Isaiah 9

Isaiah 9:1 he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali

This verse continues the theme of the last chapter. The kingdom of Israel had been suffering from spiritual darkness in their practice of seeking for those with familiar spirits. This darkness would be overshadowed by the afflictions that were to come upon them at the hand of the Assyrians, ‘In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedessh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria’ (2 Kings 15:29, italics added). The affliction got worse with a second sacking which occurred 10 years later, ‘In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria (Shalmaneser) took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria’ (2 Kings 17:6).

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Isaiah 9:2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light

The dimness and spiritual darkness of the kingdom of Israel is contrasted to the great light that will be seen in the exact same geographic location when the Lord begins His ministry. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali encompass what was known in Christ’s day as Galilee. Compare the land of inheritance of Zebulun and Naphtali with the region of Galilee where Jesus ministered. It is apparent that Isaiah is prophesying the location where the great light of Jesus Christ will be made manifest to his people. It will be made manifest in Galilee, in the towns of Cana, Capernaum, Nazareth, Chorazin, Gennesaret, etc. This prophecy was referred to by Matthew who wrote:

   ‘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 the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;

   The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.’ (Matt 4:13-16).

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Isaiah 9:3-5 thou hast broken the yoke of his burden

Isaiah is often hard to understand because he will switch time periods without notifying the reader. Without the benefit of hindsight, we would not be able to determine which of his prophecies had reference to Christ’s first coming and which had reference to his second. Verses 3-5 speak of both time periods simultaneously. They speak of the release of spiritual oppression (yoke of Israel’s burden) that the mission and atonement of the Messiah will bring to Israel. They also speak of the release from political oppression that the Second Coming of the Messiah will bring to Israel.

When Isaiah speaks of the ‘yoke of his burden,’ he is also referring to a destruction which is to come upon the nation of Israel in the last days (See verse 1 of Isaiah chapters 15, 17, 19, 21, 23). “In biblical times, the staff and rod were used by taskmasters on slaves. A yoke was a wooden frame designed to harness together beasts of burden. These three items—the yoke, staff, and rod—signify oppression, or the burdens placed on Israel by its neighbors” (Donald Parry, Visualizing Isaiah, 79) Just when the weight of this heavy yoke is about to break the neck of Israel, the Lord will come to destroy Israel’s enemies, and  this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.’ In the great battle the Lord will confuse the enemies of Israel and come with red apparel, or ‘garments rolled in blood.’ As Isaiah had prophesied elsewhere, ‘their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come’ (Isa. 63:3-4).

Isaiah 9:3 thou hast…increased the joy

Notice the difference between verse 3 in the Book of Mormon version (2 Ne. 19:3and verse 3 in the Isaiah version. The Book of Mormon version makes more sense and is more consistent with the interpretation described above.

“In the King James Version this verse states that the people would NOT increase their joy, but the Book of Mormon gives the correct rendition. In fact, the King James translators inserted a marginal note indicating there was some question about the word ‘not.’ The Revised Standard Version leaves out the ‘not’ just as the Book of Mormon did nearly a century earlier. The word ‘not’ obviously contradicts the next two phrases, which say that the joy of the people will be so exuberant that it will be similar to the happiness which always accompanies the gathering in of the harvest, or the happiness of those occasions when the booty is about to be distributed after a long, hard-fought campaign for victory.” (W. Cleon Skousen, Isaiah Speaks to Modern Times, p. 222)

Isaiah 9:4-5 every battle of the warrior is with confused noise

One of the ways in which God destroys enemy nations is by confusing and disorienting the opposing army. Israel’s enemies begin to fight among themselves.  A good example of this is Gideon versus the Midianites (Judges 7-8).  In the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, the Lord told Gideon to use a select group of 300 men to fight the entire Midianite army who were “like grasshoppers for multitude.”  The band of 300 surrounded the Midianite army and each blew a trumpet.  The noise of the trumpet confused the Midianites; “the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow,” and the Midianites were chased and destroyed. (Judges 7:22)  Hence, the “battle of the warrior is with confused noise.”

The message is that God had preserved the Israelites before.  He could do it again, but the people had chosen to rely on Syria instead. So the prophecy will be fulfilled during the pre-Millennial battles against Israel.  The Captain of this army will be Christ whose “name shall be called Wonderful… of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” With Isaiah, there is no distinction between the first and second comings of the Messiah, so when Jesus’ followers realize who He is, they expect military victory and political emancipation. From Isaiah’s writings it is hard to tell that the Messiah comes once as a humble servant and second as a conquering hero.  John spoke of the Messiah’s military conquests, seeing Him on a white horse with a crown on his head, “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called the Word of God.  And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Rev. 19:11-14)

Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born

James E. Talmage

“Isaiah was permitted to read the scroll of futurity as to many distinguishing conditions to attend the Messiah's lowly life and atoning death. In Him the prophet saw One who would be despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, One to be wounded and bruised for the transgressions of the race, on whom would be laid the iniquity of us all – a patient and willing Sacrifice, silent under affliction, as a lamb brought to the slaughter. The Lord's dying with sinners, and His burial in the tomb of the wealthy were likewise declared with prophetic certainty.” (Jesus the Christ, pp. 46-7)

Oliver Cowdery

“From those ancient inspired men we learn the fact, that, not only a Son was to be sent; but that that Son was to be no less than an everlasting Father, a mighty God, a Prince of peace! that from Bethlehem this illustrious personage was to come forth, and when he should come forth, was to be lead as a sheep to the slaughter, be numbered with transgressors, bear the sins of many, and be smitten for the children of men; but suffer this affliction to make intercession for the transgressors.” (Messenger and Advocate, vol 2, p. 270)

Gordon B. Hinckley

Nothing in all of human history equals the wonder, the splendor, the magnitude, or the fruits of the matchless life of the Son of God, who died for each of us. He is our Savior. He is our Redeemer. As Isaiah foretold, “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”  (Isa. 9:6)

He is the chief cornerstone of the church which bears his name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is no other name given among men whereby we can be saved. (See Acts 4:12 He is the author of our salvation, the giver of eternal life. (See Heb. 5:9 There is none to equal him. There never has been. There never will be. Thanks be to God for the gift of his Beloved Son, who gave his life that we might live, and who is the chief, immovable cornerstone of our faith and his church. (Conference Report, Oct. 1984, p. 50)

Isaiah 9:6 and the government shall be upon his shoulder

Isaiah is prolific in his writings about the Messiah. However, his prophecies are often misunderstood because he does not always clarify the time period when the prophecy will be fulfilled. In this verse we see a classic example. The phrases “unto us a son is given” and “the government shall be upon his shoulder” are juxtaposed as if they were temporally related. In reality, the Savior was not to control the government of the earth or his people until the Second Coming. That is not made clear in Isaiah’s prophecies. No wonder all the Jews of Christ’s day expected him to free them from Roman authority. What else were they to think given Isaiah’s writings?

Isaiah would have been more plain and simple with the Jews if they were righteous enough to deserve such plainness. Instead they sought for things which are hard to understand. Isaiah accommodated them. ‘But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand’ (Jacob 4:14).

That Jesus Christ will indeed rule both spiritually and politically is without question. This political authority is his right by birth. He descended from the royal line of David. But he did not seek political reign during his mortal ministry, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence’ (Jn 18:36). Although he prayed that his father’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven, that prayer will only be answered when he comes on earth to reign during the Millenium.

   ‘And 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.’ (Dan 7:14)

   ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.’ (Rev 11:15)

   ‘For the Lord shall be in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver.’ (DC 45:59)

Jeffrey R. Holland

“The fact that the government would eventually be upon his shoulders affirms what all the world will one day acknowledge—that he is Lord of lords and King of kings and will one day rule over the earth and his Church in person….All can take comfort from the fact that because the government—and the burdens thereof—will be upon his shoulders, they will be lifted in great measure from our own. This is yet another reference in Isaiah to the Atonement, the bearing away of our sins (or at very least in this reference, our temporal burdens) on the shoulders of Christ.” (Christ and the New Covenant, 80-81)

Isaiah 9:6 The Everlasting Father

James E. Talmage

“Scriptures that refer to God in any way as the Father of the heavens and the earth are to be understood as signifying that God is the Maker, the Organizer, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

“With this meaning, as the context shows in every case, Jehovah who is Jesus Christ the Son of Elohim, is called ‘the Father,’ and even ‘the very eternal Father of heaven and of earth’ (see passages before cited, and also Mosiah 16:15).  With analogous meaning Jesus Christ is called ‘The Everlasting Father’ (Isaiah 9:6; compare 2 Nephi 19:6).  The descriptive titles ‘Everlasting’ and ‘Eternal’ in the foregoing texts are synonymous.

