Immanuel
by Jack Wald | October 21st, 2018

Isaiah 7:1-8:8

Mark was the first of the gospels to be written. Mark was a disciple of Peter and at the end of Peter’s life, Mark wanted to preserve his first hand account of his years with Jesus. Jesus had not yet returned and Peter’s stories about Jesus needed to be recorded. Matthew was the second gospel to be written and he wrote to a Jewish audience with many references to the Old Testament showing that the Bible predicted the life and ministry of Jesus. Of all the gospel writers, Luke was most concerned with history. He traveled with Paul to Jerusalem and interviewed those who had been with Jesus. John was the last of the gospels to be written. John is a literary gospel with little regard for chronology. It is organized around seven miracles of Jesus and seven discourses that relate to the miracle.

When Matthew was reading through the Old Testament to find references to Jesus the Messiah, he read through Isaiah and when he came to chapters 7 & 8, he saw meaning in this verse: (Isaiah 7:14)
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Over the years when I have read Matthew and then looked up the verse in Isaiah he was referencing, I scratched my head. The context does not seem to say much about the messiah who was to come. The word translated “virgin” does not necessarily mean virgin. There is another word that is more clearly translated virgin but Isaiah did not choose that word. The word Isaiah used could simply mean a young woman. But because we know the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus, we put meaning into the text in Isaiah. It is not clear that Isaiah or his hearers understood it that way.

So I have looked forward to studying this passage more in depth.

Isaiah 1-5 is a prologue to Isaiah. Chapter 6 is Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Now we enter chapters 7-39 of Isaiah which are united around the theme of trust. A contrast is made between trust in the nations and trust in God. Trust in the nations will lead to desolation (chapter 34) while trust in God will lead to abundance (chapter 35).

The historical background for this section comes in chapters 7-12.

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah’s call from God to be a prophet to Judah came in the year Uzziah died. Uzziah’s son, Jotham became king and reigned for sixteen years. Isaiah 7 opens after Jotham has died and his son, Ahaz is king of Judah. Isaiah has been God’s prophet to Judah for twenty some years when he went to meet Ahaz as he was checking out the water supply.

Ahaz came to the throne at the age of 20 and unlike his father Jotham and grandfather Uzziah, he did not do “what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God.” (2 Kings 16:3-4)
He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. 4 He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

Ahaz’s idolatry is at the core of his weakness as king of Judah.

In previous battles, Ahaz had been defeated by both Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel. Now they were joining forces against him. In addition, Edom and the Philistines were threatening him. How was Ahaz reacting to these threats? (Isaiah 7:2)
2 Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

What was he to do? He had no confidence in Judah’s ability to withstand a siege and the stakes for Ahaz were high. Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel were not simply intent on a raid against Judah, they were coming to replace him with a man of their own choosing, a man whose name suggests he was Syrian. His life was in danger.

Ahaz was shaking like a leaf in the wind.

Ahaz looked around in desperation. Who was powerful enough to protect him? Ahaz was trembling like a leaf and in his desperation he turned to Israel’s greatest enemy for help. (2 Kings 16:7-9)
Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. 9 The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death.

Ahaz could not see the long-term implications and jumped at a short-term solution. With this alliance he took care of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel. He got rid of the mosquitos but did not see the hornets who were coming.

It was when Ahaz was considering making an alliance with Assyria that God sent Isaiah to urge him to put his trust in God who was sovereign over Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel (Ephraim).
Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. 4 Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.”

Isaiah took his son with him. His son was named Shear-Jashub which means “a remnant will remain.” Isaiah took his son with him for a reason. Ahaz was fearing total annihilation, total destruction. He might be killed so Tabeel could be put on his throne as king of Judah. Shear-Jashup came with Isaiah to send the message that there would not be total destruction, a remnant would remain. Isaiah came hoping to give Ahaz encouragement.

Isaiah reassured Ahaz:
Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“ ‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,
8 for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.

Syria would be conquered itself. The northern kingdom of Israel would be conquered. These nations that were conspiring against Ahaz would themselves be destroyed. Isaiah urged Ahaz:
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.’ ”

Isaiah urged Ahaz to put his trust in God. I have some sympathy for Ahaz. Trusting God is not easy. You have probably heard the story of a man who fell off a cliff and grabbed onto a branch on the way down. He hung there in desperation. He could not climb up. If he let go he would fall to his death. He cried out for help. “Is there anyone who can help me?” Then he heard a voice telling him to let go. “Let go and I will catch you.” He paused and then said, “Is there anyone else who can help me?”

