Isaiah 9:1-7 – Step Five – Review of Commentaries

We have already looked at Bible commentaries in connection with the content and context of Isaiah 9:1-7. But now we will review what further light they may shed on this text.

1. Review what several Bible commentaries say about the text.

In surveying various commentaries, we can look at their answers to questions that arise in interpreting each verse. In each case, I will look first at online commentaries, and then at more recent commentaries.

Isaiah 9:1

– What is the “way of the sea”? How does God honor it or glorify it?

On Bible Hub, Ellicott says: “The context shows that the ‘sea’ is that which appears in Bible history under the names of the sea of Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11; Deuteronomy 3:17), the Sea of Galilee, the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1), Gennesaret (Mark 6:53).” The Pulpit Commentary agrees with this.[1]

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges has this comment: “The way if the sea] either ‘in the direction of the (Mediterranean) Sea,’ or ‘the region along the West side of the Sea of Gennesareth.’”[2]

Roberts writes: ““The way of the sea” is not identical to the much later Via Maris of the Christian era, but refers to the coastal area south of Mount Carmel that became the Assyrian province of Dūʾru (biblical Dōʾr/Dôr—Josh 11:2; 12:23; 17:11; Judg 1:27; 1 Kgs 4:11; 1 Chr 7:29; 1 Macc 15:11).”[3]

– What is the role of this verse in the text?

Ellicott (on Bible Hub) gives a good explanation of what this verse is saying:

“The prophet had seen in the closing verses of Isaiah 8 the extreme point of misery. That picture, as it were, dissolves, and another takes its place. She that was afflicted, the whole land of Israel, should have no more affliction. The future should be in striking contrast with the past. The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, the region afterwards known as the Upper and Lower Galilee, had been laid waste and spoiled by Tiglath-pilneser (2 Kings 15:29). That same region, described by the prophet in different terms (the former representing the tribal divisions, the latter the geographical) is hereafter to be the scene of a glory greater than Israel had ever known before.”[4]

Oswalt has a similar comment:

“When every human attempt to bring light has failed, then God will bring light, not because he must, not because human craft has discovered the key to force him, but merely out of his own grace. It is part of that grace that the source of the light will be in the very part of the land which first felt the lash of Assyria—the area around the Sea of Galilee.”[5]

According to Childs, “Verse 23 [English 9:1] serves as a type of superscription to the oracle that follows, and anticipates both the humiliation and exaltation of the land by the use of the perfect form of the verbs.”[6]

Isaiah 9:2

-Why the change from prose to poetry in this verse?

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (on Bible Hub) simply says, “The sudden change of style is remarkable; all at once the prophecy breaks into a strain of rapturous and animated poetry, which is sustained to the close. In the Hebr. ch. 9 begins here.”[7]

Regarding all of Isaiah 9:2-7, Childs writes: “[Albrecht] Alt argued that the form and style revealed an authentic Isaianic succession oracle for the crowning of Hezekiah as king.”[8]

– Why is a “great light” spoken of here?

On Bible Hub, Ellicott makes the following observation:

“The words throw us back upon Isaiah 8:21-22. The prophet sees in his vision a light shining on the forlorn and weary wanderers. They had been wandering in the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ (the phrase comes from Psalm 23:4; Job 3:5), almost as in the gloom of Sheol itself. Now there breaks in the dawn of a glorious day.”

Ellicott then refers to Matthew’s use of Isaiah’s words to refer to the coming of Jesus Christ.[9]

Childs comments:

“The oracle is structured to build up a high level of suspense by first announcing the dramatic shift from darkness to light for the people suffering oppression. Then the reasons for the change are outlined in three clauses (vv. 3, 4, 5), each introduced by kî (“because,” “for”): the yoke of slavery has been broken, the weapons of battle removed, and a miraculous child has been born to rule.”[10]

Roberts writes as follows:

“Darkness is used here as a metaphor for political oppression and injustice, and light is the contrasting metaphor for political release from such oppression. This imagery was traditional in the ancient Near East, where kings often employed it to contrast their just rule to the oppression characteristic of the preceding era.[11]

Isaiah 9:3

– What is the meaning of the words, “You have enlarged the nation”?

