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Isaiah 9:6

  


I believe Jesus was born in the late summer/fall.  Yet this is the time of the year that most folks talk about the birth of the Messiah, so I thought I would post this interesting article on Isaiah 9:6.  You can find it originally posted at “koinonia.”  The bold lettering is my doing.  I found these statements to be particularly insightful.

WHAT IS IN A NAME? (ISAIAH 9:6)

by John H. Walton

Since we are now in the advent season, it would be appropriate to explore one of the primary passages that is a topic for advent studies, Isaiah 9:6. In this passage there is a proclamation concerning the name of the ideal king. In Isaiah’s own time, this could have been part of a coronation ceremony for a new Davidic king. Even if that is the case, the oracle contained idealistic elements that expressed the hope for that eventual Davidic king who would fulfill the prophecies that all faithful Israelites longed for (see Isaiah 2:1-5 as well as the immediate context in Isaiah 9).

The Hebrew issue that I would like to focus attention on is the name that is given in Isaiah 9:6 (Hebrew, 9:5). The debate can be seen by comparing the KJV rendering with modern translations. The KJV offered five names: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Most modern translations combine the first two (Wonderful Counselor) with the result that there are four names. Given either of these arrangements, it is not uncommon for reference to be made to the apparent result that two of the child-king’s names suggest he is divine (“Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father”). Were this the case, it would be the only example in the Old Testament where the future, ideal, Davidic king (later to be labeled the Messiah), was attributed deity. But perhaps we have jumped too quickly to that conclusion.

W. Holladay some time ago (Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage) had suggested that the verse offered only three names with the middle one being viewed as “theophoric.” A theophoric name is one that makes a statement about God. Any casual survey of personal names in the Old Testament would reveal that it was common for Israelites (and most everyone else in the ancient world) to use theophoric names. The name “Isaiah” itself is theophoric: “The Lord Saves.” Even English readers will notice the large numbers of names that end in –iah (representing the name of God, Yahweh; also present in names that begin with Jo– or Jeho– ). Likewise names that begin or end with “El” represent a statement about Elohim (e.g., Samuel, “God has heard”). Obviously these individuals are not being attributed divine status—their names are expressing hopes or giving praise to God. Many emphasize an attribute of God.

Now, armed with some new ideas, let’s return to the passage and look again. NIV translates “He will be called”—this is an acceptable English expression for name-giving, but it sidesteps a thorny Hebrew issue: The Hebrew text says “And he will call (active verb, not passive, with unidentified subject) his name (singular).” By rewording, the NIV did not have to decide what to do with the fact that the Hebrew word, “name” (shem) is singular. The text does NOT say “His names shall be called.” This should lead us to at least consider the possibility that the verse gives one (very long) name.

Before we get to the name itself, it should be noted that Isaiah, in just the previous chapter, had already shown his propensity to offer unusually long names. Mahershalalhashbaz is often cited in Bible quizzing as the longest name in the Bible. It is made up of two parallel phrases each of two parts: “Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil” (NIV Study Bible note). Even in ch. 7 Isaiah is playing with names, evident in the name of his son, Shear-Jashub (7:3) and Immanuel (7:14) to make theological points.

In 9:6, then, we might suggest, based on 1) the singular use of “name”; 2) the prevalent use of theophoric names; 3) the lack of precedent for messiah being attributed deity; and 4) Isaiah’s fondness for long names, growing increasingly complex; that we have just one long, complex name: Pele’-yo’ets’-el-gibbor-’avi-’ad-sar-shalom. Like Maher-shalal-hash-baz it is a name made up of two parallel lines. Each of these lines is theophoric and has four components. The resulting translation would be: “A Supernatural Planner is the Mighty God; The Father of Time is a Prince of Peace.” The power of the name is that it expresses the hope that this ideal king will usher in the long-term prophetic plan of God. The God who is mighty in all things has a plan that transcends any mortal’s ability to conceive or fathom. This God who is the Master of all time will bring about peace and well-being for his people. Peace on earth, good will toward people everywhere.

Waltonj
John H. Walton (PhD, Hebrew Union College) teaches Old Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament and the forthcoming A Survey of the Old Testament (Third Edition).

One Response to “Isaiah 9:6”

  1. on 08 Dec 2008 at 5:01 pmJohnE

    Interesting article, thank you. The idea that this is just a teophoric name is challenging, since God does indeed give long names to Isaiah’s two sons, Shear-Jashub (7:3) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:3).

    W. Holladay some time ago (Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage) had suggested that the verse offered only three names with the middle one being viewed as “theophoric.” A theophoric name is one that makes a statement about God. Any casual survey of personal names in the Old Testament would reveal that it was common for Israelites (and most everyone else in the ancient world) to use theophoric names. The name “Isaiah” itself is theophoric: “The Lord Saves.”

    “Isaiah” actually means “Salvation of Yah” (BDB 4247), not of the “Lord”.

    Before we get to the name itself, it should be noted that Isaiah, in just the previous chapter, had already shown his propensity to offer unusually long names.

    Just a note, it is God giving the names, not Isaiah.

    In 9:6, then, we might suggest, based on 1) the singular use of “name”; 2) the prevalent use of theophoric names; 3) the lack of precedent for messiah being attributed deity; and 4) Isaiah’s fondness for long names, growing increasingly complex; that we have just one long, complex name: Pele’-yo’ets’-el-gibbor-’avi-’ad-sar-shalom. Like Maher-shalal-hash-baz it is a name made up of two parallel lines. Each of these lines is theophoric and has four components. The resulting translation would be: “A Supernatural Planner is the Mighty God; The Father of Time is a Prince of Peace.” The power of the name is that it expresses the hope that this ideal king will usher in the long-term prophetic plan of God. The God who is mighty in all things has a plan that transcends any mortal’s ability to conceive or fathom. This God who is the Master of all time will bring about peace and well-being for his people.

    Let me discuss all four points on which the conclusion is drawn.

    1) the singular use of “name”

    Indeed, “name” is in singular, which is only natural. Hebrew children were usually given a single name. This in itself does not mean that all given names were saying something about God and not about the child. Here are just a few examples:

    Genesis 5:29 “Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed.”. Strong 05146 says Noah means “rest”. The meaning of the name says something about the one who bears it, as it can be seen from what the verse says.

    Genesis 25:25 “Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau.”. Esau also means “hairy”. Etc…

    2) the prevalent use of theophoric names

    The presence of “EL” (“God”) in a name (as in Isaiah 9:6) does not always make it theophoric; an example of this is “Israel”:

    Genesis 32:28 He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”. Please note how Jacob was given the name Israel (“he contends with God”, Theological Wordbook of the OT, Harris et als) because he was the one who contended with God and men. His name says something about him, not about God.

    3) the lack of precedent for messiah being attributed deity

    I can’t see any deity being attributed to the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6. God himself calls the unjust judges “gods” in Psalm 82:6 (see also John 10:34), and He does not ascribe any deity to them. Judges were gods because they were performing a divine privilege, role of God: judging. So if human judges are gods, how much more is Jesus a mighty god, especially since God appointed him Judge over the whole world? (Acts 17:31).

    4) Isaiah’s fondness for long names, growing increasingly complex

    God’s fondness for long names; a long name does not necessarily make its meaning to refer to God. In fact, none of the other long names Isaiah mentions, says something exclusively about God:

    1) Shear-Jashub means ‘a remnant shall return’ (therefore referring equally to the remnant and to the fact that God is going to make it return – but only implicitly).
    2) Immanuel means ‘God is with us’ (idem)
    3) Maher-shalal-hash-baz means ‘swift is the booty, speedy is the prey’, not referring explicitly to God at all.

    Taking all this into consideration, it is not necessary to draw the conclusion that Messiah’s name says something about God, it might as well describe the Messiah. In fact, that is exactly what the text continues to do in the next verse, it describes things pertaining to the Messiah: his government, his peace, his justice and righteousness will never end.

    Isaiah 9:7 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.

    Apart from these 4 points, another factor that has to taken into account is the Hebrew word translated ussualy by “prince” – as in “prince of peace”. HALOT describes this word, שַׂר, as having the meanings of:

    In foreign lands: 1. representative of the king, official; 2. person of note, commander;
    In Israel: commander, chief, captain, prince.

    Here are some examples:

    Genesis 12:15 Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
    Jeremiah 25:19 Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes and all his people;
    Numbers 22:13 So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s leaders, “Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.”
    2 Samuel 10:3 the princes of the Ammonites said to Hanun their lord [..]
    Genesis 26:26 Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with his adviser Ahuzzath and Phicol the commander of his army.
    2 Samuel 3:38 Then the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?
    2 Samuel 19:6 […] For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you […]
    Isaiah 3:14 The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of His people
    Jeremiah 2:26 As the thief is shamed when he is discovered, So the house of Israel is shamed; They, their kings, their princes And their priests and their prophets,
    Jeremiah 34:10 And all the officials and all the people obeyed who had entered into the covenant
    Hosea 13:10 Where now is your king That he may save you in all your cities, And your judges of whom you requested, “Give me a king and princes “?

    All these meanings point to a high ranking official, but one who is hierarchically not at the top. Needless to say, God is never explicitly designated by this noun. So I would doubt that “prince of peace” refers to God, it is much better suited for the Messiah; in fact, that the next verse (Isa 9:7) says about the Messiah that his peace will have no end. He is the prince of peace.

  

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