Isaiah 9:1-7 – Step Four – Closer Study of Context

Let’s now look at how Isaiah 9:1-7 relates to its historical/cultural, literary and theological contexts.

1. Examine the text’s historical and cultural context.

We can begin with the historical/cultural context of this text.

(1) Learn what you can about the history of the text.

We don’t know a great deal about the history of this text.

As mentioned in the opening survey, 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. So this text was written at some point in the second half of the 8th century B.C,

Some Bible commentators speculate that verses 2-7 were written in connection with the coronation of Hezekiah, which took place around 727 B.C. But that cannot be proven.

(2) Review the history in the text.

In verse 1, there are geographical references to the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, as well as to “the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”

A Bible atlas shows the territory of Naphtali to the north and west of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee) and the territory of Zebulun to the west of Chinnereth.

According to 2 Kings 15:29, “In the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria.”

In his commentary, Oswalt gives the following information:

“Galilee of the Gentiles. The area between the Sea of Chinnereth and the Mediterranean north of the Jezreel Valley had always been something of a melting pot, with Hebrews, Canaanites, Arameans, Hittites, and Mesopotamians all contributing to the mix. It was in this region, through which the various inland powers reached westward and southward toward the seacoast, that Israel commonly encountered the rest of the world (hence the name). But the area was destined to see an even more intense mixing after 735, for this was the first part of Israel to be stripped away by Tiglath-pileser, with its inhabitants resettled in Mesopotamia and new settlers from that area brought in.”[1]

Regarding the reference to the “day of Midian” in verse 3, see Isaiah 9:1-7 – Step Five – Review of Commentaries.

(3) Study any aspects of culture that are relevant to the text.

There are several cultural elements referred to in this text that probably do not require special study. These include the following: people rejoicing at harvesttime, people being glad when dividing spoil after battle, a king sitting on a throne and having dominion.

“The yoke of his burden” in verse 4 refers to an instrument of oppression and slavery. In Genesis 27:39 Isaac says to Esau, “You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.” Likewise, in Leviticus 26:13 the LORD says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.”

Oswalt notes that the word translated “boot” is related to the Akkadian word for “sandal.” He adds, “although not strictly a boot, a foot covering worn by soldiers.”[2] A relief that shows the footwear of Assyrian soldiers can be seen here.[3]

2. Examine the text’s literary context.

We will move on now to look at the literary context of Isaiah 9:1-7.

(1) Identify the genre of the book in which the text appears.

The genre of the book of Isaiah is prophecy.

(2) Use principles appropriate to the book’s genre to study the text.

Here we will use the principles recommended by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in their book, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth.[4]

Fee and Stuart note that misunderstandings as to the function and form of the prophetic books are a widespread problem. The prophets are often understood to be concerned mainly with predicting events “far distant from their own day.”

But in fact, only a small percentage of their writings is focused on the Messiah or the new covenant age. The main function of the prophets was “to speak for God to their own contemporaries.”[5]

Fee and Stuart describe the prophets as “covenant enforcement mediators” who announce on God’s behalf the blessings or curses that are coming on God’s people because of their obedient or disobedient response to his covenant commands.[6]

As to their form, the prophetic books are “collections of spoken oracles not always presented in their original chronological sequence.”[7]

(3) Determine whether the text contains a single or multiple oracles.

This text appears to contain one main oracle in verses 2-7. Verse 1 has a different style and appears to link the verses at the end of chapter 8 with the oracle in verses 2-7 of chapter 9.

(4) Determine whether the text is in the form of prose or poetry.

Verse 1 does not appear to show the parallelism that is typical of Hebrew poetry. Thus most English Bible versions print it as prose, which we also see in verses 11-22 of chapter 8. Verses 2-7 show Hebrew poetic parallelism throughout.

(5) Determine how the text fits into the overall scheme of the book.

See my comments in the introductory survey on the chapters that surround the text.

Roberts echoes a view that has been common among scholars for some time, calling Isaiah 6:1-9:7, “A Collection of Isaiah’s Memoirs.” He says that it appears that this section “once circulated as an independent collection.”[8]

Childs says the idea of a memoir “has greatly confused the interpretive issue.” In chapters 6 and 8 Isaiah speaks in the first person. But in chapter 7 Isaiah is spoken of in the third person. “Above all, chapter 7 introduces the messianic hope associated with Immanuel and begins to develop the theme of the remnant….” Childs sees these themes being “further expanded” in 8:1-9:6.[9]

Oswalt says that Isaiah 7-39 is a section “united around the theme of trust.” He says chapters 7-12 provide a historical introduction to the unit. And these chapters, in turn, can be divided into four segments, of which Isaiah 7:1-9:6 [English 9:7] is the first.[10]

Oswalt indicates uncertainty about whether or not Isaiah 8:23-9:6 [English 9:7] should be included in this first section:

“Since 8:16–22 continue the thought of the foolishness of relying on some understanding of events that does not recognize God’s sovereignty (8:12–15) and since 8:23 (Eng. 9:1) grows directly out of 8:22, there seems to be no option but to include 8:23–9:6 (Eng. 9:1–7) in the unit, although it is difficult to define the exact relation of those verses to chs. 7 and 8.”[11]

Oswalt also notes that throughout chapters Isaiah 7:1-9:7 there is an emphasis on children: Isaiah’s children (7:3; 8:3), Immanuel (7:14, 8:8,10) and the royal child in 9:6. He says that in their apparent weakness is true strength: “The thought seems to move from the folly of not trusting (7:1–8:22) to the reason for trust (8:23–9:6 [Eng. 9:1–7]); strength is weakness; weakness is strength.”[12]

3. Investigate the text’s theological context.

Now we should consider the theological context of Isaiah 9:1-7

(1) Locate the text in the history of redemption (the Bible’s salvation story) that culminates in Jesus Christ.

