MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.18
Isa 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
When we have been caught out doing wrong, told off, hauled into court, or whatever other expression of accountability comes upon us, we feel bad. We possibly try to make excuses and justify ourselves but essentially we feel bad because we have been caught doing wrong. The child who has been told off, often sulks, and needs attention! The book of Isaiah is much about the corrective process, of God having to speak to Judah, Jerusalem and Israel about their folly, and warning them of His corrective processes that are designed to draw them back to Him and to a place of blessing, as we’ve already seen in this series a number of times.
However in the midst of these words of assessment and correction, we also find a number of words of hope. It is as if the Lord doesn’t want us to get bogged down in the present morass of wrong doing and correction, but wants us to lift our eyes to the future and see that there is something better on the horizon. This is a God who is always looking to our future, the future of good that He has planned for us. So often I say, “God loves you so much that He accepts you just like you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you and doesn’t want you to stay the same.” This reflects God’s love that wants to move us on to something better than we have now. The Bible is full of this.
Chapter 9 starts off with this recognition: “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” (9:1a) The ‘nevertheless’ points back to the previous chapter where the Lord warned of negative outcomes, but now Isaiah offers hope. Despite that, he is saying, that will come to an end. He continues, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan.” (9:1b). Yes, he says, in the past the land in the north had a hard time of it, but that will change. They are in for blessing. Then comes our verse today, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (9:2). These people up in the north, who have so often walked in the darkness that comes with invasion from the nations of the north, will find that their land will be lightened when a ‘great light’ comes to it.
Now there is something to be noted here of importance. We immediately jump to the (right) conclusion that this prophetically refers to the coming of Jesus many centuries later, for so Matthew applied it (Mt 4:13-16), but there was also a practical outworking of that prophecy in that time of Isaiah. We mustn’t forget that. Isaiah describes what will happen: “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” (9:3) In other words there is coming a time when the people of the north will be ‘enlarged’. Whether that means a time of stability where they are able to grow, or simply their confidence in who they are in God will be enlarged, is not made clear. But this ‘enlarging’ will be accompanied by joy. There will be much rejoicing, just like there is rejoicing when the harvest has been got in or when there is a victory over an enemy.
He continues, “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” (9:4) Gideon’s defeat of Midian was still spoken of as a memorable deliverance. The change that is coming will be like that. There is going to come a complete transformation. The further outworking is explained: “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” (9:5) In other words, and read that verse carefully, all signs of war will be gone. There is coming a time of peace.
Now we’ll leave the reason for all that which comes in the following verses until the next meditation, but let’s just focus for now on the hope that is given. So often when we are down, we remain down because there seems no hope. Indeed the things that have happened in the past only go to confirm in us that this is a bad world and things only go wrong. But that is where our God of love steps in and says, “No, it doesn’t have to remain like that. I can transform it if you’ll let me.” That is the message of the Gospel and it comes loud and clear again and again through scripture. God comes to us with an offer of love and transformation. This isn’t an empty offer. This isn’t a God who says, “I’ll be there for you,” and then just stands and watches our struggles. No, this is a God who steps down into our affairs and brings His power and His abilities to bear on our circumstances to bring change – as we let Him!
Yes, there is the crucial condition – if we let Him, for He will not force Himself on us or on our circumstances. His love involves respect and so He respects our sovereignty and will not invade our lives. He waits to be invited in, but once He is given free reign, then He brings the transformation we long for. We cannot guess how He will do it, but do it He will! This is the hope we have and which comes through Scripture to us: the bad times don’t have to remain. He longs to bring a great light to our darkness. May we know that!