Isaiah 9:1–4 – But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
Summary – To put this passage in its context, we must understand the Crisis of Isaiah’s Day (ch. 7-9). Jerusalem was under the threat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (allied with Syria) (Is. 7:1). Isaiah sought to reassure Ahaz of the House of David with a confirmation sign but Ahaz rejected the Lord (7:12). Ahaz rejected trusting the Lord and instead put his trust in Assyria (2Kgs 16:7). The Lord says, “Immanuel” will come and the Davidic covenant will be fulfilled. The rest of the chapter 7 and 8 indicates that Assyria will be God’s instrument of judgment on Israel and Syria, but this will also threaten Judah (Jerusalem). The story continues in ch. 8 in the birth of “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz” which probably means “quick to plunder, swift to the spoil.” The plundering of Syria and Samaria by Assyria led Tiglath-pileser III can be dated in 732 B.C. This literal flood of judgment spilled over on Judah (8:7-8). God calls for faith, “To the law and to the testimony!” (8:19-20) or be driven into darkness (8:27). Isaiah 9:1 begins then with contrast, “But . . . later on . . . on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.” In the original context God provides a sign-promise and a fulfillment/down payment (ch. 7). The Immanuel Promise was fulfilled (finally) in that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary at a time when hope was lost and no one could find a son of David. Had the promise to preserve the House of David until Messiah failed? No, God was faithful. Chapter 9 continues to call His people to faith in this same Child who is not simply “God with us” but the Prince of Peace and the Mighty God. Would Judah be preserved? Would Zion be restored? Yes. All because Galilee saw a “great light.” The promise of an heir of David’s on the throne is finally fulfilled in that Jesus is this Son who reigns at God’s right hand, even now. “His kingdom would be established with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore” (v7).
Insight – Christ is identified as a “prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee” (Mt. 21:11). Galilee was an insignificant place in terms of economics or religious importance. This is even voiced by a follower of Jesus, Philip, who asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). While God’s kingdom purpose affect all the world at every level, He often has chosen to use the weak and insignificant places and people. Galilee of the Nations was one of theses kinds of places.
Child’s Catechism – Where did Jesus grow up? Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth in Galilee.
Discussion – At the time of Jesus’ birth, Rome was the center of civilization. But Jesus did not grow up in Rome. Why does God use unimportant places like Nazareth in Galilee, rather than Rome?
Prayer – Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP Epiphany 3)