ISAIAH PROPHESIES JESUS’ APPEARANCE AND WORK
Communicating Old Testament Prophecy
The New Testament frequently realizes fulfillments of Old Testament prophetic passages in various manners. Some have stated that there are in excess of six hundred allusions and quotations in the New Testament from the Old Testament. Others have alluded to the book of Revelation as having that many all by itself. Prophecy is obviously a significant component of the New Testament. Therefore, it is important for a correct reading of the New Testament to understand this issue so you can accurately assimilate the message that God is communicating. Without an appropriate understanding of the proper reading of God’s Word, it becomes “jammed up” in its meaning, and the reader will receive an erroneous message. Just as earthly warfare has combatants attempting to “jam” each other’s communications to gain an advantage, the Biblical text has an enemy that is seeking to cast doubt on God’s Word. Satan has been trying to cast doubt on what God has spoken since the Garden of Eden. He will use any means possible, including poor hermeneutics, poor grammar and incorrect theology.
It is important to understand the different written forms of texts in the Old Testament in order to understand how the prophecy came about. The same is true for all the all other biblical writers. The manner, or form, somebody says or writes in has everything to do with formulating a proper understanding of what they mean. For example, in the seventh, eighth and ninth chapter of the book of Isaiah there are discussions taking place which refer to specific activities taking place in Isaiah’s day needing resolution, but the resolutions will be completed by God at a later time. Isaiah wrote his book in standard narrative and Hebraic poetry forms, and this makes a difference in how we read Isaiah’s words. One of the keys to understanding Isaiah is to come to grips with the poetic genre of communicating. Reading poetry requires us to read it at a different pace, to pay closer attention to the text, and to remind ourselves that it is not a straight narrative, therefore we must focus on the words more intently.
He will be born of a virgin (Circa 714 B.C.)
Most of us are not familiar with poetry’s decorative manner of presenting concepts, and therefore understanding it does not come naturally. One factor of poetry that helps us understand it is the attempt to put God into language. Since He is outside of our experience, He not easily rendered with straightforward words. But poetry can express what has been called “divine communication” because it exceeds normal comprehension. Isaiah frequently made use of the method called “parallelism”. Simply stated, one sentence would be followed by another, but stating the same thing in a different manner. Isaiah expressed many of the offices and characteristics of the coming Messiah this way. For example, see how in about 714 B.C. Isaiah presents the characteristic of Christ as being born of a virgin, and pay especial attention to sequence in verse 14:
Isaiah 7: 1-14
1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2 And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart trembled, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind. 3 Then said Jehovah unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fuller’s field; 4 and say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither let thy heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have purposed evil against thee, saying, 6 Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set up a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeel; 7 thus saith the Lord Jehovah, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken in pieces, so that is shall not be a people: 9 and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. 10 And Jehovah spake again unto Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah. 13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel (ASV 1901).
To give you some background on this passage, about 930 B.C. after Solomon died, there was a civil war in Israel. The name “Israel” became attached to the apostate ten tribal regions in the north. “Judah” became the name attached to the faithful southern region. Ahaz was king of Judah in the southern kingdom (Cir. 714 B.C.). As the text tells us, the king of Israel Peka, the king of Syria Rezin, and the nation Ephraim laid siege to Jerusalem. This scared Ahaz so that he thought that the Jews would be wiped out, and also the tribe of Judah through which the Messiah would come. God sent Isaiah, along with his son Shear-jashub, to comfort Ahaz by telling him that Judah would not lose the battle, or be exterminated. God, through Isaiah, then wanted Ahaz to realize that he could rely on God to provide protection for him and his people. They would not be destroyed since the Messiah had to come through the tribe of Judah, and He would be born from a virgin who would be God Himself. In the Hebrew language the word “virgin” refers to a young unmarried girl, and is pronounced ha’almah, which means “the one who is not yet betrothed.”
