Rezin . . . and Pekah . . . went up toward Jerusalem to war against it
The confederacy against Jerusalem
The reason of this war is not stated: but from the desire of those kings to dethrone Ahaz, and place on the throne in Jerusalem another, even Ben Tabeal, it may be inferred that
Ahaz refused to join these two powers in a general rising against Assyria.
Obviously, Ahaz was well advised in not taking a step of such decided opposition to Nineveh: for had he done so, the legions of that empire would only have spread desolation in Judah twenty or thirty years earlier than they did. To a certain extent, the policy commended by Isaiah was adopted: Ahaz did not take up his stand against Assyria. The prophet, of course, wanted more. For he urged an absolute and complete neutrality, in which Ahaz would have nothing at all to do with this power. So far as
Ahaz acted on the prophet’s advice, he was successful: for this confederacy against Jerusalem proved a failure. (B. Blake, B. D.)
Ahaz and Isaiah, a contrast
Ahaz is timid and helpless, takes no position, and displays no promptitude or courage. Isaiah, on the contrary, steps forward with assurance: he is collected and calm: and his complete control of the political situation impresses us forcibly. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Isaiah’s interview with Ahaz
At the date of Isaiah’s interview with
Ahaz the application to Assyria was meditated, but not actually carried into effect. To understand this interview two things must be borne in mind.
Firstly, Isaiah is aware of the king’s intention to solicit aid from Assyria, but it is not openly admitted between them. Secondly, the power and resources of the allied kings, especially of Rezin, so impressed the popular imagination that they were held to be practically invincible; Isaiah views both differently; describes them as “smoked out firebrands,” and intimates that he considers the terror of the people to be unreasonable. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
The prophet and the king
God speaks comfort to many who not only are not worthy of it, but do not so much as inquire after it. (M. Henry.)
Unsuccessful attacks upon the Christian stronghold
“We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth”: clever arguments, witty retorts, brilliant repartees, criticisms that dazzle by their brightness and exasperate by their acerbity, come and go, and Jerusalem stands, sunlit, fair, invincible. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Take heed and be quiet
Take heed, and be quiet
That is, be on your guard and do not act precipitately, rather keep at rest.
I. A WARNING AGAINST SELF-WILLED ACTING.
II. AN EXHORTATION TO UNDISMAYED EQUANIMITY. (P. Delitzsch. D. D.)
The true attitude of life
This is the attitude we should observe in all this human life--on the one hand, vigilance, determination, earnestness; and on the other silence, resignation, hope. Just as we observe in due proportion the active and passive aspects of life will our character become complete and our heart find rest.
I. ALL TRUE LIFE IS A LISTENING.
1. “Take heed,” i.e., be attentive, alert, susceptible. Light will not come to careless, inattentive souls. We must hearken, which really means the concentration of all the powers of the soul that we may detect the significance of things.
2. And when you have given full place to observation and reflection, “be quiet,” for you will find plenty of room and reason for suspense, resignation, silence. When you have carried criticism to its final limit, see that no place is left in your heart for anxiety, unbelief, and despair.
II. ALL TRUE LIFE IS A WATCHING. “Take heed.” Be cautious, vigilant, circumspect. There is no room in life for presumption. But when we have felt the need of earnest prayer, when we have cultivated the habit of prayerful watchfulness, let us “be quiet.” Many Christians feel the need of walking softly, of being on the alert, their soul is full of solemn caution; but they never know how to combine with this that strong confidence in God which brings the sensitive heart assurance and peace. Let us remember that when we have done our best God will do the rest.
III. ALL TRUE LIFE IS A STRIVING. “Take heed.” Life must be full of effort, aspiration, strenuousness, perseverance. The policy of many is the policy of drift. But this is not the true idea of life. We are perpetually called upon to consider, to discriminate, to decide, to act. And yet with all this we are to be “quiet.” Calm amid tumult, tranquil in severest effort, full of peace and confidence when life is most difficult and denying. Let us remember this--
“The crooked serpent”
True rationalism not only investigates, but is cautious, reticent, patient, hopeful. Much about us is very mysterious and bewildering.
1. It is so with nature. Ages ago the patriarch Job found this out. “By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens; His hand hath formed the crooked serpent.” “Garnished the heavens!”--that we can understand, that we can admire. The vast, the balanced, the magnificent, the beautiful, the benign--this is what we expected from the wise and generous Source of allthings. “His hand hath formed the crooked serpent.” Nature contains the mean, the unharmonious, the dark, the grotesque, the bloody; and this we did not expect. The thoughtful man is sorely puzzled in the presence of these confusions and contradictions.
