May 4, 2011

Hope for Judah: The Future King--Isaiah 7-12


You will remember that chapter 1 gives a stern message to the people of Judah: accusations regarding their rebellion despite past judgments from God; their futile, empty worship; the call to repentance; and two promises: (1) those who repent will be restored, and (2) those who continue in rebellion will be judged

Two weeks ago we discussed how chapters 2-5 continue this message, while at the same time adding a new message of hope for the future. Delivering the word from God, Isaiah describes at length Judah’s inglorious present and how God will deal with His people’s rejection of Him. But then he prophesies about a contrasting glorious future, when He once more dwells and rules in Jerusalem (Isaiah 4:2-6):

2 In that day the Branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious; And the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing for those of Israel who have escaped. 3 And it shall come to pass that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning, 5 then the LORD will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering. 6 And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.

Chapter 5, you will remember, is a song or poem from the Lord about the vineyard He had planted (Judah). It is similar to a lament: the vineyard He cultivated and cared for did not bear cultivated fruit, but only wild grapes. He cultivated justice and righteousness, but the vineyard produced oppression, bribery, greed, arrogance, with His people seeking only pleasure, while taunting Him and His prophets to accomplish His will. Worst of all, the people grew to call evil good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness. Therefore the vineyard will be laid waste. Judgment will come, in the form of strong nations invading the land to conquer and carry away their prey, and the vineyard will be laid waste, because it has not produced good fruit; the people of God have hated and rejected Him. And until the Messiah comes, no longer will the light shine in the land; it will be dark and desolate (Isaiah 5:30: “In that day they will roar against them like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and sorrow; and the light is darkened by the clouds.”)

Think for a moment about the messages of the prophets and also the messages of Jesus. God does not want merely outward expressions. He wants our hearts and minds. Like the Judeans, we can see in our culture some of the same attitudes and cultural pressures as God saw among His people Judah: greed, injustice, oppression, arrogance.

If the only word of God we had were the first five chapters of Isaiah, we still would know His will for His people: to know Him, to be faithful, to have the courage to live for Him and call evil evil and good good. A genuine person of God is simply one who not only believes in His revealed word, but also lives in and obeys His will.

Chapter 6 deals with Isaiah’s call to prophesy and includes the account of the response that is an example for all Christians: “Here am I! Send me.”

And today, we are going to zip through chapter 7 and complete the first major section of the book, the prophecies concerning Judah and Jerusalem. We have already learned what God thought about the sinful state of Judah, and we will not dwell on the messages about their sin today. Rather, I want to take a look at the section in general, and the prophecies of the Messiah in a little more detail.

Isaiah is sent to King Ahaz (7:1-12)

1 Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2 And it was told to the house of David, saying, “Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.” So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind.3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub[a] your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, 4 and say to him: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, 6 “Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel”— 7 thus says the Lord God:
        “ It shall not stand,
      Nor shall it come to pass.
       8 For the head of Syria is Damascus,
      And the head of Damascus is Rezin.
      Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken,
      So that it will not be a people.
       9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
      And the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son.
      If you will not believe,
      Surely you shall not be established.” 
10 Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”

Chapter 7 is a historical narrative of the advice the prophet Isaiah gave to Ahaz, king of Judah.

Ahaz reigned for three years, 735-732 B.C. During this time, Jerusalem was under threat of invasion from Syria and Israel in the north, for refusing to join them in their fight against the invading Assyrians. Now, with the Syrians threatening Jerusalem, Ahaz was tempted to seek help with alliances with the Assyrians and the Egyptians.

The word of the Lord through Isaiah to Ahaz was to rely on the Lord and not on unholy alliances, and not to worry, because the Syrians and the Israelites will not prevail in their invasion. In fact, the northern kingdom of Israel will itself be defeated and broken (verse 8: “. . . Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, so that it will not be a people”).

In verses 10-13, Ahaz is invited to ask for a sign from God, but refuses. I see some hypocrisy here—the king who has rejected his God and who leads a people who rejected God refuses to test his God, perhaps out of fear of the God he has rejected.

The sign of Immanuel (7:10-16)

10 Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”
13 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. 15 Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.

Despite Ahaz’s refusal to ask for a sign, the Lord through Isaiah delivers the prophecy of a sign to come. While the sign is to be given specifically to the “house of David” (verse 13, the descendents of King David)—a broader audience also is in mind: all Judeans and perhaps all people of Judah and Israel, who are in a sense related, all being descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The prophecy is that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son (the word means an unmarried young woman, a virgin; never used of a married woman) . . .
and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (which means “God with us”).

Verse 16 seems to give pastors and theologians fits, with theories of all kinds over the centuries. Some reason that the child in verse 16 is the child to be born to Isaiah, due mainly to a similar prophecy in Isaiah 8:4. However, the point should not be in question. The context is not ambiguous: the child of verse 16 is the same child in verse 14 (“Immanuel”), who would be conceived miraculously and literally to be “God with us.” The phrase that has given some theologians fits (“before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good”) is simply a colloquial expression of the culture, meaning “quite soon” or “sooner than you expect.”

The remainder of chapter 7 (verses 17-25) deals with the coming judgment of Judah and desolation of the land. The very nations Ahaz was ready to call upon for assistance (Assyria and Egypt) would take part in the judgment against Judah. There is an interesting allusion in verse 20—the Lord, using a “hired razor” (invading nations) will shave the head, legs, and beard of the land (i.e., remove them from the land). Verses 23-25 reveal that the once-cultivated land will produce only briars and thorns.

Isaiah mixes judgment with hope

Note how so far in the prophecy we have seen Isaiah delivering a message of both judgment and hope.

The judgment is against a people who have turned willfully and persistently from their God and have sought instead to pursue the pleasures of the cultures around them—wine, sexual promiscuity, greed, oppression of the poor, and worshipping idols.

So far, we have seen the hope God is offering them in two ways. First, there are frequent references to the remnant, a small number who would be preserved due to their faithfulness. And second, we find references to what we might call the “grand hope” of Judah—the future advent of the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us.

Chapters 8 through 10 deal mainly with more prophecies of judgment, but in the first seven verses of chapter 9, Isaiah again jumps ahead to prophecies of the coming Messiah. In addition, there are verses in chapter 10 dealing with the returning remnant of Israel and the promise of restoration and preservation of God’s people in the land that He gave them. We will look at these chapters next week.

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