Picture this: You’re watching a great movie you’ve already seen. It’s one of your favorites. You’re still kind of close to the beginning. When you come to a certain portion, your excitement rises, because you know what’s coming next. That next part is where the real action begins. Your excitement mounts.
This is where we are in the book of Isaiah. Chapter 8 wraps up the themes of the beginning portion: judgment upon Israel, judgment upon Judah, and judgment upon the “nations,” the Gentiles. God wraps everyone in darkness. He points Isaiah to a new way, which is really an old way. In Chapter 9, Isaiah announces the dawning of a great light.
All Defeated–Israel, Judah, and the Gentiles
Isaiah essentially finished with judgment upon Israel and Judah by Isaiah 8:8. In review, Assyria will carry Israel into captivity. The Assyrians will also inundate Judah, but will not prevail. That is for the Babylonians to do at a later date.
Here in Isaiah 8:9-10, Isaiah announces the defeat of the Gentiles, as well. “Face the facts,” says the Message paraphrase. “… when all is said and done, the last word is Immanuel—God-With-Us.” (See Isaiah 7:14 and 7:3.)
Text Note: The latter portion of Chapter 8 has difficult text, both in the Septuagint and in the Masoretic versions. Reading several translations, including the notes, makes this apparent. The main lines of the chapter are clear, however.
In Isaiah 8:11-13, the Lord apparently directs Isaiah himself. He instructs him not to be like the Lord’s people. Because they fail to honor the Lord, they fear first one thing, then another. But Isaiah should fear the Lord.
The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread. (NIV)
Isaiah 8:14-18 are messianic.
Isaiah 8:14 And if thou shalt trust in him, he shall be to thee for a sanctuary; and ye shall not come against him as against a stumbling-stone, neither as against the falling of a rock: but the houses of Jacob are in a snare, and the dwellers in Jerusalem in a pit. (LXE)
New Testament authors Paul and Peter refer to Jesus as a “stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense,” (Romans 9:33, 1Peter 2:8). See also Isaiah 28:16.
Notice: God in these scriptures equates the “Lord of hosts” (verse 13) with Messiah (verses 14-15). Grammatically, these verses speak of the same person.
As previously mentioned, the wording of this chapter can be difficult to untangle. (That’s why reading from many translations helps.) In line with this, verse 16 would be better placed in the same paragraph with the prior verse. They appear to be talking about the same group of people. “Those who seal up the law so that they might not learn,” (Isaiah 8:16 NETS, New English Translation of the Septuagint) are the same as, “the house of Iakob is in a trap, and those who sit in Jerusalem [Judah] are in a pit,” (Isaiah 8:14, NETS).
In accordance with my hermeneutical viewpoint that Isaiah is an Old Testament gospel of Jesus Christ, Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 13:13-15 matches Isaiah 8:16. To “seal up the law” means to make it unavailable. For example, when God tells Daniel in Daniel 8:26 to “seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now,” he instructs Daniel to make the vision incomprehensible to those living at that time. Isaiah 8:16 speaks of the stubbornness of God’s people in willfully not understanding the law he gave them. This is a common theme of Jesus and Paul. God tells Isaiah not to be like them.
A Second Speaker
Isaiah introduces a new speaker in Isaiah 8:17-18. The Septuagint and the New Testament bring this understanding to light.
First, God begins speaking to Isaiah directly in Isaiah 8:11. Many versions bring this out. Isaiah 8:19 indicates that God is still speaking to him (“they” and “you”).
Second, notice that verses 17-18 indicate a first person speaker, “I”. The Septuagint uses an unspecified third person future to introduce this speaker, whom both Brenton (LXE) and Silva (NETS) identify as “one.” I would translate, “he.”
17 And one shall say, I will wait for God, who has turned away his face from the house of Jacob, and I will trust in him. 18 Behold I and the children which God has given me: and they shall be for signs and wonders in the house of Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in mount Sion. (LXE)
Third, who is this “one” who speaks? Context indicates it’s not God. Context further tells us it’s not the Israelites. The prior verses reveal that they are not waiting on God. They are rejecting God’s counsel. Therefore, common English understanding tells us it must be either Isaiah or someone else.
Fourth, Hebrews 2:13 claims the speaker of verses 17-18 to be Messiah, Jesus Christ. (It’s best to read those verses in their surrounding context.)
Hebrews 2:13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” [vs 17] And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”[vs 18] (Hebrews 2:13 ESV)
Fifth, as a side comment, Septuagint Isaiah is an exciting book, because the prophet indicates a second God-speaker in more than one place. As an Old Testament writer, he offers mountain top views from which a careful reader catches glimpses that God is a more-than-one-person being.
