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Wonderful Counsellor

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 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 … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9.1-2, 6-7.

As I was saying yesterday, the opening verses of this passage remind us that, with the eye of vision, Isaiah is looking forward through seven centuries and seeing, in Galilee, Jesus — “a great light” beginning to cut through and banish the darkness of the world. He is, says Isaiah, a “son” who is “given” — and that can only imply that he is the son of the giver himself … the son of God.

Clearly he comes with great authority for “the government shall be upon his shoulder.” This is no mere figure of speech. A king’s steward in those days had the large master key to all the palace doors attached to the shoulder of his tunic (see Isaiah 22.22); and Jesus later reveals himself as the one who in just such a way bears the key to God’s kingdom, for he tells the church in Philadelphia that he himself is “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Revelation 3.7).

The kingdom over which the Coming One will reign is something that Isaiah refers to explicitly at the end of this morning’s passage. Just as Jesus speaks of the “key of David” so Isaiah speaks of the “throne of David”, and all this relates back to the promise God made to David through Nathan the prophet: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son … And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7.12-14, 16).

Isaiah foresaw the Coming One, the Son who is Given, as being the heir to this promise; and Jesus knew himself to be that heir. The house and the kingdom and the throne and the key of David all find fulfilment and reality in the Kingdom of God that became “at hand” in Jesus (Mark 1.15) and that still remains open to all who will put their trust in him.

But what of these four titles that Isaiah gives to Jesus? I said I would be looking at the first of them today but so far I have not managed to get to it. “Wonderful Counsellor.” Or should it be the two titles — “Wonderful” and “Counsellor” that are familiar to many of us from the KJV and, of course, from Handel’s Messiah? That is a possible reading of the Hebrew, though it destroys the symmetry of the language used, so “Wonderful Counsellor” is more likely to be what Isaiah had in mind.

The two words are pele’ and ya’ats. Pele’ is derived from a verb that means “to set apart, to distinguish, to exalt above all that is ordinary, to make into an object of awe” and thus it carries the sense of “awesome, marvellous, breathtaking, amazing”. Ya’ats denotes someone who sits alongside kings and princes guiding and directing with great wisdom and understanding. Paul will later call Jesus “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1.24) and describe him as the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2.3). Jesus himself was “the Counsellor” for he told his disciples that, after his death, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth … The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14.16-17, 25-26 NIV).

So today we exalt Jesus as the Awesome Advisor, the Wonderful Counsellor who leads us by his Spirit into pathways of truth and into the way everlasting. Tomorrow, “Mighty God” …

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