Isaiah 9:2-7

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Background to the Book of Isaiah

Historical: The following table gives an indication when the prophet Isaiah was preaching. It is worth noting that Hosea in the Northern kingdom of Israel and Micah in the Southern kingdom of Judah were in the same period.


Kings Israel

Kings of Judah

PROPHET

Kings of Assyria

Menahem 748 - 737

Uzziah 769 - 736
Jotham 756 - 741

Hosea 745 Israel
Isaiah 742 Judah
Micah 735 Judah

Tiglath-Pileser
745 - 727

Pekahiah 737 - 736
Pekah 735 - 732
Hoshea 731 - 723

Ahaz 741 - 715

Isaiah 742 - 701

Shalmanaser
727 - 722

Fall of Samaria
722-721

Hezekiah 715 - 687

Isaiah 742 - 701

Sargon 722 - 705

(The above dates are approximate because you will find slight variation among the scholars)

Isaiah, a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah, had four major periods of prophecy between the years 742 -701 BCE. One of these times was when Ahaz was king of Judah and the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser had initiated a campaign from the north into Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel (738 BCE). In order to combat the Assyrian army Israel had formed a coalition with Syria against Assyria. However, Judah refused to join that coalition having the benefit of some distance from the direct challenge of Assyria. The kings of Syria (Rezin) and Israel (Pekah) sought to replace by force the Judean king, Ahaz, in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah, sharing with Ahaz the words he heard from Yahweh, made clear that Ahaz was to trust in God alone and not to go down the path of forming coalitions with other countries whether, Syria, Israel or Assyria.

Isaiah was alive when the Assyrians over ran the Northern kingdom of Israel and deported the majority of the ten tribes of Israel to countries which Assyria had defeated and who were in vassaldom to Assyria. There is some reference to this event, but not as much comment as one would expect for such a devastating occurrence. Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem was safe because the Lord dwelt there in the temple. This was affirmed when the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem and the people were becoming desperate when suddenly the Assyrians departed in a hurry leaving Jerusalem safe for another 114 years. The Book of Isaiah records this as a miracle of the Lord (Isa 37:36-38).

Literary Background to the Book:

The whole book of Isaiah has been divided up into three main sections which appear to reflect preaching from different historical periods. Chapters 1-39 are often referred to as the prophecies from Isaiah of Jerusalem and cover the periods shown in the above table. Chapters 40-55 speak to the exiles, offering forgiveness and a strong encouragement to move back to Jerusalem. It contains some of the most beautiful language and a comprehensive theology of God as creator and redeemer. The remaining chapters 56-66 speak to a later post-exilic situation addressing quite different concerns to those expressed in Isa 40-55.

Isaiah 1-39 has some distinct sections within it. Isa 1 has a collection of oracles which appear to come from different periods of Isaiah's ministry. Isa 2-12 contains a collection of oracles mainly about Judah and Jerusalem, covering the threat from the Israel/Syria Coalition and the section ends with a psalm of deliverance. As each of the major prophets have a section with oracles against foreign nations so Isa 13-23 covers this topic. There are oracles against Babylon, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Assyrian crisis and Tyre. We then find in Isa 24-27 a collection of oracles which are called the Isaiah Apocalypse and is reminiscent of material from a much later period in Israel's history. The remaining oracles cover further oracles on the Assyrian crisis and this section finishes with narratives about Isaiah. Isa 36-38 are almost identical with 2 Kings 18-19.

The Isaiah Scroll which was found at Qumran in the caves there (1948) and came from a time (250-68 BCE) before the Masoretes added vowels to the language is almost an exact copy of the Hebrew Text from which we work today. This testifies to the ability of the scribes who copied the Hebrew texts faithfully over the centuries and to the Masoretes who incorporated the vowels correctly (8-10 CE).
In the chapters leading up to the call of Isaiah (Isa 6) we have oracles which consist mainly of judgement and condemnation although Isa 2:1-4 speaks of the future as one of peace. We see in these earlier chapters two "Introductions" in Isa 1:1 and Isa 2:1 and it appears that we have additions and reworking of the Isaiah material. The condemnations are focused on the unjust behaviour of the people towards others in society and their abandonment of following in the ways of Yahweh. For these sins, the judgement is going be particularly harsh and the people will be overrun by a foreign nation.

