Isaiah 7-8              The Era of King Ahaz                          October 15, 2018

7:1-2 In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

Judah and Israel have just experienced 50 years of peace under Uzziah and Jeroboam.  Their usual fighting had stopped and the surrounding neighbors were not as belligerent as usual.  Assyria was a growing power and was soon to dominate the much of the Middle East, but she was busy consolidating her power to the North.   You would think everyone would be happy with the situation, but two forces are at work on Judah.  Ahaz has repudiated the God of his fathers and is pursuing the gods of the surrounding nations.  And in mankind is a continual thirst for power that drives certain men to seek it ruthlessly.  Our congress is a living example of this.  One party is willing to destroy our great nation in its attempt to gain and maintain power.

In Ahaz’s case, Israel and Aram (Syria) formed an alliance to invade Judah and install a puppet king of their choosing.   Assyria was rising in power and had already made small incursions into the Levant. It was repulsed by Uzziah (Azriyau of Yaudi) and Menahem king of Israel, noted in the Assyrian Chronicles, around 742 BC.  Now Israel and Aram wanted Judah to join them in resisting Assyria, but Ahaz was not interested.  Therefore they decided to invade Judah and install the puppet king.  Ahaz decided to ally himself with Assyria instead (2 Kings 16:7).  Tiglath-pilezer III (745-727) was the ruler of Assyria. God approves of the decision. 

(In Jeremiah’s day God told the people through Jeremiah the they should submit to Babylonian rule without resistance.  They did resist and countless lives were lost unnecessarily.)

7:3-7And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field.  And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.  Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying,  “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,”  thus says the Lord GOD:

“‘It shall not stand,

and it shall not come to pass.

7:8-9 For the head of Syria is Damascus,

and the head of Damascus is Rezin.

And within sixty-five years

Ephraim will be shattered from being a people.

And the head of Ephraim is Samaria,

and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.

If you are not firm in faith,

you will not be firm at all.’”

Isaiah meets with Ahaz.  There is war all around him, and he is contributing to the distress in Judah with his idolatry, but God has his own plans for Judah, and Isaiah tells Ahaz to stay calm, do not be afraid.  Isaiah’s son’s name, Shear-jashub, means ‘A Remnant shall Return.  This may be good advise to the church today.  We need not fear because God is firmly in control in our land and in the world.

Isaiah speaks of the role of faith in Ahaz’z life.  If you are not firm in faith,

you will not be firm at all.’”  There is risk in putting one’s faith in Yahweh.  One has to believe in God’s faithfulness and his ability to do what he promises.  We have to believe he truly answers pray, even when he answer is a bit obscure at times.  We will see that Ahaz struggles with this whole concept in the next section.

The situation in Israel preceded the kingship of Ahaz.  Jeroboam died in 753 BC.  His son Zechariah was murdered and replaced by a usurper, Menahem.  He ruled for 10 years and was succeeded by Pekahiah for 2 years .  He was murdered by Pekah (739-732 BC) who became king during Ahaz’s reign.  Pekah talked Rezin of Aram (Syria) into going to war against Israel.  They wanted Judah to join them in an alliance against Assyria.  When Judah refused to join them they went to war against Judah with plans to replace Ahaz with a puppet king of their own choosing.  The Philistines joined their league, and the Edomites, with help from Rezin, invaded Judah from the South.  Their plans came to an end when Assyria invaded and conquered Syria and killed Rezin, the king (732 BC).  Tiglath-pilezer invaded Gaza of the Philistines, and then turned on Samaria.  He died in 727 and Shalmaneser V finished the destruction of Israel.  After 3 years siege Samaria fell (722 BC) and Israel was no more to this day.

The stories of these wars are found in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28.  Here we see God intervening directly in the wars to achieve his intentions for both Israel and Judah.

The Sign of Immanuel

7:10-17 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”  And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.  The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”

I believe the Lord spoke here through Isaiah.  Ahaz is told to ask for a sign from the Lord.  Often in scripture signs are either offered or requested.  Remember Gideon and his fleece.  Samuel offered Saul a series of signs that gave him a new heart (1 Samuel 10:1-10).  The disciples cast lots to find a replacement for Judas.  Ahaz turns down the offer.  God tells  Ahaz that Assyria is on the way, and it will be a destructive  for the Syro-Ephraimite alliance, but it will be devastating for Judah as well.

