Isaiah 9:2
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
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(2) The people that walked in darkness . . .—The words throw us back upon Isaiah 8:21-22. The prophet sees in his vision a light shining on the forlorn and weary wanderers. They had been wandering in the “valley of the shadow of death” (the phrase comes from Psalm 23:4; Job 3:5), almost as in the gloom of Sheol itself. Now there breaks in the dawn of a glorious day. Historically the return of some of the inhabitants of that region to their allegiance to Jehovah and the house of David (2Chronicles 30:11; 2Chronicles 30:13) may have been the starting point of the prophet’s hopes. The words have to the Christian student a special interest, as having been quoted by St. Matthew (Matthew 4:15-16) in connection with our Lord’s ministry in Galilee, perhaps with His being “of Nazareth,” which was in the tribe of Zebulun. We cannot positively say that such a fulfilment as that was in the prophet’s thoughts. The context shows in that he was thinking of Assyrian invasions, and the defeat of Assyrian armies, of a nation growing strong in numbers and prosperity. In this, as in other cases, the Evangelist adapts the words of prophecy to a further meaning than that which apparently was in the mind of the writer, and interprets them by his own experience. When he compared the state of Galilee, yet more, perhaps, that of his own soul, before and after the Son of man had appeared as the light of the world, Isaiah’s words seemed the only adequate expression of the change.



Isaiah 9:2 - Isaiah 9:7

The darker the cloud, the brighter is the rainbow. This prophecy has for its historical background the calamitous reign of the weak and wicked Ahaz, during which the heart of the nation was bowed, like a forest before the blast, by the dread of foreign invasion and conquest. The prophet predicts a day of gloom and anguish, and then, out of the midst of his threatenings, bursts this glorious vision, sudden as sunrise. With consummate poetic art, the consequences of Messiah’s rule are set forth before He Himself is brought into view.

I. Image is heaped on image to tell the blessedness of that reign {Isaiah 9:2 - Isaiah 9:5}. Each trait of the glowing description is appropriate to the condition of Israel under Ahaz; but each has a meaning far beyond that limited application. Isaiah may, or may not, have been aware of ‘what’ or ‘what time’ his words portrayed in their deepest, that is, their true meaning, but if we believe in supernatural prediction which, though it may have found its point of attachment in the circumstances of the present, was none the less the voice of the Spirit of God, we shall not make, as is often done now, the prophet’s construction of his words the rule for their interpretation. What the prophecy was discerned to point to by its utterer or his contemporaries, is one thing; quite another is what God meant by it.

First we have the picture of the nation groping in a darkness that might be felt, the emblem of ignorance, sin, and sorrow, and inhabiting a land over which, like a pall, death cast its shadow. On that dismal gloom shines all at once a ‘great light,’ the emblem of knowledge, purity, and joy. The daily mercy of the dawn has a gospel in it to a heart that believes in God; for it proclaims the divine will that all who sit in darkness shall be enlightened, and that every night but prepares the way for the freshness and stir of a new morning. The great prophecy of these verses in its indefiniteness goes far beyond its immediate occasion in the state of Judah under Ahaz. As surely as the dawn floods all lands, so surely shall all who walk in darkness see the great light; and wherever is a ‘land of the shadow of death,’ there shall the light shine. It is ‘the light of the world.’

Isaiah 9:3 gives another phase of blessing. Israel is conceived of as dwindled in number by deportation and war. But the process of depopulation is arrested and reversed, and numerical increase, which is always a prominent feature in Messianic predictions, is predicted. That increase follows the dawning of the light, for men will flock to the ‘brightness of its rising.’ We know that the increase comes from the attractive power of the Cross, drawing men of many tongues to it; and we have a right to bring the interpretation, which the world’s history gives, into our understanding of the prophecy. That enlarged nation is to have abounding joy.

Undoubtedly, the rendering ‘To it thou hast increased the joy’ is correct, as that of the Authorized Version {based upon the Hebrew text} is clearly one of several cases in which the partial similarity in spelling and identity in sound of the Hebrew words for ‘not’ and ‘to it,’ have led to a mistaken reading. The joy is described in words which dance and sing, like the gladness of which they tell. The mirth of the harvest-field, when labour is crowned with success, and the sterner joy of the victors as they part the booty, with which mingles the consciousness of foes overcome and dangers averted, are blended in this gladness. We have the joy of reaping a harvest of which we have not sowed the seed. Christ has done that; we have but to enjoy the results of His toil. We have to divide the spoil of a victory which we have not won. He has bound the strong man, and we share the benefits of His overcoming the world.

