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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 9

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 9 The Rise of Immanuel and God’s Anger Against Unresponsive Israel.

The first part of this chapter continues the theme, depicting the removal of darkness and God’s final solution in the raising of Immanuel. The second part describes the slow decline of Israel, the northern state.


Verses 1-7

The Rise of The Great King Immanuel (Isaiah 9:2-7).

The rise of Immanuel is described in terms of great light and rejoicing, and is connected with the defeat of the enemies of God’s people. As a result the child promised in Isaiah 7:14 will be born and will gain worldwide dominion.

Analysis.

a The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, on them has the light shined (Isaiah 9:2).

b You have multiplied the nation, You have increased their joy. They rejoice before You, similarly to the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil (Isaiah 9:3).

c For the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, You have broken as in the day of Midian (Isaiah 9:4).

c All the armour of the armed man in the tumult, and the clothing rolled in blood, will even be for burning, for fuel for the fire (Isaiah 9:5).

b For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government will be on His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, (or ‘a wonder of a counsellor’), Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

a Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David, and on His kingdom to establish it, and to uphold it with judgment and with righteousness from now on even for ever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 9:7).

In ‘a’ we have the shining of God’s light on the people, and in the parallel the establishment of the everlasting throne of David. In ‘b’ we have the growth of the people and their great rejoicing as though of harvest, and in the parallel the rise of the chosen seed with the great joy that that will bring. And in ‘c’ we have the defeat of the great enemy, and in the parallel the destruction of his armour.

Isaiah 9:2

(Isaiah 9:1 in the Hebrew text)

‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, on them has the light shined.’

Galilee was yet to have a time when their darkness would be turned to light. There would, as it were, be a new creation when darkness became light (compare Genesis 1:2-3). For although they were now seemingly cut off from Israel and Judah and walked in darkness, even severe, deathlike darkness, they were not to despair, for in the future they would yet enjoy glorious light which would shine on them, for the king was coming who would bring hope to all and would bring them a great light (compare Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6).

Isaiah 9:3-5

‘You have multiplied the nation,

You have increased their joy,

They rejoice before you, similarly to the joy in harvest,

As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden,

And the staff of his shoulder,

The rod of his oppressor,

You have broken as in the day of Midian.

For all the armour of the armed man in the tumult,

And the clothing rolled in blood,

Will even be for burning,

For fuel for the fire.’

The picture is one of deliverance from all oppression. (Note that no specific oppressor is named). One day Galilee, it is promised, will be abounding in inhabitants, replacing those carried off into captivity, and will be full of joy, joy like the joy at harvest time when there has been a good harvest. Joy similar to that of victors when they divide up abundant loot. For God will have raised up His anointed king. The yoke of all oppressors will have been removed from them. The staff which struck them will have been broken, the rod destroyed, just as God once removed from them the unbearable yoke of Midian (Judges 7:19-25; Psalms 83:9). The armour (or footwear) of the enemy, and their clothing, sprinkled with the blood of those they have slain, will be thrown in the fire and burned. The conquerors will be conquered.

The picture is one of full deliverance from all oppression. And this became literally true. For Galilee did at one stage literally know release and freedom even prior to Jesus’ coming, and did find joy, and once again became part of Israel. But even more did they come to know great joy at the coming of Jesus when He went around teaching, healing the sick and proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God, shining as a light in the world, and offering to remove the greatest of all oppressions, the oppression of sin and death and Satan. And the joy continued when He took the yoke off many of their shoulders and they were redeemed, so that they might enter under the Kingly Rule of God, and so that one day they would be with Him in the greater Galilee, in the new heavens and the new earth.

Isaiah 9:6-7

‘For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government will be on his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, (or ‘a wonder of a counsellor’), Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom to establish it, and to uphold it with judgment and with righteousness from now on even for ever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.’

Now we understand the full significance of the child born of a virginal young woman. For He is to be great David’s greater son. There is emphasis on the words ‘child’ and ‘son’, stressing that it is a unique child who is coming, and a unique son who will be given, and the previous prophecy stresses whose son He would be. The child is to be a miraculous gift of God, born of a virginal mother, and brought into being through God’s power (Isaiah 7:14). He is to be God’s final answer to Ahaz.

The son is also to be God’s gift to us, especially ‘given’ by God. The emphasis all through is on His unique status and unique origin. He is a special gift from God. Here we have the virgin birth, resulting from the activity of God on the womb of a chosen woman, made clear. And although born in lowly status in a captive land (Isaiah 8:8) the government will be placed on His shoulder, the place of strength, so that He reigns indeed. And He will be so supreme that He will be called by great titles, revealing His wonder, His wisdom, His power, His overall fatherly care and His establishing of peace.

‘His name will be called.’ This is how the world will see him and describe him in his very nature. He will be called ‘a wonder’, just as Yahweh had said that His own name was Wonderful (but a different Hebrew word - Judges 13:18). Compare how the same word is used of God’s acts in Isaiah 25:1. He will be called the Counsellor (Determiner, Purposer), not needing the guidance of counsellors, just as it is Yahweh Who is the final Counsellor (Determiner, Purposer - see Isaiah 14:24; Isaiah 14:26-27; Isaiah 19:17; Isaiah 23:9; Isaiah 40:14; Psalms 16:7; Psalms 32:8 Jeremiah 49:20; Jeremiah 50:45). Or alternatively he will be called ‘a wonder of a counsellor’ with similar implications. (This would fit in with the remaining dual descriptions, but a fivefold name would link Him directly with the covenant, for five is the number of the covenant, and the fivefold name therefore seems more likely). He will be called ‘the Mighty God (El)’, a title later used of Yahweh (see Isaiah 10:21; Jeremiah 32:18), demonstrating that at the least he will be seen as standing uniquely in the place of God and acting in His name (Psalms 45:6), but in a far deeper sense than earlier Davidic kings. (There are no good grounds for making El merely mean ‘godlike’. El used in this way is always predominant).

He will also be called the Everlasting Father. The title ‘father’ is never applied to a king in the Old Testament. He may be seen as the shepherd of his people but never as their father. God is the father of Israel. Early on God is seen as adopting Israel, ‘Thus says Yahweh, Israel is My son, my firstborn’ (Exodus 4:22). That is why Moses can say to the people of Israel, ‘is He not the Father who has bought you, who made you and established you?’ (Deuteronomy 32:6). So they had a genuine sense of their nation as being the ‘child of God’, with God as their Father.

That is why, when Isaiah saw that they were forsaken because of their sins, he remembered these promises and cried out to Him, ‘Look down from Heaven and behold from the habitation of your holiness and of your glory, where is your zeal and your mighty acts? The longings of your heart and of your mighty acts are restrained towards me. For you are our Father. Though Abraham does not know us, and Israel (i.e. the patriarch Jacob) does not acknowledge us, you, O Yahweh, are our Father, your name is our Redeemer from everlasting’ (Isaiah 63:15-16). Then he adds submissively ‘but now, O Yahweh, you are our Father, we are the clay and you are the potter, and we all are the work of your hand’ (Isaiah 64:8). He recognises that they have sinned so badly that even their ancestors will not recognise them, but he depends on the faithfulness of God as their Father.

The same concept is held by later prophets. God, in seeking to bring them back to Himself, is depicted as saying ‘will you not from this time cry to me, ‘My Father, you are the guide of my youth’?’ (Jeremiah 3:4). To which is added, ‘A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I then am your Father, where is my honour? And if I be a master, where is your fear?’ (Malachi 1:6). This is why Malachi adds his remonstrance to that of God, ‘Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?’ (Malachi 2:10). So when the coming child and son is not only called Father, but Everlasting Father, He is genuinely being seen as acting very much in God’s place, especially as He is now seen as having everlastingness.

