Sunday, July 3, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 12

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 12

The book of Isaiah doesn't follow a strictly chronological path and today he relates an event that took place during the reign of King Ahaz of Judah. The Lord called Isaiah to be a prophet in the year that King Uzziah died, then he continued to prophesy through the reigns of Uzziah's son Jotham, Jotham's son Ahaz, and then Ahaz's son Hezekiah. He was still living when Hezekiah's young son Manasseh came to the throne and was probably one of the prophets Manasseh executed. So we find today's passage taking place after Isaiah had already been a prophet for many years.

"When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it." (Isaiah 7:1) Ahaz was a wicked man, one who forsook the Lord to worship foreign idols, a man so evil he actually sacrificed his own son to the horrific Cannanite deity of Molech. Ahaz's father and grandfather were basically good kings and so was Ahaz's son Hezekiah, but right here in the middle of the family tree we find an exceedingly bad apple in the bushel. Because Ahaz was so wicked, and because his sinful practices were setting an example that led the people into sin, troubled times arose during his reign. Assyria was becoming a major threat to Israel and her neighbors, so the king of Israel allied himself with the king of Aram for the purpose of forming a formidable army. They tried to get Ahaz to ally himself with them but he refused. Because he would not join with them, Israel and Aram intended to overthrow Judah and place a man of their own choosing on the throne, one who would join the armies of Judah with those of Israel and Aram. 

When word of the alliance between Israel and Aram came to the royal family, it struck fear in their hearts. "Now the house of David was told, 'Aram has allied itself with Ephraim'; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind." (Isaiah 7:2) Isaiah has the habit of sometimes referring to the northern kingdom of Israel as Ephraim. The tribe of Ephraim at that time was the largest of the ten northern tribes and it was situated closest to the territory of Judah. It was also considered a tribe of valiant warriors. When Ahaz heard that Ephraim was allied with Aram, he knew this meant all of Israel, and he knew trouble was right outside the door. There has been an ongoing conflict now for many years between Judah and Israel, and those of you who did the study of the kings with us may recall that King Pekah of Israel had already killed 120,000 men of Judah in a previous incursion. The Arameans had already taken a number of people captive. Now these two enemies have joined together and the household of Ahaz trembles in fear.

Ahaz may be a wicked man but the Lord doesn't intend to let the people of Judah be overcome. He sends words of comfort to the king. "Then the Lord said to Isaiah, 'Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer's Field. Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood---because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 'Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.'" (Isaiah 7:3-6) The Lord confirms the plot against King Ahaz and the nation of Judah but he urges the king not to panic. Ahaz has fallen into a state of fear that has rendered him unable to get his thoughts together. He envisions the enemy army as a massive wildfire, unstoppable, burning everything in its path. But God says, "See these kings as they really are. They are nothing but two smoldering stubs of firewood. They are making a big cloud of smoke but there's no real fire there."

The Lord assures the king the plot will come to nothing. "Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'It will not take place, it will not happen, for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.'" (Isaiah 7:7-9) Aram (modern-day Syria) had its capitol at Damascus and the king who reigned from Damascus was only a man. Ephraim (Israel) looked like a mighty army and there was a huge palace at the capitol in Samaria, but the king who sat on the throne there was only a man. The Lord is saying, "The head of Aram is only Rezin, and the head of Israel is only Pekah, but the head of Judah is Almighty God. They will not be able to overcome you. In fact, the tribe of Ephraim whom you fear so much today will be overthrown within sixty-five years; they won't have enough citizens left to make a society, much less form an army. Stop trembling before these mortal kings and trust in the King of kings." 

Ahaz is not a man of faith, at least not faith in the God of Judah. He places more faith in military might than in Almighty God. His plan is to ally himself with Assyria because, as the saying goes, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." He intends to make himself, and all Judah, subject to Assyria in order to gain protection from Israel and Aram. 

The Lord is giving Ahaz an incredible opportunity to step up, to make a leap of faith, to turn from his idols to the living God, to turn from his trust in political alliances and cast himself on the mercy of the Lord. In today's passage and again in tomorrow's we will find the Lord calling the royal family of Judah "the house of David" and I believe He does this for a reason. He is reminding Ahaz of the first king of of the tribe of Judah, reminding him of whose bloodline he sprang from, reminding him that David found his success not in human strength but in the strength of the Sovereign Lord. When we studied the life of David we talked about how it always seemed he was outnumbered in battle, yet he was victorious because the Lord was on his side. The house of David was great because he trusted in the Lord and now this same Lord is offering Ahaz the same opportunity. "Stand firm in your faith. Yo don't need help from the king of Assyria. Did David ever need help from Assyria? Did David ever need help from any pagan nation? Did he ever have to subject himself and the people to a foreign king? He was a mighty king because he depended on the Mighty King. David was a man of tremendous faith but you can have the same faith he had. I am setting before you the awesome opportunity to have your life and your kingdom transformed."

The Lord will keep His promise to protect Judah from Israel and Aram. But Ahaz will fail the test. He will reject the opportunity to become a better man, to be a man of faith like his forefather David, to let go of all the things he's clinging to and take the hand that God has outstretched to him. This is a defining moment in Ahaz's life. Everything, spiritually speaking, hinges on this decision and we will find him making the wrong choice. 

One of my favorite verses is found in our study today, "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all." It reminds me of the saying, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." If Ahaz had decided to trust the Lord, he wouldn't have fallen for the lie that subjecting himself to Assyria was his only hope. If Ahaz had bowed his knees to the Lord, he wouldn't have had to bow before anyone else. He could have bowed down and given his heart and life to the Lord and therefore would have been able to stand in His presence, to stand before any enemy, to stand up to any threat. But if he does not bow to God, he will bow to the king of Assyria, he will pay tribute to that pagan king, and he will be sorry. 

King David knew if he bowed before God he could stand before anybody. He was able to stand firm in his faith because he knew the Lord of Hosts, the God of heaven's armies, stood with him. This is why he so often referred to the Lord as his Sword and his Shield. And the amazing thing is, we all can have the faith of David. We all can stand here in this fallen world, outnumbered by enemies, facing all of Satan's lies, and we can have the victory because we aren't standing in our own power but in the power of Almighty God. If He is for us, who can be against us? What enemy can overcome us? Who do we need to fear? 

The song below is about the One who is for us, the One who fights for us. 

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