The Anti-Missionary’s Charge:
In Isaiah 9:5-6 the original Hebrew reads:
“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.'”
This passage is referring to King Hezekiah, son of Ahaz. The King James Version (KJV) had to change the tense from the present to the future making it:
“A child is born, a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God.”
In Hebrew, Hezekiah means “the mighty God.”
A paraphrase of this argument would be:
- The tense has been changed to the future so that the verse looks ahead to Jesus which is improper.
- Instead, the sentence looks backward to King Hezekiah’s birth and refers to nothing more than that.
- This is verified by the meaning of Hezekiah’s name.
- Hezekiah was the Messiah or a Messianic person.
Let us start by examining point four and work backward to point one. That Hezekiah was the Messianic person or is a Messianic person appears to be the implication of the objection. In other words, the statement cannot refer to Jesus because it has already been fulfilled. The anti-missionary probably would like to direct our attention to the rabbinic belief that in every age there is someone who is a potential Messiah. Therefore, Hezekiah was the Messianic person referred to in Isaiah 9:6. He was the Messiah in his age. That is not a very strong position for a number of reasons. Let us ask a couple of questions-first:
Is there any place in Scripture that teaches there are multiple Messiahs or potential Messiahs in each generation? Is the source of that belief grounded firmly in the Hebrew Bible? The answer to both questions is “No!” The idea of multiple Messiahs or potential Messiahs in each generation is not found in the Hebrew Bible. That teaching is a rabbinic tradition. However, we agree with the rabbis that Isaiah 9:5-6 is Messianic.
- Targum Jonathan to the Prophets:
- Babylonian Talmud (Tract Derech Erez Zutha):
- Midrash Rabbah (Debarim 1):
- Iggereth Teman (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon writes to Jacob Alfajumi):
- Aben Ezra:
- Targum Isaiah:
“The prophet announced to the house of David that: ‘A boy has been born unto us, a son has been given unto us, who has taken the Torah upon himself to guard it; and his name has been called by the One who gives wonderful counsel, the Mighty God, He who lives forever: “Messiah,” in whose day peace shall abound for us. He shall make great the dignity of those who labor in the Torah and of those who maintain peace, without end; on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to build it in justice and in righteousness, from this time forth and forever. This shall be accomplished by the Memra of the Lord of Hosts.'”
“Rabbi Hose the Galilean said: Also the name of the Messiah is called Peace, for it is written (Isaiah 9:6): ‘Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.'”
“The Rabbis lay the following words in the mouth of the patriarch Jacob: “I have still to bring forth the King Messiah as it is written: ‘Unto us a child is born.'”
“God named Him (the Messiah) with six names as He says concerning Him: ‘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, Counsellor, God, Mighty, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. That He calleth Him God in a distinctive manner, is to say with it, that His glory surpasses that of all other children of men.”
“There are some interpreters who say that ‘Wonderful, Everlasting Father’ are names of God and only ‘Prince of Peace’ is the name of the child. But according to my view the interpretation is right (which says): all are the names of the child.”
“The prophet saith to the house of David, A child has been born to us, a son has been given to us; and He has taken the law upon Himself to keep it, and His name had been called from of old, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, He Who Lives Forever, The Anointed One (or Messiah), in whose days peace shall increase upon us.”
Most assuredly the passage is about the Messiah, but there will be only one Messiah, not a multitude of Messiahs. There will be only one Messiah. Only one candidate will fit the Messianic requirements.
Hezekiah is a poor candidate for Messiah, and there are others who feel it is a weak position as well. Rabbi Joseph’s discussion with Rabbi Hillel is recorded in the Talmud-Sanhedrin 99a:
“Rabbi Hillel said, ‘There shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they have already enjoyed him in the days of Hezekiah.’ Rabbi Joseph said, ‘May God forgive him (for saying so).'”
Rabbi Joseph vigorously denied this teaching.
- Hezekiah’s name is not “The Mighty God.” To claim that is a bit of a stretch. The name in Isaiah 9:6 is “El Gibbor” ( masculine singular noun with masculine singular adjective). El Gibbor literally means “Mighty God.” The name Hezekiah literally means “God is my strength” or “God has strengthened.” It is a combination of the verb chazak and God’s proper name. The point is that “The Mighty God” is a distinct proper name unquestionably identifying and describing a particular person-God Himself. In contrast, “Hezekiah” is a phrase name describing what God has done for the individual who bears the name. In other words, God’s actions are being extolled through the King’s name. The name Hezekiah is drawing our attention to what God has done or will do or is expected to do that will empower the individual. Hezekiah’s name does not mean “Mighty God” in form or in meaning.
Finally, we come to the objection that the statement is all in the past and, therefore, speaks of Hezekiah. This is an important exegetical and interpretive decision. The verbs in Isaiah 9:6 are a mixture of perfects and imperfects. The perfects are in the first half of the verse and the imperfects are in the last half of the verse. The perfect aspect denotes completed action in the past, present, or future. The imperfect aspect denotes incomplete or repeated action in the past, present, or future. The mixture of verb aspects means that this is no simplistic decision. We need to “scratch our heads” over this one. We need to really think about this one. We have some options to choose from.
The anti-missionary has chosen the past or present option. The implication of that choice is that Hezekiah is or was the Messiah. By the way, the anti-missionary is making the exact same type of exegetical/interpretive decisions that the KJV makes. The only difference lies in the fact that he is choosing the past/present option. This is because of the mixture of verb aspects in the verse. The KJV has not “tampered with the text” any more than he has. The only difference is the fact that the KJV is choosing a different exegetical option. The anti-missionary’s choice is the weaker option for three reasons:
- Consideration of the context of Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:6 speaks of a deliverance and government that never occurred in Hezekiah’s time. In Hezekiah’s day Assyria devastated, dominated, and deported Galilee. The deliverance of Galilee did not come with Hezekiah. In addition the government of Hezekiah does not live up to the description given in the text. Hezekiah’s government did not deliver Galilee nor was it a government noted for justice and righteousness. Nor did Hezekiah’s government last forever. Isaiah 9:1-7 cannot be referring to Hezekiah, as good a king as he was.
- The anti-missionary’s choice is also the weaker option if we consider the mission of the Messianic person as developed in other sections of Scripture. The Messiah is supposed to deliver Israel from her enemies and institute the glorious Messianic Kingdom. Neither of those goals were accomplished by Hezekiah. Finally, the anti-missionary’s position is weaker when we consider,
- Finally, the anti-missionary’s position is weaker when we consider the data I previously shared about Hezekiah in the section dealing with Micah 5:2.
However, we still have one more option to consider and that is the future option. In the case of the perfect aspect it would be the usage called the “Prophetic Perfect.” The prophetic perfect occurs when the prophet sees the future action so vividly that the action is deemed “as good as done.” The use of the prophetic perfect in the first half of the verse (child has been born, son has been given) fits with the imperfects in the last half of the verse (government shall be upon his shoulder, shall be called).
Considering the context and force of Isaiah 9:1-7, the data about the Messianic person developed in other parts of Scripture and the New Testament data about Jesus in contrast to what we know about Hezekiah, the future option is preferable. Jesus is a good fit. He is a much better choice than Hezekiah (700 BC), Bar Kochba (135 AD), or Rebbe Schneerson (1994 AD). If Jesus is not the Messiah, then who is?
Jesus is the:
- Wonderful Counselor – Colossians 2:3
- Mighty God – Hebrews 1:8
- Eternal Father – John 1:1-2
- Prince of Peace – John 14:27
“…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
“But of the Son He says, ‘Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.'” (Quoting Psalm 45)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) also translates the verse as “child is born” and “son is given.” So the JPS and the KJV happen to agree on the rendering of the first part of the verse. Then, being consistent with their decision to render the verse in the present tense, the JPS translators continue with the wording “government is” and “name is.” This rendering would put the anti-missionary at odds with the JPS and open them up to the charge of “tampering.” However, that is not necessary. The JPS translators did a reasonable and consistent job of translation. They do not agree with HaDavar’s evaluation of the text. Their rendition is a fair but, from our point-of-view, regrettable interpretive decision.
- ^ Huckel, T. (1998). The Rabbinic Messiah (Is 9:6). Philadelphia: Hananeel House.
- ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah” Pg. 11
- ^ Ibid
- ^ “How to Recognise the Messiah” Pg. 24
- ^ Ibid
- ^ McDowell, Josh, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers) 1972, pg. 151
- ^ Williams, Ronald J., Hebrew Syntax: An Outline, Second Edition, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press) 1967