6. The Glorious Messiah and the Messianic Age (Isaiah 9:1-7)
For this section of the notes I shall provide a fully written exposition of the text to demonstrate how the exegetical details can be incorporated into an expository style. The length of the time allowed for the exposition will determine if parts must be shortened or cut. But having already determined in the exegetical process what the central theological ideas are, I will be able to condense around them rather easily.
In spite of all the advances of civilization, the world today is still consumed with a desire for peace and a fear of war. When people observe the conflicts and the rumors of wars, gloom and despair often engulf them like a thick darkness. Not the least of the trouble spots is the Middle East. Peace there has been the pursuit for centuries. While there have been scores of efforts to bring about peace between Israel and Syria and the Palestinians, no one would be surprised if war broke out tomorrow.
Peace movements and peace negotiations proceed all over the world. Stronger countries believe that peace must be negotiated from a position of power; radical groups believe that terror will force the issue. But we are left with a more dangerous and more frightening world than ever before. And we are left wondering if anyone is really interested in peace and righteousness and justice for all, or just in securing their own interests?
The problem is still the presence of evil. It sets brother against brother, and nation against nation. Ultimately, the world’s gloom and despair is linked to spiritual darkness.
The Bible comforts and reminds those of us who have come to trust in Jesus Christ not to despair as if there was no hope. We have the revelation of our Lord that not only announces His sovereign reign but also charts the course of world events. One of the most significant revelations is found in Isaiah 9.
Against the background of the prophecy of war and destruction, darkness and gloom (chapter 8) Isaiah gave this prophecy about the Messiah—the glorious coming king. “Messiah” is a Hebrew term that means “anointed one,” that is, the anointed king. In a sense, every king who was anointed in Jerusalem as a descendant of David would be called a “mashiah” (pronounced mah-she-ack), a messiah. But the Bible tells how ultimately a son of David would come who would be known as “the Messiah.” We believe that Jesus Christ is that Messiah. The New Testament word “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” This Messianic Prophecy, then, holds out hope for peace and righteousness through the reign of Jesus the Messiah.
The text can be divided into two sections: the Dawn of the Messianic Age (verses 1-5) and the Righteous Reign of the Messiah (verses 6 and 7). While the entire passage is instructive for the message, the verses that focus on the nature of the Messiah are critical, for therein lies our hope for everlasting peace. So most of our attention will be given to the meanings of the name of the Son, showing how these description fit perfectly the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. Peace will come with the dawn of the Messianic Age (9:1-5).
Isaiah declares that in contrast to his present age of war, gloom, and despair, there is coming an age when peace will reign universally. It will begin with the coming of the Messiah, the promised future king. So we call that period the Messianic Age. The prophet here shows how it will unfold.
A. The change in circumstances will end the despair (1,2).
The passage begins with the announcement of the change: there will be no more gloom for those in anguish; in the past the LORD humbled26 the northern lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, but in the future he will honor27 Galilee. Why? That is where the Messiah will first appear—Galilee of the Gentiles,28 a place looked down on for so long as less spiritual, less pure than Judea.
The explanation of this exaltation is found in verse 2. Those who walk in darkness have seen a great light, on those in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. The language is poetic: darkness signifies adversity, despair, gloom and evil, and the light signifies prosperity, peace, and joy.29 The language is used elsewhere of the Messianic Age—Malachi says that the “sun of righteousness will rise with healing in his wings” (4:2). So the people in the north who have suffered so much have the prospect of a wonderful new beginning.
We should note in passing that Isaiah’s verbs are in the past tense—he writes as if it has already happened. That is prophetic language. The prophet was a “seer” or visionary. He received divine revelation and recorded what he saw. As far as he was concerned, if it had been shown to him from God, it was as good as done. It was certain, even though it had not yet worked out in history.
So “light” will shine on people who were walking in “darkness.” The initial fulfillment of this prophecy is beyond doubt. Matthew quotes this text in conjunction with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. He is the true light of the world that lights every person.30 He brings to a darkened world grace and truth, and the sure promise of peace. When He began to minister in Galilee with His teachings and His miracles, He demonstrated that He was indeed this Messiah. His proclamation of the kingdom through salvation is what ends the despair, for believers in Him are not lost in gloom and despair, for they know that what He promised will come to pass at His second coming.31
B. The Messiah brings joy and prosperity (3).
The prophet turns to address the LORD directly. His words explain what it means that light will dispel the darkness—joy and prosperity will follow. The prophet gives no clue as to how soon this would happen.32 But we who have the full revelation of God know that Jesus made it clear that he was the Messiah, and that the age of peace and righteousness was yet future.
The joy described here is extravagant. It is the kind of joy that comes at the harvest, or at the dividing of the plunder.33 Harvest was a regular time of joy in Israel; after a long time of labor in the fields the people would gather to eat and drink and celebrate. The Bible often uses the analogy of the harvest to describe the coming of the LORD (see Matthew 3:12 for the harvest and winnowing imagery). It is a thanksgiving celebration for the completion of the harvest.
