Isaiah 8:22-9:2 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. But there will be no gloom for her who was 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 has made 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 dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
Matthew 4:15-16 The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-
the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.
In the next chapter of A Tax Collector’s Guide to Fulfilled Prophecy, Matthew demonstrates that the more familiar one is with the prophecies and the history surrounding them, the more insight one can have into the subject of fulfilled prophecy. Of course to know Jesus as the Savior-Messiah is essential. Many scribes and Pharisees knew these same prophecies yet remained blinded to their fulfillment. It is Matthew the tax collector who reveals the destiny that the Messiah had to minister and shine His light in the region of Galilee by quoting Isaiah 9:1-2 in Matthew 4:12-17. In some ways this post will be a continuation of Was the Virgin Birth Expected? since both passages that Matthew quotes are drawn from the same section of Isaiah.
The Historical Background
Have you ever wondered how the three regions of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee came to be during the days of the ministry of Christ? A quick look back at history will explain it. Remember after the reign of Solomon that the kingdom of Israel experienced a split. Ten tribes decided to separate from the reign of the Davidic king, see I Kings 11:30-36, 12:16-19. Judah and Benjamin still followed the Davidic lineage and the rule from the capital city of Jerusalem, I Kings 12:17-21. The ten northern tribes came to be known as Israel at first, see I Kings 15:25, 33, 16:8, 23 , but later after Omri established Samaria as the capital city, see I Kings 16:23-29, the northern kingdom became known as Samaria. From the time of Omri onward, it was stated that the northern kings ruled over Israel in Samaria, meaning over the nation of Israel which was the northern ten tribes and from the capital city of Samaria. When the fourth generation past Jehu had fulfilled the word of the LORD in the northern kingdom, II Kings 10:30, 15:12, the Assyrian Empire began to dominate the region. We see this initially during the reign of Menahem in II Kings 15:19-20. Later during the reign of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria comes against the northern most portion of Israel and takes possession. If you read II Kings 15:29, this holds the key to understanding the region during the ministry of Christ known as Galilee. This portion around the sea of Galilee was taken into captivity to Assyria before the rest of the northern kingdom was destroyed. This should have been a warning for the remainder of the nation of Israel to repent, but they did not.
The next king after Pekah was Hoshea during which the rest of the northern kingdom [of Samaria] was destroyed. Shalmaneser king of Assyria came against Israel and made it into a tributary or vassal, II Kings 17:3. But Hoshea was conspiring with Egypt and the king of Assyria discovered this, II Kings 17:4. So Shalmaneser destroyed the city of Samaria and carried many exiles captive from Israel, II Kings 17:5-6. Then he set up an idolatrous system which was a combination of Babylonian idol worship mixed with some teachings from the LORD, see II Kings 17:24-34. This was only in the portion that remained, not in northern Galilee. Judah would be spared from the next king of Assyria’s invasion. During the reign of good King Hezekiah, Sennacharib king of Assyria came against Judah but was turned back by the LORD because of the repentance of Israel, see II Kings 18:13, 19:32-37. Later during the rise of the Babylonian Empire, Judah would finally be carried away into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. 70 years later, the exiles were allowed to return. But what are they returning to? In Judah, they were allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem. But just north of that in Samaria, there was still a false system of worship in place originally set up by the Assyrian regime. The Samaritans were also intermarried to the point that some Israelites did not consider them to be part of the nation of Israel anymore, hence the distinction between Jews and Samaritans. Notice how Jesus referred to a Samaritan as a foreigner in Luke 17:15-18. But even further north in the region of Galilee, there was no false system of worship in place, and these Galileans had not intermarried. So this northernmost portion which was carried away separately from Samaria is the region which Isaiah is prophesying about in Isaiah 9:1-2.
