Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Isaiah 7: 10-16


The Child Immanuel

10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying,
11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”  
13 Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?
14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
15 He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.

Been left hanging long enough, waiting for the response from Ahaz to God? The wait is over today! But, even more than the response comes a word from God "which will be for all the people." (Luke 2: 10)

In one more measure of grace to Ahaz, God says, "Ask a sign for yourself." God knows that Ahaz is scared out of his mind because Israel and Syria have plotted against him (with Assyria watching in the wings). Just because He has told him that their stand against him will not come to pass, He also clearly sees the problem with Ahaz's faith. He said, "If you will not believe, you surely shall not last." (vs. 9) And so, to help his unbelief, God offers up the opportunity for Ahaz to ask for a sign to verify all of this. Pick a sign. Any sign!

"Ahaz was a bad man, yet God is called the Lord his God [vs. 11], because he was a child of Abraham and David, and of the covenants made with them. See how gracious God is even to the evil and unthankful; Ahaz is bidden to choose his sign, as Gideon about the fleece (Jdg. 6:37); let him ask for a sign in the air, or earth, or water, for God’s power is the same in all." 
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

After all of this, Ahaz goes with what classic Let's Make a Deal host, Monty Hall, would say: "Let's see what's behind Door #3, Carol Merrill?" Ahaz decides the best answer to God is not to ask nor to test. Perhaps he was remembering the trouble the Israelites got themselves into in the wilderness:

"'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. [The place at which the Israelites, in the wilderness with Moses, questioned and quarreled over whether God was with them or not.] You should diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and His testimonies and His statutes which He has commanded you.'"
--Deuteronomy 6: 16 and 17

Of course, as you are reading the Scripture, you can see how if that was Ahaz's thinking it was terribly flawed. You put God to the test when you do not keep His commandments, testimonies and statutes, although the weariness of God in dealing with stiff-necked Israelites--and Judean kings--also tests the Lord. This results in Isaiah's words about Judah trying "the patience of my God as well." (vs. 13) Not to mention the problem with that quarreling episode from the Exodus in the first place. God was ALWAYS with them. Likewise, through His covenant, God could have been with Ahaz, too. But, Ahaz did not recognize God as "the Lord your God" nor that God gave Ahaz permission, if you will, to ask for a sign. God said it was OK. Nope. The level of rejection and rebellion at the hand of Ahaz tipped the scales.

But, and this is the noteworthy point of the day, God gives Ahaz--and all of us--a sign anyway! What?! Why? Covenant promises. Can God extend His grace to the most vile of offenders? Yes! Can He continue to work through the rejection of that grace? Absolutely! Did Hope come as a sign in the midst of unbelief? Who can do that?! Isaiah brings forth the word of the sign in verse 14: "Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." More than 500 years after this prophecy--and long after Ahaz "slept with his fathers"--Christ, Immanuel, God with us, would be born to a virgin named Mary. And now you know the rest of the story.

OK, not quite the rest yet. But wasn't that great?! Stories like that should give us hope!

There is more to our passage today, and there is more to Chapter 7. Verse 15 speaks of the child, Immanuel, eating "curds and honey." This is notable because this was not a typical child's diet. My study resources tell me that this indicates the land was in poor condition for growing crops as a result of the post-exillic period and the takeover of the land by foreigners. This would not be a child brought up with the luxuries of a king's palace. Already, we understand something about Christ's humble origins, even before He is born, not to mention how quickly He would mature to "know to refuse evil and choose good," (vs 15) "increasing in wisdom and stature...." (from Luke 2:52)

Verse 16 looks as if to quote the end of verse 15: "...know enough to refuse evil and choose good." The NASB uses the capital 'H' in verse 15, referring to Christ, while lower case 'h' is used in verse 16 in reference to "the boy." We need to go back to verse 3 to remember who "the boy" is--Isaiah's son, Shear-jashub. This is a fancy way to indicate time, by the maturing of the Son of God and the son of His prophet. When you think about the timeframe of a boy reaching the age by which he should "know enough to refuse evil and choose good"--which, in the day, would be in the early teen years--you then figure it is not many years before Isaiah's next spoken prophecy would come about: "the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken."

