(Isaiah 9:1-5) The news has been a bit depressing lately hasn’t it? Threats of epidemics in Africa, a crisis in Iraq, and continued economic stress in our own country have filled the headlines of newspapers and the lead stories on the nightly news. In the midst of all these, it would be easy to forget that they are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. That which is reported is easily eclipsed by that which is not. Like a world in crisis, individuals struggle with their own private wars and internal brawls.
You know, this introduction is depressing. You know what else, this introduction is life. It was into a world just as the one described above that God sent His prophet Isaiah. His was a day of wars, social ills, and private turmoil. His was a day just like today. Such being the case, the message God sent through the prophet to his people takes little effort or imagination to apply to us.
Take a moment and read Isaiah 9:1-7. As you do, hear the words of hope brought to a people living in hopelessness. This study will focus on verses 1-5, but to take in the entire picture of hope, read through verse seven. It will also be helpful to read Isaiah 8 for it is the story to which the “nevertheless” of 9:1 connects.
“Nevertheless,” the prophet proclaims. He is reminding the people that despite God’s coming judgment described in chapter eight, there is something to look forward to. His previous words drew a dark picture of their future. The sins of Judah necessitated the coming judgment of God. The Apostle Paul was led to say it this way, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). The Hebrew people were reminded that just because they were God’s people did not exempt them from God’s punishment.
God did not stop with a message of doom. He promised that the day of gloom would pass. As it often depicts in our day so it did in Isaiah’s, gloominess was a picture of discouragement brought on by circumstances. Such was the case when the prophet brought God’s message of hope. He promised that the day of distress was passing.
Make no mistake these people knew distress. Isaiah speaks of the people living in the “land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” (v.1b). These were two of the northernmost provinces in Israel. A highway passed through their territories connecting regions north of Israel to Egypt. The problem was this highway was a favorite of invading armies advancing southward. So Zebulun and Naphtali lived in constant fear and uncertainty. They would be the first to feel the sting of conquest. Every spring when the season of war began, the people living in that area wondered if they would see another Fall. Sadly, what they felt and feared is what many today feel and fear. But there was hope on the horizon.
“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” (v.2). Not a hard analogy to understand is it. How many times, in the middle of a stormy night does a simple nightlight dispel the fear of a little one? How many times does the rising sun of a new day signal fresh hope?
Isaiah spoke to people who were not just looking toward hard times, they walking through them. How scary it is to walk down an unfamiliar path in the middle of a moonless night with no light to illumine the dangers ahead? Then a light shines and drives away the darkness. This was God’s promise. This is God’s promise.
The prophet further explained the extent of God’s promise. Listen to the hope described in verses 3-5. First God would “enlarge the nation” (v.3). In other words, He would return and multiply that which the enemy had taken.
God would also “increase their joy.” Just having a light in the darkness would be worth celebrating; but God was going to give them more to celebrate. He said they would “rejoice as people rejoice at harvest” (v.3b). This one does not carry the wow effect in our area like it did then or does in other areas of the world. We can “harvest” 24-hours a day at our local all-night grocery store. But for those folks, another harvest meant another year of life and that gave them something to celebrate.
Isaiah continued by telling of the joy that came “when dividing the plunder.” More than just acquiring more stuff, the one who plundered was the one who had survived and won the battle. The fear of death had passed. He then reminded them of one such day in their national history when he mentioned “the day of Midian’s defeat” (v.4). This is a reference to the victory that God brought through Gideon who faced impossible odds (see Judges 6-8).
He concluded his illustration by telling how on the coming day of victory the things that once were used to make war would be used to warm people on a cold night or bake bread (v.5).
In this passage, God promised hope for those living in hopelessness. You might believe that there is no reason to move into tomorrow. You may feel as though the stresses pressing against you are unbearable and insurmountable. Isaiah would say take courage the light has dawned. What light? Wrong question. Who is the light is better. Jesus called Himself the Light of life (John 8:12). He is the one that illumines your path, provides your harvest and brings victory into your life even when it appears impossible. Jesus is the hope for hopeless days. Jesus is your hope for today and all the days to come.