Dividing the plunder, the other image here, is a bit more poignant since wars will lead up to the end of the age. The image is about the victors after the battle is over, dividing up the booty. Such would be an almost delirious celebration of triumph that would usher in an age of peace.
C. Joy comes through the cessation of war (4, 5).
The imagery of joy at the division of the plunder leads directly into the explanation: the prophet foresees the time when the LORD will break the oppression of the enemies. He draws the analogy with the time of Israel’s victory over Midian through Gideon by the power of the LORD.34 So shall it again be.
But this victory will be greater. Verse 5 says that the implements of war will be burnt up.35 This will be no lull in the action, no temporary peace treaty. War will end. Elsewhere Isaiah has says, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,” that is, military weapons will not be needed in a time of lasting peace.
How can these things be, given the world situation as we know it? The answer to this question is found in the second half of the oracle which describes the nature of the Messiah who will bring in the reign of peace and righteousness. If such peace is to come, someone must have the ability to produce and maintain it.
II. Peace will finally come with the righteous reign of the Messiah (9:6,7).
Isaiah now turns to introduce the One who will transform the gloom and despair of war into the joy and peace of a time of righteousness—the Messiah.
A. The LORD will bring about the advent of the Messiah (6a).
The first part of the prophecy is very familiar to Christians: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.” Isaiah is very precise here, as we now know. A child will be born into the family of David, and that there was a birth in Bethlehem is beyond question; but the Messiah will also be a Son that is given, and that Jesus did not come into existence in Bethlehem is clear from the Bible.
According to the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:14), the term “son” is a title for the king.36 The same is true in the vision of Daniel where the expression “Son of Man” is used (7:9-14). Daniel’s vision shows this glorious king in the presence of the Almighty, the Ancient of Days, and that he would be given the kingdom of peace. Isaiah announces that the child to be born will be this Son given. This idea is then clarified by Paul: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman … .” (Gal. 4:4).
The New Testament bears witness that Jesus is this Son who came into the world. In fact, Jesus Himself set about to prove His origin was in heaven, not in Bethlehem. When He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he prayed and included these words in His prayer: “that they might know that You sent Me” (John 11:42). By this He meant that He was from above, and they were from below. Or, in debating with the religious leaders Jesus asked how David could call his descendant his “Lord,” clearly showing that the “Son of David,” the Messiah, was greater than David (Mark 12:35,36, regarding Psalm 110). And of course, to the woman at the well Jesus clearly revealed Himself: she said, “When the Messiah comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said, “I that speak to you am He” (John 4:25,26).
It is clear, then, that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, the Christ, the child born into the house of David, the Son given by God to be the long expected King. The first advent of Jesus established His identity; it did not begin His reign, however, for He has yet to put down all enemies.
The prophecy that “the government will be upon His shoulder” will come to complete reality at His second coming—an aspect of the Messianic prophecies that the prophets did not see (see 1 Peter 1:10,11). The reference to the shoulder is probably a reference to the wearing of an insignia of office on the shoulder (see Isa. 22:22).37 There will be a time when this Son will rule as king.
We may say that Jesus now reigns above, and that is certainly true. But Isaiah envisions a time of universal peace and righteousness in this world. That has not happened yet. Hebrews 1 states that this exaltation will be complete when the Father again brings His firstborn into the world. So Isaiah does not know when all these things will take place; only that they will happen because the Word of the LORD has declared it.
B. The Messiah will be a Wonder King (6b).
The nature of the Messiah is now portrayed in the listing of His throne names. It must be noted that these are not names in the sense that we have names. These are character descriptions. They are intended to give the nature or the significance of the person named. We use the word “name” at times in this way. We may say, “She made a name for herself,” that is, a reputation. The names in this section describe the nature of the glorious king.
Moreover, in the ancient Near East kings were in the habit of taking throne names when they ascended the throne. They took titles and added epithets to their names. Usually the epithets they chose were too generous for mere mortals. For example, in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt the rulers took five titles when crowned—each name referring to some god, some land, some aspiration they had for their administration. One king who was crowned heard the priest say, “Let the great names of the good god and his titles be made like those of [the god] Re: Mighty Bull, One Capable of Planning, Great in Wonders, Filled with Truth, Son of Re to whom life is given.” So in these epithets the King would be extolled as the repository of might, wisdom, wonders, truth, and all life. These are, to be sure, rather ambitious.
There is evidence of such titling in Israel, especially in cases where God bestowed names on new kings. Psalm 2, the coronation psalm, says, “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you.” So on the day the king ascended the throne he was declared to be the Son, that is, God’s anointed King. So too in 2 Samuel 23:1 do we find a proliferation of names for David: “David, the son of Jesse, the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs.” And then we have the LORD’s sending prophets to rename kings, such as calling Solomon Jedidiah (2 Sam. 12:25).
