Ahaz Receives a Sign
7:1 During the reign of Ahaz son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel marched up to Jerusalem to do battle, but they were unable to prevail against it.
Kidner’s summary: ‘These chapters have been called “The book of Immanuel,” after the promised child of Isa 7:14; 8:8, whose nature and reign emerge in Isa 9:1-7 and 11:1-10 against a background of local menace (Isa 7:1-9.) and worldwide dispersion (Isa 11:11-16.). The prophecies arise straight out of a contemporary crisis, but they extend to the last days (Isa 9:1) and the whole earth (Isa 11:9-10; 12:4-5).’ (NBC)
‘Isaiah 7:1-12:6, a section often called “The Book of Immanuel,” begins by stating that Rezin king of Aram and Pekah king of Israel marched out against Ahaz king of Judah with the intention of capturing Jerusalem and replacing Ahaz with a certain “son of Tabeel” (perhaps an Aramean; cf. Ezr 4:7). In 735/4 B.C.; they slaughtered large numbers of people in Judah and took captive even larger numbers. (2 Chron 28:5-8) The ferocity of the attack may have been prompted by the posited refusal of Ahaz to join Rezin and Pekah in a western alliance against Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria. In any event Ahaz appealed to the Assyrian king for help, sending him tribute and becoming his vassal in the bargain. (2 Kings 16:7-8; 2 Chron 28:16-21) The Assyrians were only too willing to oblige; they destroyed Damascus the capital of Aram (2 Kings 16:9) in 732 and Samaria the capital of Israel in 722. It was probably shortly before the Aramean-lsraelite invasion of Judah in 735/4 that Isaiah uttered his famous Immanuel oracle to Ahaz.’ (Isa 7:10-17) (ISBE)
The kingdom of Judah was in serious peril. Rezin, king of Syria (Aram), and Pekah, king of Samaria, had already, in the time of Jotham, begun to harass Judah, 2 Kings 15:37. Now they formed a conspiracy to dethrone the young Ahaz, and replace him with a puppet king, Isa 7:6. The two kings advanced on Jerusalem, but failed to overthrow it, cf. 2 Kings 16:5. But the country was ravaged, and large numbers were taken captive, 2 Chron 28:5ff. But instead of trusting in the Lord, Ahaz appealed to the king of Assyria for help 2 Kings 16:7 2 Chron 28:16.
The events described in this chapter are thought to have taken place around 735 BC.
‘We do not know the specific reason why Syria and Israel are attacking Judah. However, it seems probable that they are attempting to force Judah to join a coalition with them against the Assyrians.’ (Oswalt) Alternatively, it may be that Ahaz has already aligned himself with Assyria, and Syria and Israel are set on punishing him for this. At any rate, these two neibours of Judah intend to depose Ahaz and enthrone the son of Tabeel in his place, v6.
The question raised in this passage is whether Ahaz will live by God’s promises, 2 Sam 7. If he does, he need not panic.
Aram = Syria, originally applied to the whole region between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean.
7:2 It was reported to the family of David, “Syria has allied with Ephraim.” They and their people were emotionally shaken, just as the trees of the forest shake before the wind. 7:3 So the LORD told Isaiah, “Go out with your son Shear-jashub and meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool which is located on the road to the field where they wash and dry cloth. 7:4 Tell him, ‘Make sure you stay calm! Don’t be afraid! Don’t be intimidated by these two stubs of smoking logs, or by the raging anger of Rezin, Syria, and the son of Remaliah. 7:5 Syria has plotted with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah to bring about your demise. 7:6 They say, “Let’s attack Judah, terrorize it, and conquer it. Then we’ll set up the son of Tabeel as its king.”
“Syria has allied with Ephraim” – Ephraim is another name for Israel, so called because its first king, Jeroboam I, was an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26) and Ephraim was one of its leading tribes.
So the, one part of the people of God (Israel/Ephraim) has formed an alliance with a foreign nation so that, between them, they can bring down the other part of the people of God (Judah).
The hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken – Ahaz was terrified at the prospect of invasion by Syria and Israel
One man stood firm in the general consternation. One man set himself to turn the tide of popular opinion. Isaiah, obedient to the Lord’s instruction, met with Ahaz.
“Your son Shear-Jashub” – Isaiah is pointedly told to take his son with him to meet Ahaz. The son’s name can mean either ‘a remnant shall return’ or ‘a remnant shall repent’. In view of the faith-unbelief theme in the present context, Webb thinks that the latter meaning is ‘almost certainly the primary one’.
Shear-Jashub – means “a remnant will return” (Herbert). ‘Like the prophet Hosea’s children, (Ho 1:4-9) the names of Isaiah’s children carry symbolic meanings that had a bearing on the fate of Israel (cf. Isa 8:18). Mention has already been made of the remnant in 6:13. It is unclear whether this name was meant in a positive way, i.e., that despite the coming crisis Judah would not be totally annihilated; or negative, i.e., that the majority would be destroyed and only a small segment would survive (Grogan). This ambiguity may be deliberate, depending on Ahaz’s response to God’s word (Kaiser).’ (NCB)
“Meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool” – Ahaz is evidently inspecting the water supply in preparation for the coming siege. By being built atop hills, cities were both protected (from attackers) but also vulnerable (to water shortages during times of siege). But the safety of the city depends less on the security of its water supply, and more on his trust in the Lord.
Note the repeated emphasis on Ahaz’ fearfulness: “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart…”
Isaiah’s message to Ahaz was not to fear these two firebrands: like burned-out logs at the edge of a fire that has gone out, they would soon be extinguished. Ahaz should not seek Assyrian aid at this time of panic.
Isaiah’s reassurance was well-founded. ‘Syria was crushed in 732, while Israel lost her northern territories as early as 734, her national existence in 722, and her racial identity through a series of re-peoplings which continued to at least the reign of Esarhaddon. (cf. Ezr 4:2) By the end of this (669 BC) she was indeed too shattered to be a people (8).’ (Kidner)
“Keep calm and don’t be afraid” – This would become a frequent message from Isaiah, cf. v 9b; 8:12-13; 28:16; 30:15.
But it does not matter what Rezin and Pekah say, v5f. What counts is what the Lord says, v7, and he says that their threats will amount to nothing.
7:7 For this reason the sovereign master, the LORD, says:
“It will not take place;
it will not happen.
7:8 For Syria’s leader is Damascus,
and the leader of Damascus is Rezin.
Within sixty-five years Ephraim will no longer exist as a nation.
7:9 Ephraim’s leader is Samaria,
and Samaria’s leader is the son of Remaliah.
If your faith does not remain firm,
then you will not remain secure.”
The head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin – Whereas (the implication is), the only true God is the head of Judah.
Ephraim – = Israel, identified by its dominant northern tribe.
Within sixty-five years…too shattered to be a people – Within one person’s lifetime, the deportations of Israelites and the importing of other groups will have rendered those who remained scarcely a people at all.
“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” –‘An entire doctrine of the role of faith is in this verse.’ (Watts) See 1 Pet 5:12.
Jackman concurs: this is a ‘key verse for the historical context of the whole book. There is only one rock, one secure foothold, but to trust oneself to the promises of Yahweh requires faith and the renunciation of the alternative imagined securities of human policies and politics. That is the issue Ahaz and Judah are facing – divine promises or human policies? Which will they choose to put their faith in?’
‘The young king is clearly uncertain and frightened, as well he might be. He is reminded of God’s faithfulness and of God’s assurance. But in v 9b he is reminded that he has a task to fulfill, like that outlined for Solomon and Jeroboam, before he can be confirmed on his throne. V 10a offers Yahweh’s sign. This is his risk. He tests Ahaz through the offer, just as he tested Abraham. (Gen 22:1) When Abraham obeyed the bizarre command, he clearly tested God in return. Every encounter in faith consists of a mutual testing. God’s actions toward his people is a test and a risk. (cf. Deut 4:34) God’s blessings and providential acts are tests. (Ex 15:25; 20:20; Deut 8:2) Test and countertest are the very stuff of personal encounter and growth in faith.