And finally He will be called the Prince (sar) of Peace, the establisher and overseer of peace. This rather unique idea in those violent days contrasts him with all the surrounding kings of Isaiah’s day. Each king when he came to the throne had to establish himself by bloodshed, removing any other claimants, but not so this prince. He will establish His throne in peace. And we should note inn this regard that in Isaiah 66:12 it is Yahweh Himself who is seen as extending peace to Jerusalem, and in Isaiah 45:7 it is Yahweh Himself who perpetually ‘makes peace’ (compare Psalms 147:14).

So the coming king will be seen and described in terms directly associated with God in a way never known before. He will be seen, as it were, as a God-man. It is doubtful if Isaiah was actually thinking in terms of him being Yahweh, but it is difficult to see how he could have got closer to calling Him so without using the name. We might feel that God was revealing more than Isaiah could at that time accept or understand, that the king would not only be a superhuman figure (it is clear that he saw him as that) but was indeed Yahweh, or if we prefer to so express it, the supernatural Angel of Yahweh, Yahweh’s ‘other self’.

‘Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom to establish it, and to uphold it with judgment and with righteousness from now on even for ever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.’ The superlatives continue. Continual and unending increase in both his authority, and in His establishing and maintenance of peace over the throne of David and over His kingdom, and the upholding of it with true justice and total righteousness from now until eternity. And all this the result of the zealous purpose of Yahweh Himself. The everlasting kingdom will thus be established in eternal justice and righteousness. The final triumph will have come.

The word for ‘zeal’ regularly means jealousy. There is thus emphasis here on God’s ‘jealous’ activity on behalf of His own. They are His and He is jealous over them and will therefore act on their behalf (compare Exodus 20:5-6; Exodus 34:14). The powerful feeling of Yahweh for His people, as well as His effectiveness, comes out here.


Verse 8

The Sovereign Lord’s Effective Word Against Israel Who Have Failed To Respond To His Warnings (Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4).

It is a huge and deliberate anticlimax to move from the coming of the Davidic king and his great triumph back to the sinful state of Israel, the northern kingdom. (But as we have already seen these contrasts are a feature of Isaiah). For whereas the future was moving forward to triumph, the present was heading for disaster. As well as being concerned for Judah, Isaiah was desperately concerned for Israel in its present state, and we now have depicted a series of events in which God will reveal His anger against Israel because of their disobedience to the covenant, and will seek by chastisement to bring them back to Himself.

Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4

The Four Chastisements (Isaiah 9:8 to Isaiah 10:4).

The four chastisements are distinguished by their all ending with the words, ‘For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.’

Analysis.

a The first chastisement is the invasion by Syria and Philistia, seeking to make them join an alliance with them against Assyria (Isaiah 9:8-12).

b The second is the removal of their leadership (Isaiah 9:13-17).

b The third is the disintegration of their society (Isaiah 9:18-21).

a The fourth is bad leadership, rank injustice, and captivity (Isaiah 10:1-4).

In ‘a’ there is the threat of captivity and in the parallel it is to become a reality. In ‘b’ their leadership is to be removed, and in the parallel it results in their society becoming disjointed.


Verses 8-12

The First Chastisement, Invasion by Syria and Philistia (Isaiah 9:8-12).

Analysis.

· The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it has lighted on Israel (Isaiah 9:8).

· And all the people will know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, who say in proudness and stoutness of heart (Isaiah 9:9).

· “The bricks are fallen, but we will build with hewn stone” (Isaiah 9:10 a).

· The sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars” (Isaiah 9:10 b).

· Therefore Yahweh will set up on high against him, the adversaries of Rezin, and will stir up his enemies (Isaiah 9:11).

· The Syrians in front and the Philistines behind, and they will devour Israel with open mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still (Isaiah 9:12).

In ‘a’ the Lord’s word comes against Israel, and in the parallel it is brought about. In ‘b’ their hearts are high against Yahweh and in the parallel acts highly against them. In ‘c’ their comparative claims are stated in parallel.

Isaiah 9:8-10

‘The Lord sent a word into Jacob,

And it has lighted on Israel,

And all the people will know,

Even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria,

That say in proudness and stoutness of heart,

“The bricks are fallen,

But we will build with hewn stone,

The sycamores are cut down,

But we will change them into cedars”.’

Here we see ‘the zeal (jealousy) of Yahweh of hosts’ revealed in another way as the sovereign ‘Lord’ acts against Israel with the purpose of bringing them back to Himself after they have turned to other gods and rejected the covenant, and their kings have done evil in the sight of Yahweh. His powerful and effective word has gone out against them, bringing about events that have destroyed their buildings and denuded their forests. But they spurn His warning. They vaunt themselves, and in response to disaster declare that they are not concerned, for they will make things better than before. Their attitude is that they do not need Him. But they have forgotten with Whom they are dealing. Spurning His word can only lead to further judgment.

‘Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria.’ Ephraim was the largest tribe in Israel and often used to depict the whole. Samaria was Israel’s capital city.

‘Proudness.’ Exalting themselves and choosing their own way. ‘Stoutness of heart’ (arrogance) indicates self-sufficiency and unwillingness to respond to another or be dependent on them. They had no time or place for God.

‘The bricks are fallen’ may refer to an earthquake or to houses demolished in war, either way it was the judgment of Yahweh, but they ignored the warning and rose above the situation. The cutting down of the sycamores is mentioned because they also were presumably cut down by an enemy, an act of great enormity. Trees were usually preserved, even by an enemy (Deuteronomy 20:19-20), but not by Assyria (Isaiah 37:24). But even this had not prevented Israel from rising again on their own, without help. They are seen as being proud of their endurance and durability, and unwilling to respond to Yahweh’s pleas.

Isaiah 9:11-12

‘Therefore Yahweh will set up on high against him,

The adversaries of Rezin,

And will stir up his enemies,

The Syrians in front and the Philistines behind,

And they will devour Israel with open mouth.

For all this his anger is not turned away,

But his hand is stretched out still.’

This prophecy probably came early in Isaiah’s ministry as it refers to the Syrians as attackers, and this must presumably be before they were crushed by Assyria. It was therefore one of the first of Isaiah’s warnings to Israel, seeking to bring them back to obedience to the covenant. They would have to face both the enmity of Assyria and the enmity of their neighbours. The situation would seem to be that of Assyria (the adversaries of Rezin, king of Syria) approaching from the north to attack Syria, (and thus being the main cause of what followed), and Syria and Philistia joining in alliance, against them, and seeking to persuade Israel to join them. They appear to have invaded Israel successfully for they are depicted as devouring Israel with open mouth. This may well have been what resulted in Pekah’s revolt against Pekahiah (2 Kings 15:25) with the result that he then joined the alliance, which would finally prove disastrous for Israel. Pekah was ‘the son of Remaliah’ mentioned earlier (Isaiah 7:1; Isaiah 7:5; Isaiah 7:9).

‘For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.’ Compare Isaiah 9:17; Isaiah 9:21; Isaiah 10:4 and Isaiah 5:25. These may originally all been part of one prophetic word, but not necessarily so. A good phrase is worth using again and again. But if they were once part of one prophecy they have been deliberately separated into two and brought into use to illustrate Isaiah’s current message. They indicate a series of attempts by Yahweh to win back Israel, which failed because of their obstinacy, resulting in His anger against them increasing. And thus His hand was still stretched out against them.


Verses 13-17

The Second Chastisement. The Removal of the Leadership (Isaiah 9:13-17).

Analysis.

a Yet the people have not turned to Him who smote them, nor have they sought Yahweh of hosts (Isaiah 9:13).

b Therefore Yahweh will cut off from Israel head and tail, palm branch and rush, in one day (Isaiah 9:14).

c The elder and the honourable man, he is the head. And the prophet who teaches lies, he is the tail (Isaiah 9:15).

c For those who lead these people cause them to err, and those who are led by them are destroyed (Isaiah 9:16).

b Therefore the Lord will not rejoice over their young men, nor will he have compassion on their fatherless and widows (Isaiah 9:17 a).

a For every one is profane (ungodly) and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still (Isaiah 9:17 b).

In ‘a’ the people have not turned to Him nor have they sought Yahweh, and in the parallel they have continued in their evil and experienced His anger. In ‘b they have cut off from them both head and tail, and in the parallel their young men and weak ones will also not be protected. In ‘c’ the head and tail are defined as their leaders and prophets, and in the parallel such leaders cause the people to err, and thus destroy those whom they lead (‘c’ leads into the contrast between ‘b’ and ‘b’).

Isaiah 9:13-16

‘Yet the people have not turned to him who smote them,

Nor have they sought Yahweh of hosts.

Therefore Yahweh will cut off from Israel head and tail,

Palm branch and rush, in one day.

The elder and the honourable man, he is the head.

And the prophet who teaches lies, he is the tail.

For those who lead these people cause them to err,

And those who are led by them are destroyed.’

Although God sought to win them back by chastisement the whole people of Israel (‘people’ is emphatic) spurned His plea, they refused to turn back to Him, or seek Him. So Yahweh will remove their leadership; elder (an officially appointed leader from among the people and theoretically popularly accepted), honourable man (influential but not official) and prophet. This is depicted as cutting off head and tail, palm branch and rush. The prophets who teach falsehood are here dismissed summarily as the tail, and as mere rushes in contrast with the tall palms. They may think that they are important but they are not. They are a disaster for Israel, as false teachers always are for all.

‘In one day’. This may have indicated a sudden purge of the leadership when one dynasty replaced another, and the old leadership was rooted out, for they were troubled times, or it may be referring to the collapse of Samaria to the Assyrians. If we see the chastisements as chronological the former is the more probable (see Isaiah 10:3).

But the sad result of all this is then declared. The leaders have led the people astray, and the people have followed them, thereby the people are destroyed. The next verse suggests that their destruction initially lay in the fact that they became morally corrupt. But they did not, of course, need to obey the leaders when they went against Yahweh’s Law so that they had no excuse for rejecting Yahweh. They were like sheep determined on having their own way, and thus went astray (Isaiah 53:6).

Isaiah 9:17

‘Therefore the Lord will not rejoice over their young men,

Nor will he have compassion on their fatherless and widows,

For every one is profane (ungodly) and an evildoer,

And every mouth speaks folly.

For all this his anger is not turned away,

But his hand is stretched out still.’

All the people, almost without exception, are in fact guilty, even their young men, the fatherless and the widows, those who were led and guided by others. All had become profane and spurned Yahweh, all did what was evil, all spoke foolishness and rejected the covenant (compare Psalms 14:1). So the Lord will turn away from His usual stance of ‘rejoicing in’ the young men and having compassion on the weak and helpless. This will be because of the evil that they have allowed to develop within themselves, and because of their profanity against Him. ‘Rejoicing in’ is probably to be seen as including the idea that He will watch over them and protect them. Thus the negative indicates that His protection is to be removed and they also will suffer in the situations that result.

As already mentioned, the removal of the leadership may have taken place at the many purges when one dynastic house replaced another, as happened regularly in Israel. Their monarchy was not stable. Or it may have been seen as taking place in 722 BC when the cream of the nation were taken into exile. But either way the people who remained also suffered, and yet they still did not change but continued in their rejection of Yahweh. Thus God did not remove His anger from them, and continued to stretch out His hand against them.


Verses 18-21

The Third Chastisement. The Disintegration Of Their Society (Isaiah 9:18-21).

Analysis.

a For wickedness burns like a fire, it devours the thorns and the thistles, yes, it kindles in the thickets of the forest, and they roll upwards in clouds of smoke (Isaiah 9:18).

b Through the wrath of Yahweh of hosts, is the land burnt up, the people also are as fuel for the fire (or ‘as the fuel of fire’), no man spares his brother (Isaiah 9:19).

b And one will snatch on the right hand, and be hungry. And he will eat on the left hand, and they will not be satisfied, they will eat every man the flesh of his own arm (Isaiah 9:20).

a Manasseh, Ephraim, and Ephraim, Manasseh, and they together will be against Judah. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still (Isaiah 9:21).

In ‘a’ wickedness is all-devouring and consumes thorns and thistles, and in the parallel wicked Israel are against thorny Judah. In ‘b’ the people are fuel, and even brothers are not spared, while in the parallel the people will desperately eat anything, even ‘the flesh of his own arm’.

Isaiah 9:18

‘For wickedness burns like a fire,

It devours the thorns and the thistles,

Yes, it kindles in the thickets of the forest,

And they roll upwards in clouds of smoke.’

The new leadership was inadequate and the result was the open rise of wickedness. And wickedness always eventually results in destruction. It is self-destroying. Thus here it is pictured as being like a fire which destroys all in its path. It begins with the briars and thistles, which here refer to those who perpetrate the wickedness, but then it spreads and becomes a great forest fire, burning the thickets and producing huge plumes of smoke, thus affecting everyone. This is then defined in the following verses as being as a result of the wrath of Yahweh and as resulting in civil unrest which eventually affects everyone, even the highest.

We should learn from this that sin self-multiplies. It may begin in a small way but it soon becomes a forest fire. Thorns and thistles are often used as emblems of the wicked (Micah 7:4; Nahum 1:10; 2 Samuel 23:6), and their burning as a figure for the punishment of sinners (Isaiah 33:12; Psalms 118:12; 2 Samuel 23:7), especially by means of foreign enemies (Isaiah 10:17; Isaiah 32:13).

Isaiah 9:19-21

‘Through the wrath of Yahweh of hosts,

Is the land burnt up.

The people also are as fuel for the fire (or ‘as the fuel of fire’).

No man spares his brother.

And one will snatch on the right hand, and be hungry.

And he will eat on the left hand, and they will not be satisfied.

They will eat every man the flesh of his own arm.

Manasseh, Ephraim, and Ephraim, Manasseh,

And they together will be against Judah.’

‘Through the wrath of Yahweh of hosts is the land burnt up.’ Isaiah boldly depicts all that results as due to the wrath of Yahweh ‘bursting out’ (which lies at the root of the word used for ‘wrath’) and burning up the land. The lesson is that Yahweh lies behind everything. Nothing happens outside His control. He is over all. But we must recognise that a part of this is not direct action but the result of the restraints and consequences that He has built into creation, and Israel are in fact bringing their troubles on their own head as a result of the bursting out of their own sinfulness.

(Thus there was a human explanation for all that happened. It is just that Isaiah is bringing out that behind the human situation was always the hand of Yahweh).

The deterioration of the leadership has resulted in civil unrest and famine which spreads like a fire. Neighbour attacks neighbour. Everyone looks to his own interests. Men are desperate for food, looking everywhere and snatching it wherever it is to be found, but unable to obtain enough to be satisfied. Self-preservation takes over. There will be no tribal loyalty, (Manasseh and Ephraim were brother tribes), and Israel will also turn on Judah their brother nation in order to find sustenance.

‘They will eat every man the flesh of his own arm.’ Not cannibalism but unneighbourliness and disloyalty. They will eat at the expense of those nearest to them, and of those on whom they depend (their arm). As a result of the rejection of the covenant, which has not been replaced by anything acceptable by all, there is a moral void in Israel which weak leadership has allowed to break out and take over.

Isaiah 9:21

‘For all this his anger is not turned away,

But his hand is stretched out still.’

But still God did not remove His anger from them, and continued to stretch out His hand against them, because they did not repent and seek His face.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 9:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-9.html. 2013.

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