Taken from "THE SOWER," MAR/APR, 2006; p. 12-13
Have you ever wondered why the Jews looked so expectantly for their (and our) Messiah? Anyone who knows the prophecies of the Messiah's kingdom knows that it will be a wonderful place to live. It will be safe from all danger (Isa. 11:6-9), without war (Mic. 4:3 and 4), and believers will enjoy perfect health (Isa. 33:24). The land will be healed, and even the deserts will bloom (Isa. 35:1-6), so there will be more than enough food for everyone (Isa. 25:6; Amos 9:13). There will be great joy and gladness for all the people (Isa. 35:10).1
The Messiah's kingdom will be a wonderful place to live, surely, but what about the Messiah himself? The Messiah was to be a king, yes, but most kings who ever lived were tyrannical, and more interested in building their own wealth and power than in helping their subjects be safe and prosperous. Are there prophecies that tell us what kind of leader the Messiah will be? Yes, there are, and Isaiah contains one of the most encouraging and comforting descriptions:
Isaiah 9:6 (Author's translation)2
For a child has been born to us,
A son has been given to us,
And the government is upon his shoulder.
And his name is called
Father of the Age to come,
Prince of Shalom.
This amazing prophecy deserves our attention and understanding. First, the opening two phrases are in the past tense in Hebrew, as if the child had already been born.3 This is the Hebrew idiom known as the "prophetic perfect." In this idiom, a future event is spoken of in the past tense to show that there is no doubt the event will occur. We who speak English have a similar idiomatic use of the past tense. If a boss says to a secretary, "I want that report on my desk by tomorrow noon," the secretary might say, "Done!" Of course it is not "done" yet, but using the past tense and not the literal grammatical construction, "I will do it," emphasizes that the report will in fact be on the desk by noon. By putting the future birth of the child in the past tense, the reader is assured that he will be born.
Both the Old and New Testaments use the idiom of permission. Unfortunately, the translators are inconsistent in translating it, sometimes rendering it literally (as I did above) and sometimes substituting the future for the past, writing what they think the reader will understand. This inconsistency is why some versions read, "a child will be born to us," while others read, "a child is born to us," and still others read, "a child has been born to us." 4
The prophecy states that the child has the government on his shoulders, thus letting the reader know that this child is the promised Messiah, the one who will rule. This is confirmed by the next verse, which says this child will rule on David's throne "forever," (Isa. 9:7), something that could be done only by the Messiah. This magnificent verse then declares some wonderful things about the coming Messiah by telling us what his "name" will be. In Hebrew culture, a name was more than just a designation, i.e., what someone was called. Many times it described attributes of the person himself.
In Isaiah 9:6 we learn five of the names of the Messiah, who is Jesus Christ. That these "names" refer to attributes is clear from the fact that Jesus was never called any of these names, yet they all apply to him. First, he has the name "Wonder." The versions are divided over this, many of them having "Wonder" or "Wonderful" as a separate name (Darby, Douay-Rheims, Geneva Bible, KJV, Young's Literal), and many of them having "Wonderful Counselor" as the first name, using "wonderful" as an adjective describing the type of counselor (ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, RSV). We can see why "Wonderful Counselor" is attractive. Not only is "Wonder" an unusual name, the list flows well as couplets, with the last three names being more like phrases. However, in the Hebrew text, the word "Wonder" is not an adjective or adverb, but a noun, and as such it should stand on its own.5
The name "Wonder" harkens back to the time of Samson, when the angel told Manoah that his name was "wonderful" (NASB), using the adjectival form of the word. The root of the word refers to things that are unusual, and which awakenastonishment in man. We certainly see that in the life of Jesus. Everywhere he went he did wonders, and men were astonished. So one of the things the Jews should have known to look for in their Messiah was a man who did wonders and caused astonishment among the people.
The second name is "Counselor," a word that is straightforward and easy to understand. The coming Messiah would be a counselor, one who gives needed advice and wisdom. Many kings give advice that benefits them or their kingdom, but Isaiah said the Messiah was going to be a true counselor. He would give advice and counsel that would be in the best interests of the people m his kingdom.
The third name is, in Hebrew, el-gibbor. Although the majority of versions translate this as "Mighty God," that is due to the influence of Trinitarian doctrine. The Hebrew does not have to be translated that way at all, and it is safe to say that no Jew was looking for God to come in the form of a human. "El" can refer to God, but it can also refer to lesser "gods," either [angelic] beings or human rulers. The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon shows that el can refer to a number of different things, including
- "men of might and rank,"
- "gods of the nations,"
- the proper name of a specific god,
- "as characterizing mighty things in nature," i.e., mighty mountains, and
- "the one and only true God."
