Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Isaiah 9a

In the spirit of shuffling the order around... This discussion between me and Gordon was about 8:19-9:7

(8:19-22) Enquire of the LORD, not of the dead, which will lead to stumbling in darkness and distress
(9:1) distress and gloom will end for some, and God will honour Galilee of the Gentiles
(9:2-7) poetic promise
(2-5) scenes of joy: darkness to light, harvest, victory, destruction of yoke and even of weapons.
(5-6) a child is born who will reign forever, over everything, named with divine names; ‘the zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this’.

What is the connection between the end of chapter 8 (warning against mediums and spiritists) and the incredible prophecy at the start of chapter 9? Linguistic and thematic.

present problems (8:19-22) = darkness (22)
darkness (9:1-2) – will not be for all because of coming light (1-7)

Darkness and lack of spiritual guidance link the passages. But does history link them? What does the Messianic hope of 9:1-8 have to tell the people of Isaiah’s community, the remnant (8:18)? Alec Motyer says that the remnant are presently sustained by future hope (idiomatic use of the prophetic past tense throughout the passage) that is certain. The darkness was fulfiled very soon – apostate Jews did turn to mediums and spiritists (8:19) and Zebulum and Naphtali (9:1) were the first regions to fall to Assyria. So the take-home question is, what reading of our experiece are we going to live by? – we can sink into gloom or we can live in hope, sustained by trust in the word of God.

Hope is part of the constitution of the here and now (Motyer).
Think about Heb 11:1, and ‘faith is the substance of what is hoped for’ (R.C. Sproul on a Ligonier video) – which I have glossed as ‘the bringing to present manifestation that which will be fully realised in future reality’. That’s what faith does – it makes real by action now a taste of what God has promised. At a simple level, the child trusts its mother’s “Everything’s going to be alright” by calming down at those words, and acting as though everything is OK (thereby assenting, “Oh, it is OK for me, whatever’s going on outside and whatever I think I lack”) even if that state of affairs takes an hour or so to prove.

So the remnant around Isaiah get some joy through this hope and their faith in God’s promises. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist gets more joy (Luke 1:68-79) and even alludes to this prophecy of Isaiah. We get more joy post-resurrection, post-Pentecost… It’s all moving on the continuum towards the New Creation.

Who is the child of vv.6-7?
Unlike the children of chapter 7, this child is not a Jewish boy of Isaiah’s day; it is not Hezekiah, son of king Ahaz…
• Hezekiah is already a teenager at this point
• it was in Hezekiah’s reign that the darkness would most dramatically fall
• his kingdom was far from everlasting, etc.

What will happen around him?
(1) honour Galilee of the Gentiles – the only time a prophet refers to the place like this, hinting of the future unity between Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ (Ephesians 2).
(3) you have enlarged the nation – great news for a small, pressed remnant
(7) universal government from David’s throne – picking up the current mess. The Northern kingdom is spiritually dead and on the brink of military disaster [‘despite the magnificent defensive action of the prophets’, AMGD] and the perimeter of David’s throne seems to be shrinking rather rapidly. Set this perimeter in the wider biblical context, and we see the sanctuary from which to transform the world:

Eden – Israel (waxes, wanes, remnant holds it together) – Jesus (holy seed)

The sanctuary theme thus narrows to one man [in Isaiah 9 we are in the midst of the narrowing and get a foretaste of the one man], who is the temple, who is the presence of God, who is the representative of God, who does bring salvation, joy, light and honour to his people!

This prophecy signals a new tone in the book. Less judgement against Judah now until chapter 21.

Random thought
How does this all fit with Tim Chester’s exciting new millennial typology? What do these strands in the early chapters of Isaiah have to say about this?

And can we demonstrate (not just nod our assent, tempting though that might be) how to fit the various eschatological writings of the church over the years into this typology?