The Promise of the Gift
Isaiah 8:22 – 9:1-7
Turn to Isaiah 8. Over these next three Sundays, I wish to take a look at the Christmas story. This morning, “The Promise of the Gift” from the Old Testament in Isaiah. Next week, “The Revealing of the Gift” from the gospels in Luke 2. And the following week, “The Freedom in the Gift” from the epistles in Galatians 4. If someone asked you, what is the best gift you ever received at Christmas time?. What would you say?
I remember when I was around eight or nine, I received a “Johnny 7” for Christmas. Anybody remember a “Johnny 7?” Well, it was this gun that could shoot seven different ways. It had a couple of large ammunition things that it shot out the front. It had a thing you pulled back, like a machine gun. It shot bullets and had a hand grenade. It had a small pistol thing you pulled out the bottom. You could set it up like a bazooka. Now I guess when I told you that I have never shot a gun before, I was forgetting about my “Johnny 7.” I should have kept it and the box. Well, the thing was unbelievable! I remember coming down Christmas morning, the big present, unwrapped. And there it was, set up, my own “Johnny 7.” Well my brother is nine years older than me, around eighteen, but he was excited about my “Johnny 7” as well. So we started to shoot it around the house. Well my Mom had these Christmas balls hung by a string, between the living room and the dining room. And we hit one by mistake. I actually think it must have been my brother. And of course, the Christmas ball shattered in a million pieces, but then Mom let us aim for the other ones. And we eventually broke every ball along the entranceway. It was great!
Well we can get pretty excited about gifts, something that we know is for us. The Bible speaks about this as well in James 1:17, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” And God the Father many years ago spoke about a Gift that would be given unto us, a Gift like no other. Isaiah describes this at the end of chapter eight. Notice how this begins:
“Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be banished into thick darkness.”
Is 8:22 (LSB)
What Isaiah goes on to speak about is the awful condition of 2 tribes of Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali, and what the Lord is going to do. So let’s pray before we begin. Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord my rock and my Redeemer, amen.
This passage presents before us some great news of this Gift which was given something that many in Israel had been longing for, the Messiah coming to rule. Yet the situation in Israel is presented to us by Isaiah as a bleak picture. Look again at the words Isaiah uses when expressing the situation in Israel (vs 22). “Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be banished into thick darkness.” So let’s begin this morning by looking at the backdrop of this announcement to Isaiah, because as we read this prophecy given to us by Isaiah, there is firstly, in your notes:
- The Desperate Need for the Gift
Let us begin by starting with “a” in your notes:
- The desolation of the land (9:1)
In the beginning of Isaiah 8, Isaiah is declaring the coming invasion of Assyria. Israel had been given the Promised Land. They had been led by great men of faith such as Moses, Joshua, Samson, and Gideon. And then later by great kings such as David, Hezekiah, and Josiah. But what had been their downfall was their unwillingness to serve God alone. They had been led to bow down before other gods. Gods that had stolen their hearts. Other things in life that they valued more than God. Though God was eternal, they became sidetracked by temporal things. What the Bible would refer to as the gods of this world. Reminds us of the passage in the parable of the four soils in Mark 4:19:
“… but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for anything else enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”
Mark 4:19 (LSB)
And this running from God to other things let to greater wickedness. And many kings who ruled that did not follow the ways of David, which led God to allow both Israel and Judah to be taken into captivity. Israel was invaded by Assyria, and Judah and Benjamin were taken into captivity by Babylon and later Persia, What a sad time for Israel! Certainly we cannot relate to how Israel would have felt, but certainly we can feel for them. To be God’s chosen people. To have the history and promise as they did, and yet look about their land to see what had become of it. To have known the greatness of Israel, Solomon, and the temple; and then to realize that it had come to nothing. And that the hated enemies of God were coming to take the over the land, the hated Assyrians.