Scripture contains examples of these; for instance, Exodus 34:14a states, "Do not worship any other god [el] ..." The idolater of Isaiah 44:10, 15, and 17 makes a god (el) and worships it. In Ezekiel 31:11 el is used of a human ruler, and gets translated as "ruler" (NIV), "despot" (NASB), "prince" (NJB, NRSV), and "mighty one" (KJV).
The word gibbor means strong or mighty, and refers to someone who is bold or audacious, strong or valiant.6 The phrase "el gibbor" is used in the plural in Ezekiel 32:21 (ESV, NRSV, RSV), where it is translated "mighty chiefs," "mighty leaders" (NIV), "strong among the mighty" (KJV), "mightiest heroes" (NJB), and "mighty warriors" (Moffatt). Given that generally an "el" is a ruler in some sense, and gibbor means strong or mighty, "Mighty Ruler" would be a good choice for the translation in Isaiah 9:6, and that is exactly what the Jews were looking for in their Messiah.
No wonder they were surprised when Jesus did not attempt to seize the reigns of power from the Romans and liberate Israel. No wonder Mary and his brothers thought he was insane (Mark 3:21), and no wonder when Jesus said he would die, that Peter could not accept it (Matt. 16:22). Yet we, looking back at Jesus' life and forward to his reign as king, can see that Jesus was, is, and will be, a Mighty Ruler. Who but a Mighty Ruler could live like Jesus, wanting only to glorify his Father? Who but a Mighty Ruler could live a sinless life of self-sacrifice? And who but a Mighty Ruler could administer the world to come? "Mighty Ruler" is a most apt name for the Messiah.
The next name of the Messiah is "Father of the Age to come."7 Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be the founder of the Messianic Age. In biblical culture, when someone started something, he was the "father" of it. Thus Jabal is the "father" of the nomadic people who dwell in tents and herd cattle (Gen. 4:20), Jubal is the "father" of those who play the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), and Abraham is the "father" of all those who believe (Rom. 4:11). By saying the Messiah was the "father of the Age to come" it was clear that he would initiate the Messianic Age in which the blessings of health, safety, food, and much more, would finally be restored to the earth. The disciples knew this, and just before his ascension they asked Jesus if he were going to restore the kingdom at that time (Acts 1:6).
Although most versions translate "... Father of the Age to come..." as "Everlasting Father," that is not a good translation. The only "Everlasting Father" is THE Father, God, the one whom Jesus addressed as "Father." In neither Trinitarian nor Biblical Unitarian theology is the Son ever known as the Everlasting Father. Significantly, the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Version of the Bible (revised into its more modern form in 1749 and still available today) reads "... the Father of the world to come. ..."
The last name in Isaiah 9:6 is "Prince of Shalom." Most translations read "Prince of Peace," because "peace" is the usual translation of the Hebrew word "shalom." However, shalom means more than just "peace." It refers to an overall wholeness or soundness, a general state of well-being, peace, tranquility, and contentment. By referring to the Messiah as "the Prince of Shalom," the word is saying that those who live under his rule will not only have "peace," i.e., lack of disturbance and war, but also wholeness, contentment, and well-being.
Isaiah 9:6 certainly gave the people of Israel a vision of the Messiah to whom they could look forward with great excitement and expectation. Their Messiah would be "Mr. Wonder," both doing wonders and causing wonder and amazement in those around him. He would be a Counselor, carefully guiding the hearts of his people, giving them the wise advice they would need to be successful. He would be a Mighty Ruler, doing mighty acts in support of his people and ruling with a firm and fair hand. As the Father of the Age to come, he would initiate the Messianic Age, complete with all its blessings, and as his rule continued through the Messianic Age, he would be the Prince of Shalom, assuring that everyone lived in a state of well-being, contentment, and tranquility.
1. More attributes of the Messiah's kingdom, and more documentation for the points presented above can be found in our book, The Christian's Hope: The Anchor of the Soul, pp. 61-65. ...
2. John Schoenheit is leading a team of revisers and translators of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV) This new version, called the RASV, will reflect the textual and theological work of Christian Educational Services. Our goal is to make this the most accurate Bible translation in English.
3. Technically, Hebrew expresses past, present, and future differently than English, but for our purposes to say the prophecy is in the "past tense" is correct
4. For more on the prophetic perfect, see our book, One God & One Lord, pp. 375-379, or for a fuller treatment see, our book, The Christian's Hope, pp. 223-240. ...
5. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament Vol VII, Isaiah (William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1976), p. 252
6. F. Brown, S. Driver, C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, reprinted 2000), p. 150
7. We italicize "to come" here for the same reason that KJV and NASB italicize words, to show they are not in the original text, but can be supplied to clarify what is being spoken of.