[Pekah/Israel/Ephraim] "I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me;
For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot,
Israel has defiled itself."
--Hosea 5:3

[Rezin/Aram/Syria/Damascus] "Thus says the Lord, 
'For three transgressions of Damascus and for four
I will not revoke its punishment....
So the people of Aram will go exiled to Kir,'
Says the Lord."
--Amos 1: 3 and 5 (excerpts)

Matthew Henry ties it all up with a bow:

"This was fully accomplished; for within two or three years after this, Hoshea conspired against Pekah, and slew him (2 Kgs. 15:30), and, before that, the king of Assyria took Damascus, and slew Rezin, 2 Kgs. 16:9. Nay, there was a present event, which happened immediately, and when this child carried the prediction of in his name, which was a pledge and earnest of this future event. Shear-jashub signifies The remnant shall return, which doubtless points at the wonderful return of those 200,000 captives whom Pekah and Rezin had carried away, who were brought back, not by might or power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts. Read the story, 2 Chron. 28:8-15."
--Matthew Henry

The boy, Christ, the Messiah, will also signify that a remnant shall return, bringing the covenant promise full circle through Immanuel, God is with us. Because God is ALWAYS with us!

Since Ahaz went for "Door #3," now, the "Trials Come for Judah".... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 7: 17-20

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Isaiah 7: 5-9

Because Aram, with Ephraim 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.  
For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people),
and the head of Ephraim is Samaria and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. 
If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.”’”

You may wish to review last week's post if last week's names have escaped you. We'll be picking up our story of the pending war against Jerusalem in Isaiah, Chapter 7, right where we left it. In fact, God reviews the story for us in verses 5 and 6. Aram [Syria, under Rezin] and Israel [Ephraim--10 Northern tribes of Israel, under Pekah] have joined forces to launch an attack on Judah--all to strengthen themselves against the mighty presence of King Tilgeth-Pileser of Assyria.

A new piece of information that was not in last week's passage is the last part of verse 6: "...and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it." It is unclear if Tabeel resided in Aram or Ephraim, but the son of this man is the allied invaders' choice to place in the throne after Ahaz is deposed. Interestingly enough, Tabeel means "God is good" in Hebrew.

And God says, "It ain't happenin'!"

Not only does Judah's King Ahaz hear that he should not fear or be fainthearted, but the plans of these opposing kings will not go forward. God tells him so.

"Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
'Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!'
He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them."
--Psalm 2: 1-4

Beyond His affirmation, He explains to Ahaz that He has determined the boundaries for Rezin and Pekah, and they do not extend beyond the turf they already have. "The head of Aram is Damascus [capital city] and the head of Damascus is Rezin...," (vs 8) "...and the head of Ephraim is Samaria [capital city] and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah [Pekah]." (vs 9)

"...As God has appointed men the bounds of their habitation (Acts 17:26), so he has appointed princes the bounds of their dominion, within which they ought to confine themselves, and not encroach upon their neighbours’ rights."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Not to mention that there is judgment coming down on Israel that will have a major influence on such plans. The prophet Amos foretold Israel's collapse at God's hand after their rampant idol worship. ("Since Israel is stubborn like a stubborn heifer, can the Lord now pasture them like a lamb in a large field? Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone."--Amos 4:16 and 17) Isaiah says that within 65 years, "Ephraim will be shattered...." (vs 8) Although there is some confusion as to whether that is a solid 65 years and from what point in time it begins, the prophets' words would prove true, and collapse did occur. Assyria swoops in to take the Israelites to captivity in 722 B.C., replacing the land with foreigners.

"The king of Assyria brought men from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Avva and from Hamath and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities."
--II Kings 17:24

For me, the most powerful line of today's passage comes in the second half of verse 9: "If you will not believe, you surely shall not last." God was speaking of all of Judah, but, He also was cutting straight to Ahaz's heart with this statement. Even with all of the good word Isaiah had given to the king, God knew that he wasn't going to take what He said without some thought. God knew the faith block to Ahaz's heart stood strong, yet he offered the king the opportunity for relationship, even as He was offering him and God's people safety.

Even if he had trouble accepting God's word straightaway, would Ahaz consider his plight through the example of King Jehoshaphat--8 kings of Judah before him--who faced a similar situation? With Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites all threatening, Jehoshaphat expressed fear, but "turned his attention to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah." (vs 3, from II Chronicles 20, the chapter from which all of the following quotes are taken.) He led the people in prayer: "For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” (vs 12b)

The Lord responded to Jehoshaphat's faithfulness and prayerful response saying that Judah did not need to fear, "for the battle is not yours but God’s." (vs 15) The king then turned to the people, saying, "Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.” (vs 20) God then set ambushes which caused the enemies to destroy themselves, leaving nothing but corpses by the time the forces of Judah had come forward to attack.

King Ahaz had the opportunity to keep the people of Judah "established" where they were, to bring success in His trusting of God's word through His prophet. He had been told how the "smoldering firebrands" would not leave their ashen mark upon him, the people or the land. Did Ahaz believe? How did Ahaz respond?

"Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling. 
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!"
--Psalm 2: 10-12

We'll find out next week. (Doh! Sorry, I know, another cliff-hanger!)

"The Child Immanuel"--Ahaz's response brings one of Isaiah's most important prophecies to the surface.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 7: 10-16

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Isaiah 7: 1-4

 Isaiah 7:1-4

War against Jerusalem

1 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 and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up 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,” his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.
Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “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,
and say to him, ‘Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands, on account of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah.

It is hard to leave Chapter 6 of Isaiah, as I easily could have read something from the prophet regarding his inner thoughts on his vision. In fact, dining with Isaiah after that moment would have been an amazing and most memorable meal! But, on to Chapter 7, and the tone and topic change dramatically, as you can see from the chapter's title. Lots of people and place names, so let's explore carefully, today, with that in mind, using the map above and making connections as the Holy Spirit allows.

There are three key people mentioned in the passage, and one who is not mentioned:

Ahaz--He is the king of Judah at the time of this war against Jerusalem. But, note, he is the third king to rule during the prophecy of Isaiah. (We have jumped in time since King Uzziah's death in Chapter 6. In fact, there are no recorded prophecies from Isaiah during the reign of Uzziah's son, Jotham.) Unlike Jotham and Uzziah--Ahaz's father and grandfather, respectively--Ahaz "did not do right in the sight of the Lord" (II Chronicles 28: 1).

Rezin--He is the king of Aram, the capital of which is Damascus and which we now know as Syria.

Pekah--He is the king of Israel, which does not mean the entire nation of Israel here, but, rather, the 10 Northern tribes of Israel, (Ephraim being the largest tribe and often used as a name for Israel). His father is Remaliah.

Tilgath-pilneser (unmentioned)--He is the king of Assyria and plays a role in causing these kings to respond as they do.

Tilgath-pilneser had planned to invade Israel during Azariah's reign in Judah, but a bribe by Menahem, then king of Israel, cooled off things for awhile. The Assyrian Empire was a huge presence to both Israel and Aram, which is why both of those nations eventually formed an alliance. And, why stop at two nations against a powerhouse when you could potentially have three. So, Rezin and Pekah decide that an attack on Judah would be profitable. God, who is angered by Judah's rebellious nature, allows them victory for a time--specifically, at the close of King Jotham's reign (II Chronicles 28), before Ahaz comes to the throne. The nations are then poised to take on Jerusalem, but, at the time of Isaiah's writing, the nations are unsuccessful. (Isa. 7:1)

Judah was not in a position to withstand an attack by Tilgath-pilneser, certainly, much less the continued threats of Rezin and Pekah. This all started to weigh on Ahaz's strategic thinking. As verse 2 reports, "'The Arameans have camped in Ephraim'" his [Ahaz's] heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind." Palpable fear, at their own doing.

"They had made God their enemy, and knew not how to make him their friend, and therefore their fears tyrannised over them; while those whose consciences are kept void of offence, and whose hearts are fixed, trusting in God, need not be afraid of evil tidings; though the earth be removed, yet will not they fear; but the wicked flee at the shaking of a leaf." (Leviticus 26:36)
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Now, check out this next part: "Then the Lord said to Isaiah...." So, God is going to intervene at this time through Isaiah. Did He have to? He's got an evil king on the throne. But, catch verse 2, it is the "house of David" that is on the throne, even if the current king is evil. God intervened for the sake of His people! Isaiah is told to go with his son to meet Ahaz. Names are terribly significant in Scripture, and Isaiah's son's name is no exception: Shear-jashub, which means "a remnant shall return." Wow! Echoes what Isaiah was hearing in his vision from God--a key message of his prophecy.

Just a short note on the location for this meeting. They were to meet Ahaz "on the highway to the fuller's field." A fuller, according to the Encyclopedia of the Bible, is "one who cleans, shrinks, and thickens newly shorn wool or cloth." The cleaning process in preparing the wool or cloth was messy and stinky, apparently, so the fuller's work was done in a place outside of the city and near a source of water. [I was also wondering if Fuller, of Fuller Brush Company, had any relationship to 'fuller.' Cannot find any definitive link, but it is an interesting parallel.]

Moving on to the Lord's actual words, in verse 4, "'Take care and be calm, have no fear....'" Now, if you were the leader of a nation surrounded by challenging forces and heavy artillery, standing with a multi-king-serving prophet of the living God and his son, who carries the eternal prophecy for your people, would these not be words that would bring huge relief? Ponder that....

