The Word Made Fresh
1But for those who were in anguish, there will be no gloom. Yes, in former times God held Zebulun and Naphtali in utter contempt, but in these latter times God will glorify the way along the sea, the lands beyond the Jordan; and honor Galilee of the nations.
2The people who were in darkness have seen a great light.
The light has now shown on those who lived in a darkened land.
3You have made the nation greater and have increased its joy.
They rejoice before you as though it were harvest time,
and as if they were celebrating the plunder being divided.
4The yoke under which they were burdened
and the bar that was across their shoulders –
the rod of their oppressors –
you have broken as you did on the day of Midian.
5For all the sandals of the marching enemy soldiers
and all the clothing soaked in blood
shall be burned as wood for the fire.
6You see, a child has been born to us;
a son has been given to us.
Authority will rest upon him
and he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall continue to grow.
There shall be peace with no end
for David’s throne and for his kingdom forever.
He will establish it and bolster it
with justice and righteousness now and forevermore.
The LORD of hosts is determined to do this.
8The LORD has spoken a word against Jacob
and it has fallen upon Israel.
9All the people were aware of it,
including Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria,
but in their pride and arrogance they said,
10“The wooden walls have fallen, but we will rebuild with dressed stones.
The sycamores have been chopped down,
but we will plant cedars in their place.”
11So, the LORD raised enemies and stirred them up against Israel –
12Arameans on the east and Philistines on the west,
and they chewed Israel up with open mouths.
But for all this God’s anger has not been turned away,
And God’s hand is still stretched out.
13The people did not turn to the one who struck them.
They did not seek the LORD of hosts.
14So, the LORD cut Israel off front and rear.
In one day, palm branch and reed was destroyed.
15Elders and dignitaries are the head,
and prophets who taught only lies are the tail.
16For those who led God’s people led them astray,
and those who were being led were left in confusion.
17That is why the LORD did not rejoice over their young people,
or have compassion on their orphans and widows –
because all of them were godless and sunk in evil,
and all of them spouted foolishness.
But for all this, God’s anger has not ceased,
and God’s hand is stretched out still.
18Wickedness spread like wildfire, consuming thorns and briers
and the undergrowth in the forest,
making them swirl upward in a column of smoke.
19The land was incinerated by the wrath of the LORD of hosts,
and the people were fuel for the fire;
neither spared the other.
20They gorged themselves on the right side, but still were hungry.
They devoured the left side, but still were not satisfied.
They even fed on their own flesh and blood.
21Manasseh devoured Ephraim, and Ephraim devoured Manasseh.
Together they came against Judah.
Because of all this God’s anger has not turned away:
God’s hand is still outstretched.
1-7: Now, however, Isaiah sees a light at the end of a long tunnel of troubles. Zebulun and Naphtali are references to the northern kingdom that will fall to the Assyrians, and Galilee is also an area in the north. These territories will be reclaimed. The “great light” is perhaps a reference to the coronation of Hezekiah in 727 B. C., or to the birth of a crown prince, which occasion Isaiah sees as God’s promise to restore the kingdom to its Davidic splendor. Curiously, translators typically translate the names given to the child of promise — Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace — whereas the children born earlier — Shear-Jashub and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz — are left in their Hebrew guise. The Hebrew for the name in verse 6 is Peleh yo’hen el nibor av’ad ar shalom (which is probably why it’s always translated into English). Of course, the English form of this name is picked up by Christians later to represent the Christ, perhaps most notably in Handel’s Messiah.
8-12: A bit of history. God sent his word of warning but was ignored. Instead, they said in arrogance that they could rebuild or replace anything God destroyed. So, God allowed them to be punished by the Arameans and by the Philistines. But that did not assuage God’s anger.
13-17: The second round: the people still did not turn to God, so God removed “head and tail,” — the dignitaries and rulers are the head, the lying prophets the tail — and had no pity even on children or widows or orphans. But that did not assuage God’s anger.
18-21: God’s people fought against each other — Israel against Judah — a situation presented by Isaiah as a kind of cannibalism. Still, God’s anger was not assuaged.
Oftentimes historians are tempted to present history in such a way as to bolster the opinion they already had before they began to write. All of us like to think our recollection of how things were is the proper way to present the past. The truth, of course, is that history is always more complicated than our presentation of it because – well, because we weren’t there! And the temptation is to present a history that is not history, but a deliberately crafted version we know is not altogether accurate. Isaiah, though, has chosen to “air out all the dirty laundry.” And we are blessed by his honesty, because seeing our history through rose-colored glassed only insures that history will repeat itself.