The Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, stormed into the Mediterranean region and by 732 BC he had broken the Aramean-Israel alliance and captured Damascus. Northern Israel (i.e., the cities of Galilee) fell next, followed by Gilead. Following Assyrian custom, the people were deported and foreigners were brought in to occupy the land. (Conquered lands were much easier to control when emptied of their patriots). The prophet Isaiah spoke of it as Galilee of the Gentiles. The people living there were said to be in darkness and in the land of the shadow of death. (Isaiah 9:1-2).
I’m sure the local chambers of commerce appreciated Isaiah’s characterization of their communities. Can’t you see their meetings? Can you imagine them trying to put a positive spin on his words? “How about this: We live in darkness—leave your sunglasses at home! Or another might say, “I’ve got one: Arrive alive in the land of the shadow of death.
But Isaiah had more to say than that! He promised that light would come to their darkness, oppression would be lifted, and joy would come (9:2ff). Matthew (a native of Capernaum), pointedly tells us in 4:12-16 of his account that after being rejected in his home town of Nazareth, Jesus chose to live in Capernaum of Galilee. He made this choice for the specific purpose of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of bringing light to the people who had been living in darkness and in the land of the shadow of death.
Don’t you love that? The King of Kings came to earth and refused a comfortable palace so He could live among people in darkness. He chose to live in the land of the shadow of death! And the hope He brought to them meant the death of despair. The region that had been the first to feel the wrath of the Assyrians would be the first to experience the deliverance of the Messiah.
Emily Dickinson wrote these words:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune—without the words, And never stops at all.
Aah . . . hope. Who do you know who is living in the land of the shadow of death and needs the hope of Jesus?