But there is nothing to compare with the type of names found in Isaiah 9. The only names comparable are those honorific titles of Egyptian kings. They all had grandiose, ambitious throne names. Each name had a permanent title and then a variable description. So too in Isaiah: Counsellor, God, Father, and Prince are the permanent titles; wonderful, mighty, everlasting, and peace are the variables. But Isaiah is affirming that the one who is coming will not merely have great titles, but will in reality be what those titles claim. What had been a hope, a wild dream, or monarchs for ages will surely become a reality some day. With a king such as this, peace is assured. There is no hope in some pagan Egyptian king who made great claims; the only hope is in the Word of the LORD that promised Immanuel.38
1. Wonderful Counselor. The first words used to describe this Son have usually been separated in the English Bibles to form two epithets. But Isaiah himself joins these two terms together in Isaiah 28:29. So probably, as with the other titles, the one word serves to qualify the other—he is a wonder of a counselor.39
“Wonderful” is a word that primarily describes the LORD or extraordinary or supernatural things in the Scriptures; it means “extraordinary, surpassing, marvelous, wonderful.” It was not used in a trivial sense, as we often use the English word “wonderful.” For example, in Genesis 18 the LORD announced the birth of Isaac to the aging Abraham and Sarah. When Sarah laughed in her heart, the LORD, knowing she laughed, said, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” “Hard” is our word—Is anything too marvelous, wonderful, extraordinary, for the LORD? Or again, David, meditating on the knowledge of the LORD, came to realize that the LORD knows everything about him, his thoughts, his intentions, even the words he is trying to say, all of it (Ps. 139:1-6). He marvels, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me!” Or again, when the Angel of the LORD appeared to Manoah, Manoah inquired, “What is your name?” To this the visitor responded, “Why do you ask my name, seeing that it is Wonderful?” Then, when the flame on the altar blazed up, the Wonderful Angel ascended to heaven.
To describe the king with this Hebrew word “wonderful” is to ascribe to him extraordinary, normally supernatural abilities. Jesus, by His mighty words, showed Himself to be wonderful in this sense. In John 11:25 he said, “I am the resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Then, to authenticate His claims He raised Lazarus from the dead. That is extraordinary. It is marvelously surpassing. It is wonderful. We would have to say with Nicodemus that no man can do these thing apart from God. Jesus has the words of life because He has power over life and death. What a King He shall be!
The second word in the title is “Counselor.” The word means “one who plans.” It means he has the wisdom to rule. Isaiah 11:2 will explain that this king, this Immanuel, has the Spirit of Counsel, that is, his wisdom to rule is God-given (compare Solomon’s wisdom). The word “king” as well as other related terms are related to the idea of decision-making. Kings make decisions; they give counsel. At times they must surround themselves with counselors to make the right decisions. But this king will be a wonder of a counselor.
Jesus’ teachings and judgments showed that He was a great counsellor. His insight was supernatural—He knew what was in people. In John 1:48-51 He rightly analyzed Nathanael; He said, “I saw you while you were under the fig tree before Philip called you.” To which Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel.” He recognized the Wonderful Counselor when He appeared. So too did the woman at the well in John 4. She said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Is not this the Christ?” Or again, when the Jews sent men to bring Jesus bound hand and foot to them, they returned empty-handed. Their reason? “No man ever spoke like this man” (John 7:26). This work of our Lord continues today, for when He went away He promised to send another counselor (John 14:16), the Holy Spirit, who would continue to counsel by His Word, to convict, to teach, and to transform people.
What made Jesus such a wonderful counselor? He knew what was in man (John 2:25). He had that wonderful knowledge of which David spoke. And it continues. What is it in the seven letters to the churches in Revelation that is His constant theme? Jesus says, “I know your works.” That needs very little explanation; it is painfully clear.
2. The Mighty God. Not only was Messiah to be wonderful in counsel, he was to be the image of God as no other was. The term “God” can be used of kings and judges in the Old Testament.40 But Isaiah does not use it that way, unless that is the sole meaning here. Every other time Isaiah uses the term “God” (‘el) he means deity. In fact, he has just announced in chapters 7 and 8 that this king would be known as ‘Immanu-’el, “God with us.” To say “a king is with us” would be of little effect. But to say that a king is coming whose power will display that God is with the people—that is a sign.
There is another passage that uses “mighty” and “God” together to describe Messiah. Psalm 45:3 says, “Gird your sword, O Mighty One … Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.”41 So the King would be known as the powerful one, the mighty God.42
This epithet, no matter how translated, would be too generous for a mere mortal. It actually brings the ideology of divine kingship into Jerusalem and applies it to some future king. But Jesus claimed such for Himself as well. He claimed to be divine. According to John 8:58 He identified Himself as the great I AM of the Old Testament, the sovereign Lord God of Israel. In Matthew 24:30 he announced, “All power is given to me.” “I AM”—”all power.” In sum, Jesus is the Mighty God.
The apostles bear witness to this. John declares He is God in the flesh, the agent of creation (John 1:1-3). And Paul reminds us of His deity and His power in Ephesians 1:18-21. What might have seemed to Isaiah’s audience to be an honorific title, or a description of one who would rule as God’s vice-regent, became historically true and literal in Jesus Christ, for the mighty God came in the flesh.
