“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
Ours is a world in which few people would look to the government for signs of hope. Corruption of power seems more the norm than the ideal presented in Isaiah’s vision of a government ruled by a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, or Prince of Peace. Instead, most view government with a sense of cynicism and despair, and few would see government as the conduit for peace.
In Isaiah’s day, there were many foreign powers and rulers that threatened both Israel and Judah. And, within Isaiah’s lifetime, Judah would go into exile under Babylonian rule. Thus, the original recipients of Isaiah’s prophecy would have heard a promise that a king was coming who would be wise and powerful. He would inaugurate an everlasting age of peace, and foreign powers would no longer threaten or rule over the people of Israel. This prophecy brought light in dark times.
However, the history of Israel tells another story. Isaiah lived and prophesied during the divided kingdom of Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Israel would be conquered by the Assyrians, and soon the kingdom of Judah would be ruled by the Babylonians. Judah would continue to see foreign powers rule over her in the form of the Persians, Greeks, and the Romans. Ultimately, Judah would see the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora of its people from the land.
Was Isaiah wrong in his prophecy, or did he see something more than simply a political kingdom or earthly government for the Jewish people?
The promised child foretold in Isaiah’s vision was not simply a human king or ruler who would come to establish an earthly kingdom. Rather, the titles Mighty God and Everlasting Father attributed to the child to be born indicate that this coming ruler is divine. While the Jews did not have a concept of incarnation in their understanding of God, Isaiah foresees a day when God would be with the people, as Immanuel, “God with us.” And if God was the one who would come among human beings to rule and reign, then that rule would be characterized by wisdom, Wonderful Counselor, and peace—shalom—the well-being of all the people.
But, what kind of peace does God bring if it is not the peace that ends wars and strife among human beings and with the created world? We begin to find answers in the advent of Jesus, and his death and resurrection.
First, the peace that God brings in Jesus heals our estrangement that results from sin. The apostle Paul writes: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). This is the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15); God is “making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).
Second, the peace that God brings enables us to have peace within our hearts because of our reconciliation with our Creator and his Spirit at work within us. It is the well-being that comes from reconciliation with God.
Third, because we have peace within, we can pursue peace with others—friends and enemies—alike. Indeed, the apostle Paul marvels at the new unity between Jew and Gentile when he writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, (Ephesians 2:14-15).
Isaiah’s vision came at a time of intense fear for Judah when foreign powers attacked and oppressed her on every side. He saw a day when God would rule the people with wisdom and peace and when this rule would have no end. We, too, can take heart, no matter where we live and no matter the government we live under. God has come near to us in Jesus and established a government that is available to us as we walk in fellowship under his rule. In Jesus, we have a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, and a Prince of Peace.
Margaret Manning Shull is an adjunct speaker and writer with RZIM and a licensed counselor.