12 “Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:12–16 (ESV)
“Scripture often uses light to refer to the knowledge of God and obedience to Him (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 4:18). As the light of the world (John 8:12), Jesus gives us true knowledge of our Creator (John 12:44–50) and frees us from sin’s oppression (Rom. 6:17–18), which makes us unable in and of ourselves to serve the Lord.” — Dr. R.C. Sproul.
While Matthew recorded Jesus’ ministry in Galilee geographically, there was also an underlying, spiritual significance to this occurrence. Matthew described as follows; “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” The apostle was quoting from an ancient prophecy found in Isaiah 9:1-2.
The northern regions of Zebulun and Naphtali were the first to suffer under the oppression of the Assyrian invasion in 732 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29). The rest of the northern kingdom of Israel would suffer a similar fate in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 17:6-23). Over 27,290 inhabitants of Israel were deported to distant locations. It marked the end of the northern kingdom (I Chron. 5:25-26).
The inhabitants of the Galilean region were believed to be living in darkness and under the shadow of death during Isaiah’s day. This was true for several reasons. First, the area was close to where Gentiles lived. The Jewish inhabitants were susceptible to invasion and attack. Second, the Galileans lived a great distance from the cultural and religious center of Jerusalem in Judea.
“Isaiah’s prophecy, while writing about the coming of the Messiah, was that a light would dawn in their region. Matthew shows that Jesus is that light. He shines brightly in the land of darkness known then as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Instead of coming first to the “well lit” region of Judea, Christ comes first to the people living in darkness,” explains one commentator.
Isaiah 9 is often read around Christmas. Though the prophecy was about the peoples of Galilee, it was also true that the incarnation of Jesus Christ brought spiritual light into a world filled likewise with darkness. Of the Messiah, Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
“Now we know that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and therefore, the light of salvation which it brings, and all the assistance which we derive from it, must correspond to its nature. Hence it follows, that our souls are plunged in the darkness of everlasting death, till He enlightens them by His grace. The prophet’s discourse relates no doubt, to the destruction of the nations, but presents to us, as in a mirror, what is the condition of mankind until they are delivered by the grace of Christ. When those who lay in darkness are said to have seen a great light, a change so sudden and remarkable is intended to enlarge our views of the greatness of salvation,” explains John Calvin.
Has the Lord delivered you from darkness of your sinful existence? Has He brought you into the light of His salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone? I pray that He has. I also pray that He will.
Soli deo Gloria!