Some of our scariest experiences often have something to do with darkness. As a young boy, I was afraid of walking down the darkened hall to my darkened room at bedtime. This fear wasn’t helped by stormy nights. Across the road from our house was a field; and in that field was a dead tree with gnarly branches. When the lightning flashed, I could see the silhouette of that creepy tree backlit with a blaze of blue.
Being alone or lost intensifies our fears of the darkness. But did you know there’s something scarier— being in the dark and not knowing it? This is the world’s spiritual condition. They live lives as lost and lonely souls—ignorant of their own spiritual blindness. Scariest of all are those that profess to be followers of God but aren’t. Many of the people of Israel are prime examples of this, especially after their civil war and the resulting broken Kingdom into North and South. But God has a Word for His people in Isaiah 9.
“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” (Isa.9:1a). Zebulun and Naphtali were two tribes on the northern border. They will be the first to feel the fury of the invading Assyrian war machine.
As a result, Israel will experience gloom and anguish. The word “gloom” can also be translated darkness. Notice it’s God who will thrust them into this gloom (v.1a) and with good reason. According to chapter 8, they had become willing participants in pagan worship, consulting mediums and necromancers—paying money to witch doctors to speak to the dead when they could’ve simply consulted the Word of the Living God and His prophets free of charge.
This is not unlike some professing Christians today who pay the salaries of modern-day mediums—charlatan preachers that preach a form of dead secular psychology and sociology. All the while, simple gospel-preachers of God’s Living Word are available, many willing to work other jobs if necessary so that the sheep are fed.
The good news is that God is too good to let us continue in our sin. So, He ordains gloom and anguish to humble us and then holds out a promise of deliverance for those who listen. “But in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (Isa.9:1b). The sea mentioned here has gone by many names, but you’ll remember it best as the Sea of Galilee that plays such a big part of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Isaiah is declaring that the Assyrian oppression will come to an end one day. But verse 2 declares deliverance from a darker power. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (v.2). The darkness is figurative of Israel’s spiritual condition. Sin has devastating effects, but God dispels the darkness by shining His light into the hearts of His people.
This promise of salvation isn’t limited to believing Jews. Here’s a great opportunity to learn how to interpret prophecy. Most prophecies have both a near and a far fulfillment. The near fulfillment for Zebulon and Naphtali is that the oppression from the Assyrians will come to an end. But the language of verse 1 should also spark memories of a far fulfillment, the ultimate fulfillment. Do you remember the angel’s announcement to Mary?
Luke 1:26-27—In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
Jesus Christ is the light of salvation. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Nazareth. And after returning from exile in Egypt, Joseph settled his little family in Nazareth (Matt.2:19-23). Nazareth was a little town within the borders of Zebulun. And for much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He lived in the town of Capernaum located in the borders of Naphtali. In fact, after telling us that Jesus moved to Capernaum (Matt.4:12-16), Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 and declares that the prophecy is fulfilled. And the first thing we hear Jesus preach after this quotation is a command for people to turn from the darkness to God’s gospel light!
Matthew 4:17—From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus did most of this preaching in “Galilee of the nations,” not mighty Jerusalem, because He came to save, unite, and rule over the entire Kingdom, the full number of Israel made up of all “who are called, both Jews and Gentiles” (1 Cor.1:24a).
Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. There is no more basic doctrine than the deity of Christ, yet there’s no more offensive doctrine to many. But there’s no other sensible way to interpret verses like Isaiah 9:6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa.9:6a). This reaffirms that the far fulfillment of the prophecy is found in none other than Jesus. Isaiah goes further and gives us detailed names of this coming Son that demonstrate He’s more than a man. “And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa.9:6b).
Jesus Christ is the only rightful Savior and King. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever-more.” (Isa.9:7a). Like the tiny mustard seed, Christ’s Kingdom has been inaugurated, beginning small but progressing in growth for two thousand years now. It’s not yet fully grown because His Kingdom is yet to be consummated at His Second Coming.
But Jesus is already governing the cosmos despite appearances to the contrary. He’s ruling in the hearts of His people now. His government and peace increase with every soul saved. He is seated on David’s throne as King of His people, the Church. He is establishing and upholding us with His justice and righteousness. And it’s “the zeal of the Lord of hosts” that “will do this” (Isa.9:7b).
God is good to give us the same message He gave Israel and Judah—judgment is coming but salvation is available for those who repent and believe God’s Word. Therefore, this world’s greatest threat is not politics and politicians, stock market crashes, shortages of goods, or viruses [and the list could go on and on]. The greatest threat is God’s judgment. I beg you, turn to Christ your God and Creator. He is the Light in our darkness.
Blessings in the Lord,