Hearing Isaiah in Matthew

[Lee Patmore has been the preaching minister for the Church of Christ in Lloydminster since 2007.]

In today’s reading of Matthew 4:14-16, Matthew does in this short little section what he has a habit of doing in his gospel. He pulls a text from the OT and offers it to us as evidence that Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes of the nation. This is already his seventh reference to a prophetic oracle and we’re only in the fourth chapter.

Matthew is not proof texting; gathering bits and pieces of scripture without regard to their context and manipulating them to serve his agenda. The resurrected Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures (Luke 24) and we’re privileged in this gospel to hear one of them seek to open our minds. Matthew writes to a Jewish audience and he expects his readers to be fluent in the prophetic literature of the OT.  The context of this text fully supports his use of it.

If you and I were as familiar with Isaiah 9 as we are with Acts 2, we would hear more said in this little quote than is contained in the words themselves. The whole context of the words would be brought to our minds. In the previous two chapters in Isaiah, the people of God have come under his judgment brought upon them via the nation Assyria who then ruled the world. As testimony to the depth of Israel’s faithlessness, when the judgment comes they turn not to God but to the dust of the earth seeking to contact the dead for the answers to life. The nation of Isaiah’s day sits in darkness, a great spiritual darkness and all seems lost. That’s how Isaiah 8 ends; Matthew’s quote comes from the first few lines of chapter 9.

Israel in Jesus’ day too sits in darkness. Our text does not focus on the darkness among the pagans; it is Galilee who sits in darkness – the people of God. The nation designed to be the light of the world lives in the land of the shadow of death. Israel is at a great crossroads. God’s hand of rescue and discipline is upon them. To whom will they turn? Will they embrace the light or will they persist in darkness and find themselves under the judgment of God via the pagan empire of their day.

Isaiah 9 speaks profound words of encouragement. God has not abandoned his people to the darkness, a great light dawns. The enlightened Jewish reader would recognise that these few words which Matthew quotes are only the beginning of a great oracle of hope. Victory is pictured on the horizon as the scene unfolds. The words of the prophet remind his readers of the days of Gideon. And how will this victory arrive?

Isaiah 9:6-7 A child is born, the government would be on his shoulders, he will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom forever. (Matthew’s gospel will insist on these truths.) No wonder Matthew’s next move is to have us hear Jesus’ words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”





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