The Ultimate Sign: Isaiah 7

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Excerpt In Isaiah chapter 7, God demonstrates His faithfulness to a promise that He made with King David concerning the Davidic dynasty by giving the ultimate sign to the House of David. The sign would be a virgin born Son named Immanuel, God with us. As we examine this passage carefully, we will see from the historical context that Matthew is not taking verse 14 out of context in order to “proof-text” the virgin birth of Jesus. Moreover, the context is clearly pointing to the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus as the fulfillment of this passage in Isaiah 7. The Lord Jesus Christ is the sinless Immanue and God manifest in human flesh. Continue reading

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Introduction

As we go through life, sometimes we experience distressing times.  We may loose our job, have a financial set back, have marital problems, or our health might deteriorate.  During these times of distress, the believer in the Lord Jesus needs to examine his/her own life and ask these questions: Is this problem in my life self-inflicted?  Are my sins the reason for this trouble? If so, what will I do about it?  Can I rely on the promises of God?  Finally, what lessons can I learn from this experience?

In the Eighth Century BC there was a king of Judah named Ahaz.  He had heard about a planned coup d’etat by two other kings that wanted to overthrow him and replace him with a puppet king.  Ahaz was a believer in the Lord but was living in sin, sadly it was gross sin.  He had an arrogant spiritual attitude because he thought he was indispensable to the plan, program, and purposes of God.  In his thinking, God needed him more than he needed to walk with God and let Him work in his life.  That is a dangerous attitude to have, especially when you are dealing with the Living God.

In Isaiah chapter 7, God demonstrates His faithfulness to a promise that He made with King David concerning the Davidic dynasty by giving the ultimate sign to the House of David.  The sign would be a virgin born Son named Immanuel, God with us.  As we examine this passage carefully, we will see from the historical context that Matthew is not taking verse 14 out of context in order to “proof-text” the virgin birth of Jesus (1:22, 23).  Moreover, the context is clearly pointing to the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus as the fulfillment of this passage in Isaiah 7.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the sinless Immanuel and God manifest in human flesh.

Historical Background

The events of the reign of King Ahaz are recorded in II Kings 16 and II Chronicles 28.  The summary statement of his spiritual walk with the Lord is very alarming.  It states:

...and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD, as his father David had done.  For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals.  He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.  And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree (II Chron. 28:1b-4). 

Yet apparently he had trusted the Lord at one time in his life for his eternal salvation.  The Bible seems to indicate that he had a relationship with God (not a great one, but a relationship none the less).  In II Kings 16:2 it says he did not walk in the sight of the LORD his God.  II Chronicles 28:5 says that “the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria.”  Even the LORD Himself said to Ahaz, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God” (Isa. 7:11).  Yahweh was his God, yet Ahaz was terribly unfaithful to Him (II Chron. 28:22).  King Ahaz is not a person we should hold up as a role model, except as a warning to those believers in the Lord Jesus who are unfaithful to the Lord and have gotten away from Him (I Cor. 10:6).

The event and conversations recorded in Isaiah 7 took place in the year 734/733 BC.  It was a time when Ahaz was having problems with his neighbors to the north.  Israel, with its capital in Samaria and ruled by Pekah, and Syria, with its capital in Damascus and ruled by Rezin, wanted Ahaz to join a coalition of nations to fight against the “super power” of the day, Assyria, ruled by Tiglath-Pileser III.  Ahaz was not a godly or spiritual man, but he was politically smart.  He knew that the coalition could not stand up against the mighty Assyrian army, so he declined the invitation.  This brought about the second Syro-Ephraimite incursion against Judah.  Syria and Ephraim joined forces again to try and overthrow King Ahaz.

In order to get Judah to join the coalition, Pekah and Rezin hatched a plot to overthrow Ahaz and put a “puppet king” on the throne that would bring Judah into the coalition.  To back up their conspiracy, Syria deployed troops in Samaria.  Ahaz got wind of this plot and began to “shake in his boots.”  He started to make secret overtures to the Assyrian king to get Pekah and Rezin off his back (II Kings 16:7, 8).  His trust was in Tiglath-Pileser III and not the LORD.

