Isaiah 9:1-4

Isaiah 9:1-4
Ordinary A9


1 But there will be no gloomA for those who were in anguish.B In the former time he brought into contemptC the land of ZebulunD and the land of Naphtali,E but in the latter time he will make gloriousF the wayG of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan,H GalileeI of the nations.J

Notes on verse 1

A “gloom” = muaph. 1x in OT. From teuphah (gloom, darkness); from uph (perhaps to fly, flee, be weary or faint; to cover with wings or to obscure; it is fainting in reference to the darkness one experiences when swooning). This is properly covered and, by extension, darkness. It can also be gloom, obscurity, or general distress.
B “anguish” = mutsaq. 3x in OT. From tsuq (to press on, constrain; figuratively, to oppress) OR from yatsaq (to pour, pour out, flow, cast, be molten as liquid metal is cast; this implies firmness or growing hard). This is narrowness, distress, or anguish. It can also mean being frozen.
C “brought into contempt” = qalal. This is to be little or of no consequence. It could be something or someone that is evaluated as trivial, despised, or even cursed. Properly, this is to be or make light so it could mean swift, small or sharp in a literal sense. In a figurative sense it could mean easy, trifling, or vile.
D “Zebulun” = Zebulun. From zabal (to inclose and so to reside, to dwell). This is Zebulun, which may mean habitation or something similar. It refers to the son of Jacob, his descendants, and the land they inhabited.
E “Naphtali” = Naphtali. From pathal (to twist, twine, wrestle, struggle). This is Naphtali, which means my wrestling. It refers to the son of Jacob, his descendants, and the land they inhabited.
F “make glorious” = kabad. To be heavy, weighty, or burdensome. This is can be heaviness in a positive sense like abounding in, numerous, rich, or honorable. This is the root verb that the Hebrew word for “glory” comes from (kabod). It can also be used in a negative sense like burdensome or severe.
G “way” = derek. From darak (to tread, march, to walk. Can also mean affixing a string to a box since one needs to step on it to bend it in the process; so also an archer). This is a road as a thing that is walked on. Can be used figuratively for the path that one’s life takes or how one chooses to live one’s life.
H “Jordan” = yarden. From yarad (to go or come down; figuratively to fall; can also be used causatively to mean bring down). This is the Jordan, largest river in Palestine.
I “Galilee” = galil. 6x in OT. From galal (to roll, roll away, remove, trust, wallow). This is cylinder, rod, circuit, district, or Galilee.
J “nations” = goy. From the same as gevah (the back, body, or person); related to gaah (to rise up). This is nation or people. It can also be someone’s name. Often used in the Old Testament to refer to Gentiles or foreign nations. By way of Yiddish, “goy” refers to any non-Jewish person.

2  The people who walkedK in darknessL
    have seen a greatM light;N
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—O
    on them light has shined.P
3 You have multipliedQ the nation,
    you have increasedR its joy;S
they rejoiceT before youU
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exultV when dividingW plunder.

Notes on verses 2-3

K “walked” = halak. This is go, come, walk. It is walk literally and figuratively and includes people and animals. It can be used figuratively for one’s moral life – how we walk according to God’s way or against it. It can also refer to the walk of life as in the course one’s life takes, the choices we make, etc.
L “darkness” = choshek. From chashak (to be or become dark). This is literal darkness. It is also obscurity, misery, destruction, death, night, sorrow, and wickedness. It can refer to secret places or to distress, dread, or terror. It is symbolic of judgment, mourning, perplexity, ignorance, evil, or sin.
M “great” = gadol. From gadal (to grow up, become great, become wealthy – to advance. The root meaning may be to twist in the sense of the process of growing). This is great, high, bigger, noble, old, marvelous. It can also refer to someone who is powerful or distinguished.
N “light” = or. From or (to be or become light). This is light, sun, sunshine, dawn, or daylight. Figuratively, it can refer to light from instruction, light of a face (that is to say one that is cheerful or finds favor). It can refer to prosperity or salvation; a light that guides, a light eternal from Zion.
O “deep darkness” = tsalmaveth. 18x in OT – including Ps 23:4 “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” From tsel (shadow, shade, shelter, defense, protection; used literally and figuratively) (from tsalal (to be or become dark; to cast a shade like twilight or an object that is opaque)) + maveth (death, the dead, the place of the dead; used figuratively for pestilence or ruin) (from muth (to die or be put to death; destroyer)). This word is a death-like shadow or a very dark shadow. It can refer to the grave or a severe calamity.
P “shined” = nagah. 6x in OT. This is to shine, illuminate; figuratively, can mean enlighten.
Q “multiplied” = rabah. To multiply; to be or become many or great. This is an increase in any aspect: abundance, authority, excellence, quantity, length, etc.
R “increased” = gadal. Related to “great” in v2. See note M above.
S “joy” = simchah. From samach (to rejoice, be glad; properly, to brighten up; also used figuratively). This is joy, rejoicing, pleasure, or glee.
T “rejoice” = samach. Related to “joy” in v3. See note S above.
U “before you” = paneh. Literally “before your face.”
V “exult” = gil. Properly, this refers to one’s reaction to any very strong emotion – spinning around either rejoicing or as cringing in fear. This is to rejoice, be glad, be joyful, or to cry. This is part of where the name Abigail comes from.
W “dividing” = chalaq. This is to be smooth, which described the stones that were used to cast lots. Because of this connection, this verb meant dealing, dividing, sharing, distributing. In reference to the smoothness, this word is also used for flattery, particularly flattery with an ulterior motive.

4 For the yoke of their burden,
    and the barX across their shoulders,Y
    the rodZ of their oppressor,AA
    you have brokenBB as on the day of Midian.CC

Notes on verse 4

X “bar” = matteh. From natah (to stretch or spread out, extend, incline, bend). This is a staff, rod, shaft, branch, or tribe. It is a rod for chastising or correction, a scepter for ruling, a lance for throwing, a staff for walking, etc.
Y “shoulders” = shekem. May be from shakam (to start or rise early; to lean one’s shoulder into a burden; literally it means to place a load on a person or animal’s back). This is the shoulder as the place of burdens. Figuratively, it is used to describe the spur of a hill. This is where the place name Shechem comes from.
Z “rod” = shebet. This is a rod, staff, club, scepter, dart, or tribe. Literally a stick that can be used for punishing, writing, fighting, walking, ruling; thus, used figuratively for a clan.
AA “oppressor” = nagas. To press, drive, oppress, exact. This can also be a taskmaster, overseer or ruler. This word means to drive an animal, worker, or army. By implication, it is to tax, harass, tyrannize, or cause distress (treating people like animals).
BB “broken” = chathath. Properly to prostrate and so to break apart either literally through violence or figuratively in fear and confusion. This is to break, crack, be shattered, dismayed, frightened, discourage, stand in away, or amaze.
CC “Midian” = midyan. From din (to judge, defend, dispute, quarrel, strive, vindicate, govern). This is the name of a son of Abraham and Keturah, their descendants, and the place where they lived.

Image Credit: “Creative Arts and Labor” – a study for a mural by Aaron Douglas, 1963.

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