God wants us to trust him. When we trust him, blessing abounds. When we put our trust elsewhere, we move toward disaster. Here is the central question of Isaiah chapters 7-39, will Israel remember their special relationship with God and their role in bringing blessing to the nations? God promised to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through his offspring. (Genesis 22:18)
and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

If Israel and Judah depend on other nations for help, they will lose their mission to be a blessing to the nations. In order to be a blessing to the nations of the world, they need to put their trust in God. This is the consequence for the decision Ahaz has to make. Ahaz is in a very difficult position. The stakes are high. His own life is at stake. But he has only one good choice.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.’ ”

So God, through Isaiah his prophet, puts Ahaz to the test. In whom is Ahaz putting his trust?
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

This sounds like a pious response. In the third temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, the devil told Jesus to throw himself down from the tower and show that he was the Messiah. But Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 and told him: (Luke 4:12)
“It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

But in this case Ahaz is using piety to cover up his embarrassment. He has already made up his mind. He will make an alliance with Assyria. If he did what Isaiah wanted him to do and the sign indicated he should not make an alliance with Assyria, it would only embarrass him.

In Oswalt’s Isaiah commentary he writes: “Evidence cannot create faith; it can only confirm it. Where there is not faith, evidence is merely unwelcome, something which must be explained away.”

In verse 11 Isaiah says to Ahaz: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign.” Now in verse 13 Isaiah tells Ahaz:
“Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?

Isaiah put Ahaz to the test “Ask the Lord your God for a sign.” When Ahaz failed the test the judgment came. “Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?”

Your God became my God. Ahaz was put to the test and failed.

This is the turning point in the line of David. There is no more hope for the kings of Judah. The refusal of Ahaz to put his trust in God has set the course for the dynasty of David and opened the door for its eventual destruction.

This is the setting for the Immanuel prophecy. Isaiah told Ahaz:
the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah’s message is that what Ahaz and his advisors have rejected as foolish – reliance upon God’s care and presence – is ultimate wisdom, while their wisdom – that Assyria can be trusted to look out for Judah’s interest – is complete nonsense.

God’s sign, Immanuel, “God is with us,” means that God’s word will be kept. Syria and Israel’s attack will not succeed. But Isaiah has to warn Ahaz that no one else, most of all Assyria, is with them. Assyria will not be an honorable ally.

For this reason the prophecy of Immanuel is both good and bad, joy and sorrow. Judgment is coming. That was clear to Isaiah when he received his call to be God’s prophet to Judah. But out of the ashes of defeat, God will raise up a true Son of God.

Ahaz made the treaty with Assyria. He gave up the gold and silver from the Temple and sent it to the king of Assyria. He visited the king of Assyria in Nineveh and liked the altar they used for their gods. He returned to Jerusalem, pushed the altar God had instructed Israel to make for worship of him to the side and installed the altar copied from the one in Nineveh. He completely abandoned worship of God and turned completely to idol worship.

In verses 18-25 Isaiah describes the coming judgment. The armies of their enemies will blanket the land like swarms of bees and flies. The Judeans will be disgraced in defeat. The countryside will be so depopulated so that there will be no one to eat the produce of the few remaining animals or to cultivate the once-fertile hills. The land will return to wilderness.

With Ahaz’s decision, kings, in the line of David, ceased and puppet kings of Assyria and then Babylon took their place until that too ended with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem.

Ahaz made a disastrous choice.

Who is Immanuel? What child is being talked about? The most attractive option seems to be that Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, the son of Isaiah, are the same. Immanuel is the son of Isaiah who was yet to be born. (Why don’t parents ever name their children after the sons of Isaiah?)

The Lord said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.”(which means quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.)

2 So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me. 3 Then I made love to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 4 For before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah’s two sons are the intertwined themes of much of Isaiah. There is judgment but there is always hope. There is judgment, but there is a holy stump, a remnant.

The judgment is that the northern kingdom of Israel will fall. It will be overtaken by its enemies. And then Assyria will sweep into Judah like a mighty flood.
5 The Lord spoke to me again:
6 “Because this people has rejected
the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin
and the son of Remaliah,
7 therefore the Lord is about to bring against them
the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—
the king of Assyria with all his pomp.
It will overflow all its channels,
run over all its banks
8 and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,
passing through it and reaching up to the neck.
Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,
Immanuel!”

It is in this last verse that hope once again springs up in the midst of judgment. And it is here that there is a hint that Immanuel is more than the son of Isaiah. While Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz is likely the inititial fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy there is a later fulfillment yet to come.

Let me read from Oswalt’s commentary: “Ultimately, Immanuel is the owner of the land, the one against whom Assyria’s threats are ultimately lodged, the one upon whom deliverance finally depends. That cannot be Isaiah’s son, nor even some unknown son of Ahaz. It can only be the Messiah, in whom all hope resides. It is as if Isaiah, plunging deeper and deeper into the dark implications of his sign, is suddenly brought up short by the deepest implication: God is with us and, best of all, will be with us, not merely in the impersonal developments of history, but somehow as a person.”

Matthew 1:23
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Let me share a couple ways this Immanuel passage applies to us.

First, how does God speak to us? How do we make good decisions?

Ahaz was faced with a difficult decision and chose disastrously. How could he have made a better choice?

It has been awhile since we have had the Alpha Course at RIC and I would love to do this again. If you are not familiar with it, the Alpha Course is an excellent introduction to Christian faith and helps seekers of truth as well as followers of Jesus to understand what it is Christians believe.

In the course Nicky Gumbel, the teacher, presents five ways God speaks to us. He calls them the five CSs: Commanding Scripture, Compelling Spirit, Common Sense, Counsel of the Saints, and Circumstantial Signs. Let’s see how Ahaz did with each of these.

We are led by Commanding Scripture. Scripture leads us in many cases into what we should do. If I am so angry I want to kill someone, the Bible clearly tells me I am not to murder and in fact I need to learn why it is I am so angry and forgive the one who has offended me. There is a lot about my Christian life that I learn from what the Bible has to say.

It seems it had been a long time since Ahaz read the Bible, perhaps he had never read the Bible. He had certainly not read Deuteronomy. (Deuteronomy 30:15–20)
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

We are led by a Compelling Spirit. There are many things in life about which the Bible does not speak. Choosing a university or job is not something the Bible speaks about. To drive or take a train to Marrakech is not a choice the Bible will help you with. But the Holy Spirit speaks into our lives and guides us. The tragedy is that most of the time we are not listening. But even so, the Holy Spirit continues to speak to us, encouraging us to follow a path that will lead to God. We can receive a sense that a particular decision is the right decision for us to make.

There is no indication that Ahaz was in the habit of listening to God. His inclination was directed to the worship of false idols. He cut himself off from the voice of God in his life.

We are expected to use our Common Sense. God gave us a mind and we are expected to use it to make good decisions. We can make a list of pros and cons for the choices we face and come to good conclusions. God gave us a mind and expects us to use it.

Common sense should have told Ahaz that alligning himself with Assyria was going to be a disaster. Given the history of Assyria, how could it be possible to think that this was going to be a good deal for Judah?

We are expected to seek the Counsel of the Saints, which means asking for advice from other Christians. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge in the body of Christ. Your brothers and sisters in Christ have learned a path of obedience and can help you as you make your way.

Ahaz may have had some advisors, but it is apparent he did not have godly or wise advisors.

And Nicky Gumbel says, we are to pay attention to Circumstantial Signs. God uses circumstances to lead us and direct us. If you think you should marry a certain woman but she says no, that is a pretty clear sign. In less direct ways, circumstances also guide us. Daniel Defoe in Robinson Crusoe says we need to pay attention to the little details of life because that is how God often leads us.

Isaiah came to Ahaz with his son, “a remnant will remain” but Ahaz did not pay attention to that. Isaiah asked Ahaz to seek a sign that his decision to align with Assyria was a good one and Ahaz refused.

At all points, Ahaz refused the various ways he could have made a good decision. The impression of Ahaz is that he was a weak leader; he had no moral fiber. He was unfit to be king of Judah.

