Fifth Response to Dalton Lifsey – Isaiah 9:5,6 (6,7)
I will be using the numbering of the verses from the Hebrew Bible.
I will first tell you that the verse can be read as follows: “The Mighty God, Father unto eternity and Prince of peace is planning a wonder”. In other words, the name of the child is a complete sentence describing the work of God. Just to help you with the Hebrew, I’ll do this word for word.
Pele – a wonder
Yoetz – He is planning (this is the key – this word can be a verb and is not necessarily a noun)
E – l – God
Gibbor – mighty
Avi – Father
Ad – until (generally translated as: “everlasting”)
Sar – minister
Shalom – Peace
The second thing I will tell you is that the verse does not necessarily say “Mighty God” or “Everlasting Father”. The very same Hebrew phrase that is translated here as: “Mighty God”, is used in Ezekiel to describe Gentile warriors in the plural format (Ezekiel 32:21). The Hebrew word: “Ad” – which is translated as everlasting – can also mean spoils as in Genesis 49:27 and Isaiah 33:23. In other words the verse reads: wonderful counselor, mighty warrior, father of spoils, prince of peace”.
The third thing I will tell you is that the name “Hezekiah” actually means: “Mighty God”.
Finally I will comment on the words: “and he called his name”. The Scriptures use the term: “called a name” in a sense that is not necessarily literal (e.g. Ruth 4:11). In fact, as far as I know, no-one in history was literally called by any of these names. The concept of “calling a name” can mean; making a mark, this child will be remembered for these concepts; in the minds of men these concepts will forever be associated with the memory of this child.
The destruction of the Assyrian army at the gates of Jerusalem was the fulfillment of this prophecy. That event is inextricably tied up with the memory of Hezekiah king of Judah.
The passage in which this verse appears talks of a military threat being miraculously eliminated, namely the threat of the Assyrian king; Sennacherib. Verse 3 (chapter 9) talks of the yoke of his (the nation’s) burden and the rod of her oppressor being broken as on the day of Midian. The “day of Midian” was when God miraculously put an army of multitudes to flight before Gideon’s small band of 300 (Judges 6 and 7). This is a clear parallel to the miraculous annihilation of Sennacherib’s troops (as described in Isaiah 37, 2Kings 19, and 2Chronicles 32). The various phrases in this passage are repeated over and over again in the book of Isaiah as reference to the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. The expressions “yoke” and ‘‘burden” (9:3) are used in 14:25 with a direct reference to Assyria’s army being broken. The expressions “staff” and “rod” (9:3), can be found in 10:5,24,27, and 30:31, clearly talking of this same event. The reference to Midian (9:3) is repeated in 10:26 in relation to Sennacherib’s destruction. The concept of “burning” as a description of this miracle (9:4), is mentioned in 10:16,17 and again in 30:31 and 31:9 as a description of the death of Sennacherib’s soldiers. The concept of “counsel” (9:5) is used in 14:26,27 to speak of this miracle. The words “mighty God” (9:5), are repeated in 10:21 to describe Israel’s return to God after this amazing event. The words “zeal of the Lord of Hosts” is repeated in 37:32 in direct reference to this miraculous event.
Do you think that all of these are mere coincidences?
Verse 5 tells us that the child HAS been born. In other words when Isaiah spoke these words the child was already born.
Overall Context (Totality of Scripture)
I want to contrast your usage of this passage with Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 4:15.
1) The passages that I quote are COMMANDMENTS – the passage you quote is not.
2) The Divine Author of Scripture put His finger on the passages that I presented – and said – here is where I am teaching you something about who it is that you are to worship and who it is that you are not to worship. It was God who made it clear that He wants us to associate the passages that I quoted with the concept of worship of the divine. The passage that you presented is placed by the Divine Author in a completely different context. It is the Christian theologian who must highlight this passage as a central teaching on the nature of God. The Divine Author of Scripture did NOT highlight this passage in that way.
If I needed to formulate a statement that would succinctly describe the Jewish position on the question of who it is that we are to worship – I would say: “we worship the God who revealed Himself to our ancestors at Sinai – as our ancestors preserved that revelation”. This sentence is just a rewording of the passages I quoted – plus a bit from Deuteronomy 4:9. The complete sentence that expresses my world-view on this subject is contained in the passages that I quoted.
Now you go and try to formulate a complete succinct sentence on the basis of the passage that you quoted that would describe your belief.
4) No-one ever presented an alternative explanation for the passages that I quoted that would render them irrelevant to this discussion. Many Jewish and Christian scholars have disputed your interpretation of the passage you presented.
5) Who is speaking?
The passages that I quoted describe God Himself presenting a teaching to the entirety of the nation – not through the medium of a prophet or a book – but directly – God to Israel.
Let me explain something to you about communication. The point of communication is NOT to get the idea out of the communicator’s head – but rather to get the idea into the head and heart of the target audience. If a teacher stands in a classroom and lectures – the words that the teacher spoke are not what was taught – it is the ideas that the students carry in their heads as they walk out of the classroom – THAT is what was communicated.
In the case of a human teacher – we can perhaps assume that the teacher did not properly calibrate his or her words – and the students walked away with an understanding different than what the teacher intended. With God we cannot say this. God actually declares that Israel understood His teaching properly – Deuteronomy 4:35.
The passage that you quoted was presented to us through the medium of a prophet. Every Jewish prophet expected their words to be understood in light of the teaching that Israel carried in their hearts since God put it there at Sinai.
The child that this verse speaks of will be a cause for the salvation of the Jewish people from the oppression of Sennacherib. It was Hezekiah’s prayer that was the catalyst for God’s intervention on behalf of His people (Isaiah 37:21, 2Kings 19:20). Isaiah is comforting his people. Although Ahaz (Hezekiah’s father) was evil, but his child was holy and righteous. In the merit of this holy child, who bore upon his shoulders the government of his people, God will display His wondrous counsel, His might, His mastery over time (Isaiah 38:8), together with a peace that lasted as long as Hezekiah lived (Isaiah 39:7).
Your Problems with the Jewish Interpretation
Please forgive my temerity in assuming that I know what you will ask me – but since this conversation is public – I am sure that someone reading this is asking the following questions.
1) Question: How can you say that the passage is talking of Hezekiah? Doesn’t the passage say that there will be no end to the peace?
Answer: The very same words “en ketz” are used in Isaiah 2:7 as a description of the chariots and treasures of sinful Israel. The words do not necessarily have to be understood in their most literal sense. (See below for some more).
2) Question: Doesn’t the prophet say that the peace and the government will last from now and forevermore? Didn’t Hezekiah’s kingdom go down in smoke only a century and half later with the Babylonian invasion? How can this be talking of Hezekiah?
Answer: The peace and the government that the prophet is referring to, is the peace and government of David’s throne. David is still the king of Israel and will be so forever. Even the Messiah will be sitting on David’s throne – in other words – he will be filling David’s shoes. You may be surprised to learn that David is still the king of Israel – even now. Through the songs of his holy Psalms, David still leads the heart of all who are loyal to God. My loyalty today is to the dynasty of David, the king after God’s heart. And my loyalty to the Messiah will be an expression of the loyalty that is already in my heart now. The Davidic throne is a concept that lives on in the minds and in the hearts of men – Jews and Gentiles. The Davidic throne will forever represent mankind’s submission towards God.
Hezekiah, as a legitimate successor to his ancestor David – made a lasting impact on that concept that already existed. His career added a new layer of meaning to the goal of mankind’s submission towards God. The miraculous destruction of Sennacherib’s army and the salvation of Jerusalem that were done by God in the merit of Hezekiah’s prayer – gave us a completely new understanding of the Davidic throne and what it stands for. These events presented a picture for posterity, and they presented a hope for posterity. It was against the backdrop of these spectacular miracles that the prophecies of Isaiah were pronounced. God chose to articulate the Messianic hope of all man-kind through the words of Isaiah and in the context of the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. It is the words of Isaiah that were chosen to be written on the side of the U.N. building, and it is Isaiah’s metaphor of the lion lying with the lamb that is most often used to describe God’s plan of peace for all humanity.
The miracles that were performed in Hezekiah’s times are still reverberating, and they will continue to do so until the coming of the Messiah and beyond.
You may perhaps disagree with what I’ve written here, but let me put our disagreement into context.
There are actually two separate disagreements that we have about the Christian doctrine of the incarnation; we disagree as to whether the concept is even possible, and we disagree as to whether it actually happened. These are two separate disagreements.
My position is that to point to a man, who looks like a man, smells like a man, and does everything else like a man – and say that this man is somehow the God of Israel – is even more impossible and absurd than saying that good is bad, that light is dark and that east is west. This is not a “predisposed assumption”, but a truth that is based on the teaching of God (you could start with Isaiah 44).
That is my position on our first disagreement.
My second disagreement with you (and you seem to believe that this is our only disagreement) is that when you say that the incarnation actually happened, I say it did not. I say this primarily because of my position on our first disagreement, but I say this for other reasons as well. These are two separate disagreements.
You will acknowledge, I assume, that the burden of proof rests entirely on your shoulders. It is not enough for you to raise a question, a doubt in the minds of men, that this could have perhaps happened. You need to bring conclusive evidence that erases any shadow of doubt. The reason I say this, and the reason that I expect you to acknowledge this is simply because if you are wrong, then directing worship towards the man you are pointing to would represent the deepest violation of Israel’s covenant with God, and it would represent the most perfidious rebellion from created towards Creator.
It’s your turn Dalton.
P. S. Dalton, you may not be aware, but as part of my “anemic” contribution to this discussion I have already discussed this passage. I would humbly suggest that you find the articles I am referring to on my blog and on the Jews for Judaism website.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal