“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.”
Is the above passage a prophecy concerning the one whom Christians would come to call “God the Son, second person of the Trinity?”
First, the Hebrew states that such a child is already born. Itʼs not a prophecy about the distant future.
Second, Isaiah 9:6 was written at a time when King Hezekiah of the northern Jewish kingdom of Judah made sweeping reforms that closed down the sites of rival deities or rival holy sites of Yahweh worship that were scattered throughout his kingdom since long ago, and centralized worship of Yahweh in Jerusalem. The future of Hezekiahʼs kingdom had been in doubt under King Ahaz his father, but Hezekiah put his nation (and ways of thinking about his nationʼs deity) on the straight and narrow. Scholars discuss how Jewish henotheism and monolatry most probably developed into true monotheism during Hezekiahʼs reign and his enforcement of centralized worship in Jerusalem. In similar fashion religious leaders and scribes in Jerusalem tweaked earlier tales to make all past beliefs concerning Yahweh and other gods at various ancient holy sties appear ‘evil.’ See for instance the following scholarly investigations: The Rise of Monotheism in Ancient Israel; — Religio-Historical Approaches: Monotheism, Method, and Mortality; — Yahwehʼs Ascendancy; — The Human Faces of God: polytheism in pre-exile Israel & — the follow up piece.
2 Kings 18:5-7 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, Israelʼs God. There was no one like him among all of Judahʼs kings—not before him and not after him. He clung to the LORD and never deviated from him. He kept the commandments that the LORD had commanded Moses. The LORD was with Hezekiah; he succeeded at everything he tried.
Hezekiah was also king when Jerusalem survived an attempted conquest by the Assyrian army that was interpreted back then as a supernatural sign of approval of his kingship. (The name or phrase, “Emmanuel” also appears in reference to this event, since the literal Hebrew means, “God [is] with us,” meaning that God was on king Hezekiahʼs side):
2 Chronicles 32:7-9 “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
Afterwards, the nation enjoyed a period of peace unlike that seen when king Ahaz was so fearful of nearby nations rising up against him, since the Assyrians also wiped out the two nearby kingdoms Ahaz had fretted over. Hezekiah was also most likely the child referred to in the Book of Isaiah when Ahaz was promised that a child would be born and that the two nations Ahaz feared most would be laid waste (“before he [the child] had learned to reject evil and choose good”).
Third, inserting ‘god’ into personal names was common practice in the ancient world dating as far back as the Sumerians and later adopted by the Israelites (examples will be provided further below).
Fourth, the name in Isaiah 9:6 lacks articles, so it can be translated several ways. Below are three of them (a fourth is also mentioned further down):
“Wonderful in counsel is God the mighty, the Everlasting Father, the Ruler of Peace” (Hertz 1968).
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, will call his name Prince of Peace” (based on the verb ‘ill call’ being active, not passive, and so it can be rendered most naturally with ‘the Mighty God/Everlasting Father’ as the subject and ‘Prince of Peace’ as the object).
“Wonderful in counsel is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
In another part of the Book of Isaiah Christians interpret the child given as a ‘sign’ to King Ahaz as Jesus, again, itʼs not a distant future prophecy but about a child born during Ahazʼs reign as a sign to him, so that when the child reached a certain age the two kings whom Ahaz feared would no longer be in power. The authors of the Christian Gospels mined the Old Testament for snippets like these, ignored the tense as well as the literary and historical context of the stories from which they plucked such passages. And they ignored the ancient usage of names with ‘god’ in them found throughout the ancient Near East. “His name shall be called” does not state what the person literally is, but what they shall be called. Big difference, since it was part of the ancient practice of praising god within a personʼs name. This made sense in the case of praising a king like Hezekiah.
