Thursday, July 7, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 16

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 16

The prophet Isaiah has been speaking with King Ahaz of Judah in regard to future events, some for the near future and some for the far-off future. But Ahaz has not been receptive to the Lord's message. Isaiah now obeys the Lord in a different matter, the setting up of a sign for Ahaz and for the people.

"The Lord said to me: 'Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.'" (Isaiah 8:1) This is going to be someone's name and it means "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil". It indicates war, or at least the result of it, when a victorious army goes in and takes the goods of the people they conquered. The word translated "scroll" is a word that would be used for a public notice, like a large poster or plaque. 

Isaiah writes this long word on the poster or plaque and has two witnesses verify that he wrote the word on a specific day and at a specific time. "So I called in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me." (Isaiah 8:2) 

After performing this mysterious task, Isaiah goes home to his wife. He may be a prophet but he has a normal home life like any other married man. He loves his wife and is attracted to her and they have marital relations just like all other couples do. "Then I made love to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the Lord said to me, 'Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. For before the boy knows how to say, 'My father' or 'My mother', the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.'" (Isaiah 8:3-4) I believe when Isaiah first wrote that name on his large poster he had no idea why the Lord told him to do it. He didn't know he was about to be a father again or that the Lord would have him give this name to his son. Isaiah's other son, Shear-Jashub, has a name which means "a remnant shall return". Isaiah will say of these sons, "Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells in Mount Zion." (Isaiah 8:18) The Lord gave Isaiah these sons and their specific names to be signs to the people of the nation. Shear-Jashub's name means Judah will be taken captive at some point in the future but a remnant will return and rebuild. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz's name means Judah's enemies will soon fall to the sword: they will be spoiled and plundered. 

Isaiah's friends witnessed what he wrote on the poster before his son was conceived and the notice was posted publicly before his son was conceived. Nine months or so later, little Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz is born and the people understand what Isaiah means when he tells them the Lord says, "Before this child can say 'Mommy' or 'Daddy', both Damascus the capitol of Aram and Samaria the capitol of Israel will fall." Right now King Ahaz and the people of Judah are terrified of Aram and Israel. These two nations have allied themselves against Judah, hoping to depose Ahaz and place their own man on the throne, a man who will join with them in their fight against Assyria. But the Lord says through Isaiah that by the time this new baby boy can talk, Judah won't have to fear these two enemies anymore. 

Ahaz doesn't need to make an alliance with Assyria to protect himself from Aram and Israel, for in time Assyria is going to conquer both those nations. We know, however, that Ahaz still doesn't take the Lord's words to heart. We studied a portion of 2nd Kings yesterday that tells us Ahaz went ahead and subjected himself to Assyria anyway, paying tribute to the king with articles from his own palace and from the Lord's temple. The Lord has already promised to keep Jerusalem safe from Israel and Aram, so Ahaz didn't need to abase himself before a foreign king. He didn't need to humble his people by making them swear allegiance to another nation. Now they are going to be burdened by heavy taxes to pay the yearly tribute Assyria will demand. The first year's tribute came from the gold and silver articles of the palace and temple but from now on it will come from the citizens. It's almost as bad as if they have actually been conquered, for they have willingly given themselves away for nothing. They are no longer sovereign. They exist at the pleasure of a foreign king and should they happen to stop making him happy, he will stomp down on them hard, as Tiglath-Pileser's grandson will during the days of King Hezekiah, when Hezekiah rebels against the bad bargain his father Ahaz made.

By the time Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz is talking, Israel and Aram will be too busy defending themselves from Assyria to be concerned with Judah. They will be fighting to keep their own walls up; they won't be breaking down the walls of Jerusalem. This child is born as a sign to the people that by the time he is able to talk, their enemies will be destroyed. The sign will have no effect on the king or the people, but the Lord gives it anyway because He is righteous and fair. 

In Isaiah's day people placed a lot of emphasis on the meaning of names. People carefully chose the names of their children because of what the names meant, not because they were the names of celebrities, sports stars, or characters from favorite TV shows. When my husband was born in 1969 his mother named him Jonathan because it means "given by God". She had tried for many years to conceive a child. In her heart she had given up hope because, even when finally faced with symptoms of pregnancy, she visited the doctor believing she had a stomach virus that wouldn't clear up. When she named her son Jonathan, the practice of giving children meaningful names had mostly gone out of fashion. When I was born to my mother the following year, she named me Kim which so happened to be one of the most popular names of 1970. There were four Kims in my classroom at school. If the teacher came out on the playground to call for me, she had to call out my whole name so we'd know which Kim she wanted. Maher-Shalal-Has-Baz didn't have this problem. I would be willing to bet good money he was the only kid on the playground with that name, but that's why his name is so significant. It was intended as a sign for the people. He was the only kid in Judah whose name meant "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil". Every time he toddled down the street holding Isaiah's hand, the people were reminded of the Lord's promise that their enemies Israel and Aram were soon to be plundered, soon to be spoiled. This child was a constant living reminder that the people needed only to bow to the Lord, not to a foreign king. They needed only to give themselves willingly to their Savior, not give themselves to an ally who will demand astronomical and burdensome taxes of them. 

The only burden the Lord ever places on His people is the burden of faith. "In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:3-4) God's burden is never heavy. It's never a chore to carry. It won't make us weary. Satan tries to tell us God expects too much of us, that He's a party-pooper, that He will load us down with rules and regulations, that we will never have any fun, that bowing to Him is making slaves of ourselves. That's what Satan told King Ahaz and the people of Judah. He said, "Make an alliance with the mighty king of Assyria. Better to bow to him than to God. The king of Assyria will only ask for yearly tribute. But God will ask for everything." Yes, God asks for everything, because He wants all of us! He wants our love, He wants our hearts, He wants our souls. In giving Him these things, we are set free. We are not slaves but are sons and daughters of the living God, children of the one and only mighty King, joint-heirs with Christ! God's call to faith is not burdensome. He doesn't load us down under a heavy weight but instead lifts the heavy weight of sin from our shoulders. He breaks the shackles off our wrists and ankles. He invites us into the glorious liberty of the children of the King and gives us an inheritance along with His own precious Son, the One who so lovingly says to us, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) 

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