For Unto Us a Child is Born

Isaiah 9:1-7

December 24, 2023

Lead Pastor Dr. Timothy Melton

Click here to watch the video

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Every Christmas these verses are read in most churches around the world, but what do they mean? To whom are they given? What is the need that demanded such a great promise? If we are not careful we hear the verses and are satisfied with their apparent meaning for Christmas without knowing the greater significance. 

When studying the Bible one of the most important questions to answer is what did these verses mean to the original hearers? Let us now look at the historical situation for which these precious words of Christmas were spoken.

In the years after Israel entered the Promised Land they were first led by judges and then eventually by King Saul, King David and King Solomon. After King Solomon´s death a problem arose and the nation of Israel split into two factions. The northern kingdom was made up of 10 of the 12 tribes and kept the name Israel. The remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, were the southern kingdom that came to be known as Judah. Jerusalem was the capital of Judah. Although both Israel and Judah sinned by worshiping other gods, Israel, the northern kingdom grew in its wickedness to a greater degree.

During this time, around 720 B.C., a man named Isaiah was one of the prophets that God used to speak to the people of Judah. In Isaiah 7-8 we read how “Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it.” “The heart of Ahaz, (the king of Judah), and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” These were very dark days in the lives of Judah. 

God, speaking through Isaiah, told those of Judah not to fear. Judah would not be conquered. He then warned the people of Judah, “If you are not firm in your faith, you will not be firm at all.” It reminds us of James 1:7. “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” It is in faith that we stand firm in the face of trying times. It is as we draw near to Christ that we are given the faith that is required to trust in God.

To make matters worse, many of the people of Judah had turned away from the provision of God and were now envious of the leaders of Israel and Syria who worshiped foreign gods and who had gained worldly success. Isaiah 8:6-8 tells us that

“Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, 7 therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, 8 and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

The “waters of Shiloah” were the pure, clean waters that came from the small spring that was located outside of the city of Jerusalem.  It was symbolic of the pure, simple but living water that God had provided for the people of Judah. Many of Judah had decided that the sufficient provisions of God were not enough and longed for the godless things of the world that the northern kingdom and Syria had to offer. Because of this the Lord was going to bring against them the “waters of the River.” This word “River” when capitalized, was referring to the great Euphrates River. It belonged to the great pagan nation of Assyria.

God was going to use Assyria to conquer both Israel and Syria. And because most of the leaders and people of Judah were also turning to the godless things of the world, Assyria would also come and sweep across the land of Judah and bring much destruction. This was a fearful prophecy.

The Assyrians had various gods, but their principal god was Ashur who was a god of war. Because of this every act of war was considered an act of worship. They were known for their gory and bloodthirsty acts. Historical records tell of this testimony of battle by an Assyrian:

“In strife and conflict, I besieged [and] conquered the city. I felled 3000 of their fighting men with the sword . . . . I captured many troops alive: I cut off some of their arms [and] hands; I cut off others their noses, ears [and] extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city.”  

We find Nahum´s description of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital in Nahum 3, 

“Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey! 2 The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! 3 Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end— they stumble over the bodies!”

They were a people greatly to be feared.

Verse 8 then concludes this paragraph with the Lord stating to Isaiah that all of this is going to happen in “your land, O Immanuel.” 

For many this is hard to understand. Immanuel means, “God with us,” but how God allow this to happen? In their hearts the people had rebelled against God.  They had chosen to be devoted to the things of this world and pagan gods. They had chosen a godless life and now they were facing the consequences of a godless world. Holy Yahweh was present and Judah’s sin was bringing judgment. 

The Lord continued in verses 9 and 10,

9 Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands.
Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us.

The situation was now beyond them. They could not save themselves. They could raise the war cry, and prepare for battle but it would be for not. Their strategies would be thwarted and their plans would not stand, because God was with them. You would think that God’s presence would help, and it does as we walk in humility, love and obedience, but when a person walks in pride, godlessness and rebellion the presence of God brings conviction and condemnation.

It would be similar to the presence of a policeman. If we are walking in innocence, then the presence of a policeman is supposed to bring rest and security. When one has broken the law then the presence of a policeman brings fear and anxiety, because the result will likely be a fine or even prison.

Even though they had chosen to live godless lives, as if God did not exist, God had been with them the entire time. God’s patience had now reached its limit, so judgment was now God’s response to His rebellious people. 

The Lord then continued talking with Isaiah,

11 This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:

12 “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.
13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
    he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.
14 He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.”

The Lord then warned Isaiah not to fear what his people were fearing, but to only fear the LORD Almighty. The people were fearing Israel, Syria and Assyria, but the One who was to be truly feared was God. God was not to be trifled with. Isaiah was to fear God and not man. In that, God would become Isaiah´s sanctuary. 

How many times do we need to be reminded of that? It has been said before, “If you fear God, you will fear nothing else. If you don´t fear God, you will fear everything else.” 

God is mighty in power. He is our Holy judge, but He is also our loving Father. He knows all things. Nothing can be hidden from Him. We should fear Him because of His holiness, but rest in Him because of the grace that we have found in Christ. 

We then read more of Isaiah’s words in verses 16-17

16 Bind up this testimony of warning and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.

Isaiah declares that he will “wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in Him.” In the midst of the struggle that had become very dark and showed very little evidence of God’s working, Isaiah was still choosing to trust in God.

Have you ever been in a situation in your relationship with the Lord that it felt that He was “hiding His face” from you? You looked around and could not find Him anywhere. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for “face” could also be translated “presence.” God was not hiding His face from Isaiah and his disciples, but to the vast amount of descendants of Jacob God was hiding His face, and His presence. We do not know to what extent God’s hiddenness was God’s doing and how much was the lack of seeking on the part of the Jews, but practically speaking, God, who was there, was hiding His presence to those who were living in sin and rebellion. God was there. He was fully aware of what was happening, but He had chosen to draw back and somehow “hide His face.”

We now will read verses 19-22 and see what happens when God lets a sinful world take its natural course. 

19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

At this time those of Judah and Israel no longer sought wisdom from God, but had grown accustomed to seeking the future and supernatural knowledge from fortune tellers and those who sought to communicate with the spirits of the dead. When the people of Judah sought advice from those who speak to the dead they were to be redirected back to the teachings and the testimony of God. If they refused, it would be because they have no light in them. They will then suffer distress and hunger and be enraged and speak against their king and their God. They will look to the world and its gloom and be thrust into darkness. 

We, too, must follow this teaching. As Psalms 119:11 guides us. We are to hide God´s Word in our hearts that we may not sin against God. In times of trouble do not turn to the world for solutions. Turn back to God’s Word. 

Being thrust in to utter darkenss was the bleak outlook for the people of Judah to which Isaiah spoke. Their first fear was defeat from the hands of Israel and Syria. The second threat was now the fierce Assyrian army that was unstoppable in this time of history. Destruction and doom were all they could see. 

In the midst of their darkness and utter fear, they turned to the world for solutions and found nothing but more desperation. But for Isaiah and the remnant of true followers of Yahweh they found sanctuary in Immanuel, God with us, trusting Him even in the midst of the coming doom. Living in the midst of a sinful people they, too, would experience the corporate consequences of sin, but out of utter darkness God then gave a promise of what would come. 

Isaiah, led by the Spirit, then prophesied in Isaiah 9:2-5.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire. 

The day would come when the darkness would be driven back. A great light would shine. The nation would grow and so would their joy. God would break the yoke that had burdened them, the staff that was used to strike their shoulder and the rod that was used to beat them. God would bring the victory from impossible odds, just as he had for Gideon against the Midianites in Judges 7. God would once again come to the aid of Judah and bring about an awe-inspiring victory that only He could accomplish. But how would this victory be won? An army? A political strategy? An alliance? No. . . a child.

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. 

For them, and all believers that would follow, the child would be born and intentionally given as a gift from God (John 3:16). In these two verses we find a description of the character, the works and the kingdom of the coming Messiah. His name would be called Wonderful Counselor for He would be the source of divine and extraordinary wisdom from a heart of compassion that will be able to sympathize with our weaknesses, since He, too, would be tempted in every way, and yet would not sin. This was great news for those who were uncertain and confused.

He would be Mighty God, all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. This was amazing news for those who were weak and desperately in need of rescue. This Messiah would be Everlasting Father. This would be a blessing for those who needed an authority-figure, a caregiver, a provider, a shelter and a warm embrace. This Messiah would be a Prince of Peace. He would bring well-being at a heart level and restore life to how it was intended to be. It must have been such a relief for those who were in need of peace with others and peace with God. 

This child would grow to govern an earthly kingdom that would know no end. He will sit on the throne of David, as promised, forever. It would be characterized by peace, justice and righteousness from now and forever more. This will be accomplished because of the zeal of God.

Once again God was showing Himself to be sufficient for our every need as He spoke into the brokenness of the people of Judah. A day was coming, but for now they would have to believe and wait on the Lord. 

This promise has come true to one extent, at Jesus´ birth, but at the same time we still await the second coming of Christ. This is our Advent. How are you at waiting? Many of us find it difficult. We now do in minutes what used to take days and yet we still are impatient. To grasp these verses we must understand waiting of a different kind. 

In these verses God is promising a Messiah that the original hearers will never meet. The Jews will wait 700 years for His coming. Before His birth they will endure the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. Thankfully, they saw the world in a more corporate way. Even though they might not experience the benefits of the Messiah they rejoiced in the fact that their people, their descendants would one day revel in His glory. This was the hope that carried them forward in even the worst of times. 

God did not have to share this prophecy this far in advance, but He did. It gave the Jews something to live for, a hope for a better day, knowledge that God had not forgotten them and an assurance that in the end everything would be made right. 

In much the same way we, too, await the coming of the Messiah. On that day all sin will be put away, all wounds will be healed, justice will be served, and righteousness will reign. Darkness will be driven back, fear will be removed, conflict will cease, and peace will reign. 

Until then may we fear the Lord. May we seek His face. May we cling to his testimony. May we walk in obedience. May we find joy in the promise and regardless of how dark life may get may we rest in the fact that God is with us and Jesus is coming again.