3. The Everlasting Father. The third title in many ways is the most striking. It is literally “father of perpetuity,” that is, one who will be perpetually the father. In Canaanite religion the high god is called “father of years,” and this title in Hebrew seems to carry a similar force.43 It describes one who produces, directs, and is lord over the ages.44
The title might be taken to mean that this wonder king has the durability to rule. But the use of the terms in the Old Testament suggests another view. The Messiah—the King—was to be known as the “Son,” not the Father, according to the Davidic Covenant. The covenant said that God would be to the king a father, and the king would be to Him a son (2 Sam. 7:14). But here in Isaiah the Son is called the Father. The point in Isaiah is that the sovereign LORD who had always enthroned the Davidic kings would come and rule as the Messiah.
This seeming confusion of “persons” shows up in a couple of other prophecies. In Isaiah 48:15-16 the LORD God Almighty is speaking and says, “I, even I, have spoken; Yes, I have called him, I have brought him, and his way will prosper. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the LORD God and His Spirit have sent Me.” The same phenomenon of the LORD being both the sovereign who sends Messiah and Messiah who is sent is found in Malachi 3:1-5.
Now all this seems a bit confusing, but the statements of Jesus confirm the fact that the “Son” who is given is also known as the Father. Jesus said, “I am not of this world” (John 8:23), “I came in My Father’s name” (John 5:43), and finally, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).45 So Jesus is the expressed image of the Father, the Sovereign king-maker. By taking this title, Everlasting Father, the Messiah is to be known as the One who is the sovereign Lord over the ever changing years—he produces and directs eternity.46 Such a name belongs to a god, not just any divine creature or spiritual being, but to the God.
4. The Prince of Peace. This last title means that the Messiah will be one who ensures for his people the blessings of peace. He will be a prince who brings peace.47 The word “peace” is used as an epithet for the LORD as well as the King. In Judges 6:24 because of the greeting of “peace” from the Angel of the LORD the place was called “The LORD is peace.” Whenever the LORD visited his people, whether by the Angel of the LORD or by His promised Messiah, it was to announce or promise peace to the world (Isa. 11:6-9; Ps. 72:3,7).
But the Hebrew concept of “peace” is more than the absence of war. To Isaiah, peace is a condition in which all things follow their destiny undisturbed. Elsewhere the prophet will talk of the lion lying down with the lamb, and children playing at the viper’s nest. This can only occur, of course, when major changes in nature are made. Therefore Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic Age will culminate in the prophecy of a new heaven and a new earth—there will be a whole new creation!
It is at this point that we find a little difficulty in the New Testament. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, no doubt; but His teachings on peace seem to be contradictory. He said, “Come unto me all you who labor … and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He also said, “Peace I give you”—not as the world gives (John 14:27; 16:33). The peace that Jesus brings is a peace that passes all understanding.
But Jesus also said, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34); “In this life you shall have trouble and persecution” (John 16:33). So Jesus did not hold out the immediate prospect of Isaianic peace to His disciples. He said that He was sending them among wolves, that brother would rise against brother, and that people would hate them and drag them before magistrates.
The simple and obvious conclusion is that Jesus brought peace with God through redemption by His death and resurrection, and will eventually bring total peace through His exalted reign over all the earth. Jesus said that the kingdom was within us, and that it would also come with lightning flashes in the heavens (Luke 17:20-25). So we yet await the fulfillment of the Isaianic vision of peace in this trouble-torn world.
C. Messiah will reign in righteousness (7).
The prophet declares that peace and righteousness will characterize the reign of Messiah. Such is not the case now, but is to come. That is why Christians pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That reign will then issue into the eternal state (1 Cor. 15:23-25).
All of this will be accomplished by the “zeal of the LORD.”48 On the one hand “zeal” here indicates the divine resentment for honor so long abused; and on the other hand it means that His love flares up to fulfill His promises to His own people.
The central idea of Isaiah’s oracle is as follows: Complete and lasting peace comes with the righteous reign of the divine Messiah. The prophet anticipates that the present gloom at the prospect of war will be replaced by the joy of peace. That peace can only be accomplished through a King who is a Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Righteousness and peace is impossible without Him; nothing is impossible for Him.
The words of the prophet held out hope for his generation. God was not abandoning His people to invasion and disaster, but was promising that in spite of the prospect of war there was a glorious future ahead. And on the eve of the birth of Jesus the nation also felt the oppression of world conflict and the despair it brings. Into that world Jesus came, clearly claiming to be the Messiah of Israel, this Wonder King. But His first coming was to lay the foundation of the glory that would follow, that is, His death on the cross would reconcile people to God, bringing them into eternal peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. And so now as we look forward to His coming again, the words of Isaiah hold out hope for us too. Wars and conflicts abound; despair and depression accompany the fear of danger and aggression. But the Word of God is clear: there is coming a time of complete and lasting peace with the coming of Messiah. There is hope. We who know the LORD by faith need not despair as those without hope.