In this chapter, Isaiah reminded Ahaz that God had made a covenant with David and promised him that a Davidic ruler would one day sit upon the throne of David forever (II Sam. 7:12-17).

The Distress in the House of David because of Rezin and Pekah – 7:1, 2

The first two verses give us the historical setting for this chapter.  The events recorded take place in the “days of King Ahaz of Judah.”  It was during this time that Rezin, the Syrian king whose throne was in Damascus brought his army up to Ephraim because he had an alliance with Pekah, the king of Israel.  In verse one, the verb “went up” (to Jerusalem) is singular and seems to indicate that Rezin was the instigator of the plot to overthrow Ahaz and he was dragging Pekah along with him as his co-conspirator (7:1; cf. 10:27-32).

A few years earlier, Ephraim and Damascus had invaded Judah and killed 120,000 Judeans soldiers in one day because the Judeans had forsaken the LORD.  Also, 200,000 women and children were taken captives to Samaria, but were later released at the urging of the prophet Oded (II Chron. 28:5-15).

Their main objective, however, was not met, so they prepared a second incursion against Judah in which to overthrow King Ahaz.  Judean intelligence was aware of the Syrian troop movements and informed the House of David: “Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.”  This was not good news for Ahaz.  He, like all the rest of Judah, was “shaking in his boots” (to use an American slang).  The Judean equivalent was used by Isaiah: “The heart(s) of his [Ahaz] people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind” (7:2).  One of the members of the House of David was a young teen-age boy named Hezekiah.  At this time, he was probably 15 years old.  As this chapter unfolds, we will see that he was the primary recipient of one of the most astounding prophecies given to the nation of Judah.

The Planned Destruction of the House of David by Rezin and Pekah – 7:3-9
 
The Judean intelligence service was aware of the troop movements in the north, but God’s intelligence service would reveal the true intentions of the kings of Syria and Israel.
 
The LORD instructed Isaiah and his son, Shear-Yashuv, to meet Ahaz at the “end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s field”1  (7:3).  Ahaz was probably there because he was checking out the water system to see if any damage had been done when the city was first besieged by the Syro-Ephraimite confederacy (II Kings 16:5).

God instructed Isaiah to take his son because they were a sign to Israel and Judah (Isa. 8:18).  The name Shear-Yashuv means “A remnant shall return.”  This son was born after the call of Isaiah, in the year King Uzziah died (6:13).  He was brought to meet Ahaz, a believer in the LORD (cf. 7:11), with the intent that this would be an encouragement for him to return to the Lord (6:10, 13).

Underlying this whole passage is the unconditional promise made by the Lord to David in the Davidic Covenant.  This covenant promised David that one of his sons (or descendents) would sit upon the throne of David, in Jerusalem, forever and ever (II Sam. 7: 12-17; I Chron. 17: 11-15; I Kings 8:25; 2:3, 4; 9:5).
 
Ahaz was “trembling in his boots” at this point, but God instructs Isaiah to give him two positive and two negative commands in order to show him that he has nothing to fear.  Isaiah says, “Take heed, and be quiet,” the two positive commands.  Then he says, “do not fear or be fainthearted,” the negative commands.  Then Isaiah gives the reason why he has nothing to fear and also reveals the plot of the Syro-Ephraimite confederacy.  He calls Rezin and Pekah “two stubs of smoking firebrands” (7:4).  In essence he is saying they are nothing but “hot air,” there is no fire in them.  They are smoldering embers and their strength is gone.  Perhaps Isaiah called King Ahaz’s attention to another promise of God: “Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; for the LORD will be your confidence, and will keep yout foot from being caught.”  Faith and fear are contrary to one another (Prov. 3:25, 26).

Isaiah then reveals the ultimate goal of the Syro-Ephraimite confederacy which was to replace King Ahaz with a puppet king, identified as one of the “sons of Tabeel.”2   This individual would then bring Judah into the coalition against Assyria. 

There are far reaching implications for this plot to overthrow King Ahaz.  If Pekah and Rezin successfully overthrew Ahaz and the House of David and placed one of the sons of Tabeel on the throne, the Davidic line would be wiped out  and God could not fulfill His promise to David, i.e. the Lord Jesus would never have been born!  But God is faithful to His promises.

You will recall the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary when he appeared to her in Nazareth: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).  If the Davidic dynasty was overthrown, and the Messianic line eliminated, God would not be faithful to His promise to David.   In the “conflict of the ages” between God and Satan, Satan would be victorious because there would be no Davidic Messiah to sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem.

In verses 7-9, the LORD God gives two prophetic assurances and one warning to Ahaz.  The first prophetic assurance is that this plot will not stand, nor will not come to pass (7:7).  In other words, “It ain’t gawna happen, and it didn’t.”  The second prophetic assurance is that within 65 years Ephraim will be broken (7:8).  The warning that the Lord gives to Ahaz is that if he does not trust the Lord, his kingdom shall not be established (7:9).  In other words, he will be removed from the throne.

The second prophetic assurance was fulfilled during the reign of Esarhaddon, king of Assyrian (680-669 BC).  Hugh Williamson’s comments on Ezra 4:2 might be helpful.  He has observed: “Nowhere else in the OT are we told that Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, was responsible for settling foreigners in Israel.  The major tradition, as found in 2 Kings 17, suggests a much earlier settlement by Sargon II” (1985:49).  He goes on to say: “Support for its historicity comes first from Isa. 7:8, whose reference  to sixty-five years may well bring us to the reign of Esarhaddon, and second from the historical texts of Esarhaddon’s reign, which testify to his successful campaign in the west and which thus suggest a plausible setting for a policy of resettlement” (1985:49, 50).  The Assyrian resettlement policy would have finally broken Ephraim.

The warning that was given to Ahaz was that he would be removed from the throne if he did not trust the LORD God: “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established” (7:9).  The important word of this warning is “establish.” In the Hebrew, this warning is a word play: “eem lo ta-a-mee-noo, key lo tey-a-may-noo”  It is difficult to translate this Hebrew word play into English, but the NIV made an attempt.  They translated it as: “if you do not stand firm, you will not stand at all.”  In essence, what this verse is saying is this:  If you insist on trusting Tiglath-Pileser III and not the LORD in this situation, it will not be Rezin and Pekah that remove you from your throne, but rather the Lord will remove you as king, yet He will still be faithful to His promises to David. 

The words of this warning go back to the Davidic Covenant.  God promised David that his kingdom would be established forever (II Sam. 7:16; I Chron. 17:23, 24; Ps. 78:70; Ps. 89).  Of David’s son, Solomon, and by implication all the other descendents, God, acting as a loving Father, would chasten them if they are disobedient to the Word of God.  But His mercy would never depart from the House of David (II Sam. 7:13-15).

Ahaz did not want to trust the Lord in this situation, but rather, he bribed Tiglath-Pileser III to save him from Pekah and Rezin (II Kings 16:7, 8; II Chron. 28:16-25).  The Chronicler recounts that “in the time of his distress King Ahaz became increasingly unfaithful to the LORD” (II Chron. 28:22).  His trust was in Tiglath-Pileser III and not the Lord in this situation.  He also thought he was indispensable for the program of God.  Yet God, not Rezin and Pekah, would remove Ahaz from his throne.

This same principle is seen in the New Testament.  The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, uses athletic terminology to describe the Christian life (I Cor. 9:24-27).  He states: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (9:27).  Paul is not talking about loosing ones salvation because a believer in the Lord Jesus is eternally secure in Christ (John 5:24; 6:39, 40; 19:28, 29; Rom. 8:38, 39; I Tim. 1:12; I John 5:9-13).  He is, however, saying that it is possible for a believer to be disqualified from the race of the Christian life and not be used of the Lord anymore.  The sad results will be that the believer will be “ashamed” at the return of the Lord Jesus and “suffer lose” of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I John 2:28; II Cor. 5:10; I Cor. 3:12-15).

