(1) Nevertheless the dimness . . .—It is obvious, even in the English version, that the chapters are wrongly divided, and that what follows forms part of the same prophetic utterance as Isaiah 8. That version is, however, so obscure as to be almost unintelligible, and requires an entire remodelling:—Surely there is no gloom to her that was afflicted. In the former time he brought shame on the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter he bringeth honour on the way by the sea, beyond Jordan, the circuit of the Gentiles.
The prophet had seen in the closing verses of Isaiah 8 the extreme point of misery. That picture, as it were, dissolves, and another takes its place. She that was afflicted, the whole land of Israel, should have no more affliction. The future should be in striking contrast with the past. The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, the region afterwards known as the Upper and Lower Galilee, had been laid waste and spoiled by Tiglath-pilneser (2 Kings 15:29). That same region, described by the prophet in different terms (the former representing the tribal divisions, the latter the geographical) is hereafter to be the scene of a glory greater than Israel had ever known before.
The way of the sea . . .—The context shows that the “sea” is that which appears in Bible history under the names of the sea of Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11; Deuteronomy 3:17), the Sea of Galilee, the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1), Gennesaret (Mark 6:53). The high road thence to Damascus was known as Via Maris in the time of the Crusaders (Renan, quoted by Cheyne).
Beyond Jordan.—This, the Peræa of later geography, included the regions of Gilead and Bashan, the old kingdoms of Moab and Ammon, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh. These also had suffered from the ravages of the Assyrian armies under Pul (1 Chronicles 5:26).
Galilee of the nations.—The word Galilee, derived from the same root as Gilgal (Joshua 5:9), means strictly “a circle,” or “circuit.” It was applied to the border-lands of the Phœnician frontier of the northern kingdom, inhabited by a mixed population, and therefore known as “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15-16) what in mediaeval German would have been called the Heidenmark.
They joy before thee according to the joy in harvest . . .—The words “before thee” are significant. The gladness of the people is that of worshippers at a sacrificial feast (Isaiah 25:6; Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 12:18), who find the secret spring of blessing in their consciousness of the presence of Jehovah. So the New Testament writers speak of “rejoicing in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1), of “joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). This “joy of harvest” represents the peaceful side of that gladness, thought of as the gift of God (Acts 14:17). But it had another aspect. It was the rejoicing after a conflict, historically with foes like the Assyrians, spiritually with all powers hostile to the true kingdom of God (Matthew 12:29). The joy of the conquerors on the battle-field, like that of harvest, had become proverbial (Psalm 119:162).
As in the day of Midian.—The historical allusion was probably suggested by the division of spoil that had been in the prophet’s thoughts. Of all victories in the history of Israel, that of Gideon over the Midianites had been most conspicuous for this feature (Judges 8:24-27). In Psalm 83:9-11 (which the mention of Assur shows to have been nearly contemporary with Isaiah) we find a reference to the same battle. Men remembered “the day of Midian” centuries after its date, as we remember Poitiers and Agincourt.
His name shall be called Wonderful.—It is noticeable that that which follows is given not as many names, but one. Consisting as it does of eight words, of which the last six obviously fall into three couplets, it is probable that the first two should also be taken together, and that we have four elements of the compound name: (1) Wonderful-Counsellor, (2) God-the-Mighty-One, (3) Father of Eternity, (4) Prince of Peace. Each element of the Name has its special significance. (1) The first embodies the thought of the wisdom of the future Messiah. Men should not simply praise it as they praise their fellows, but should adore and wonder at it as they wonder at the wisdom of God (Judges 13:18, where the Hebrew for the “secret” of the Authorised version is the same as that for “wonderful;” Exodus 15:11; Psalm 77:11; Psalm 78:11; Isaiah 28:29; Isaiah 29:14). The name contains the germ afterwards developed in the picture of the wisdom of the true king in Isaiah 11:2-4. The LXX. renders the Hebrew as “the angel of great counsel,” and in the Vatican text the description ends there. (2) It is significant that the word for “God” is not Elohim, which may be used in a lower sense for those who are representatives of God, as in Exodus 7:1; Exodus 22:28, 1 Samuel 28:13, but El, which is never used by Isaiah, or any other Old Testament writer, in any lower sense than that of absolute Deity, and which, we may note, had been specially brought before the prophet’s thoughts in the name Immanuel. The name appears again as applied directly to Jehovah in Isaiah 10:21; Deuteronomy 10:17; Jeremiah 32:18; Nehemiah 9:32; Psalm 24:8; and the adjective in Isaiah 42:13. (3) In “Father of Eternity,” (LXX. Alex. and Vulg., “Father of the age to come “) we have a name which seems at first to clash with the formalised developments of Christian theology, which teach us, lest we should “confound the persons,” not to deal with the names of the Father and the Son as interchangeable. Those developments, however, were obviously not within Isaiah’s ken, and he uses the name of “Father” because none other expressed so well the true idea of loving and protecting government (Job 29:16, Isaiah 22:21). And if the kingdom was to be “for ever and ever,” then in some very real sense he would be, in that attribute of Fatherly government, a sharer in the eternity of Jehovah. Another rendering of the name, adopted by some critics, “Father (i.e., Giver) of booty,” has little to recommend it, and is entirely out of harmony with the majesty of the context. (4) “Prince of Peace.” The prophet clings, as all prophets before him had done, to the thought that peace, and not war, belonged to the ideal Kingdom of the Messiah. That hope had been embodied by David in the name of Absalom (“ father of peace “) and Solomon. It had been uttered in the prayer of Psalm 72:3, and by Isaiah’s contemporary, Micah (Micah 5:5). Earth-powers, like Assyria and Egypt, might rest in war and conquest as an end, but the true king, though warfare might be needed to subdue his foes (Psalm 45:5), was to be a “Prince of Peace” (Zechariah 9:9-10). It must be noted as remarkable, looking to the grandeur of the prophecy, and its apparently direct testimony to the true nature of the Christ, that it is nowhere cited in the New Testament as fulfilled in Him; and this, though Isaiah 9:1 is, as we have seen, quoted by St. Matthew and Isaiah 9:7, finds at least an allusive reference in Luke 1:32-33.
Henceforth even for ever.—The words admit, as in the parallels of Psalm 21:4; Psalm 61:6-7; 2 Samuel 7:12-16, of being interpreted of the perpetuity of the dynasty of which the anointed king is to be the founder; but the “Everlasting Father “of the context, and the parallels of Psalm 45:6; Psalm 110:4, are in favour of its referring to a personal immortality of sovereignty.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform . . .—As in Greek so in Hebrew, we have the same root-word and root-idea for “zeal” and “jealousy,” and here, perhaps, the latter thought is dominant. It is because Jehovah loves the daughter of Zion with an absorbing love that He purposes such great things for her future, and that what He purposes will be assuredly performed. (Comp. Ezekiel 5:13.)
Folly.—Better, blasphemy or villainy.
And they together shall be against Judah.—This formed the climax of the whole. The only power of union that showed itself in the northern kingdom was to perpetuate the great schism in which it had its origin. The idea that Israel as such was a nation was forgotten. Ephraim and Manasseh could join in a common expedition against Judah when they could join in nothing else. Of this the alliance of Pekah with Rezin was the most striking instance (2 Chronicles 28:6-15). Traces of internal division are found in the conspiracy of the Gileadites of the trans-Jordanic district of Manasseh, against Pekah’s predecessor in Samaria (2 Kings 15:25).