“That Jesus Christ, whom we also know as Jehovah, was the executive of the Father, Elohim, in the work of creation is set forth in the book Jesus the Christ, chapter 4.  Jesus Christ, being the Creator, is consistently called the Father of heaven and earth in the sense explained above; and since His creations are of eternal quality He is very properly called the Eternal Father of heaven and earth.” (Articles of Faith, p. 467)

Neal A. Maxwell

“Jesus is even described as the Father, because he is the Father-Creator of this and other worlds. Furthermore, he is the Father of all who are born again spiritually. When we take upon ourselves his name and covenant to keep his commandments, we then become his sons and daughters, ‘the children of Christ.’ Additionally, since he and the Father are one in attributes and in purpose, Jesus acts for the Father through divine investiture, sometimes speaking as the Father.” (Mosiah, Salvation Only Through Christ, ed. By Nyman and Tate, 5-6)

Isaiah 9:6 The Prince of Peace

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

“Modern man sometimes vainly thinks that Jesus’ mission was to wipe out war; and scoffers have cried that since war still curses the earth, Christ’s mission has failed and Christianity is a blight…

“Christ did proclaim a peace—the peace of everlasting righteousness, which is the eternal and mortal enemy of sin. Between righteousness and sin, in whatever form, there can only be unceasing war, whether in one man, among the people, or between nations in armed conflict. This war is the sword of Christ; whatever its form this war cannot end until sin is crushed and Christ brings all flesh under his dominion. Righteousness is peace wherever it abides; sin in itself is war wherever it is found.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1939, pp. 104-5 as taken from the Old Testament Institute Manual, p. 147)

Isaiah 9:9-10 The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones

Isaiah switches back to his day—again without notifying the reader. The rest of the chapter deals with the immediate destruction of the northern kingdom. Accordingly, when the proud of the kingdom of Israel begin to see their downfall, they boast that they will rebuild with greater materials. The truth is that the Lord will bring upon them greater destructions which ‘shall devour Israel with open mouth’ (v. 12).

Isaiah 9:12 For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still

This is a fairly common prophetic phrase. Figuratively speaking, the Lord has an arm of justice and an arm of mercy. When the scriptures say that ‘his hand is stretched out still,’ it can mean that the Lord plans to be even more merciful or punitive, depending on which arm is stretched out. In this instance, it means that the Lord’s hand of justice is ‘stretched out still’—that He has more punishments planned for the wicked in Israel. These other punishments are described in later verses and in chapter 20.

Isaiah 9:14 the Lord will cut off from Israel… branch and rush in one day

An alternate translation of “branch and rush” is “palm branch and reed,” meaning the top and the bottom of the plant, the beauty and the strength, the honorable and the prophet.

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Isaiah 9:16 the leaders of this people cause them to err

Righteousness begins with the leadership of any group of people. The kingdom of Israel had been led by wicked kings ever since breaking from the tribe of Judah over 200 years prior. The priests had become corrupt and false prophets had led many astray. They had begun to follow the idolatrous practices of those who inhabited the land in the days of Joshua. Therefore, they were ripe for destruction.

Isaiah 9:17 the Lord shall have no… mercy on their fatherless and widows: for every one is an hypocrite

The Lord has commanded the church to take care of the widows and fatherless.  James defined pure religion, in part, as “visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction.”  Well, in this case, God is going to visit the fatherless and widows with greater affliction because of the great wickedness of the Israelites.  God is a God of mercy until he is a God of justice.  We must understand God as a God of justice.  The Old Testament is particularly useful in teaching us this principle. If we choose to imagine God as forever forgiving and endlessly merciful, we will be surprised and disappointed at the judgment bar.

While all of us are hypocrites to one degree or another, the best way to avoid hypocrisy is to confess your sins.  Latter-day saints who are aware of their mistakes and weaknesses aren’t true hypocrites; even if their behavior is contrary to their moral code, they are aware. They are just sinners.  Hypocrites are those who see no fault in their own actions and portray themselves as sinless.

Isaiah 9:18 For wickedness burneth…It shall devour the briers and thorns

The destruction promised to the kingdom of Israel is a type for the destruction of the wicked in the last days. ‘For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up’ (Mal 4:1).

   ‘As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.

   The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;

   And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt 13:40-42)

Isaiah 9:20 they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm

Cannibalism is the pinnacle of depravity. This deplorable condition was also prophesied by Moses. When Moses was about to bring the people into the land of Canaan, he repeated the promises of the Lord to the people. He also repeated the punishments that they would suffer if they rejected the Lord. These curses are contained in Deuteronomy 28 and very closely reflect the prophecies of destruction that Isaiah has been proclaiming.

   ‘The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption…and with an extreme burning, and with the sword…

   The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies…and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth….

   Thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword…

   The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth…a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;

   A nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor shew favour to the young…

   And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters’ (Deut 28:22,25,37,49-50,53)

Wilford Woodruff

“Jesus Christ was crucified, the Apostles were put to death, and most every man who bore the Priesthood was slain, excepting John the Revelator… These men laid down their lives, and the judgments of God overtook the Jewish nation, in fulfillment of the predictions of the Savior and the Prophets. Moses told them in his day, ‘And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the Lord thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee.’ All this came to pass, and the kingdom was taken from the earth, the holy Priesthood was taken up to God, who gave it, and the Church went into the wilderness, and there remained until the day set for its restoration to the world.” (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], vol. 3, Oct. 9, 1892)