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"Unto Us a Child Is Born"
Verse 1 makes it clear that this is a continuation of chapter 8, the "gloom" having been brought up in Isaiah 8:22. Chapter 9 begins with the prophecy of a "great light" upon the lands mentioned, which even Jewish teaching has acknowledged as being a messianic reference. Matthew cited it as being fulfilled by Jesus (Matthew 4:13-16). When the prophecy was written, the northern kingdom territories of Galilee and Naphtali were about to be enslaved and taken captive: "The ancient tribal allotments of Zebulun and Naphtali (Joshua 19:10-16, 32-39), which included Galilee, were the first to feel the brunt of the Assyrian invasions (2 Kin. 15:29). The three phrases at the end of the verse—the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles or 'nations'—indicate administrative districts of the Assyrian conqueror Tiglath-Pileser III as a result of the three campaigns he waged in the west around 733 B.C." (Nelson Study Bible, note on Isaiah 9:1). The oppression of these lands changed hands over time, in Jesus' day being under the dominion of the Edomite Herods, who themselves were subject to Rome.
A few verses later, it is explained that the reason light will shine upon these lands is the birth of a Child, a Son (verse 6)—seemingly the same Son mentioned in Isaiah 7:14. Yet this is clearly no child of Isaiah the prophet or of anyone else of his day, for this Son is called Mighty God. This, then, is a reference to Jesus Christ alone. Yet some may find the term "Everlasting Father" confusing. Jesus is not God the Father, even though Trinitarians mistakenly argue that they constitute one and the same being while somehow existing as distinct persons. The Father and Son are indeed divine members of the same one God—that is, the one God family—albeit two distinct Beings (see our free booklet Who Is God? for a fuller explanation). And some may be surprised to learn that like God the Father, Jesus is the Father of all creation—for God the Father created all things through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:9). This is how Jesus, as God and Creator, was the Father of Adam and thus mankind (compare Luke 3:38). And it is why He is called the Everlasting Father.
In the same passage, that is, Isaiah 9:6-7, we have a perfect example of how a prophecy can skip ahead in time with no obvious indication. For the reference to the Child being born is to Jesus' first coming in human flesh 2,000 years ago, while His rule of a government is a reference to His second coming, which has not yet occurred.
This wonderful promise of the future, however, is followed by a series of four chastisements of Israel for their present disobedience—each ending with the same statement about God's anger we first encountered in Isaiah 5:25: "But His hand is stretched out still." While the unwary people contemplated aggrandizements of their buildings (Isaiah 9:9-10), God had already set events in motion that would carry the people away. The Syrian king Rezin's adversaries (verse 11), the Assyrians, would soon swoop into Israel, with the subjugated Syrians then pressed into Assyrian service (verse 12).
The Israelites would be taken as prisoners of the enemy (Isaiah 10:4). In siege and then captivity, with little food to go around, the Israelites would be set against one another in a fight for survival (Isaiah 9:18-21). The end of verse 21 seems to indicate that Judah is part of this infighting in captivity—though it is possibly a reference to Israel's former attacks on Judah, for which Israel is being judged. It should be noted that the Assyrians, under a later ruler Sennacherib, did deport vast numbers from Judah 20 years after the fall of Samaria—so that many Jews then joined the northern tribes in captivity. Yet the ancient invasion and captivity of Israel and Judah by Assyria, it should be mentioned, was a mere forerunner of end-time events yet to come. That this prophecy has a dual application to the last days appears likely from the description of the emergence from captivity at the time of Christ's return (Isaiah 11:1-12:6). The ancient captivity of Israel came to an end more than 2,000 years ago—but this was not accompanied by the coming of the Messiah or even a return to dwell and remain in the Promised Land. In fact, the descendants of Israel have never returned en masse to the Holy Land. Thus, a captivity ending with the Messiah's coming and a resettlement of the Promised Land must be yet future.
(It should also be noted that only a small percentage of Jews returned from the later Babylonian captivity. The majority remained in Babylon and their descendants later migrated to other lands. Of the small number who did return from Babylon, their descendants were later expelled by the Romans. Thus, for the most part, the Jews of the world have remained scattered. The minority who have returned to the land of Israel in the past century certainly does not fulfill the prophecy of Israel and Judah returning as a whole from captivity at the coming of the Messiah.)
Thus, there is a future captivity coming. Let us, therefore, take warning. For as it was in Isaiah's day, God's hand is stretched out still.