But what then are we to do while we wait for this King? First, it is our task to carry on the ministry that Isaiah had, to announce to the world the only hope, Jesus the Messiah. Our primary concern is that people find eternal peace with God. We are the ambassadors for this King, calling others to be reconciled with God. And what goes along with this? Our lives must be purified from sin so that we may present to others the hope of righteousness. Our efforts must be tireless to declare to the world that the hope of peace rests with Jesus Christ and none other. And our promotion of causes of peace and righteousness must be consistent with our message, in our families, our communities and our world.
But secondly, this passage also instructs us about the resources available to us even now from our King. We know that Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor, so we may obtain instruction and guidance for our lives from Him and in His Word. He is the Mighty God, for all power is given to Him, so we may trust Him to accomplish great things in and through us. He is the Everlasting Father, so we may take comfort in the stability that knowing our sovereign Lord reigns brings. And, He is our Prince of Peace, so we may rest in Him, knowing that because of Jesus Christ all is well between us and God. In short, these descriptions of our Lord Jesus Christ are calls to greater prayer, greater confidence, and greater service.
Bourke, Joseph. “The Wonderful Counselor.” CBQ 22 (1960):123-143.
Brodie, Louis. “The Children and the Prince: The Structure, Nature, and Date of Isaiah 6-12.” Bib. Theol. Bull. 9 (1979):27-31.
Carlson, R. A. “The Anti-Assyrian Character of the Oracle in Isaiah 9:1-6.” VT 24 (1974):130-135.
Crook, Margaret B. “Did Amos and Micah Know Isaiah 9:2-7 and 11:1-9?” JBL 73 (1954):144-151.
Driver, G. R. “Isaiah ix 5-6.” VT 2 (1952):356-357.
Rignell, Lars G. “A Study of Isaiah 9:2-7.” T Luth Q 7 (1955):31-35.
Snaith, Norman H. “The Interpretation of El Gibbor in Isaiah ix. 5 (EVV v. 6).” The Expository Times 52 (1940-41):36-37.
Treves, Marco. “Little Prince Pele-Joez.” VT 17 1967):464-77.
Wolf, Carl Umhau. “Luther on the Christmas Prophecy, Isaiah 9.” T Luth Q 5 (1953):388-90.
The Glorious Reign of the Messiah
This chapter concludes the section of the book that we call the “Book of Immanuel.” The prophet has announced the supernatural birth if this one who will be known as “Immanuel,” has described his victory over evil and oppression, declared his provision of peace in the world, and described his nature through the throne names given in chapter nine. And because his message had relevance to the faith of his audience, he showed how these promises meant God would continue to deliver his people from their enemies. And so in chapter ten he spoke further of the judgment on rebellious people, as well as judgment on the Assyrians who would be oppressing the people of the land. Now, though, he turns his attention fully to the reign of the Messiah, and while emphasizing peace and righteousness again takes these themes to their greatest limit in the expected reign of the Messiah, what we call the Kingdom.
All the points that the prophet makes are God’s revelation and therefore will be fulfilled completely. The prophets, however, did not know the time sequence of the events. Isaiah expected the birth of a child in a matter of years, and the destruction of Israel in about a dozen years, and the judgment on Assyria not too long after that. But in chapter nine the fulfillment comes seven hundred years later when God sent the Son into the world. But the peaceful reign of this wonder king has not happened yet. And what chapter eleven promises will come later with the second coming, some 2700 years and counting after Isaiah declared it.
The following comments on this portion of the chapter are not intended to exhaust the material that is here, but to direct you in your detail study and reflection on the passage. The subject matter discussed here is very rich, and will take some time to assimilate.
I. The Messiah will reign in righteousness by the power of the Spirit of the LORD (11:1-5).
A. He will be a “Davidic” king (1).
This first verse announces what the “Book of Immanuel” has been predicting all along, that there will be a future king in the line of David who will be known as Immanuel. The verses to follow explain exactly how God will be with us in this One.
The ancient writers used the imagery of a tree to symbolize a kingdom (see also Daniel’s description of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, chapter 4). Israel was a tree. And at the judgment of God at the exile, God cut down the tree, leaving only a stump—the holy remnant. But in time there would come forth from the stock a branch that would become a great king over the restored nation. This passage uses the image of “a shoot out of the stock of Jesse” and “a branch out of his roots”—both building on the comparison with the tree, and so serving as implied comparisons (or hypocatastases for he technical name of the figure).
The Hebrew for “shoot” (hoter) and “branch” (neser [pronounced neh-tser]49 ) invite comparison with the prophecies of the “Branch” (Hebrew semakh) in Zechariah 6:12 (and elsewhere). There the prophecy describes one who will be the Davidic king—and much more.50 He will be a priest as well. And Jeremiah 33 adds that He will be “Yahweh our Righteousness.”
The reference to Jesse is deliberate. Had it said from David, one would have concluded that he would be born into the royal family as a crown prince and grow up in the ruling class. But Jesse was never king; born to Jesse means He will not start out as royalty. He would inherit the kingdom some day, but not at first. The name “Jesse” focuses our attention on His humble origins.
