When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan— 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
The Israelites were God’s people. They enjoyed blessings most of the world couldn’t even dream of: They could approach God. Bring their case to him. Worship him. Inquire of him. And so on. It was as if they had a direct line to the president. But strangely, they never bothered to pick up the phone and call. When the prophet Isaiah realized this, he was shocked. He said, “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?” In his eyes, what the Israelites were doing didn’t make sense. They have this great blessing available to them, but instead of using it, they turn to those least qualified to help. Asking the dead about life is like asking the blind about the colors of a rainbow. Yet that’s what the Israelites were doing.
At this, the prophet shouted, “To the law and to the testimony!” The Bible is clear about many things. Just in the first chapters of Genesis, we see: where we come from. What God’s plan was. And how the world ended up in this condition. So many things can be learned from the Word of God. But what about choosing your major? Who to marry? And what to do after graduation? Can the Bible really offer insight into such personal matters for each person? Isaiah seems to think so. How else could he shout so boldly, “To the law and to the testimony!” As I think about my own experience, there have only been a few questions that have weighed heavily on me. One of them was when I received a promising job offer up north. The question at that time was, do I stay or do I leave? I struggled with it on my own for a while until finally, I decided to ask one servant of God what he thought. When I approached him, I was hoping he would just tell me what to do. Instead, he turned my own words back against me and asked, “What do you think?” Some people might’ve been frustrated hearing such a cop-out response like this; but as I thought about it some more, the answer came almost immediately. I could see I needed to stay here, even if it meant giving up that promising job offer. I realized this, not because someone spelled it out for me. But simply, that’s what I learned through the Bible. Through the Patriarchs, I saw how God encourages his people to be planted in the Promised Land. Sometimes it’s easy. But other times, it requires real faith. In that desperate moment of decision making, those who trust in the LORD always seem to come out on top. But for those who try to save their life, they find only more problems. I didn’t want to end up like one of those people who tries to hold onto everything and ends up with nothing. So I denied myself and put my life in God’s hand. And sure enough, in about one week, God’s abundant provision came raining down on me. Later, when I was asked to marry by faith, again I had serious doubts. But as I thought about my own life testimony, I could see whenever I trust God, things always seem to work out for the best. So I thought to myself, why should marriage be any different? Sure enough, God’s abundant provision again came pouring down on me. This is why, like Isaiah, I can be confident about the law and the testimony. When people are having a hard time, these are what I should point them to.
The prophet says, anything not based on these has no light of dawn. It means, despite how good the advice might sound, there is no real insight there. In the world, people often rely on human wisdom to guide them. They hear rumors from Mr. Worldly Wise Man about how the stock market will go. Or how to go about building a relationship with someone. A lot of time, what they say makes sense. But even so, if it’s not based on God, it doesn’t matter. That wisdom should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Otherwise, terrible things may happen.
Isaiah warns if people go that way, they will only be distressed and hungry. They want to live a good life, but nothing satisfies them. They pick the wrong major, home, career, marriage partner, and so on. When they look back on their life, all they see is a series of mistakes and heartaches. And they wonder, “Why? Why did this happen to me? How did my life end up like this? Where did I go wrong?” The answer is obvious actually. It’s because they didn’t rely on God. But rather than admit their own fault, many times, people choose to put the blame on others. They blame their parents. Their bosses. Their politicians. Even God himself. Why? Because it’s easier than admitting they were wrong. The sad thing is, by not acknowledging their own mistakes, they only perpetuate the problem.
Isaiah chapter 8 concludes by saying, “Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” But chapter 9 seems to nullify all of this with just a single word. “Nevertheless.” It means, despite what he just said, things don’t have to go that way. Even though people do wrong and make bad decisions, still, they can have a chance to enjoy a blessed life. This is great news for those living in darkness. No longer do they have to remain in their gloomy and distressed condition. In the past, it seemed there was only a dark future waiting for them. But now, they can actually have great hope for themselves. Not because of what they did, but because of what God did. This is the Christmas message.
