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Isaiah 9:1 New American Standard Bible 1995

9 [a]But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.

Isaiah 9:1 English Standard Version

9 [a] But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

Isaiah 9:1 King James Version

9 Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.

Isaiah 9:1 New King James Version

9 Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, As when at first He lightly esteemed The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles.

9:1 The Westminster Leningrad Codex

9 הָעָם֙ הַהֹלְכִ֣ים בַּחֹ֔שֶׁךְ רָא֖וּ א֣וֹר גָּד֑וֹל יֹשְׁבֵי֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ צַלְמָ֔וֶת א֖וֹר נָגַ֥הּ עֲלֵיהֶֽם׃

Why does the KJV & NKJV translate Isaiah 9:1(b) in such a way that the affliction/oppression becomes worse but the NASB1995 & ESV translate that it becomes more glorious? Could someone also please provide their interpretation of the Old Testament Hebrew (WLC) translation in their answer?

2 Answers 2

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This is tricky. The operative verb is כָּבֵד (kabad) = (BDB) "be heavy, weighty, burdensome, honoured". That is, in Hebrew idiom, one can be "heavy" with burdens; "heavy" with honor and so glorious; etc.

Thus, depending on context, the verb could be translated as either heavy, burdensome or to be glorious. For example we have the word translated as:

  • rich, Gen 13:2
  • grave or grievous, Gen 18:20
  • respected, Gen 34:19
  • dim (from age) Gen 48:10
  • Ex 5:9 - heavier
  • hardened (his heart) Ex 8:15, 9:7, 34, 10:1,
  • honored Gen 14:4, 17, 20:12, Lev 10:3, Num 22;15, 17, 37, 24:11, Deut 5:16, Job 14:21, etc
  • grew strong, Josh 1:35
  • became fierce, Judges 20:34

Ellicott addresses this when he says:

(1) Nevertheless the dimness . . .—It is obvious, even in the English version, that the chapters are wrongly divided, and that what follows forms part of the same prophetic utterance as Isaiah 8. That version is, however, so obscure as to be almost unintelligible, and requires an entire remodelling:—Surely there is no gloom to her that was afflicted. In the former time he brought shame on the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter he bringeth honour on the way by the sea, beyond Jordan, the circuit of the Gentiles.

The prophet had seen in the closing verses of Isaiah 8 the extreme point of misery. That picture, as it were, dissolves, and another takes its place. She that was afflicted, the whole land of Israel, should have no more affliction. The future should be in striking contrast with the past. The lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, the region afterwards known as the Upper and Lower Galilee, had been laid waste and spoiled by Tiglath-pilneser (2Kings 15:29). That same region, described by the prophet in different terms (the former representing the tribal divisions, the latter the geographical) is hereafter to be the scene of a glory greater than Israel had ever known before.

Isa 9 is part of the continuing prophecy about the future of Israel and coming Messiah and His glory and majesty. Therefore, in this case, the preferred translation is "honored".

This is confirmed by the descriptions that follow:

  • have seen a great light
  • have seen a great light
  • enlarged the nation
  • and increased its joy.
  • The people rejoice before You as they rejoice at harvest time, as men rejoice in dividing the plunder.

V4 and onward add further weight to this view.

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@Dottard puts "honored" as preferred translation and the ESV "glorious" appears to fit with Mark 4, Luke 8 and Matthew 8. ESV:

"latter times" "last times" 1 Peter 1:20. "last days" Hebrew 1:2. During the Lord's earthly ministry.

"he has made glorious the way of the sea" Mark 4:39 "Peace be still" And the wind ceased. Jesus' authority over the sea and the journey by way of the sea clearly seen.

"the land beyond Jordan". "he gave orders to go to the other side". Matthew 8:18.

"Galilee of the nations". "Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes which is opposite Galilee". Luke 8:26.

At the Dekapolis, "a center of Hellenistic and Roman culture", Jesus drove out demons and helped rid this particular region of Israel of unclean animals-pigs.

If one relates ESV Isaiah 9:1 to the Jesus calming the storm on His way to the Dekapolis, ESV and "glorious" seems a good fit.

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