B. He will reign by God’s Spirit (2, 3).
After the initial announcement that “the Spirit of Yahweh” (ruah YHWH) was resting (nahah [pronounced nah-khah] from nuah [noo-ack]) upon him, six appositional statements are made about what this involved. The constructions all use the grammatical construction known as “the construct,” meaning a noun is followed and explained by a following noun know as the genitive case. In “the Spirit of the LORD” we would say that “LORD” is a “possessive genitive” classification51—it is the LORD’s Spirit. But in the combinations that follow we might use either a “genitive of attribute,” but probably would be better to use an “objective genitive.”52 This works better with picking up the apposition53 from the first mention of the Spirit, explaining that that Spirit produces wisdom. Thus, the six qualifications (or three pairs) explain how this one will reign—and the six clearly come from the Holy Spirit.
“A spirit of wisdom and discernment” (ruah hokmah u-binah [pronounced roo-ack khok-mah oo-bee-nah]) refers to his judicial abilities. One is reminded of the prayer of Solomon and the resulting wisdom by which he was able to rule. That wise rule, in all its best, is but a shadow of the coming reign. These two words need closer analysis. “Wisdom” (hokmah) is practical, ethical, and moral skillfulness, the ability to act within circumstances so that the results are productive and beneficial to the community. “Discernment” (binah) refers to the ability to distinguish or decide between things, such as different choices.
It is possible that these two words form a hendiadys.54 Then the Spirit would be said to produce “discerning wisdom.” It may be, however, that the two are meant to be retained with their separate but complementary meanings. Wisdom will include discernment, as Proverbs teaches, and discernment will include wisdom.
“A spirit of counsel and strength” (ruah ‘esah u-geburah [pronounced roo-ack ey-tsah oo-geh-voo-rah]) assures that the king will need no advisors. He will make the right plans and have the power to carry them out. We have already seen in chapter nine that he will be a “wonder of a counselor” (that noun is etymologically related to this one—kings were to be counselors); and we also saw in that same passage that he would be “the mighty god” (gibbor and geburah are etymologically related as well). This king, then, will make all the plans and fulfill them heroically as well. The fullness of the Spirit will empower him to do this.
“A spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD” (ruah da’at weyir’at YHWH [roo-ack da-at veh-year-at ‘a-doe-nay55]) describes the one who is rightly related to God. There can be no “knowledge of the LORD” without right action; and “the fear of the LORD” means no idolatry, no sin, no rebellious acts—only pure religion as it was divinely intended. The king will show in his every act that he is accountable to God—he will only do that which pleases the Father. Like none before him, this king will share in God’s ability through the Spirit. Thus, the prophecy of Immanuel begins to unfold here.
Verse 3 has been variously translated: “he shall be of quick understanding,” “he shall make him perceptive,” or “his delight.” The form hariho (pronounced ha-ree-kho) in the text is critical—it is also difficult. It is the hiphil denominative verb related to ruah, “spirit, breath,” and to reah, “scent, odor.” Does the verb then mean “smell, perceive an odor”? If so, then the idea would be an implied comparison for “delight in” the fear of the LORD. If it is to be connected more closely to “Spirit,” then the idea would be “make him perceptive” in the fear of the LORD. In the context the latter seems overwhelmingly the case, since “odor” and “scent” have not been used, but “Spirit” has. And this makes more sense of what follows: he will not judge by sight, and not reprove by hearing. He will have the ability to see and judge things as they really are. Otto Kaiser says, “All other human judgment is a premature leap in the dark, constantly threatened by emotions and by ignorance of the true situation.”
C. He will reign in righteousness (4, 5).
Three words need to be studied here for the theological description of the reign (as well as for connections with other passages). The most important word is “righteousness” (sedeq [tseh-deck] ) because it is used twice here. This word, and the others in its group, have the basic idea of conforming to the standard—his rule will conform completely to God’s Law (compare Psalm 45 and its citation in Hebrews). It is paralleled with “uprightness” (mesor [may-shore] from yasar [yah-shar]) and with “faithfulness” (‘emunah [eh-moo-nah] from ‘aman [ah-man]). Righteousness, uprightness, and faithfulness will characterize His reign.
Once these words have been defined, then the focus of them in the context must be stressed. They will enable the Messiah to champion the rights of the poor and the needy, and to punish or destroy the wicked; they will enable the Messiah to bring justice to the earth and be faithful to His word and to His mission and to His people. He will rule by the “rod of his mouth” and “the breath (note: ruah again) of his lips” are figures, the first is an implied comparison (word = rod that rules) and the second is probably a metonymy (breath produces the word that condemns). Thus, with the proper virtues, he will do the work of God himself (of course because He is God).
II. The Messiah’s reign will bring peace to the whole of creation (11:6-9).
A. The nature of the world will change (6-8).
There follows then a series of examples of life under this king’s reign. What is portrayed here picks up the earlier prophecies of Isaiah 2:4 with the beating of the swords into farming instruments, and of Isaiah 9:7 with the promise of “peace.” Peace, to Isaiah, we have said, means a condition in the world in which all things can follow their divinely intended purposes or destiny uninterrupted. These three verses illustrate that condition.
