Isaiah’s magnificent prophecy spans not only history, going from creation (e.g., 42:5) to eternity (e.g., 9:7), but also geography, with an interest ranging between God’s own people through all of humanity (e.v., 2:2). Containing both words of hope and horror, its key theme is God himself, who is referred to hundreds of times.”
In the first chapter of Isaiah, God expresses his dissatisfaction with the sacrifices Israel offered (Isaiah 1:11–16).
On the outside, they are doing exactly as God asked: they sacrifice rams and bulls, fat and blood, lambs, goats, and incense. They honor the Sabbath. They have a system for remembering when to feast and celebrate what God has done (Isaiah 1:14).
But God says their sacrifices are meaningless.
“I have had enough . . . I do not delight . . . bring no more.” Quantity is not the issue. Quality is. And it’s not a matter of extravagance. Their elaborate prayers use their lips and their hands (Isaiah 1:15) and look great on the outside (Matthew 6:5), but there is no heart behind them.
Other religions made sacrifices to their gods because they believed they were feeding them. The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary says, “Popular Israelite religion frequently forgot that God was not actually fed through sacrifice and sought to manipulate him through such offerings.”
They forgot why they were making sacrifices. They thought they had to feed the God who created the world. But God wasn’t dependent on the Israelites and their sacrifices. They were dependent on him. As the Faithlife Study Bible says:
An increase in offerings is meaningless without a change in attitudes. The sacrifice fundamentally represented Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, by which Israelites acknowledge dependence on Him. There was no point in going through the motions if they’d abandoned that dependence—either through idolatry or pride in their self-sufficiency.
The sacrifices were meant to be an external symbol of an internal process: repentance (Isaiah 1:16–20). The FSB says “God calls for inward repentance after condemning the empty efforts of outward observance.” They were cleaning the outside of the cup, while filth festered on the inside (Luke 11:39).
The Names of God
The system God established for dealing with sins had been abused for too long. The death of innocent animals was not enough for guilty humans to see the error of their ways (Hebrews 10:4). The status quo wasn’t working. Isaiah called for change in the present, and pointed to a bigger change in the future (Hebrews 10:10).
Isaiah 9:6 introduces Israel to powerful names for a son who was yet to come. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.
The people of Israel didn’t crack open their New Testaments to John 3:16 and say, “Hey, that’s Jesus!” They looked to the current line of David for an immediate answer—someone who could live up to these prophetic titles.
The Faithlife Study Bible reminds us that “the prediction of a future ideal Davidic ruler point ultimately to the Messiah, but immediate hopes for Judah’s future would have been directed at the Davidic line, continued through Hezekiah.”
But there was a problem. Some of these titles could only be attributed to God. No man could measure up to names like “Mighty God”—that’s blasphemy (John 8:58–59). As he so often does, God had a different plan than man.
People can’t overcome sin by their own power. The sacrifices which were once acceptable to God had become useless buckets on a sinking ship. God needed to intervene, or the world would drown in sin.
No matter how mighty God made a man, man could never escape sin and death (Romans 3:23). Christ overcame both in his death and resurrection, making a way for man to overcome both through him and him alone.
People couldn’t find their own way out of sin, either. They had not the wisdom.
They needed a Wonderful Counselor, someone who could give them the wisdom they needed to truly repent (James 1:5, Hebrews 2:18). Christ not only gives us wisdom by the Spirit through the word, he is our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30).
With Abraham, Israel was entitled to an earthly inheritance, but then what? As goes the earth, so goes the inheritance.
But through their Everlasting Father, they had an eternal one to aspire to (Hebrews 9:15, Romans 8:16–17).
Prince of Peace
And to abolish the old sacrificial system which put a bandage on their sin, Israel needed the Prince of Peace to restore them to God perfectly and once-and-for-all (Ephesians 2:13–18, Philippians 4:6–7; Hebrews 10:1-18).
The Christmas season is a time to celebrate the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “For to us, a child is born, to us, a son is given.” Remember where that son came from (Galatians 4:4–5), and glorify God for providing the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4–5
This is a revised version of a post that originally appeared in 2014.