Prince of Peace

We are promised a king who will reign in the wisdom, power, and faithful love of God; therefore he will be the Prince of Peace.  Remove any of the first three names, and this fourth one becomes impossible, inconceivable, unfathomable.  Coming after all three of them, however, this one is almost inevitable.  Isaiah describes a ruler with the love and commitment to desire only what is good and right, the wisdom to understand how to make all things good and right, and the power to make that happen and to defeat any who would try to oppose him.  What else would such a monarch bring but peace?

This doesn’t just mean the absence of war, either.  If a king were powerful enough, he could accomplish that without being either wise or loving.  The biblical concept of peace is much bigger and much greater than that.  As I’ve said before, this is one of those Hebrew words that’s worth learning for everybody, because you can’t translate it with anything less than a paragraph.  This is the word shalom.

At its root, it means to be whole, perfectly complete and unmarred; it carries within it the concept we call integrity.  To experience shalom, to live in the peace of God, is to be in complete harmony:  first of all with God and his will; and because of that, second, within yourself.  The result is a calm, unshakeable sense that all is well, and freedom from anxiety.  This in turn creates harmony with others, to the extent that they are willing to be at peace with you.  There will always be those who aren’t, whatever their reasons; the peace of God gives you the ability to behave peaceably toward them regardless, and to pursue peace with them even so.  A life of shalom is a life lived in tune with God, ordered by his order, in accordance with his will.

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Everlasting Father

In reading Isaiah 9, I’ve always snagged on this third name:  “Everlasting Father.”  For one thing, you’d think Isaiah’s contemporaries must have had trouble with that one, too.  A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and he will be called Everlasting Father.  Putting those two things together, the fatherhood of a child, seems odd.  If the people of Judah and Israel had been in the habit of using “Father” as a title for their kings, that would have been one thing—they would have been used to seeing that sort of name hung on baby boys—but that had never been the case.  God was described as the Father of his people, and he didn’t even share that title with David.  To have this baby called “Father” is unprecedented.  To have him called “Everlasting Father,” one who will be the Father of his people for eternity, is even more so.  This is a title which could only be given to God—and here God’s prophet is using it as a name for a human baby boy.

Now, this looks less strange to us, since we know “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say; we know how Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled.  But is Jesus ever called “Father” in the New Testament?  No—he’s the Son, Son of Man and Son of God.  If we were to call him “Father,” wouldn’t that make God the Father our grandfather?  But Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray, “Our Grandfather,” he tells us to pray, “Our Father,” to see God the Father as our Father as well as his.  So how does it make sense to call Jesus “Everlasting Father”?

To understand this, we need to hold fast to the first principle of biblical interpretation:  let Scripture interpret Scripture.  In particular, we need to learn from the great rabbis, such as Gamaliel who taught the Apostle Paul:  if you want to know how to understand a word, go see where it’s used elsewhere in Scripture.  So when the Old Testament calls God Father, what does it say?

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Mighty God

(Isaiah 9:1-7John 20:19-29)

To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and that child will be the king who will bring an end to war and oppression and all the darkness of the world.  He will be the perfect king who will rule forever and bring eternal peace—but not the peace of the tyrant, who brings the peace of the grave by crushing dissent and killing anyone who opposes him.  His peace will be a peace of life and growth, in which all the world will flourish.  He will bring this about through his wisdom, for he is the miraculously-wise counselor, the one who speaks and leads with the perfect wisdom of the Lord of all creation.  He will bring this about through his power, for he is the mighty God.

The word for “mighty” in the Hebrew is an adjective, but it was often used as a noun, rather like our national anthem calls America “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  When it was used this way, it meant a great warrior or a great hero.  The meaning is clear.  This child who is king because he is God will not only rule with the wisdom of God, he will defend his people with the power of God, and so he will be incomparably mighty in battle.  He will defeat all his enemies, and he will never be overcome.  His kingdom will endure forever because there will never be any power that can conquer it; it will grow forever because there will never be any power that can stand against it.  His people will know absolute security and freedom from any threat.

That all sounds conventional enough.  Empires grow by winning battles and wars, after all, and they start to shrink when they start losing.  If you’re going to envision a ruler who will reign forever and whose kingdom will never stop expanding, it’s probably going to have to be someone who never loses a battle, let alone a war.  That’s why the greatest empire-builders in human history have been military geniuses like Alexander the Great.  But the funny thing is, that’s not actually what God has in mind.Read more

Wonderful Counselor

(Isaiah 7:1-17Isaiah 9:1-7John 12:20-26)

The people of God were a house divided.  They had been ever since the death of King Solomon.  In the later years of his reign, Solomon turned away from God and the ways of his father, King David, to worship the false gods of the surrounding nations.  In judgment, God took the ten northern tribes away from Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam.  The northern tribes became the kingdom of Israel, which was sometimes referred to as Ephraim, for its dominant tribe.  The south was known as the kingdom of Judah, after its dominant tribe.  One people became two nations; as is the way of the human heart, self-will and the desire for power and control turned that separation into rivalry, and often enmity.

In the days of King Ahaz of Judah, Israel allied with Syria to launch a plot against Judah—a plot to remove Ahaz from the throne of David and replace him with a Syrian puppet king.  This was nothing God would ever allow to happen, whatever might be said for Ahaz himself—which wasn’t much, to be honest—because it would violate the covenant promise God had made to David.  To reassure and encourage the king, God sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz that hewould take care of those two burned-out torches.  Just sit quiet, don’t worry, and don’t do anything, Isaiah says, because God will stop them.  What’s more, the prophet makes clear that this is the king’s only hope:  “If you don’t stand by faith, you won’t stand at all.”  To confirm his promise, God invites the king to ask for a sign—anything at all—and God will do it.

Unfortunately, while Ahaz has spent his entire life around the worship of God, he doesn’t really worship God himself.  In our terms, he’s the sort who’s in church every Sunday but isn’t actually saved.  Like a lot of folks like that, he’s become adept at using the Bible and spiritual-sounding language to make excuses for not doing what God has explicitly told him to do.  He’s so good at that, in fact, that he thinks he can pull that on God’s own prophet and get away with it.  He doesn’t.Read more