That was no place for a child. In the darkest days of Jerusalem’s despair, God told Jeremiah to neither marry nor have children (Jeremiah 16:2). That world—the world of Jerusalem’s destruction—is no place for children. All that would await them was pain, horror, gloom, dislocation, and destruction. Even now it may sometimes seem that the world is too horrible for children, especially if you are living in parts of the developing world like the Sudan.
When Isaiah confronted Ahaz in Isaiah 7-12, it was no place for children. The future was dark. And, yet, the hopeful promise is that a “child is born” (Isaiah 9:6). The birth of a child will signal the rise of hope and secure a future filled with righteousness, justice and peace.
At time of Isaiah 9, Judah was in national decline. Its king, Ahaz, had made an alliance with the foreign power Assyria but that alliance eventually enslaved him and the nation as they suffered under their oppressive yoke. Ahaz empowered foreign gods as he sacrificed his own children in the fires of Molech and honored the gods on their high places. He replaced the Yahwehist bronze temple altar with an Assyrian style altar (2 Kings 16). Judah lived in darkness, gloom and eventually under the yoke of Assyrian power. Ahaz trusted the empire of his day rather than Yahweh (Isaiah 7).
Judah, living under that yoke, fought alongside Assyria against Israel (the northern kingdom and Syria [Aram]). They put on their warrior boots and blood stained their clothes. They became complicit in Assyria’s imperial agenda. Instead of trusting in God’s deliverance, they took up the sword and sided with the imperial power. [The Hebrew word for “boots” is an Assyrian loanword—the uniform of the empire.] But this brought them nothing but oppression as the imperial power ruled them as well. It rendered Judah a mere vassal.
Judah lacked hope. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. They yearned for a Midian-like liberation. The “day of Midian” lived long in the memory of Israel. They remembered how God delivered Israel from the hands of the Midianites through Gideon and three hundred non-combatants (Judges 7). The Lord fought for Israel that day; God won the battle as the Midianites self-destructed.
Isaiah announced hope. He says to Judah that a day will come when they will see light at the end of the tunnel. Moreover, they will bask in the light of God’s liberation. They will rejoice like at the harvest, like on a day when they divide the spoils of battle. They will rejoice because they will burn their GI boots and uniforms.
How can Judah rid themselves of their warrior posture? Are they not still in danger of the empire? Do not enemies surround them? How can fear let go and Judah simply trust Yahweh?
Isaiah provides the reason: a child is born. A new king will take his seat on the throne of David. His reign is described. It is a vision of the future; a future where peace, justice and righteousness are permanent—not only permanent but eternal. This king is named or—as some think—the God of the king is named. Either way, the reign of God is described.
These names are probably royal titles—titles that perhaps Hezekiah himself might wear as the one through whom God delivers Judah from Assyrian power. But I think we must also lift our horizon to the distant future to a time when light came to the regions of Galilee in the person of Jesus (Matthew 4:12-17). Hezekiah typified the coming reality of the kingdom of God in Jesus—a child who was born in Nazareth of Galilee where the light first dawned just as it was the place where the darkness first descended. The child of Isaiah 9 is the same as the one named “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7
- Wonderful Counselor! A king whose wisdom, counsel and plans produce wonder among the people. They are amazed by the king’s guidance and direction (cf. Isaiah 28:9).
- Mighty God! A king whose power and strength comes from God. He reigns with divine right and by divine power (cf. Isaiah 10:21).
- Father Forever! A king who rules like a benevolent father—a father who will never abandon or forsake his people (cf. Isaiah 63:16).
- Prince of Peace! A king who will reign with peace; he will ensure peace and bring peace to his reign (Isaiah 11:6-9).
A child is born! A king reigns! In Jesus, God has come to reign. He comes to bring justice, righteousness and peace. Fear dissipates; darkness is lifted. Light has dawned.
How do we let go of fear? Fear drives us to places where we never imagined we would go. Fear leads us into addictions where we hope to escape our fears and pains. Fear creates worry and worry drives us to do things we would not normally do. Fear drives us to self-interestedness; it drives us to violence. Fear motivates us to violate our own moral and ethical boundaries as we try to create our own stability.
We are now entering a new political season. In less than one year we will elect a President. Fear fills the air as we accuse and excuse political leaders. We become consumed with the idea that the fate of the nation is in the hands of whoever we elect to the Presidency. We worry and we argue. We are afraid—afraid of who might get elected or who might not be reelected. We fear that the world is falling apart and that darkness—whether economic gloom or terror/war—reigns. Fear puts trust in princes and empires but faith trusts God.
How do we let go of this fear? We trust that the zeal of the Lord will accomplish his purposes. God will liberate. God will bring justice. God will bring peace. We trust the king.
Hear the word of the Lord, my friends: “a child is born.” This child is our king; this one is our hope. Here is where our allegiance lies. Our allegiance is primarily to the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of the United States. We pledge allegiance to the kingdom of God—we seek first that kingdom of God.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. This allegiance is primary. It seems to me that this is an exclusive allegiance since to serve the empire (state) with the sword is to prioritize the state over the kingdom of God. It is to side with the empire rather than with the Prince of Peace.
A child is born. Born to transform our lives. Born to change the world. Born to burn uniforms. If Jesus is the “Prince of Peace,” how can we pursue a warrior agenda?