In Isaiah 9:1, it speaks about the land of Zebulun and Naphtali being brought into contempt. These were tribes within Israel. Remember Jacob, the father of his twelve sons. And these sons became the tribes of Israel. And Jacob upon his death blesses them. And Jacob had blessed both his sons, Zebulun and Naphtali. He spoke about Zebulun’s greatness by the sea and that it would become a great port for ships. Jacob spoke about the gracefulness of Naphtali and how beautiful this tribe would be. And here many years later, words like darkness, anguish, and distress are used of these two tribes. What was happening in Zebulun and Naphtali in some ways we can relate, but in many other ways, they were in far greater distress than we have ever experienced, the economic hopelessness and the threat of invasion. All comfort, victory, and glory, are all from the past. And we certainly can imagine what this may do to a nation, of what it would do to its people.
Notice what this land is called the “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Some of your Bibles will say (vs 1) the “Galilee of the nations.” What is Isaiah teaching here? Well by this time in the history of Israel many other nations had already started to move in on Israel. Some of this through intermarriage and some through invasion. So they became known as the land of the “Galilee of the Gentiles.” The desperation of the land. Secondly, look at:
- The desperation of man (8:22)
Look again at 8:22, “Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be banished into thick darkness.” Where is man looking? To the earth. This is the natural man. Sometimes as life becomes desperate or hard, we look down to the earth. And Isaiah says, what does the person see? Distress, darkness, and gloom of anguish. Because this is all man has outside of God. He is hopeless, his life is full of anguish, whether he realizes it or not. He thinks that he is alive, yet he is spiritually dead. Look what it says in Isaiah 8:20, Isaiah says, “To the law and to the testimony.” But then he goes on to say that they will not speak according to God’s law and testimony.
In other words, they have ignored it. There is no rejoicing in the Word of God, those days are long past. See, they have come to a place where they still may know the Word of God, it may still be a tradition to read it, but it has been placed on a shelf of more tradition or just a formality. Do you see the danger here? They still read it, but it does not affect their everyday life. Therefore, there is no faith in God, no trust in Him. Therefore, when struggles come, and for Israel in this passage, it is the threat of invasion. And where does man look? Down. Isaiah says that they look to the earth. What about when things go wrong for us? Some of us might just throw up our hands and give up, while many will bear down and try harder within themselves. But neither is no real answer. Because looking for a solution within, ultimately there is none
Anne and I have this great system at home when trying to work something out. We are really able to complement each other because we both have very different ways of trying to solve a problem. Especially some home improvement problem, and between the two of us, something will work. If something doesn’t work, what will I do? Just try harder. I try something five times to get it right. But for Anne if something doesn’t work, what will Anne do? Now I don’t understand Anne’s method at all, but she will get out some instructions or go on the internet. My way works sometimes, perseverance. Anne’s way almost always works, ingenuity.
And that it great is some of the smaller problems in life. But in the deeper struggles in life, digging deeper within yourself and trying harder doesn’t work, nor does digging into the wisdom of a human manual. And though man can get himself out of many difficulties in life, he cannot save himself, and therefore he will never find the solution by looking down, because his situation outside of God is completely desperate. I remember Haddon Robinson, a great preacher, who died about five years ago, said this about life’s dilemmas: some will just cave under pressure and give up, some will try to make light of life and laugh up, some will be in such distress they will throw up, but some will look up. I lift my eyes up to the hills, from whence my help comes. For God is the Giver of the Gift, and therefore through the storms of life the answer is to look up.
- The Effect of the Gift
Look what Isaiah prophesies here regarding the giving of this gift (vs 1), “there will be no more gloom.” Why? Well firstly I see here:
- Hope (9:1-2)
This is amazing (vs 1), “in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea.” Well though for now you are being brought into contempt, yet in the latter time Zebulun, you will again be glorious by the sea. In other words, Zebulun, you will be everything that was told about you by Jacob! Yet at the same time, these people who lived in this desperate situation, they needed hope.
“The people who walk in darkness. Will see a great light; Those who live in the land of the shadow of death, The light will shine on them.”
