A name was very important and in Biblical times they were chosen with great consideration. Many names in the Old Testament are actually complete sentences (see the naming of Isaiah’s son in Is. 8:1) or they contain the name or a portion of the name of a god/God (such as Nebuchadnezzar or Daniel). Sometimes names were changed to indicate a change in status (such as the renaming of Abraham and Sarah- Gen. 17:1-5, 15-16). This was most notable concerning royalty. Royal names usually changed when someone ascended to the throne or another power took over but allowed the king to serve as a vassal (2 Ki. 14:17-22; 2 Chron. 26:1-4; 2 Ki. 23:34; Is. 6:1). Multiple names could also be applied to a leader to signify the kind of leader he was such as the names by which David was known by at his death: son of Jesse, a man exalted by the Most High, anointed by Jacob’s God and Israel’s favorite singer (2 Sam. 23:1).
One of the most significant compound/sentence names in all of the Scriptures appears in Isaiah 9:6. It is often read as a list, but in Hebrew the four segments of this name are not separate characteristics but a single poetic description of the Messiah. Nonetheless, it is fruitful to look at these connected parts one by one for in that endeavor we come to more fully understand Jesus as the Messiah. With the Christmas season upon us and Advent underway, it’s the perfect time of year to do so. So, let’s unpack the first portion of this beautiful passage.
The Hebrew word for “wonderful” is pele (like the soccer superstar!) and this noun can mean a wonder, miracle, or marvel. With the exception of Lam. 1:9 where it is used to describe how extreme and horrifying the fall of Jerusalem was, pele is used to represent something unusual or extraordinary and is always connected with God’s words or deeds. We could compose a lengthy list of all the wonderful things we see in Scripture which God has promised and done, but perhaps the most wonder-filled, miraculous, and marvelous event on that list would be the Isaiah’s prophecy- the birth of a child to a virgin (Is. 7:14). In Is. 7 the child is Emanuel, “God with Us”. In Is. 9, He is “wonderful”. Matthew records in his Gospel that the events surrounding the birth of Jesus are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Mt. 1:18-22).
The second component of this title is the Hebrew word “ya-ahtz” which is a verb that means “to advise, to consult, and to counsel”. There are many examples of counselors in the Old Testament: Jethro (Ex. 18:19); Hushai and Ahithophel (2 Sam. 17:15; 1 Ki. 12:9); the prophets (2 Sam. 12:1-5; Jer. 38:15) and God Himself (Ps. 6:7; Is. 1:18). So it is no surprise that the Messiah as God’s anointed would be considered a counselor too. Jesus demonstrated remarkable wisdom and perception both as a child (Lk. 2:39-40, 46-47) and as an adult (Mt. 13:53-36). In Col. 2:30 Paul acknowledges that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embodied in Christ and the Gospels are full of Jesus’ counsel on all matters of life form direct lessons (Mt. 5:1-7:28) to parables (Mt. 25:1-46; Mk. 4:1-9; Lk. 13:18-22 and more!) and teachable moments (Lk. 8:22-25; Jn. 6:1-14, 26-40).
Life often fills us with many questions and even more people who claim to have the answers to them. Jesus as the Wonderful Counselor is always available any time of day or night, any day of the week or month of the year to answer our questions. How does He do that? Jesus counsels us in Scripture, in prayer (Ps. 119:24; Js. 1:5) and through the people He sends to help us (Pr. 11:14). We can be confident that since He is the Wonderful Counselor He will bring us to a place of understanding and that by listening to His counsel we’ll have cause to rejoice (Ps. 32:8-11). Hopefully we are listening to Him just like Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. and Frances Ethel Gumm listened to their career counselors!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 12/4/2016