January 5: Isaiah 9:5

Isaiah 9:5-6
Verse 5 [6]

“For a child has been born to us,
a son has been given to us,
and rule is come to be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called:
Father of ‘Long-Life’,
Prince of Peace.”

As with vv. 3-4 (cf. the previous note), vv. 5-6 begin with the particle yK! (“for…”, “[it is] that…”), a conjunctive particle often used with emphatic (or asseverative) force. Here it clearly relates the announcement of the new king (in Judah/Jerusalem) to the deliverance of Israel from her foreign oppressor (vv. 3-4). Indeed, the rule that his upon his shoulder is in stark contrast to the yoke of servitude that had been upon the shoulder of the Israelite people. Even so, the precise relationship between vv. 1-4 and vv. 5-6 may be debated. Is the birth of the child (or accession of the king) the means by which God will bring about the things detailed in vv. 1-4? Are 8:23-9:4 the reason for the birth? Or are the events of vv. 1-4 juxtaposed with the birth as parallel aspects of God’s action?

The first two lines may be summarized simply:

    • Wnl*ÁdL^y% dl#y# yK! (“For a child has been born to/for us”)—the etymological connection of dly is lost in translation: “a (thing) born has been born”, “a (thing) brought-forth has been brought-forth”.
    • Wnl*Á/T^n] /B@ (“a son has been given to/for us”)—a point of (synonymous) poetic parallelism with the previous phrase.

The noun hr*c=m! occurs only here (and in v. 6) in the Old Testament. It is presumed to derive from a root (hrc II) meaning “rule,” but based entirely upon the context here (and by the LXX translation of a)rxh/). It may also be related to rc^ (translated “prince”, as in the fourth title at end of the verse, cf. below). The mem (-m) preformative element could either be the mark of a verbal noun (“ruling”) or a locative indicator (place of rule, i.e., kingdom, dominion). Given the contrastive parallel with the instruments of slavery (yoke and shoulder/pinion bar) in v. 3, hr*c=m! is best understood here as signifying the ruling power and authority given to the king (and possessed by him). A royal staff, resting upon his shoulder, would make a fitting parallel to the oppressor’s authoritative staff/rod (fb#v@). In any case, we are most likely dealing symbolic emblem[s] of rule, along with the names applied to the king (cf. below), being ritualized aspects of sovereignty.

What of the titles or names in Isaiah 9:5b? There are four: the first two have nouns in juxtaposition, the second two are effectively construct forms:

    • Ju@oy al#P# (pele° yô±¢ƒ), typically translated “Wonderful Counsellor”
    • roBG] la@ (°¢l gibbôr), typically “Mighty God”

However, the English rendering is a bit misleading, as if the first words were adjectives modifying the second. The nouns juxtaposed are not related syntactically in quite this way. The noun al#P# refers to something extraordinary, i.e. a wonder, marvel, miracle, etc. The relation between the nouns is perhaps better expressed by a comma, or hyphen: “Wonder, Counsellor” or “Wonder–Counsellor”. The noun roBG] refers to a strong (man) or warrior. la@, usually translated “God” (El), has an original meaning something like “mighty” (“Mighty [One]” = “God”); the plural form <yh!l)a$ (Elohim) is probably an intensive plural, roughly “Mightiest”. “God Warrior” is a fairly accurate rendering of the second name, or, translating even more literally “Mighty One, Warrior”.

    • du^yb!a& (°¦»î±ad), familiar translation “Everlasting Father”
    • <olv*Árc^ (´ar-sh¹lôm), “Prince of Peace”

In the third name, the two words have been joined (without a maqqeph [‘hyphen’]), the second of which is difficult to translate. du^ indicates, more or less literally, the passing or advancing of time, either in the sense of (a) into the distant past, (b) into the [distant] future, or (c) in perpetuity [i.e. continually]. As such, it is roughly synonymous with the word <lou (see v. 6). “Everlasting” is not especially accurate, but it is hard to find an English word that is much better. In the context of a royal title, something along the lines of “long life” is probably implied (similar to Egyptian titles, i.e. “living forever”, “good in years”, etc). This would create a parallel with the two names: “Father of ‘Long-life'”, “Prince of Peace” —two aspects of the promised time of renewal. However, there is a sense of du^ which also indicates “ancient” or “eternal” (Hab 3:6, etc) as long as one is careful not to infuse the latter rendering with an exaggerated theological meaning.

These four titles are included under the formula: “and he/they will call [or has called] his name…”

It is not entirely certain whether we are dealing here with the birth of the new king, or to his coronation/accession (as a ‘birth’), or both. The identity of this figure, and his relation to the child in 7:10ff, will be discussed in an upcoming note. In my view, vv. 5-6 here do draw upon the traditional language of coronation rituals in the ancient Near East. For more on this, cf. the discussion by Roberts (pp. 150-3) and the earlier studies he cites. In particular, parallels with the Egyptian coronation service have been noted (cf. specifically the texts related to Hatshepsut, Amenhotep III, and Haremhab). The exalted titles in verse 5 are comparable to a number of the Egyptian crown-titles that are attested—e.g., “ready in plans” (cp. ‘Wonderful counselor’), “great in marvels,” “good god,” “great in strength,” “living forever,” “(he) who gives life,” etc (Roberts, p. 151f).

References above marked “Roberts” are to J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia (Fortress Press: 2015).

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