Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
13. And having left Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is a town on the sea-coast in the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14. That it might be fulfilled, which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, 15. The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, near the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: 16. The people who sat 330 in darkness have seen a great light: and to those who sat in the region and shadow of death light hath arisen.
13. And having left Nazareth I have thought it proper to introduce this passage of Matthew, immediately after Luke’s narrative, which we have just examined; because we may gather from the context that, as Christ had hitherto been wont to frequent the town of Nazareth, so, in order to avoid danger, he now bade a final adieu to it, and dwelt in Capernaum and the neighboring towns. There would be no difficulty in this history, were it not that there is some appearance, as if Matthew had put a wrong meaning on the quotation from the prophet. But if we attend to the true meaning of the prophet, it will appear to be properly and naturally accommodated to the present occasion. Isaiah, after having described a very heavy calamity of the nation, soothes their grief by a promise that, when the nation shall be reduced to extremity, a deliverance will immediately follow, which shall dispel the darkness, and restore the light of life.
The words are:
“Nevertheless, the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness shall see a great light” (Isa. 9:1, 2.)
The Israelites had been twice visited by a heavy calamity: first, when four tribes, or thereby, were carried away into banishment, by Tiglath-Pileser, (2Ki 15:29;) and, secondly, when Shalmaneser completed the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, (2Ki 18:9.) There remained a third desolation, which — the prophet had foretold towards the close of the eighth chapter — would be the most dreadful of all. And now follows, in the words which we have quoted, what is calculated to soothe their grief. God will stretch out his hand to his people, and, therefore, death will be more tolerable than the previous diseases were. “Though the whole nation,” says he, “shall be destroyed, yet so brilliant shall be the light of grace, that there will be less dimness in this last destruction than in the two former instances, when the ten tribes were ruined.”
The promise ought to be extended, I have no doubt, to the whole body of the people, which might seem to be, to all appearance, lost and destroyed. It is very absurd in the Jews to confine it to the deliverance of the city of Jerusalem. as if the light of life had been restored to it, when the siege was raised by the flight of King Sennacherib, 331 (2Ki 19:36.) Certainly, it is evident from the context, that the prophet looks much farther; and, as he promises a universal restoration of the whole church, it follows that the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, and Galilee of the Gentiles, are included in the number of those, to whom the darkness of death would be changed into the light of life. The commencement of this light, and, as we might say, the dawn, was the return of the people from Babylon. At length, Christ, “the Sun of Righteousness,” (Mal 4:2,) arose in full splendor, and, by his coming, utterly “abolished” (2Ti 1:10) the darkness of death.
In the same manner, Paul reminds us, that it was a fulfillment of what occurs in many passages of the prophets, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,” (Eph 5:14.) 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 nation, 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 the divine salvation. Lower Galilee is called Galilee of the Gentiles, not only on account of its vicinity to Tyre and Sidon, but because its inhabitants were a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, particularly after that David had granted some cities to King Hiram. 332
“Le peuple, qui gisoit en tenebres;” — “The people that lay in darkness.”
“Lors que le Roy Sennacherib fut contreint de lever le siege de de-rant, et s'enfuir honteusement.” — “When King Sennacherib was compelled to raise the siege, and to fly disgracefully.”
This appears to refer to a gift, not of David, but of Solomon: for we are told, (1Ki 9:11,) that” King Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee.” — Ed.