Isaiah 8

A Sign-Child is Born

8:1 The LORD told me, “Take a large tablet and inscribe these words on it with an ordinary stylus: ‘Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.’ 8:2 Then I will summon as my reliable witnesses Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah.” 8:3 I then had sexual relations with the prophetess; she conceived and gave birth to a son. The LORD told me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, 8:4 for before the child knows how to cry out, ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”

We have in the section (8:1-9:7) an outworking of the word to Ahaz in 7:14. That outworking means judgement in the short term, but the coming of the Messiah and of a new age in the long term. Webb entitles this whole section ‘From Darkness to Light’. He proposes the following as the structure of this passage:-

Darkness……1st oracle: A name and its meaning…….8:1-4
(Judgement)..2nd oracle: The rising river……………….8:5-10
3rd oracle: The stumbling-block…………………………..8:11-15 1st
reflection: The gathering darkness……………………8:16-22
Light………….2nd reflection: The coming of the dawn.9:1
(Salvation)….4th oracle (climax): A great light shines…9:2-7

In 8:1-4 we are introduced to a name and its meaning. The name, according to v1, as written in ordinary characters for all to see. This is in contrast to 7:14-17, where the name given was cryptic, and given to Ahaz alone.

Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz – means ‘quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil’. ‘Symbolic name Isaiah gave his son to warn of the impending destruction of Syria and Israel as they threatened Judah and Ahaz, its king. The name appeared to show that God would deliver Judah from her enemies. The sign also called on Ahaz for faith. Without faith, Judah could become part of the spoil. The prophecy was that the two enemies of Judah would be destroyed before they could attack the Southern Kingdom. Assyria defeated Syria in 732 B.C. and Israel in 722 B.C. Judah survived until 586 B.C.’ (Holman)

Leading men were called in to be witnesses of the name, so that when it was fulfilled there could be no doubt that this was a word from the Lord.

The prophetess – is presumably Isaiah’s wife.

The name does not mean destruction for Judah, but rather for her northern enemies. The people are being given one last chance to forsake their wicked ways, cf. v12.

8:5 The LORD spoke to me again: 8:6 “These people have rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and melt in fear over Rezin and the son of Remaliah. 8:7 So look, the sovereign master is bringing up against them the turbulent and mighty waters of the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria and all his majestic power. It will reach flood stage and overflow its banks. 8:8 It will spill into Judah, flooding and engulfing, as it reaches to the necks of its victims. He will spread his wings out over your entire land, O Immanuel.”

The people have rejected the Lord’s help, pictured as “the gently flowing waters of Shiloah” – a spring in Jerusalem. They have, rather preferred the help of Assyria.

Assyria is likened to the mighty waters of the Euphrates. If the people thought that its flood would stop at their borders, they were mistaken.

“Immanuel” – This, along with v10 (God is with us) provides a link between ch. 7 and the present section of 8:1-9:7.

8:9 You will be broken, O nations;
you will be shattered!
Pay attention, all you distant lands of the earth!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
8:10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted!
Issue your orders, but they will not be executed!
For God is with us!

But the might of all the nations, whether Israel, Syria, or Assyria, is nothing in the light of the unswerving purpose of the Lord.

God is with us – A clear echo of ‘Immanuel’ in v8.

‘In essence, the Lord replied, “Go ahead and work with the king of Assyria. Afterward he will work you over. Once his army comes your way, it will sweep over your land and do as it pleases. After that happens, you will know that I am Immanuel and you still must deal with me.” That is, if Ahaz refuses the gift of God because he does not want “Immanuel,” because he does not want God’s presence, then he must know that God is still “Immanuel.” God offered to be with Ahaz to bless, but if Ahaz repudiates that, then God is still present—to curse. He will let Ahaz taste the folly of inviting the Assyrian army into his land.’ (Doriani, The Incarnation in the Gospels, p31)

The Lord Encourages Isaiah

8:11 Indeed this is what the LORD told me. He took hold of me firmly and warned me not to act like these people:
8:12 “Do not say, ‘Conspiracy,’ every time these people say the word.
Don’t be afraid of what scares them; don’t be terrified.
8:13 You must recognize the authority of the LORD who commands armies.
He is the one you must respect;
he is the one you must fear.
8:14 He will become a sanctuary,
but a stone that makes a person trip,
and a rock that makes one stumble—
to the two houses of Israel.
He will become a trap and a snare
to the residents of Jerusalem.
8:15 Many will stumble over the stone and the rock,
and will fall and be seriously injured,
and will be ensnared and captured.”
8:16 Tie up the scroll as legal evidence,
seal the official record of God’s instructions and give it to my followers.
8:17 I will wait patiently for the LORD,
who has rejected the family of Jacob;
I will wait for him.
8:18 Look, I and the sons whom the LORD has given me are reminders and object lessons in Israel, sent from the LORD who commands armies, who lives on Mount Zion.

The verbs in this section (11-15) are plural. However, it is not now the nation as a whole who are being addressed, but rather Isaiah and his disciples.het now (16-22) reflects aloud on his preceding oracles.

Bind up the testimony – Although the nation as a whole had neglected Isaiah’s message, that did not mean that his ministry had been a failure. Indeed, there were some who had received God’s word and taken it to heart. If the present generation largely neglects the witness of the prophet, then his message will be preserved for those who in the future may be more willing to hear. Spurgeon was of the same mind when he said, ‘For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me.’ (An All-round Ministry, 360)

Seal up the law among my disciples – This is taken by some as evidence for the existence of a ‘school’ of prophets, which was collectively responsible for some or all of the book of Isaiah as we have it today.  Smith (NAC), however, says that ‘since the book of Isaiah never refers to a prophetic school of disciples (cf. 1 Sam 10:5–10; 2 Kgs 2:3–15), it is better to regard these people simply as followers of God who accepted the truthfulness of the revelation Isaiah proclaimed.’

Goldingay says that the process of entrusting his message to his disciples might have involved actually writing it down (and then sealing it, v16a), leading eventually to the production of the book itself.

v17f Cf. Heb 2:12 ff

8:19  They will say to you, “Seek oracles at the pits used to conjure up underworld spirits, from the magicians who chirp and mutter incantations. Should people not seek oracles from their gods, by asking the dead about the destiny of the living?” 8:20 Then you must recall the LORD’s instructions and the prophetic testimony of what would happen. Certainly they say such things because their minds are spiritually darkened. 8:21 They will pass through the land destitute and starving. Their hunger will make them angry, and they will curse their king and their God as they look upward. 8:22 When one looks out over the land, he sees distress and darkness, gloom and anxiety, darkness and people forced from the land. 9:1 (8:23) The gloom will be dispelled for those who were anxious.

Those who have rejected the message the prophet has brought from God will turn to the occult, and to every deeper darkness and ruin (21f).

‘Necromancy, or the consultation of the departed…is associated with divination in Dt. 18:11; 1 Sa. 28:8; 2 Ki. 21:6, and is condemned in the Law (Lv. 19:31; 20:6), the Prophets (Isa 8:19-20) and the historical books. (1 Chron 10:13) The medium was spoken of as having an ‘ob, translated ‘a familiar spirit’, or in modern terms ‘a control’. An associated term, translated ‘wizard’, is yid’oni, probably from the root yada’, ‘know’, and presumably refers to the supernatural knowledge claimed by the spirit and in a secondary sense by its owner.’ (NBD)

They will curse their king and their God – Ahaz’s political maneuverings have not been productive. And as the awesome uncertainty of their position becomes increasingly plain, the people curse their king for getting them into this trouble and their God for not getting them out of it. Or possibly, “the king because he cannot, and God because he will not, help” (J. Skinner)

‘Such as pretend to have a light or revelation above the Word, or contrary to it, never had their teaching from Christ.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘The rule or measure by which we must examine ourselves is the Holy Scripture. We must not make fancy, or the good opinion which others have of us, a rule to judge of ourselves…What says the word? Are we divorced from sin? Are we renewed by the Spirit? Let the word decide whether we are fit communicants or not. We judge of colours by the sun, so we must judge of the state of our souls by the sunlight of Scripture.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘All the motions and operations of the Spirit are always harmonious, and suitable to the written word, Isa 8:20 “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” The scriptures are by the inspiration of the Spirit, therefore this inspiration into the hearts of believers must either substantially agree with the scriptures, or the inspiration of the Spirit be self repugnant, and contradictory to itself. It is very observable, that the works of grace wrought by the Spirit in the hearts of believers, are represented to us in scripture, as a transcript, or copy of the written word, Jer 31:33 “I will write my law in their hearts.” Now, as a true copy answers the original, word for word, letter for letter, point for point; so do the works of the Spirit in our souls harmonise with the dictates of the Spirit in the scriptures; whatsoever motion therefore shall be found repugnant thereto, must not be fathered upon the Spirit of God, but laid at the door of its proper parents, the spirit of error and corrupt nature.’

‘Something profoundly important has been happening in the second half of this chapter. There has been a marked sharpening of the demarcation between the faithful and unfaithful within the visible community of God’s people, between those who respond to the word of God with obedient faith and those who do not, between the true and the false. This will happen more and more as the book runs its course until it becomes a major strand of its message in the final two sections, Isa 51:12-55:13 and chapters 56-66. This should not surprise us, for the Bible never confuses formality with actuality, mere participation in th externals with the heart response which alone can make those externals meaningful. Even the original company that came out of Egypt with Moses included a “mixed multitude” whose true heart condition was soon exposed by the rigours of the wilderness. (Ex 12:38 Num 11:4) Jesus, too, warned us about those who “have not root” and “last only a short time.” (Mk 4:17) Often the difference between the true and the false is very hard to discern; wheat and tares, sheep and goats, can look very much alike to the untrained eye. But the divine judge sees the difference clearly, and the testings of life increasingly distinguish them from one another. On the last day, of course, the separation will be absolute and permanent, Mt 13:24-30 25:31-46. We can ill afford to take such truth lightly. The line that was being drawn in Isaiah’s day is still be drawn today, with the same ultimate issues at stake. Scripture urges us to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith, 2 Cor 13:5. We cannot afford not to do so.’ (Webb)