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The Righteous Reign of the Coming King


But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.


The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness—

on them light has shined.


You have multiplied the nation,

you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

as with joy at the harvest,

as people exult when dividing plunder.


For the yoke of their burden,

and the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian.


For all the boots of the tramping warriors

and all the garments rolled in blood

shall be burned as fuel for the fire.


For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time onward and forevermore.

The zeal of the L ord of hosts will do this.


Judgment on Arrogance and Oppression


The Lord sent a word against Jacob,

and it fell on Israel;


and all the people knew it—

Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria—

but in pride and arrogance of heart they said:


“The bricks have fallen,

but we will build with dressed stones;

the sycamores have been cut down,

but we will put cedars in their place.”


So the L ord raised adversaries against them,

and stirred up their enemies,


the Arameans on the east and the Philistines on the west,

and they devoured Israel with open mouth.

For all this his anger has not turned away;

his hand is stretched out still.



The people did not turn to him who struck them,

or seek the L ord of hosts.


So the L ord cut off from Israel head and tail,

palm branch and reed in one day—


elders and dignitaries are the head,

and prophets who teach lies are the tail;


for those who led this people led them astray,

and those who were led by them were left in confusion.


That is why the Lord did not have pity on their young people,

or compassion on their orphans and widows;

for everyone was godless and an evildoer,

and every mouth spoke folly.

For all this his anger has not turned away;

his hand is stretched out still.



For wickedness burned like a fire,

consuming briers and thorns;

it kindled the thickets of the forest,

and they swirled upward in a column of smoke.


Through the wrath of the L ord of hosts

the land was burned,

and the people became like fuel for the fire;

no one spared another.


They gorged on the right, but still were hungry,

and they devoured on the left, but were not satisfied;

they devoured the flesh of their own kindred;


Manasseh devoured Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh,

and together they were against Judah.

For all this his anger has not turned away;

his hand is stretched out still.


1. Yet the darkness shall not be. He begins to comfort the wretched by the hope of alleviation, that they may not be swallowed up by the huge mass of distresses. Many take these words in quite an opposite meaning, that is, as a threatening which denounces against the Jews a heavier affliction than that with which Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29) and Shalmanezer (2 Kings 17:6) afflicted them. The former inflicted a heavy calamity, the latter inflicted one still heavier, for he carried the twelve tribes into captivity, and blotted out the name of the nation. Some think that he now foretells the heaviest calamity of all, for if it be compared with the former two, it exceeds both of them. Though I am not prepared to reject this view, for it does not want plausibility, yet I rather favor a different opinion. The other interpretation is indeed more plausible, that the Prophet intended to deprive hypocrites of every enjoyment, that they might not imagine that this calamity would quickly pass away like a storm as the others had done, for it would be utterly destructive; and so we shall take the particle כי (ki) in its literal meaning. 138138     The Hebrew particle כי, (ki,) which is placed at the beginning of this verse, is rendered in the English version by Nevertheless; but Calvin says that he is willing to translate it forEd

But in my opinion it is most appropriate to view it as a consolation, in which he begins to mitigate what he had said about that frightful darkness and driving, (Isaiah 8:22,) and, by allaying the bitterness of those punishments, encourages them to expect the favor of God. As if he had said, “and yet, amidst that shocking calamity which the Jews shall endure, the darkness will not be such as when the land of Israel was afflicted, first, by Tiglath-pileser, (2 Kings 15:29,) and afterwards more grievously by Shalmanezer,” (2 Kings 17:6.) Amidst so great extremities believers might otherwise have fainted, if their hearts had not been cheered by some consolation. Isaiah therefore directs his discourse to them lest they should think that they were ruined, for he intimates that the chastisements which are now to be inflicted will be lighter than those which came before. That this is the natural interpretation will quickly appear from what immediately follows.

But why does the Prophet say that this calamity, which was far more dreadful, would be more mild and gentle? For Jerusalem was to be razed, the temple thrown down, and the sacrifices abolished, which had remained untouched during the former calamities. It might be thought that these were the severest of all, and that the former, in comparison of them, were light. But it ought to be observed, that while in the former instances there was no promise, an explicit promise was added to this threatening. By this alone can temptations be overcome and chastisements be rendered light. By this seasoning alone, I say, are our afflictions alleviated; and all who are destitute of it must despair. But if, by means of it, the Lord strengthen us by holding out the hope of assistance, there is no affliction so heavy that we shall not reckon it to be light.

This may be made plain by a comparison. A man may happen to be drowned in a small stream, and yet, though he had fallen into the open sea, if he had got hold of a plank he might have been rescued and brought on shore. In like manner the slightest calamities will overwhelm us if we are deprived of God’s favor; but if we relied on the word of God, we might come out of the heaviest calamity safe and uninjured.