In the Hebrew culture under the Mosaic Law, an unmarried girl had to be a virgin or she would be stoned to death. So while the word ha’almah does not translate directly as “virgin”, this is what is understood based upon the ancient Hebrew culture. The Hebrew word for “God with us” is Emmanuel, and by specifically stating this word, God wanted Ahaz to know that just as it had been prophesied from previous times, God’s promises would come to pass. They always do. When we weary of our circumstances, remember this story that God gave Ahaz to comfort and even to rebuke (“ye will weary my God also?”) him for not trusting God to do what He said He would do. The parallelism demonstrated in this passage is that God would protect Ahaz within the immediate future, and there will be an even greater protection in the distant future when Emmanuel is born.
God Warns Isaiah Not to Be Like Many People
11For Jehovah spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, 12Say ye not, A conspiracy, concerning all whereof this people shall say, A conspiracy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be in dread thereof. 13Jehovah of hosts, him shall ye sanctify; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15And many shall stumble thereon, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. 16Bind thou up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. 17And I will wait for Jehovah, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. 18Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Jehovah of hosts, who dwelleth in mount Zion. 19And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? on behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? 20To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them. 21And they shall pass through it, sore distressed and hungry; and it shall come to pass that, when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse by their king and by their God, and turn their faces upward: 22and they shall look unto the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and into thick darkness they shall be driven away (ASV 1901).
The only proper way to determine truth is to go to first the Word of God. Many have departed from this, and look to other sources such as personal experiences or a denomination’s hierarchy to tell us what is true. Frequently people will experience something, whether it is in the news or from a church leader, and then try to find verses to justify the activity rather than be willing to admit that the experience—no matter how wonderful or supernatural it felt—was simply not of God. As evidence they will say that they “feel better” by validating the experience with a particular verse or others, usually taken out of context from the original scripture passage, and think that this justifies the experience. God’s Word must be the primary source of truth, not any experience.
Within the Book of Isaiah God frequently demonstrates by means of comparison a difference between actual believers and those that do not believe. In verse 16 above, we see just what value each places on Scripture. The “law” is the Law of Moses, and the “testimony” is the words of the Prophets. The Believers actually believe Moses and the Prophets (The Old Testament). The non-Believers reject the Scriptures as the ultimate authority, and were trying to make God more “real in their experience” by finding gods they could see, feel, and touch. In verse 19, Isaiah warns them that they are not to go after counterfeit spirits and teachers “that chirp and that mutter.” People who follow after those “that chirp and that mutter” could have some great feelings, but Isaiah rejects all this. The only valid testimony is what he declares in verse 20: “To the law and to the testimony!” In other words, go back to the Scriptures as the only final authority. And in closing he says “if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them.” Isaiah makes it quite clear: Whatever the experiences, if it does not align with the written Word of God there is simply no morning “light” for them. A person’s failure to heed God’s Word means he has no spiritual light (John 3:19–20). God will eventually judge all Spiritists, mediums, and those who consult them (Isaiah 8:21–22). In their distress they will look up to God and curse Him, and look to the earth where they will face distress, and then be thrust into darkness (2 Peter 2:17). Ironically those who seek to consult the dead will be forced to join them!
The Light of the World Will Come
The troubles of Israel shall end through the birth of a very Special Child. This section of the prophecy actually started with chapter 7:1, and ends in this wonderful and gracious promise:
1But there shall be no gloom to her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter time hath he made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. 3Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased their joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as in the day of Midian. 5For all the armor of the armed man in the tumult, and the garments rolled in blood, shall be for burning, for fuel of fire. 6For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this (ASV, 1901).
The essence of the whole section is that Israel shall not suffer from Pekah and Rezin, and her oppressors shall be Assyria and Babylon. They shall overwhelm her, crush her, lay her low, and she shall remain awhile in gloom and darkness, but later the darkness is going to end. Then a “great light” shall shine forth, first in the north, then over all the land, and “the rod of the oppressor” shall be broken. A Child shall be born, who shall bear marvelous names, and shall rule over the full kingdom of David in justice and righteousness forever. God has spoken, and God will perform this.