These words of assurance and warning should encourage the House of David.  When they saw the near fulfillment come to pass in 65 years, they could be confident that the next prophetic oracle that God would give would be accomplished as well, even if it was hundreds of years later.

The Declaration to the House of David – 7:10-17

In verses 10-12, the Lord confronts Ahaz.  The LORD seems to imply that Ahaz is a believer in verse 11 when he challenges him to “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God”, a sign that could strengthen his faith in the Lord (cf. Isa. 38).  But Ahaz responded piously, using the language of Scripture that he would not (7:12).  He reasoned that if he saw the sign, he would have to respond in a positive way to the Word of God.  He would have to trust the LORD and not Tiglath-Pileser III, something he did not want to do.  Ahaz was using the language of faith because he knew the Word of God, but he was in rebellion to the Lord (cf. Jonah 2:1-9; 4:1-3).  Ahaz had a very high opinion of himself.  He thought he was indispensable to the plan of God.

In verses 13-17, the LORD comforts the House of David.  Isaiah turns his attention to the House of David.  Apparently he was in the royal court with members of the Davidic family.  Most likely Prince Hezekiah would have been there.  At this point in time, he was a teen-ager, about 15 years old.  The warning had been given to Ahaz that he would be set aside (disqualified) from ruling.  He would not be “established”, but the House of David was reassured that the Davidic dynasty would still be established.

Isaiah stated: “Therefore the Lord (Adoni) Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14).  The word “you” in verse 14 is plural.  In other words, he is no longer talking to Ahaz, but the whole house of David.  The sign of the virgin born son, Immanuel, was directed primarily toward Hezekiah in order to encourage him to trust the Lord.  A few years later, when he came to the throne, he instituted a great revival in that first year.  His trust was only in the Lord.

The Hebrew word for “virgin” in verse 14 is “almah”.  This word is never used in the Hebrew Scriptures of a married woman, but is used of a young woman of marriageable age (Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Ps. 68:26; Song of Sol. 1:3; 6:8; Prov. 30:18).   Within the Israelite culture, one who is a virgin at the time of marriage is understood.  There is another Hebrew word, “betula” that specifically means a virgin.

Interestingly, in the third century BC, seventy Jewish scholars got together in Alexandria, Egypt, and translated the Hebrew Bible into the Greek language.  The translation, called the Septuagint (LXX), was for those Jewish people living in the Diaspora, or outside the Land of Israel, who spoke only Greek.  When they came to the word “almah”, they translated it with the Greek word “parthenos” which is at the root of the word “parthenogenesis” that means “development of an egg without fertilization”.  These translators understood the word to mean virgin in the technical sense of the word.

In the New Testament, Dr. Luke, describes the miraculous conception of the Lord Jesus in the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:27, 34-38.  Matthew also records the conception by the Holy Spirit in Matthew 1:18-25.  In verse 23, Matthew follows the Septuagint when he quotes Isaiah 7:14 and uses the Greek word “parthenos”.

Some evangelical expositors have sought a dual fulfillment of this passage and try to identify Immanuel with either Hezekiah or the child of the prophetess who was Isaiah’s wife (8:3), and then also Jesus.  These two suggested identifications collapse on historical and theological grounds.  First, Hezekiah was already born and was one of those in the royal court hearing this prophecy.  Second, Immanuel could not be the son of the prophetess because she had already given birth to Shear-Yashub (7:3), thus she was not a virgin.  The name Immanuel, “God with us” indicates that the Child will be God manifested in human flesh.  Two chapters later, Isaiah would call Him the “Mighty God” (Isa. 9:6).  There was One, and only one Person, who could fulfill this passage and that was the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are actually three aspects to the nature of this Child.  First, He would be virgin born.  Second, He would have a humble beginning.  And third, He would have a sinless nature, thus divine.  The first part of verse 15 states: “Curds and honey He shall eat.”  These are the food of the poor, not a symbol of a royal diet (contra Young 1992:I:291).  The sign to shepherds was that He would be born in poor circumstances (Luke 2:10-12), not royal surroundings.  When Mary dedicated her first-born in the Temple, she offered two turtle doves, the offering of the poor (Luke 2:22-24; cf. Lev. 12:8).  The wise men did not arrive until a year, to a year and a half after the birth of the Lord Jesus, before they presented Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Verse 15 goes on to say, “that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.”  In this passage Isaiah is pointing out the sinless nature of the Child.  Unlike us (and Hezekiah and Isaiah’s children), who by nature are sinful human beings that choose evil and refuse the good (Rom. 1-3), this Child will have a sinless nature as demonstrated by the fact that He chooses good and refuses evil.

Isaiah takes this prophecy and applies the time frame of the Child to the present situation.  He continues: “For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good” [that is, before He was born], “the land that you dread [Samaria] will be forsaken by both her kings” (7:16).  To put it another way, after the defeat of Pekah and Rezin, Immanuel would be born.  How much time after, Isaiah did not know (cf. I Pet. 1:10, 11).  He did not have a prophecy chart in front of him with an arrow pointing to May 14, 6 BC to mark the birth of Immanuel.  Yet he believed Immanuel would one day be born.

It would be helpful to tell “the rest of the story.”  Isaiah had admonished Ahaz to trust the Lord only, yet Ahaz wanted to trust Tiglath-Pileser III to take care of his foreign policy problems.  Ahaz goes to Damascus to pay tribute and homage to Tiglath-Pileser III who, at this time, was not only king of Assyria, but Babylon as well (II Kings 16:9, 10).  Isaiah warns Ahaz again about trusting Tiglath-Pileser III (Isa. 14:3-21) and reveals the king’s true intentions to Ahaz.   The king of Assyria and Babylon wanted to “sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north” (Isa. 14:13; cf. Ps. 48:1-3).  His intentions were to conquer Jerusalem!  Ahaz would not believe this.  In apparently what was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, Ahaz made a plan of the altar that he saw in Damascus and sent it back to Jerusalem to be constructed.  When he got back to Jerusalem, he offered sacrifices on this unbiblical altar (II Kings 16:10-18).  God’s patience and long-suffering ran out and Ahaz dies soon after in 727 BC (Isa. 14:28).

Prince Hezekiah had apparently paid attention to Isaiah’s warnings as he saw what transpired in his father’s life because in the first year of King Hezekiah’s reign, there is a great revival.  He reinstituted the Passover and Biblical worship in the Temple in Jerusalem and got rid of the idolatry taking place in the Kingdom of Judah (II Chron. 32:29-31; II Kings 18:2-5).  Judah had been heading for destruction because of Ahaz’s idolatry, but Hezekiah brought the people back to the Lord and the Lord, in mercy, intervened.  Tiglath-Pileser III was struck down in Damascus the same year that Ahaz died and judgment from God was averted on Jerusalem.  The prophet Micah also predicted the impending judgment on Jerusalem but because Hezekiah brought the people back to the Lord, the Lord did not carry out His planned judgment (Micah 3:12; cf. Jer. 26:16-19).

For the first time in the book of Isaiah, the Assyrians are mentioned by name as an instrument of God’s judgment (7:17; cf. Isa. 10:5).  Judgment was stayed in the first year of Hezekiah’s reign, but they would come back at least two more times during Hezekiah’s lifetime (Franz 1987).  The most devastating invasion would be in the year 701 BC.  At this time, most of Judah was destroyed, but Jerusalem and the House of David was spared because Hezekiah trusted the LORD.

The Near Destruction of the Land of the House of David – 7:18-25

In graphic poetic language, verses 18-26 predict the Assyrian invasion of Judah in the year 701 BC.  The focus of this prophecy is the land (of Judah), and not Jerusalem and the House of David (7:22, 24).  Elsewhere, Isaiah predicted Jerusalem and the House of David would be spared.