A brief word about Gilead should be mentioned as well, since it is also mentioned in II Kings 15:29. Gilead was the portion east of the Jordan River which was given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh before the nation of Israel conquered the rest of the promised land, see Deuteronomy 3:12-17. This portion of land also went into captivity at the same time as Galilee in the north. When Isaiah gives his prophecy, instead of using the term “Gilead”, he uses the term “beyond Jordan”. In Matthew’s documentation of this fulfilled prophecy he also uses the term “beyond Jordan”. As a preview, what Isaiah is saying is that the very region that went into captivity first and experienced such darkness and devastation is the very region that will experience the light of the Messiah. Now let’s look at the context of Isaiah’s prophecy.
The context of Isaiah 9:1-2
Isaiah was preaching (prophesying) to the people of Judah that they might repent. The alliance between Israel and Syria was the danger, but God was revealing that the Messiah would be born and would reign. Sometimes in this prophecy it looks like the Messiah will be born and reign just as the alliance (the confederacy) was broken apart, but this is not the case. This is the way prophecy works. Sometimes portions of prophecy are fulfilled in the near context, within the lifetime of the prophet to justify their predictions, and portions are left to be fulfilled at a later point in time or in a far context. Since the prophet was justified having a good portion of their prophecies come true within their lifetime, the people could be assured that the rest would come to pass as literally as the other portions. Within the context of both kings in this alliance being judged, there is the prophecy that a virgin would conceive, Isaiah 7:14. Later, Isaiah has a son by a young woman and they name the son a long name which means – Speed the Spoil, Hasten the Prey. The name signified the quick means by which Samaria and Syria would become the spoil and prey of the Assyrian Empire. But layered within this prophecy is found the word Immanuel or God With Us in some form, see Isaiah 8:8, 10. This points back to the child which would be born of a virgin which would be called Immanuel.
In Isaiah 8:11-12, the reason is revealed that God is giving the prophecy and the deliverance. The people of Judah should not be in fear of an alliance between Israel and Syria, they should be in fear of the LORD. “But the LORD of hosts, Him you shall honor as holy. Let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.” The language which follows in Isaiah 11:14 is quoted or paraphrased in Luke 20:17-18, Romans 9:32-33, I Peter 2:4-8 combined with Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22. This Rock of offense is going to cause both houses of Israel (Judah and Samaria) to stumble, fall, and be broken. So we have the near context of Isaiah preaching to the people of Judah to let God be the One that they fear and not a confederacy between these two nations. Then we have the far context of Isaiah preaching that this Rock of offense will cause both Judah and Samaria to stumble. Yet in the midst of this, the testimony and the law will be sealed among the true disciples, those that wait upon the LORD, see Isaiah 8:16-17. As this occurs, this Messianic figure (the Rock of offense, the child born of a virgin, Immanuel) and the children (the disciples that wait upon the LORD) will both be for signs and wonders in Israel. The Messiah and His disciples will perform signs and wonders and will serve as signs and wonders to the nation of Israel, see Isaiah 8:18 with Hebrews 2:13.
When we arrive at Isaiah 9:1-2, we have the background of the Messiah and His disciples performing signs and wonders from Isaiah 8:18. The darkness here mentioned that occurred as Galilee went into captivity is offset by the future light that will shine in that very area. Remember, as Isaiah spoke the prophecy of Isaiah 7-12, the kingdom of Judah was still intact, and the northern kingdom of Samaria was still intact, but the portions around the region of the sea of Galilee and the region of Gilead had gone into captivity. So the only portion which had experienced great darkness at this point was literally around the sea of Galilee and beyond Jordan. Since it now belonged to the Gentiles, Isaiah terms the region Galilee of the Gentiles, or Gentile nations. It is on these people living around the sea of Galilee that the light of the Messiah will shine with He and His disciples performing signs and wonders. The qualifier in Isaiah 8:20 should be read as well, showing that they will speak in accordance with the law and the testimony, meaning according to the Word of God revealed unto that point, the law of Moses and true prophets of God.