I like the Septuagint because it contains transition phrases that introduce these new speakers. Verse 17, as already mentioned, contains the words, “one shall say.” In Greek, this is καὶ ἐρεῖ (Isaiah 8:17 LXT). The Masoretic (Hebrew) text does not contain these words. The author of Hebrews, who verifies a second divine speaker, had before him a Septuagint text. By means of the Holy Spirit, the inspiration was to identify the “one” as Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Another example of the occurrence of a second divine speaker is Hebrews 1:11-12. In these verses, the writer quotes Psalm 102:25-27. Here again, without the benefit of the Septuagint version, readers are wondering. “How does the writer know that those verses were spoken by Christ? That understanding seems to take the psalm totally out of context.” But, what today’s readers largely don’t realize is that Psalm 102:23 identifies a second speaker, “He answered him… tell me.” Most scholars agree that the writer of Hebrews worked from the Greek text of the Old Testament, as was common in that era. (See Penitential Psalms: Psalm 102–God’s Son Speaks: Technical Background and The Septuagint Psalter: Table of Contents and Links, both by Christina Wilson.)
In Isaiah 8:19-20, God continues addressing Isaiah. The Message paraphrases these verses:
When people tell you, “Try out the fortunetellers. Consult the spiritualists. Why not tap into the spirit-world, get in touch with the dead?” Tell them, “No, we’re going to study the Scriptures.” People who try the other ways get nowhere—a dead end! MSG
The details of the actual text, both in the Greek and in the Masoretic, are more difficult to understand completely. The above paraphrase, however, captures one of the two underlying meanings. What’s missing, the Septuagint of Isaiah 8:20 provides:
Isaiah 8:20 For he has given the law for a help, that they should not speak according to this word, concerning which there are no gifts to give for it. (LXE)
Here is a potential rearrangement and paraphrase of the clauses in the verse just given: For he [God] has given the law for a help, concerning which there are no gifts to give for it. If they were to follow the law, then they wouldn’t need to consult the vain and lying mediums. This reading has problems of its own, however.
Even though the various translations of the Greek and Hebrew texts are not in agreement, the underlying meaning is clear. God is not pleased with Israel’s use of spiritists. He wants his people to consult his law. Verse 21 continues with difficulties. All translations agree, however, that it does not bode well for ancient Israel. A horrible famine will besiege them. The people respond by speaking poorly of all authorities over them, whether false gods or the true God.
Isaiah closes with Isaiah 8:22. As it continues from verse 21, the meaning is that no matter where the people look, whether above to heaven in search of an answer from God, or beneath to the earth in search of an answer from dead spirits or anywhere else on earth for help, they will be given none. The Septuagint writes, “… behold severe distress, and darkness, affliction, and anguish, and darkness so that one cannot see;” (LXE).
- What is Isaiah’s message in this chapter?
- The northern tribe of Israel has no hope (vss 1-7).
- Judah will be in extreme distress (vs 8).
- The Gentile nations will not prevail (vss 9-10).
- God tells Isaiah to trust in him (vss 11-13).
- To trust God is to trust Messiah (vs 14).
- The people will be revealed as those who choose neither God nor the Law (vss 15-16).
- Messiah does what the people will not do: he waits for God and trusts in him (vss 17-18).
- A remnant of Israel will be given to Messiah to be his children (vs 18).
- But Israel and Judah continuously refuse to trust in God and Messiah (vss 14-18).
- Neither do they trust the Law (vs 20).
- God’s people turn instead to mediums and false gods (vss 19-22).
- But these will not help them. Israel and Judah’s destination is “severe distress, and darkness, affliction, and anguish, and darkness so [deep] that one cannot see,” (vs 22).
- NOTE: The above outline follows the Septuagint text.
Thus Isaiah Sets the Stage for Chapter 9
In Isaiah 9, the great light dawns, and Gentiles are included.
Reading Isaiah this closely, I see that God’s Word is consistent in all its parts. Isaiah in Chapter 8 speaks the same truth he began speaking in Chapter 1. All his predictions find their prophetic fulfillment in the New Testament and in 70 A.D., the year that Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Jesus and Paul follow Isaiah’s teachings closely. (God is the source of Isaiah.)
What Can the American Christian Church Learn Today from Isaiah 8?
Applications of this chapter are not difficult to find in today’s American political scene. In Isaiah we see brother attacking brother, as the northern kingdom of Israel attacked Judah. In America we see a divided, attacking church. Christians who happen to be democrats harbor hostilities against Republican Christians. Other Christians who happen to be republicans harbor hostilities against Democrats. Neither Democrat nor Republican bears any standing whatsoever in God’s eyes.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11)
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, (Revelation 7:9)
Further, we see many Christians placing their great hope on a single political figure, whom they are desperately trying to see inaugurated for a second term. We see other Christians, many but not quite as many, placing their great hope on desperately trying to see this same political person not inaugurated for a second term. Politics would correspond to the Gentile nations in Isaiah 8. Political fortunes come and go. One side may strengthen itself for a time, but it will become weak again.
The one, firm foundation in Isaiah is God, his Messiah, and his Word, the Law. All else is vanity and leads to darkness, anguish, and despair. Isaiah 8 challenges and bids Christians today to turn away from all that is dead, idolatrous, dark, and vanishing. Were Christians to truly embrace the Gospel of Messiah, they would also embrace his peace. If we all struggled as hard to find our peace in Christ as we struggle to maintain our divisions, I believe we would be closer to God’s will than we currently are.