*[The English text is one verse ahead of that in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Verse 9:6 in English Bibles is actually verse 9:5 in the Tanakh. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to all references according to the English reckoning.]
Verse under inspection: Isaiah 9:6,
ESV: “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.”
- Hebrew Transliteration: Ki yeled yulad lanu ben nitan lanu vat’hi hamisrah al shikmo vayiqra sh’mo Pele Yo’etz El Gibor Aviyad Sar Shalom.
- Literal translation: “For a child was born to us, a son he gave to us, and was the government upon his shoulder, and he called his name Wonder, Counselor, God, Mighty, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.”
|Literal translation:||For||a child||he was born||to us||a son||he gave|
|to us||and was||the government||upon||his shoulder||and he called|
|his name||Wonder||Counselor||God||Mighty||Father of Eternity|
|Prince of Peace.|
Are all the names in the latter half of the verse in reference to the child, or (due to Hebrew syntax) is “Wonder, Counselor, God, Mighty, and Father of Eternity” in reference to the subject (God) who then called the child’s name “Prince of Peace”?
The purpose of this paper is to answer the above question by researching where else the Hebrew words vayiqra sh’mo, followed by a name, occur in the Tanakh.
First, notice the verb forms in the Hebrew text which are incorrectly translated into English. In the ESV, all tenses in this verse are present and future (“he is born”, “he is given”, “he shall be called”). Conversely, in the Hebrew text the forms are very clearly in the perfect tense which indicates completed/past action (“he was born”, “he gave”, “he called”).
First use of vayiqra (“and he called”):
We now realize the correct translation of this key word vayiqra to be, “and he called” instead of “and he shall be called.” So we should ask who did the calling? The word vayiqra is famous as the identifying first word of the third book of Torah (Leviticus), in which the subject, Yehovah, called to Mosheh. Interestingly, the first use of vayiqra is in Gen 1:5, “And Elohim called the light Day,” (vayiqra Elohim la’or yom) where Elohim is again the subject of the sentence. Literally, the Hebrew says, “And he called Elohim to the light day”. This illustrates that often in Hebrew the verb comes first, followed by the subject, then the object. The Isa 9:6 text reads, “a child was given to us”. Presumably, “us” refers to Israel as the recipient. The child is the subject, but the verb related to the child is passive (“was given”). So who is doing the action? Who is the giver of the child? Once we understand who gave, then we may understand who called.
Although not stated explicitly, the source of the child is identified implicitly. The first two verbs of this verse are in the perfect tense (completed action). Vayiqra is the next verb in line and it is actually an imperfect verb but with one important addition. Preceding the verb is a vav-patach (the “va” sound in the word). This consonant-vowel combination is called a vav-consecutive (or vav-conversive), meaning that although the verb it modifies is technically an imperfect verb (incomplete action), since it is “consecutive” to the preceding perfect verbs, the vav “converts” the verb in translation to function as a perfect verb (completed action). The pictogram of the proto-Hebrew vav character is that of a peg or nail. The idea is that it attaches one item to another, a literary feature displayed throughout the Torah scroll. This vav-consecutive imperfect verb indicates attachment to what preceded. This imperfect verb is attached to the preceding perfect verbs (“he was born”, “he gave”) making it’s translation past tense as well. In the same way, the one performing the action of vayiqra is attached to the one performing the action of giving a son. The actor of this verb has already been implied. Elohim is the one who “gave”, so it follows also that Elohim is the one who “called”.
Survey of vayiqra sh’mo (“and he called his name”):
The usage of vayiqra has been examined and it has been established that the implied actor performing the action in our key verse is Elohim who “called”. But the crux of this study and primary question pivots on the naming of the child. The Hebrew word for “name” is shem. So, a level of specificity must be added to the study in order to hone in on the usage of vayiqra and the forms of shem occurring together.
The first three usages of vayiqra occur in Genesis ch 1 in connection with Day, Night, Heaven, Dry Land and Sea. The word shem doesn’t occur in ch 1 at all, but rather the narrative describes Elohim calling “to” each of these nouns by using the prepositional prefix of the Hebrew letter lamed, meaning “to, for, at”, (eg. “and God called to light Day…”). Perhaps Day, Night, Heaven, Dry Land, and Sea were already named and He was calling each one to attention before Him.
The fourth usage of vayiqra is in Gen 2:20, in which shem is used in the same sentence. Vayiqra ha’adam shemot l’kol hab’hemah, literally, “And he called the man names to all the beasts”. As we saw above in Gen 1:5, the Hebrew sentence structure is verb-subject-object, however, the object here is subdivided into indirect and direct. Indirect objects identify to whom or for whom the direct object is intended. Called (verb) the man (subject) to all (prepositional phrase) the beasts (direct object) for the purpose of names (indirect object). Shem (pl. shemot) is the indirect object. This passage includes both vayiqra and shem but it is different from Isa 9:6 in that a) the subject is explicitly identified, and b) the subject comes between vayiqra and shemot, and c) the direct object is not a name itself but rather a description of what was named (i.e. “beasts” is not what the man named a creature). Further study must be done to find where vayiqra (verb) and shem (indirect object) occur together without these discrepancies, in the exact form, and followed directly by a name in order to provide a fair comparison to that of Isa 9:6.
There are a variety of examples of vayiqra and sh’mo (“his name”) occurring together after Gen 2:20. Following the Fall, Scripture proceeds to chronicle the generations of mankind and many names are listed as being given to the offspring. Adam named Seth. Seth named Enosh. Lamech named Noah. Abraham named Ishmael. Lots daughters named their sons. Abraham named Isaac. But there are textual variations in each of these instances (and other instances not mentioned which differed greatly) when compared to our key text. Some differences are very minor, such as the inclusion of a single unpronounced word, et, between vayiqra and sh’mo. This word is made up of two Hebrew letters (aleph and tav) and functions grammatically only as a pointer to the direct object. Other differences are vast, such as the inclusion of subject, sign of the direct object, indirect object, direct object, and parenthetical phrases between vayiqra and sh’mo. It is not until the account of Esau and Jacob that vayiqra and sh’mo occur together identically to that of Isa 9:6.
The Scripture states in Gen 25:25-26 that the first child came out red and hairy so they (presumably Isaac and Rebekah) called his name Esau. The Hebrew for “they called his name Esau” is: vayiqre’u sh’mo Esau, where vayiqre’u is the 3rd masculine plural form of the verb meaning, “and they called” (only slightly different from vayiqra meaning, “and he called”). The narrative goes on to describe the next child emerging grasping Esau’s heel then states, vayiqra sh’mo Ya’aqov. There is the match! “And he called (verb) his name (indirect object) Jacob (direct object).” Notice that the verb changed from “they called” to “he called”. Implicit in the text, is that Isaac is the subject doing the action. It is implied that Isaac, the father, called the child the following name in the same way that the implied Elohim “who gave” the child in Isa 9:6 also “called” him the following name, an interesting parallel. Let’s revisit our key text, vayiqra sh’mo Pele Yo’etz El Gibor Aviyad Sar Shalom. “And he called (verb) his name (indirect object) Wonder Counselor God Mighty Father of Eternity Prince of Peace (all are masculine singular nouns, all are direct objects).” What immediately follows sh’mo in Gen 25:26 is the name, Ya’aqov. In fact, whenever vayiqra sh’mo is written in the Tanak (as well as in all cases of vayiqra et sh’mo, the simple inclusion of the unpronounced sign of the direct object), what immediately follows is ALWAYS the name of the recipient (direct object) and NEVER the name of the subject. There are no exceptions. For the sake of continuity and honest textual analysis, the case should be no different for our key text. Each of the words following vayiqra sh’mo in Isa 9:6 are names of the child, the direct object, and are not intended to be interpreted as descriptions of the subject (Elohim). This means that in this prophecy of the Messiah, He is called Wonder, Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, and Prince of Peace. How could such divine names be given to any less than a divine being?