Is 9:2 (LSB)
What hope do people have today? What do you place your hope in? A better job? The poor fella in a poor part of the world making likely ten times less than us hopes to make a little more next year too. A better medical report? Good thing to sort of hope for. A better marriage Yeh, that might be nice. But it all seems a bit wishful, doesn’t it? Unless it is based upon a sure promise from God. And this hope does not seem to be dependent upon the current situation, for a people who are in dire straits can actually have more hope than the one who is living off the hog. Because the hope is not based upon what you have, it is based upon what you will receive! And because the hope is dependent upon the certainty of the good thing that is promised. And if you know for certain that this good thing is about to happen, you have hope, not wishful thinking or a “hope-so” attitude. Zebulun and Naphtali have been promised by God that a light will shine on them, though they currently are in deep darkness. Turn over for a minute to Matthew 4. Matthew is describing the early ministry of Christ after the temptation of Christ by Satan:
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled, saying, ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Matt 4:12-17 (LSB)
This is where Christ began His ministry. This is the exact location that Isaiah spoke about seven hundred years earlier, a land that was considered “Galilee of the Gentiles.” And this area would be considered the rough part of Israel. What an unlikely place for Jesus to begin His ministry! Maybe the east end of Israel or the dark side of Israel. Certainly not Jerusalem, but in those days probably spoken of as Zebulun and Naphtali, that socially, economically, and depressed area. For both Isaiah and Matthew record that it was here, that a light has shone. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light now shines. Next, we read that this gift brought something else (in your notes):
- Joy (9:3)
“You shall multiply the nation, You shall make great their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.”
Is 9:3 (LSB)
Remember Naphtali, how Jacob spoke about your freedom and gracefulness. Naphtali, you will be multiplied and increase in your joy. There will be rejoicing in you again Naphtali, because the Father is sending the Gift to you. And therefore, Zebulun and Naphtali, there is coming a day when there will be no more gloom for you, for the King is coming to Galilee. Yes, in your land! What a joy! But there is something else that is promised to these people, that their hope and joy are not based upon something that is just “hoped for.” Verse four speaks of these tribes shattering their enemies. In fact, it says, for You (capital “Y”), God will shatter her enemies. Verse five, every piece of armour and weaponry will be burned, for it will no longer be needed. Here Isaiah is referring to a time in Israel’s history when the nation of Midian had corrupted and oppressed Israel, yet God delivered them. He gave them, thirdly (in your notes):
- Victory (9:4-5)
This is an ultimate fulfillment when Christ sets up His earthly kingdom when Christ will rule Israel as King and subdue Israel’s enemies, and He will bring to them peace, as there will be a literal reign of Christ upon this earth, where Christ will rule over His people. And this victory will be a supernatural work by God. The kingdom which the Jews were anticipating will eventually come. The kingdom which Christ preached about as well as John the Baptist. That though it is delayed, is still to come. The land of Israel was in a miserable state. Man was living in darkness, yet Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come. The Father’s Gift. And that He will bring to His people hope, joy, and ultimately victory. Finally:
- The Presentation of the Gift
Isaiah 9:6, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us.” Notice the first thing that Isaiah states, likely something that the sincere Jew might be anticipating, that the long-awaited Messiah would come as:
- A Child (9:6a)
It may have been quite expected that the Messiah would come to Israel as a child. It would not be too much of a stretch for the Jews to be waiting for the king to be born. Certainly Herod feared this, as the wise men came to Jerusalem and said, where is He that is born the King of the Jews. This apparently troubles not only Herod, but also the religious leaders. These men of the east certainly understood the Scriptures. And God had placed in the sky for them a sign, prompting them to begin a two-year journey to see the Child, understanding that by the time they arrive, the Child was almost two and living in a house. But other than this event, and the earlier story of the shepherds, the Child comes with little fanfare, likely much different than when other kings of Israel were born. In Judah’s history we read that when Joash at age seven, became king the people assembled and all the who’s who in Judah. Also commanders of hundreds. And Jehoiada the priest makes an announcement and a crown was placed on Joash’s head and Jehoiada exclaims, long live the king! Yet there was no national excitement when Christ comes. There was no known existing kingly line. For Christ came during a time of extreme darkness, spiritually and economically. As few were interested in the truth or the Scriptures. There was no “nation” of Israel so to speak for Christ to lead for Rome had conquered the world. Also, we do think of good King Josiah who came to rule at age eight, yet he too came with great fanfare. But the Christ-Child came almost unbeknownst to anyone as a baby in a manger. And we are told this by Isaiah, for a child will be born to us. Secondly:
