Isaiah 9 Study Notes
9:1 Zebulun and Naphtali were two northern tribes hit hard by the Assyrian invasion led by Tiglath-pileser in 733 BC. At that time, the Assyrians reduced the land holdings of the northern empire and integrated three new provinces into their empire. These three provinces were called Magiddu (Galilee), Du’ru (the way of the sea), and Gal’aza (the land east of the Jordan).
9:2 The Assyrian invasion brought great devastation (darkness), but the people still had great reason to hope (light has dawned). The verbs in this section are in what is often called the “prophetic perfect.” Though the events were in the future, they are described as if they had already happened. Isaiah 9:1-2 is quoted in Mt 4:15-16 in reference to Jesus’s ministry.
9:3 The events predicted would bring such joy as is felt at a great harvest or a great plunder.
9:4 The type of deliverance the pronouncement pictures seemed impossible. After all, Assyria was a world power and God’s people were weak and crushed. Thus, the pronouncement alludes to the day of Midian. This refers to the events of Jdg 6-7 when Gideon—with just a handful of troops but with the power of God—defeated the oppressive Midianites and expelled them from the land.
9:5 As Gary Smith explains, “The burning of the boots and the bloody clothes of enemy soldiers . . . signify a victory in holy war where spoils were dedicated to God and military equipment was set on fire” (cp. Jos 11:6,9; Ezk 39:9).
9:6-7 Twice earlier in this section of Isaiah, the birth of children has been described as having prophetic significance (7:14; 8:1-4). For a third time, the reader learns of a future birth. Some commentators believe the text means that this future royal child will be a purely human descendant of David who will be proclaimed king and lead God’s people to a new level of freedom and prosperity. Both Hezekiah and Josiah have been identified as this child. However, the titles given to this child and the description of his kingdom far surpass anything applicable to Hezekiah or Josiah. The only feasible interpretation of this passage is messianic. This child will be given names that signify his character. He will be a sage characterized by extraordinary wisdom (Wonderful Counselor). He will have life that is never ending (Eternal Father). He will bring peace (Prince of Peace). But the most extraordinary thing of all that confirms he is simply not to be identified with a Hezekiah or a Josiah is his title, Mighty God (cp. 8:21). In the NT, Jesus is identified as the Davidic descendant who fulfilled this great promise (Mt 1:1,22-23).
9:8-10 The preeminent sin of God’s people, pride and arrogance, is again pointed out. They believed they did not need God to survive and prosper. They continued in their pride even after experiencing devastation at the hands of Tiglath-pileser. They foolishly claimed they not only could rebuild, they could even improve themselves by their own resources and strength (cut stones replace bricks; cedars replace sycamores).
9:11 Rezin was the king of Syria (Aram) whose adversaries were Assyria and its vassals.
9:12 Israel was beset by enemies to the northeast (Aram, who under their king, Rezin, allied and exploited them for its purposes) and Philistia to its immediate west. Note that the last two parts of this verse are repeated in vv. 17,21, as well as 10:4.
9:13 God’s punishment of his people was intended to convince them to return to his ways, but they were so dull of mind and spirit that they did not respond.
9:14 After the first Assyrian incursion into the north (733 BC), Israel continued in its sinful ways. God soon brought a more devastating judgment in 722 BC, ending their independent existence. The expression head and tail, palm branch and reed points to a totality (19:15).
9:15-16 It was particularly the leaders (including the elder and the prophet) who were responsible for the people going in the wrong direction.
9:17 Such was the corruption of Israel’s society that both the strong and the weak were guilty.
9:18-19 Devastation is seen as the natural consequence of wickedness itself (wickedness burns like a fire) as well as the result of divine anger (the land is scorched by the wrath of the Lord of Armies). Sin breaks up human relationships, even brotherly love.
9:20 The greediness of the people led them to consume everyone and everything in their path. Eventually their hunger turned them on themselves.
9:21 Manasseh and Ephraim were two large northern tribes whose founding fathers were brothers, the sons of Joseph (Gn 41:50-52; 48:5). They turned against each other, illustrating lack of compassion toward a brother (Is 9:19). Then together they turned against Judah.