Real Hope for Real Times Isaiah 9:1-7

Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

Sometimes my hope seems like wishful thinking more than the real thing. As we face our nation’s elections one week from today, wishful thinking won’t cut it. Positivity will fall short. Slogans and campaign promises will evaporate like rain over the Mojave.

In my last post I asked “How Might We Trust God for Election 2020?” Today I’m asking “What do we need to give us real hope?” Only the eternal word spoken by the Living God can shape and sustain real hope. That’s why we’re turning to the “Gospel according to Isaiah” in the days leading up to our national elections. And that’s why we’ll keep listening to God’s word through Isaiah for many days after it.

Our Hope is Too Small

Last week’s post was long and messy. Thank you for slogging through it with me. Today you’ll see why the historical details were important. There is a direct connection between the details of history and the vision of prophecy.

When we’re trying to understand world events, whether in Isaiah’s day or our own, things quickly become complicated and confusing. That’s the messy reality in which we live. Only in hindsight do we gain a little clarity. Only after the smoke has cleared can we truly evaluate what happened and decide if our deciding was wise.

That’s why I’m so grateful for the light God’s word can shine into our hearts before we cast our votes. Today’s question is not, Who are you voting for? but What are you hoping for?

When I look at the two major party candidates, my hopes are pretty modest. I just hope neither of them will ruin what’s left of our country. And I pray that the Union will survive.

But when I look at the Scriptures, I see a big hope, big enough to cast all my fears on. Biblical hope is the opposite of wishful thinking; it’s based on future certainty. A real hope for the realities we face. A hope, not just for blacks or whites or progressives or conservatives, but for all people who are willing to place all their chips on the biblical announcement.

Why are we tempted to despair when we read the headlines? Our hope is too small.

Light for the Clueless Ones–Isaiah 9:1-2

Isaiah 8 left us in deep darkness. In fact Isaiah uses 3 separate phrases to describe the terrible times ahead for Judah:

“And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”

Isaiah 8:22

Can you remember a dark time in your life? Chances are you can. Distress etches such experiences into our memories. The smallest whiff of a similar trouble brings it all back. We long for the day when we will finally be free from the recurring stress that follows a terrible trauma.

But what’s this? Suddenly, Isaiah turns from gloom to light. It takes us by surprise! Isaiah gives Judah prophetic certainty that the darkness will be over–not just temporarily, but forever.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish…

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them light shone.

Isaiah 9:1a, 2

Gloom is answered by “no gloom.” Anguish becomes past tense. The people stumbling in darkness are so certain to see a great light, that Isaiah says “it’s as good as done.” Deep darkness is banished by a shining light.

Who are these people Isaiah is talking about?

The land of Zebulun and Naphtali are the northernmost tribes of Israel. Closest to their pagan neighbors, they were Israel’s weak point. Invasion and idolatry swept over them in waves, diluting true religion and laying them open to further conquest. The area was even tagged “Galilee of the Gentiles” because it had become so overrun.

Joy for the Hopeless Ones–Isaiah 9:3-7

But that’s not the end of their story. This is the very place where Jesus began his ministry. Yes! Matthew tells us that right after John the Baptist had been arrested, Jesus left his hometown and moved here, to “Galilee of the Gentiles.” He not only fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, he brought light to the darkest place first.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

The clueless ones needed light. That’s why Jesus called them to repentance–so they could see. But what about the hopeless ones? What do they need?

Have you ever been conquered over and over again by an addiction or a personal failure or even an adversary? If so, you know about hopelessness. Repeated conflict or failure chips away at our resolve. Eventually, we simply quit trying.

But what if things change? The tide turns? What if, suddenly, help comes from the outside. Unexpected. Unplanned. Without warning. What do we do then?

Do we think, oh, that’s nice. Do we politely say, “Thank you very much” in a small handwritten note on our best stationery? No. We explode with joy! We whoop and holler and dance around, grabbing a partner and whirling them around in dizzy circles.

Exactly! says Isaiah:

You have multiplied the nation;

you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,

as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

Isaiah 9:3

What kind of help is “this help from the outside”? It’s explained in 3 statements starting with the word “for:”

  • First, release from all oppression (the yoke)
  • Second, destruction of all weapons
  • Third, coming of the Promised Ruler

Wouldn’t we whoop if anyone could fulfill those campaign promises? Real hope stirs the power of joy!

Peace for the Restless Ones

Finally, God promises peace for the restless ones. Our passage ends with these words

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…

The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 7:a,d

Our peace quickly comes to an end, sometimes because circumstances fall apart, but other times simply because we fall apart! We don’t have the ability to sustain our own peace, much less the peace of our nation.

Only the Commander in Chief of all commanders in chief has that power–not just to bring peace, but to maintain it forever. As we wait for our Lord Jesus to come and bring in his eternal reign of peace, let’s ask him for two things as we head to the polls:

      • First, for his peace to rule our hearts as we fulfill our duties as citizens
      • Second, for us to be messengers of peace, both politically and spiritually

Unfortunately, the turmoil won’t be over after the votes are counted. Our relatives, friends, and neighbors will be tempted to gloat or cuss, to attack or withdraw. We will be tempted, too.

But Jesus calls believers to live as children of God: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).”

Until Christ returns to bring his perfect reign of peace, let’s ask him for his Spirit of peace to rule our hearts, and his gospel of peace to fill our mouths.