In the NRSV you do not really notice the uncertainty whether verse 1 belongs to this passage.
In the Hebrew text this verse is Isaiah 8:23 and it is clear that a very different (poetry rather than prose) section starts in what is for us 9:2. In the Septuagint (LXX – the ancient Greek translation) which Matthew quotes this verse is used as the introduction to the poem. This text (our 9:1) is hard to interpret. Both verbs are in a perfect tense, which means that the action in them is completed not continuous.
The first verb could both mean “treat with contempt” or “lighten”; the second verb could both mean “honour” or “afflict” (make heavy). They are clearly parallel but which way around? Interpreters (in first instance Emilio O. Forrer, 1920) see in the three geographical places of the second part of the verse: ‘the way of the sea’, ‘the land beyond the Jordan’ and ‘Galilee of the nations’ the three Assyrian provinces that were established in the Northern Kingdom after Tiglath-Pileser’s invasion (2 Kings 15:29). The Assyrians exiled the people of Israel and brought in other people in their place. Even in Jesus’ time (almost 750 years later) this area was still looked down upon because of the mixed population. The sea was still seen as dangerous and chaotic as it always was. Yet there where foreigners and strangers live, there where you can go to sea, there a light has shined. I wonder: where is the light of Christ shining today?
22 January 2017
Isaiah 9: 1-4
This weekly blog on one of the lectionary readings is by Anna-Claar Thomasson-Rosingh, Coordinator for the Centre for Encountering the Bible and Director of Studies for the Centre for Formation in Ministry.