Recently, a young couple in my acquaintance lost their first child a few days before it was due. Another friend received a suicide note from her unbelieving brother, and after a month-long search, the police finally found his body. Our culture is currently in a “pervicane;” the bill for the sexual escapades of many powerful men is now come due. Islam is slowly conquering Europe. An Anglican bishop is praying that young Prince George is gay. And…on the bright side, it looks like the GOP is finally going to cut our taxes. When we look at the current events, personal tragedies, and even the blessings which God has granted us, we must remember that the greatest temptation in both hard times and good times is to forget that the Child born in Bethlehem is relevant to every crisis we face, and every blessing we receive.
Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.
Overview of the Text
From Isaiah’s heavenly vision in chapter 6 until the events described in this chapter, up to eight years have transpired. Isaiah is with his son (Shear-jashub, “a remnant shall return”) during the pronouncement of this sign (Isa. 7:3). In forming an alliance with Assyria, King Ahaz sent the gold and silver which was in the temple to “sweeten the deal” (2 Kgs. 16:8); he also unlawfully rearranged, replaced, and even defaced the holy items in the temple (2 Kgs. 16:14-18).
God sends Isaiah to exhort Ahaz to believe that the Lord was Judah’s salvation from all her enemies (Is. 7:1-9). The “punchline” of Isaiah’s sermon: “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established (Is. 7:9b).” God offers Ahaz a sign to confirm the promise of deliverance, but Ahaz refuses, not because he was humble, but because he was apostate (v. 10-12). Isaiah then rebukes the house of David (not just Ahaz as an individual) for wearying not only God’s prophets—by ignoring their admonitions—but also God Himself (v.13). However, a sign was given all the same.
The sign was that a virgin would conceive, bear a son, and she would name him Immanuel (v.14). This child, though bearing such a messianic name, would grow up the same as every other child: eating the food common to infants at the time, and progressing from infancy to maturity in the natural manner (v.15, cf. Lk. 2:52). Isaiah then shifts the focus back to current events and informs Ahaz that before long (i.e. the span of time it takes for a child to grow to maturity), the two kingdoms he so feared would be left kingless and conquered (v.16). Finally, though Ahaz sought protection by bribing the Assyrians, the end result of that unbelief is that God would use the Assyrians to bring about the eventual downfall of Jerusalem, and the Jews exile (v.17). Ahaz submitted to being a puppet of his Assyrian puppet-masters, and when once this compromise was made, it paved the way for later political compromises (cf. Is. 39, 2 Kgs. 18:16, 24:12, 17 & 25:1-7).
A Sign of Mercy and Judgement
Signs are given to confirm faith, but where there is no faith, signs become a condemnation. To unbelieving Ahaz, the sign of a coming child named Immanuel spelled his doom. God had promised the house of David that “There shall not fail thee a man in my sight to sit on the throne (1 Kgs. 8:25).” This was the throne upon which Ahaz sat, and rather than believe that God would bring from his line One whose dominion would stretch from sea to sea (Ps. 72:8), whose kingdom would subdue all other nations (Ps. 72:11), and “His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed (Ps. 72:17),” Ahaz chose to place his faith in policy, treaties, alliances, and contracts. His faith was in what he could see. The judgement that came upon him was that the idol he worshipped would soon swallow him and his kingdom up. The sign of Immanuel means that unbelief will receive the swift judgment it deserves.
But this sign was also mercy.“For on what did the deliverance of Jerusalem depend, but on the manifestation of Christ? This was, indeed, the only foundation on which the salvation of the Church always rested (Calvin).” Isaiah’s faith is the foil to Ahaz’s unbelief. Isaiah shows how we ought to understand God’s transcendence and imminence. In the midst of the current events which faced Judah, Isaiah weaves in and out of present circumstances and future hope. Isaiah saw the yet far off virgin birth as being of utmost relevance and importance to Judah’s present situation.
True faith is a sort of double vision. A good marksman is somehow able to view the bullseye of the target and the sights on the barrel as one object. The seed promised to Eve, the descendant of Abraham who would bring a blessing to all nations, the man who would sit on David’s throne and yet was David’s Lord, was of utmost relevance to Jerusalem’s present salvation and deliverance. Christ is, as Spurgeon wonderfully put it, the hinge of history. Every other event must bow to the momentous coming of the Incarnate Christ, Immanuel. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Your present circumstances, both the hopes and the fears, must bow to the fact that God was manifested in the flesh, in the person of Jesus. And by faith, the sign of Immanuel is all mercy, for “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”