Some (Christian and Jewish scholars) have argued that the child in Isaiah 9:6 “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” refers not to the Messiah, but to Hezekiah.
Influential Jewish commentator Rashi and Abraham Ibn Ezra argues Isaiah 9:6 was a prophecy about Hezekiah. However, other Rabbinic Jewish scholars have associated those verses with the Messiah. For example a passage from the Talmud (Tractate Derekh Eretz Zuta) referred to the child of Isaiah 9 as the Messiah, and so does the famous Jewish medieval scholar, Rambam (Maimonides) in his Epistle to Yemen. Similarly, the Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, an Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible, explicitly identifies this text as speaking of the Messiah.2
This paper is a verse-by-verse study to see if Isaiah 9:1-7 is a reference to the Messiah or to Hezekiah.
To share a little bit of the background of Isaiah 9, in 722 BC, the Assyrians attacked and conquered the northern tribes known as Israel, and it was now only a matter of time until they would cross the border and attack and devastate the southern tribes known as Judah. So, the people are terrified. They know it’s coming. Isaiah is writing somewhere around 700 BC, about twenty years after the takeover of the north, and he writes that there is still hope that things will not always remain gloomy for the people of God. Starting from verse 1:
But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; 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, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1 NASB 1995)
But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. The gloom carries over from the previous chapter of Isaiah 8, where Isaiah warned Judah about the coming invasion from Assyria (Isaiah 8:22).The promise is there will come a time where there will be no more gloom for this land, because a child is born (Isaiah 9:6) as we shall soon see.
In earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt. In the past, God humbled Israel when it was overrun and ravaged by the Syrians (1 Kings 15:20), and later He allowed the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III to conquer the northern kingdom, or the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali in 732 BC (2 Kings 15:29;17:24). As peripheral tribes in Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali, were on the edge of the nation. They were the first to be attacked when enemies invaded. And time and time again, they were in anguish and shamed at being unable to repel such oppression.
But later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. “But later on,” we are not told exactly when this would happen, but the promise is that these lands, around the Sea of Galilee will one day have its fortunes changed from gloom to glory someday. [After the northern part of Israel fell to the Assyrians, they imported Gentile peoples to the area of Zebulon and Naphtali, the area of Galilee. Their descendants—the Samaritans—heavily populated Galilee in Christ’s day. Since, foreigners dominated it for centuries, the region was called “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Here, Isaiah prophesied that Galilee would witness a major part of the blessings, owing to a child being born].
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. (Isaiah 9:2)
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. It is not just the land that Isaiah tells us is transformed, but the people are as well. The people who dwelt in anguish and darkness are brought into the light. Who is this great light?
Some Jewish and Christian commentators say it was Hezekiah. What do we know about Hezekiah? Well, he was a son of the wicked King Ahaz. He, unlike his father, “kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Kings 18:6–7). When faced with the Assyrian threat, the Lord, through Isaiah, reassured the king [Hezekiah] that Assyria would never enter Jerusalem. God kept His promise to protect Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35). Given that Isaiah is writing at a time when the Assyrians were coming, one may expect Isaiah to prophesy about deliverance from the Assyrians, and hence the first readers of this prophesy during Hezekiah’s day may have looked for a near-fulfillment and probably understood it to be Hezekiah.
However, though Hezekiah was a good king, he made a serious mistake later in his life. When the Babylonians sent a gift to Hezekiah, for they had heard Hezekiah had been sick. In foolish pride, Hezekiah showed the Babylonians all of his treasures, and everything in his arsenal. There was nothing Hezekiah did not parade in front of them. Isaiah rebuked Hezekiah for this act and prophesied that all king Hezekiah had shown the Babylonians would one day be taken to Babylon—along with Hezekiah’s own descendants. If Hezekiah was that great light, it was very short lived. Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, who ruled afterward, turned out to be the evilest king ever to reign in Judah (2 Kings 18—20; 2 Chronicles 29—32; Isaiah 36—39). Hence, Hezekiah may have partially fulfilled the words of this prophesy then, but attributing all the words of this prophesy to Hezekiah appear to be weak. Is there anyone else who may have begun to fulfill this prophesy?
Matthew 4:13-16 quotes part of this passage of Isaiah 9:1-2, as fulfilled in the Galilean ministry of Jesus while he was on earth.
Matthew states: “Leaving Nazareth, he [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light..”.
