“You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil” (Isa 9:3).
In their beginning, God blessed the man and woman he created in his image saying, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). But they didn’t. At least not right away anyway. Not until after they corrupt their nature and curdle the image that their Creator gifted to them do they multiply. But this was not the way God intended.
Instead of bringing forth more gardeners to work and live alongside them in the unfettered presence of their good and loving Creator, they brought forth competitors, challengers, and contenders corrupted by sin. These generations did not seek to multiply. They sought to curtail. Cain killed Abel. In three generations, Cain’s descendent, Lamech boasted, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me” (Gen. 4:23).
In seven more generations, the wickedness of humanity was such “that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Gen. 6:5, 11-12). So God uncreated. He sent a flood to put an end to all people (Gen. 6:13).
But, sin remained because he rescued Noah and his family from the flood. God would not solve our sin problem through complete destruction “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth…. never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 8:21; 9:11). Still, despite knowing the corruption of human hearts, God blessed Noah and his sons as he had Adam and Eve. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth….be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:1, 7).
This time they did. But the succeeding generations did not fill the earth. They stayed put. In their pride, they sought to make a name for themselves and displace their Creator. So God displaced them. He confused their language and so they scattered (Gen. 1:1-9).
Ten generations passed. Then God brought a new promise. This time to a couple who could no longer multiply. They had no children and they were too old. Or so Abraham and Sarah thought. God promised he would multiply them greatly and make a great nation from them (Gen.12:1-2; 17:2). He promised them a son (Gen 15:4; 17:19; 18:10). He promised that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen.12:3).
God kept his promise and multiplied them. He increased their joy. They named him Isaac. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Gen. 21:6.)
Isaiah’s words in 9:3 reflect the past promises God made and kept to Abraham. “You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.” His words also face forward.
Isaiah speaks to our time. He speaks to our rejoicing now and an anticipated joy-filled future. Christ’s coming, Christmas, brings them both.
Today, God continues to greatly multiply Abraham. And still through the power of his word of promise, we remain powerless. We trusted in ourselves and treated others with contempt. We were his enemies who sought not to multiply, but divide and destroy. But he makes us Abraham’s descendants through faith that comes from hearing the gospel (Gal. 3:7).
This gospel, God’s word of forgiveness, comes to us on the lips of another. It comes to us in the waters of baptism which wash away our sin. It continues to come to us under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. There, this word is put in our mouths with Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sin. He makes us children of the promise (Gal. 4:28).
God increases our joy. As children of the promise, he gives us his Spirit and his Spirit brings gifts, fruit of the Spirit as Paul calls them. One of them is joy (Gal 5:22-23). We laugh with Sarah. We rejoice with Zechariah: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people” (Luke 1:68). We sing with Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
We rejoice before him in his presence. Like the shepherds who looked upon salvation wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger and went away rejoicing. Like Simeon, who not only beheld salvation with his eyes, but held it in his hands and sang “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples” (Luke 2:29-31).
We rejoice as with joy at the harvest. Not because we cause faith and life to grow, but because God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:7). Where we bring forth death, he brings forth life.
When the man and woman made of earth soiled the divine image they received, God cursed the ground. He multiplied the pain of the harvest. He multiplied the pain of child bearing. Yet God promised a seed, an offspring, a child that would bring forth life (Gen. 3:15). While Cain caused death, Isaac, the child only God’s promise could bring forth, brought joy and life. He foreshadowed another child, another promised seed that only God could bring forth. This child would die and be buried like a seed and rise to bring forth life and joy.
We rejoice as those who divide the spoils. Jesus came to earth, in the flesh. He came so that he could go to the cross and there defeat our enemies, not with silver and gold, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. And now we anticipate the future when he will return. Then we will rejoice again as he lays to rest the last vestiges of our mortality corrupted by sin and brings us into life everlasting.