What decisions are you facing? How are you working to make a good decision. This is one of the reasons it is good to make a habit of spending time each day reading the Bible. God will speak to you through what you read. It may not happen every time you read the Bible, but just when you need wisdom, you will be surprised and pleased to discover how the Bible will speak to you.

In addition to reading the Bible and praying, take time to quiet yourself down and listen. Listen to some worship music and then sit in silence. Allow God to speak to you.

Use your common sense. Make a list of pros and cons. Use the mind God has given you to make a good decision.

Go to your friends who you respect for their wisdom and ask for their advice. Listen to what godly women and men have to say about the decision you have to make.

And then pay attention to the circumstantial signs that come your way. My decision to sell the company I owned came because in a two week period of time, three people came to me and asked me if the company was for sale.

We will never face a decision as critical as the one Ahaz faced, but there will be difficult decisions for us. God does not expect us to make decisions on our own. Allow God to speak to you through scripture, through the Holy Spirit, through the use of your mind, through godly friends, through the circumstances of your life.

A second lesson from this Immanuel passage is that God really, really wants us to trust him.

In the US, the currency and coins have on them a phrase, “In God we trust”. (This has led to some small stores putting up a sign that says, “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”)

It is a great idea to have “In God we trust” on US money, if only that were true, if only we did trust in God. We need more than lip service to our trust in God.

Many people put their trust in politicians. Despite the repeated disillusionment with politicians who promise everything and then end up protecting their power as they gain wealth and influence, people trust the new politicians. Politicians promise to bring reform and then end up doing just what their predecessors did. There are some good politicians who do have the people they serve at heart, but they are, unfortunately, exceptions. The psalms warn us against putting our trust in those who rule us. (Psalm 146:3–5)
Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the people who vote for politicians are just as self-centered as the politicians. People vote their own self-interests.

What God wants to say to us is this: Trust in me. Politicians, trust in me. Voters, trust in me.

Those with wealth put their trust in their bank accounts. Those without wealth are tempted to put their trust in their hope that one day they will be wealthy. Jesus warned us, (Luke 12:15)
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urged us, (Matthew 6:33)
seek first [the kingdom of God] and his righteousness, and all [the things you need] will be given to you as well.

There are times we become anxious that we will not get what we want and are tempted to cheat to get it. It may be cheating on an exam. It may be inflating a resumé. It may be hiding the truth about what happened. Paul wrote in his Ephesians letter: (Ephesians 4:28)
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

When I was in business I had the opportunity to pay bribes to get a business contract. I had the opportunity to take clients to strip clubs for entertainment. I told people I could not do these things. There were things I was not willing to do to be successful.

We know what is right and what is wrong. Trust God and do what is right, regardless of how high the stakes are.

Jesus said to his disciples, (John 14:1)
Trust in God, trust also in me.

Trust in God is so important because only trust in God will protect us. Oswalt says in his commentary, “Whatever a man trusts in place of God will one day turn to devour him.”

Ahaz put his trust in an alliance with Assyria and Assyria turned around and came to devour Judah. If we put our trust in power and wealth, they will destroy us. Only trust in God is a place of safety for us. Psalm 20:7 points the way for us:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Remember Isaiah’s words to Ahaz: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” You may be able to deal with the mosquitoes that are pestering you, but the hornets will come and then what will you do?

At every point we need to know who we are and where we are headed. I wrote about this in the RICEmail this past week. When we are in a stressful position, facing a difficult challenge, it is easy to be shaking like a leaf, as Ahaz was.

If you had asked Ahaz who he was, he would have responded, “I am the king of Judah.” If you had asked Ahaz where he was going, he would have responded, “I am going back to my throne.” He could not see beyond his own kingdom.

Isaiah gave Ahaz a sign, Immanuel. This is the Hebrew for “with us – God”, God is with us. Isaiah knew who he was, God’s servant, called to be a prophet to Judah. Isaiah knew where he was going. His letter speaks beautifully about the Messiah who was to come. Isaiah was in God’s care.

It is good to know that you are God’s beloved daughter, God’s beloved son. It is good to know that you are heading to your eternal home. It is especially important to know this when you are in the most stressful of situations, when you are facing the most challenging decisions.

(Romans 15:13)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.