2. It is so with revelation. We are often greatly delighted with the contents of the Bible. It is a firmament full of stars of light, speaking to us eloquently of the glory of God. We cry with rapture as we scan successive constellations which gleam with truth and love and righteousness. “By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens.” But it is not long before the problems of nature reappear in revelation; there are teachings obscure and painful, in fact, the crooked serpent wriggles across the page. People who read cursorily-and think loosely may glide over such pages, but thoughtful souls are often sorely troubled.
3. It is the same in our personal history. There are times in our life when all things go smoothly with us--our health is good, in business we are in the swim, we are socially popular, and, full of gratitude and thanksgiving, we wonder how anybody can ever be fretful, or call into question the government of God; we feel that the Spirit that garnished the heavens has brought order and beauty into our persona! lot. But soon circumstances change: our health fails, we are called to attend two or three creditors’ meetings, our popularity wanes; and then we are staggered, and begin to ask sceptical questions touching the ways of heaven. What is the matter? The crooked serpent crawls across our path of roses. Now what are we to do when these dark enigmas reward our study, when we witness the contradictions of nature, the tragedy of history, when we endure the pathos of our own life? Are we to take refuge in scepticism, cynicism, despair? Surely not. “Be quiet.” (W. L. Watkinson.)
A New Year’s motto
I. A WORD OF CAUTION. “Take heed.” It is as though Isaiah called a halt; as though, to use another metaphor, he swung the red light in front of the rushing train as though he put a detonator on the rails in the time of mist and fog. Saith he, “Take heed; you are very busily preparing, your mind is filled with a multitude of thoughts.” He does not speak ill of these preparations and these plans, but he does say, “Proceed with caution; look before you leap, think before you act. Do nothing till you have thought it over and prayed about it. You will discover, Ahaz, that whereas some of your precautions are legitimate, others of them are dishonouring to God and to the throne of David.” Well now, is there not a word for you and for me just here? Take heed!--do not rush blindly on, wait to be guided, slip your hand into God’s. Ye people of God, take heed! Worldliness is gradually creeping into the Church and fastening its fangs upon her. Doctrine of all sorts is at a discount, except false doctrine. Take heed lest you sip of the poisoned cup or ever you are aware. And ye shepherds of the flock, take heed! Ministers are too busy nowadays “getting up” this, that, and the other Be it ours to bring the blessing down. Sunday school teachers, take heed that you do not merely amuse or only instruct the children. Win them for Christ. Take heed, ye who profess to follow Jesus! Look where you are going; ponder the paths of your steps.
II. THEN THE PROPHET RECOMMENDED QUIET. “Be quiet.” It is not the easiest thing in the world to be quiet, especially when there are two confederate armies coming up against you. It is ever easier to assault than to “sit tight.” I do not believe there is anything that more honours our holy religion than self-possession in the time of stress and storm. It is then that the worldling says, “Why, I could not do that!” What is the secret of that wonderful composure! The secret is God. That heart is kept quiet that is stayed on Him.
III. Then Isaiah says, “FEAR NOT.” He has spoken of the outward attitude and action; now he refers to the reward emotion. Know you not that fear is fatal? I suppose that, humanly speaking, almost as many people die of fear as of anything else. Many of our best hopes are thwarted, not because there was any real necessity they should suffer so, but because we were afraid from the first that they would. Many of our high ambitions come to nought because we were never very confident that they would have any other ending if the work be of God, trust God to see it through. We may have our fears, but we must not cherish them. There were words of cheer accompanying this message. The prophet said, “These great flaming firebrands that you fear are going out. Already they are smoking. They are only the tails of firebrands. A little patience and you will see an end of this trouble.” We do not ask a sign of God that Ha will give us the victory in our warfare, and success in our work for Him. He gives it without asking. We would believe without a sign. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” But if God offers us a sign we do not refuse it. Ahaz did. He said--suddenly posing as a saint--“No, I will not tempt God.” When God offers us a sign it is not reverence to refuse it; it is gross irreverence. But He has granted us the best sign of all, the sign to which I do not doubt that Isaiah made reference. Christ has come; nay, God has come, for Christ is God. “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” John Bunyan used to call unbelief a white devil. (T. Spurgeon.)
Tails of smoking firebrands
The two allies are at once designated as what they are before God, who sees through things in the future. They are two tails, i.e., nothing but the fag ends of wood pokers, half-burned off and wholly burned out, so that they do not burn any longer, but only still keep smoking. (F. Delitzsch.)