Interestingly, Capernaum, which was in Naphtali, and Nazareth, which was in Zebulun were the two cities associated with Jesus’ upbringing and early ministry. The northern tribes were the first to suffer from the Assyrian invasions, so in God’s mercy, they were the first to see the light of the Messiah. However, it is true that Messiah’s earthly ministry did not end gloom for the land of Israel (interestingly, Matthew does not quote that part of the prophesy as fulfilled at that time). Many enemies including the Roman Empire continued to oppress the people of God even from the time of Jesus. But the Messiah made it clear that His Galilean ministry was just the beginning – and if this is the case, we could expect Messiah to fulfill the rest of the prophesy in the future (which the New Testament says Messiah Jesus will do). See our chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, commentaries on the book of Daniel, Revelation.
You shall multiply the nation, you shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. (Isaiah 9:3)
You shall multiply the nation. God will cause Israel to grow. Instead of enemies coming against this nation, the surrounding nations will come into it. And the nation would not only increase in number, but in joy. This is in line with the promise to Abraham, concerning the multiplication of his seed, which probably will include the gathering in the Gentiles to the remnant of the Jews, and making them both one people in Christ, under a New Covenant. Under Hezekiah’s rule, Israel as a nation may have grown for a short while, but nothing may be compared to how both Jews and Gentiles have joined and become part of Messiah’s followers.
You shall increase their gladness. They will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. The ministry of the Messiah would bring joy and gladness to Israel. They will rejoice with a joy likened to the joy shared by those who have just brought in a great harvest. The kind of joy that one has when dividing the spoil after a battle. The reason for this joy is explained in the following verse.
For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. (Isaiah 9:4)
The Jews had been under the yoke (oppression) repeatedly, to one hostile people or another, and had been sorely oppressed by them. If you know the story in Judges 7, you will remember that Gideon leads an army of 300 Israelites, many of which came from Zebulun and Naphtali, to an astonishing victory over an army of Midianites that was beyond number. Against all expectations, God delivers a victory through Gideon and 300 men. Isaiah tells us that the liberation this child brings on God’s people involves an Egypt-like slavery broken by a Gideon-like victory.
As a son of David, Hezekiah partially fulfilled this prophecy (leading Israel to temporary deliverance from Assyria and its oppression). However, Hezekiah is dead and gone. But ministry of the Messiah Jesus is not yet over, though it began in Galilee, and offered us spiritual healing from sin and oppression, the promise of eternal peace is yet future when He returns again for His people – every one who believes (Jew and Gentile).
For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. (Isaiah 9:5)
The boots used in the battle, the garments of the warriors that are covered in blood, they will all be burnt. This victory will be so decisive, so absolute, that there will be no more battles, no more war. This liberation will last. Hezekiah achieved no such liberation. But the Messiah promises to achieve such in the “new heavens and new earth”. Who is the ultimate source of this liberation?
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
For a child will be born to us. Here, Isaiah traces all these promises of liberation back to the birth of a child. This Messiah would appear as “child”, fully human so that He identifies with humanity. This child is born “to us” for our benefit.
Some (Jewish and Christians authors) have translated these words as “For a child has been born to us” in the past tense. It is true that the Hebrew is in the past tense, however, it is not uncommon for prophets to speak of the future as already happened. There are multiple examples such as Isaiah 5:13 (where Isaiah speaks of the future captivity of Judah as though it had already transpired); See also: Isaiah 10:28-32; Isaiah 53:2-11; and Amos 5:2. Jewish commentator Radak (David Kimchi) confirms this:
“And in the greater part of prophecy this is found, that the speaker uses a past tense in place of a future; for it is as though the thing had already happened when it has been spoken in the Holy Spirit” (Radak on the Psalms, Psalm 3:5).
A son will be given to us. This Messiah will not only appear as a “child” pointing to his Humanity, but He is a “Son given” to us, pointing to his Divinity.
And the government will rest on His shoulders. He will bear the responsibility of governing the people. The Judeans believed they were in immediate need of a physical savior. The kings they were afraid of were knocking on their door. They probably thought this prophecy was about Hezekiah. But as we see later on in the book (chapters 38 and 39), Hezekiah died as a grown man, while the Israelites were still in captivity. However, the New Testament presents Christ as King, who has established His Spiritual Kingdom on earth since is resurrection and ascension and is reigning from the heavens. “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25)
And His name will be called. Not that He will be literally called by the following titles, but “His name”, meaning these are aspects of His character. While these titles may be applied to a mere human, in context, they appear to describe a greater King.
Wonderful Counselor. This Messiah is a Wonder (pele’ in Hebrew), meaning “Extraordinary”. Hezekiah though, performed no wonders. Jesus on the other hand is recorded as having performed many wonders: He healed the wounded, revived the dead, and brought good news to the poor.
