Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
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.
Isa. 7:14: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
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.
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.
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
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4 HCSB)
The Bible not only warns believers about false prophets; it describes them in graphic ways:
- Ravaging wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15; see also Acts 20:29).
- Deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13).
- Springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind (2 Peter 2:17).
- Dreamers who defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings (Jude 1:8).
- Liars (Rev. 2:2).
- Antichrists (1 John 2:18).
How do we define a false prophet? Simply put, a false prophet is one who preaches, teaches, or foretells events contrary to the Word of God, yet claiming God as his or her source. As believers, we can guard our hearts from the teachings of false prophets by obeying three commands of the apostle John:
1. Do not believe every spirit. Kenneth Wuest’s translation of 1 John 4:1 puts it this way: “Stop believing every spirit.” The term “spirit” refers to those who claim to have divine gifts for service, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary. We should beware. Jesus warns us of miracle-working false messiahs and false prophets (Matt. 24:23-4). Paul says Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and his followers disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-5). Paul further cautions against “deceitful spirits” and “the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). And he warns that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but turn aside to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We should be like the Bereans who greeted Paul and Silas. Acts 17:11 says “they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (emphasis mine).
2. Test the spirits. The Word of God is the yardstick by which all claims of truth must be measured. Here are a few markers. True prophets:
- Are 100 percent accurate when they speak in the Lord’s name (Deut. 18:21-2).
- Exalt God, not themselves or false gods (Deut. 13:1-4).
- Tell the whole truth, not tickle the ears (Ezek. 13:22-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).
- Proclaim salvation by grace through faith (Gal. 1:8-9).
- Set lifestyle examples (2 Peter 2:1-3).
3. Know the Spirit of God. In his first epistle, John challenges the views of the “antichrists” about who Jesus is. The most important question Jesus ever asked – and the question upon which every person’s eternal destiny hangs – is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answered correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matt. 16:16). Believers need to know who the real Jesus is:
- The eternal Son of God, Creator and sovereign Lord (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-18; 2:9-10; Heb. 1:3).
- Virgin born (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25).
- Full deity and full humanity in His incarnation (John 1:14).
- Sinless Savior whose death paid our sin debt (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).
- Raised and ascended in the flesh; seated at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator and Intercessor; and returning Lord who will appear visibly and physically one day (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 4:15-16; Rev. 19-22).
John’s words are simple and effective. Christians are people of faith – not a blind, ignorant faith, but a reasonable faith based on the evidence God has given us in creation, Scripture, and in the Person of His Son. While there have always been false prophets, and while there will continue to be those who fleece the flock rather than feed it, we can guard our hearts – and protect our families and our churches – from false teachings if we follow John’s commands: Don’t believe every spirit (that is, every person claiming divine gifting); test the spirits (according to Scripture); and know the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit’s teaching about the real Jesus as revealed in the Bible).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips