Tagged: Israel’s national identity

Isaiah 7: The Lord Himself Will Give You a Sign

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Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment

Part 2: Historical Interlude

Part 3: Salvation

Chapters 1-35

Chapters 36-39

Chapters 40-66

When this takes place:

Chapter 7 is set in the days of King Ahaz, specifically when Israel and Syria are poised to attack Judah in an effort to unify the three kingdoms against the superpower Assyria.

Key verse:

Isa. 7:14:  Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.

Quick summary:

Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel are determined to replace Judah’s king Ahaz with a puppet king who will cooperate with them in an alliance against Assyria. When Ahaz resists, Syria and Israel invade Judah and crush her. Ahaz pleads for help from Assyria, which comes to Judah’s assistance, defeating Syria and Israel, and then turning on Judah, which becomes an Assyrian satellite. In the midst of all this, God provides one of the most noteworthy signs of His faithfulness through Isaiah’s prophecy of Immanuel.

Take note:

The Messianic prophecy in 7:14 requires special attention. When Isaiah says the Lord will give “you” a sign, the “you” is plural and refers to the believing remnant of the house of David, not Ahaz. God remembers His covenant with David and remains faithful to it.

The word “virgin” in Hebrew speaks of a young unmarried woman, implying one who has never had sexual relations. However, the New Testament Greek and the rabbi’s translation of the Septuagint both use a word that definitely means a true virgin. As for the identity of Immanuel, more information will be provided in Isa. 9:6-7 and 11:1-5. While Ahaz is concerned with raising an army, God directs our attention to a child.

War against Jerusalem (Isa. 7:1-9)

Israel and Syria are desperately trying to unite their neighbors against Assyria. Judah has refused to join the alliance. As a result, the armies of Israel and Syria have arrived in force to conquer Judah and replace Ahaz with a puppet king.

Judah’s Jotham, son of Uzziah, has ruled well, but Jotham’s son Ahaz is a notoriously wicked king who is about to draw God’s wrath down on the nation. We are told in 2 Kings 15:37 that during his reign “the Lord began sending Rezin king of Aram and Pekah (king of Israel) against Judah.” Ahaz and the people are terrified. As Matthew Henry writes, “They had made God their enemy and knew not how to make him their friend, and therefore their fears tyrannized over them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 7:1).

Isaiah’s message in the midst of panic is significant. With his son Shear-Jashub, Isaiah implores the people to trust in God. Shear-Jashub (“a remnant will return”) is a living reminder of God’s judgment and salvation. Within a few years, the two “smoldering stubs of firebrands” (v. 4), Rezin and Pekah, will be snuffed out. Syria is crushed in 732 B.C. As early as 734 B.C. Israel loses her northern territories. By 722 she loses her racial identity, and by 669, according to God’s word, she is “too shattered to be a people” (v. 8).

God’s words through Isaiah will echo in the ears of the people for years to come, and they resound yet today: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all” (v. 9).

The child Immanuel (Isa. 7:10-16)

The Lord’s challenge to Ahaz to “ask for a sign” (v. 11) exposes the depths of the king’s rebellious heart. At first glance, it seems Ahaz responds humbly: “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord” (v. 12; see Deut. 6:16). However, to wave off God’s invitation is to reject God Himself. Faith played no part in Ahaz’s religion or his politics (2 Kings 16:3-4, 10-20). Besides, Ahaz has other plans in mind; he’s going to align with Assyria (see 2 Kings 16:7-10), which will come to Judah’s assistance and then turn brutally on its newfound ally (Isa. 7:17-25).

Despite Ahaz’s obstinacy, the Lord gives a sign of the coming Messiah. This sign is not for Ahaz but for a much wider audience – King David’s dynasty, and for us; the “you” in verses 13-14 is plural. While Ahaz looks to an army, God looks to a child (see Gen. 17:19). How the prophecy fits into the current crisis is much debated. As a straightforward prophecy of Christ (see Matt. 1:22-23), the sign seems to bypass Ahaz. Yet the sign is for the house of David, which has come under attack (see vv. 6, 13), and the promise of a coming prince in itself is reassuring.

This passage is fraught with difficulties. And while scholars continue to debate the best way to interpret the limited information about the young woman and her son, it’s important to see this prophecy in light of the complete revelation of Scripture. Gary V. Smith puts it in perspective:

This passage reveals that a Davidic dynastic replacement for Ahaz would come at some point after a time of defeat by the Assyrians and that ‘Immanuel’ would be a godly ruler who would make just choices. The possibility remains that this new ruler could be the Messiah or some other godly, righteous king, but this text alone does not give clear irrefutable evidence that points exclusively to a messianic ruler. Thus, this incipient messianic text needs greater clarification concerning the significance of this son named Immanuel. The word Immanuel occurs again in 8:8 and 10. In addition, 9:1-7 refers to a coming son who will be a future Davidic messianic ruler who will reign forever. These later passages serve as commentaries that clarify the identity of Immanuel through progressive revelation. Thus what was not completely clear in chap. 7 becomes very clear to Isaiah by chap 9. Later prophetic and New Testament texts further the interpreter’s insight into these themes by progressively uncovering more and more information about the person and work of the Messiah (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 216).

Trials to come for Judah (Isa. 7:17-25)

There are four “on that day” oracles that provide more specific information about the coming devastation of Judah that is revealed earlier in 5:26-30:

  • Assyria and Egypt will infiltrate the land (7:18-19). The reference to flies and bees appears to picture the manner in which Judah’s enemies will swarm over the land.
  • Assyria will humiliate its Hebrew captives (7:20). It’s not clear whether the imagery of a barber should be understood literally as a description of the treatment of prisoners, or more generally as a pillaging of the land.
  • People will eat nomadic food (7:21-22). While the food is sufficient, the reference to one calf and two goats denotes a small herd and suggests that grain farming and cities will see an end.
  • Agrarian society will cease (7:23-25).  Isaiah seems to compare the destruction of God’s vineyard (5:1-7) with the destruction God will bring through the Assyrians.


Closing Thought

Gary V. Smith comments: “In spite of all the negative theological implications of Ahaz’s action, God did not totally give up on his plans for the Davidic dynasty. Out of the midst of suffering, another ruler unlike Ahaz will arise. Immanuel will choose the good and reject the evil. This unknown son, the child of a young woman, is a future Davidic figure of hope” (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 218).

Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips