Copyright © 2009, American Journal of Biblical
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Times of stress can serve to expose much of the truth of who we really are. When times are going well and we are free from difficulties, it can be easy to become self-dependent and minimize the extent or impact of many of the dangers or pitfalls that truly do threaten us. People often focus less and less on the truth of their spiritual needs when their physical needs are fully met. Many people of faith maintain a very weak to almost non-existent relationship with their own fellowship of faith for extended numbers of years until some major event enters their lives and they find themselves in need. It is only until then that they remember their need for the LORD and seek out the church and its membership for assistance.
Self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction can be on of the most subtle of dangers in the life of an individual, particularly when they promote an independence from God. To ignore God and assume that all of one’s blessings are a natural part of this world and obtained only by one’s own hands is ignorant and dangerous. It is ignorant simply because every good blessing in this universe is there only because of the Grace of God who created it all. Second, by refusing to acknowledge the working of God in one’s life, one has separated one’s self from Him, and if this leads to a lifetime without a profession of sincere faith in God, the justified end is an eternity apart from the Holy Spirit, a profoundly dangerous possibility.
When this self-sufficiency is passed from generation to generation there is the likelihood that little of the faith of the parents is passed on to the children, and soon the knowledge and understanding of God is severely reduced. This is what happened to those who followed after Abraham. Though Abraham passed his faith on to Isaac, who passed it on to Jacob, and he to his twelve sons, it did not take long for this pattern to break down. The twelve sons raised their families in northern Egypt, and many generations later were delivered from Egypt by God through Moses and returned to the land of Canaan. The faith of their fathers was all but lost, remaining only in a non-influential remnant of what now was a divided nation of Israel and Judah. By placing their trust in alliances with warring nations, the Jews found themselves a pawn of their wars. What they had understood as self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction is about to prove to be the undoing of the nation.
Isaiah 7:1. And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.
The time of this setting is determined by the confluence of the reign of three kings. Ahaz became the king of Judah in 735 B.C. succeeding his belated father, Jotham, son of Uzziah. We may recall from Isaiah 6:1 that it was in the year of Uzziah’s death that God called Isaiah. The other two kings mentioned are Pekah the king of the northern nation of Israel and Rezin, the king of Syria. The people of Syria, referred to also as Arameans, were from the tribe of Aram, grandson of Noah.
Another player in the current setting of political intrigue is Tiglath-Pileser III, the king of Assyria who is, at this time, expanding his kingdom, taking authority over Judah, Syria, and Israel, exacting tribute from them. Faced with a common enemy, Pekah King of Israel allied with Rezin, king of Syria. Included in the alliance were the Philistines and other small nations. However, Ahaz, king of Judah refused to form an alliance with the pagan nations. Shared enemies produce alliances among these nomadic kings, and the refusal of Judah’s Ahaz to join the alliance marked him as an enemy of Israel. Consequently, with Judah perceived as an enemy, Pekah and Rezin in an unholy alliance, made plans to remove Ahaz from the throne of Judah and replace him with a puppet of their own. The passage reveals that they started a military action against Judah, and history reveals their capture of the smaller cities. However, they were not able to prevail against Ahaz.
What is wrong here? Did Israel forget that Judah is a blood-brother nation? In this alliance we find that Israel was depending entirely on its own power and the power of its alliances to protect itself against the more powerful king Tiglath-Pilezer III. Israel had a far more powerful ally to draw from during this period of intrigue: God, the LORD of their salvation. As the king of Israel, Pekah should have been leading the nation to faith in God, not faith in his own alliances with pagan neighbors.
Isaiah 7:2. And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.
Ahaz found himself in an untenable situation. With no allies he faced what looked like inevitable defeat. How many times do we, in our own lives, face similar, if not quite as dramatic, situations? When we leave the protection of the LORD and strike out on our own, we can accomplish nothing greater than ourselves, and we give up the One ally who can deliver us from any situation He chooses, whether it be physical, spiritual, emotional, relational, etc. Like the intrigue of Israel, the intrigue we bring into our own lives can be equally destructive. As we look a the world today we see the remnant of the faithful shrinking in what the rest of the world thinks is a world that does not need God. Families are being destroyed in record numbers, and much of what has been considered foundational to civilization is crumbling.
When Ahaz heard that Israel had joined with Syria in the battle for Jerusalem, he and the people were “trembling and shaking like the leaves of a tree in the wind.” Just as Ahaz is finding himself alone against a world of enemies, the faithful remnant to day finds itself under increasing attack. Those who stand against Christianity are joining ranks. Journal articles and political positions are in agreement as they testify to the decreasing population and influence of Christianity in society today. This decreases is much like it was in ancient Israel as those of faith were replaced with those without faith, and ultimately, the diminishing remnant that remained in Judah was all alone.
Isaiah 7:3. Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field;
It is easy to become discouraged when one feels persecuted and alone. Ahaz and the Judeans had few places to find encouragement. However, God’s purpose would not be thwarted, and God’s promise to preserve the remnant is sure. The reference to the House of David in verse 2 is a reminder of that promise. That promise is also mentioned in the name of Isaiah’s son, Shearjashub, meaning “a remnant will return.”
Preparing for an impending siege, Ahaz was visiting the city water supply, presumably to insure its integrity. It would be here, at Ahaz’ point of preparation that the LORD would send Isaiah with a message of needed encouragement.
Isaiah 7:4-5. And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. 5Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, 6Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal:
Isaiah brings to Ahaz a message that was probably quite unexpected. Facing these two aligned and warring nations without an ally, Ahaz is preparing for his destruction at their hands. His removal from the throne by these enemies means certain death for him. However Isaiah gives the king several words of advice that come from the LORD’s revelation to Isaiah of Judah’s true situation.
Take heed. First, Isaiah calls upon Ahaz to listen to the word of the LORD. Ahaz is caught up in the circumstances of political intrigue, and is not giving attention to the LORD, nor of His provision for Judah. Ahaz is paying attention to the wrong voices, and needs to return to listening to the voice of God. Also translated as “be careful,” Isaiah’s advice implies the care with which Ahaz should be taking in his decisions.
Be quiet. One of the voices that is misleading Ahaz at this time of stress is his own. When we listen to our own voice, the resource of wisdom that we are tapping is no greater than our own. Listening to God’s voice necessitates diminishing our own.
Fear not. Ahaz’ fears are based upon his assessment of the situation without his having all of the facts. His lack in trusting in God has led him to think the worst is going to happen, and as a king, he is responsible to be prepared for that worst-case scenario. However, his fears are unfounded because God still plans on protecting the faithful remnant.
Be strong. Isaiah advises Ahaz to stand strong against this threat, particularly because the threat is not as significant as it appears. The words rendered “smoking firebrands” is an idiom that refers to a burning ember that has no more flame, but is reduced only to smoke. The implication that the threats of Rezin and Pekah are diminished by their own impending demise. Ahaz need not be concerned about their threats because their power is quickly ebbing.
The contempt that is held for these two threatening kings is illustrated by Isaiah’s reference to Pekah as the “Son of Remaliah,” rather than even acknowledging his name. Isaiah furthermore illustrates the futility of Rezin and Pekah’s plan by noting that it is their intent to terminate the Davidic line of kings by placing a “Son of Tabeal” on the throne. Any attempt to destroy the Davidic line is an attempt to thwart God’s promise to Israel, engaging God’s hand in the battle. Isaiah is reminding Ahaz that God’s purpose is engaged in this battle, and Ahaz has no need for any political ally if he will simply trust in God’s hand of protection.
Isaiah 7:7. Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.
Having given Ahaz a detailed description of God’s purpose in this event, he then brings the word of the LORD directly to the king: this attempt by Pekah and Rezin to remove Ahaz from the throne will never take place. Period. End of discussion. We might note that Isaiah presents the word of the LORD in the form of poetry, suitable for placing to music. This was often done to make it easier to remember the words.
