Isaiah’s world, like ours, looked bleak. He saw grim times ahead. He described it in terms of anxiety, homelessness, anger and a surge of anti-God invective.
“Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upwards, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look towards the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” (Isaiah 8)
This certainly can seem like a time when people “look towards the earth and see only distress and darkness,” doesn’t it?
There’s always an “And yet” with God. Sorrow may last the night, and yet joy comes with the morning. We are struck down and yet not destroyed. The Bible is full of “And yets.” It’s because God is undefeatable.His rule is sovereign. His authority is complete. He is never distracted from His purposes.
Someone described it thus: life beneath is one big question mark. And life above is one big exclamation mark of wonder. And the line between is the “And yet…”
And Isaiah knew this about God. In his lifetime Rome was founded, the Greeks were colonizing the Mediterranean, and massive power blocs were surging, rising and falling in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. And Israel often seemed like a leaf in a stream, constantly under pressure from every direction. But he looked behind earthly power systems and discovered the throne and authority of God. “In the year that King Uzziah died (that is, when earthly authority seemed at its most unstable), I saw the Lord, high and lifted up…”
So what will God do? Knowing who He is, does He have a word for His beleaguered and frightened people?
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 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.”
Isaiah looks back into Israel’s history, recalling the story of Gideon, the hero who defeated Midian. Gideon saw himself as weak, and the least member of the smallest clan, and yet (and yet!) God anointed him and achieved mighty things through him.
Isaiah is saying: God is going to do it again! It’s His way.
Now there’s little doubt that Isaiah imagined much of what he prophesied happening in his own day. The prophets were not foretellers of the future so much as forthtellers of God’s word and character, in the present. But those two aspects of the prophet’s ministry always ran together. I mean to say, if you know that God is love, then it follows that He will act in love, and so, given a circumstance of distress, you just know that God will step in, just as you know a loving mother will respond to the tears of her child. And if you know that God is just, then like a wise father, he will not permit injustice to prevail. He will sort it.
But you might not know when and how, precisely…
So Isaiah, like all the prophets, listened to the voice of the world, seeing “only distress and darkness” and announced the response of God “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” But how will change occur? His answer was: “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
And so he sought the face of God, through all the question marks,and found something that made him exclaim. God is going to raise up a Gideon. Only much much more. Quietly, secretly, like a… like a pregnancy. “A virgin will conceive...” It’s going to happen in apparent weakness but be revealed in astonishing strength. Why? Because God Himself is going to step up to the plate. God is coming! He is going to be with us, in our distress. He is Emmanuel, God with us. And Galilee…. He is going to walk and talk in Galilee, right on the edge of things, because He’s going to be a light for the Gentiles, A light to the nations, a light to the ends of the world. God is going to act decisively.
Do you catch the amazing flood of words of knowledge,wisdom and insight? Isaiah saw much more, as the years of his life went in, of the meaning and suffering of Messiah. It is fair to say that the dream of Messiah and the Advent of God consumed him. But here, at the beginning of his life, he began to lay out the paradox of Emmanuel, in five names. A man like Gideon, perhaps, but much much more.
For His name shall be called….
1. Wonderful.When He did His many miracles, the Scripture says, “The people wondered.” (Luke 11:14)
2. Counselor.The officers said, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)
3. The Mighty God.He is the God-Man. He said that He and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
4. The Everlasting Father.It was by Him, the living Word, that all things were created. He is the designer of the whole universe. (John 1:3; Hebrews 11:3)
5. The Prince of Peace.There will never be lasting peace on earth until He comes again to reign in righteousness. But He is also the Prince of Peace in other ways. None can have peace with God apart from Him and the peace that He made through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:20)
The full meaning of these words from Isaiah should give us enough strength, hope, and joy to face any crisis, endure any sorrow and meet any temptation.
Now you have to admit it, it’s getting pretty dark out there. But something else is happening. It’s on its way, like that Coca Cola truck threading through the mountains. Holidays are comin’! Holidays are comin’!
And the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light!