6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
– Isaiah 9:6-7 NASB
Real world problems!
In the context of Isaiah, we have lots of judgment of the nations around the whole middle east in the form of military conquest going on. It is real judgment for heinous evil. Israel seems to basically run on the basis of bribery, in fact the judges chase bribes instead of simply being confronted with the offer of a bribe and succumbing to temptation. Widows and orphans and the poor are getting their needs and rights completely trampled upon. So God raises up Assyria and the Ninevites to come conquer them, who like to skin people alive and pin their skins up on their walls as decorations. We see this in the direct context in Isaiah 9:5:
5 For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. – Isaiah 9:5 NASB
He’s saying, the battle uniforms of the soldier will only be useful for making a campfire. He promises to put an end to war, because the context is war.
God’s crazy scheme to end war!
So here is God’s scheme to fix all of this: unto us a child is born! It is a young child too – he will as a newly born child be the solution. Surely the weakness of God is stronger than men! God confronts our trust in forceful human strength with this language. God can bring forth a little child to solve all of this. He can stop the tumult of the nations with a helpless baby.
22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 NASB
So we see that if saying a child being born to us is not weak enough for you, consider that once he grows a bit he is not even handsome or esteemed (Isaiah 53:2-3). God ups the ante even further by saying that when at His best He will be rejected and crucified, and this is the ultimate solution. This is how He governs. What?! You can’t get weaker than that! Truly this weakness is a tremendous stumbling block. Even though it was strongly foretold in Old Testament prophecy, no one believed it. What is the solution to the terrorist group du jour, to the rash of mass murders, to serial murderers and terrorists and ongoing wars and refugees fleeing violence? A little child, who would grow up to be crucified. What could this honestly mean?
We dare not pretend to wash away the stark mystery and deep offensiveness of this message by pretending to understand with a syrupy sentimental holiday glow. This message is seemingly useless and it is some kind of crazy to think that this child is “the strong arm of the Lord.” (Isaiah 53:1)
To us a child will be born
So who is this child going to be born to? What’s the big deal about a child being born? Notice that the main problem men have, from tight interpersonal relationships to the relationships between nations, across socioeconomic divides, is sin and justice. It is a relational problem, when a nation goes to war with another nation. It is a relational problem when a ruthless and selfish man perverts the justice due to widows and the poor for his own gain. Sin is a relational construct at its root, always, which manifests as everything from family squabbles to international war. And so we have a most important turn of phrase here:
“A child will be born to us“.
All the nations and all of their soldiers will together be camping out by the warm glow of their military gear fires. Somehow this baby will accomplish this for us. The gift of this son is to all of us, because the effect for which God aims is to restore these relational rifts. Ironically, but obviously, wars cannot be ended by warfare. They have to be ended by satisfying justice in the underlying roots of individuals towards one another. It is most telling that our salvation is termed “justification.” It is very important that we see that the child is born not to this group nor to that group, nor to me alone. He is born to us. The child is a gift to all of humanity. He is given to end the tyranny of justice’s wrath that we rightly bear towards one another.
The government will rest upon his shoulders
The government of the entire earth will rest upon the shoulders of a little child? How could this work? Does it seem like the government of the earth now rests upon the shoulders of Jesus? Even Jesus doesn’t think so:
17 “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” – Matthew 22:17-21 NASB
So apparently even Jesus thinks that Caesar’s things are not God’s things, and God’s things are not Caesar’s things. That means He doesn’t think the government should be on His own shoulders – yet. Governing should be separate from God. This is another one of those instances in Isaiah when he is talking about things in the medium future at the same time as he is talking about things in the even more distant future. There is coming a time when the entire world will really be God’s kingdom and there will be the right kind of a one-world government, with God at the head. And as the head, He will be the one who sacrificed Himself to achieve the justice that the efforts of men could never attain.
The purpose of government
John Locke has brilliantly reasoned that governments arise because free men do not necessarily act so as to bless one another. We must enforce justice because it is not in us naturally to act justly. We really do have an inherent grasp of natural law, but we do not naturally adhere to it. So there must be government because commonly held understandings of justice require threat and enforcement to be upheld. This child which is given to us achieves justice in a different way. He satisfies it in his own body, by shedding His own blood. The governments of men achieve justice by the threat of force, but the government of God achieves justice by grace. So in one act of propitiatory sacrifice, God achieves a form of government which all the utopian thinkers through the ages could never achieve.
So what now?
So what does that mean for us now? One thing it means is that as long as Jesus maintains that we should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, we live under imperfect rule. We can say, “If so and so gets elected or if such and such gets passed, I’m moving to Canada!” Or we can say, “the world has gone mad, so let us cloister ourselves in sealed communities and carry on.” But there is nowhere to escape. There is no pocket or enclave of humanity where Jesus is truly in charge. Some form of flawed human governance will step in and screw it all up. So we are shut up to momentary light afflictions, and some better ruler or system of governing will not solve that. It does no good to be constantly shocked. The real takeaway is to believe that in a hidden way, Christ is Lord of you, because His judgment that you have been justified is what will stand. He sees the harm done to you, and He sees the harm you have caused, and still He loves. His love defines us, not our faults. In the midst of all of this injustice and this world of hurt mixed with such beauty, we still believe that He is ultimately in charge, and that this present suffering is but a tiny momentary fog that will soon lift. We hold out faith that the eternal weight of glory under His gracious governance will go on without end forever and ever. We have a very great and a very sure hope, so do not lose heart!