As to the words, some take מועף (mugnaph) for an adjective, as if the Prophet said, It shall not be darkened; but the feminine pronoun which immediately follows, בה (bahh), in her, does not allow us to refer this to men. It is more accurately described by others to be a substantive noun; and, therefore, I have resolved to render it literally, there shall not be darkness in Judea according to the affliction of the time when, etc. Some explain הקל (hekal) to mean that the land was relieved of a burden, in consequence of the people having been carried into captivity; but this is altogether at variance with the Prophet’s meaning, and does not agree with what follows; for it is immediately added that the seacoast has been more grievously afflicted by a second calamity. There can be no doubt, therefore, that this verb corresponds to the other verb הכביד, (hikbid.) 139139     הקל (hekal) signifies literally to make light, and in accordance with an English idiom, sometimes denotes figuratively, to make light of. Stock’s rendering is, he made vile, answering to Lowth’s, he debased. Both agree in rendering הכביד (hikbid) he hath made it glorious. The English version concurs with Calvin in rendering הקל, (hekal,) he lightly afflicted, and הבביד, (hikbid,) he did more grievously afflict. — Ed Not more than a small part of the kingdom having been afflicted by Tiglath-pileser, the calamity which he brought upon it is said to be light as compared with the second which was inflicted by Shalmanezer.

By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. He calls it the way of the sea, because Galilee was adjoining to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and on one side it was bounded by the course of the Jordan. It is called Galilee of the Gentiles, not only because it was contiguous to Tyre and Sidon, but because it contained a great multitude of Gentiles, who were mingled with the Jews; for from the time that Solomon granted this country to King Hiram, (1 Kings 9:11,) it could never be subdued in such a manner as not to have some part of it possessed by the Gentiles

2. The people walking in darkness hath seen a great light. He speaks of future events in the past tense, and thus brings them before the immediate view of the people, that in the destruction of the city, in their captivity, and in what appeared to be their utter destruction, they may behold the light of God. It may therefore be summed up in this manner: “Even in darkness, nay, in death itself, there is nevertheless good ground of hope; for the power of God is sufficient to restore life to his people, when they appear to be already dead.” Matthew, who quotes this passage, appears to torture it to a different meaning; for he says that this prediction was fulfilled when Christ preached along the sea-coast. (Matthew 4:16.) But if we take a just view of the comparison, it will be found that Matthew has applied this passage to Christ correctly, and in its true meaning. Yet it does not appear that the view generally given by our commentators is a successful elucidation of the passage; for they merely assert that it belongs to the kingdom of Christ, but do not assign a reason, or show how it accords with this passage. If, therefore, we wish to ascertain the true meaning of this passage, we must bring to our recollection what has been already stated, that the Prophet, when he speaks of bringing back the people from Babylon, does not look to a single age, but includes all the rest, till Christ came and brought the most complete deliverance to his people. The deliverance from Babylon was but a prelude to the restoration of the Church, and was intended to last, not for a few years only, but till Christ should come and bring true salvation, not only to their bodies, but likewise to their souls. When we shall have made a little progress in reading Isaiah, we shall find that this was his ordinary custom.

Having spoken of the captivity in Babylon, which held out the prospect of a very heavy calamity, he shows that this calamity will be lighter than that which Israel formerly endured; because the Lord had fixed a term and limit to that calamity, namely, seventy years, (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; 29:10,) after the expiration of which the light of the Lord would shine on them. By this confident hope of deliverance, therefore, he encourages their hearts when overpowered by fear, that they might not be distressed beyond measure; and thus he made a distinction between the Jews and the Israelites, to whom the expectation of a deliverance so near was not promised. Though the Prophets had given to the elect remnant some taste of the mercy of God, yet, in consequence of the redemption of Israel being, as it were, an addition to the redemption of Judah, and dependent on it, justly does the Prophet now declare that a new light has been exhibited; because God hath determined to redeem his people. Appropriately and skilfully, too, does Matthew extend the rays of light to Galilee and the land of Zebulun. (Matthew 4:15.)

In the land of the shadow of death. He now compares the captivity in Babylon to darkness and death; for those who were kept there, were wretched and miserable, and altogether like dead men; as Ezekiel also relates their speech,

Dead men shall arise out of the graves. (Ezekiel 37:11, 12.)

Their condition, therefore, was such as if no brightness, no ray of light, had shone on them. Yet he shows that this will not prevent them from enjoying light, and recovering their former liberty; and that liberty he extends, not to a short period, but, as we have already said, to the time of Christ.

