This week let’s go back just a bit and make sure we have the whole big picture: As David finishes his reign and is on his deathbed, palace intrigue leads to Solomon’s anointing as the new king over Israel. Solomon, like David, is portrayed as a wise and complex character. During his reign, the Temple is built in Jerusalem and worship of God is consolidated in a central location. Solomon’s reign is a time of prosperity, supporting the idea that Solomon and the Davidic line dwell in God’s favor. Over time and as rulers succeed Solomon, the people of Israel grow increasingly far from worship of the one God and devotion in the temple. A split between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah follows Solomon’s death. For some time the people move back and forth between times of dedication and devotion to God and worship of other idols. During this time, there are often foreign powers and temptations to follow or worship other gods. Both of these things threaten Israel’s existence and the prophets warn the people that all of these temptations take them further from God’s favor. Moreover, as we saw with Amos, many early prophets railed against the people’s abandonment of the poor, widow, orphan, and alien.
Around this time, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, prophets emerge to tell Israel that if they do not turn back to God and love their neighbor, they will be sent out of the land that God has given to the people. In short, the prophets remind the people of who God is and of who the people are supposed to be in response to God.
Even as Isaiah proclaims a rather gloomy message, he says that God will raise up another who will bring the people back to God. Even though Isaiah pronounces judgement, he says the throne of David will be upheld in the birth of a child. In response to this message, the people come to expect a political savior who will liberate them from their political oppressors.
Hear the story
The theme of the story that is important to grasp is Isaiah tells the people the truth about how far they are from God while offering the hope that one day everything will be different. The exile–the people’s being taken out of the land by foreign powers–is often understood in the Biblical narrative as a judgement from God, and they begin to plea for the restoration of their favor–and the promise of such favor begins to take root in the words of the prophets.
Isaiah 9:1-7. You can read this story from the Bible or tell it in your own words. Unfortunately, so many of the children’s Bibles don’t deal well with the period of the Prophets and there is very little specific focus on any part of the text. If you use any of the following, you may want to use them only as supplemental materials and read chapter 9 from a real Bible.
The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story of Isaiah’s prophecies under the title “Operation ‘No More Tears’” (pages 144-151) in the form of a letter from God. It’s a very brief presentation of the entire book and puts special emphasis on the prophecy about a “rescuer.” The Children of God Storybook Bible does not tell the story from Isaiah 9, but has some good material introducing the reasons why Isaiah was asked to address the people. You can find this under “Isaiah Becomes God’s Messenger” (p. 52-3). The Children’s Illustrated Bible shares part of Isaiah’s prophecies on p.154.
Respond to the Story
1. Light and Dark. Sometimes when we are not exploring a narrative story, but a piece of poetry as Isaiah 9 is, we can focus on the images rather than characters or plot points. the following activities help reflect on the significance of the phrase: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone” (9:2).
- Dark and Light: Together, brainstorm things about light and darkness. You might write each of the lists on the whiteboard. What does darkness look like? What does the dark make us feel like? What do you think the dark was like to the people of Israel? What does light look like? What does the light make us feel? What or who do you think the people of Israel thought the light would be?
- Light Songs Some of these songs might help us think about light:
- Light of the World (you stepped down into darkness)
- Marching [in the light of God]
- This little light of mine
- Advent Light: The growing light of our Advent wreaths ties the image of light closely to the coming of Christ.
- Mosaic of light: Make mosaic images of light using pieces of tissue paper on wax paper (so it can be hung like stained glass). Older children might like to try a mosaic with words “the light shines” or “the light shines in the dark.” Younger children may like to try making symbols and images of light– a candle, the sun, a bright halo, etc.
2. How best to Rescue?
- Come up with a plan or strategy: Together discuss what it is that the people of Israel need to be rescued from–exile, sin, being far from God– and divide into teams. Each team can come up with a strategy for how they think the people of Israel might best be saved from these things. The people of Israel thought that they might be saved from exile by a strong military or political leader, someone who could show the world the strength of God. Instead, God chose to meet the people in a child. Was this the only way to make things right? Was this the best way? Why did God choose something so unexpected?
3. Names of Jesus:
- Wonderful Counselor: Write a poem, design a piece of art, or write a journal entry about what these names mean to you. Is there another name in the Bible for Jesus that is important to you? Is there a name that isn’t in the Bible that you think should be?
Close with a feast and prayer