Monday, 19 November 2007

Isaiah 7

This is a particularly artificial place to break the text. 7:1-9:7 is all one section.

During the reign of Ahaz – a bad king – who was under pressure from Aram and Israel (Syria is in league with Ephraim, 3) to create a 3-way alliance against Assyria, which he was so far resisting (good choice) but this led to military action against his kingdom…

(1-2) Judah beseiged and afraid

(3-9) God’s reassurance to Ahaz via Isaiah: a message of “trust or bust” (Motyer)

(10-17) Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign (bust) so God gives it to him anyway!

(18-25) Assyrian invasion is coming against Aram and Israel

It is not clear whether 7:18-25 also tells of judgement against Judah. Certainly, the Assyrians are used as agents of God’s judgement on the Southern Kingdom by the time we reach chapter 8 (we are told of a flood up to the neck in 8:8 and only Jerusalem will be unharmed) but here the focus of the trouble, apart from v.17, seems to be on Rezin and Pekah, while the focus of the words is indeed for Ahaz and Judah.

722BC – Assyria overruns Aram
722BC – Assyria overruns Israel (this invading king in Isaiah 7, Pekah, is the penultimate ruler of the northern kingdom [2 Kgs 16-17] so his sabre-waving did his line no good)
701BC – Assyria scours Judah, though the nation survives this time…

Having just seen the amazing kingship of YHWH in chapter 6, we pass over a human king (Jotham) and move to Uzziah’s grandson, Ahaz. 2 Kings 16 shows him (later on in his reign) undermining the kingship of YHWH out of deference to the King of Assyria (see the stimulating thoughts from Peter Leithart on this intriguing passage). He also breaks the Law with his innovative sacrifices, so it is no wonder that in Isaiah 7:7-9 we find him as a man without faith. Ahaz is the first recorded person to fall under the judgement promised in Isaiah 6:9-13, one of the people who hear but who do not understand, who see but do not perceive.

What is going on with the sign that YHWH gives?

The elements are a boy called Immanuel (14), during whose lifetime, indeed while he is still a child (15), Aram and Israel will be laid waste (16).

Curds and honey (15) are not to be seen as a reference to the land flowing with milk and honey (promise of blessing) but are such as a devastated land might produce (21-25). [Note that the Assyrian army/rage is pictured as a bee in verse 18!]

Who is the child?
Perhaps the son of a favourite courtier. Perhaps Isaiah’s son – since this whole section features another two of the prophet’s children as specially-named signs (7:3, 8:3-4 and the summary in 8:18). In any case, his name, “God with us” will be a constant reminder to Ahaz of what he refused to grasp and trust in – the presence of God with his people to protect and save them. Verse 11 was God giving him a chance to demonstrate faith – and with his false piety he betrayed his lack of trust. So, the sign is for a faithless man, to remind him of coming judgement on him and others who will not trust (17).

In what sense does Matthew 1:22-23 work, then?
The context of the nation and the message God has for his people is very similar…

  • a sinful people
  • ruled over by a bad king with foreign alliances
  • but a faithful remnant (Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub, “a remnant will remain” [3], stand for those people who are not faithless like Ahaz, oppressing the poor, etc., as chs 1-5 have decried)
  • in particular, a faithful woman
  • chosen to bear a special son
  • who will be the presence of God with the faithful
  • preserving them through imminent judgement (710BC and 586BC vs. AD70)
Hope at a time of judgement is crucial. That is what Jesus offered and continues to offer