Isaiah 9:6-7 continues the vein of prophecy concerning the Messiah. The Child is born, the Son is given. He has wonderful names ascribed to Him along with inheriting the throne of David. Up to this point, there was still someone sitting on the throne of David (wicked King Ahaz) and this prophecy is directed toward the household of David, see Isaiah 7:13. The literal fulfillment of this prophecy would include the Messiah ruling over the nation of Israel from Jerusalem. Of course this will be preceded by a time of ministry during which the Messiah will minister in the area of Galilee.
How Does Prophecy Work?
This is the question that this series is trying to tackle. In what way did Isaiah set forth his original prophecy? In what way was it fulfilled? Are there still future aspects to this prophecy yet to be fulfilled? Isaiah set forth his original prophecy in such a way that it was difficult to discern what would happen in his lifetime and what would occur in the distant future. However, as the prophecies concerning the immediate nations were fulfilled and the prophecies concerning the Messiah remained unfulfilled, it became quite clear that there were unfulfilled portions in this passage. The Assyrians came through overflowing the region like a river overrunning all of its banks, yet the Messiah was not born. The nations of Israel (northern kingdom) and Syria were brought to nothing, yet a virgin had not brought forth a Son. Rezin and Pekah were dead and gone yet no miracles and signs had been performed in the area of Galilee.
Matthew the Tax Collector had the privilege of witnessing the miracles in the area of Galilee. In fact, now Galilee was its own territory subservient to Rome with its own ruler, see Luke 3:1. As Matthew witnessed the fulfillment of prophecy, he placed his finger squarely on Isaiah 9:1-2 and took a bold stance. Jesus is the Messiah because He fulfilled this prophecy early on in His ministry. The entire context of Matthew is set up to prove this very point. Each detail is there for a reason. Even the mention of Decapolis in Matthew 4:25 is there for the purpose of showing that the region beyond Jordan was being affected as well, just as Isaiah 9:1-2 had foretold. If you look on a map comparing the Decapolis in the times of Jesus with a map of Israel just after it was settled, you will see that the Decapolis was exactly where Gilead had been. The ministry of Jesus the Messiah fulfilled each detail of the prophecy. Contrast the insight of Matthew to the blindness of the chief priests and Pharisees in John 7:45-52. They believed that no prophet would ever minister in Galilee. Matthew the Tax Collector put the religious authorities to shame with the insight that God gave him.
Since not every detail of Isaiah 9:6-7 has been fulfilled, we have certain prophecies in Isaiah that await a future fulfillment. We discover another vein of prophecy which talks about the Messiah ruling, establishing justice here on earth, and the character of a kingdom which is reminiscent of Eden, see Isaiah 11 for details. While some things in this section of Isaiah came to pass in Isaiah’s lifetime, and others came to pass during Matthew’s lifetime, it should not be out of the question that a third time frame will occur during which the Messiah will establish His kingdom here on the earth. Instead of all prophecy coming to pass at the same time, we have different nexuses around which different aspects of the prophecies will be fulfilled. Once we understand this, it becomes much more simple. The defeat of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire is one nexus. The Messiah coming in such a way that the nation of Israel stumbles over Him is another nexus. Around this nexus we see the virgin birth, a remnant of disciples, and miracles in the land of Galilee. The final nexus is the Messiah reigning in power and glory. Around this nexus we see the defeat of the wicked one, peace amongst animals, Gentile nations willingly seeking after the Messiah, and a final regathering of the nation of Israel, see Isaiah 11.
I think one reason that Matthew included this was the relationship that he had with Galilee. As near as I can tell, Matthew 9:9 and Mark 2:13-14 place the calling of Matthew quite near the sea of Galilee. Here was a common tax collector, not associated with any of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Along comes the Messiah ministering in Galilee and calls him to be one of the twelve. The Messiah had to minister in Galilee according to the prophet Isaiah and it resulted in Matthew’s special relationship with Jesus Christ. On the Galileans a light has dawned. No wonder he makes a special note of it!
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman