Isaiah 7:1-25 Link to LXE
Working Through a Difficult Text
Isaiah Gets Historically Specific
Oh No! What Will I Do?
What does a devotional reader, with limited resources, who studies at home, do with a historical prophecy, such as Isaiah 7? Skip it? Skim over it quickly? Move on to something more interesting or more practical? Pray? Ask God for help? Here is the list of approaches I used for working through this difficult text:
- Definitely pray and ask God for his help and guidance. He surely must have a purpose for me as concerns this chapter. That’s what I want him to lead me to.
- Use the resources I do have available to me.
- multiple versions
- reference column Bibles
- study Bibles
- Strong’s concordance
- The Holy Spirit
- Do not first run to whatever commentaries I can find online. This might be a hard one for others to understand. Perhaps I am stubborn? One of my purposes for this devotional journal is to spend time with the Lord in his Word. Does it really matter how long it takes me? Am I in a hurry? Do I doubt God’s ability to show me a treasure? Bottom line: this is a relational thing between me and God. We are building a Bible reading relationship together. I know he’s fed me in the past. I believe he can feed me here.
- Find the broad brush strokes (the basic principles) behind the details.
- Just take one step at a time. Most hiking trails eventually present difficulties, obstacles, and challenges to overcome.
- Be thankful no matter what.
- And–very important–Don’t Be Afraid of the Text–Your God will help you.
The Plot and the Characters
My first thought was to zoom in on the characters. They appeared to be the largest stumbling block to me, due to the many names and relationships. But I decided that finding the plot line would give me an overview. Then, the plot would provide a framework on which to place the characters. I decided to reread the chapter looking for the story it tells.
However, as I read for the plot, starting at Isaiah 7:1, I partially abandoned this plan. I decided to draw a simple diagram of how the characters related to one another. This is because I’m one of those people who has difficulty understanding familial relationships (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). Perhaps a diagram would help me sort out what seemed so difficult at first.
But, as I read the cross reference verses given in the margins and drew my diagrams, I discovered that chapter 7 contains far fewer characters than I originally thought. And the relationships weren’t that complex.
Even more, as my understanding of the plot and the underlying themes increased, the characters which first frightened me (those that appear in verses 1-9), seemed less and less essential to the meaning of the whole. Quite amazingly, my experience with these “diminishing” characters paralleled Isaiah’s message to King Ahaz, summed up in Isaiah 7:16 “… the land you fear because of the presence of the two kings will be abandoned.” Just as my fear of these complex-sounding names had been misplaced, so had King Ahaz’s fear of these same characters.
The plot essentially reveals that Isaiah warns King Ahaz he is afraid of the wrong enemies. He is worried about his immediate, external enemies. These are those difficult names that appear in Isaiah 7:1-9. Isaiah reveals to Ahaz that he should be most fearful of his internal enemies–his doubtful heart and lack of faith in God.
Ahaz’s lack of trust in God’s provision–and the disobedience that follows his lack of faith–results in God’s displeasure. God expresses his displeasure as judgement. Consequently, Isaiah foretells of far, far greater enemy than those names Ahaz feared at the beginning of the chapter. This greater enemy, who is Assyria (vss 18-20), will destroy Judah more completely than the original enemies, Rezin (vs 1) and Remaliah (vs 1), “these two stubs of smoking firebrands” (vs 4), ever could.
- Both Israel and Judah were making unholy alliances. Rather than trusting in their own God, the Creator-God who had proven historically faithful to them, they trusted in their pagan neighbors. Ultimately, they also trusted in their pagan neighbors’ gods. First, Israel allied itself with Syria (Aram) (Isaiah 7:1, 8). Second, Judah, at a later moment, allied itself with Assyria (2 Kings 16:5-9).
- Brother Israelite was fighting against brother Israelite. Although divided, the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah shared a common ancestor, who was Jacob. Jacob’s father was Isaac, who was Abraham’s promised son. Why are each of these now divided kingdoms making alliances with pagans in order to fight against each other? (2 Chronicles 28:1-27)
- A major theme is doubting God. God sent Isaiah his prophet to comfort Ahaz (Isaiah 7:3-8). In order to strengthen his faith, Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign. It could be anything at all, and God would do it. Ahaz refused, because he doubted that God would perform such a sign.
- Another major theme is the inevitability of consequences. Not only did Ahaz not trust God, he also abandoned the ways of God (2 Chronicles 28:1-4, 19-25).
What These Themes Teach
These themes weave together into a tragic plot that reveals how Ahaz was afraid of the wrong enemies. His major concern was overcoming his two external foes, Israel and Syria. These foes were nothing in God’s eyes. They presented no challenge at all. Ahaz’s largest foe was himself–his own nearsightedness, his failure to trust God, and his own sins. He remained completely blind to his own heart. Ultimately, his own wicked heart caused the downfall of his kingdom.
One Final Theme
The overriding them of the entire chapter is God’s faithfulness. By the time God sent Isaiah to comfort Ahaz, Ahaz’s sins were well known. He had dragged Judah down into these sins with him. Yet God served himself, not Ahaz. God is busy carrying out his own plan and purposes, apart from anything Ahaz does or does not do. God intended to save a remnant from Judah for future fruitfulness.
Several verses tell us this. First, Isaiah visited Ahaz with his own son, Shear-Jahub (Isaiah 7:3). Reference Bibles reveal that in Hebrew this name means, “A remnant shall return.” As we have seen from previous chapters of Isaiah, the remnant is one of the book’s favorite themes.
Further, faced with Ahaz’s lack of faith, Isaiah proclaims God’s faithfulness (Isaiah 7:13-14). This is the verse concerning Messiah’s miraculous birth, which the New Testament quotes in Matthew 1:23. As concerns Ahaz’s immediate enemies, God will be with Judah. As concerns the larger picture, God will be faithful through the remnant (2 Timothy 2:13).
The remainder of the chapter (Isaiah 7:17-25) describes the devastation the Assyrians will wreak upon the land. The barrenness Isaiah describes suits actual conditions during the Exile. Nevertheless, even in its stripped down condition, there will be butter from a few cattle and sheep which are sent out to graze freely, wild honey, and prey to be hunted. A remnant survives.
Yesterday was January 6, 2020, in the United States. On this day, a misguided mob attacked the Capitol of the United States, broke through doors, disrupted Congress, rifled through Congressional offices and desks, and sent the government into lock-down and hiding. One woman was killed by an officer defending the House chamber. The world heard all this on the news.
I issue a personal challenge to the evangelical church in America: consider your own house. Ahaz disobeyed the ways of the Lord. Then he made the horrible mistake of fearing the wrong enemy. Because he failed to trust in God, his Savior, he made unholy alliances with a pagan nation. In all this, Ahaz completely overlooked his real enemy, his own heart.
My challenge to the church is this: whom do you fear? Are Democrats your real enemy? Or, have you abandoned faith and trust in the Sovereign Lord, your King? Who are Democrats in the eyes of the Lord our God? Have you made an unholy alliance with a secular leader whose ways are far from the Lord? Have you overlooked your real enemy, your own heart? Have you allowed the biggest enemy of all, Satan, to deceive you?
Nor must I neglect to examine my own heart. How can I speak truth in love? What big picture am I missing? What areas of my own heart and actions are falling short of the ways of Christ?
Nevertheless, God is faithful. But the the New Testament never, but never, teaches that we can sin without consequences.
Scripture is a wonderful gift. Even events that happened over 2,500 years ago in ancient Israel can still teach us much today.