That last image of conquerors dividing the spoil leads naturally to the picture in Isaiah 9:4 of emancipation from bondage, as the result of a victory like Gideon’s with his handful. Who the Gideon of this new triumph is, the prophet will not yet say. The ‘yoke of his burden’ and ‘the rod of his oppressor’ recall Egypt and the taskmasters.

Isaiah 9:5 gives the reason for the deliverance of the slaves; namely, the utter destruction of the armour and weapons of their enemy. The Revised Version is right in its rendering, though it may be doubtful whether its margin is not better than its text, since not only are ‘boot’ and ‘booted’ as probable renderings of the doubtful words as ‘armour’ and ‘armed man,’ but the picture of the warrior striding into battle with his heavy boots is more graphic than the more generalised description in the Revised Version’s text. In any case, the whole accoutrements of the oppressor are heaped into a pile and set on fire; and, as they blaze up, the freed slaves exult in their liberty. The blood-drenched cloaks have been stripped from the corpses and tossed on the heap, and, saturated as they are, they burn. So complete is the victory that even the weapons of the conquered are destroyed. Our conquering King has been manifested, that He might annihilate the powers by which evil holds us bound. His victory is not by halves. ‘He taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted.’

II. Now we are ready to ask, And who is to do all this? The guarantee for its accomplishment is the person of the conquering Messiah. The hopes of Israel did not, and those of the world do not, rest on tendencies, principles, laws of progress, advance of civilisation, or the like abstractions or impersonalities, but on a living Person, in whom all principles which make for righteousness and blessedness for individuals and communities are incarnated, and whose vital action works perpetually in mankind.

In this prophecy the prophet is plainly speaking greater things than he knew. We do not get to the meaning if we only ask ourselves what did he understand by his words, or what did his hearers gather from them? They and he would gather the certainty of the coming of Messiah with wondrous attributes of power and divine gifts, by whose reign light, gladness, liberty would belong to the oppressed nation. But the depth of the prophecy needed the history of the Incarnation for its disclosure. If this is not a God-given prediction of the entrance into human form of the divine, it is something very like miraculous that, somehow or other, words should have been spoken, without any such reference, which fit so closely to the supernatural fact of Christ’s incarnation.

The many attempts to translate Isaiah 9:6 so as to get rid of the application of ‘Mighty God,’ ‘Everlasting Father,’ to Messiah, cannot here be enumerated or adequately discussed. I must be content with pointing out the significance of the august fourfold name of the victor King. It seems best to take the two first titles as a compound name, and so to recognise four such compounds.

There is a certain connection between the first and second of these which respectively lay stress on wisdom of plan and victorious energy of accomplishment, while the third and fourth are also connected, in that the former gathers into one great and tender name what Messiah is to His people, and the latter points to the character of His dominion throughout the whole earth. ‘A wonder of a counsellor,’ as the words may be rendered, not only suggests His giving wholesome direction to His people, but, still more, the mystery of the wisdom which guides His plans. Truly, Jesus purposes wonders in the depth of His redeeming design. He intends to do great things, and to reach them by a road which none would have imagined. The counsel to save a world, and that by dying for it, is the miracle of miracles. ‘Who hath been His counsellor in that overwhelming wonder?’ He needs no teacher; He is Himself the teacher of all truth. All may have His direction, and they who follow it will not walk in darkness.

‘The mighty God.’ Isaiah 10:21 absolutely forbids taking this as anything lower than the divine name. The prophet conceives of Messiah as the earthly representative of divinity, as having God with and in Him as no other man has. We are not to force upon the prophet the full new Testament doctrine of the oneness of the incarnate Word with the Father, which would be an anachronism. But we are not to fall into the opposite error, and refuse to see in these words, so startling from the lips of a rigid monotheist, a real prophecy of a divine Messiah, dimly as the utterer may have perceived the figure which he painted. Note, too, that the word ‘mighty’ implies victorious energy in battle. It is often applied to human heroes, and here carries warlike connotations, kindred with the previous picture of conflict and victory. Thus strength as of God, and, in some profound way, strength which is divine, will be the hand obeying the brain that counsels wonder, and all His plans shall be effected by it.

But these are not all His qualities. He is ‘the Father of Eternity’-a name in which tender care and immortal life are marvellously blended. This King will be in reality what, in old days, monarchs often called themselves and seldom were,-the Father of His people, with all the attributes of that sacred name, such as guidance, love, providing for His children’s wants. Nor can Christians forget that Jesus is the source of life to them, and that the name has thus a deeper meaning. Further, He is possessed of eternity. If He is so closely related to God as the former name implies, that predicate is not wonderful. Dying men need and have an undying Christ. He is ‘the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.’

The whole series of names culminates in ‘the Prince of Peace,’ which He is by virtue of the characteristics expressed in the foregoing names. The name pierces to the heart of Christ’s work. For the individual He brings peace with God, peace in the else discordant inner nature, peace amid storms of calamity-the peace of submission, of fellowship with God, of self-control, of received forgiveness and sanctifying. For nations and civic communities He brings peace which will one day hush the tumult of war, and burn chariots and all warlike implements in the fire. The vision tarries, because Christ’s followers have not been true to their Master’s mission, but it comes, though its march is slow. We can hasten its arrival.

Isaiah 9:7 - Isaiah 9:8 declare the perpetuity of Messiah’s kingdom, His Davidic descent, and those characteristics of His reign, which guarantee its perpetuity. ‘Judgment’ which He exercises, and ‘righteousness’ which He both exercises and bestows, are the pillars on which His throne stands; and these are eternal, and it never will totter nor sink, as earthly thrones must do. The very life-blood of prophecy, as of religion, is the conviction that righteousness outlasts sin, and will survive ‘the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds.’

The great guarantee for these glowing anticipations is that the ‘zeal of the Lord of hosts’ will accomplish them. Zeal, or rather jealousy, is love stirred to action by opposition. It tolerates no unfaithfulness in the object of its love, and flames up against all antagonism to the object. ‘He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye.’ So the subjects of that Messiah may be sure that a wall of fire is round about them, which to foes without is terror and destruction, and to dwellers within its circuit glows with lambent light, and rays out beneficent warmth.

Isaiah 9:2. The people — Israel and Judah; that walked — Or sat, as it is in Matthew 4:16; in darkness — Both in the darkness of ignorance, and in the darkness of calamity; have seen a great light — The prophet speaks of what was future, and would not take place till after seven hundred years, as though it were already arrived. Though “there would be very many among the Jews, to whom the Messiah, arising with his new light, would be an offence; who would resist his salutary doctrine, and who would therefore fall into the most grievous calamities, and thick darkness;” yet, “there would be others to whom the Messiah would truly appear with the light of grace and consolation, and who should receive him with the greatest joy, as attaining the summit of their hope and desire.” Accordingly, after the prophet had described the misery of those who, he foresaw, should reject him, he turns his style to describe the felicity of those on whom this Sun of righteousness should arise, setting forth both their joy and the cause of it.

9:1-7 The Syrians and Assyrians first ravaged the countries here mentioned, and that region was first favoured by the preaching of Christ. Those that want the gospel, walk in darkness, and in the utmost danger. But when the gospel comes to any place, to any soul, light comes. Let us earnestly pray that it may shine into our hearts, and make us wise unto salvation. The gospel brings joy with it. Those who would have joy, must expect to go through hard work, as the husbandman, before he has the joy of harvest; and hard conflict, as the soldier, before he divides the spoil. The Jews were delivered from the yoke of many oppressors; this was a shadow of the believer's deliverance from the yoke of Satan. The cleansing the souls of believers from the power and pollution of sin, would be by the influence of the Holy Spirit, as purifying fire. These great things for the church, shall be done by the Messiah, Emmanuel. The Child is born; it was certain; and the church, before Christ came in the flesh, benefitted by his undertaking. It is a prophecy of him and of his kingdom, which those that waited for the Consolation of Israel read with pleasure. This Child was born for the benefit of us men, of us sinners, of all believers, from the beginning to the end of the world. Justly is he called Wonderful, for he is both God and man. His love is the wonder of angels and glorified saints. He is the Counsellor, for he knew the counsels of God from eternity; and he gives counsel to men, in which he consults our welfare. He is the Wonderful Counsellor; none teaches like him. He is God, the mighty One. Such is the work of the Mediator, that no less power than that of the mighty God could bring it to pass. He is God, one with the Father. As the Prince of Peace, he reconciles us to God; he is the Giver of peace in the heart and conscience; and when his kingdom is fully established, men shall learn war no more. The government shall be upon him; he shall bear the burden of it. Glorious things are spoken of Christ's government. There is no end to the increase of its peace, for the happiness of its subjects shall last for ever. The exact agreement of this prophecy with the doctrine of the New Testament, shows that Jewish prophets and Christian teachers had the same view of the person and salvation of the Messiah. To what earthly king or kingdom can these words apply? Give then, O Lord, to thy people to know thee by every endearing name, and in every glorious character. Give increase of grace in every heart of thy redeemed upon earth.The people that walked in darkness - The inhabitants of the region of Galilee. They were represented as walking in darkness, because they were far from the capital, and from the temple; they had few religious privileges; they were intermingled with the pagan, and were comparatively rude and uncultivated in their manners and in their language. Allusion to this is several times made in the New Testament; John 1:46 : 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' John 7:52 : 'Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet;' Matthew 26:69; Mark 14:70. The word walked here is synonymous with lived, and denotes that thick darkness brooded over the country, so that they lived, or walked amidst it.