Verse 1 states that “contempt” was brought upon the more northern part of the Holy Land, first when it was overrun and ravaged by the Syrians (1 Kings 15:20) under Benhadad, and then when it suffered under the Assyrian attack (2 Kings 15:29) under Tiglath-Pileser. Under Gentile domination, that area was then called “Galilee of the nations” meaning the gentiles, not Galilee of the Jews. Isaiah then moves on to cite a time is coming when the people will see what God will do as stated in verse 1b where He states “He made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” This was area was the home of Jesus. He was a Galilean, and lived and ministered there. For thirty years he had lived at Nazareth, in Zebulon. There He had first come forward to teach in a synagogue (Luke 4:16–21). Also in Galilee He had done his first miracles at Capernaum, “upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zebulon and Naphtali” (John 2:11; 4:54).
All the world was “in darkness” when Christ came, but especially the Jews. They had the light of God and seemingly rejected it. “The Light of the world,” “the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” first came in the North of Israel “by the way of the sea,” when Jesus came forward to teach and to preach in “Galilee of the nations.” Jesus first streamed forth His light, glorifying the Northern Israeli region on which “contempt” had long been poured. Verse 3 tells us Jesus will make the nations joyful as when a bountiful harvest is reaped. So this verse is offering relief to the people who have been deceived and downtrodden. The result will be that a very special son will come to them who will be a blessing in the northern part of Israel.
The coming of the Messiah sets the Israelites free, removes the yoke from off their neck, breaks the rod where their shoulders were beaten, and delivers them from bondage into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.” In verse 4, the “yoke of his burden” is that of sin, the “oppressor” is that prince of darkness, who brought all mankind under his dominion. However Christ will break it when the Messianic Kingdom arrives, and the heavenly Kingdom will come on earth just as it is in Heaven. And then all need for military equipment will vanish as it is burned up because He will cause peace and justice to prevail on this earth.
In verse 6 we are told that a child will be born who will eventually rule the entire world. The government will indeed “be upon the shoulders” of the Messiah as He bears the work of managing the government of the entire world during the Messianic Kingdom for a thousand years:
Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, You are my son; This day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession (ASV, 1901).
Also in verse 6, His name will be called “Wonderful” and is a direct reference to Judges 13:18. Here Samson’s father asks the Angel of the Lord who He is, and gets the reply of “Why do you ask My name,” the Angel of the LORD asked him, “since it is wonderful.”
The word “Wonderful” can also be translated as “secret” or “extraordinary”, “supernatural”, or even “incomprehensible”. This is the nature of God. Jesus the Messiah will be a “Counsellor”, and the people will gladly listen to Him as the authoritative One. In the Messianic Kingdom many people will be anxious to hear the Messiah teach God’s ways. As the Messiah He will also be “Mighty God” who is strong, powerful, and mighty. As the “Everlasting Father” He is eternal and has no end as the Father of all mankind. The title “Everlasting Father” is an idiom used to describe the Messiah’s Deity, not His relationship to the other Members of the Trinity. He is God the Son. He will endure continually for Messiah is God. The Messiah is also called the “Prince of Peace”, the One who will bring in and maintain the time of millennial peace when the Jewish nation, and the world at large, will be in obedience to the Lord. Together, these four titles give a beautiful picture of the coming Lord that is future in Isaiah’s day (and yet future to our day too) and Messiah’s character.
According to the passage in Isaiah, verse 7 tells us this child will be born into a Jewish family of the lineage of king David with whom the control of the entire world’s government will rest. Isaiah expands on this here:
And a throne shall be established in lovingkindness; and one shall sit thereon in truth, in the tent of David, judging, and seeking justice, and swift to do righteousness (ASV, 1901).
“Of the increase of his government and peace” there shall be no end, which means the Messiah’s kingdom shall ever increase more and more, and there shall be no limits to it. Ultimately it shall fill the world (Matthew 28:18, 19). The continual spread of Christianity tends to the accomplishment of this prophecy. “Upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom” means that the Messiah is to sit on the throne of David, which signifies His Davidic descent. A gradual establishment of the kingdom as Christianity spreads is the first stage that is also taught in the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven (Matthew 13:31-33). From “henceforth even forever” means the kingdom is to be both universal in respect of extent, and in respect of eternal duration. God’s jealousy of his own honor will assure the performance of all that is prophesied.
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