Isaiah 8:17-9:5: The Light Shines in the Darkness

Thanks to Tim Stanton for preaching this morning; he was back home during his Christmas break from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is currently earning a Master of Divinity.


  • The Need of the Light
  • The Promise of the Light
  • The Victory of the Light


In the movie the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf instructs Aragorn before the siege of Helms deep, “Look for my coming on the dawn of the fifth day. At dawn, look to the east.” Then in the midst of the battle for Helms Deep the soldiers have come to the last of their strength and orcs have almost finished breaking the door to the keep. The city is all but destroyed and its leaders are tempted to give into despair. Then, in the midst of all this darkness, Aragorn remembers the words of Gandalf and as he looks up—there is Gandalf with the riders of Rohan shining in a blaze of light. And as the Rohirim charge the soldiers regain their courage as the see the light of Gandalf shining in the darkness.

The ideas of light and salvation are inextricably linked in our thinking. Even secular counsellors instruct those struggling with grief or depression to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. The human capacity for hope is enormous. We are hard-wired for a light at the end of the tunnel. We are wired for hope. The labourer hopes for a promotion. The child looks forward to his high school years. We are adept at producing lights to get us out of the darkness of whatever tunnel we find ourselves in. But our tendency to hope can also blindside us. Think of the serfs prior to the Russian revolution who were sold a hope of communist utopia, but ended up malnourished slaves as famine dominated the land. Think about the Chinese girl who put her hope in an advertisement to make money in Indonesia only to be trafficked to work in an underground brothel. It is important that our hope is rooted, not in a mirage, but in the light for which our capacity to hope exists.

We were made to hope. We have the capacity for hope because there is something objective we were meant to hope in. But as you can see there are also false hopes. Christ is the great hope, the great light of the world. It is Him in which we should trust. So let me ask you: where is your hope this morning? What are you hoping in? As you think right now, what is the thing that you think of and say, “If I just had that, then everything would be alright?” What is the light have you set up at the end of the tunnel?

This is the question that the prophet Isaiah is considering in our passage today. He is asking His Jewish audience where their hope is in Isaiah 8:19, “And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?” The Israelites had placed their hope in the wrong place and it lead to ruinous destruction and deep darkness. But Isaiah also points His audience to the great and true light that is coming at the end of the tunnel that is coming in the person of the LORD Jesus Christ. He says in 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them a light has shone.” Isaiah uses this idea of light to challenge his audience’s misplaced hope.

Normally a sermon on Isaiah 8 and 9 would focus on Isaiah 9:6 and 7 but because of our familiarity with those verses and our tendency, like the Israelites, to misplace our hope I would like to focus our study this Christmas morning on the idea of light. In this passage we can see: the light needed, the light promised, and the light’s victory. We will look at each of these ideas separately. The need of the light. The promise of the light. The victory of the light.