An additional example of such a naming practice can be seen in Jeremiah 23:5-6 (KJV) “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, ‘The Lord Our Righteousness’.” But a more accurate translation above of the name in Jeremiah is “God [IS] our righteousness.” The article, ‘is’ is understood, but Christians left it out in the case of Isaiah 9:6 for obvious theological reasons, so that they could falsely claim such a name was a prophecy about Jesus. See the three translations of Isaiah 9:6 already cited above, all valid. See also this one: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, ‘Wonderful, Counselor [IS] The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.’” The two letter word ‘is,’ is usually not stated in Hebrew. Rather, the ‘is’ is understood. For example, the words ‘hakelev’ (the dog) and ‘gadol’ (big), when joined into a sentence in Hebrew, ‘hakelev gadol,’ means “the dog IS big,” even though no Hebrew word in that sentence represents the word ‘is.’ A more accurate translation of the name of that child, then, would be “A wonderful counselor IS the mighty God, the everlasting father…” This was a common practice, to praise god within a human personʼs name.
Or take the name ‘Emanuel,’ that appears elsewhere in Isaiah (and which in context is not a ‘virgin birth’ prophecy that applies to Jesus of Nazareth in the distant future, but instead applies to a woman already carrying a child who will soon be born as a sign to King Ahaz in Isaiahʼs own day). ‘Emmanuel’ translated means “God [IS] with us,” merely to indicate the belief that “God is on oneʼs side,” as in the case of the Assyrian attack on the kingdom of Hezekiah that failed, and where the name ‘Emmanuel’ also appears in context — see the book of Chronicles.
Biblical names often describe God, and no one thinks to apply the description literally to the people with these names:
- Isaiah ‘God [is] salvation’
- Tuviya ‘God [is] good’
- Yedaya ‘God knows’
- Ya-el ‘God [is] God.’
Other Hebrew names include:
- Abimael ‘my father [is] God,’ or ‘God [is] father’
- Hiel the Bethelite, Heb. אֲחִיאֵל ,חִיאֵל ‘the [divine] brother,or kinsman [is] God’
- Joshua ‘God saves’
- Jehoshaphat ‘God Judges’
- Eliadah ‘God Knows’
- Jehoaddan ‘YHWH delights’
- Ben Hesed ‘Son of Grace’
- Elasah ‘made [by] God’
- Maasiai ‘Worker [of] Jehovah’
- Joiarib ‘God will contend’
- Ahitub ‘good, brother [of] goodness, or father [of] goodness’
- Abdeel ‘Servant [of] God’
- Abdi is probably an abbreviation of Obediah, meaning ‘servant [of] YHWH’
- Machbanai ‘Clad with a mantle, or bond [of the] Lord’
- Matthat ‘Gift [of] God,’ (possibly also translated as Matthan)
Hence to a Jewish scholar the figure being named in Isa. 9:6 is not a divine figure, but a human being with a name that praises god:
“For to us a child has been born, to us a son has been given [note the tense, not aiming at the distant future at all], and the government is upon his shoulder, and he called his name ‘Wonderful in Counsel, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’“ (That the government may be increased and that there be no end to the peace upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom [Hezekiah fits such a bill], to establish and uphold it through justice and righteousness from now and forever-may the zeal of the Lord of hosts perform this.”)
Also consider that King Hezekiah, inherited the throne from his father, King Ahaz, so both the ‘Emmanuel’ prophecy in Isaiah and the name in Isaiah 9:6 that features the words, ‘Mighty God,’ are part of the same family history. “The government is upon his shoulder,” in the present, not that it ‘will be’ in the future. Likewise, his reign extends ‘from now and forever,’ with the Hebrew word ‘olam’ (forever) not to be taken literally. ‘No end to the peace’ is also to be understood figuratively, as it is used elsewhere: Ecclesiastes 4:8…and there is no end to all his toil… Isaiah 2:7 Their land is full of silver and gold-there is no end to their treasures; their land is full of horses-there is no end to their chariots.
For more on Hezekiah and his kingdom of Judah being invaded by the Assyrian army note the following supplemental passages that support such an interpretation:
Isaiah 8:7-8 Now therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the river, mighty and many—[namely] the king of Assyria and all his glory—and it will rise over all its channels and overflow all its banks. And it will sweep on into Judah….