But this encounter can go wrong. Deut 6:16 speaks of a bitter experience at Massah when Israel tested God and warns against testing God. Apparently the right encounter begins with God’s initiative, with God’s offer of a test. In Isaiah, this is the case. God offers a sign (v 11). This will clearly become a test both of Ahaz’s faith and of God’s faithfulness. There is a risk. But without risk there is no reward.’ (Watts)
7:10 The LORD again spoke to Ahaz: 7:11 “Ask for a confirming sign from the LORD your God. You can even ask for something miraculous.” 7:12 But Ahaz responded, “I don’t want to ask; I don’t want to put the LORD to a test.” 7:13 So Isaiah replied, “Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 7:14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. 7:15 He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. 7:16 Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate. 7:17 The LORD will bring on you, your people, and your father’s family a time unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”
Failing to gain Ahaz’s confidence the first time, the Lord speaks to him again (presumably through Isaiah).
‘In that very hour, in which Isaiah was standing before Ahaz, the fate of Jerusalem was decided for more than two thousand years. (Delitzsch)
The Lord offers to reinforce Ahaz faith with a sign, but Ahaz has already made up his mind, v12.
“Ask for a confirming sign from the LORD your God. You can even ask for something miraculous” – NIV: “A sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights”. Ahaz is to ask the Lord for a sign of any magnitude. God is ‘pulling out all the stops’ to move the king to faith.
“I don’t want to put the Lord to a test” – Ahaz refused the offer of a sign with an appeal to piety. The reference is to Num 14:22; Deut 6:16. ‘But the testing referred to in the Torah is not believing God’s promises! To obey the command of God and step out in faith in his promises is nothing like the rebellions in the desert, where the Israelites doubted God’s goodness and essentially dared him to do what he had said he would. Ahaz’s supposed piety is only a mask for the same kind of unbelief.’ (Oswalt)
Ahaz refuses to ask the Lord for a sign, even though the Lord himself has told him to. Perhaps Ahaz had already dispatched his envoys to Assyria. Those ambassadors had taken with them a large amount of money to buy the Assyrian king’s favour, 2 Kings 16:8.
Goldingay: ‘Sometimes God disapproves of people who want signs, but sometimes God grants signs. Maybe there’s a difference between people who want to believe but need help and people who don’t want to believe and want an excuse for avoiding doing so. Ahaz comes in the latter category.’
‘Behind the smooth scriptural talk (v12; cf. Dt. 6:16) lay a plan to outwit his enemies by making friends with the biggest of them.’ (cf. 2 Kings 16:7-10) (Kidner)
‘Note, A secret disaffection to God is often disguised with the specious colours of respect to him; and those who are resolved that they will not trust God yet pretend that they will not tempt him.’ (MHC)
Ahaz has the form of godliness, 2 Tim 3:5, but not the substance.
‘The true reason why he would not ask for a sign was because, having a dependence upon the Assyrians, their forces, and their gods, for help, he would not thus far be beholden to the God of Israel, or lay himself under obligations to him. He would not ask a sign for the confirming of his faith because he resolved to persist in his unbelief, and would indulge his doubts and distrusts; yet he pretends a pious reason: I will not tempt the Lord; as if it would be a tempting of God to do that which God himself invited and directed him to do. Note, A secret disaffection to God is often disguised with the specious colours of respect to him; and those who are resolved that they will not trust God yet pretend that they will not tempt him.’ (MHC)
‘Piety is not the same as faith. Piety is the appearance of religion while trust in God is the substance of religion. Ahaz does not have the substance and tries to cover this up with a veneer of appearance. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for the same sin. They tithed and prayed and gave charity to the poor, but it was all a show. They were worshiping themselves being pious. True piety follows as a result of trusting in God.’ (Oswalt)
Because Ahaz has rejected the word of the prophet, 7-9, and rejected the offer of a sign to confirm it, 10-12, he is given a sign which is ‘veiled and enigmatic’ (Webb), in fulfilment of Isa 6:9f. (So veiled and enigmatic, in fact, that scholars have debated it ever since!)
