In the Old Testament, a name is more than what someone is called. It points deeper to his or her character. In the first message of our More Than a Name Christmas series, Greg explores the context of Isaiah 9 and what it meant for Jesus to be prophesied as a Wonderful Counselor.
God’s original design was not to have earthly kings. It was only after the Israelites rebelled and demanded a king like all their neighbors that God accommodated their wish. He told them it would not go well for them, but they did not listen, and rejected God as their source of trust of guidance. After God accommodates this request, Yahweh begins to look very similar to all the other violent, territorial ancient near eastern deities. Nevertheless, God met his people where they were at and absorbed incorrect pictures his people had of him as a way to continue relationship.
So, when Isaiah prophesies about a coming king, it is to be understood in this context of God’s faithfulness to his people, even amidst their disobedience. The king was the center of the religious and political structure of their day. The people related to God through their king, and the king was responsible for the fate of his people.
The kings were consistently unfaithful to both God and their people. Eventually, the kingdom was split into the northern and the southern components. The northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria and the southern kingdom was in constant threat from their neighbors. Into this background Isaiah is born in 731 BCE. It is helpful to see his prophesy in Isaiah 9 in both an immediate and long-term narrative. Most scholars agree in the short-term Isaiah’s prophecy referred to King Hezekiah. As is the case with many of the biblical prophesies, the immediate application of the king fit many of the descriptions of Isaiah’s writing, but it is also clear, like in other cases, that Isaiah had his eyes on a future figure who would be the true savior of Israel. Hezekiah may have been kinder and more decent and trustworthy than kings that came before him, but he was by no means the prince of peace, or everlasting father. This is a good reminder for us today. If we find ourselves in the dark, the nation seems to be coming undone, everyone is seeing each other with mistrust as an enemy, we shouldn’t go looking for the next savior in a human king. Government in general is based on a mis-trust of God, so we should never expect them to bring everlasting peace.
When reading Isaiah, the early church immediately saw Jesus reflected in these ancient writings. His example is a reminder that we are ambassadors to a different kingdom with a different set of ethics. We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the Wonderful Counselor. All our hope is in his basket. There were many prophesies in the Old Testament that Jesus fulfilled, but not always in the way we think of when we hear the word prophecy. Rather than being a clear literal prediction of future events, many times Jesus’ fulfilling word meant rather that he filled out the meaning or brought clarity to the ancient words by his teaching and example. It is a way to fill out to the fullest the words that were written before.
It is worth taking note how incredible it was for a bunch of 1st century Jews to begin to put their faith in the man Jesus as God. This was one of the most fundamental tenants of their religion that God is one, and God is not human. It’s worth asking the question what Jesus must have been like to convince them.
The term wonderful counselor is an interesting expression. It’s better thought of as full of wonder or surprise, or even shock and contrary to common sense. As we examine Jesus’ teaching, this fits very well with the type of counter-cultural wisdom he challenged his listeners with. Ultimately, it was this counter-cultural wisdom and challenge that got Jesus crucified. For example, in Luke 4:32 it says his listeners were “astounded” (or shocked) by the authority of his teaching. This is not so much impressed, but rather shocked and even offended. This is a good reminder that to follow Jesus is to accept a different path than the ways of the world and put our trust in a different wisdom than self-preservation. An eye for an eye is common sense. Loving your enemies turns the world upside down. To live counter-culturally we need others around us choosing to live the same way. Our metaphorical log needs other logs to keep the fire burning. The world says it’s normal to have your best life now and get all you can, but we follow a different king that says we are to lay down our life for others and return evil with kindness. This is the transformational wisdom that has the power to change the world.
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