“For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, and the government was upon his shoulder, and he called his name – wonderful counselor, mighty God, father unto (eternity), prince of peace.”
The missionary interpretation jumps out of this excerpt from scripture. Who can this child be? Why would a human child be entitled with divine names if he was not in fact divine? The missionaries argue that the child of this verse, can only be Jesus of Nazareth.
The most prominent problem with the missionary rendition of this verse in Isaiah, is that it flies in the face of the context of this verse. But before we get to context, let us examine the words of the verse itself. The prophet is speaking of a child having been born, in the past. Can this be a reference to Jesus who was born several centuries after Isaiah spoke these words? Isaiah speaks of “government.” Did Jesus “govern” in any sense of the word? In what way can Jesus be considered a “wonderful counselor”? In what way did Jesus earn the title “mighty God”? Jesus’ career did not produce any demonstrations of wondrous counsel, nor was it an expression of strength in any manner. These would not be the titles given to Jesus. In fact the Christians who worship Jesus as a deity do not refer to him as a wonderful counselor or as a mighty God (unless they are paraphrasing this particular verse in Isaiah). Christians do not call Jesus a “father.” On the contrary, he is called a “son.” So without resorting to the context of the verse, we can see how the missionary interpretation is problematic, at best.
When we examine the verse in context, the missionary interpretation disappears. The passage in which this verse appears talks of a military threat being miraculously eliminated, namely the threat of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. Verse 3 (of chapter 9) of the passage talks of the yoke of his (the nation’s) burden and the rod of her oppressor being broken as on the day of Midian. The “day of Midian” was when God miraculously put an army of multitudes to flight before Gideon’s small band of 300 (Judges 6 and 7). This is a clear parallel to the miraculous annihilation of Sennacherib’s troops (as described in chapters 37 of Isaiah, 19 of second Kings, and 32 of second Chronicles). The various phrases in this passage are repeated over and over again in the book of Isaiah as reference to the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. The expressions “yoke” and ‘burden” (9:3) are used in 14:25 with a direct reference to Assyria’ army being broken. The expressions “staff” and “rod” (9:3), can be found in 10:5,24,27, and 30:31, clearly talking of this same event. The reference to Midian (9:3) is repeated in 10:26 in relation to Sennacherib’s destruction. The concept of “burning” as a description of this miracle (9:4), is mentioned in 10:16,17 and again in 30:31 and 31:9 as a description of the death of Sennacherib’s soldiers. The concept of “counsel” (9:5) is used in 14:26,27 to speak of this miracle. The words “mighty God” (9:5), are repeated in 10:21 to describe Israel’s return to God after this amazing event. The words “zeal of the Lord of Hosts” is repeated in 37:32 in direct reference to this miraculous event. There are many more cross references from this passage to the various passages that speak of Sennacherib’s destruction, but these can be used as a starting point in understanding this passage.
It is only by disregarding the context of the verse, and with no respect for the spirit of scripture that the missionary can wrench the words out of context and use them as a reference to a pagan concept with no foundation in scripture.
So what is the meaning of this enigmatic passage? Who is the child that is deserving of all of these divine names?
There are several Jewish interpretations offered to explain this verse, but they all recognize that the verse is speaking of Hezekiah’s salvation from the threat of Sennacherib. The words “he called his name” can be read in three different ways. 1) That the following phrases are all names of the child (this is how the Christians read the verse). 2) That the phrases following the introduction (“he called his name”) are descriptions of the one doing the calling. 3) The concept of calling a name is not being used in its literal sense, but rather in a metaphoric sense as in Ruth 4:11, where the phrase “and call a name” is used to mean – making a mark, or leaving a memory. According to this interpretation the phrases are not names of the child or of the name-giver. Rather these describe concepts that people will associate with the memory of the child. All of these interpretations conform with the grammatical structure of the verse, and the Jewish commentators may utilize any of the three readings (or a combination of these explanations) of this introductory phrase.
Assuming that the names are titles of the child, one Jewish commentator offers the following interpretation. The child will be called “The Mighty God, Father unto eternity and Prince of peace is planning a wonder.” In other words, the child’s name is a complete sentence describing God’s action. Another interpretation in keeping with this reading of the introductory phrase ascribes all of these titles to Hezekiah, but changes the translation. Hezekiah was a wonderful counselor to his people. The words “e-l gibbor”, generally translate as “mighty God”, but they could just as easily mean “mighty warrior”, with no reference to divinity. In fact the same expression “el gibbor” is found in Ezekiel 32:21 (in the plural form) and the context makes it obvious that the reference is to humans with no connection to divine strength. “Avi ad” is generally translated as “father of eternity”, but that is not the literal meaning of the words. The literal translation is “father unto” or “father until”, with the implication of “father unto eternity.” Some would argue that Hezekiah’s personal life reflected God’s control over time, for he merited two miracles that violated the natural laws of time (Isaiah 38). Others would say that the translation is incorrect, but rather it should read “father of spoils”, which is an apt description of Hezekiah’s victory over Sennacherib. And Hezekiah was indeed a prince of peace, as Isaiah prophesied (39:8).
The oldest Jewish commentary (Targum – which probably predates the advent of Christianity) explains that the first three titles in the verse are those of the One giving the name, while the name given to the child is “prince of peace.” So God is the wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Father unto (eternity), while Hezekiah is the prince of peace.
The spirit of the verse, is that the child will somehow be a cause for the salvation of the Jewish people from the oppression of Sennacherib. Indeed, Hezekiah’s prayer was the catalyst for God’s intervention on behalf of His people (Isaiah 37:21, 2Kings 19:20). Isaiah is comforting his people. Although Achaz (Hezekiah’s father) was evil, but his child was holy and righteous. In the merit of this holy child, who bore upon his shoulders the government of his people, the nation could hope to survive the onslaught of Sennacherib and his hordes.