On Bible Hub, Ellicott writes: “The picture is one of unmingled brightness; the return as of a golden age, the population growing to an extent never attained before (comp. Isaiah 26:15; Jeremiah 31:27; Ezekiel 36:11).”[12]

Oswalt comments: “As a result of God’s revelation of himself through his Messiah, joy sweeps over the people, the joy of abundance. Instead of depopulation and dwindling away (7:20–23), the nation swells and grows (49:19–23)….”[13]

Regarding a possible emendation of the phrase “you have enlarged the nation,” see the discussion of translation issues in Isaiah 9:1-7 – Step Three – Closer Study of Content.

Isaiah 9:4

– Why the reference here to deliverance from oppressive slavery?

According to the Pulpit Commentary (Bible Hub):

“The coming of the Messiah sets the Israelites free, removes the yoke from off their neck, breaks the rod wherewith their shoulders were beaten, delivers them from bondage into the ‘glorious liberty of the children of God.’ Not, however, in an earthly sense, since the Messiah’s kingdom was not of this world. The ‘yoke’ is that of sin, the ‘oppressor’ is that prince of darkness, who had well-nigh brought all mankind under his dominion when Christ came.”[14]

Oswalt also sees this deliverance in connection with the coming of the Messiah. However, he cautions against seeing the promised liberation as being either exclusively spiritual or exclusively political:

“Two extremes are to be avoided here. One extreme is to take the way that the Christian Church has often taken, saying that true bondage is to personal sin from which Christ frees us, and thus turning a blind eye on actual physical oppression. The other extreme is the way of certain forms of liberation theology that seem to suggest that the only sin is the sin of political oppression, and that Christ’s only purpose in coming was to give human beings political freedom. Neither extreme is adequate in itself. … The Messiah lifts the yoke of sin in order to lift the yoke of oppression. The Church forgets either yoke at its peril.” [15]

Childs comments: “The oracle may well reflect the conventional language of its milieu, but far more significant for determining its meaning is to recognize the predominantly eschatological movement of the oracle.”[16]

Roberts believes the deliverance Isaiah had in mind was deliverance from the yoke of Assyrian oppression. However, he says the prophecy became part of the Messianic hope and was understood by Christians to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.[17]

– What is the meaning of the reference to “the day of Midian”?

The commentaries connect the reference to “the day of Midian” in verse 3 with the victory of Gideon over the Midianites described in Judges 7.[18]

Isaiah 9:5

– Why does this verse describe the destruction of military footwear and clothing?

In his commentary (on Bible Hub), Ellicott writes, “The victory is decisive, and the reign of peace begins, and the weapons of war, the garments red with blood (Isaiah 63:1-3), the heavy boot that makes the earth ring with the warrior’s tread, these shall all be burnt up.”[19]

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments: “The idea of the verse is that after Jehovah’s great victory every vestige of war shall be burned up in preparation for the kingdom of universal peace. Comp. the burning of the weapons of Gog’s host in Ezekiel 39:9 f.”[20]

Roberts understands the victory to be over the Assyrians: “The last vestiges of the frightening enemy will be gone; Assyrian battle sandals and blood-splattered cloaks left behind in the imminent Assyrian retreat will be burned as fuel for the fire.”[21]

Oswalt understands this verse as a prophecy of universal peace:

“The figure Isaiah uses to depict the cessation of war is a powerful one. He uses the lesser to include the greater and in so doing insures inclusion of the total. If even the boots and cloaks are being burned, we may be sure the weapons are disposed of, and even more surely, those who wielded them.”[22]

Isaiah 9:6

How is this verse connected with verses 2-5?

