For a child has been born to us, a son has been given us. And authority has settled on his shoulders. He has been named "The Mighty God is planning grace; the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler." In token of abundant authority and of peace without limit upon David's throne and kingdom, that it may be firmly established in justice and in equity now and evermore. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall bring this to pass. (Isaiah 9:5, 6 [English 9:6, 7]; Jewish Publication Society, 1985)
This week's Haftarah includes a controversial passage from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. Various schools of thought have made much over the complex name given to the governmental leader described here. The actual identity of this king is not explicitly stated though it is clear that he inherits the throne of King David.
The main controversy surrounding this name is over whether it is a description of the king himself or simply a statement about God. In the original Hebrew it is: "pele yoetz el gibbor avi-ad sar shalom". Some translations give the name a sense of being a description of this king himself. We see this in most popular Christian translations, the English Standard Version being one example: "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." The translation I quoted from at the beginning of my message is a standard Jewish translation and gives the impression that the name is about God, not the king: "The Mighty God is planning grace; the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler." That a person would be named in the fashion suggested by the Jewish translation is in keeping with many Biblical names. For example, the name "Eliyahu" (English: Elijah) means "The Lord is God," which in no way implies divinity status for this well-known prophet of Israel. "Joshua," the name of Moses' successor means "The Lord saves." While his name may foreshadow that God would work his salvation through him, Joshua was not the Lord. Therefore it is not reasonable to claim that such a grand name is necessarily a direct description of the person to whom it was given simply on the basis of the meaning of the name.
How this name functions is actually a secondary issue regarding its controversy. As far as this passage is concerned, more important than whether or not this king's nature is of divine origin, is the nature of his reign. Whatever the viewpoint or prejudices of the translators they are agreed that the reign of this king is far greater than any king of Israel before, during, or after Isaiah's day. This king's reign is permanent, perfect, and everlasting. These words are in keeping with many other passages in the Hebrew Bible that look forward to the establishment of the messianic kingdom - a kingdom, which in some ways hearkens back to the reign of David, the man after God's own heart, but on a much grander, global scale. A kingdom which would fulfill God's promise to Abraham that through his descendants all the families of the earth would be blessed (see Bereshit / Genesis 12:3). The name given this king hints of a rule that comes about not by human innovation and achievement, but by an act of God. It is a rule marked by God's restorative presence among his people and the world.
For many Jewish people these days are yet to be. While many consider the Messiah a legend, others continue to wait for his coming, something that the New Covenant Scriptures claim has already occurred. For some followers of Yeshua the fulfillment of Isaiah's words, though applying to Yeshua, are yet to be, which makes their view of his reign currently similar to those who deny that he is the Messiah at all.
But Yeshua is the Messiah, whose reign is currently far more like Isaiah's description than we tend to think. To deny this is to contradict Yeshua's own words when he said "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (see Matthew 28:18). If this wasn't true, we would not see the reality of the God of Israel demonstrated throughout the world as we do. Since his coming countless people, Jews and Gentiles, have been rescued by him from the clutches of the kingdom of darkness. Messiah reigns indeed!
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