Summary: Peace is rare in this world. Only Jesus can bring true peace. We need to work with him to bring peace where we are.
Israel was a divided nation during Isaiah’s life … and the two kingdoms were under threat of foreign invasion. That threat became a reality in Isaiah’s lifetime.
By 722 BCE the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom and ten tribes (of the 12) had been relocated and scattered throughout what is today Syria, Iraq and Turkey (predicted in chapter 7 of Isaiah)
In 586 BCE (as predicted by Isaiah) the southern kingdom was also conquered and the people exiled by the Babylonians.
The result of war and exile: mass cultural genocide. It meant that even after return from exile, only a remnant remained of what was once the Jewish nation … a people set apart by God to be a holy people. In a sense, it’s not unlike the remnants of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that remain in our nation today. The damage that was done was so significant that culture, language and story were lost forever:
- The people were murdered
- Used for slave labour
- Forced to scatter, in the hope that their culture would soon be bred out of them
Well, that’s the history behind today’s passage (in brief) … and it’s shocking for two reasons:
1. On a human level violence and war is always shocking and distressing;
2. But from a faith perspective there’s another level …. It’s shocking because God had promised peace to this people.
Leviticus 26:6-11 – ‘I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall make you afraid; I will remove dangerous animals from your land, and no sword shall go through your land … I will look with favour upon you and make you fruitful and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you. You shall eat old grain long stored (means there will always be a plentiful harvest) … I will place my dwelling in your midst … And I will walk among you, and I will be your God and you will be my people.”
It’s a beautiful image of a people at peace …. But so far from the reality by the 6th century for God’s people.
In fact this kind of peace, has never been realised in the land of Israel … we’ve looked in the last few weeks at why this is … the chapters preceding chapter 9 tell about how the people have turned away from God and forgotten him and confined him to one option of many gods to worship …
And according to the agreement (covenant) God had with the people, they cannot be blessed with his peace, as long as they persist in sin …
And this makes the situation seem pretty hopeless. But God, in his mercy, makes a promise …
v1 – 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 (this is describing the area where the Assyrians first struck the northern kingdom … so God is speaking specifically through Isaiah, to his people – this message is not for the whole world – it’s for us). It goes on:
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 (v2)
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased it’s joy (v3)
Instead of depopulation and decline, there will be growth
They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
Instead of poverty and meagre harvest there will be plenty
as people exult when dividing plunder (v3)
Instead of becoming spoil themselves, the people will divide the spoil
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 (v4)
The people will be free from oppression and no longer living under conquest
For all the boots of the trampling warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire (v5)
There will be an end to war and bloodshed
So, here’s the picture that this prophecy paints (and does so with absolute certainty, speaking of these events in the past tense, as though they have already happened) …
And this is the picture we are given of how life is going to look for God’s people:
- knowledge and understanding (instead of darkness)
- population increase (instead of decrease)
- plenty of food (instead of poverty)
- rejoicing at victory over the enemy (instead of defeat)