Isaiah 8 ends with “…And they will be thrust into thick darkness” (v22). This ends two chapters (7-8) which display the failures of the human king on David’s throne and the hardened hearts of the people. They failed to turn to the LORD for help, instead fearing their enemies more than the Lord (8:13).
Back in 7:11, after king Ahaz received word that two of his enemy nations were coming to wage war, the Lord gave him an opportunity to ask for a sign. He even said, in effect, make it as big as you like, “let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven”. Ahaz refused to put his trust in the Lord (his flimsy reason of not putting the Lord to the test notwithstanding). In response, the Lord declared that HE will give a sign.
Isn’t this the continuing story of scripture? Trials come, the Lord presents himself to man and asks him to trust, and man fails to do so. Then, the Lord initiates the redemption. He is always the initiator in his relationship with mankind. It is never the other way. Man is never the initiator with God. How foolish of us to think that we initiate anything–especially our redemption–with God.
We know what that sign was…”a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (7:14) Whether this prophecy had partial fulfillment in Isaiah’s day or not, we know that it was ultimately fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, as Matthew quotes this passage in reference to him.
But in Chapter 8 we see the recurring cycle of the Old Testament. The failure of man and the resulting judgment. The chapter ends with a display of the hardness of the hearts of the Israelites and the darkness and gloom that results. The situation is hopeless. This cycle has only one end–the just judgment and condemnation of a righteous God.
“They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward.” (v21)
This is a picture of the natural, fallen human heart toward God. Enraged against God when the layers of comfort are removed. Speech filled with contempt toward their Creator. As things get worse, the contempt and hatred grow stronger. Revelation gives us a clear picture of this being played out in the last days:
“They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. they did not repent of their deeds.” (Rev 16:9-11)
Human beings apart from God are not so much “lost” as they are by nature enemies of the God of heaven (mainly because fallen man wants to be God). Because of the blessings God has given us in this life, unregenerate men may not appear to be at enmity with their Creator, but when the pillars of this world collapse, the natural human heart flows forth with utter contempt and unrestrained hatred toward God. As the heat is turned up, the fire of this contempt grows brighter.
Thus, as we come back to Isaiah 8:22, we see that there is really no hope for the human heart apart from God. Verse 22 says, “And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into darkness. ”
That is where the all-important word “But” comes in. The very next word proclaims God’s intervention into human history. 9:1 says”But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.” Verse 2 continues,”The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
A few verses later comes the familiar passage…”For unto us a child is born…”
From deep darkness and the gloom of anguish…came a light that would change the world forever. It brings hope to the human heart. In order to understand the light, we need to realize the depth of the darkness. In order to comprehend the jubilation of salvation, we must know the gloom of the anguish of our alienation from God.
When you see a portrait of the manger scene or the angels singing, and the artist renders that unnatural-looking light around the child or the angels or the stable, don’t be quick to dismiss it as unrealistic. Instead, know that there is a significant reality in that rendering. Light has come into the darkness. There is hope, because God took the initiative. Thank you Father, for sending your Son.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:4-14 ESV)