Now the addressee changes.  God now address the whole house of David.  The house of David resides in Ahaz, but God sees beyond Ahaz to the Messiah who will be born of a virgin.  This is certainly one of the  most well known verses, although most people probably do not know just where it is found.  Is this a confirming sign to Ahaz, or is it a future prophecy only?  

There is long history of questions about this verse.  Does the word translated ‘virgin’ mean only a young woman?  The LXX uses the term ‘virgo’.  Other Greek translations use ‘young woman’.  The Hebrew can mean either.   A second question is to whom does the word refer?  The traditional answer for us, of course, is the Virgin Mary.  Could there have been a marriageable young queen or consort of the king?  Could it be Abia (2 Kings 18:2) who would become the mother of Hezekiah?  Would the name ‘Emmanuel’ be chosen in Ahaz’s pagan household?  His mother could have named him, and all Israeli mothers hope they will be the mother of  the Messiah.  There is no verb in the name so it could be saying : ’May God be with us’ or ‘For God is with us’.  This may be God’s way of saying that the royal line will continue no matter what happens to Judah, and the Messiah will assuredly come.  Matthew quotes this verse in 1:23 exactly as it is found in Isaiah, Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’ (which means God with us).

7:18-19 In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.  And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thornbushes, and on all the pastures.

7:20 In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also.

7:21-22 In that day a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep,  and because of the abundance of milk that they give, he will eat curds, for everyone who is left in the land will eat curds and honey.

7:23-25 In that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns.  With bow and arrows a man will come there, for all the land will be briers and thorns.  And as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not come there for fear of briers and thorns, but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread.

The Assyrian invasion is forecast and described.  The source of this event is Yahweh and is God’s plan for Israel and Aram.  Both Hosea and Amos had warned Israel of this 15-20 years earlier.  Now it is confirmed to Ahaz.  The mention of Egypt tells us that this war is between the competing world powers and Israel is almost incidental.  The Pharaoh is the Ethiopian Pharaoh Pi (730-716 BC) who founded the 25th dynasty of Egypt.  He fought with Assyria on Palestinian soil around 720 BC.  We don’t know why he is called a fly.   Assyria’s mountains were famous for their bees and honey.  The bee keepers could call them  from the hives and back to the hives by whistling.

The Coming Assyrian Invasion

8:1-4 Then the LORD said to me, “Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.’  And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.”

And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz;  for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”

Uriah was the high priest.  Yahweh is light.

Zechariah may be Ahaz’s father-in-law.  Yahweh remembers.

Jeberekiah means May Yahweh Bless.

The prophetess is Isaiah’s wife.

Maher-shalal-hash-baz; means’Hurry, Plunder’ and ‘Swift, Hastening’.    

Syria and Israel will be overthrown by Assyria before the boy even learns to speak.

8:5-8 The LORD spoke to me again:  “Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah,  therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory.  And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks,  and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

8:9-10 Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;

give ear, all you far countries;

strap on your armor and be shattered;

strap on your armor and be shattered.

Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;

speak a word, but it will not stand,

for God is with us.

Assyria will not stop with Syria and Israel, but it will overflow into Judah itself.  This is God’s plan for his people who turned down the gentle waters of Shiloah.  God’s blessings were not appreciated, so now Judah will be overwhelmed with God’s wrath.  The waters of Shiloh are from the spring of Sihon hat flow through an aqueduct from the East into the city.  Assyria was supposed to be an ally, but she turned against Ahaz and Judah in the end.  In the end, only God will preserve the city of Jerusalem.

Fear God, Wait for the Lord

8:11-15 For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying:  “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.  But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy.  Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.  And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And many shall stumble on it.  They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

Yahweh is the solution to the tragedy coming upon them.  But most will not turn to him.  He will be to them a ‘Rock of Offense’, just as Jesus was in his day and is today.

8:16-22 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples.  I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.  Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.  And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?  To the teaching and to the testimony!  If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.   They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward.  And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish.  And they will be thrust into thick darkness.

The times are dark.  God’s face is hidden.  Yet, Isaiah will place all his faith and confidence in him.  Those who rebel will not realize the need to repent, and others will grow in anger and become outraged.  The darkness will not be redemptive for those who refuse to repent.

How close are we to this fate in our land today?