DIG: From 8:19-22, what do you think Isaiah meant by the darkness in which people walk? What suffering had Zebulun and Naphtali (in the northern kingdom of Isra'el) experienced? How does the New Covenant interpret what this prophecy means (Matthew 4:12-17 and John 8:12)?
REFLECT: Jesus said that in this world you will have trouble (John 16:33). So even with this trouble in your life, can you find hope in the midst of gloom and distress? What is the joy of the LORD like for you? How does the presence of God give meaning to your life? What do you have to be thankful for today?
Suddenly, in the midst of this darkness, comes deliverance and joy, the future glory of Galilee. The extreme devastation of the Assyrian invasion, especially in the northern kingdom of Isra'el, will give way to bright glory. When every human attempt to bring light had failed, then ADONAI brought His great light, not because He had to, not because humanity figured out a way to force Him, but merely out of His own grace. Here Isaiah reaches the climax of the section begun in 7:1.
Nevertheless, a time will come when there will be no more darkness, and gloom will be a thing of the past (9:1a). The gloom and distress of the northern kingdom of Isra'el came because of divine discipline. The word distress (musaq), reflects the word translated fearful (suqa). Isaiah saw his prediction of darkness begin to unfold. The darkness and distress were real, but, as always, we have a choice of how we react to it. We can either sink into despair or rise with hope. Isaiah insists that hope can be found in the midst of gloom. How? Even though our present circumstance is all darkness, we can say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:12-13).
The area between the Sea of Chinnereth and the Mediterranean north, or the Jezreel Valley, had always been something of a melting pot, with Hebrews, Canaanites, Arameans, Hittites and Mesopotamians all living there. This was where Isra'el met the Gentile world, and why it was called Galilee of the Gentiles. Isaiah noted that in the past God had humbled Israel when He allowed the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III to conquer the northern kingdom (9:1b), or the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali in 732 BC (Second Kings 15:29 and 17:24). Then the Assyrians brought conquered people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns (Second Kings 2:24).
But Isaiah said that in the future, God will honor Galilee of the Gentiles (9:1c). There were more than two tribes that settled in Galilee, but he chose to names of Zebulun and Naphtali. In the outworking of Immanuel in history, why are these two tribal territories picked out? Why not Asher or Issachar; they were also in Galilee? The reason is this, Capernaum, which was in Naphtali, and Nazareth, which was in Zebulun were the two cities associated with Jesus’ upbringing and early ministry. Therefore, His presence and His ministry certainly honored those areas and made them distinct. During the life of Christ, the rabbis viewed Galilee in general, and Nazareth in particular, with extreme contempt (John 1:46 and 7:52).
Isaiah continued to prophesy that Zebulun and Naphtali would be honored by the way of the sea (see my commentary on Genesis Lh – Zebulum Will Live by the Seashore and Become a Haven for Ships), along the Jordan River (see my commentary on Genesis Lm – Naphtali is a Doe Set Free that bears Beautiful Words). The way of the sea was an expression that referred to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. This also is a major area of Christ’s ministry. Along the Jordan River is also mentioned and refers to the east bank of the Jordan where Jesus had an extensive ministry as well (Matthew 4:12-17).
The darkness would give way to light. Throughout the Scriptures, ADONAI’s presence is equated with light (Second Samuel 22:29; Job 29:3; Psalm 139:11-12; Isaiah 42:16; First John 1:5). The people walking in, or living out their lives, in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (9:2). Isaiah describes the effect of the Messiah on the northern part of Israel in typical Hebrew parallelism. The people were in darkness (8:22) and in the shadow of death. Then they saw a great light and light dawned on them. They did not produce it nor were they responsible for it. Where they had been groping in darkness, now they would find themselves blinking in the light. All these events were in the future, yet all the verbs are in the perfect tense (an action that was brought to completion and whose effects are felt in the present). Isaiah, even in the uncertainty of his own time, could look into the future and describe events with the certainty of completed actions. Neither spiritists nor mediums could do that (8:19-22). They could not explain the origins of the earth, let alone the end of it (41:21-24). But God could give that kind of insight to His prophet Isaiah. Matthew also applied this passage to Christ, who began His preaching and healing ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:15-16).
Now the immediate cause of the rejoicing is explained. Speaking to God, Isaiah said on behalf of the nation: You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder (9:3). They rejoice because the LORD had freed them. Isaiah spells out the future messianic glory as a result of the coming of the Light. That Light would increase their joy like the joy at the harvest or the joy of winning a battle and dividing the plunder. Joy is another emphasis of Isaiah’s, mentioned two dozen times in the book.
What Isaiah deals with here are the basic fears of people and he says that in place of fear there is joy. However, it is important to see that the real source of joy is Yeshua Messiah. It is before Him that they (and we) rejoice (Second Samuel 6:16; Psalm 27:4 and 6). The truth is that apart from the presence of God, who gives meaning to life, all other joys in this world are merely dust and ashes. You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand (Psalm 16:11).
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017