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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 7

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes



This long section of the book deals with Israel’s major decision in Isaiah’s day. Would she trust in Yahweh or in other nations? The decision was a matter of faith; who is more trustworthy, God or strong people? God promised that trust in the nations would result in destruction (ch. 34), but trust in Him would bring abundance (ch. 35). Israel’s decision would also determine whether she had a message for the nations or not, and whether she would fulfill her mission to the nations or not. This decision is, of course, one that the people of God of all ages continually face.

A. The choice between trusting God or Assyria chs. 7-12

This section of Isaiah provides a historical introduction to the theological problem described above (cf. 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28). King Ahaz had to make this decision of faith because he faced the threat of military invasion. Though warned by the prophet, the king made the wrong decision and experienced the bitter consequences. All four subdivisions of this section focus on Assyria and deal with the implications of trust in her rather than God. As Isaiah had faced his moment of decision (ch. 6), so King Ahaz did now. In chapter 6, Isaiah made the right decision to trust and obey God. In chapter 7, Ahaz made the wrong decision to distrust and disobey God. But with the bad news of Ahaz’s apostasy comes the assurance that God would raise up a faithful Anointed One in the future.

Verse 1

King Ahaz, the grandson of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6:1), reigned in Judah from 735-715 B.C. altogether. Early in his reign King Rezin of Syria (Aram) and King Pekah of Israel allied against him (see 2 Kings 15:37; 2 Kings 16:5; 2 Kings 16:10-18; 2 Chronicles 28:22-24). The fact that Isaiah referred to Pekah as the "son of Remaliah," rather than as the "king of Israel," may indicate disdain for him, since to call someone "the son of" someone was a way of denigrating him. Rezin and Pekah attacked Jerusalem to force Ahaz to ally with them against Assyria, which was growing stronger farther to the northeast, and threatening to annihilate them all (2 Kings 15:37). [Note: See the map of the ancient Near East in Isaiah’s times at the end of these notes.] God protected Jerusalem, and this dual enemy could not force Judah into a treaty. This verse summarizes the attack, and the following verses give more details about it. Another less probable view is that Isaiah 7:1 refers to Assyria’s first attack against Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 28:5-8), and the following verses to its second invasion (2 Chronicles 28:17-18).

Verses 1-7

1. Signs of God’s presence 7:1-9:7

A unifying theme in this subsection is children. The children were understandably a major concern of the Israelites, threatened as they were with invasion. However, the children also embodied qualities that the adult Israelites needed to adopt to survive, such as innocence, trust, and acknowledged weakness (cf. Matthew 18:1-7). Indeed, a child promised in this passage, who turned out to be Jesus, would eventually save them. As Jesus appealed for an attitude of childlikeness in His hearers, so did Isaiah.

Verses 1-9

The command to trust God 7:1-9

This introductory segment provides the basic information about the historical situation that Judah faced, plus God’s command concerning that situation. Would King Ahaz face his threat from God’s perspective or from man’s? Would he trust in Yahweh or in soldiers? Would he exercise faith or resort to works?

Verse 2

When Ahaz ("the house of David" of all people!) heard that Syria had moved its army into the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim) and had settled down there, he and his people shook with fear. The date of this attack was probably between 736 and 734 B.C. This prophecy of Isaiah is dateable to 734 B.C. Ahaz had previously suffered defeat at the hands of both these enemies (2 Chronicles 28:5-8). Edom and Philistia were also threatening Judah at this time (2 Chronicles 28:17-18). What Ahaz would do would affect the future of his dynasty, the house of David.

Verse 3

God instructed Isaiah to take his son Shearjashub ("a remnant shall return;" cf. Isaiah 6:13) and meet Ahaz at a strategic water source for Jerusalem, which Ahaz was apparently examining. The location of this pool is uncertain, but it was a reservoir for Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 36:2), perhaps near the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley. [Note: Watts, p. 91.] A vulnerable above-ground aqueduct brought water from it into the city. The fuller’s field was a place where people washed clothes, fuller being another name for launderer.

Shearjashub’s presence may have been designed to encourage Ahaz to believe that his enemy would not destroy Judah completely, even though they had already defeated him previously (cf. Isaiah 7:4). Still, the mention of only a remnant returning was sobering. This was the very spot on which Sennacherib’s field commander later stood to hurl insults at Hezekiah (Isaiah 36:2), the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prediction of an Assyrian attack.

Verses 4-6

Yahweh instructed His prophet to assure the king not to fear his enemies (cf. Deuteronomy 31:6-7; Joshua 1:6-9). They had been firebrands, but now they were only smoldering embers. Today God might have referred to them as burned-out cigarette butts. [Note: Ortlund, p. 88.] Their threats of breaching Jerusalem’s walls, terminating Ahaz’s dynasty, and setting up a puppet ruler would come to nothing. Isaiah’s references to Remaliah and Tabeel encouraged Ahaz to think about his own dynasty. The Tabeel family members were probably Judahites who had become prominent in Gilead. [Note: See Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography, p. 370.]

Verses 7-9

In contrast to what the two enemy kings said (Isaiah 7:6), the sovereign God assured Ahaz that the evil that Judah’s enemies had planned for her would not materialize. By pointing out that the head of Syria was Damascus and the head of Damascus was Rezin, God was contrasting the limited sovereignty of Rezin with His own. This is also the point of His reference to the "son of Remaliah" being over Samaria, which was Ephraim’s capital. An additional point may be that these nations would remain as they were without the addition of Judah. They would not conquer Judah. [Note: See Young, 1:274.] God promised that Israel would not be a people (i.e., would be destroyed as a nation) within 65 years. The Northern Kingdom suffered defeat in 722 B.C., only about 13 years from then. To make matters worse, in 671 B.C., about 62 years after this prophecy, King Esarhaddon began importing foreign settlers into the former Northern Kingdom, which made return and resettlement there impossible (cf. 2 Kings 17:24; 2 Chronicles 33:11; Ezra 4:2; Ezra 4:10).

Ahaz’s responsibility, and the responsibility of all who heard this prophecy (the "you" is plural), especially the government leaders, was to believe this promise of God and trust Him. If they would not believe it, they would not last.

"Only through trusting in the present and ultimate veracity of God is any real security possible." [Note: Oswalt, p. 202.]

"God literally says, ’If you do not firm up, you will not be confirmed.’ In other words, ’You’ll live by faith, or you won’t live at all. But if you do want my support, all you have to do is lean on me.’ God is attracted to weakness and need and honesty. He is repelled by our self-assured pride." [Note: Ortlund, p. 89.]

Verse 10

Evidently Isaiah’s conversation with the king continued on the same day in the same place. The prophet gave Ahaz another message from the Lord.

"According to a very marvelous interchange of idioms (communicatio idiomatum) which runs through the prophetic books of the Old Testament, at one time the prophet speaks as if he were Jehovah, and at another, as in the case before us, Jehovah speaks as if He were the prophet." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:213.]

Verse 10

Ahaz and Judah’s test 7:10-8:10

Now Ahaz had to make a decision. Would he trust that God was with him and would protect Jerusalem, or would he reject God’s promise and try to establish security another way?

Verses 10-17

The sign of Immanuel 7:10-17

Isaiah next tried to move Ahaz to faith (Isaiah 7:10-12), then denounced the king for his failure to trust Yahweh (Isaiah 7:13-15), and finally forecast a calamity worse than the division of Israel’s United Kingdom (Isaiah 7:16-17).

Verse 11

God commanded the king to ask Yahweh his God for a sign that He would indeed do what He had promised. Signs were immediate, physical confirmations that what a prophet had predicted further in the future would indeed happen. They either confirmed that God had caused something to happen (cf. Exodus 3:12), or they confirmed that He would cause something to happen, as here (cf. Isaiah 37:30; Jeremiah 44:29-30). [Note: Ibid.] Ahaz had the freedom to request any type of sign, and God promised to use it to bolster his faith (cf. Gideon).

Verse 12

Ahaz refused to ask for a sign. He did not want God to confirm that He would protect Judah because he had already decided not to trust God but to make other arrangements. He tried to justify his disobedience and his lack of faith with a pious statement that he did not want to test Yahweh (cf. Deuteronomy 6:16). Testing the Lord got Israel into big trouble in the wilderness and at other times, but asking for a sign was not testing God when He commanded it. God prohibited testing Him (demanding proof) when His people doubted or rebelled against Him (cf. Psalms 95:9; Matthew 16:4; Mark 8:12; Luke 11:29), not when they wanted a sign to strengthen their faith (cf. Judges 6:36-40; 2 Kings 20:8-11; Psalms 34:6; Malachi 3:10). Ahaz wanted to appear to have great faith in God, but he had already decided to make an alliance with Assyria.

"This was like a mouse sending for the cat to help him against two rats!" [Note: Alfred Martin, Isaiah: "The Salvation of Jehovah," p. 39.]

Ahaz may even have convinced himself that this alliance was the means God would use to deliver Judah. A sign from God would only prove that Ahaz’s plan was contrary to God’s will. Compare King Saul’s refusal to obey God and its consequences.

Verse 13

Isaiah saw right through the king’s hypocrisy. He warned him by addressing him as the representative of the house of David. The plural "you" indicates that Isaiah was addressing all the members of the house of David and perhaps the whole nation (cf. Isaiah 7:9). Yahweh had made covenant promises that David’s dynasty would continue forever (2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 8:25). Ahaz should not have feared being replaced by a puppet king (Isaiah 7:6). Ahaz had said he would not test God (Isaiah 7:12), but by refusing to ask for a sign, that is precisely what he was doing-testing God’s patience with him. He was also testing the patience of the godly in Israel who were looking to their king to trust God. The prophet had called Yahweh "Ahaz’s God" (Isaiah 7:11), but now that the king had rebelled against Him, Isaiah referred to the Lord as "my (Isaiah’s) God." This change was ominous, suggesting that God would abandon the king. If Ahaz’s decision resulted in God withdrawing support from the Davidic kings, the prophecy of Immanuel may imply that God would raise up His own King from David’s house who would be faithful to Him. This could explain why God gave such a major messianic prediction at this time.

"To appreciate fully the messianic portrait of Isaiah 1-39, it must be viewed against the backdrop of the generally negative presentation of Judahite kingship in these same chapters." [Note: Chisholm, A Theology . . ., p. 314.]

Verse 14

Israel’s Sovereign Himself would give Ahaz and the house of David (plural "you") a sign that He was with His people-even though the king refused to ask for one. The sign no longer was an inducement to faith but a confirmation of divine displeasure. A particular pregnant young woman would bear a son and name Him "Immanuel" ("God with us"; cf. Genesis 16:11; Genesis 17:19; Judges 13:3). The definite article ("the") describes "virgin" in the Hebrew text. This sign should have encouraged Ahaz to trust God’s promise of deliverance and not rely on Assyria.

The Hebrew word for "virgin" is ’alma, which means a young woman of marriageable age, but the word never describes a married woman in the Old Testament. It is the only word in Hebrew that unequivocally signifies an unmarried woman. As the rest of this passage will show (through Isaiah 8:10), it seems most likely that Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz fulfilled the Immanuel prophecy initially. [Note: See Richard Niessen, "The Virginity of the ’almah in Isaiah 7:14," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:546 (April-June 1980):133-50.] In Hebrew society, an unmarried woman of marriageable age would be a virgin. Thus ’alma had overtones of virginity about it and, in fact, sometimes described a virgin (cf. Genesis 24:43). This probably explains why the Septuagint translators chose the Greek word parthenos, meaning virgin, to translate ’alma here. However, Hebrew has a word for virgin, bethula, so why did not Isaiah use this word if he meant the mother of the child was a virgin? Probably Isaiah used ’alma rather than bethula because he did not want to claim the virginity of the mother necessarily, but this word does not rule virginity out either. God evidently led Isaiah to use ’alma so the predicted mother could be simply a young unmarried woman or a virgin. This allows the possibility of a double fulfillment, a young woman in Isaiah’s day and a virgin hundreds of years later (cf. Matthew 1:23). [Note: See Paul D. Wegner, "How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible? (Isaiah 7:14): A Prophetic Pattern Approach," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54:3 (September 2011):467-84. For a list of 22 messianic prophecies in Isaiah, see The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1049.]

The naming of a child by its mother was not uncommon in Israel (cf. Genesis 4:1; Genesis 4:25; Genesis 29:31 to Genesis 30:13, Genesis 30:17-24; Genesis 35:18; Judges 13:24; 1 Samuel 1:20; 1 Samuel 4:21). In Jesus’ case, it was appropriate that Joseph name Him rather than Mary, since He was the Son of God as well as Mary’s son. [Note: See Willis J. Beecher, "The Prophecy of the Virgin Mother," in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, pp. 179-85; and Wiersbe, p. 19.] The child’s mother evidently named her baby Immanuel ("God is with us" or "God be with us") since she believed God would demonstrate His presence with Judah by preserving the nation from the Syro-Ephraimitic threat. Whoever the child was, Ahaz must have learned of his birth since the birth was to be a sign to him. Some writers believed that Ahaz’s son Hezekiah was the initial fulfillment. Whether the initial fulfillment was Maher-shalal-hash-baz, Hezekiah, or someone else, the name "Immanuel" may have been a secondary or less used name.

