The prophet Isaiah (Mt 4:14-4:16)

“Thus,

What had been spoken

Through the prophet Isaiah

Might be fulfilled.

‘The land of Zebulun,

The land of Naphtali,

On the road by the sea,

Across the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles!

The people

Who sat in darkness

Have seen a great light.

Light has dawned

For those who sat

In the region,

In the shadow of death.’”

 

ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος

Γῆ Ζαβουλὼν καὶ γῆ Νεφθαλείμ, ὁδὸν θαλάσσης, πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν,

ὁ λαὸς ὁ καθήμενος ἐν σκοτίᾳ φῶς εἶδεν μέγα, καὶ τοῖς καθημένοις ἐν χώρᾳ καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου φῶς ἀνέτειλεν αὐτοῖς.

 

Matthew was unique in using this citation from Isaiah, chapter 9:1-5, where Isaiah was describing a defeat of the northern territories of Zebulun and Naphtali (Γῆ Ζαβουλὼν καὶ γῆ Νεφθαλείμ), near the Syrian border in the 8th century BCE. They were on the road near the sea, across the Jordan (ὁδὸν θαλάσσης, πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου). Thus, this area became known as the Galilee of the gentles or the other nations or non-Jewish people (Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν). Matthew used Isaiah, even though at the time of Jesus, there were a lot of Jewish people in Galilee. Using Isaiah, Matthew said that these people were sitting in darkness (ὁ λαὸς ὁ καθήμενος ἐν σκοτίᾳ), but the good news was that a great light would come to them (φῶς εἶδεν μέγα) to shine on their darkness. This dawning light (φῶς ἀνέτειλεν αὐτοῖς) would save those who were sitting in the shadowy land of death (καὶ τοῖς καθημένοις ἐν χώρᾳ καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου). Matthew saw that this as a fulfillment of the prophetic words of Isaiah (ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος). This saying from Isaiah preceded his saying about a child being born.

The trip to Egypt (Mt 2:14-2:15)

“Then Joseph got up.

He took the child

With his mother,

By night.

They withdrew to Egypt.

He remained there,

Until the death of Herod.”

 

ὁ δὲ ἐγερθεὶς παρέλαβεν τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς καὶ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς Αἴγυπτον,

καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἕως τῆς τελευτῆς Ἡρῴδου·

 

Joseph woke up (ὁ δὲ ἐγερθεὶς) from his sleep after the dream of the angel of the Lord.  Then at night (νυκτὸς), he took the child with his mother (παρέλαβεν τὸ παιδίον καὶ τὴν μητέρα αὐτοῦ).  They went or withdrew into Egypt (ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς Αἴγυπτον), just as he had been told to do.  Joseph clearly followed the instructions that he got in his dream.  He took his whole family, without hesitation, under the cover of darkness at night, into an unknown place in Egypt.  They stayed someplace in Egypt (ἦν ἐκεῖ ἕως), until Herod would die (τῆς τελευτῆς Ἡρῴδου).  There is no indication of where they went in Egypt.

The bitter wrathful day of Yahweh (Zeph 1:14-1:16)

“The great day of Yahweh

Is near,

Near,

Coming fast.

The sound of

The day of Yahweh

Is bitter.

The warrior

Cries aloud there.

That day will be

A day of wrath,

A day of distress,

A day of anguish,

A day of ruin,

A day of devastation,

A day of darkness,

A day of gloom,

A day of clouds

A day of darkness,

A day of trumpet blast,

A day of battle cry,

Against the fortified cities,

Against the lofty battlements.”

The day of Yahweh was to be a day of wrath and doom, as can be found also in Amos, chapter 5 and Isaiah, chapter 2.  This great day for Yahweh was coming right away, very soon.  This bitter sound was in the air, as the warriors cried out loudly with their battle cry against the fortified cities and their secure fortresses.  This was a day of wrath, distress, anguish, ruin, devastation, darkness, gloom, clouds, and a trumpet blast, certainly not a happy day.  Thus, the natural connection to death formed the inspiration for the medieval funeral hymn, Dies Irae, Latin for the day of wrath.

The weakness of his enemies (Nah 1:8-1:8)

Kaph

“Yahweh will make a full end

Of his adversaries.

He will pursue

His enemies

Into darkness.”

According to the last of these Hebrew letters, Kaph, Yahweh would not be kind to his enemies.  He would put an end to them and pursue them until they lived in darkness, presumably death.

Micah would rise again (Mic 7:8-7:10)

“Do not rejoice over me!

O my enemy!

When I fall,

I shall rise.

When I sit in darkness,

Yahweh

Will be a light for me.

I will bear the indignation

Of Yahweh,

Because I have sinned

Against him.

I wait

Until he takes

My side.

I wait

Until he executes judgment

For me.

He will bring me out

To the light.

I shall see

His vindication.

Then my enemy

Will see.

Shame will cover her

Who said to me.

‘Where is Yahweh

Your God?’

My eyes will see

Her downfall.

Now she will be trodden down,

Like the mire

Of the streets.”

Micah did not want his enemies to rejoice because he was going to rise again, just like Israel itself.  When Micah was in darkness, Yahweh was his light.  He was suffering the judgment of Yahweh, because of his sins.  However, Yahweh was going to vindicate him.  At that point, his enemies would be put to shame.  Those who had taunted him about his God Yahweh, would be stamped on in the streets, like stinky mud or mire.

Against the lying prophets (Mic 3:5-3:7)

“Thus says Yahweh

Concerning the prophets,

Who lead my people astray.

‘They cry

‘Peace!’

When they have something

To eat.

But they declare war

Against those who put

Nothing into their mouths.

Therefore,

It shall be night to you,

Without vision.

It shall be darkness to you,

Without revelation.

The sun shall go down

Upon the prophets.

The day shall be black

Over them.

The seers shall be disgraced.

The diviners put to shame.

They shall all cover their lips.

There is no answer

From God.’”

This was another bitter rebuke of the prophetic leaders in Israel and Jacob.  These prophets had led Yahweh’s people astray.  They had cried peace to those who give them something to eat, but they declared war on those who did not give them anything to eat.  Thus, they would live in a night like condition without any vision.  There would be darkness, without any revelation.  The sun would go down on these evil prophets, so that their days would be pitch dark all around them.  The seers would be disgraced, while the diviners would be ashamed.  They would have nothing to say, because God would not answer them.

The dark day of Yahweh (Am 5:18-5:20)

“Woe to you!

You who desire

The day of Yahweh!

Why do you want

The day of Yahweh?

It is darkness,

Not light.

It is like

As if someone fled

From a lion,

But a bear met him.

It is like

Someone went into the house.

They then rested

Their hand

Against the wall.

Then a serpent bit him.

Is not

The day of Yahweh

Darkness,

Not light?

It is gloom

With no brightness in it.”

The day of Yahweh meant many different things to the ancient Israelites. For some, it was a favorable intervention of Yahweh. For others, as here, it was a day of Yahweh’s anger. After the exile, it was considered a day of hope that the anger of Yahweh would turn on Israel’s oppressors. Then this day of Yahweh became a day of judgment, as a triumph for the righteous. Finally, there were cosmic signs that would accompany this day of Yahweh. Here, Amos wanted to know why anyone would want the day of Yahweh to come, because it was a time of darkness, not light. In fact, he wanted to curse them for wishing the day of Yahweh to come. This day of Yahweh was more like a person fleeing from a lion, only to run into a bear. It was like going into a house, and then resting your arm on the wall, only to be bit by a snake. For Amos, the day of Yahweh was a time of darkness, not light, a time of gloom and not brightness.