Ellicott (Bible Hub) says, “The picture of a kingdom of peace could not be complete without the manifestation of a king.”[23]

Joseph Benson (Bible Hub) in his commentary writes: “Having spoken of the glorious light, and joy, and victory of God’s people, the prophet now proceeds to show the foundation and cause thereof.”[24]

Motyer writes as follows: “Each preceding explanation leads into this third and fundamental explanation. How does the victorious, covenant-fulfilling work of God (4) come about? By what way do the Lord’s people (5) enter a non-contributory salvation? By the mere fact of the King’s birth.”[25]

Oswalt sees verses 2-6 as building on one another: “There is joy because God has delivered from oppression, and he does that because he has brought an end to war. But how will he do that? This verse supplies the answer. It lies in the coming of a person, thus fitting biblical thought throughout.”[26]

– Why does this verse emphasize that “a child is born to us” and “a son is given to us”?

According to the Pulpit Commentary on Bible Hub: “Unto us a child is born (comp. Isaiah 7:14-16, where the promise of ‘a child,’ ‘a son,’ is first made – a child who was, like this Child, to be ‘God with us’).”[27]

Roberts writes:

“The reference to the birth of a child in v. 5 has been variously interpreted, but despite attempts to connect the child Immanuel (Isa 7:14) with the child mentioned here and to interpret Isa 9:5 as an actual birth announcement of a new male baby just born to the royal family, such an interpretation is highly unlikely….”

Roberts continues:

“The parallels to Isa 9:5, both biblical and nonbiblical, suggest that it is better to take the birth imagery in the verse as the metaphorical language of the coronation service. The best biblical parallel is Ps 2:7, where the new Davidic king quotes the promise God made to him on his coronation day: ‘You are my son; today I have given birth to you.’”

Roberts goes on to say that similar language was used at the coronation of Egyptian pharaohs. [28]

Childs has a contrasting view. He believes that “To interpret this text as a historical vestige, moored in misguided hopes from Israel’s past, is to misunderstand the canonical forces at work in shaping the prophetic tradition into a corpus of scripture directed to Israel’s subsequent generations of faith.”[29]

Oswalt agrees that this verse does not refer to a royal birth in Isaiah’s day. He understands the entire text as a Messianic prophecy, pointing forward to Jesus Christ. Regarding the reference to a child being born, he comments:

“If a crown prince’s birth is not in view, then what is the meaning of the emphasis upon this person as a child? Surely, it is for two reasons. First, it emphasized that … the divine ruler will not merely be God, but although partaking of the divine attributes, will have the most human of all arrivals upon the earth, namely, birth. The expected perfect king will be human and divine.”

Second, “again and again, when the prophet comes to the heart of the means of deliverance, a childlike face peers out at us. God is strong enough to overcome his enemies by becoming vulnerable, transparent, and humble—the only hope, in fact, for turning enmity into friendship.”[30]

Motyer writes: “The emphasis rests not on to us but on a child is born. Child: his human descent. Son: his maleness and dignity in the royal line. Born of human parentage but also given by the Lord.”[31]

– What is the meaning of the statement, “and the government will be on his shoulder”?

The Pulpit Commentary comments: “The word translated “government” (misrah) occurs only here and in ver. 7. It is probably to be connected with sar, “prince,” and Israel. Government was regarded as a burden, to be born on the back or shoulders, and was sometimes symbolized by a key laid upon the shoulder (Isaiah 22:22).”[32]

Motyer writes: “His people’s shoulders (4) are delivered when his shoulders accept the burden of rule.”[33]

– Why is this child given four names?

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Bible Hub) comments:

“The name of the Messiah consists of a series of honorific titles, pertaining to Him in His kingly capacity and expressing mainly the qualities displayed in His government. We may compare, with Guthe and others, the high-sounding titles assumed by Egyptian and Babylonian monarchs in their inscriptions, such as, “Giver of Life in perpetuity,” “Ever Living,” “Lord of Life,” “Lord of Eternity and Infinity” &c.”[34]

Roberts sees evidence of an Egyptian background in this part of the verse as well as in the first part.[35]

Oswalt rejects this idea, saying that “such extravagant titling was not normal for Israelite kings.” In his view, such naming “is an expression of a belief that the one who would be born to rule over Israel in justice and righteousness would be possessed of divine attributes.”[36]

– What is the meaning of the name, “Wonderful Counselor”?

Roberts writes: “‘Wonderful counselor’ stresses the new king’s wisdom in counsel and may be compared to such Egyptian crown names as ‘ready in plans,’ ‘establisher of laws,’ and ‘great in marvels.’”[37]

Oswalt comments: “The Coming One would give wondrous counsel, unfailing in the depth of its wisdom. For it is true wisdom which knows that in weakness is strength, in surrender is victory, and in death is life (42:1–4; 49:4, 21; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12; 55:6–9; 57:15; 58:6–12; John 12:24–26).”[38]

– What is the meaning of the name, “Mighty God”?

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments: “The mighty God] (’êl Gibbôr) either “God-like Hero” or Hero-God. The second is to be preferred, because the title is applied to Jehovah in ch. Isaiah 10:21 (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17; Jeremiah 32:18).[39]

Roberts give the following meaning: “‘Mighty God’ (cf. 10:21) expresses the new king’s power and is paralleled by such Egyptian names as ‘good god,’ ‘mighty bull’ and ‘great in strength.’”[40]

Oswalt notes:

“Wherever ʾēl gibbôr occurs elsewhere in the Bible there is no doubt that the term refers to God (10:21; cf. also Deut. 10:17; Jer. 32:18). This king will have God’s true might about him, power so great that it can absorb all the evil which can be hurled at it until none is left to hurl (53:2–10; 59:15–20; 63:1–9).[41]

– What is the meaning of the name, “Everlasting Father”?

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments: “The everlasting Father] lit. Father of Eternity. … ‘Father of Eternity’ describes the king, not as ‘possessor of the attribute of eternity’ but as one who continually acts as a father to his people.”[42]

Roberts writes: “‘Everlasting father’ points to a long reign for the king as the father and protector of his people. It may be compared to the Egyptian ‘goodly in years,’ or ‘living forever and ever.’”[43]

According to Oswalt, “This person’s fatherhood is claimed to be forever. Such a claim cannot be ignored. It is either the royal bombast typical of the ancient Near East, which is, in fact, atypical for Israel, or it is a serious statement of a sort of fatherhood which will endure forever.”[44]

– What is the meaning of the name, “Prince of Peace”?

Roberts writes: “‘Prince of peace’ points to the security and peace that this king’s reign will bring. It may be compared to the Egyptian ‘who gives life.’”[45]

According to Motyer: “Prince corresponds to our idea of ‘administrator’. This Prince, then, himself a whole personality, at one with God and with his people, administers the benefits of peace/wholeness in his benign rule.”[46]

Oswalt writes:

“It is appropriate that this title should come as the last of the series, for it is the climactic one (cf. 32:17). What sort of king is this? He is a peaceful king, one who comes in peace and one who establishes peace, not by a brutal squashing of all defiance, but by means of a transparent vulnerability which makes defiance pointless.”[47]

Isaiah 9:7

– Why is it said that “there will be no end” to the increase of the king’s government and peace, and that he will reign with justice and righteousness “from this time forth and forever more”?

According to Ellicott (Bible Hub):

“The words admit, as in the parallels of Psalm 21:4; Psalm 61:6-7; 2 Samuel 7:12-16, of being interpreted of the perpetuity of the dynasty of which the anointed king is to be the founder; but the ‘Everlasting Father’ of the context, and the parallels of Psalm 45:6; Psalm 110:4, are in favour of its referring to a personal immortality of sovereignty.”[48]

Oswalt comments: “Again, it becomes clear that Isaiah has an eschatological figure in mind. This person will not be a king among kings in Israel. Rather, he will be the final king, the king to end all kings.”[49]

Childs writes: The description of his reign makes it absolutely clear that his role is messianic.”[50]

– Why is the throne of David mentioned?