Messiah also possesses the spirit of Counsel (yoetz in Hebrew) and wisdom for the people of God. Hezekiah was not a counsellor but Jesus was. Jesus constantly gave wisdom and counsel: to rich young ruler (Matthew 16:16-23); Nicodemus (John 3:1-15), and his followers as recorded in the New Testament.
Mighty God. Messiah possesses the ability to do all things that only God can do. Jesus said, “Whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in the same way” (John 5:19). Jesus “created all things” (Colossian 1:16), He forgave sins. He commanded nature to obey him. He gave new commandments. The writers of the New Testament apply directly to Jesus verses from the Old Testament that referred only to Almighty God.
The Hebrew word for “Mighty God” is El Gibbor or literally, “God the Mighty One”. When el (God) appears together with a descriptor like Gibbor (Mighty) in the Hebrew Bible, it is always a description of God (Isaiah 10:21), and not a mere man.So, there is little precedent for translating this phrase as god-like or chief. It is sometimes alleged that the name Hezekiah means “mighty God.” However, this is quite the stretch, as the name literally means “God gives strength.” Hence, to apply this title or description to Hezekiah is weak given his shortcomings.
Eternal Father. The Hebrew word is Abi ad, and it can also be translated as “father of eternity”, meaning He is the father or author of eternity. The title “Father” also can mean the Messiah is fatherly, father-like, in his treatment of us, and does not mean Messiah is God the Father. In either case, “eternal” is a term characteristic of only God, and this description indicates the Messiah is also fully divine, just like God the Father.
Prince of Peace. The word Prince is a Hebrew word that can mean Lord, or Master. The word Peace is the Hebrew word, shalom. This Messiah is the Master of shalom. Shalom is about mutual flourishing. It’s about a kingdom where God will gather people from every tribe and tongue and nation, and they will flourish together under the Master of shalom. He is the One who makes peace, especially between God and man (Romans 5:1). However, the promise of eternal peace would have to wait for the Messiah to come in the future.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7)
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace. He would be the final king whose reign would result in increasing peace forever. How can this prophecy apply to Hezekiah? On the other hand, believers have peace in their hearts already because of the Messiah Jesus (Romans 5:1), though the eternal peace is yet future waiting to be fulfilled upon the return of the Prince of Peace.
On the throne of David and over his kingdom. He would be a Davidic king, a Son of David, who would sit on the throne promised to David. When Jesus was resurrected, He sat on His throne in heaven. Peter confirms that, “God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ… God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:30-36). Jesus is already reigning now as King of Kings, “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25). However, His kingdom will be fully consummated when He returns.
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness. Not with oppression and tyranny, by which other kingdoms are commonly managed, but He would cause it to stand, and make it firm under a rule that is just and right.
From then on and forevermore. From the beginning of it unto all eternity. Messiah Jesus has inaugurated a kingdom that will be managed with justice and righteousness, from then on, and forevermore from His second coming.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. Nothing else but the zeal (passionate desire) of Yahweh would achieve all this. Hence, in Isaiah 9:6-7, we see Messiah’s human birth, divine nature, Davidic throne, the extent of His reign and the peaceful character of his rule explained. [In the entire Hebrew Bible, this phrase appears only two other times, in Isaiah 37:32 and 2 Kings 19:31, both of which refer to God’s miraculous salvation of Hezekiah and his besieged nation from King Sennacherib and his Assyrian army. However, as we have seen in context, Hezekiah does not appear to fulfill all the requirements of this prophesy].
Conclusion: Given that Hezekiah (or anyone else) have failed to fulfil what is spoken of the child in Isaiah 9, this text is either a failed prophecy or a Messianic prophecy. One could, of course, object that Jesus has not fulfilled these predictions either, since global peace has not yet been realized. However, it is plausible to view this prophecy as still awaiting its ultimate completion when Jesus returns again. Given Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the Christian has a justified expectation that the Messiah will indeed return to finish what he has begun. This was the interpretation of Jesus and the apostles (see: Mk 13:26-27; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 3:13, 4:13-18). 3
- Isaiah 9 – David Guzik: https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/isaiah-9/
- Nick Meader, Isaiah 9: https://medium.com/interfaith-now/isaiah-9-what-did-the-prophet-isaiah-say-about-jesus-83f6f002be07
- Jonathan McLatchie: Isaiah 9:https://crossexamined.org/does-isaiah-96-affirm-the-deity-of-israels-messiah/
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