I would take the animals and the people mentioned here both literally and figuratively, that is, with the figure of speech known as synecdoche.56 They represent the types of animals: predators and prey, violent and peaceful, cunning and innocent. But it will take a change in nature for the lion to feed on straw rather than meat, or for a child to lead animals out to graze and back them back again, or for a suckling child can play where once only danger lurked.
Some expositors argue that these are just expressions to say in the next life, heaven, there will be peace and harmony (although some would say “in the church”). But we have animals as well as people in mind here. Why include the animals if something was not intended for them as well, as other Scriptures confirm? The study of the text must explain why the figures are used as well as what they mean.
Isaiah clearly foresees that when the Messiah comes there will be a change of conditions in the world order—in the curse, if you will. Paul also observes that the whole earth groans, waiting for the day of redemption (Rom. 8). Obviously, such changes did not occur at Christ’s first advent, and no amount of exegetical juggling can get the words to say they did. The second advent, the Great Jubilee, will bring major changes (and you wold have to ignore or explain away scores of verses that describe the changes that will occur).
B. There will be no more danger or destruction (9).
This verse explains the point of the representative examples listed above. When righteousness will truly prevail, the world will be brought into the condition that God had first intended it to have.
Two verbs are used here that need clarification. “They shall not hurt” is yare`u (yah-ey-oo, from ra’a’); this word is related to the common word in the Old Testament for “evil, pain, calamity.” With the cessation of evil comes the cessation of harm that it brings. The other word is “destroy” (yashitu [yash-khee-too] from sahat [shah-khat); this word means “corrupt, ruin, spoil, destroy.” All this will end with the reign of the Messiah.
The reason is clear: the knowledge of the LORD will cover the earth. Thus, Isaiah is describing not merely a regional king honored and empowered by God, but a universal reign of righteousness through the Spirit of the LORD, in which nature is changed and all will know the LORD. This can only be possible with the divine reign of Christ when He comes in glory. I do not think that the wording of verse 9 can be watered down to say that knowledge about the LORD will be available to Judah. Isaiah focuses his attention on Zion, the holy mountain, because it is and has been the center of attack and affliction; but when it is safe and at peace it is due to Messiah’s presence and powerful dominion over the earth.
The passage was clearly laid out as the hope for the people troubled by wicked rulers and endless wars. As in Isaiah’s day, so now, the people of God can be encouraged that there is a glorious future, that the world will see the day of redemption, that the oppressed and the weak will be delivered, and that oppressors be either destroyed or changed. Such a hope helps believers to live above the curse, fixing their eyes on the hope of glory. It would have been in Isaiah’s day an evangelistic message as well: there is not a ghost of a chance for safety or salvation for this fallen world in any other except in the Messiah who is to come.
But besides being a message of comfort or warning that we too must declare, this passage can be applied to the spiritual life as well. In other words those who believe in Christ become subjects of the King; they share His ministry and receive benefits from him. They are to emulate the King. And so we can make some specific applications for Christians who are trying to be like their King.
The first point is based on the fact that the Messiah will have the Spirit of God working in and through Him. And we know that when Jesus returned to heaven, He sent that same Spirit continue what He began. Thus Christians have been given the same Spirit that governs and controls their King. And that Holy Spirit can produce wisdom, might, and fear of the LORD.
Second, once the subjects of the King are controlled by this Spirit (and how to be controlled by the Spirit is a full study itself), they will see that they are being moved toward righteousness. We who are in His kingdom, which is a kingdom of righteousness, ruled by the king or righteousness, must promote righteousness wherever we are.
Third, Spirit filled believers will also promote and extend peace in the world, insofar as they can. They must champion righteousness, and righteousness will enjoy peace. They will not usher in the age of righteousness, but they will bring others into the kingdom by emulating the telling of the glorious King .
Crook, Margaret B. “A Suggested Occasion for Isaiah 9:2-7 and 11:1-9.” JBL 73 (1949):213-224.
Erlandsson, Seth. “Isaiah 11 and Its Historical Background.” Wis Luth Q 71 (1974):94-113.
Freedman, David Noel. “Is Justice Blind? (Isa. 11:3f.).” Bib 52 (1971):536.
26 The expression is a metonymy of either adjunct or effect; the reference is to the invasions that destroyed the northern kingdom.
27 This then would also be a metonymy of effect or adjunct, the blessing of the people with peace and prosperity will be His way of bringing them honor. The Hebrew verbs qalal (“light,” “treat lightly,” “curse”) and kabad (“heavy,” “treat as important,” “honor”) form a fine contrast.
28 The reference to “Gentiles” makes sense in light of the Assyrian policy of bringing in many people from different lands. Galilee had always been rather cosmopolitan because it was on the trade routes, but the wars filled it with foreigners. By the time of Jesus it had such a reputation that the very righteous and pious Jews would have little to do with it.
29 The figure is hypocatastasis. The Bible loves to use night and darkness to represent evil and destruction and despair, and light or day to signify righteousness, joy, and hope. It was a natural image to express the dawning of a new day--a new beginning after trouble.
30 This would be a metaphor--Jesus is compared to a light. The idea of shining on every person carries many connotations; at the heart of the expression is surely the idea of the conviction of sin, for the New Testament uses darkness for evil, and light for righteousness.