‘The records show that within his reign Ahaz actually designed and built an altar of Damascene style specifically to “inquire before.” He also was very active in rearranging the Temple and its worship. The editors of Kings judge his motivation to have been political and pagan. (cf. 2 Kings 16:10-18) The accumulation of testimony is that Ahaz was religious enough, but that his real gods were idols.’ (Watts)
“The Lord himself will give you a sign” – although Ahaz had refused the offer of a sign, v12.
Colin Nicholl (The Great Christ Comet) argues that this prophecy would have been pre-eminent in leading the magi to the new-born Jesus. They would have seen it being acted out in the sky as a comet appeared in the constellation of Virgo and led them first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem. It is striking, for instance, that Matthew 1:22f affirms that the conception and birth of Jesus took place in fulfilment of Isa 7:14, and that the visit of the Magi is recorded just a few verses later (Mt 2:1ff). See the Bible Study Notes on Matthew 2 and Revelation 12.
“Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel” –
‘The sign is revealed anyway. A young woman who is apparently present or contemporary, but not yet married (i.e., a virgin) will in due course bear a child and call his name Immanuel meaning God-(is)-With-Us. By the time the child is old enough to make decisions, the land of the two opposing kings will be devastated. The sign is simple. It has to do with a period by which time the present crisis will no longer be acute or relevant. This is parallel to the statement in v 8b but indicates a much shorter period. The shorter period accords with history. Tiglath-Pileser’s reactions to Rezin and the son of Remaliah came in 733 b.c. when he reduced most of Israel to the status of an Assyrian province.’ (Watts)
Childs remarks that ‘One of the most significant features of this verse is the mysterious, even vague and indeterminate, tone that pervades the entire passage. The reader is simply not given information regarding the identity of the maiden, or how precisely the sign functions in relation to the giving of the name Immanuel. It is, therefore, idle to speculate on these matters; rather, the reader can determine if there are other avenues of understanding opened up by the larger context.’
‘The message was that by the time the unmarried woman (the meaning of “virgin”) had married, conceived and given birth – that is, in the space of a year or so – Assyria would destroy Aram and Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel) the communities which were conspiring against Judah.’ (The Bible Application Handbook)
The coming deliverer is referred to again in Isa 9:6-7; 11:1-5. ‘Enough, so far, that while the king calls in an army, God looks to the birth of a child.’ (cf. Gen 17:19) (Kidner)
According to Goldingay (Isaiah For Everyone), Isaiah’s words may mean ‘a virgin will get pregnant’, but even this (he says) does not imply a miraculous birth, because it may simply mean that a girl who is at present a virgin will marry and conceive in the usual way. This writer adds: The point is that by the time a few months have passed and the girl has had her baby, the crisis that preoccupies Ahaz will be over. It will have been proved that “God is with us,” and she will be able to call her baby God-is-with-us, Immanuel.’
Goldingay continues: ‘Hundreds of years later, Jesus came and was born of a girl who was a virgin when she conceived and whose baby turned out to be “God with us” in a more personal sense, and Matthew can utilise the words in Isaiah to help his Christian readers understand something of the wonder of that event.’
It is clear that Goldingay does not regard this passage as a Messianic prophecy. In UBCS he writes that the ‘reapplication’ of OT passages found in Matthew 1-2 ‘do not depend on a link with the actual meaning of the passages in question. They are inspired reapplications of the inspired words. This particular reapplication may have been encouraged by the fact that the Greek translation of the OT, which Matthew likely knew, translated ‘almah by Greek parthenos, which means “virgin.”’ We think that this is a one-sided recognition of biblical inspiration: allowing ‘inspired’ interpretation by Matthew, while disallowing ‘inspired’ prediction by Isaiah.
Will call him Immanuel – It is clear that it is she, the mother, who will call him by this name.