Have seen a great light - Light is not only an emblem of knowledge in the Scriptures, but of joy, rejoicing, and deliverance. It stands opposed to moral darkness, and to times of judgment and calamity. What is the particular reference here, is not agreed by expositors. The immediate connection seems to require us to understand it of deliverance from the calamities that were impending over the nation then. They would be afflicted, but they would be delivered. The tribes of Israel would be carried captive away; and Judah would also be removed. This calamity would particularly affect the ten tribes of Israel - the northern part of the land, the regions of Galilee - "for those tribes would be carried away not to return." Yet this region also would be favored with a especially striking manifestation of light. I see no reason to doubt that the language of the prophet here is adapted to extend into that future period when the Messiah should come to that dark region, and become both its light and its deliverer. Isaiah may have referred to the immediate deliverance of the nation from impending calamities, but there is a fullness and richness of the language that seems to be applicable only to the Messiah. So it is evidently understood in Matthew 4:13-16.

They that dwell - The same people are referred to here as in the former member of the verse.

In the land of the shadow of death - This is a most beautiful expression, and is special to the Hebrew poets. The word צלמות tsalmâveth, is exceedingly poetical. The idea is that of death, as a dark substance or being, casting a long and chilly shade over the land - standing between the land and the light - and thus becoming the image of ignorance, misery, and calamity. It is often used, in the Scriptures, to describe those regions that were lying as it were in the penumbra of this gloomy object, and exposed to all the chills and sorrows of this melancholy darkness. Death, by the Hebrews, was especially represented as extending his long and baleful shadow ever the regions of departed spirits; Job 38:17 :

Have the gates of death been opened to thee?

Hast thou seen the gates of the shadow of death?

Before I go - I shall not return -

To the land of darkness

And of the shadow of death.

2. the people—the whole nation, Judah and Israel.

shadow of death—the darkest misery of captivity.

The people; the people of God, Israel and Judah, and especially those of them mentioned in the foregoing verse.

Walked; in Matthew 4:16, it is sat. It notes not their gesture, but their state or condition, they lived or abode. Only walking in darkness is more perilous than sitting. Darkness: the expression is general, and so may well comprehend both the darkness of calamity, and the darkness of ignorance, and idolatry, and profaneness, in which those parts were eminently involved, by reason of their great distance from God’s sanctuary, and by their frequent converse with the Gentiles, who bordered upon them, and of which this place is expounded, Mt 4.

Have seen, i.e. shall see, at the coming of the Messiah.

The land of the shadow of death; which notes both extreme, and dangerous, or deadly darkness.

The people that walked in darkness,.... Meaning not the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, in the times of Hezekiah, when Sennacherib besieged them, as Jarchi and Kimchi interpret it; and much less the people of Israel in Egypt, as the Targum paraphrases it; but the inhabitants of Galilee in the times of Christ; see Matthew 4:16, John 1:48 and is a true character of all the people of God before conversion, who are in a state of darkness, under the power of sin, shut up in unbelief; are in gross ignorance of themselves, and their condition; of sin, and the danger they are exposed to by it; of divine and spiritual things; of the grace of God; of the way of peace, life, and salvation by Christ; and of the work of the blessed Spirit; and of the truths of the Gospel; they are in the dark, and can see no objects in a spiritual sense; not to read the word, so as to understand it; or to work that which is good; and they "walk" on in darkness, not knowing where they are, and whither they are going; and yet of these it is said, they

have seen a great light; Christ himself, who conversed among the Galilaeans, preached unto them, and caused the light of his glorious Gospel to shine into many of their hearts; by which their darkness was removed, so that they not only saw Christ, this great light, with their bodily eyes, but with the eyes of their understanding; who may be called the "light", because he is the author and giver of all light, even of nature, grace, and glory; and a "great" one, because he is the sun, the greatest light, the sun of righteousness, the light of the world, both of Jews and Gentiles; he is the true light, in distinction from all typical ones, and in opposition to all false ones, and who in his person is God over all.