31 Isaiah, like the other prophets, just speak of what Messiah will do, not when he will do it. They did not know of two comings, one to die, and one to reign. But there can be no reign unless salvation for sin is first established.
32 Indeed, the transition from chapter 8 to chapter 9 reads as a direct continuity, but it covers over 700 years. Exact chronology is not possible in reading prophetic passages. The “light” appeared in Galilee some 2000 years ago, but the culmination of this prophetic word remains.
33 The figures are similes. The feeling of completion and relaxation and exuberation are greatest in these kinds of experience, so they offer a glimpse of the joy at the end of the age.
34 The allusion to Midian links the passage to Judges. The main implication is that God will end the oppression; but there is also the suggestion that Messiah will be a Gideon-like figure.
35 The figure used in here is synecdoche; the things mentioned represent the kinds of elements in war.
36 The language is metaphorical, both in Samuel and in Psalm 2. The king will be like a son, an adopted son, to God, heir of the kingdom. Of course, the metaphor “son” as it applies to Jesus also carries with it the meaning that He shares the nature of God--eternal and divine.
37 The figure would then be either metonymy of adjunct or hypocatastasis; it would be the former if he really was going to wear an insignia, and the latter if he is not. The latter is probably the better view, since the reign of the Messiah is not likely to have all the literal trappings of an earthly monarch. He is saying that the king bears the weight of office.
38 So there may be a polemical element here as well because the Israelites were wont to make treaties with Egypt for safety. The prophet would be alluding to Egypt’s titles but only to show that such titles would be true in Immanuel’s case.
39 The construction then has a genitive of specification. He is wonderful, specifically as a counsellor.
40 Moses in Exodus 7:1 is called a god; judges in Psalm 82 are called “gods.” So the term could be used for theocratic leaders who spoke for God.
41 This passage is quoted in Hebrews as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The language of the psalm could have been applied to a human king in a general way, but the writer of Hebrews, pulling many passages together in his treatise, saw how the language ultimately applied literally to Christ.
42 There are several ways to translate the phrase: “God of might,” “mighty God,” “mighty hero,” or “god-like hero.” The various commentaries will deal with the variations in the context of the chapter and in relation to prophecy.
43 The Ugaritic text has ‘abu sanimi, “father of years.” The Canaanite expressions are often the same as Hebrew; they are simply applied to the wrong persons.
44 The genitive should be taken as genitive of the thing possessed, which is close to objective genitive--he produces and controls the ages. The English “everlasting Father” is the translation of an attributive genitive; while this is certainly possible it does not provide the clear meaning of rulership.
45 The individual statements of Scripture about Messiah (in the Old Testament) and that Jesus made (in the New Testament) are frequently capable of one or two interpretations. But when they are all put together, they clearly point in the same direction. And that the Jews understood this is clear, because they charged Jesus with blasphemy. One of the best evidences of the meaning of what Christ said is this response.
46 Micah 5:12 will also describe Messiah as one whose goings have been from everlasting.
47 An attributive genitive--peaceful prince--would mean little in the oracle. The genitive must express what is produced by the prince.
48 The Hebrew word “zeal” describes a passionate intensity to defend a threatened institution or possession. When it describes a passionate desire for the wrong thing, or with the wrong motivation, it means “jealousy, envy.” But when its motive is correct, it is zeal.
49 This is probably the word that the Gospel alludes to in saying Jesus was a Nazarene. "Nazarene" sounds like netser from Isaiah, and the point would be similar, namely, that He came from a common place, was a nobody, and to be looked down on.
50 There is also probably a deliberate word play on the name Zerubbabel, "branch" or "sprout" of Babylon. He was the political leader of the returning exiles, and could then have been a type of Messiah the Branch.
51 There are about twenty to twenty-five classifications that are attested in the biblical texts, some of which would be very rare. Those showing possession (“the house of the king” = the king’s house) are common.
52 In an objective genitive, the first of the two words either produces or acts upon the second word, the object. A good example is “the tree of live,” a tree that produces or enables life, because if Adam and Eve ate from it they would continue to live. The “spirit of wisdom” could be an attributive genitive, meaning “a wise spirit,” but it more likely is objective, meaning a “spirit of [who produces] wisdom.”
53 A word in “apposition” is a word that follows another word in the same case and modifies it. So the passage introduces “the Spirit of the LORD … a Spirit of wisdom … .”
54 A hendiadys (Greek for “one through two”) uses two words joined with a conjunction with refer to the same thing, and so one of the words should be a modifier. In English we would say “I am good and mad” to mean “I am very mad.”
55 The word is Yahweh, but in the Hebrew Bible the word was always read with the substitute word “LORD” and the vowels under YHWH are the vowels for the substitute word, ’adonay. The English Bibles follow that custom with “LORD.”
56 This figure uses a part for the whole, or a whole for the part. The part that is used here, an individual animal, for example, refers to that animal for sure, but also to all in that class or group. So it is both literal and figurative--it is the kind of figure that says more that what is literally stated.