Although some suggest that Isaiah 9:1-7 was spoken in connection with the enthronement of Hezekiah, the promises concerning the child’s rule and its effects go far beyond what occurred during Hezekiah’s reign. This does appear to be a prophecy of the coming Messiah.

This is confirmed by references to the passage in the New Testament:

Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:1-2 in Matthew 4:15-16 and says Isaiah’s words are fulfilled as Jesus lives and ministers in Galilee “in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.”

In Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:78-79, Zechariah speaks of the rising sun coming from heaven “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,” an apparent reference to Isaiah 9:2.

Likewise, in the Gospel of John there are a number of references to the coming of the light (John 1:4-5,8-9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46).

Gabriel speaking to Mary the mother of Jesus about the child she will bring into the world says, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). This appears to be a reference to Isaiah 9:7.

So Isaiah prophesies the birth of an amazing child who will sit on the throne of David and bring peace and reign in justice and righteousness forever. This has begun to be fulfilled through the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. It will be fulfilled completely when the kingdom comes in fullness at the end of time.

2) Determine what God is doing or saying in the text and/or what the text reveals about God and his will.

God is giving his people who live in darkness hope of light, joy, liberation, and peace. These blessings will come through the reign of a son of David who will be called, “Amazing Counselor, Mighty God, Father Forever, Prince of Peace.”

Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology, refers to Isaiah 9:6-7 in his discussion of the spiritual kingship of Christ and its eternal duration.[13] He believes this supports the amillennial view of the millennium.[14]

He also refers to these verses as a Scripture proof of the deity of Christ.[15]

Bavinck, in his Reformed Dogmatics, refers Isaiah 9:1 when he says: “The condition in which the pagan world finds itself outside of the revelation to Israel and outside of Christ is described as darkness.”[16] He refers to the verse again when speaking of God as pure light, who appeared as light in Christ.[17]

Bavinck also refers to Isaiah 9:1-7 when he describes the Old Testament hope concerning the future. And Isaiah 9:6 comes up in Bavinck’s discussion of “Old Testament seeds” of the doctrine of the Trinity,[18] as well as his discussion of God’s counsel.[19]

Bavinck sees significance in the fact that Isaiah 9:6 says that the son “is given” by God. This underlines the fact that “he was himself the acting subject who by the Holy Spirit prepared a body for himself in Mary’s body.”[20]

Again, Bavinck refers to Isaiah 9:6 in connection with his statement that “Christ is first of all king over his people in the kingdom of grace.”[21]

(3) Consider how the text might relate to the creeds and confessions of the Christian church.

Isaiah 9:3-4 speaks of joy and liberation from slavery.

Catechism Question 58 asks, “How does the article concerning ‘life everlasting’ comfort you?” The answer focuses on joy: “Even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, so after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God forever.”

The Catechism in Answer 1 says that Christ “sets me free from the tyranny of the devil.” Answer 2 says, “I am set free from all my sins and misery.” In Answer 34 the Catechism says we call Jesus “our Lord” “because not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood—he has set us free from sin and from the tyranny of the devil, and has bought us, body and soul, to be his very own.”

Isaiah 9:6-7 refers to a child who will rule on David’s throne. He is clearly the same as the one spoken of elsewhere in the Old Testament as the Messiah or Anointed One (the Christ). One of the names of this ruler is “the Mighty God.”

In explaining the name “Christ” in the Apostles’ Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism in Answer 31 says that Jesus is “our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.”

In explaining why Jesus is called God’s “only begotten Son” in Answer 33, the Catechism says that is because “Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.”

The Catechism explains the words “and is seated at the right hand of God” in Answer 50 as follows: “Christ ascended to heaven to show there that he is head of his church, the one through whom the Father rules all things.” [22]

The Belgic Confession focuses on the deity of Christ in Article 31. It says, “We believe that Jesus Christ, according to his divine nature, is the only Son of God—eternally begotten, not made or created….” “He is the true eternal God, the Almighty, whom we invoke, worship, and serve.”[23]

  1. 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.

  2. Ibid. 240.

  3., accessed 9/25/19.

  4. Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. Fourth Edition. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2014. Chapter 10. A summary can be found at, accessed 9/25/19. See also the material of Jim Ellis at, accessed 9/25/19.

  5. Ibid. 188.

  6. Ibid. 190-191.

  7. Ibid. 188-189.

  8. Roberts, J. J. M. First Isaiah: A Commentary. Ed. Peter Machinist. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015. Hermeneia. 88.

  9. 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. 62.

  10. Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39. 193-194.

  11. Ibid. 194.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1938. 406, 410.

  14. Ibid. 708.

  15. Ibid. 94, 316.

  16. Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. 315.

  17. Ibid. Vol 2. 253.

  18. Ibid. 263.

  19. Ibid. 344.

  20. Ibid. Vol. 3. 293.

  21. Ibid. 479.


  23., accessed 7/25/19.