"Thy law is the truth." Psa. cxix.142.
"Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful." Psa. cxix.138.
"Lead me in thy truth and teach me." Psa. xxv.5.
"The word of our God shall stand forever." Isaiah xl.8.
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away." Mark xiii.31.
The destructive critics have assaulted the most precious prophetic scriptures. It has been already stated that the final aim of skepticism is against the person of Christ. If the unbelieving world can be rid of both the prophecies concerning Christ, and the history of his life, his sacrificial death and resurrection, they will be rid of that stumbling stone which they have been pleased to call the "much-abused supernaturalism." Hence, the strenuous effort is made to destroy predictive prophecy concerning the person of the Son of God. The fact that there are more than thirty-five prophecies, containing one hundred and thirty distinct counts, concerning the birth, the life, the teaching, the death, and the resurrection of our Lord, greatly disturbs the critics.
The prophecy of Isaiah ix.6 has been troublesome. The prophet foretold, in distinct and unimpeachable language, the coming of the Messiah: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
A critic who claims to be loyal to the word of God says concerning this passage: "The prophet always paints upon the canvas the events of the near future. I can not believe that Isaiah ix.6 refers to a far-off event, because it would not give comfort to his people at that time." As this prophecy was given more than seven hundred years before the coming of the Messiah, our critic concludes that it could be of no practical benefit to Israel, hence, must have referred to some person who must soon appear.
To affirm that this promise of the Messiah long before his coming "would not give comfort to his people" is mere assumption. The time of his coming was not announced, and the people were to live in expectation of the event, which expectation was to be their stay and comfort. This assumption would vitiate the promise of his coming made to our first parents. Gen. iii.15, the promises made to Moses; Deut xviii.15, the predictions made in Psa. xxii.1, 8, 16, 18, in which his cry on the cross, the taunt of his enemies, the piercing of his hands and feet, and the parting of his raiment among the soldiers, were all predicted.
The prediction that "Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me, he that is to be the Ruler of Israel; whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting" (Micah v.2) was made seven hundred years before the coming of Christ, and, according to critical assumption, could not refer to our Savior, "because it would not give comfort to his people."
Indeed, no prophecy preceding the time of Isaiah ix.6 could be allowed to refer to Christ, on the assumption of the critic. More than this, the prediction of Christ's second advent is vitiated by this assumption. It was more than eighteen hundred years ago that the angels said to the disciples who were steadfastly watching his ascension: "This same Jesus who is taken from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." Was there no comfort to the disciples in the promise of his return, though they did not live to witness it? Paul, enlarging on the promises of Christ's return, said to the Thessalonians: "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
Let us now consider the prophecy in its context. The prophecy of the seventh and eighth chapters is projected on through the ninth. The first verse of this chapter predicts some relief of the former sufferings of the people for their sins.
"The people that walked in darkness (verse 2) have seen great light." The prophet informs us who it was, to whom this light should come. The inhabitants of "the land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim," which embraced the region of Galilee, in which the larger portion of Christ's ministry was exercised. Matthew quotes this scripture as fulfilled by the coming of our Savior. (See Matt. iv.12-16.) "Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison he departed into Galilee, and leaving Nazareth he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim, by way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw a great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up."
Undoubtedly the prophet looked into the future, when the coming of the Messiah should bring the light of the gospel into that region so particularly described by him. And the inspired writer of the gospel of Matthew positively applies the context of Isaiah ix.6 to our Lord. Then, proceeding with the explanation as to how the light should break forth in "Galilee of the Gentiles," the prophet announces (verse 6) that, "for unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
The reader may well investigate the language of this prediction, "for unto us a Child is born." The "for" is given as an explanation, a reason for the coming light to "Galilee of the Gentiles," a region and a people that had been for generations "in the shadow of death." The light was to break forth because a child was to be born and a son given.
The announcement was made as if the event had taken place, though so far in the future. This is in accordance with the form of predictive prophecy, as in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, where the atoning work of Christ is spoken of as already accomplished, though it remained to be achieved in the future. The prophet said of that work: "He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.... He was wounded for our transgressions.... He was bruised for our iniquities.... The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all." So it is stated in this prophecy: "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given," for the promise of God is the same to him as the fulfillment. His word is equivalent to his deed. It cost him as much to purpose and pledge as to fulfill his pledge. Hence, the prophecy speaks of the thing as done, since God has promised to do it. Seven centuries before he came, the prophet said, "unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given."
Our critical friends can not inform us who was the "Son given." They can only say it must refer to some "near future event." Let our Book speak for itself. It gives no uncertain testimony.
1. "The government shall be upon his shoulder."