Some very fine scholars have believed that there was no initial fulfillment of this prophecy in Isaiah’s day, that no child born then served as a sign. Conservatives in this group believe that the only fulfillment was the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. [Note: E.g., Delitzsch, 1:216-20; Charles L. Feinberg, "The Virgin Birth in the Old Testament and Isaiah 7:14," Bibliotheca Sacra 119:475 (July 1962):251-58; Dyer, pp. 532-33; and Alfred Martin, Christ in Isaiah, part 1, p. 23.] The problem with this view is the lack of a sign in Isaiah’s day. One response to this problem by an advocate of this view follows.

". . . the assurance that Christ was to be born in Judah, of its royal family, might be a sign to Ahaz, that the kingdom should not perish in his day; and so far was the remoteness of the sign in this case from making it absurd or inappropriate, that the further off it was, the stronger the promise of continuance to Judah, which it guaranteed." [Note: J. A. Alexander, Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, p. 171. See also The New Scofield . . ., p. 719.]

Verses 15-16

Eating curds (thick, sour milk) and honey, the diet of the poor, pictures a time of poverty in the land (cf. Isaiah 7:22) following the Assyrian invasion that would follow relief from the Syro-Ephraimitic threat. The child born in Ahaz’s day would eat this type of food when he became personally responsible for his decisions, an age that Isaiah left ambiguous intentionally. However, before this child became responsible, both of Judah’s threatening neighbors, Syria and Ephraim, would cease to exist. Assyria invaded Syria and Israel in 733-32 B.C., only a year or two after this prophecy. Damascus fell in 732, and Samaria fell in 722 B.C. Jesus Christ also grew up in the Promised Land when it was under the rule of an oppressive foreign power and when life was hard.

Verse 17

Yahweh would bring on Judah a worse threat than Judah had faced ever since Israel’s United Kingdom had split in Rehoboam’s day, namely: the king of Assyria. Even though Syria and Israel would disappear as threats to Judah, Ahaz had done the wrong thing in failing to trust God, because Assyria would pose an even worse threat. He had "taken a tiger by the tail." [Note: Motyer, p. 87.]

"Whatever a man trusts in place of God will one day turn to devour him." [Note: Oswalt, p. 214.]

Verses 18-19

Yahweh would summon the armies of Assyria and Egypt to do His bidding as one whistles (or hisses) at insects (cf. Isaiah 5:26). The ancients could evidently control flies and bees by hissing at them. [Note: See Young, 1:296, for sources indicating this in Aeschylus’ writings.] Egypt was a land filled with flies, and the ancients spoke of Assyria as a country of beekeeping. [Note: Ibid.] Enemy soldiers would swarm everywhere in Judah (cf. Judges 6:1-6).

Verses 18-25

The threat of Assyria 7:18-25

This section explains how the coming days would be the worst since the division of the kingdom (Isaiah 7:17). Assyria was not just a powerful and brutal enemy, but it would be a tool in Yahweh’s hand that He would use to discipline Judah.

Verse 20

Judah’s Sovereign would particularly use Assyria, as a barber uses a razor, to remove all the "hair" from Judah, to completely humiliate her (cf. 2 Samuel 10:4-5). Prisoners and slaves were shaved as a mark of dishonor, and this condition signified insult and disrespect. [Note: Watts, p. 107.] Ahaz was already negotiating to hire Tiglath-pileser III, the king of Assyria, perhaps secretly at this time, to come and help Judah against the Syro-Ephraimitic alliance. However, Yahweh would "hire" the Assyrians (King Sennacherib) to do His will, implying that He would pay them for their efforts, which He did, not Ahaz.

Verses 21-22

In that day of woe, instead of having flocks and herds, the Judahites would be fortunate to have only one heifer and a couple of sheep. There would be such a lack of abundance of milk that they would have to curdle it to preserve it. They would also have to resort to eating honey instead of the variety of food items that they previously enjoyed. Even though food and drink would be scarce, it would be good food and drink because God would provide for the people who survived the Assyrian invasion.

Verses 23-25

Valuable farmland would revert to wilderness (cf. Isaiah 5:5-6), and it would only be good for hunting. Formerly cultivated land would be used for grazing because there would be so many briars and thorns and so few Israelites to take care of it.

"This ends Isaiah’s address to king Ahaz. He does not expressly say when Immanuel is to be born, but only what will take place before he has reached the riper age of boyhood,-namely, first, the devastation of Israel and Syria, and then the devastation of Judah itself, by the Assyrians." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:226.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/isaiah-7.html. 2012.
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