Isaiah 8: Prepare for War, and be Broken
Listen to a brief introduction of Isaiah 8
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Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapter 8 takes place during Ahaz’s reign, after Assyria has defeated Aram and Israel. This should have prompted Judah to turn to God, but instead Ahaz orders his priests to conform their temple worship to the practices of the pagans in Damascus.
Isa. 8:13: You are to regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy. Only He should be feared; only He should be held in awe.
The armies of Assyria are about to pour into Judah, flooding the nation up to its very head, Jerusalem. The people are instructed to abandon their fear of men like Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel, who terrorize Ahaz but soon will be dead, and instead put their trust in God, who will be a refuge to those who turn to Him.
Isaiah describes the Lord as a sanctuary for those who trust in Him, but “a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over” for those who persist in rebellion against Him (v. 14). Peter quotes a portion of this passage, referring to those who reject Jesus as Messiah (1 Peter 2:8), as does Paul in Rom. 9:33.
Damascus and Samaria fall (Isa. 8:1-8)
Isaiah is instructed to write on a large scroll the name of a son who would be born to him and his wife. The son’s name is announced even before he is conceived to emphasize the certainty of his birth and the inevitability of the national calamity his name describes. Maher-shalal-hash-baz is the longest personal name in the Bible. It means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Soldiers are known to shout these words to one another as they sweep down on their defeated foes. Remembering the prophecy of the fall of the Aram-Israel alliance (Isa. 7:4-9), Isaiah’s listeners understand the significance of his son’s name as they watch for the imminent defeat of Judah’s neighbors.
Isaiah’s wife is called “the prophetess” either because she is the wife of a prophet or because, like Isaiah, God has gifted her with prophetic abilities. The Bible does not record any instances in which she prophesies, although some commentators believe this is the best interpretation of her descriptive name. In less than two years – nine months for the pregnancy and about one year of the child’s infancy – Assyria will plunder Damascus (Aram’s capital) and Samaria (Israel’s capital). Many scholars say this happened in 732 B.C., indicating that Isaiah’s prophecy is given in 734 B.C. When the alliance falls, Judah should turn to the Lord, as Isaiah urges. Instead, one of the two witnesses (v. 2), Uriah the priest, follows Ahaz’s orders and changes the temple worship to conform to the pagan practices of Damascus.
The term “these people” in verse 6 could refer to Judah, which rejects God and will come to experience the brutality of Assyria. More likely, however, the phrase describes the northern kingdom, which turns its back on Judah – “the slowly flowing waters of Shiloah” may be a reference to Jerusalem – in favor of an alliance with Aram. As a result, “the mighty rushing waters” of Assyria will sweep through the northern kingdom and ultimately destroy Judah as well.
A believing remnant (Isa. 8:9-22)
Though Judah almost would be defeated by the Assyrian invasion, Isaiah urges the people not to be afraid because they will experience victory. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck comment: “The great truth of chapters 7-9 is that God was with Judah…. Even though the nations would raise a war cry and prepare for battle against Judah, they would not succeed. They would be shattered, a fact stated three times in verse 9 for emphasis…. Because God has promised to be with His people they were to have faith in Him no matter how bad their circumstances” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1051).
Despite God’s promise, many in Judah refuse to trust in Him, and the Lord warns Isaiah not to be like them (v. 11). The Lord will be a sanctuary for those who believe in Him, but “a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare” to those who reject Him (v. 14). Peter quotes a portion of this verse, referring to those who reject the Messiah (1 Peter 2:8). This is a subtle but important reference to the deity of Christ and the unity of the triune Godhead. Along these lines, it is interesting to note that Heb. 2:13 ascribes the words in Isa. 8:17c-18a to Christ. While the immediate context indicates that Isaiah is speaking these words and referring to the children God has given him as signs, in the larger context Jesus (Immanuel / God with us) has placed these messages on Isaiah’s lips. Perhaps more important, since Jesus is the eternal Son of God who took on human flesh, the writer of Hebrews points to the common humanity Christ now shares with those who trust in Him.
For Isaiah to “bind up the testimony” and “seal up the instruction,” he is reaffirming his dependence on God and inscribing His word on the hearts of His followers. D.A. Carson calls verses 16-18 “a kernel of immense promise. With the expression my disciples, God introduces a new definition of his people and their relation to him…. Isaiah’s responsive faith (17) speaks for such, and the little group of v 18 is seen in Heb. 2:13 as typical of the church gathered around Christ” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 8:16).
These disciples stand in stark contrast to the people described in verses 19-22. They practice what God prohibits (see Deut. 18:9-12). Instead of prophets, they seek out mediums. Instead of teaching, they embrace gibberish. And instead of the living, they desire guidance from the dead. No wonder there will be “no dawn for them” (v. 20). An interesting side note about the spiritists (necromancers) who “chirp” in verse 19: Faint chirping, as of birds, generally is ascribed to departed spirits in biblical times. By ventriloquism soothsayers would cause these sounds to emerge from the grave. Basically, it is all smoke and mirrors. That may be the reason the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, translates the word “spiritists” in this verse as “ventriloquists.”
The result of all this, according to Isaiah, is that the people who reject God’s message will end up wandering, dejected and hungry. Rather then acknowledge the error of their ways, they will look up and curse their king and their God, a response that foreshadows the reaction of the Antichrist’s followers to the judgments of God in the last days (Rev. 16:11). Ultimately, those who reject God see “only distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction (v. 22).
Gary V. Smith comments:
These negative experiences teach a positive lesson. People need to pay attention to God’s revealed will and follow it, as Isaiah and his followers did. This obedience leads to a faithful relationship of respect and awe before the presence of a holy God, as well as hopeful waiting for God to act and confident assurance in his plan (8:17). Temptations to follow the false messages of proud political leaders, secular materialistic philosophies, and misguided religious leaders will be less attractive when people put them under the scrutiny of divine truth (8:20) (The New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, pp. 232-33).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips