1 Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed,
As when at first He lightly esteemed
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
And afterward more heavily oppressed her,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
In Galilee of the Gentiles.
2 The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation
And increased its joy;
They rejoice before You
According to the joy of harvest,
The Government of the Promised Son
Though very difficult days were in the offing, the conclusion of chapter 8 indicates that the gloom might break. In particular, the one through whom this significant change is to come to pass is identified and described as a child. Verse one is a transition verse to what follows in the next six verses. The picture of total gloom which closed the preceding chapter gives way to a picture of brilliant light. The words of the Christmas carol, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” were taken right from this text in Isaiah:
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Shall come to thee, O Israel!
The Great Happiness (vv. 2-3).
The opening statement (“the people who walked in darkness”) seems to refer specifically to this geographical area. So Matthew construes it: “Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 15 The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: 16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” (Matt. 4:14-16). The “great light” referred to is Jesus Christ in person, as we can now clearly see in the light of the fulfillment that the New Testament brings.
Jesus was indeed that light, not only to those in Galilee but also on throughout the whole wide world. This role He affirmed in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” “Then Jesus said to them, ‘A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’ These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them. 37 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ 39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’ 41 These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him. (John 12:35-41).
“Light” in this context includes every possible blessing that the age of the Messiah can bring. This passage deserves to be classed with other great passages of the Bible like Genesis 1 and John 1, which also speak of the coming of light. As impossible as it might have seemed to the one who beheld it in its desolation at Isaiah’s time, this child would increase her joy—two comparisons are used: On the one hand the joy involved will be like that when “men rejoice over a harvest,” a type of joy indicative of unusual satisfaction. On the other hand it will be like when “men exult when they divide spoil.” What makes such joy deep is that it sets in after the pains and griefs of war have been resolved into victory and peace. This is what the gospel does for sinners.
—Pastor Randy Booth, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nacogdoches, TX
O Lord, our God, we humbly bow before the Son of Your love. We gladly acknowledge that without Him there is only gloom and despair. We must confess that the words of the prophet Isaiah have been true of us as well:
Our hope rests in Your zeal to perform Your purpose of redemption for Your people.
And may we, O Lord, be found faithful in Your covenant, as again declared by the prophet:
All of us have known gloom and darkness, because all of us are sinners, living in a sinful world. And as the people of God, we have all seen the Light. Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Our covenant God keeps His promises. By His grace, we have forsaken ourselves and entrusted ourselves to Him who is our Savior. The child born in Bethlehem is indeed, our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the saints at Colosse: “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:9-14).