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Monday, June 23, 2014

Isaiah 7: God With Us

Isaiah 7: God With Us

Two generations after the downfall of King Uzziah, Jerusalem was attacked by two enemy nations: Syria and Israel. How could Israel have become an enemy of itself, an enemy of Judah's capital city, Jerusalem?

The LORD spoke to the prophet Isaiah, giving him a message for Ahaz, king of Judah: Do not let your heart be faint. The two enemy forces would be shattered within 65 years. The LORD gave to Ahaz a sign of his sovereign power over people and events: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son who shall be named Immanuel, and the king of Assyria will sweep away the nation of Syria and the rebellious state of Israel. The remnant remaining will enjoy abundance and comfort.

THE ATTACK: Verses 1-2

The political situation in Israel was chaotic. Civil war had divided Israel north and south. The northern state, still called Israel, joined with Syria to attack the southern state, called Judah. The king of Judah, Ahaz, a descendent of David, was shaken to his core with fear.

The civil war had begun during the last years of King Solomon's reign:

1 Kings 10:23, 26 (ESV) Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom...and Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.

1 Kings 11:1,3-4 (ESV) Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women...He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart...For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God.

1 Kings 11:9 (ESV) And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel.

1 Kings 11:11,13 (ESV) Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant...However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.

The servant of Solomon was named Jeroboam, of the Israel tribe of Ephraim. After the death of Solomon, his son Rehoboam reigned over all Israel. Jeroboam challenged Rehoboam:

1 Kings 12:4 (ESV) Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.

Rehoboam's response was harsh:

1 Kings 12:14-15 (ESV) He spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions. So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD.

1 Kings 12:16 (ESV) And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.

1 Kings 12:19-20 (ESV) So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only.

Twelve generations after Solomon, Israel and Judah were still at war. Ahaz is the king of Judah, and Remaliah is the king of Israel. Remaliah has joined with the king of Syria in an attempt to wrest control of Jerusalem from Judah.

And Ahaz feels his world falling apart.

Isaiah 7:2 (ESV) The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

What do you think?

  1. Tell about a recent time in which you were faced with anxious expectations or fear of the future. For how long did you have to endure uncertainty and worry? Was the situation many months in arriving, or did it suddenly develop?
  2. How does worry and uncertainty affect your faith?

THE MESSAGE: Verses 3-9

The LORD directed Isaiah to take Shear-jashub, Isaiah's son, to meet King Ahaz with a message: Do not fear; the evil plan of Syria and Israel will not come to pass; have faith in God.

Isaiah had at least two sons during his life, and it appears that the LORD used Isaiah's family as an omen of his plan for his people.

Isaiah 8:18 (ESV) Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

Isaiah's first son's name suggests the restoration of a remnant of Israel:

Isaiah had a second son:

Isaiah 8:3-4 (ESV) And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry My father or My mother, the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.

"Booty" is from German "buite", meaning exchange or distribution. (Our modern usage of "booty" derives from quite a different root: buttocks.)

"Plunder" is also from German plundern, meaning to rob of household goods.

Isaiah's elder son symbolized merciful protection for a remnant, while his younger son symbolized the coming invasion of Assyria.

Isaiah was to meet King Ahaz at the "end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field" (verse 3)).

"Conduit" meant a raised irrigation canal. A spring called Fount Siloah or Gihon on the west of Jerusalem was collected in to pools: the Upper, Old or King's Pool, and the Lower Pool. There likely was an area near the canal that was used for washing cloth (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

The meeting place suggests that the message would involve some type of "cleansing" or removal of sin.

The LORD referred to the kings of Syria and Israel as "smoldering stumps of firebrands". The Hebrew words mean "flapping tails" and a "poker" used to rake embers in a fire.

In the eyes of King Ahaz, the two enemies were dreadful gargantuans threatening certain and complete destruction. In the eyes of the LORD, the two enemies were puny sticks, feebly shaking in anger.

Why did the LORD use Isaiah's son as part of his message to King Ahaz? Certainly the boy's name was a powerful message, but is there anything particularly important about a father and his son that connects with the LORD's message?

Isaiah 7:9 (ESV) If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.

The words "firm" and "faith" are the same word in Hebrew:

Literally, the LORD said to King Ahaz, "If will not trust me as your father, you will not be treated as a son."

The Hebrew word for "firm" and "faith" carries a deep sense of care, protection and support. To believe God's words is more than agreement with doctrine. It's a feeling of utter dependence upon his care, protection and support.

Isaiah's love for his son was to be a powerful reminder to King Ahaz of God's love for his people.

What do you think?

  1. What was the origin of your name? What moved your parents to name you?
  2. In what way have your children or grandchildren carried on with your heritage of serving the Lord?
  3. In what situations do you most deeply feel loved by God? In what situations are you most forgetful of his love?

THE SIGN: Verses 10-17

God's message to King Ahaz was important. The LORD emphasized its importance by using Isaiah's son as part of the message, and he doubled its importance by offering a sign: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son named Immanuel. Before the child becomes an adult the threat of Syria and Israel against Judah will vanish: the King of Assyria will usher in a new age for God's people.

The LORD wanted King Ahaz to trust him utterly. He offered to give the king a sign:

Isaiah 7:10-11 (ESV) Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.

The Hebrew text does not say "Sheol"...it simply says "deep". "Deep" could imply a place far from God (Isaiah 29:15). It could also refer to Tophteh, a place of cremation (Isaiah 30:33). "High" implies distanced from earth and near to God (Job 35:5, Psalm 113:5).

God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign (a signal, such as a flag, beacon, monument, omen or evidence) that God alone could accomplish. Ahaz's imagination failed, probably because he feared asking something beyond God's ability. But God was insulted by Ahaz's lack of faith.

Isaiah 7:13 (ESV) O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?

Israel's shallow religious rites and lack of bold faith tired and disgusted the LORD.

The LORD himself chose a sign:

Isaiah 7:14-16 (ESV) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.

"Lass" is from Old Norse laskura, meaning unmarried. The Hebrew word implies that young boys and girls were kept out of sight until they were old enough to deal with the world on their own.

It may be that "the virgin" refers to a woman known to Isaiah and Ahaz, a woman soon to become a wife. The age of discrimination for a child was then about three years. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

Other instances of "virgin" and similar words in the Old Testament show that the LORD's sign involved a young woman who had not yet married a man, a woman having not been intimate with a man.

This does not seem to be a miraculous sign. It's not "deep" or "high" in any way. Many young women have married and borne sons.

Not many, however are named Immanuel.

"El" occurs many times and it often referred directly to God Almighty. "Immanuel" occurs only one other time:

Isaiah 8:6-8 (ESV) Behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.

Here, the LORD refers to Immanuel as a third person, distinct from Isaiah, distinct from the people of Israel.

"Immanuel" appears to be much more than the name of a child who lived and died during the time of Isaiah.

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.

Matthew connected "Immanuel" with Jesus Christ:

Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV) Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Matthew called the child "Immanuel", yet Joseph had named him "Jesus".

Joseph undoubtedly knew the prophecy of Isaiah, and he took "Immanuel" to be a description, rather than a label, of the One chosen by God. "Jesus" and "Immanuel" both refer to God as our Helper, our Rescuer.

"The virgin" spoken of by Isaiah was very likely a real woman, known by Isaiah and Ahaz. She very likely did give birth to a son.

Before the child reached the age at which he would choose good food over trash found on the floor, the people of Judah would be free of terror from the two invading enemies. The army of Assyria would overwhelm the whole region.

It's just as likely that the woman and son lived and died as all people do within seventy years or so after the LORD gave Ahaz this sign. The Assyrian army came and went and life continued for hundreds of years much the same.

Not much of a sign. Nothing of importance for people living in the 21st century, right?

What do you think?

  1. What is the boldest request you've ever made in prayer?
  2. Have you ever experienced a time in which you were sure that you had "wearied" the Lord?
  3. In what way was the "small" sign given to Isaiah made tremendously powerful centuries later in the birth of Jesus? What advantage did God gain by hiding such a powerful prophecy in a commonplace event, that of a woman bearing a child?

THE FLY, THE BEE AND THE RAZOR: Verses 18-20

The LORD refers to two instruments of his sovereignty over nations: the fly and the bee. Those two instruments will be used as a man uses a razor to remove hair from his head and face. The figures of speech point directly to the nation of Assyria, the land beyond The River, whose army will devastate the population of Judah, Israel and Syria. The remnant remaining will find themselves living in a wilderness of wild plants and animals.

The LORD described the army of Assyria as a fly and a bee, suggesting pain, speed and organization. As a man uses a razor to remove hair, so the LORD would use Assyria to remove people from the land of Syria, Israel and Judah. To cut the beard is the greatest indignity to an Easterner (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

King Ahaz himself intiated contact with Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria:

2 Kings 16:7-9 (ESV) So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me. Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin.

King Ahaz was shaken with fear and filled with doubt that the LORD would protect him. He desperately sought something real that could save him: the Assyrians. But the Assyrian army became as flies and bees, indiscriminately stinging and displacing thousands of Israelites.

Such was the tool used by God to bring his people to their knees in humility and trust.

What do you think?

  1. Did King Ahaz sin in seeking the help of the king of Assyria, or was it the result of faithfully following God's promptings?
  2. Have you ever asked for, and received, something you later regretted? How was that experience related to your trust in the Lord?

THE LAND: Verses 21-25

The remnant left in the land of Syria, Israel and Judah will find their land a wilderness. A few livestock will be more than sufficient to meet the needs of the population. Much of the land will be covered with briers and thorns, suitable only for hunting and grazing.

What do you think?

photo credit: Cia de Foto via photopin cc