Finishing today's passage, the description of Rezin and Pekah is so over-the-top, you almost can't believe it's for real from God: "...these two stubs of smoldering firebrands...." Literally, a firebrand is the burnt end of a stick, and this says "stubs" of sticks. In other words, "Ahaz, these guys are not a problem. I've got this one," says the Lord.

And what does Ahaz say? [Sorry, we're just not there yet!]

More background on our "smoldering firebrands".... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 7: 5-9

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Isaiah 6: 11-13

11 Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
“Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,
12 “The Lord has removed men far away,
And the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 “Yet there will be a tenth portion in it,
And it will again be subject to burning,
Like a terebinth or an oak
Whose stump remains when it is felled.
The holy seed is its stump.”

Closing on another chapter of Isaiah with today's passage, which begins with one of those timeless questions said by child and grown up alike: "Are we there yet?" HA! OK, that's not what verse 11 actually says, but isn't that the idea? Don't we all want to know, "Lord, how long?" When do we "arrive"? When are we through with this phase? How long will we have to receive treatment? When will the car be ready? Can I go home, now? Add your own variation, because you are likely pondering one, even as you are reading this!

What's interesting about Isaiah's quote is that he asks the question within the timeframe of receiving his calling to be a prophet. I can't imagine most folks ask the question, "How long will I be working here?" at their job interviews. But given what God has told him about the nature of his calling--"Render the hearts of this people insensitive...." (vs. 10)--he is not unlike us in taking on a task that we're not looking forward to facing. He could have said, "How long will I have to put up with being abused and rejected?" Note, he's not saying, "No," he's just preparing himself for what is to come.

To put another spin on Isaiah's question, looking at the cross-reference verse (Psalm 79:5), "How long, O Lord? Will You be angry forever?" The prophet may well be asking if God's state of mind will change for the eternal sake of Judah. The answer to this question would certainly weigh on Isaiah, as that might have meant an about-face from what he understood to be the Word and promises of God.

Of course, as we already know from reading the first five chapters, there is an end coming to Judah as they knew it. Decimation of the city and captivity to another was in the works. This was the judgment facing Judah for disobedience. God gives Isaiah the full picture before the prophet speaks a word to the people. "Forsakenness will be great," is an alternate translation of verse 12, meaning that not only will there be a visible picture of desertedness, but that there will be a palpable feeling and understanding of abandonment by God. True helplessness. Quite the opposite of what God had told the people when they were first called to be His:

"The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."
--Deuteronomy 31:8 

We need to realize, again, the great depths to which His people had fallen. From great is Thy faithfulness to great is Thy forsakeness! This prophecy does not reflect a one-time judgment, either, which is not uncommon with the Bible's revelations. Consider this thought by Matthew Henry:

"Note, Spiritual judgments often bring temporal judgments along with them upon persons and places. This was in part fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, when the land, being left desolate, enjoyed her sabbaths seventy years; but, the foregoing predictions being so expressly applied in the New Testament to the Jews in our Saviour’s time, doubtless this points at the final destruction of that people by the Romans, in which it had a complete accomplishment, and the effects of it that people and that land remain under to this day."
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Now, lest you think God has forever forsaken His people and His prophet, don't miss the last verse of the chapter, which begins with one of those great transition words, 'Yet'.... God's promise to never fail nor forsake His people is kept intact, but by "a tenth portion," which is in other passages of Scripture is referred to as "a remnant." God creates the picture of the oak or terebinth tree, that though it is destroyed will rise up again from its stump. [Per the Reformation Study Bible: "The Middle Eastern terebinth and oak trees can produce new shoots even when they appear to have been cut or damaged beyond all hope."] Can you see Jesus' death and resurrection through this visual picture, too?

God's people would continue to be cut down and overrun, time and time again. The unbelief that came to this boiling point, that brought God to a place of forsaking His people for a time, continues into this day. And though Isaiah is long gone, God's promise to reach His people with His Word and the hope of eternity that rests in the knowledge of Jesus continues to exist. A time will come when the last of the remnant will be secured--through evangelizing Jews, like Isaiah, in the days of the End Times--and the long-held promise completely fulfilled.

"For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth."
--Deuteronomy 7:6
 Until then, "Lord, how long?"....
"Until the whole world hears,
Lord, we are calling out,
Lifting up Your name for all to hear the sound.
Like voices in the wilderness we're crying out
As the day draws near,
We'll sing until the whole world hears."
--from Casting Crowns' Sing Until the Whole World Hears

Beginning Chapter 7, "War against Jerusalem".... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Isaiah 7: 1-4

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).