- The Ruler-King (vs 6b-7)
Not to become king, but that He will be born Ruler-King! And in Zechariah 14:9 reminds us that He will come as King over all the earth! And though this King was born into the world as a Man, as a child, a passage in Micah reminds us that His “goings forth are from everlasting.” In other words, He has always existed with the Father. But man did not know whom He was, coming to this humble stable in Bethlehem. The angels did, the shepherds, the wise men, and Mary and Joseph, but few others. Yet this was the One who had been promised to Israel from Genesis 3:15, who would eventually crush Satan. This was the One who John the Baptist said would take away the sins of the world. And Isaiah 9:7 tells us that He will rule forevermore. But who knew? And who knows today? Yes, some today mostly ignore Christ. And many who would acknowledge Him or do celebrate Him, desire to keep Him in the small stable to be manipulated. So that their lives are somewhat enhanced by a wonderful, angelic, mystical story. But their hearts are never truly changed by this Ruler-King. As we have been learning in 1 Peter, there would only be a few who would serve Him and be His slave. And thirdly, notice this Child, this Ruler-King:
- Owns Four Titles (vs 6)
Right from the text here (vs 6), Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah is stressing the fact that this Child is God, for he extends to the Son, names of God. Wonderful Counselor referring to His omniscience. That only as God is He all-knowing. Understanding that both Christ and His perfect Word are the perfect counselors. Mighty God. That the Child is omnipotent, all-powerful. Much of what Christ has and will accomplish comes about because of His divine power. And Eternal Father. Here Isaiah directly calls Him Father. Not only is Isaiah wanting his readers to know that the Child is eternal, but that He is the second Person of the godhead. That he possesses all the attributes of God. Therefore, calls Him, eternal or everlasting Father. An indication of His eternal kingdom where the Son will reign. And finally, He is called Prince of Peace. The One who brings peace between God and man. For the Bible clearly teaches that man is considered the enemy of God. Yet this Child brings peace between God and man, by becoming the propitiation between God and man. The word propitiation means the sacrifice of Christ. The price paid by Christ on the cross was satisfactory to the Father. In other words, His wrath was appeased by the work of His Son. This is so vital because it means that the death of Christ on the cross was satisfactory to the Father therefore the Father has nothing against you and I who are in Christ. For the complete price has been paid. Hebrew 2:17, Christ makes propitiation, He satisfies the wrath of the Father, for the sins of the people. He satisfies the Father. Finally, the Gift is:
- Guaranteed (9:7b)
What does Isaiah say to us at the end of verse seven, the zeal of Yahweh of hosts will do this! This Lord will do this right! right! In other words, there is no question of this coming about. In fact, this coming about is dependent not upon Israel, but it is dependent upon God. Lord, we praise You this morning that You bring hope to mankind, because You are God, therefore Your promises are certain. You bring joy, even in the midst of struggle and despair. And we know that You ultimately will bring victory for those who serve and worship You. And what you have declared is guaranteed, because You are God and You do according to all You have said and all that you have determined to do. So we praise You this morning in the name of Christ, amen.
When Christ was coming Luke wrote these words in 1:32-33, as Gabriel spoke with Mary:
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of His kingdom.”
Luke 1:32-33 (LSB)
And then later in Revelation 11, the Apostle John says this about the same Christ in verse 15:
“Then the seventh angel sounded, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.’”
Revelation 11:15 (LSB)
There is a great certainty to the reign of Christ. Amen! He came as the Scriptures said the first time and will come as the Scriptures say the second time. So where are you? What does this story of Christmas mean to you? To many it is a wonderful warm story. But to those who are truly Christ’s, they understand that He is the Ruler-King, the sovereign Lord. Benjamin R. Hanby wrote these words:
“Who is He in yonder stall At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
‘Tis the Lord! O wondrous story! ‘Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall, Crown Him! crown Him, Lord of all!”
The Father’s promised Gift. And all God’s people said, amen.