Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 8

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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?

Verse 1

Yahweh instructed Isaiah to take a large flat surface (Heb. gillayon) appropriate for posting as a placard. He was to write clearly on it Maher-shalal-hash-baz ("speeding to the plunder, hurrying to the spoil").

"Soldiers would shout these words to their comrades as they defeated and plundered their foes." [Note: J. Martin, p. 1050.]

This public notice had a double purpose: to announce a coming attack on Syria and Israel and to announce the birth of Isaiah’s son.

"Isaiah was to make his message as public and eye-catching as possible." [Note: Motyer, p. 90. Cf. Habakkuk 2:2.]

Verses 1-4

The sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz 8:1-4

Whereas the sign of Immanuel was for Ahaz primarily, the sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz was for all the people of Judah. The preceding prophecies to Ahaz (Isaiah 7:10-25) are generally negative, but the following prophecies to the Judahites (Isaiah 8:1-10) are more positive. These instructions from the Lord evidently came to Isaiah in the midst of the Syro-Ephraimitic war. [Note: Ibid., 1:228.]

Robert Chisholm Jr. believed Maher-shalal-hash-baz was the immediate fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.

"The juxtaposition of the birth report narrative (Isaiah 8:1-8) with the birth announcement narrative (Isaiah 7:14-25) suggests a close relationship between the prophecy and the birth. The pattern of events (initial deliverance followed by punitive judgment) associated with the growth pattern of the child is the same in both chapters. Also, Immanuel is addressed in the conclusion of the prophecy in chapter 9 (cf. Isaiah 8:8) as if He were already present on the scene. This address makes excellent sense if one understands the introduction of the same message (Isaiah 8:1-3) as describing his birth.

"The differing names present a problem (which, by the way, one also faces in Matthew’s application of the Immanuel prophecy to the birth of Jesus). Perhaps Immanuel, understood as a symbolic name, focuses on God’s involvement in Judah’s history, whereas Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, the child’s actual name, alludes to the specific purpose or effect of His involvement. (In the same way, when applied to Jesus, ’Immanuel’ attests to God’s personal intervention in history through the Incarnation, whereas the Lord’s actual name, Jesus, indicates the specific purpose or effect of that intervention.)" [Note: Chisholm, A Theology . . ., p. 315. See also p. 316.]

Verse 2

God selected two men whom he wanted to witness the writing or posting of this document to confirm the date of this prophecy. When the predicted events happened, they could faithfully testify that Isaiah had predicted them. One of the witnesses was Uriah ("Yahweh is light"). He was probably the high priest who built an altar, like the one in Damascus that Ahaz had seen, and set it up in place of the brazen altar (cf. 2 Kings 16:10-16). The position that this Zechariah ("Yahweh remembers") occupied is unknown, but he may have been a prominent public figure like Uriah (cf. 2 Chronicles 26:5; 2 Chronicles 29:12-13).

Verse 3

Then Isaiah had sexual relations with his wife. Since the expression "approached" is a euphemism used several times in the Old Testament for the first intercourse between a man and his wife, it is possible that Isaiah’s first wife, the mother of Shearjashub (Isaiah 7:3), died and the prophet remarried. [Note: See Herbert M. Wolf, "A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22," Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972):454; and Wiersbe, p. 19.] In this case, the ’alma of Isaiah 7:14 could refer to Isaiah’s second wife, and Immanuel could have been Maher-shalal-hash-baz. However, "approached" (Heb. qrb) often describes sexual relations in general (Genesis 20:4; Leviticus 18:6; Leviticus 18:14; Leviticus 18:19; Leviticus 20:16; Deuteronomy 22:14; Ezekiel 18:6). So this could have been Isaiah’s first wife. By naming her son Immanuel, she made a prophetic statement: God would be with His people in the coming crisis. When she bore a son, Yahweh told Isaiah to name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz. The child’s mother evidently gave him one name and his father gave him the other.

Verse 4

Before the boy grew old enough to speak distinctly, Assyria (Tiglath-pileser III) would carry off the wealth of Damascus and Samaria (in 732 B.C.; cf. Isaiah 7:15-16; 2 Kings 15:29). This brought to a close a 200-year period in which the Aramean Kingdom played a leading role. [Note: Watts, p. 114.] Thus Syria and Israel would not only fail in their attempt to bring Judah under their power (cf. Isaiah 7:6), but the king of Assyria would bring them under his power. This second promise is almost identical to the earlier one in Isaiah 7:4-9. Perhaps God intended it to be a second witness to the truthfulness of His Word.

Verses 5-6

Yahweh spoke to Isaiah again (cf. Isaiah 8:1). King Ahaz was not the only person in Judah who had failed to trust in the Lord but had put his confidence in man. The people of Judah had been guilty of the same folly. They had rejected God’s faithful provisions for them, symbolized by the gently flowing Shiloah stream that carried water from the Gihon spring just outside Jerusalem into the city. This water source was unimpressive, but it provided for the people of Jerusalem faithfully. Instead they had rejoiced in the anticipated destruction of the kings of Syria and Ephraim due to Ahaz’s alliance with Assyria.

Verses 5-10

The danger of Assyria 8:5-10

This section corresponds to Isaiah 7:18-25. Both of them explain that the name to be given a child would have both a positive and a negative significance.

Verse 7

Judah’s sovereign God would indeed sweep these enemies away by using Assyria as His instrument of judgment. Isaiah compared Assyria to the waters of the Euphrates, which seasonally overflowed and swept away all in its path. But it would be God, not Ahaz, who would be responsible for their defeat. Assyria would not inundate God’s people Israel because her gods were stronger than Yahweh, but because the sovereign Lord would bring this judgment on them.

