Immanuel - Our God is With Us - Part III - Historical Background Continued

This is the third installment of the series on Isaiah 7:14. 

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 (Cf. Matt. 1:23)

Continued Historical Background.

It is within this historical framework that the story, prophecy and sign of Immanuel occur. The parallel events are recorded in 2 Kings.[1] Isaiah 7 informs,

“Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram [Syria] and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up [2] to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not conquer it. When it was reported to the house of David, saying, ‘The Arameans have camped in Ephraim [3],’ his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.”

In 2 Kings we read,

“Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to wage war; and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.”

In order to understand the implications of the word from God to Isaiah (the man of God), the events must be read alongside the oracle. It is mentioned immediately that Ahaz became king when he was 20, and was not a good king (cf. 2 Kings 16:2-4) as David, but rather committed abominations in the sight of the God of Israel. The text describes

“the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind”,

which means that they were terrified about a war with the northern kingdom coalition.[4] It was at this time, when their enemies were on the doorstep that God sends his messenger Isaiah (who was known by the community at this time to be a proven prophet for the God of Israel)

“Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller's field” (Isa. 7:3).

God gives Isaiah a message to the king and his subjects (Jerusalem and all Judea) of hope:

“‘Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands [i.e. those spent or burnt forces], on account of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah [Pekah, king of Israel]. 'Because Aram, with Ephraim [northern kingdom, Israel] and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you, saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,’ thus says the Lord GOD: ‘It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass’” (Isa. 7:4-7).

God was assuring Ahaz that he had no reason to fear, Jerusalem would be protected and he should not lose heart because of what the northern coalition was plotting.

“within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people” (Isa. 7:8).

The only thing Ahaz had to do was believe,

“If you will not believe, you surely shall not last” (Isa. 7:9).

Ahaz had to believe in God’s salvation (lit. that God would “save” them), that God would be “with” him and his people (not abandon them). Ahaz chose not to believe in God. This part of the story is not described in Isaiah, but 2 Kings (16:7-8),

“Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son; come up and deliver me from the hand of the king of Aram and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are rising up against me.’ Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king's house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria.”

In his separation from the God of Israel, even upon God’s promise, Ahaz was more willing to place himself under the tribute and mercy of Assyrian rule to deliver him from his adversaries. By placing himself and his people as an Assyrian vassals (which his northern brethren were trying to demolish), he was creating a covenant relationship[5] that would lead to terrible consequences down the road, although their immediate needs of protection and military defenses against the north were met through the gifts sent. Even after his refusal to accept God’s words through Isaiah (for protection), Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel extends another message and offer through Isaiah,

“Then the LORD 
[Yahweh] spoke again to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’ But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!' Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?’ Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted” (Isa. 7:10-16).

Within this promise given to Ahaz were the following signs:

1) the young woman is with child;

2) the child will be called Immanuel;

3) before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

The entirety of the oracle was directed to the house of David, the people who were under real threat. The sign of Immanuel was for them, and in order for it to be true (the word or oracle of God), it had to come to pass in their time. We find that this indeed was the case in 2 Kings (15:29):

“In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon and Abel-beth-maacah and Janoah and Kedesh and Hazor and Gilead and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.” (cf. 16:9)

The northern kingdom and Syrian alliance was no more. The threat against Judah and Ahaz was destroyed by Assyria, thus fulfilling the sign of Immanuel. Most commentators agree that Ahaz’ refusal to test God was done so under a false pretense of piety. It is relatively certain that the sign given Ahaz was this “son” Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, who is said to be a sign, pledge or promise in 8:3,18.


End Notes:
[1] These events are also recorded in 2 Chron. 28.
[2] This is not a geographical or topographical inaccuracy, regardless of direction (north or south) Jerusalem, because of reverence and the hill upon which it sits (Moriah) is always spoken of as an ascent.
[3] Ephraim is the largest tribe of the northern kingdom which is also called Israel. Therefore Samaria (the capitol), Israel and Ephraim are synonymous terms. In the same way the southern kingdom is called Judah or Jerusalem. It is not unlike people in United States calling the leadership of the nation “Washington."
[4] Also called Ephraim i.e. the Syro-Ephraimite War.
[5] In the Ancient Near East, the words “I am your servant and your son” was a combination of the two words “servant” and “son”, both words having a describing attribute of the role being placed into subjection. These words placed special emphasis on the totality of belonging to the superior party in the covenant relationship. One was affirming his subordination and subservience to the other.

The next segment will deal with some exegetical details concerning Isa. 7:14.

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