Thus it is customary with the Apostles to borrow arguments from the Prophets, and to show their real use and design. In this manner Paul quotes (Romans 9:25) that passage from Hosea,

I will call them my people which were not my people,
(Hosea 2:23,) 140140     In the original text the reference reads: (Hos. ii. 13.) which I assume was a typographical error. — fj.

and applies it to the calling of the Gentiles, though strictly it was spoken of the Jews; and he shows that it was fulfilled when the Lord brought the Gentiles into the Church. Thus, when the people might be said to be buried in that captivity, they differed in no respect from the Gentiles; and since both were in the same condition, it is reasonable to believe that this passage relates, not only to the Jews, but to the Gentiles also. Nor must it be viewed as referring to outward misery only, but to the darkness of eternal death, in which souls are plunged, till they come forth to spiritual light; for unquestionably we lie buried in darkness, till Christ shine on us by the doctrine of his word. Hence also Paul exhorts,

Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give thee light. (Ephesians 5:14.)

If therefore we extend the commencement of the deliverance from the return from Babylon down to the coming of Christ, on whom all liberty and all bestowal of blessings depends, we shall understand the true meaning of this passage, which otherwise has not been satisfactorily explained by commentators.

3. Thou hast multiplied. This passage is somewhat obscure, both in itself, and on account of the diversity of interpretations; for it appears to be absurd to say that the joy was not increased, seeing that he immediately afterwards adds, they rejoiced. On this account the Jews interpret לא (lo) not negatively, but as if ו (vau) had been substituted for א (aleph); for sometimes, though rarely, it has this meaning in the Scriptures. 141141     The Author’s meaning must be, not that א (aleph) ever becomes the third singular pronominal affix, but that in Exodus 21:8, to which he refers, ו and not א is probably the true reading. A better illustration might have been found in Psalm 100:3, on which the reader may consult a valuable note by the editor. (Com. on the Psalms, vol. 4.) In all the three cases (Exodus 21:8; Psalm 100:3; Isaiah 9:3) the Keri, or conjectural emendation, has strong internal evidence to recommend it above the Ketib, or reading that stands in the copies which have come down to us. Another method of solving the difficulty is exceedingly ingenious, and consists in turning the first part of the verse into the form of a question. Hast thou multiplied the nation, and hast thou not increased the joy? — Ed (Exodus 21:8.) The Jews do this, because they cannot reconcile the words of the Prophet with their opinion. Again, some view these words as referring to Sennacherib, because his army, though it was large, brought him no ground of joy, but rather of grief. (2 Kings 19:35.) Others explain it as relating to the Church, and justly, but mistake the method of applying it; for they think that the Prophet said this because believers, as long as they live, are subject to numerous and diversified afflictions. Others go still farther from the point, by saying that the conversion of the Gentiles, which will enlarge the Church, will not bring joy to the Jews and the ancient synagogue.

But I cannot approve of any of those interpretations, and therefore I interpret it in this manner. As the Prophet, in the beginning of the chapter, had made a preliminary statement, that this blessing of redemption was greater than all other blessings, though it might appear to be unworthy of being so highly extolled, on account of the small number of those who were redeemed; so now he repeats the same comparison, or one not very different from it, namely, that this favor of God would be more remarkable than when he had formerly multiplied his people. This might at first sight be thought to be highly inappropriate; for if we compare the condition of the Jewish kingdom, before the Babylonish captivity, with its condition after the return from it, we may be led to think that the period during which its ancient possession remained unimpaired was a season of greater prosperity. It was but a small remnant that returned in comparison of that multitude which had been carried away. Besides, they had not the free possession of their land, but might be said to be tenants at will; and they had to pay tribute to the Persians, and retained hardly any semblance of their former rank. Who, therefore, would not have preferred that prosperous reign which had been enjoyed by the family of David to that condition?

But the Prophet declares that this latter condition, though it may appear to be greatly inferior, and even more wretched, ought to be preferred to that which was prosperous and splendid, and shows that it will yield greater joy than when they had an abundant share of wealth and of all kinds of possessions. This was also testified by Haggai,

that the glory of the latter temple would be greater
than the glory of the former, (Haggai 2:9,)

though at first sight it might appear to be far otherwise. It is as if Isaiah had said, “There never was greater joy, though the multitude of the people was greater. Though we are few and contemptible in number, yet by the light with which thou shinest on us thou hast cheered us to such a degree that no joy of our former condition can be compared with the present.” For that redemption might be regarded as a prelude to the full and perfect salvation which was at length obtained through Christ.

Before thee. He means that the joy was true and complete, not slight or temporary. Men often rejoice, but with a deceitful and transitory joy, which is followed by mourning and tears. He affirms that this joy has its roots so deeply laid, that it can never perish or be destroyed. Such is also the import of the phrase before thee; for nothing cheers the godly so much as when the face of God shines sweetly on them. They are not like irreligious men, who are carried hither and thither by a blind and uncertain joy, but they have that which alone gives ground for full joy, their reliance on God’s fatherly kindness. Perhaps also the Prophet intended to allude to those words which frequently occur in the writings of Moses: Thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God. (Leviticus 23:40; Deuteronomy 12:12,18.) For though the subject there spoken of is the Tabernacle, still the mode of expression is fitly applied to the present occasion, that the joy of a believing people will not be irreligious, but will arise from acknowledging God, and beholding him by the eyes of faith to be the author of salvation. (Hebrews 5:9.)

Others explain it more ingeniously, that inwardly believers rejoice before God in their consciences, because in the world grief and sighing continually awaits them. Though this is true, yet a more natural meaning is drawn from the connection of the passage, namely, that believers whom God shall redeem will possess true joy; because they will have been instructed by undoubted proof that he is their Father, so that they may freely boast that they will always be safe under his guidance; and, therefore, as I lately mentioned, it denotes continuance.

According to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoils. The comparisons of Harvest and Victory, by which he heightens the amount of the joy, are sufficiently plain. Now, hence it is evident what Christ brings to us, namely, a full and perfect joy, of which we cannot in any way be robbed or deprived, though various storms and tempests should arise, and though we should be weighed down by every kind of afflictions. However weak and feeble we may be, still we ought to be glad and joyful; for the ground of our joy does not lie in numbers, or wealth, or outward splendor, but in spiritual happiness, which we obtain through the word of Christ.

For thou hast broken his burdensome yoke. He explains the cause of the joy, that believers, when they have been delivered from a frightful and cruel tyranny, will feel as if they had been rescued from death. In order to illustrate the grace of God, he reminds them how shameful and burdensome was the slavery with which the Jews had been oppressed and afflicted; and this is his object in heaping up the expressions, the yoke of the shoulder, the staff of the shoulder, the rod of the oppressor or overseer. Whatever may be our excessive effeminacy or cowardice, while we actually feel afflictions, yet as soon as they are gone, we easily come to forget them. That the redeemed people may not think lightly of the favor of God, the Prophet bids them consider how bitter and mournful was the slavery, when they groaned under a heavy yoke or triumphal car, when the staff was laid on their shoulders, and they were oppressed by tyrannical rule; and therefore their deliverance ought justly to make them more glad and joyful.

Next, he extolls the excellence of this favor on another ground, that God has openly displayed his hand from heaven. For this purpose he adduces an ancient and memorable instance. As God had formerly overthrown the Midianites, without the help of men, by a wonderful and amazing method, (Judges 7:21,) so now there will be a similar and illustrious display of power; for God will deliver his people from a cruel tyranny, when not one of the wretched Jews will venture to lift a finger. Now, it ought to be observed that God sometimes assists his people in such a manner as to make use of ordinary methods; but when he sees that this hinders men from beholding his hand, which may be said to be concealed, he sometimes works alone, and by evident miracles, that nothing may prevent or obscure the manifestation of his power. Thus in this victory of Gideon, when the enemies were routed without any agency of men, the arm of God openly appeared. For what had Gideon but the noise of pitchers, which could scarcely have driven away mice, and a small band of men, against a vast army, and, instead of weapons, a useless scarecrow? To this deliverance, therefore, he compares the future deliverance of the people, in which the hand of God will be not less openly and illustriously displayed.

Some explain this passage as relating merely to the law, which might not inappropriately have been called a burdensome yoke, and a rod lying on the shoulders. But that interpretation is unsuitable; for it would give to the Prophet the appearance of having suddenly broken off from his subject, and would be a violent torture of this passage. We must therefore attend to that arrangement which I formerly noticed, namely, that when God brought his people out of Babylon, he continued that blessing of deliverance till Christ. The meaning therefore is, “Thou hast broken those burdens by which thy people were unjustly and cruelly oppressed.”

Others apply it to the destruction of Jerusalem during the reign of Vespasian, but they have no argument on their side. Almost all the Jews refer it to Hezekiah, when in this manner the Lord delivered the city from the siege of Sennacherib, and cut off his army. (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36.) But that interpretation could not be admitted, for Hezekiah did not reign tyrannically over the Jews. Besides, at that time the Lord rescued the people from fear and danger, and not from slavery. Hence it is evident that this prediction had a more distant object, and that the interpretation which I have given to this passage is just and reasonable.

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