When the Assyrians were encamped outside the gates of Jerusalem:
Isaiah 37:36 And the angel of the Lord went forth and killed 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians, and when the men arose early in the morning, behold, [Assyria was] all dead corpses. (Whatever the source of the tale of a massive die off, it might be added that disease has remained a massive slayer of soldiers throughout human history since soldiers are overworked, donʼt sleep well, exposed to the elements, infections, packed together tightly, arenʼt fed well, etc. Disease killed off more of Napoleonʼs troops than war with Russia did; same during the American Civil War when dysentery killed more soldiers than bullets, canons and swords; and World War 1 when influenza killed more soldiers than bullets, bombs and gas—there are plenty of similar examples throughout history)
The effect of this deadly plague that struck down the Assyrian forces is spoken of earlier:
Isaiah 9:1 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death [threat of conquest], upon them has the light shined.
The divine attributes contained within Hezekiahʼs name allude to God and to the kingdom of Judahʼs survival via a seeming miracle:
“Wonderful in Counsel”—Godʼs alleged counsel to Hezekiah:
Isaiah 37:6—7 …thus says the Lord: “Be not afraid of the words you have heard, that the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”
“Mighty God” Godʼs might prevailed against the massive Assyrian army.
“Everlasting Father”—God was viewed as the author of Hezekiahʼs extended lifespan:
Isaiah 38:4—5 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying: “Go and say to Hezekiah: Thus says the Lord, the God of David, your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.”
“Prince of Peace” symbolizes the peace enjoyed by the nation after the destruction of the Assyrian army, as Hezekiah anticipated:
Isaiah 39:8 Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah: “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good,” for he thought, “There will be peace and truth in my days.”
Isaiah chapter 7 focuses on Hezekiahʼs father, King Ahaz; Isaiah chapter 8 speaks about the imminent Assyrian invasion; and Isaiah chapter 9 about the miraculous rescue of Hezekiah and his kingdom from the Assyrian army.
Missionaries claim that the child in the verse under discussion is Jesus and the divine attributes are describing him. However, the original Hebrew uses the past perfect tense (“to us a child has been born, to us a son has been given”), the past (“and he called his name”), and, as pointed out, the present, whereas if Jesus, who lived seven hundred years later, was this child, then the future tense would have been used.
It is also interesting to note that in the earliest three Gospels, Jesus did not instruct his followers to worship him:
And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
…but to sit at my [Jesusʼs] right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.
And [Jesus] said: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to You; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice: ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ which means “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
Their Hollow Inheritance -A Comprehensive Refutation of Christian Missionaries
Hereʼs a Christian who admits that Hezekiah was the famed ‘Emmanuel’ in the Book of Isaiah, and does a neat job summing things up in their historical and literary context, but adds the typical “itʼs a double-prophecy” excuse, which is merely an imaginative attempt to stretch the meaning of any and all Old Testament passages the apologist wants, plucking them out of their original historical context and linguistic meaning.
And, per a Jewish website:
Christian translations have mistakenly rendered the name of the individual in Isaiah 9:6, thus giving a totally erroneous impression that this Prince, or Davidic Messiah, is called here the Mighty God or Everlasting Father. The verb ‘will call’ is active, not passive and can be rendered most naturally with ‘the Mighty God/Everlasting Father’ as the subject and ‘Prince of Peace’ as the object. It might also be translated, “Wonderful in counsel is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” At any rate, the common Christian translation reflects a complete misunderstanding of the Hebrew use of names. The phrase in Hebrew is “Pele Joʼetz El Gibbor Avi-Ad Sar-Shalom.” Hebrew names often celebrate the character and activity of God. See the extended name ‘Maher-shalal-hash-baz’ (Isaiah 8:3). This name celebrates the Wonderful Counsel or Plan of God in bringing forth this Davidic ruler (see Isaiah 28:29). To think that the child is being called YHVH God, because his name celebrates and signifies the unfolding Plan of God, would be akin to asserting that the prophet Isaiah is God because his name means ‘YHVHʼs Salvation.’
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