Isaiah mentions how the land of Zebulun and Naphtali were humbled by God. But in the future, he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles. This is important because it shows the depth of God’s grace and power. Galilee was a ghetto which people despised. One disciple in the New Testament even questioned whether anything good could come from a place like that. Normally, the answer would be a resounding, “No.” But because of God, not only is it possible, but it happened. Galilee was transformed from a source of burden to a source of blessing for the whole world because that is where the Messiah came from. If God can do a great work like this even with Galilee, it means, there’s hope even for the worst person. When I think about Galilee, I can’t help but think about my own neighborhood of Compton. Many people see that place as if it’s the scum of the earth. And they assume, nothing good could possibly come from there. But just like with Galilee, God can transform that place into a blessing for the whole world. Indeed, he has already turned it into a blessing for me and many others.
Isaiah then said, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…” When people can’t see, they don’t know where they are going. And it’s easy for them to stumble and fall. Even though they want to move forward, they’re constantly worried about what might happen next. It’s not a good situation to be in, but sadly, this is the reality of the world. People just don’t know what the future holds for them. They want to hope things will turn out okay, but they can never be sure. It’s like with every decision they make, they’re gambling their entire future. So to hedge their bets, they do things like dating to try and figure out whether or not they’re compatible. But even after years of dating, still they’re unsure. Many times, these people end up taking the plunge only because after a while, they feel pressured to do it. But wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t have to live in darkness? Now because of God, it’s possible. This is one of the many blessings he has made available to people. No longer do they have to walk in darkness. Now, they can be confident about the decisions they make. And instead of wasting time trying so many things, they can just run full steam ahead, devoting themselves to what God wants them to do. Looking back, I see this is why I could marry by faith. And also, why I can live as shepherd. It’s because I know this is the path God has set before me. Therefore, I can walk freely as one who enjoys the light.
Then the prophet said, “…on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” When I hear this expression, in my mind, I picture death as a dark figure towering over the world. And those living in its shadow are ruled by its power. When people are influenced by death, they live a very depressing way of life. They adopt a YOLO perspective, and struggle to scratch everything from their bucket-list before they pass away. So they travel the world, go skydiving, and pick up all sorts of hobbies while they still have the chance. On the surface, it seems they’re doing all they ever wanted. And many praise them for their efforts. But really, they are just being ruled by death. These people are slaves and don’t have the freedom to truly do anything great in their life because they are too concerned about using this one life for themselves. But when the shadow of death is removed, people can start doing something meaningful with their lives again. Instead of being so focused on themselves, they can even live for others. I see this is the blessing God wants to bestow upon me. When the element of death is gone from my life, then, a life of power can take its place. But until that happens, I can’t give myself fully to God and his mission. Because I’m still concerned about myself. I worry about how my life will go and if I’ll be able to enjoy things the way I want. “LORD, help me to overcome the influence of death in my life.” I know this is a problem of mine, but strangely, I don’t deal with it with a sense of urgency. I see I need to turn to God so I will be able to enjoy this blessing more abundantly.
When this happens, then surely the words, “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy,” will be true in my life. In the message, it was mentioned how people tend to have a small vision for themselves. Their goal is to just get a good job, get married, have kids, and buy a nice house. Although it seems silly, I know in my heart, this is something I want. But part of the blessing God has made available to all people is that they don’t have to live such a small and meaningless way of life. Instead, they can become a Father and Mother of Many Nations and even bless the whole world. This is something I also want for myself. And I know God wants this for me as well. But many times, it’s hard to have faith this will actually happen. In mission life, I have gotten nowhere. After several years of famine like this, I can see I started to become complacent. Because of God, I used to dream about being a Father of Many Nations. But over time, my zeal for this faded away and I began to settle for a small citizen’s dream in this world. But through this passage, God is reminding me to hold onto his great vision for me. It makes me think about the key verse of my wedding. Because Wendy and I are already so suitable for each other, I thought Genesis 2:18 would be more appropriate. But to my surprise, we were given Genesis 17:5 instead. Looking back on it now, I see it’s because this is God’s hope for me. That in life, I truly would become a Father of Many Nations. I thank God he is still fighting to make this happen. I see now I have to join him in this fight so this great vision can be fulfilled quickly in my life!
One Word: Despite how people have lived, still they can be blessed and live as a source of blessing because of what God has done.