They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death; as Galilee might be called, because it was a poor, miserable, and uncomfortable place, from whence no good came; and this character fitly describes God's people in a state of nature and unregeneracy, who are dead in Adam, dead in law, and dead in trespasses and sins, dead as to the spiritual use of the powers and faculties of their souls; they have no spiritual life in them, nor any spiritual sense, feeling, or motion; and they "dwell", continue, and abide in this state, till grace brings them out of it; see John 12:46,

upon them hath the light shined: Christ in human nature, through the ministration of his Gospel, by his spirit, so as to enlighten them who walk in darkness, and to quicken them who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, and to comfort them in their desolate estate; and this light not only shone upon them in the external ministration of the word, as it did "upon" the inhabitants in general, but it shone "into" the hearts of many of them in particular, so that in this light they saw light.

The people that {d} walked in darkness have seen a great {e} light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the {f} light shined.

(d) Which were in captivity in Babylon and the prophets speaks of that thing which would come to pass 60 years later as though it were now done.

(e) Meaning, the comfort of their deliverance.

(f) This captivity and deliverance were figures of our captivity by sin and of our deliverance by Christ through the preaching of the Gospel, Mt 4:15,16.

2. have seen] the perfects throughout are those of prophetic certainty; the writer is transported into the future.

the shadow of death] Heb. çal-mâveth, usually held by scholars to be a corruption of çalmûth (= “shadow” simply). But the traditional etymology is forcibly defended by Nöldeke in Zeitschr. f. A.T. Wiss., 1897, pp. 183 f.

2, 3. The sudden change of style is remarkable; all at once the prophecy breaks into a strain of rapturous and animated poetry, which is sustained to the close. In the Hebr. ch. 9 begins here.

Verse 2. - The people that walked in darkness (comp. Isaiah 8:22). All the world was "in darkness" when Christ came; but here the Jews especially seem to be intended. It was truly a dark time with them when Christ came (see Dollinger's 'Judenthum and Heidenthum,' vol. 2. pp. 301-335). Have seen; rather, saw. The "prophetic" preterit is used throughout the whole passage. A great light. "The Light of the world," "the Sun of righteousness," "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, "first broke on man in that northern tract" by the way of the sea, "when Jesus came forward to teach and to preach in "Galilee of the Gentiles." For thirty years he had dwelt at Nazareth, in Zebulon. There he had first come forward to teach in a synagogue (Luke 4:16-21); in Galilee he had done his first miracles (John 2:11; John 4:54); at Capernaum. "Upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim," he commenced his preaching of repentance (Matthew 4:13-17). The "light" first streamed forth in this quarter, glorifying the region on which contempt had long been poured. Isaiah 9:2The range of vision is first widened in Isaiah 9:2.: "The people that walk about in darkness see a great light; they who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light shines." The range of vision is here extended; not to the Gentiles, however, but to all Israel. Salvation would not break forth till it had become utterly dark along the horizon of Israel, according to the description in Isaiah 5:30, i.e., till the land of Jehovah had become a land of the shadow of death on account of the apostasy of its inhabitants from Jehovah (zalmâveth is modified, after the manner of a composite noun, from zalmūth, according to the form kadrūth, and is derived from צלם, Aeth. salema, Arab. zalima, to be dark).

(Note: The shadow or shade, zēl, Arab. zill (radically related to tall equals טל, dew), derived its name ab obtegendo, and according to the idea attached to it as the opposite of heat or of light, was used as a figure of a beneficent shelter (Isaiah 16:3), or of what was dark and horrible (cf., Targ. tallâni, a night-demon). The verb zâlam, in the sense of the Arabic zalima, bears the same relation to zâlal as bâham to bâhâh (Gen. p. 93), ‛âram, to be naked, to ‛ârâh (Jeshurun, p. 159). The noun zelem, however, is either formed from this zâlam, or else directly from zēl, with the substantive termination em.)

The apostate mass of the nation is to be regarded as already swept away; for if death has cast its shadow over the land, it must be utterly desolate. In this state of things the remnant left in the land beholds a great light, which breaks through the sky that has been hitherto covered with blackness. The people, who turned their eyes upwards to no purpose, because they did so with cursing (Isaiah 8:21), are now no more. It is the remnant of Israel which sees this light of spiritual and material redemption arise above its head. In what this light would consist the prophet states afterwards, when describing first the blessings and then the star of the new time.

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