Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 14

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 14

Today we study a short passage from the book of Isaiah. It's a very difficult passage because it contains a twofold prophecy, one of which is not as clear as we would like.

Yesterday the Lord offered King Ahaz a sign that He was not going to allow Assyria to conquer Judah. But Ahaz was already set on a particular course of action and pretended to believe asking God for a sign was a sin, that it was testing God. So now God says Ahaz, as the current representative of the house of David, has wearied Him. Ahaz has wearied Him with his continual refusal to believe, with his stubbornness, with his idolatry, with his willingness to ally himself with anyone other than the God of his forefather David. God says He is going to give Ahaz a sign whether he wants it or not.

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah---He will bring the king of Assyria." (Isaiah 7:14-17) 

We know the prophecy is about the Lord Jesus Christ but we can also tell that it involves a child who will be born in the near future, during the time of Isaiah and Ahaz, because by the time he is considered old enough to tell good from bad, Israel and Aram will be overcome by Assyria. Most Biblical prophecies are twofold like this, for a prophet must prove himself to be a prophet by predicting an event that will occur during the lifetime of the listeners. If the nearby prophecy doesn't come true, then there's no reason to believe the far-off prophecy will come true. So part of our passage above has to do with a literal child who is about to be born and who will be about the age of twelve (the age of accountability for a Hebrew boy) when Israel and Aram fall. 

There are several opinions about who the child in question is. In Chapter 8 we find Isaiah's wife conceiving and giving birth to a son and this child will be about the age of twelve when Israel and Aram fall, these nations King Ahaz is so afraid of when the prophecy is given. Since the account of the birth of Isaiah's son follows today's chapter, many scholars believe this child is the immediate fulfillment of the prophecy. In a lot of ways I feel this is the best interpretation because Ahaz will soon hear that Isaiah has a new son and will be able to time the fall of his enemies by the age of this son. However, if the child in the immediate prophecy is Isaiah's son, then the young virgin woman in the prophecy can only apply to Mary the mother of Jesus and not to Isaiah's wife, for we know Isaiah and his wife already have one son, Shear-Jashub. Isaiah's wife does not name the child "Immanuel", but then again, neither does Mary. I believe the word "Immanuel" is intended as a title rather than a literal name. The sign of the new baby boy in Isaiah's household was to be to King Ahaz the proof that God is with His people, that He is going to keep His promise about keeping Judah safe from her current enemies. The sign of Mary's baby boy is that Jesus will literally be God with us, God incarnated, God in the flesh. 

Other scholars believe Isaiah is foretelling the birth of Ahaz's son and heir Hezekiah, that Ahaz has just become engaged to or has just married his queen, and that she is soon to give birth to a son, a son who will be about the age of twelve when Israel and Aram fall to Assyria. Because Hezekiah will renounce the idolatry of his father and will be a good king and will reign for an exceptionally long time, we can see why some believe he fulfills the "God with us" aspect of the prophecy. But the timeline of the kings and their reigns don't quite fit for Hezekiah not to have already been born by now. He is likely around nine years old when Isaiah gives his prophecy.

Yet other scholars think the unnamed child is born to an unnamed woman of the royal household, one who is still a virgin at the time the prophecy is given but who is about to be married and will immediately conceive. But this calls for assuming facts we are not given and is too vague for it to have been a sign from God for Ahaz. God is capable of saying what He means and is perfectly able to have supplied us with information to back up this theory, so in my opinion we can disregard this one.

It's my personal belief that the immediate fulfillment of the prophecy is found in our next chapter when Isaiah goes home from speaking to the king and has marital relations with his wife and she conceives a son. By the time their son is old enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the nations Ahaz fears will no longer be a threat to anyone. I think the remainder of the prophecy which deals with a child is a sign for the far-off future, when a young virgin descended from the house of David will be engaged to a man whose bloodline proves he would hold the legal title to the throne if there was a throne in his day, giving him the ability to pass the title to his eldest son and heir. And Mary the mother of Jesus will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit, who will literally be Immanuel "God with us", who will hold the spiritual title to the throne by the sovereign choice of God. 

The final part of the prophecy has to do with God bringing upon Judah such a time as she has never seen before. Ahaz is about to disobey the Lord and choose to trust the king of Assyria instead of trusting God. He is going to offer himself and the nation as subjects to Assyria. From then on, Judah will never truly be free again. Ahaz's rejection of God's help is a turning point in his own life and a turning point for the nation. The downfall of Judah begins here. I want to quote J. Alec Motyer, a brilliant commentator on the book of Isaiah, because he explains this beautifully. "The semblance of monarchy would survive for another century but the reality would never be restored...From the time when Ahaz disbelieved, he and David's descendants reigned as puppet-kings, by courtesy first of Assyria and then of Babylon, until the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC extinguished kingdom and monarchy altogether so that (with Christian hindsight) when Immanuel was born, the heir to David's throne was an unknown carpenter in Nazareth! Thus Isaiah concertinas the centuries, for when Immanuel was born he inherited only the memory of a kingdom and a non-existent crown---and it was Ahaz's fault. As we shall see, in the course of this section Isaiah adjusts the historical perspective, but he uttered no lie when he made Immanuel the immediate heir of the Ahaz-debacle." (from Isaiah, by J. Alec Motyer, page 78)

Isaiah names Immanuel the heir to the throne of David, though he is not the immediate heir of Ahaz. Because of Ahaz's wrong choice, the nation will never be sovereign again until her true and final King reigns. Judah will be subject to many nations over the course of time: Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Rome. At several times in history she won't even be a nation at all but will be scattered throughout the earth. But Immanuel, God with us, the One who has the legal title to David's throne, will gather in the people of Israel and Judah and once again make of them a sovereign nation. In addition, He will be Savior and King of the Gentiles and we will all be one people under Him, one nation under God.

Below is our worship song link for today.

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