Context of Isa 9:2-7

Quite suddenly, we are into Isa 6 with its picture of mystery and awe describing the call of Isaiah. The narratives that follow (Isa 7 - 8) illustrate the prophet's confrontation with Ahaz during the intrigue of the Syro-Ephraimite war. Isaiah offers words of reassurance to Ahaz and the prophecies concentrate on the fall of Israel. We ask the question: is there a particular reason the call of Isaiah is in chapter 6 and not in chapter one? Are we given this picture of the people's disloyalty and appalling treatment of the poor in order to see the necessity for Isaiah's call? We already know that there will be a hard path for the prophet because of the seriousness of the people's waywardness. Indeed, the effect of the hardening of heart spoken of in Isa 6:9-10 is demonstrated in Isa 7-8. Warnings are given that no one is to consult with the spirits of the dead and those who do will will find only distress and darkness. The contrast will be for those who have suffered who will now be part of the new dawn of peace and hope (Isa 9:2-7). These words are followed by the description of judgement which fell on the Northern Kingdom, Israel, because they did not turn to Yahweh. A lament follows in Isa 10 because Assyria will come, bring suffering and annihilation for the Northern Kingdom.

Insights/Message Isa 9:2-7

Literary structure:mxxxxx Isa 8:16-9:7 forms the conclusion to what we call the Isaiah memoir (Isa 7:1-9:7) in which the prophet's children become signs. The sudden change from prose into poetry is congruent with the change of topic and the reversal of the imagery. The poetry is constructed so that the second line repeats the thought of the first line using different words and images. If it was used as a song liturgically the repetition of the same idea helps people to remember it and emphasises one idea before moving to the next. The structure of the song is: v.1 - promises a reversal; v.2 - is the rejoicing of the rescued people; vv.4-5 - give the detail of the rescue; v.6 - proclaims the birth of the new king and his qualities; v.7 - the prophet expands the description of the new king's government which will be forever. This is often called a Royal Psalm of Thanksgiving which would be sung at the coronation of a new King. It includes the qualities of a king (v.6b) and states the manner in which he will reign (v.7b). Just note the play on words in v.6, "for us" and "with us" in the Hebrew "immanu" invokes the name Immanu - el, "with us God".

Message / Theology.The song celebrates the defeat by Yahweh of Judah's enemies and the enthronement of the new Davidic king. In light of the context of Isa 7-8 which foretell the defeat of Rezin and Pekah it could be a reference to the new King Hezekiah on whom a great deal rested. The lectionary reading is part of the memoir which attempts to convince Hezekiah to avoid alliances with Egypt against Assyria (Sweeney: 186). The actions of Ahaz are recalled whereby he rejected the prophet's words and consequently suffered the intervention of Assyria.

Some scholars immediately jump to the conclusion that these verses, especially v.6, refer to the Messiah. However, the prophecy is for one who will sit on the throne of David not some figure who brings world history to an end. The qualities of this person who ascends the throne is expected like all the kings to rule with justice and righteousness. However, the names used in v.6 are very interesting, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. This king will be wise in the ways of people and have the gifts to be a shepherd of the people. The second name states that this Davidic king is the representative of God on earth and Everlasting Father reminds people of the father son relationship which is depicted in Hosea 11. As Prince of Peace the new king will not simply bring the absence of war, but everyone will find prosperity, health and geographic peace from one's enemies.

The words in the time of Isaiah was offering new hope in a time when the Assyrians were defeating lots of countries and expanding their Empire across the Middle East and into Egypt.

The early church heard that promise and saw it fulfilled in Jesus (Tucker: 124). We believe that God came to earth, lived out the qualities in v.6 and gave us hope for the future if we could live with justice and righteousness. It is a celebration and reminder of what God in Christ has given us, using the words from an eighth century prophet, words which most Christians only associate with Christ.

Worship/Resources for Isa 9:2-7

Worship: Psalm 96 is a joyous psalm which can be used as a Call to Worship and praise

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Barton, J. Isaiah 1-39. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.
Childs, Brevard. Isaiah. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Clements,R.E. Isaiah 1 - 39. NCB. Grand Rapids: Wm.Eerdmans, , 1980.
Hayes, J.H. & Isaiah, His Times and His Preaching, Abingdon,
Kaiser,O. Isaiah 1-12 (2nd ed), OTL, transl. J.Bowden, London: SCM Press, 1983.
Oswalt,J.N. The Book of Isaiah 1-39, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986.
Seitz,C.R. Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation, John Knox, Louisville, 1993.
Sweeney,M.A., Isaiah 1-39, FOTL, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996.
Tucker, Gene. 'The Book of Isaiah 1-39'. NIB. Vol VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Watts,J.D.W. Isaiah1-33, Isaiah 34-66, WBC, Word Book, Waco, 1985, 1987.
Wildberger,H. Isaiah 1-12, transl.T.H.Trapp, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1991


The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:

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