In this section, Isaiah begins by describing an infestation of insects to the land of Judah: flies from the “farthest part of the river of Egypt” and bees from Assyria.  Some have taken this to be a literal infestation; others have suggested this is figurative language to describe the armies of the Ethiopians under Tirhakah (II Kings 19:9; Isa. 37:9), and the Assyrians under Sennacherib and his Rabshakeh in 701 BC.  Most likely, Isaiah is using the insects in a figurative sense.

In the year 701 BC, Sennacherib recounts his invasion of Judah and says he destroyed 48 cities and took a number of Judeans captive.  Verse 20 describes the humiliation of these Judeans by the Assyrians when they shaved their heads and beards.

The Assyrians wrecked havoc on the Land of Judah.  They had taken most of the livestock as booty and left only a few people (7:21, 22, 25).  Isaiah describes the remnant as having one young cow and two sheep that thrived in the uncultivated land so they could eat “curds and honey.”  The phrase “curds and honey” (7:21, 22) is another form of the saying “milk and honey.”  The founder of Naot Kedumim, the Biblical Gardens in Israel, Nogah Hareuveni has observed: “The phrase ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ describes uncultivated areas covered with wild vegetation and a profusion of flowers.  It is a positive and alluring description to the Israelites while they were still shepherds.  However, after they settled the land of Israel by clearing the ‘milk and honey’ areas for cultivation, the same phrase became a frightening description associated with the destruction of productive farmland” (1980:22).

Isaiah goes on to describe the vineyards as reverting back to briars and thorns because they were uncultivated and now dangerous because they were inhabited by wild animals (7:23-25).

Hezekiah remembers these remarks from when he was a teenager.  In order to avoid the impending destruction, in the first year of his reign, he was prompted to trust the Lord only.  “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him” (II Kings 18:5).

Applications

There are two important theological truths being presented in this passage: first, the importance of the virgin birth for the Incarnation, and second, God’s dealing with wayward believers.

The Incarnation is at the heart of the Christian message.  The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh …” (I Tim. 3:16).  The only way the Second Person of the triune God could take on human flesh without being tainted by Adam’s sin was to be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin.  He possessed two natures, perfect humanity and absolute Deity.  As God manifest in human flesh, He could not sin, He would not sin, and did not sin.

As the perfect, spotless, sinless Lamb of God, He could die in our place and pay for all our sins.  As a result of that sacrifice, He could offer any and all who would trust Him, the free gift of eternal life, the forgiveness of sins and a home in Heaven.  The Bible says that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone and not by any works that we do, or merits of our own (John 3:16; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8,9; Phil. 3:9; I John 5:13).

The second issue this passage addresses is how God deals with His wayward children.  Sometimes, I might dare say many times, our distressing problems are self-inflicted and caused by sins in our lives and not being obedient to the Word of God.  If that is the case, we need to examine our lives and confess our sins to the Lord and forsake those sins (I John 1:9; James 5:13-16).

The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the church at Corinth about examples from the Hebrew Scriptures showing God’s chastening of His people during the Wilderness Wanderings (I Cor. 10:1-10).  He concluded that section by saying: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (I Cor. 10:11-14).  If the Apostle Paul had expanded his list of examples of God’s chastening of His children, he could have included King Ahaz and the messages by Isaiah and Micah about the way of escape. 

The idolatrous King Ahaz had the attitude that God needed him more than he needed God.  His idolatry and arrogant attitude was inconsistent with a close walk with the Lord.  He should have heeded the words of the prophet Micah who stated, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). Ahaz did not, and God “disqualified” him and his kingdom was not established.  Interestingly, the Apostle Paul identifies covetousness as idolatry (Col. 3:5).

On the other hand, we can learn some lessons from young Prince Hezekiah.  He had observed what was going on in the kingdom and saw the consequences of his father’s sin of idolatry.  After his father died, Hezekiah was crowned king and instituted one of the greatest revivals in the history of the nation of Israel.  His revival began by getting rid of the high places and idols in the Kingdom of Judah and calling people back to Biblical worship in the Temple in Jerusalem (II Kings 18:4-6; II Chron. 29).  Hezekiah saw the consequences of his father’s sin and applied and practiced the principles revealed in the Word of God.  Thus his kingdom was established.

