Here I will do an introductory survey of Isaiah 9:1-7.
1. Pray for wisdom, insight, the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
2. Review introductory information about the book of the Bible in which the text appears.
We can start by looking at the author, audience, date, occasion, genre and outline of Isaiah.
The authorship of some parts of the book is the subject of debate, even among evangelical scholars. However, most agree that the author of this part of the book is Isaiah, the son of Amoz. Isaiah was called to be a prophet in the year that Uzziah, king of the southern kingdom of Judah, died (739 or 738 B.C). He prophesied until at least 701 B.C., when the Assyrian king Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem.
We also do not know who the recipients of the prophecy were or the date when it was delivered. Some commentators suggest that it was delivered when Hezekiah was enthroned as king. If that is the case, then the date may have been 727 B.C. But the prophecy could also have an earlier date.
The genre of the book of Isaiah is prophecy. Like most prophetic books, it is a collection of prophecies and oracles.
The Reformation Study Bible has the following outline of the first twelve chapters of Isaiah:
I. THE LORD IS THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL (CHS. 1–12)
A. Oracles of Judgment and Hope (chs. 1–5)
1. Judah’s sins exposed (ch. 1)
2. Hope (2:1–5)
3. Judah’s guilt (2:6–4:1)
4. Hope (4:2–6)
5. Judah condemned (ch. 5)
B. The Prophetic Call and Revelation of God’s Holiness (ch. 6)
C. Oracles of Judgment and Hope During the War with Israel and Syria (chs. 7–11)
1. Judgment and hope for Judah (7:1–9:7)
2. Judgment and hope for Israel (9:8–11:16)
D. The Hymn of the Redeemed (ch. 12)
3. Read the chapters that surround the text.
I read chapters 1-9 of Isaiah. Chapters 1-5 speak of the sin of Judah and its coming judgment.
In chapter 6, Isaiah receives his call to be a prophet in the year that King Uzziah died. He is called to proclaim God’s judgment.
Chapter 7 is set in the days of King Ahaz, when Rezin, king of Syria or Aram, and Pekah, king of Israel, are threatening Jerusalem. Isaiah and his son, Shear-jashub (“A Remnant Shall Return”), meet Ahaz and tell him not to fear the two kings. The LORD, through Isaiah, tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, which he refuses to do. The LORD gives Ahaz a sign anyway, the sign of the virgin bearing a son whom she shall call “Immanuel.” Early in the child’s life, the land of the two kings will be deserted, but there will also be an invasion by the Assyrians.
In chapter 8, Isaiah is directed to write the name Maher-shalal-hashbaz (“The Spoil Speeds, the Prey Hastens”). Then he and his wife have a son, who is given this name at the LORD’s direction. The LORD says that early in the child’s life “the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.” The LORD then speaks to Isaiah about the coming invasion.
The LORD warns Isaiah not to walk in the way of this people. He is to fear the LORD, who will become a stone of stumbling to both houses of Israel. He is to bind up the testimony and teaching, and wait and hope in the LORD. He isn’t to inquire of mediums. Those who reject God will be thrust into darkness.
I see connections between chapters 7 and 8 and the text. Chapter 8 ends with the people being “thrust into deep darkness.” Chapter 9 promises that those who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Instead of an invading army, chapter 9:5 speaks of garments of war being burned. Where chapters 7 and 8 speak of children with significant names being born, chapter 9 speaks of the birth of a royal child who will sit on the throne of David.
4. Read the text in multiple translations.
This can be done on Bible Gateway. In my case, I have read several translations of the text on Logos Bible software.
5. Review where the text begins and ends.
As noted in Step One on text selection, the lectionary Old Testament reading for Christmas Eve is Isaiah 9:2-7. Isaiah 9:1-4 is the Old Testament reading for the third week after Epiphany in Year A. This raises the question as to where the text should begin and end.
In the ESV, Isaiah 9:1-7 is a separate section, with the title, “For to Us a Child Is Born.” In the Christian Standard Bible, the same section is titled, “Birth of the Prince of Peace.” The NRSV titles the same verses, “The Reign of the Righteous King.” The 1984 NIV sets apart verses 1-7 and uses the title, “To Us a Child Is Born.” The 2011 NIV takes a different tack. It titles the section from Isaiah 8:19 through 9:7, “The Darkness Turns to Light.”
Among the commentaries on Bible Hub, Ellicott says this about Isaiah 9:1: “It is obvious, even in the English version, that the chapters are wrongly divided, and that what follows forms part of the same prophetic utterance as Isaiah 8.” This implies that our text should be Isaiah 9:2-7.
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges has the following note regarding verses 2 and 3: “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.”
The Pulpit Commentary deals with verses 1-7 as a unit with the title, “The Troubles of Israel Shall End through the Birth of a Marvelous Child.” Alexander Maclaren uses Isaiah 9:2-7 as the text for his exposition, entitled, “The Kingdom and the King.”
Among more recent commentaries, Motyer in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, deals with verses 1-7 under the heading, “The Royal Hope.” Harper’s Bible Commentary titles verses 1-7, “A Child of Messianic Hope.” In the New Bible Commentary the same section is titled, “The Messianic Dawn.” Watts in the Word Biblical Commentary has the title, “To Us a Son Is Born.”
Oswalt titles the passage from chapter 8:11 through 9:7, “Our Way—Darkness; His Way—Light.” He then divides this into two sections: (1) “Paying Attention to God” (ch. 8:11-9:1) and (2) “Unto Us a Child is Born” (9:2-7). Oswalt notes the disagreement regarding whether chapter 9:1 belongs with the preceding section or the following one. He writes: “The important point is that the verse is such an effective bridge between the two sections.”
Roberts treats Isaiah 9:1-7 as a unit. However, he amends the text of the first part of chapter 9:1 [Hebrew 8:23] and includes it at the end of the previous unit, so that for him, our text begins with chapter 9:1b.
Regarding Isaiah 9:1-7 Childs writes:
“The extreme difficulty of interpreting this oracle is initially revealed by the continuing debate over determining the end of the former unit and the beginning of the next. In the MT [Masoretic Text] 8:23 is understood as a continuation of the preceding oracle and is separated from the new oracle in 9:1–6. However, in the LXX [Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Old Testament], in a severely corrupted text, a major portion of v. 23 is thought to introduce the oracle in 9:1–6.”
Childs continues, “A majority of scholars still hold to seeing the second part of v. 23 as a prose introduction, probably shaped by an editor, which served as a bridge from the description of desolation and darkness to that of light and salvation. .”
In spite of some uncertainly, it seems legitimate to use Isaiah 9:1-7 as a text, though one could choose to use Isaiah 9:2-7.
5. Ask questions of the text.
Now I will ask some questions of Isaiah 9:1-7 and record my answers.
What is the main thought of the text, around which other thoughts are organized?
The text announces the birth of a royal child with four amazing and meaningful names whose rule on David’s throne will bring the nation light, joy, freedom and peace.
Is there conflict in the text or behind it?
There appears to be darkness, oppression and warfare in the present. These will be ended by the rule of this royal child.
What is the fallen condition focus?
Because of their sin, God’s people can find themselves in spiritual darkness, experiencing warfare and oppression.
What question is the text seeking to answer?
When we find ourselves in spiritual darkness, experiencing warfare and oppression, what can give us hope? What can bring us spiritual light, joy, freedom and peace?
What is the text saying? What is the text doing?
It says that a royal child with four amazing and meaningful names will be born, whose rule on David’s throne will bring the nation light, joy, freedom and peace.
The text is giving encouragement and hope.
How is the text related to God’s gracious redemption in Christ? How does it show the meaning of or the need for redemption?
It points to the birth of a Messiah who will bring redemption. It shows that we need redemption because of spiritual darkness, oppression and warfare, and that the Messiah’s rule will fully provide that redemption.
Sproul, R. C., ed. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015. 1119. ↑
Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 20. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. 99. ↑
Mays, James Luther, ed. Harper’s Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. 557. ↑
Carson, D. A. et al., eds. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. 640. ↑
Watts, John D. W. Isaiah 1–33. Revised Edition. Vol. 24. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2005. Word Biblical Commentary. 166. ↑
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. 242, n. 8. ↑
Roberts, J. J. M. First Isaiah: A Commentary. Ed. Peter Machinist. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015. Hermeneia. 141-144. ↑
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. 79. ↑