"Like Germany in 1939 and 1940, the Assyrians seemed almost superhuman. They could strike anywhere, it seemed, with speed and power." [Note: Oswalt, p. 226.]

"The motif of the two rivers Shiloah (6) and the Euphrates (7) offers a telling contrast between the seeming weakness of faith and the seeming power of the world." [Note: Motyer, p. 91.]

Verse 8

The Assyrian tide would not stop at Syria and Israel, however, but would sweep into Judah as well. This invasion happened in 701 B.C. But its waters would stop short of completely engulfing Judah; they would reach only to her neck. Israel would drown, but Judah would keep her head above water. Seen from above, the deepening waters of Assyria’s army filling every valley and rising higher and higher resembled the wings of a huge, ominous bird of prey that covered the whole land. Isaiah described the whole land as Immanuel’s land. Probably this is a double reference to the child predicted to be born (Isaiah 7:14) and to Israel as a whole, the people whose God was with them and would not allow Assyria to devour its prey. The reappearance of Immanuel in this passage that predicts the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, and so closely parallels the Immanuel prophecies in chapter 7, suggests again that Maher-shalal-hash-baz was the initial fulfillment of the Immanuel prediction. In view of the later fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy in Jesus Christ, we have a reminder that Yahweh continued to be with His people and provided salvation for them ultimately in Christ.

Verses 9-10

The prophet called on the heathen nations to listen. They would be shattered-even though they girded themselves for battle against God’s will. They could gird themselves for battle if they chose to, plan their plans, and propose their proposals, but they would fall because God was with His people. [Note: Oswalt, p. 229, wrote a good paragraph on the philosophical difference between God being with us and humankind’s attempts to unite with God (pantheism and panantheism).] Ultimately God’s people would prevail.

The importance of listening to God 8:11-9:1

Clarification of the issue 8:11-9:7

Having received two signs of God’s dealing with them in the immediate crisis that they faced, plus accompanying warnings, the people of Judah next received additional incentives to trust Yahweh.

Verse 11

Isaiah now passed along instruction that Yahweh had powerfully given him, warning him against following the popular reliance on human strength. God had been teaching Isaiah that He had brought the Assyrians to power. To oppose Assyria now was to oppose God. [Note: Watts, p. 120.]

Verses 12-13

The Lord told him not to fear the armies of Judah’s enemies, but God Himself, Yahweh of armies. He should not become paranoid and think that the enemy’s conspiracy against the people of Judah would succeed, as the people of Judah did. Instead, he should make God the most significant fact in his thinking and thus sanctify Him as holy (cf. Matthew 10:28).

Verses 14-15

This procedure would make God a refuge and a holy place of peace for the prophet. The Israelites generally, however, would not trust God and would, consequently, find that He tripped them up by bringing judgment on them (cf. Matthew 21:44; Luke 2:34; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8). He would trap them, eventually leading them into captivity.

Verse 16

Isaiah’s audience needed to return to God’s revelation and recommit themselves to it, which the prophet led the way in doing (cf. Joshua 24:14-15). Those who followed his lead became his disciples and disciples of the Lord.

"Once his [Isaiah’s] message had been rejected by the court (Isaiah 7:1-17) and the people (Isaiah 8:1-8), he turned to his disciples (Isaiah 8:16-18), thus preparing the way for the judgment that God had already pronounced (Isaiah 6:11-13)." Jesus did the same thing (cf. John 12-16).

Verse 17

Isaiah committed himself to waiting expectantly for the Lord to act in harmony with His Word, rather than turning to another source for strength and courage (cf. Isaiah 40:31; Hebrews 2:13). Presently God was not doing anything that indicated that He was working. The "house of Jacob" refers to the Northern Kingdom.

Verse 18

Nevertheless the prophet’s own name, and the names of his two sons, were signs from "Yahweh of armies" that He would do what those names signified. Judah’s enemies would descend on her soon, a remnant would return, and Yahweh would save. Even though He was presently silent, God was still on His throne.

"The Epistle to the Hebrews (ch. ii. 13) quotes these words as the distinct words of Jesus, because the spirit of Jesus was in Isaiah,-the spirit of Jesus, which in the midst of this holy family, bound together as it was only by the bands of ’the shadow,’ pointed forward to that church of the New Testament which would be bound together by the bands of the true substance." [Note: Delitzsch, 1:239.]

Verse 19

Loss of faith in God results in an increase in superstition. The unfaithful in Judah were encouraging their brethren to seek advice about the future from mediums, wizards, and spiritists-instead of from their God (cf. Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:11). Their unusual speech, used to call up spirits, portends unreliable revelations. How ironic it is to consult the dead for information about the living (cf. 1 Samuel 28:6-8)!

Verse 20

Back to the Bible, Isaiah preached. If the predictions of the false prognosticators did not harmonize with written revelation, their counsel was darkness rather than light. The "law" probably refers to the Torah, and the "testimony" to royal tradition and theory. This "testimony" comprised the oral and written traditions passed down from former generations, which, while not inspired, were nevertheless important reliable sources of information.

"More than anything else today there is need that all our thinking be based upon and in conformity with the Holy Scriptures." [Note: Young, 1:320.]

Verses 21-22

The end of such occult advisers is difficulty, hunger, frustration, distress, darkness, gloom, and anguish. They will look up to their leaders and curse both their king and their God because things did not turn out as they foretold (cf. Isaiah 8:17; Revelation 16:11; Revelation 16:21). They will look down to their fellows and find no help. Frustration meets them wherever they turn.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.