Isaiah, Zebulun, and a great light

Here we go kids, another Jesus prophecy. It is kind of like shooting dead fish in a barrel, but since some actually think these prophecies actually work, we’ll plunge ahead. Matthew seems to be pretty prophecy referral dense, so it doesn’t take long to come to the next one in Matthew 4:15. The context is Jesus just tempted by the devil and John the Baptist got arrested. So, the story has Jesus leaving Nazareth and dwelling in Capernaum by the sea. Starting with Matthew 3:13:

…and leaving Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphatali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“The land of Zebulun and the land
of Naptali
toward the sea, across the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles –
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region
and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

Sounds good, dawning of light taking away the shadow of death and all. Very poetic. What does Isaiah say? Just for fun, let’s include more context, eh? Starting with Isaiah 9:1:

But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naptali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep
on them has light shined.
Thou hast multiplied the nation,
thou hast increased its joy;
they rejoice before thee
as with joy at the harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide
the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
thou has broken as on the day
of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of
Of the increase of his government
and of peace there will be no end,
upon the throne of David and over
his kingdom
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for ever more.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

So what else is going on here, besides giving Handel some verses for the Messiah? In the previous verse, he was giving Ahaz the Immanuel sign about which I wrote previously. Now Immanuel is born and he’s talking about Assyria taking over Samaria and Damascus and God is going to hide his face from Jacob (symbolic for Israel) and there will gloom and anguish. But the land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be fine this time. Boots and clothing from the soldiers wil be used as fuel. That’s essentially it. As for the “unto us a son is given” aspect, this seems to almost work if you want to see it that way. It may seem a mystery that Matthew doesn’t grab this one, unless of course there was a well established tradition for a different interpretation. In fact Jewish tradition holds that it was King Hezekiah to which the “child is born” aspect refers (see here), not any future Messiah hundreds of years hence. Some discussion on this may be found here and here as well. This shows how translation problems (and comma insertions) along with a change in tense shows that this prophecy was used incorrectly by Christians.

There are some Christian objections to this claim, and claim that the Jewish scholars are misinterpreting their own scripture. At the very least, this shows the “prophecy” is ambiguous at best. Within it are no further clues to corroborate anything about the life of Jesus. Further, read in context, it certainly looks like the whole thing is framed with the context of an actual physical war, which a certain king is going to help win. It doesn’t sound anything like what is claimed for Jesus’ ministry.

So if you already are convinced that this is a prophecy of Jesus, chances are these arguments will not persuade you. But neither are they at all persuasive to someone you are trying convince. As all the other prophecies so far have been easily demolished, if you’re left with only this one, you are on pretty shaky ground.

More in this series.


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2 Responses to “Isaiah, Zebulun, and a great light”

  1. Marcus Says:

    Actually the use of this prophecy by Matthew is perfectly justified as inspired by the spirit. The visions in the old testament in many ways are like parallels and multiple access points which the temporal context is just a mere chance to talk about the greater future. Description about Satan in Ezekial for eg, if localized to the temporal context could only be referred to a local king but it doesn’t.
    One have to understand that visions when granted by an Almighty Being who sees yesterday, today and forever holds much more revelation that what meets the mere temporal context, in the example in isaiah the temporal context of a war does not even deserve such many visions from the Lord unless the visions hold much more value and future reference, as such, the Messiah is worthy of its context and true reason for the message.
    If you really want to read or understand the scripture, take the first step, be born again, else you are just fruitlessly examining something that you will never be able to grasp.

    1 Cor 2: 14
    A person who isn’t spiritual doesn’t accept the things of God’s Spirit, for they are nonsense to him. He can’t understand them because they are spiritually evaluated.

  2. liquidthinker Says:

    Actually, Marcus, you are kind of making my point for me. You are saying, essentially, that one must accept the conclusions and then proceed to understand the prophecy fulfillment based on the assumed conclusions. I understand one can get a “warm fuzzy” or “spiritual” feeling from doing this. However, it does illustrate why such an approach can not work to demonstrate to nonbelievers how such prophecies provide objective independent verification for the subject matter in question.

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