How many times do we find ourselves in fear of events in this life that never take place? Instead of relying on God, we can often find ourselves relying on ourselves and are completely unaware of how God is working in our lives to protect us and bring us closer to Himself. We may lay awake at night fearing a job loss, fueled by our own inappropriate feelings of inadequacy, having no idea that our job is secure because our administration trusts in our integrity, loyalty, and excellent job skills, each being unbeknown fruits of our faith.
A life of faith is not characterized by fear. A life of faith stands confidently upon God’s grace and promises, and trusts in Him. We fall into fear when we recognize our own inability to protect ourselves against a threat. That fear ebbs when we recognize that God is big enough to protect us. Had Ahaz recognized God’s purpose for Judah and for him as its king, he would have never feared the threats of his pagan neighbors, and instead trusted in God. That same trust would have led him to be a godly king over Judah, further improving the life situation of the nation. However, Ahaz was not a man of faith, and did not lead the nation as God desires.
Isaiah 7:7-9. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. 9And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.
Sometimes we inflate the power of our threats in our own mind. Isaiah advises that, when he looks at the two threatening nations which may appear vast and powerful, that these nations are driven by a single city, and that single city is driven by a single man. The threat to Ahaz is not Syria and Israel, nor is it Damascus and Samaria. The threat is from Pekah and Rezin, two men who lack the power to fulfill their threats against Judah, the true remnant of the faithful.
Isaiah also brings an amazing prophecy, one that fully validates his status as a prophet of the LORD. He states that within sixty-five years the northern nation of Israel will no longer exist as a nation. The prophecy is uncanny, for during these next years would include Tiglath-Pileser III’s invasion, the fall of Samaria to Sargon II, and the dissolution of the Israelite population under Esar-Haddon. Resin’s Syria would also fall to the Assyrian expansion, yet during this time Judah would still stand.
Isaiah 7:10-12. Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, 11Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.
Sometimes it is amazing how God is willing to meet us at our own point of need. This prophecy was hard for Ahaz to believe. Why would he take the word of Isaiah against the profound evidence that he perceives around him? Why would we accept the word of a pastor when we have so much evidence that seems contrary to his encouraging advice? Isaiah knew that it was going to be difficult to convince Ahaz of the truth of his prophecy, and God intervened in a significant way, revealing his offer to Ahaz: test me. It was common for pagans to seek a sign from the gods in order to formulate a significant decision. Signs are an inappropriate vehicle for faith-based decisions since the (1) individual identifies an event as a sign without any real validation, and (2) interprets that perceived sign based upon one’s own perspective. Furthermore, (3) we tend to “demand” that God would send a sign before we would make a decision, and by so doing diminishing the glory of God to the position of our servant as we put Him to the test. However, Ahaz was so accustomed to pagan practice that God actually allowed Ahaz to seek a sign.
We often still look for “signs,” in the decision making process. This passage should be a reminder for us that such behavior is an inappropriate expression of Christian faith. Guidance is not found in signs, but rather in God’s Word and through listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer. We also find God’s will as the Holy Spirit leads us to understand and appreciate God’s working through circumstances and through the lives of other Christians. None of these require interpretation, they simply require submissive listening.
We see that Ahaz’ understanding of the tenets of faith at least recognized the inappropriateness of seeking a sign. He flatly refused to do so.
Isaiah 7:13-16. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;
Still, despite Ahaz’ refusal to request a sign, the LORD would meet Ahaz at his point of need, and send a sign. Isaiah reminds Ahaz that he is of the House of David, a reference to his protected Davidic line. Furthermore, Isaiah reminds Ahaz of the reliability of a prophecy that comes from one who is close to the LORD. It is one thing to reject the advice of ungodly men, but quite another to reject the advice of the LORD’s prophet. Ahaz has voiced his resistance to Isaiah’s advice, and clearly opposed him when he refused a sign, a decision that was made based on his understanding of religious tradition rather than upon his listening to the advice of the prophet.
However, Ahaz’ desire does not predicate the LORD’s purpose of plan. God would send Ahaz a sign anyway, one that would help embolden his faith. However, the LORD would not leave Ahaz to “seek” a sign, nor would He cause Ahaz to “interpret” it, the two errors that are associated with our desire for signs. God would reveal both the identity and the interpretation of the sign.
Isaiah 7:14-16. Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
This prophecy is given to us as a whole, and can be understood as a whole. It is established within scripture in two separate and valid contexts. The prophecy, within this context, is given to assure Ahaz of the imminence of God’s protection and plan for Judah. Subsequent scriptures come back to this prophecy revealing that Isaiah’s assurance to Ahaz also points to the coming of the Messiah. This prophecy, therefore, can be appropriately studied and applied within both contexts.
It would be appropriate that we first examine the prophecy within the context of Ahaz’s dilemma. The word for “virgin” can be accurately interpreted as both “young woman” and “virgin.” This prophecy for Ahaz represents a simple statement of God’s deliverance and the length of time within which that deliverance would come. There are still people of faith in Judah, represented by this virgin. Evidence of this faith is shown that within Judah a young woman will bear a son and call his name “Immanuel,” which means “God, with us.” The young Judean mother understands that God has not left Judah, but is working within the nation to perform His plan and purpose. Furthermore this son will be brought up in the faith. The “butter and honey” refer to the word of God as presented to the people in the scriptures. This young man will be brought up in a family of faith. This is a reminder to Ahaz that Judea is still a nation of faith, the home of the remnant. Finally, before that child is old enough to “choose the good,” a reference to the age of accountability, traditionally 12 or 13 years, both Rezin and Pekin will be removed from their respective thrones. Again, an accurate prophecy. Pekah was assassinated ten years later and Tiglath-Pileser III would destroy Rezin and Damascus shortly after Pekin’s demise.
Isaiah’s prophecy proclaimed the immediate deliverance of Ahaz from his enemies. However, the larger context of this prophecy is well-accepted and understood as it is referenced from later scripture as pointing to the context of the coming Messiah. Within this context we find the amazing understanding that “virgin” would refer to the immaculate conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Ahaz would not have understood that interpretation of the word, and it is possible that Isaiah would not have either. Another miracle that fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy is the nature of the child, Jesus, who is clearly “God, with us.”
The experience of Ahaz and pre-exilic Judah is a reminder of us that God meets us at our point of need as we experience the conflicts of our daily lives. He has ordained the protection of those who serve Him, and has promised an eternal and blessed home with Him through the work of the Messiah, Jesus. This is the good news of the truth.
What happens when we reject the truth of the gospel? Anything but the gospel is simply a lie that we fall into when we listen to the messages of this world. Ahaz was listening to the messages of the world and would not completely accept Isaiah’s prophecy. He would later approach Tiglath-Pilezer III for “protection” from Pekin and Rezin, ignoring Isaiah’s advice. Ahaz would pay tribute to Pilezer that included emptying the temple treasury, accomplishing in an administrative choice something that Judah’s armies had avoided over years of protection, and by so doing changed Judah from an independent nation to a vassal of Assyria. Ahaz sold out to Assyria.However, God’s purpose will not be undone by man’s lack of faith. The Messiah would eventually come, God with Us, the Christ, Jesus. We can, like Ahaz, refuse to hear the good news of the gospel and rather than accept His offer of grace, choose to make our allegiance with the world, choosing separation from God. However, God has spoken through scriptures, through Isaiah, and finally through Jesus Christ to communicate to us His eternal deliverance from the destructive powers of this world. We would not be so wise to follow Ahaz. We can follow Jesus.
 James 1:17.
 Genesis 10:22.
 Also referred to as “Pul,” 2 Kings 19:15.
 Reigned from 744-727 B.C.
 Isaiah 7:2, paraphrase.
 2 Samuel 7.