Summary: 2,000 years ago everyone was watching the Roman empire, but the most important event happened in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. A baby was born and the birth was so important the birth announcement was sent 700 years earlier.
So I am reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy right now. When you undertake some task as crazy as reading War and Peace, you have to work it into conversations as often as you can. Anyway, War and Peace is set during the Napoleonic wars from about 1803-1815. The book really makes the point that these wars shaped the mindset, politics, religion, and pretty much everything during this time. You see, the problem was that France was the center of culture, even two hundred years ago. People in the upper class in Russia spoke French (I didn’t know that), drank French wine, read French writers, and wore French clothes. And then Napoleon happens and suddenly Russia was at war with its cultural role model. This causes all sorts of interesting dynamics.
So, I just went through 1809 in the book, War and Peace, and even though I was not alive in 1809, I am sure that most of the world thought that the French invasion of Austria was the most important thing going on in 1809. But it wasn’t. Not even close. There were other things happening in 1809 that would have a far bigger impact on the world than an insignificant trifle like the Napoleonic wars: babies were being born.
1809 was a big year for babies. Three brilliant and hugely influential writers were born in 1809, whose work is still read and studied today: Edgar Allen Poe and Oliver Wendell Holmes, born just a few miles apart in Boston, Massachusettes, and Alfred “Lord” Tennyson in England. It’s hard to estimate just how much these three authors changed the literary world. Another baby was born in England in 1809 who had an even greater impact than any of those three authors and his name was Charles Darwin. Whether you agree with his theories or not, it’s hard to imagine a person who has had a greater impact on the world of biology over the last two hundred years than Charles Darwin. But probably eclipsing all of those men, one more baby was born in 1809 in a little log cabin in Kentucky. Abraham Lincoln was also born in 1809 and it is hard to imagine a person who has had a larger impact on this country than him.
Here’s my point. If you would have asked anyone on the street in 1809 what is the most important thing going on in the world today, they would have probably all pointed the Napoleonic war. But they would have been wrong. The most important events in 1809 didn’t happen on the battlefield, they happened in the cradle.
This same phenomenon happened a little over 2,000 years ago in the middle east. The Roman Empire was at its peak and had a tight grip over a massive number of people. Power shifted back and forth between different local rulers that the Romans set up to keep the peace and everyone thought that was the most important thing in the world. But the most important event was the birth of a baby boy in a little town about 5 miles outside of Jerusalem.
Just to show how important this baby’s birth was, the birth announcement was sent 700 years before the baby was born.
1 Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation,
When at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
And afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea,
Beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
In chapter 8, Isaiah wrote about the darkness that had descended on Judah. This darkness was the direct result of God’s people choosing to reject God’s offer of help and protection. The final verse of chapter 8 seemed to spiral down into darkness and dimness. But now, in chapter 9, the first verse picks right up and sounds out a message of hope. Isaiah reminds the people that the darkness (dimness) they are experiencing is going to be dealt with. Unfortunately, the King James translators did a poor job of translating this verse. Isaiah is saying that that the dimness is not going to last. In the time of Judah’s vexation, things got pretty dim, but that dimness was going to be changed into light. At first, Zebulun and Naphtali (two regions based on two of the tribes of Israel) would be afflicted (this area would prove to be the first part of the country to fall to the Assyrians). But the light affliction would be like nothing compared to the glory that would come from beyond Jordan, from Galilee. In this passage, Isaiah is using the same play on words that Paul will later use in II Cor. 4:17. Light affliction (from the Assyrians) is being contrasted with “heavy” glory that will eventually come to Galilee (the more general name for the area where Zebulun and Naphtali were). For some reason the KJV translators chose to interpret the word in Hebrew to “greviously” when Isaiah certainly means gloriously! The light afflictions of the Assyrians aren’t going to compare at all to the heavy glory of what is going to come to Galilee! The dimness is about to be lifted!