The Book of Isaiah contains some of the most amazing and vivid prophesies in the Old Testament about the coming of Christ. Chapter nine of the book talked about the final messianic victory in Galilee.
In Isaiah 9:1-2, it was declared:
1 But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
2 The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.
These same verses were quoted in Matthew 4:13-16 about Jesus:
13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphatali.
14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
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 were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned."
Isaiah often starts on a positive note. Before proclaiming the full destruction of Israel, he first predicts how God will bless that territory in the future. The area selected is the most northern part of the nation that is allocated to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. These names were of two of Jacob’s sons (Gen. 35:23-26), and their descendants became two of the tribes that ultimately settled in these northern regions. These two tribes, nevertheless were among the 10 tribes who gave up their faith in God and turned to worldliness and sinfulness.
As this is located at the border of the nation, it faces frequent oppressions from foreign nations. In fact in the Assyrians conquest of Israel, this is the first area to be annexed. Isaiah 9:2 says that in the future such gloom and anguish will be no more as in contrast there will be a great light. Truly, there can be no greater light than Christ (1John 1). Amazingly Isaiah even states that this will be the area of Galilee. A look at bible atlases will show that Zebulun and Naphtali in the OT are in the same area as Galilee where Christ ministers in the NT. Thus Christ' s Galilean ministry related in Matthew 4:13 is a direct fulfillment of this prophecy.
Isaiah had made this prophecy many years before the birth of Christ. Modern scholars often assert that this is impossible and postulate that it must be added or edited after the beginning of the Christian era. However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran in 1947, the authenticity of these verses that it is written before Christ, can now be firmly established. The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) is one of the seven original Scrolls. It is the largest (734 cm) and best preserved and the only one that is almost complete. The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the Hebrew version of the Book of Isaiah. Dating from ca. 125 BCE, it is also one of the oldest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some one thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible known before the scrolls' discovery. The Book of Isaiah contained prophetic words dating from the time of the First Temple, around 700 BCE, and later chapters around the time of the Babylonian exile and the restoration of the Temple in the Persian Period. Several prophesies appearing in the Book of Isaiah have become cornerstones for Christian believes, such as those in chapter 53. And 9:1-7 are among the most amazing and renowned of all of them.
"By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan" thus refers to the geography from the view point of the Assyrian invaders. To them the region of Zebulun and Naphtali would be across the Jordan River on the way to the Mediterranean. In "region of the Gentiles", the word for region is "galil" and can easily become Galilee, the switch does not much affect the meaning of the verse as Zebulun and Naphtali were both in Galilee. While Galilee had a large Jewish population the majority of the people there were then Gentiles. The mention of the Gentiles is part of another important theme in Matthew of showing that Jesus' message is meant for both Jews and Gentiles.
Whatever the problems in Galilee, there is this remarkable prophecy in Isaiah—that even in the dark land of Zebulun and Naphtali, “‘on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’”! In other words, here—where the need was so great, where people were deemed wicked, sinful, fallen—Jesus came and lived and ministered among them. we can only see the willingness of Jesus our Lord to humble Himself for our sakes.
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