“This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles– The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.’ ” Matthew 4:12-16 (NAS)
Matthew, moved by the Holy Spirit, cites another messianic reference by the prophet Isaiah.
Just a little background for your edification on this great Old Testament prophet from which so many New Testament quotes are derived. Isaiah showed up on the scene (740 B.C.) about smack dab in the middle of the time between Moses (1445 B.C.) and Jesus Christ (26 A.D.). So in reference to Old Testament events, He was a “central” figure, you might say. Since the “theological emphasis” of Scripture is Jesus (Rev. 19:10b), his ministry was to keep the eyes of the people of God focused on the promised Deliverer and Savior (Messiah) that Moses had spoken of, who was to come. The quote Matthew (through the Spirit) lifts from the writings of Isaiah in its original context is found in chapter nine of the book of Isaiah: “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. ‘The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.’ ” (Isa. 9:1, 2 NAS) Because they (along with the rest of Israel) had rejected the law and the testimony of God (Old Testament scriptures), the land of Zebulun and Naphtali had been the first to taste the judgment of the LORD at the hands of the Assyrian army as the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed and hauled off to captivity. Shrouded ever since in spiritual darkness and gloom, this land and this people would be the first to experience the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ according to prophecy! Something interesting to note here concerning this prophecy that you may not have considered. Matthew is moved to say that this prophecy was fulfilled after John had been thrown into prison and Jesus had returned to Galilee before finally settling in at Capernaum (after leaving His hometown, Nazareth; see Luke 4:16-31) on Lake Galilee. Jesus had previously performed the miracle of turning the water into wine at the Cana marriage ceremony and briefly set up shop in Capernaum immediately thereafter before sojourning to Jerusalem for the Passover. (John 2:1-25) Notice the scripture doesn’t regard those events to be part of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. Consider the context that follows our text in the record of Matthew. “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” (Matt. 4:17 NAS) What had John the Immerser been saying in preparation for Jesus’ coming? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2) John was fulfilling the purpose of God, according to prophecy, as was noted concerning him in Isaiah 40:3. Check out what Isaiah prophesied in chapter nine, verse three: “Thou shalt multiply the nation, Thou shalt increase their gladness; they will be glad in Thy presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” (NAS) Now look at what Matthew then writes as occurs next. Jesus calls his first disciples, two sets of brothers later to be apostles, Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John. (Matt 4:18-21) See what’s going on? Jesus is recruiting workers in anticipation of the harvest. Oh, by the way, what area were these apostles of Jesus drawn from? It was Galilee, right? Hmmm…the Galileans get to see the light of Jesus Christ (in the flesh, resurrected from the dead and finally in glory) and then these who saw the light are entrusted to take that message of light into the world. Those, who would by means of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of heaven (the church), would thereby multiply the nation, bringing gladness to the hearts of men and women who responded to the message! They were motivated to do so understanding they were plundering the house of Satan and working as teams, dividing the spoil (lost souls) from their former master and into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Each soul added to the kingdom brethren, fulfills that prophecy. So, send the light!