Cannibalism and the Christmas Child

Unto Us, A Child Is Born

Cannibalism and Christmas are two words that are not usually found in the same sentence. As we continue our study in the Book of Isaiah we meet both of these topics in the same chapter. Travel the world and you will find just a small percentage of people who don’t like Christmas. On that same trip, you’ll only find horror and revulsion on the topic of cannibalism. It’s even a hard word to type. The images the word conjures up are not pleasant.

Unpleasant as the topic is, the reality of it slammed into the nation of Israel. The prophet Isaiah made predictions about the revolting prospect of cannibalism in their future. No nation wants to hear about such a thing in their past. For Israel to hear it would be in their future had to be especially hard to accept. War brings people and nations to the point of desperation. To survive when the cupboards are bare, people make difficult choices. We see these difficult choices made at the end of this chapter.

But first, there is hope.

Hope for Israel.

Isa 9:1-2

A day the northern tribes shall see a great light.

Nevertheless, the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, as when at first He lightly esteemed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward more heavily oppressed her, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.

The gloom and darkness of war were everywhere to be seen. To answer for the darkness, the Lord sends a reason for hope. The distress of war would not remain forever. Those who were taken by the gloom would see a great light. The northern tribes of Israel took the hardest and most destructive blows from advancing armies. God would send a great light to them to break through the darkness.

The One to break that darkness was Jesus who brought the light of the Gospel to the region of Galilee. Matthew 4:13-16 quotes this prophecy of Isaiah showing the fulfillment of the Galilean ministry by Jesus. Since the majority of Jesus’ ministry took place in this northern area of Israel, around the Sea of Galilee, God certainly did have a special blessing for this once lightly esteemed land!


Isa 9:3-5

Joy in the Messiah’s deliverance and victory.

You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy; they rejoice before You according to the joy of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You have broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, and garments rolled in blood, will be used for burning and fuel of fire.

When the blessing comes, the nation will rejoice. The bloody boots and clothing they wore in the war will get burned to fuel the fires of a victory celebration. The graphic descriptions we find in the Bible depict real-life scenarios. The Bible is the truth, so it often uses graphic words to help readers understand it tells real-life experiences and the truth God reveals to mankind.

Isa 9:6

The Christmas Child is the Messiah who will reign.

Sweet Baby Jesus. The Jew who will rule the world some day.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The most magnificent child ever born will bring the light to extinguish the darkness. This is no ordinary child. The government will be on his shoulder. He will rule in Israel but his dominion will reach around the world and more. He will reign as King, counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. This child who would be king had a humble beginning. Isaiah 7:14

Isa 9:7

The reach of the Child’s reign.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Jesus is the Child. When he first came to the earth, he did not come to be king. He came to sacrifice his life. When he returns in the near future this prophecy we see here will come to life around the world. Every tribe, people, and nation will have a just king who rules justly. Jesus is the Jew who will rule the world. He will sit on a throne in Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 7

Coming judgment on the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

This section, Isaiah 9:8 to 10:4 has four distinct sections. Each one concludes with an ominous phrase. “For all this, His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.” The prophet has finished reporting about the good news in the future. Now he returns to the gloom of the present which Israel faced. This is the passage where the dark practice of cannibalism hides.


Isa 9:8-12

Because of their pride, Israel faces defeat at the hands of her enemies.

The LORD sent a word against Jacob, and it has fallen on Israel. All the people will know; Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria; who say in pride and arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will replace them with cedars.” Therefore the LORD shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and spur his enemies on, the Syrians before and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with an open mouth. For all this, His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.

The Jews boast that they will rebuild, but they don’t realize they fight against God. His anger against them has not turned.

Isa 9:13-17

Because they refuse to repent, the Lord judges the leadership.

For the people do not turn to Him who strikes them, nor do they seek the LORD of hosts. Therefore the LORD will cut off head and tail from Israel, palm branch and bulrush in one day. The elder and honorable, he is the head; the prophet who teaches lies, he is the tail. For the leaders of this people cause them to err, and those who are led by them are destroyed. Therefore the LORD will have no joy in their young men, nor have mercy on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is a hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this, His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.

God strikes them in order to persuade them to turn from their dangerous ways. The leaders of Israel are the focus of God’s wrath. They led the people astray. Leadership comes with a heavy responsibility. The Lord’s anger remains.

Isa 9:18-21

Because of prevailing wickedness, they will attack their own brothers.

For wickedness burns as the fire; it shall devour the briers and thorns, and kindle in the thickets of the forest; they shall mount up like rising smoke. Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts, the land is burned up, and the people shall be as fuel for the fire; no man shall spare his brother. And he shall snatch on the right hand and be hungry; he shall devour on the left hand and not be satisfied; every man shall eat the flesh of his own arm. Manasseh shall devour Ephraim and Ephraim Manasseh; together they shall be against Judah. For all this, His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.

This is the passage I referred to that deals with cannibalism. If we look at the original language it’s not clear what form the cannibalism takes. These two translations show the confusion about the intent of the original text.

International Standard Version
They cut meat on the right, but they’re still hungry, and they devour also on the left, but they’re not satisfied; each devours the flesh of his own children.

New American Standard Bible
They slice off what is on the right hand but still are hungry, And they eat what is on the left hand but they are not satisfied; Each of them eats the flesh of his own arm.

There are two very unfortunate possibilities.

  1. They are either eating the flesh of their own arms to stay alive.
  2. Or, even sicker still, they are eating the flesh of their own children.

Neither option is good. The horrors of war lead to terrible choices; choices which could have been avoided.

Isa 10:1-4

Exile and Death for those who oppress the weak.

“Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortune, which they have prescribed to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of My people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless. What will you do in the day of punishment, and in the desolation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your glory? Without Me, they shall bow down among the prisoners, and they shall fall among the slain.” For all this, His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.


God is always patient with us. Those who oppose him like to point out his judgments. Those judgments come after hundreds of years of warnings and instructions. When the judgments arrive they always come with additional warnings. There are many reasons why God has to judge. One reason should be clear to us all. Mankind left to himself will literally eat his own flesh, or worse, that of his own child.

I don’t want to live in that zombie world. I’m glad God will judge. If I were king for a day I would start the judgment immediately. We can all be glad God is patient with us.


More from Isaiah

War: the habit of Man


The Claywriter