THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
Belief in Immanuel guarantees participation in a glorious future
Isaiah 7 SCC 3/17/13
Here is a message that challenges our faith. Is our faith strong enough to see us through crises? Are we secure in our faith? If not, perhaps we do not fully understand the Word of the Lord or the confirming sign He has given.
The setting: The setting for the chapter was an impending invasion about 734 B.C., just a few years before the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed (722). The threat was from an alliance being made between the king of Damascus (Rezin) and the king of Israel (Pekah) against the king of Judah in Jerusalem (Ahaz) (v 1). It would be like modern Syria joining with the people of the West Bank (which is the heart of Samaria/Israel) against Jerusalem--except that in those days the people in Samaria/Israel were Israelites. The troubling alliance sought to remove the king in Jerusalem and replace him with a puppet king, the son of Tabeel (v 6).
The prophet was called to go and meet the king as he checked the water supply for the siege (v 3). The word from God was that there was no reason to fear these two northern kings--they were smoldering brands or stubs of smoking wood with no embers (v 4). The invasion was not going to happen (v 7). The word of the Lord was that in a few years the whole northern territory (Ephraim/Israel) would be destroyed and taken into captivity and Judah would survive (v 8). Within 65 years Ephraim will cease to exist as a people. Sixty-five years from 734 puts us down in the time of domination by the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. It was their foreign policy to mix up the nations of the lands that they conquered; they carried the Israelites off and brought in a variety of peoples from all over, so that the land of Ephraim was a land peopled with all nationalities other than the Israelites. The ones who remained intermarried with them, creating a half-breed race of people known later as the Samaritans.
But the message to the king demanded faith if he was to have a part in the future program of God: If you do not believe, you will not be confirmed (v 9). Isaiah told the king that God had a future planned for the kingdom of Judah, but he was not a part of it. Isaiah knew that this king was not going to trust the Lord.
In fact, the prophet offered a sign to the king. To guarantee the reliability of the word from the prophet, the king could have asked for any sign, no matter how strange or how supernatural (v 11). But this put him in a dilemma. He was not a believer, not by any means (read 2 Chronicles 28). So he did not want to submit to the prophet’s advice or call for faith; but he did not want to appear as an unbeliever before the people. So he pretended piety and refused to ask for a sign, saying he did not want to test the Lord (v 12). This angered the prophet (and the Lord) and so a sign was given to the House of David (in general, not to this king) anyway (v 13). The sign was that there would be a birth that would guarantee the future of the dynasty (v 14). War was coming; extinction was possible; but God was guaranteeing a future for the royal Davidic family by an unexpected birth: a virgin would conceive and have a son. The Davidic Covenant would remain in place--but Ahaz would have no share in the future.
The prophecy: The passage indicates that some partial fulfillment or application of the words was expected in their lifetime, for things would be happening before the child reached a certain age (v 15-16—namely a devastation in the land described in v 17-25 so complete that nothing will be able to grow or be harvested, and so briers and brambles will overtake the land where vineyards once were. People will have their animals and have to rely on them for staple products—curds and honey). Before he would be old enough to tell right from wrong, that is, about 12 years old, the enemies would not only be defeated but also cease to exist and the outlying land a wasteland. It seems likely that there was a birth in the days of Isaiah, not an actual virgin birth, but an unexpected birth of a young prince to a woman in the royal family, a woman who was a virgin at the time. The unexpected birth would be seen as a Godsend because it was a sign that the royal family would continue. It would tell them that God was with them ‘Immanuel’ (v 14). The Hebrew word translated “virgin” essentially means a young woman who is mature enough, or ripe enough, for marriage. But this context would require the connotation of “virgin” since this was a birth of a prince in the royal family (she could have not had any relations before this), but more importantly it was a sign from God. The text does not say whom; it is simply the oracle given in anticipation of the birth.
We do know that the prophecy has its fullest meaning, and its divinely intended fulfillment therefore, in the birth of Jesus. The Davidic royal family was almost non-existent (Herod was not even a Jew); Rome was completely dominating the political scene. And in the middle of all this a sign was given, which was a fulfillment of the ancient sign of Isaiah: there would be an actual virgin birth in the lineage of David. Any partial fulfillment in Old Testament times would merely have been a foreshadowing of the true fulfillment in Jesus. The virgin birth doctrine is clearly taught in the Gospel accounts. But the word for “virgin” has its very specific nuance in reference to the birth of Jesus.
The context in Isaiah: So the announcement of the supernatural birth of Messiah is in a context filled with descriptions of this coming king. In chapter 7 the sign of an extraordinary birth is announced, ultimately a virgin birth, and the one born will be known as Immanuel, God with us. The sign was that the Davidic family would continue, and would have a future; but sharing in that future required faith. In other words, the birth would be evidence of God’s presence with his people. Isaiah 8 this king is either a stumbling stone or foundation; Isaiah 9 identified as the wonder king; wonderful counselor, mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; and Isaiah 11 empowered by the HS. He is, to say the least, much more than a mortal king. He is supernatural in every sense of the word. And from that context the New Testament writers knew that this Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, was the fulfillment of the prophecy given some 700 years earlier. They may not have always understood it, but they soon came to realize that Jesus was indeed God with them, in the flesh (incarnation). When Matthew explains that the verse in Isaiah 7 finds its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus, he is also saying that everything in Isaiah 7--11 that describes the one born of the virgin applies also to Christ.
1. Only in the Lord can you find security when facing the terrifying circumstances of life v 1-9.
Let’s face it. The great crisis in life terrify us v 2. There are enough international crises and domestic crises that would cause fear in people. And today especially, the fear of attack by enemies has a very familiar ring to it. The fear of their hearts is like the trees of the forest shaking in the wind. The only sustaining remedy for such fear is the security of the Word of the Lord and only if faith is present with that word v 9. We have had the circumstances, we have had the sure word from God, we will have the sign to confirm it—here is the instruction: have faith in the Lord who promises security in spite of the circumstances all around. Peter says: Casting all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you 1 Peter 5:7. Paul says: Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus Philippians 4:6-7. Jesus says: do not be anxious asking what shall we eat or what shall we drink or with what shall we cloth ourselves…for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you Matthew 6:31-33. God calls people to believe His word and find security in troubling times, in this life, and in the life to come.
2. Faith in Him guarantees participation in the glorious future of peace and righteousness v 10-25.
For unbelievers is certainly the warning to believe or they will not be confirmed. For believers would be to gain confidence through this sign that their destiny is sure, and to share the work of the prophet and others in calling for people to become part of the remnant of the Lord. Faith in Christ (Immanuel) guarantees participation in the glorious future of peace and righteousness. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary; this One is Immanuel in the true sense of the word.