To this point in our study of Isaiah we have covered the five introductory chapters and Isaiah’s call and commission as a prophet in chapter six. In regard to chapter six, we noted, with Oswalt, that it has a double function in Isaiah’s plan for the book as a whole. First, it provides a kind of short answer to the question raised in chapters 1-5, how can Israel become the holy servant of God that God intended it to be? And that short answer of chapter six is that sinful Israel can become servant Israel by doing what Isaiah did, namely, repent and surrender to God’s will. The second function of the chapter is to provide an introduction to chapters 7-12.
All right, in this essay we are studying 7:1-17. In verses 1-9 we find some basic historical information. The mention of Uzziah connects the material with chapter six. Ahaz became the king in 736 BC; and these events took place before the siege of Damascus in 734. So we have a fairly solid date for them. Aram is an ancient name for Syria. So about 735 BC the northern kingdom of Israel and Syria joined forces against the southern kingdom of Judah. And verse two makes it clear that Ahaz, the king of Judah, and his people considered it a very serious threat to their country. But notice that Isaiah tells us at the end of verse one that it was not a serious threat. The expression “the house of David” in verse two was a way of speaking of the royal government, much like we use the phrase “the White House” in America today.
Notice the Lord’s response to the fears of Ahaz. He told Isaiah to go to Ahaz and to take along his son, whose name means, “a remnant shall return.” The apparent reason for taking the son was the meaning of his name. It suggests that even if Israel and Syria did overrun Judah and subjugate it, the people would not be annihilated.
The message from the Lord that Isaiah was to deliver was twofold. First, he revealed that the two enemies wanted to replace Ahaz with a puppet king. You can see that at the end of verse six. But the main message was that Ahaz ought not be fearful, because the attack never would materialize. The Lord used a very vivid image to refer to Israel and Syria. He called them “two smoldering stumps” or “sticks.” In other words they had no fire left, just smoke where the fire once had been. And then in verse seven God announces, through Isaiah, that the attack by Israel and Syria will not happen.
` Some scholars have seen the second part of verse eight as a problem, because it says that Ephraim (another name for the northern kingdom of Israel) would be destroyed within sixty-five years, when it actually was destroyed by Assyria in 722/21 only 12 or 13 years after the events of this chapter. Sometimes scholars waste their time, and this is a good example. It is a true statement as long as it took place within the 65 years.
The second half of verse nine is the key statement in the section. It is God’s personal word to Ahaz: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” Wow! Ahaz could not claim that God didn’t give him an opportunity to believe. He not only was plainly told that he needed to entrust himself and his nation to God; he was warned that if he didn’t do so, he would fall. As we shall see, he did not act in faith. Instead of putting his trust in God, he chose to put it in Assyria, with whom he formed an alliance against Israel and Syria. Unfortunately, that provided only short-range security, because Assyria later turned against him.
The way we should apply this paragraph to our own lives is clear. Each of us faces the same sort of choice that Ahaz faced. Either we will place our faith in God, or in something (or someone) else. For example, are we trusting God for our security, or are we trusting our bank accounts, or our ability to make money? I believe every Christian should ask him or herself that question. It is extremely important for us to know, and for God to know, that we choose to trust him alone. If we do not stand in faith, we will not stand at all.
In verses 10-12 we see God challenging Ahaz to seek evidence that faith in the Lord will work. But Ahaz refuses to seek that evidence. Notice that Ahaz covers his lack of faith with piety. In verse 12 he alludes to Deut. 6:16, when he says that he will not put God to the test. Deut. 6:16 says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” Unfortunately for Ahaz, the “test” at Massah arose out of doubt and rebellion. That kind of testing of God is forbidden. But throughout redemption history, God occasionally invited testing that provided evidence for faith and to strengthen it (2 Kings. 20:8-11; Mal. 3:10). And this was one of those occasions. But Ahaz apparently had his mind made up. He didn’t want any evidence that might change his mind. He was going to deal with the crisis by making an alliance with Assyria whether God liked it or not.
All right, as we read the rest of the paragraph, we see that God gave Ahaz a sign anyway. Now the first thing I want to point out here is a subtle change between verse 11 and verse 13. Notice in verse 11 that God, in his word to Ahaz, referred to himself as “your God,” meaning Ahaz’s God. But in verse 13 Isaiah speaks of God to Ahaz as “my God,” meaning Isaiah’s God, not Ahaz’s.
The next matter to discuss is in verse 14. It is the important difference between the Hebrew and Greek texts regarding the “young woman” who was to bear the child. The word in Hebrew for “young woman” is alma. That Hebrew word means a young woman of marriageable age. It is extremely important to realize that such young women in the Hebrew society of the day axiomatically were virgins. But the word alma itself does not specifically mean “virgin.” The reason for the discussion is that in the Greek Old Testament alma is translated by the Greek word parthenos, which does mean “virgin.” And it is this Greek version that is quoted in the New Testament (Matt. 1:23).
Not only did the Septuagint translate alma as virgin here in Is. 7:14, but it also translated alma as virgin in Gen. 24:43. Please turn to Gen. 24:42 and following to see that. The context is the story of the servant of Abraham’s trip to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. The servant is telling Abraham’s relative, Laban, about his prayer when he came to the well. Notice the phrase “young woman” in verse 43. That is alma. But the Greek Old Testament translates it as parthenos, virgin. So alma obviously carried an assumed virginal status.
Now then, coming back to Isaiah seven, God through Isaiah declared, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman (alma) is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” As you know the name “Immanuel” means God is with us.”
Now this Scripture was a predictive prophecy that had a two-fold or double fulfillment. It had a fulfillment for Ahaz’s historical situation, but it also had a messianic fulfillment in the time of Christ. The fulfillment in Ahaz’s day was a child born at that time as a sign from God for Ahaz. We can’t be sure, but the best guess regarding the child is that it was Isaiah’s son, whom we will meet at the beginning of chapter eight. In any case, the prediction for Ahaz was that before the prophesied child could distinguish between good and evil, the threat from Israel and Syria would be over. Indeed the land of those two kingdoms would be “deserted” or “laid waste” (NIV). Although the northern kingdom didn’t officially cease to exist until 12 or 13 years later, within three years Damascus had been destroyed, and Samaria had been plundered.
Unfortunately for Ahaz, something worse would happen to him and his people, indeed it would be the worst thing to happen to them since the division of Solomon’s kingdom into two kingdoms. And that terrible thing would come from the hand of Assyria, the very nation Ahaz was looking to for protection. One lesson to be learned here is this. The story illustrates the truth that those things we choose to trust in place of God tend to devour us later.
The messianic fulfillment took place, of course, with the birth of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus truly was Immanuel, God with us. God’s own Son took on humanity, became one of us, in order to show us what God really is like and to die on the cross for our sins. For those of us who have seen the light and follow it, he is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and our Savior. He is the Worthy One, the One in whom we believe for eternal and abundant life.