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).