We have the assurance of eternal life, but not the assurance of reigning with Christ.  The apostle Paul includes one of the hymns of the early church in his epistle to Timothy.  He states in II Tim. 2:11-13:

This is a faithful saying:
For if we died with Him,
We shall also live with Him.
If we endure,
We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He also will deny us.
If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.

The opening line of this hymn is true of all believers in the Lord Jesus.  We have died with Christ (Gal. 2:20) and we shall also live with Him in resurrected glory.  The second line would be addressed to the “over comers”, those who endure to the end of the Christian life.  For those who are faithful, they will have the privilege of reigning with the Lord Jesus in the Millennial Kingdom.  The third line, “if we deny Him, He also will deny us.”  In the context, He will deny us the privilege of ruling and reigning with Him in the Kingdom.  He is not talking about denying us salvation and eternal life if we deny Him, because the last line gives believers the assurance of salvation and the promise of eternal security.  “If we are faithless (like King Ahaz was), He [Jesus] remains faithful; He [Jesus] cannot deny Himself.”  Even if we turn our backs on the Lord, He remains faithful to us because He cannot deny Himself (For a full discussion of this passage, see McCoy 1988).  The Lord Jesus promised: “And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hands.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one” (John 10:28-30).  Talk about double (eternal) security – Jesus holds on to us and the Father holds on to us; and no one, not even Satan, can snatch us out of either hand!

There is an old hymn entitled “Trust and Obey.”  King Ahaz did not trust the Lord, nor did he obey God’s Word and he was not established, God removed him from the throne.  On the other hand, King Hezekiah did trust the Lord and obeyed His Word, thus the ultimate sign, the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus, was fulfilled.

Footnotes:

1. Two possibilities have been suggested as to this meeting location.  The first is north of Damascus Gate at what was known as the Serpents Pools.  These pools are now covered over by the Damascus Gate parking lot (Barkay 1985: 63-65, 3*). The second possibility is by the Pools of Bethesda (Bahat 1989: 28, 33).  In the year 701 BC this would be the meeting place of three of Hezekiah’s court officials with the Rabshakeh, the commander of the Assyrian army, who was besieging Jerusalem (Isa. 36:2; II Kings 18:17).

2. The first suggestion was made by William Foxwell Albright based on a cuneiform tablet that was excavated at Nimrud in 1952 by Professor Max Mallowan, the husband of Agatha Christie.  Albright gave his translation of line 4-7 of Tablet XIV as: “The messenger of Ayanir, the Tab’elite, Ezazu by name, is bringing a sealed document with him to the palace” (1955:34).  He suggested that the land of Tab’el is in northeastern Palestine or southeastern Syria and that the son of Tab’el “was presumably the son of Uzziah or Jothan by a princess of Tab’el” (1955:35).  Albright’s reading of Tab’elite is contrary to the original reading of the epigrapher who translated the text, H. W. F. Saggs.  He translates it as “Dabilite” and identified it as “a place in or near Moab” (1955:132).  One should be cautious about accepting Albright’s identification and interpretation.

The second suggestion was made based on a vassal list on a stele of Tiglath-Pileser III that was found in western Iran and is now in the Royal Ontario Museum (Levine 1972a).  In the year 737 BC, Tiglath-Pileser III campaigned in the west and made various kings vassals, including Resin of Damascus, Menahem of Samaria and a certain Tubail of Tyre (1972b:41).  It has been suggested that the “son of Tabeel” was a prince of the king of Tyre whose father was named Tabal, or Tabail.  According to this suggestion, Pekah and Rezin promised the king of Tyre the throne of Judah if he would join the coalition (Hayes and Irvine 1987: 127).

The final suggestion was set forth by Professor Benjamin Mazar (1957: 137-145; 229-238).  He contends that: “It is likely that this Ben-Tab’el was the descendant of a noble Judean family, perhaps even a relation of the house of David, who had many supporters among Ahaz’ enemies in Jerusalem and was closely connected with the kings of Israel and Aram” (1957: 236).  He places their land holdings in Transjordan in general and Gilead in specific (1957: 237-238).  Most likely Professor Mazar is correct.