As already stated in the context, and affirmed by Matthew, it is he that should bring light to the Gentiles. There is only one who is himself "a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel." (Luke ii.32.) He said of himself: "I am the light of the world." (John ix.5.)
The government is his. He is the "Only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords." (1 Tim. vi.15.)
There is only One Potentate, One Ruler, One who could say, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matt. xxviii.18.) There is only One who could say, "All things are delivered unto me of my father." (Matt. xi.27.) There is only One of whom it could be said, "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end," and that is said of the "Child born unto us and the Son given," and is a part of the prophecy concerning him. (Isaiah ix.7.)
All earthly thrones have crumbled, all earthly kings and potentates have slept in the dust of death with the poorest of their subjects. But of this Son given, Daniel says: "There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." (Daniel vii.14.)
2. "His name shall be called Wonderful."
His name means his character, his person. He, himself, shall be called Wonderful, in a sense in which no other person can be entitled to that designation. Nicodemus accredited him as a wonderful instructor. "We know that thou art a teacher come from God, for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." (John iii.2). His enemies that were sent to arrest him quailed before him, and returned to the chief priests and Pharisees, saying, "Never man spake like this man."
A devout scholar has well said: "The manner of his birth was wonderful; his humility, self-denial, and sorrows were wonderful; his mighty works were wonderful; his dying agonies were wonderful; his resurrection and ascension were all fitted to excite admiration and wonder."
3. "His name shall be called ... Counsellor."
This term plainly indicated his exalted wisdom and dignity. The wisdom of men comes to naught; their counsel shall perish with them. But there is One, who understands, who declares the end from the beginning. Of him it is said: "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever; the thoughts of his heart to all generations." (Psa. xxxiii.11.) He says of himself, "Counsel is mine and sound wisdom" (Prov. viii.14), and it was by his "determinate counsel and foreknowledge" that the glorious scheme of redemption and complete salvation from sin was planned and executed. Hence, he takes to himself the title, "The Great and Mighty God, ... great in counsel, and mighty in work." (Jer. xxxii.19.) Therefore, the Child that was to be born, the Son that was to be given, was to have a name, and "his name shall be called ... Counsellor."
4. "His name shall be called ... The Mighty God."
And now we are face to face with the Lord Jehovah, and the positive statement that this was the promised Son. By what guessing or critical legerdemain one who claims loyalty to the word of God and ordinary intelligence can attempt to sweep away these definite and determinate statements, and crowd some insignificant worm of the dust into the place given to him who was in the beginning, who was with God and who was God, we can not comprehend.
And still the prophet rises to the climax, to make sure that "wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err," and adds the prediction concerning the coming Son that,
5. "His name shall be called ... The Everlasting Father."
The Revised Version gives the same rendering as the accepted version, and adds the marginal reading, "Father of Eternity." The sense of the passage is the same. The name "Everlasting Father" was the name of the coming Son. He would be Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, not for a short time, but eternally, forever and ever -- "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever." His care of his people would never cease.
The distinctions between the persons of the trinity were not made in the Old Testament, as in the New. Jehovah was God, the Lord was God, and was known as Jehovah God, the Everlasting Father. The incarnation of the second person in the trinity gave emphasis to his sonship, in order to put him in brotherly relation to us. "Wherefore he is not ashamed to call them brethren."
This prophecy of Isaiah, however, condescends to accommodate our weakness, and necessity, and gives to the promised child the name by which he is recognized in the New Testament, for
6. "His name shall be called ... The Prince of Peace."
At the birth of the Child the angel choir sang "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke ii.14.) "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." (Acts v.31.)
Isaiah spoke as he was moved by the Holy Spirit. He gave to Israel this assuring promise for their comfort, that the Seed of the woman, the Messiah, was coming not as a fallible, impotent ruler, but as a Prince and Savior. Israel failed to comprehend the glorious things predicted, and even yet they are not fully unfolded. But the Messiah did not fail to come, and, as predicted, he came at Bethlehem. Every phase of his life, and the mighty work of redemption, all that was predicted of his earthly career, has been accomplished. And now, at the right hand of the Father, he is moving to the final consummation of his purposes of redeeming grace.
He will not be moved from his purposes by the uncritical attempts of rationalism to destroy the confidence of God's people in his revealed truth. We can move forward confidently in our work, knowing that nothing shall pass from his Word until all is fulfilled.
In this very brief study, in which God has spoken through the testimony of his word, we have only touched a few points in which the truth of Scripture has been assailed. But the testimony of the Book settles all questions. We can well rest on the assurance, "Forever O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven," and can not be unsettled on the earth. Our Sunday-school teachers and Christian young people can not fail to comprehend, and will rejoice in the fullness and power of God's testimony through prophet, apostle, and Christ the incarnate Word. To him be honor, glory, and dominion forever. Amen.