A Child is Born
- Main Text: Isaiah 9:1-7
- Accompanying text: John 8:12
“Of course, the single event of the birth of a child did not produce the events Isaiah reported. The wonder-child’s life and work still lay ahead. But so great was the baby, so mighty in prospect, so completely sufficient for every need, that what he would accomplish could be spoken of as already achieved there and then by his birth…He is, in himself, all that his people need: the ‘wonderful counsellor’, supernatural in wisdom; God himself come in in victorious power, ever fatherly in care; the Prince-administrator of total wellbeing which the Bible calls peace. This is Jesus, who ‘from God’ is ‘for us wisdom…righteousness, sanctification and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1:30)” (1).
Isaiah’s prophecies contain some of the most inspiring words and dramatic images of the Bible, and yet, at the time, his words went largely unheeded. It was a time of geopolitical flux in the biblical Middle East. The rising Assyrian empire would soon invade Israel and later parts of Judah, carrying away many into slavery, with some notable leaders being led by ropes attached to hooks/rings in their noses (e.g. Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33:11). It is against this background of impending Assyrian atrocities that Isaiah points to the hope provided by a child to come. Judah (and Israel) had become a people who “refused and despised the waters of Shiloah [Siloam, the only perennial fountain of Jerusalem, and symbolic of God’s protection and sustaining power]” (Isaiah 8:6 AMPC). Their rulers met together often to try to solve their problems among themselves but to no avail, and theirs was a society full of conspiracy theories (see Isaiah 8:10,12). Instead of turning to God for direction, they would “Enquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter” (8:19). Isaiah had told King Ahaz and the Jews of the child “Immanuel”, whose virgin birth would be a sign of God’s presence and compassion (7:10), but still no one paid attention to him. Jesus fulfilled the Immanuel prophecy — “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’” (Matthew 1:22-23).
Things went from bad to worse for Judah. Isaiah preached a word of warning to them with the usual negative results, “They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upwards. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness” (8:21-22).
Thoughts re application today
“Isaiah 9 is a prophecy that the gloom and doom into which the people have sunk will be ultimately undone through a child who will become an everlasting king…what is especially noteworthy in this passage is that two of the names for this person are to be ‘Everlasting Father’ and ‘Mighty God’. In light of these names, the person who is promised will not simply be a son but will be the Son, the second person of the Trinity. The baby who is born will be God himself” (2).
Isaiah’s initial words of chapter 9 word point to the ministry of Jesus Christ: “And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled” (Matthew 4:13).
Most modern translations group the adjectives and nouns together in Isaiah 9:6 —e.g. “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (ESV). The Message rendition reads “Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness”. The Passion Translation is “The Wonderful One! The Extraordinary Strategist! The Mighty God! The Father of Eternity! The Prince of Peace!”; and the VOICE is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace”.
The idea of God becoming a vulnerable human child who would rule in peace was unheard of in the nations around. A self-giving God? Why would a mighty God do such a thing? Paul explained, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). “Christ Jesus”, however, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).
“The baby Jesus is like a carefully aimed spanner, thrown into the well-oiled machinery of life-as-we-know it (religion included). And his presence continues to unsettle us…‘Hail the Incarnate Deity’” (3).
- Isaiah 7:10-14; 11:1-9
- Matthew 4:12-17
- Romans 15:7-13
Footnotes and references
- Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day: A New Devotional Translation, published by Christian Focus Publications, UK: 2011:58.
- Donald Fairburn, Life in the Trinity: an Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers, published by IVP, USA, in 2009:127.
- Brian Draper, Less is More: Spirituality for Busy Lives, published by Lion Hudson plc, UK, 2012:162.