‘Mothers often named their children (Gen. 4:1, 25; 19:37; 29:32). In Matt. 1:23 the expression is strikingly changed into “they shall call.” When the prophecy received its full accomplishment, no longer is the name Immanuel restricted to the prophetess’ view of His character in its partial fulfilment in her son: all shall then call or regard Him as peculiarly and most fitly characterized by the descriptive name “Immanuel” (1 Tim. 3:16, “God was manifest in the flesh;” Col. 2:9).’
Nevertheless, in keeping with Hebrew usage, we should regard this, not so much as an appellation, but rather a statement about his character.
As Isa 8:10 clarifies, ‘Immanuel’ means, of course, ‘God is with us’. But on which of these four words should the stress be placed? Perhaps on the last word – ‘us’. Remember, little Judah was under threat from a surprising alliance between Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel. The birth of the child would assure the king that God was with ‘us’ and not with ‘them’.
When we think of the being and character of our Maker, we might well conclude that he either he would distance himself from us, or visit us as ‘God-against-us’.
When God is not with us, disaster results, Num 14:43. But when he is with us, like can not only be endured, it can triumphed over. God’s presence is not a metaphor, but a reality. In Christ, God has taken on our human flesh, and in that flesh has even taken our sins upon himself. The truth of ‘God with us’ is more fully explicated in the NT, Mt 28:20; Jn 1:14; 14:3,17; Rev 21:3.
‘Emmanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendour.’ (Spurgeon)
Although curds and honey sometimes represent the food of royalty, v22 makes it clear that here they indicate the generally depopulated nature of the region.
Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right – Probably the age of accountability, about the age of twelve. This suggests that the events narrated here took place in 735 BC, some twelve or thirteen years before the fall of Samaria and the final destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel.
By the time the boy has reached the age of accountability, the land of the two kings now invading Judah will be laid waste. Syria fell to the Assyrians in 732 BC, 2 Kings 15:29, and Israel fell in 722, 2 Kings 17:1-6.
v17. But ‘by depending on himself rather than on God, Ahaz had unleashed a whirlwind which will not be content to devour his troublesome northern neighbours. Led by the God he has disdained, it will come sweeping over him and his nation as well.’ (Oswalt)
7:18 At that time the LORD will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. 7:19 All of them will come and make their home in the ravines between the cliffs, and in the crevices of the cliffs, in all the thorn bushes, and in all the watering holes. 7:20 At that time the sovereign master will use a razor hired from the banks of the Euphrates River, the king of Assyria, to shave the head and the pubic hair; it will also shave off the beard. 7:21 At that time a man will keep alive a young cow from the herd and a couple of goats. 7:22 From the abundance of milk they produce, he will have sour milk for his meals. Indeed, everyone left in the heart of the land will eat sour milk and honey. 7:23 At that time every place where there had been a thousand vines worth a thousand shekels will be overrun with thorns and briers. 7:24 With bow and arrow men will hunt there, for the whole land will be covered with thorns and briers. 7:25 They will stay away from all the hills that were cultivated, for fear of the thorns and briers. Cattle will graze there and sheep will trample on them.
The land will be overrun, then, but not at the hand of Syria and Israel, but of Assyria (and Egypt). Isa 8:5-8 depicts further devastation by Assyria. ‘But “Immanual” is a present reality, not just a pious hope (Isa 8:9f). God is with his people, and in Isa 8:11-22 the focus is on the believing remnant.’ (Jackman)
‘The point of vv21-25 is the sad spectacle of the promised land reverting to jungle for lack of Israelites, its abundance (22) a rebuke to their sparseness, and its wild state a proof of their decline. It is the kind of reproach that a failing church might receive from inherited glories and commitments which it can no longer sustain.’ (Kidner)
Webb draws attention to two important themes in Ch. 7, which are developed from earlier chapters:-
1. The Lord’s sovereignty. This is set forth in 6:1-3, and shown in the present chapter as exercised as he summons the nations to do his bidding.
2. The absolute necessity of wholehearted reliance on the Lord. The alternative is posed in Isa 2:22; the choice put clearly in 7:9. ‘Whatever we rely on instead of trusting in God will eventually turn and devour us.’ (Oswalt)