the truth contained in Isaiah 9:1-7.
Here are three encouraging parts of this crucial prophetic passage.
1. The historical context.
This passage in Isaiah is one of the great inspiring moments in the Bible. In sweeping tones the prophet describes a day in which the “fearful gloom” and “utter darkness” that has fallen over Israel will be vanquished. In 9:1 Isaiah tells us that even in darkest gloom God will not abandon His people.
The northern provinces of that nation were the first to bear the brunt of Gentile invasion under Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III in 733 B.C. However, these provinces (the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali) will be the first to see the dawning of God’s new day when He liberates Israel through the Messiah. (Matthew sees the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy in Matthew 4:14-16).
Isaiah 9:2-5 begin as a faint drumbeat of good news, increasing in volume until at the end of the song we hear the mighty shout of conquest of Messiah’s arrival to earth. Some day the warrior’s boot and garments rolled in blood … the yoke, the bar, the rod of oppression (verses 4, 5) will be a distant memory because of what the Messiah will eventually accomplish for His people and for the whole earth.
2. The four names of the Messiah.
The last two verses in this passage are probably some of the most famous lines in the entire Old Testament because we hear them all the time at Christmas. The titles Isaiah ascribes to this Child are unprecedented in Scripture. No one in the entire Bible fits this description … except the Messiah.
Look at His names: He is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Wonderful Counselor — “wonderful” here means “astounding” or “amazing.” Everywhere Jesus went, people were amazed at His teaching. They were astounded at His compassion, His wisdom, and His courage to face down the hypocrites of the day.
He is a counselor who always gives perfect guidance. The counsel of the Messiah never steers anyone in the wrong direction. How could it? Jesus Himself claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
Isaiah called the Messiah “Mighty God.” I have read some renditions of this phrase as “divine warrior.” That is not an accurate translation. The phrase here in Hebrew is “El Gibbor.” “El” means “god” and in some contexts it can refer to a pagan god (like Baal), or to the one true and only God, Yahweh, the God of Israel. “Gibbor” means “strong, powerful, mighty.” When coupled with “El” this phrase can only refer to Yahweh.
Take a look at Isaiah 10:21. There “El Gibbor” is used to refer only to Yahweh. So, here in Isaiah 9:6, the prophet Isaiah actually calls this Child who will come and save Israel … God. Here in Isaiah, Yahweh tells us that He will actually become a child to rescue His people. He is mighty … He even takes things that look like utter defeat (such as the cross and the tomb) and overwhelms them, turning them into mighty victory.
In verse six this Son is also called “the Everlasting Father.” Historical, biblical Christianity believes that in the New Testament the one true God is clearly revealed as Triune. Within the Trinity there are distinctions between the eternal Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, here in this passage is the Son actually the same as “the Father”?
No. Hebrew scholar H.C. Leupold in his work “Exposition of Isaiah,” translates this phrase as “Father Forever.” You could just as easily translate it as “Father of eternity.” In fact, that is exactly how the Latin Vulgate translates it. Here we see the role of the Messiah — He is not God the Father, but as King of kings and Lord of lords in God’s future kingdom He is a father over His people forever. He is protecting, providing, and guiding them forever.
The Messiah is the “Prince of Peace.” “Peace” in Hebrew is “shalom,” meaning wellness, wholeness, completeness. The Messiah will not only rule, He will restore. The hearts and minds of His people that have been damaged and scarred will finally be reclaimed and put back together. Harmony, tranquility will be brought to His people … beginning in their hearts, and eventually spreading over all the earth.
In God’s final Kingdom (which has not arrived yet, obviously) there will be no need for “U.N. peacekeepers.” The King Himself will reign visibly and directly over all the earth.
3. His job description.
Isaiah 9:7 confirms that Messiah’s job is to govern: “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” His rule will be an ever-expanding rule. It begins in a stable in Bethlehem, but it continues to compass the globe. All who invite His rule into their hearts and minds experience His peace. And someday when He returns His rule will be quite visible.
This “Mighty God” and “Prince of Peace” will “reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom.” He will establish justice and righteousness from the time of His reign, and the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish all of this. No one will ever stop the march of this conquering King, who first arrived in a manger in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago.