Though there are a number of chapter breaks, Isaiah 7-12 is one unit of prophecy concerning a number of signs that will take place. The scene is presented for us in verse 1 of Isaiah 7. Ahaz is the king over Judah. Rezin, the king of Syria and Pekah, the king of Israel, allied together to go to war against Judah. When Ahaz learns that Syria and Israel have allied to conquer Judah, Ahaz and the people become very afraid. God tells Isaiah to take his son, Shear-Jashub (whose name means, “a remnant will return”) and prophesy to Ahaz. Here’s the message to Ahaz: don’t be afraid of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands. Rezin and Pekah are nothing more than two smoldering stubs of firewood. Their fire is about to go out. Verse 6 shows that their plan was to depose of Ahaz from being king and set up their own king over Judah. It is important to consider what this means. The threat is the destruction of the Davidic dynasty. So there are a couple implied questions as we examine this situation which leads to the prophecies given in this chapter. First, what would happen if their plot succeeded? What will become of Judah if Ahaz is deposed and they put their own king on the throne. Second, what about the covenant God made with David, recorded in 2 Samuel 7, that a son of David will reign on the throne eternally? Does God’s word have no power?
Verse 7 begins the message of the Lord: “It shall not stand.” The reason it will not come to pass is that these rulers are only human beings. They are nothing before the Lord Almighty. In fact, within 65 years Ephraim (that is another name for the nation of Israel) will be shattered from being a people. We know historically that the nation of Israel was wiped out by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
But I want us to notice what is not happening. Ahaz is not trusting in God. Ahaz is not praying to God. Ahaz is not looking for God to deliver. In verse 3 we are told that Ahaz is examining the water supply as he prepares for the coming invasion. God declares in verse 7 that it is not going to happen. But verse 9 is the critical call to Ahaz and the people. “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” The word “you” is plural, so Isaiah’s message is to all the people. Be firm in your faith. Do not act with the normal response of fear but rest in God’s promises.
This is an important message for us. We have God on our side. Do not act like God is not with you. Ahaz is facing a big decision: will he trust God or will he trust in himself? The people are facing the same big decision. It is during challenging times that we are to respond in faith. It is easy to say we have faith in God when life is going the way we want. But faith is revealed during difficult times.
The Sign of Immanuel
To prove himself, the Lord tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ask any sign that you want, as high as the heaven or the deepest depths. The Lord stands ready to show Ahaz any proof so that he will put his trust in the Lord and not in himself. Ahaz’s response is that he will not ask for a sign or put the Lord to the test. This response is a reference to Deuteronomy 6:16 that commanded the people were not to put the Lord to the test. The irony is that we are putting the Lord to the test when we do not believe in God’s promises. Ahaz’s response is not a statement of faith or righteousness, but a statement of rebellion. Ahaz has no interesting in trusting God. He has his own plan. When we turn to 2 Kings 16:8-9 we find out that Ahaz has called for Assyria to help him defend against the coalition between Syria and Israel. Ahaz gave the gold and silver from the temple and the palace to the king of Assyria, and the king of Assyria went to Damascus, fought Syria, and killed Rezin the king. You will notice in verse 13 that the Lord is angry with Ahaz’s response. God does not respect what he says because it is not a statement of faith, but a statement of rebellion and rejection. His lack of faith is going to bring about judgment in the following prophecy. But what is interesting is that God is going to triumph with grace in spite of Ahaz and in spite of the nation’s failures.
The Lord says he will give a sign anyway. The “you” in verse 14 is a plural “you” and fits the reference back in verse 13 to the house of David. Now Ahaz represents the house of David (cf. 7:2) but the plural “you” indicates that this sign is not only for Ahaz, but all the future kings to rule over Judah, that is, the Davidic dynasty. As we read this we must make sure we take the prophecy as a unit, in a similar way that we did in 2 Samuel 7 when we looked at the promise given to David. The unit about the son and the events surrounding his coming is from verse 14-17. The virgin will conceive, bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Further, the son will eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse good and choose evil (vs. 15). Also, before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the two kings that Ahaz dreads will be deserted. Notice that verse 17 continues that context. The Lord will bring upon you (Ahaz) and your people such days that have not come since Israel rebelled: the king of Assyria. Since Ahaz did not trust the Lord for deliverance but Assyria, the Lord will give a sign to show the end of the two nations that he feared and will use the nation that he trusted to bring destruction against him.
The prophecy is very easy to understand except for two problems. First, the word virgin in verse 14. Second, that Matthew quotes this verse as being fulfilled at the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1:22-23. The problem becomes clear because Isaiah is certainly speaking about events in his own lifetime. The point of the sign is to show that Ahaz’s fear is misplaced. God is going to destroy these two nations before the boy knows how to refuse evil and choose good. Isaiah is saying that in just a few years these nations that you fear will not even exist any more, much less, bother the nation. Further, by making this pronouncement to the house of David, the point is that the lineage of kings from David’s descendants will continue. Ahaz will not be deposed and a new king placed on the throne. God is holding the nation and the lineage intact, therefore maintaining his covenant promise to Abraham. Because history does not point to two virgin births, we must examine this Hebrew word more closely to see what Isaiah is promising.
I will not spend much time on this, but would certainly encourage you to pick up some reference works for studying the Hebrew word “almah.” I believe I can accurately sum up the arguments about this word. There is a separate Hebrew word that means “virgin” which Isaiah does not use. Also, there is a separate Hebrew word for “young woman” which Isaiah also does not use. Isaiah uses a very versatile word which refers to a young, unmarried woman who is of the marrying age. By implication, the woman is a virgin, if she is a young woman who is not married. This is why translations have difficulty at this point because that is a long description for one word. “Virgin” is a little too narrow and does not state all that the word means and in the Hebrew the emphasis is not on the fact that the woman is a virgin. But “young maiden” also is too narrow because it does not communicate the fact that she is a virgin. Further, when the RSV translated the word as “young maiden” in 1952, it caused such an uproar that mainstream Christianity rejected the translation as heresy and some even burned the translation.
If we understand that the woman is one who is young, unmarried woman of the marrying age then the prophecy fits what Isaiah is telling Ahaz. By the time this particular woman bears a child and begins to raise that child, your enemies that you fear will already be deserted. This is a powerful sign, even if it were not miraculous. If we were to say that by the time a young woman in this congregation bears a child, the threat of North Korea will no longer exist would be a very powerful, predictive sign. Don’t worry about that nation. It is no threat, even though it looks like a threat now.
To validate this understanding, look at Isaiah 8. I submit to you that these are terrible chapter breaks in Isaiah 7-12 because the prophecy is a singular message. After declaring this prophecy, notice that Isaiah is supposed to do. He writes on the tablet, “Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” Now notice how Isaiah 8:3-4 sound the same as Isaiah 7:14-16. The prophetess conceives and bears a son. His name means, “The spoil speeds, the prey hastens.” Before the boy knows how to cry my father or my mother, the two nations that Ahaz fears will be carried away. The sign is the same. Maher-shalal-hash-baz becomes the prophetic fulfillment in the days of Ahaz, a sign to show that he should have trusted in the Lord who was going to destroy those two nations. Continue reading Isaiah 8:5-10 and you will notice that the prophecy continues just like in Isaiah 7. Assyria is coming to overflow the nation of Judah like a river overflows its banks. It will sweep through Judah and overflow the land. Notice the end of verse 8, “O Immanuel.” Your land will be filled with the Assyrian invasion. But verses 9-10 proclaim hope in God because the nations will be broken and shattered. Their counsel will come to nothing because, according to the end of verse 10, Immanuel – for God is with us. God will not utterly consume the nation because Immanuel. God is with us.
Now this does not deny the virgin birth of Jesus at all. I want to make very clear that the scriptures teach and I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. But I want us to see the unique duality of language that Isaiah is using in this prophecy which allow for a fulfillment in Isaiah’s day as well as a future fulfillment. Listen to the unique dual verbiage that Isaiah uses.
Shear-jashub:A remnant will return. Consider how that is good news and bad news. The name has a double meaning. A remnant returning means that they will be taken off of the land and destroyed. But it also signifies hope that all is not lost. A remnant will return to the land and not all will perish.
Maher-shalal-hash-baz:The spoil speeds, the prey hastens. Is this a prophecy for Judah or against Judah? Does this mean that Judah will be swiftly victorious, or does it mean Judah’s enemies will be swiftly victorious against them?
Curds and honey:We have not had the time to examine the statement about curds and honey in this text. Curds and honey is sometimes used in a positive sense of much good food. But it also can used to refer to having very little, the food of poverty. The NET Bible reads, “sour milk and honey.” Again, we see dual possibilities. Is this a time of poverty or a time of plenty?
Almah:We have already mentioned the curious nature of the word “almah.” Isaiah does not use the word that directly means “virgin” nor a word that directly means “young woman.” It is a word that pictures a young woman of the marrying age but implies one that is a virgin because she has never been married.
Immanuel:The name means “God is with us.” However, the name is being applied to all kinds of people and situations. Jesus is going to be given this expression, God is with us, but he is never actually called “Immanuel” by name in the gospels. Consider, how can it be said that “God is with us” when Assyria is going to come and wipe out the nation of Judah?
I want us to see the dual imagery that Isaiah is conjuring with this prophecy. In fact, this whole prophecy is a declaration of hope to the people in the midst of destruction. You have nothing to fear from these two nations. But you have judgment coming because you did not trust me, but trusted in Assyria. But God is still offering hope for the future, though they reject his help now.
The second question we have not answered is concerning Matthew. What was Matthew doing when he quotes Isaiah 7:14 as being fulfilled with the birth of Jesus? We will examine the answer that question closely in the next lesson in two weeks.
Faith in the seen or the unseen.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
The apostle Paul reminds us that faith is about putting our hope in that which is not seen. A few verses later he would declare that we walk by faith and not by sight. We cannot put our hope in the physical. We cannot make decisions by what we see. We must have faith and make decisions based upon the knowledge that our hope is on the eternal, unseen things.
The enemy is doomed because God is with his people.
It is a powerful hope that we have that since God is with us and will not forsake us, that through that faith we can overcome any obstacle. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is found in Christ. The great thought that when Jesus came to the earth, it was truly God with us. Because he came to this earth and died for us, God can be on our side and fight for us, which is exactly what he did through the cross. His death brings us to life and Satan is now doomed because of the victory that is found in Jesus. The book of Revelation revealed that victory, as Christ rides on the white horse conquering Satan, sin, and death. God fights for his people.