Isaiah chapter seven:
Chapter seven of Isaiah is another excellent example of bible prophecy. I say it is excellent because chapter seven can be very confusing, which of course, bible prophecy often is. It is confusing because of the mix of present and future references. In most of Isaiah seven the prophet is writing about a potential for war. He also mixes in a prophecy about baby Jesus. It seems out of place but it all fits together very nicely. Prophecy is a huge 7,000 year historic puzzle, with pieces spread across centuries, nations, tribes, and families. Often the pieces that seem out of place give us special insight into what God is doing.
Let’s take a look at Isaiah seven.
Isaiah was primarily a prophet to the Jews living in Judah, not all of the Hebrew people. The nation of Israel, during this time in history, had become a divided country. The people in the tribes of Judah and Benjamin banded together against the rebellion. They lived and worshipped in the area around Jerusalem where the temple resided. The temple was the center of worship for the Jewish people. The remaining ten tribes, mostly to the north, worshipped separately. The separation between the tribes grew beyond religious practices. They became openly hostile to each other and at times vicious enemies.
In seven the prophet points to some of these conflicts that occurred. We also have one of the bible’s most familiar prophecy verses. I like to call this one of the ‘Christmas passages’. In chapter seven, verse fourteen of Isaiah we find a common Christmas card text.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
This verse is well known and understood to be a reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus. She, while still a virgin, gave birth to Jesus. His name would also be called Immanuel, which means–God with us.
Okay, let’s break down the chapter and see why a baby Jesus prophecy is properly inserted into chapter seven which is primarily about a coming battle between Judah and the Ten Tribes.
(Isa 7:1-2) The northern nation of Israel and Syria combine to attack Judah.
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told to the house of David, saying, “Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.” So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind.
Ahaz was the son of Uzziah. Uzziah was a great king and leader of Judah. His son Ahaz was a very poor king. The bible tells us he sacrificed one of his sons to a false god. (2Kings 16: 1-4) He allowed him to be burned alive. Cruelty is nothing new to our day. He also lead the nation to false worship. (2Kings 16: 10-18) This bad king, and the nation he led, would soon be under attack. Initial attacks were unsuccessful so the northern tribes sought help from Syria. Battles raged and at one point tens of thousands of soldiers of Judah were killed and many captives taken. The Lord, through Isaiah, sent words of prophecy to Ahaz.
My first reaction to this is a typical human response. “Why would God help this evil king?” God always sees things from a big-picture perspective. He would help the evil king because it was necessary to accomplish the prophetic purpose of God. The long-game is always the perspective God keeps in focus.
(Isa 7:3-9) The word of the LORD to Ahaz through Isaiah.
Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel”; thus says the Lord GOD: “It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, so that it will not be a people. The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.”
An important object lesson
God tells Isaiah what to say, where to meet, and even the part of the road to meet on. These kinds of details are common in the bible. These are specific instructions involving people, places, points of interest, and historical sites. This is real history not myth and fable like people like to accuse. The Lord even told Isaiah to bring his son as an important object lesson. The son’s name had a special meaning which had prophetic importance. His name meant, ‘A remnant shall return’. In the above passage, God tells Ahaz not to worry about the invading army. They will be defeated in 65 years. That is a very specific prophecy. The name of Isaiah’s son is important. Though the northern Israeli attack will not succeed, there will be a later attempt that will succeed. Only a remnant of Judah will ever return, thus the need for the object lesson in the form of Isaiah’s son.
(Isa 7:10-12) Ahaz will not ask for a sign.
Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!”
This is an interesting verse. God tells the evil king of Judah to ask for a sign. Ahaz says he won’t ask. It could have been arrogance or maybe bitterness that made him refuse the Lord’s request. We don’t know but the Lord insists there will be a sign anyway. This whole passage revolves around the possibility of the destruction of a critical piece of the prophecy puzzle. Judah cannot be destroyed because the Messiah must come from the family of David and the tribe of Judah.
So God gives the sign. Ahaz didn’t ask for it but the Lord gives it anyway. The world needs to know God will not let his prophetic word fail.
(Isa 7:13-16) The LORD’s sign to Ahaz: the sign of Immanuel.
Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will 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. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.”
The ‘house of David’ is a reference to the family line of King David. The Messiah, Jesus, would come from this family. God provides a very important and specific sign regarding the Messiah. A virgin shall conceive and bear a Son. This is Mary. Jesus was accused of being a result of Mary’s out-of-wedlock adultery. Most Christians are familiar with this prophecy and teaching. Many Christians may not realize he was accused of being a ‘bastard’s son’. Pretty harsh but not surprising.
What many of us often miss is the context of this prophecy. As I mentioned above, the Lord will protect his word. What he says must happen, will happen. He will make sure of it. He speaks, sometimes thousands of years in advance, and it comes to pass. Isaiah chapter seven is about the near destruction of a group of people who cannot be destroyed.
Based on the behavior of king Ahaz, offering his son to be burned alive, you would expect God would let the king and his people be destroyed. He would not, because the terrible behavior of one individual, will never make him go back on his word. God made a promise. When he does it is set in stone.
(Isa 7:17-25) Assyria, the nation Ahaz trusted, will also bring ruin to Judah.
“The LORD will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house; days that have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.” And it shall come to pass in that day that the LORD will whistle for the fly that is in the farthest part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. They will come, and all of them will rest in the desolate valleys and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all thorns and in all pastures. In the same day the Lord will shave with a hired razor, with those from beyond the River, with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the legs, and will also remove the beard. It shall be in that day that a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep; so it shall be, from the abundance of milk they give, that he will eat curds; for curds and honey everyone will eat who is left in the land. It shall happen in that day, that wherever there could be a thousand vines worth a thousand shekels of silver, it will be for briers and thorns. With arrows and bows men will come there, because all the land will become briers and thorns. And to any hill which could be dug with the hoe, you will not go there for fear of briers and thorns; but it will become a range for oxen and a place for sheep to roam.”
God protects the Jewish people, not because they are better than any other people, but because he made a promise. Bible prophecy is about God fulfilling his promises. If God were to stop fulfilling his promises, light would depart from the world. But that won’t happen.
King Ahaz deserved to be punished and he was. The Jewish people deserved the same and they got theirs. To be honest there is more to come. They still live in rebellion.
If you or I deserve punishment the Lord has his way of accomplishing that.
But Christmas comes every year. When it does we are reminded of God’s commitments. In the middle of terrible kings, rebellion against the Lord, and apparent destruction, God will preserve a remnant. Jesus must be born. In the middle of the harsh winter seasons Christmas arrives. It’s not the end of hard times but it reminds us God is working toward putting an end to all of the harsh winter seasons.