It was the practice in Israel (the Northern Kingdom) to exterminate entire dynasties.  This is seen by the elimination of the House of Jeroboam I (I Kings 14:7-11; 15:27-29), the House of Baasha (I Kings 16:1-4, 11, 12), the Omride Dynasty (II Kings 10:8-11) and the House of Jeroboam II (Amos 7:9; Hosea 1:3; II Kings 15:16).  One would assume that they would be planning to exterminate the entire House of David.

Bibliography

Albright, William
1955 The Son of Tabeel (Isaiah 7:6).  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 140: 34, 35.

Bahat, Dan
1989 The Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem.  New York: Simon and Schuster.

Barkay, Gabriel
1985 Northern and Western Jerusalem in the End of the Iron Age. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis.  Tel Aviv University.

Franz, Gordon
1987  The Hezekiah / Sennacherib Chronology Problem Reconsidered.  Unpublished MA thesis.  Columbia Biblical Seminary.  Columbia, SC.

Hareuveni, Nogah
1980 Nature in Our Biblical Heritage.  Kiryat Ono: Neot Kedumim.

Hayes, John, and Irvine, Stuart
1987 Isaiah the Eighth-century Prophet.  His Times and His Preaching.  Nashville, TN: Abingdon.

Levine, Louis
1972a Two Neo-Assyrian Stelae from Iran.  Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum.  Art and Archaeology Occasional Paper 23.

1972b Menahem and Tiglath-Pileser: A New Synchronism.  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 206: 40-42.

McCoy, Brad
1988 Secure Yet Scrutinized.  II Timothy 2:11-13.  Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 1/1.  www.faithalone.org/journal/1988ii/McCoy.html

Mazar, Benjamin
1957 The Tobiads.  Israel Exploration Journal.  7/3: 137-145; 7/4: 229-238.

Williamson, Hugh
1985 Ezra, Nehemiah.  Word Biblical Commentary.  Waco, TX: Word Books.

Young, Edward
1965 The Book of Isaiah.  Vol. 1.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.  Reprinted 1992.

Comments Comment RSS

1/21/2010 11:45 PM #

> Verse 15 goes on to say, “that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.”  


Is it possible to understand the time frame of the prophecy, alternatively, as follows:

Isaiah tells Ahaz that some young woman is already pregnant and will give birth to a son. Now, before this son is old enough to discern between good and bad--whatever age that is, let's say two--YHWH would destroy Judah's dreaded northern enemies and deliver His people, in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. Such a prophecy would be fulfilled and presage the miraculous, virgin-born coming of David's ultimate Successor.

It appears that this would put less strain on the language concerning refusing evil and choosing good (i.e. by identifying that as the time of birth), no?

Joseph Ng - 1/21/2010 11:45:45 PM

1/22/2010 1:39 PM #

Dear Joseph,

The point of verses 14 and 15 is to present the dual nature of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In verse 14 we see His deity in His virgin birth and the statement "God with us".  In verse 15 we see His humanity.  Everybody born into this world is a sinner by nature.  We choose the evil and refuse the good.  There is only one exception and that was the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in His humanity, refused the evil and chose the good.  So the woman whom Isaiah is refering to can only be Mary, not Isaiah's wife (who already had two children and thus not a virgin) or the mother of Hezekiah (who was already born).

Gordon Franz

Gordon Franz - 1/22/2010 1:39:56 PM

2/22/2013 1:03 PM #

This is all wrong. Why would the Father ask Ahaz to pick a sign - any sign for the nation, if this was referring to the Messiah....something so important to mankind that it had to occur?

Other prophecies were simply revealed and then stated by his prophets. This one has the Father asking for any sign, yet it his being hailed as the most important prophecy in the Gospel? That makes no sense to me.

Jake Winters - 2/22/2013 1:03:45 PM

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