On Bible Hub, Ellicott comments: “The ‘throne of David,’ though in harmony with the whole body of prophetic tradition as to the Messiah, may be noted as the first appearance of that tradition in Isaiah.”[51]

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says, “On the throne and kingdom of David. The Messiah succeeds to David’s throne and is doubtless conceived as his lineal descendant.”[52]

– Why is it said that “the zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this”?

On Bible Hub, Ellicott comments:

“As in Greek so in Hebrew, we have the same root-word and root-idea for ‘zeal’ and ‘jealousy,’ and here, perhaps, the latter thought is dominant. It is because Jehovah loves the daughter of Zion with an absorbing love that He purposes such great things for her future, and that what He purposes will be assuredly performed. (Comp. Ezekiel 5:13.)”[53]

Oswalt observes:

“By this statement Isaiah acknowledges that the picture he has painted will not be realized in the ordinary course of affairs. It will only happen because of God’s passionate involvement with his people. Zeal and jealousy are two sides of the same concept. Both bespeak a kind of concern for someone that desires an exclusive place in that person’s affections.”[54]

2. Review other relevant literature that sheds light on the text.

Raymond Dillard, in his book, Faith in the Face of Apostasy: The Gospel according to Elijah & Elisha, says the name of the king traditionally translated “Mighty God,” could also be translated, “the Warrior God.” Dillard writes, “This captain of the heavenly armies, this warrior God, is the one who has fought our battles for us.”[55]

D. A. Carson writes of the connection between to coming of Yahweh to save and the coming of a descendant of David:

“The prophets tend to envisage the coming eschatological hope in one of two ways: either Yahweh himself is coming to save his people, or he is sending his servant David. But in several remarkable passages these two come together. Especially in Isaiah 9:1–7 and Ezekiel 34, Yahweh and “David” are inextricably linked.”[56]

  1., accessed 10/4/19.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Roberts, J. J. M. First Isaiah: A Commentary. Ed. Peter Machinist. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015. Hermeneia. 147.

  4., accessed 10/4/19.

  5. Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. 239.

  6. Childs, Brevard S. Isaiah: A Commentary. Ed. William P. Brown, Carol A. Newsom, and Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. The Old Testament Library. 80.

  7., accessed 10/4/19.

  8. Ibid.

  9., accessed 10/4/19.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Roberts, 148.

  12., accessed 10/4/19.

  13. Oswalt, 243.

  14., accessed 10/4/19.
  15. Oswalt, 243.

  16. Childs, 80.

  17. Roberts, 149-153.

  18., accessed 10/4/19. See also Oswalt, 243 and Roberts, 149.

  19., accessed 10/4/19.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Roberts, 149.

  22. Oswalt, 244.

  23., accessed 10/5/19.

  24. Ibid.

  25. Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 20. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. 101.

  26. Oswalt, 244.

  27., accessed 10/5/19.

  28. Roberts, 150-151.

  29. Childs, 80.

  30. Oswalt, 245.

  31. Motyer, 101.

  32., accessed 10/5/19.

  33. Motyer, 101.

  34. Ibid.

  35. Roberts, 151.

  36. Oswalt, 246.

  37. Roberts, 151.

  38. Oswalt, 247.

  39., accessed 10/5/19.

  40. Roberts, 151.

  41. Oswalt, 247.

  42., accessed 10/5/19.

  43. Roberts, 151-152.

  44. Oswalt, 247.

  45. Roberts, 152.

  46. Motyer, 102.

  47. Oswalt, 248.

  48., accessed 10/8/19.

  49. Oswalt, 248.

  50. Childs, 80.

  51., accessed 10/5/19.

  52. Ibid.

  53., accessed 10/8/19.

  54. Oswalt, 248

  55. Dillard, Raymond B. Faith in the Face of Apostasy: The Gospel according to Elijah & Elisha. Ed. Tremper Longman III and J. Alan Groves. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1999. The Gospel according to the Old Testament. 130.

  56. Carson, D. A. The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Fifteenth Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. 227.