Caution with confidence
Life is danger. The more precious anything is the more enemies it has. You rarely see any lice on the wild rose in the hedgerow, but the prize rose in the garden will soon be covered with them if the gardener remits his severe attention; crab apple trees on a common may be left with confidence to take care of themselves, but the husbandman must watch by night and day an orchard full of sweetness. Man has the most enemies of all, they swarm on every hand, he walks in jeopardy every hour. But we often forget all this and act with strange heedlessness. Awhile ago, from the flowery cliffs, I was watching the beautiful gulls as they flashed between the sun and the sea uttering cues of joy, when some wretched sportsmen appeared on the scene and began to fire at the lovely creatures. I thought that at the first shot the birds would have vanished into space, but, strangely enough, as if they were enchanted, they continued to whirl around the very focus of destruction. Fortunately they were not hit, the marksmen’s aim was as bad as their temper; but at any moment the glorious birds might have dropped shattered, bloody things, into the sea. It is very much the same with men. They go negligently, presumptuously, although moral dangers are thicker than all other dangers, and any moment might see the glory and hope of life quenched in midnight darkness. (W. L. Watkinson.)
We all know suspicious souls whose nervousness gives them not a moment of peace. If they are going on a railway journey, they anxiously look out for the middle compartment of the middle carriage, fancying that the safest place, and there is no telling how many trains they miss looking for that carriage; if they are in the country, they will not drink a drop of milk until they have ascertained whether the foot and mouth disease has been in that district; and at the railway station they cross-examine the driver to know whether he has conveyed in that cab any passenger having an infectious malady. Now, if you once give way to a morbid nervousness of this sort, there is positively no end to the thing, and every bit of comfort is taken out of life. (W. L. Watkinson.)
God the sure Protector of His people
The sensible voyager lays his head on the pillow and goes to sleep, although the gleaming teeth of sharks are only a few inches away; the thickness of the plank or plate is practically the thickness of a planet: and although hell is always nigh., let us remember that God is still nigher, and that a bit of tissue paper in His hands is the munition of rocks to those who trust in Him. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Vigilance and gladness
The bird on the branch is intensely sensitive and tremulous; it looks around, above, beneath; all the world might be a fowler, a mare, a eat, and yet at the same time it goes on pouring out its happy soul in music. Let us be like it in watchfulness and gladness. (W. L.Watkinson.)
When I was a growing lad I was always measuring myself to see how much I had gained every week or two. Sometimes there was a distinct gain, and then another testing seemed to indicate that I was standing sty; so I fed my hopes and fears. But I did very well on the whole, and it would have been a great deal better if I had let the measuring tape alone and attended to my learning and my business. Do not afflict your souls with morbid solicitudes. (W. L. Watkinson.)
God’s contempt for Rezin and Pekah
God will have those in derision who set their shoulders against His throne for the purpose of overturning it. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Harmfulness of fear
There is a legend which is in itself instructive concerning the time of plague in a certain Eastern city, to the effect that 20,000 people having died therein, a traveller entering the gates spoke to the plague as it was leaving, and said, “I understand that you have slain 20,000 people within these walls.” “No,” said the plague, “I have slain but 10,000; the rest have died of fear.” It is an instructive story. (T. Spurgeon.)
Once I remember I picked up a small bird which had fallen on the pavement by my feet. I sought to reinstate it among the branches overhead; but the creature could not appreciate my generosity, and with passionate eagerness struggled to escape. I began unconsciously to talk aloud to it, “Poor, silly thing; why do you not trust your best friend? All I want is to get you up again in the fork of the tree. You are making it harder for me, by dashing so against my fingers; for I am obliged to hold you firmly, and you do all the hurting yourself.” Why is it we all struggle so, when the Lord is giving us help (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Phoebe Simpson said to Ellice Hopkins, “I think, miss, religion is doing things still.” Stillness of spirit is like the canvas, for the Holy Spirit to draw His various graces upon. (Dr. Love.)
The happy people are calm
The really and substantially happy people in the world are always calm and quiet. (Recreations of a Country Parson.)
The child of God should live above the world, moving through it, as some quiet star moves through the blue sky,--clear, and serene, and still (Hetty Bowman.)
If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established
Faith in the Divine Word and promises the alone ground of the believer’s establishment and happiness
There are only two sources from which human hope or happiness can be derived, and these are sense and faith.
I. SENSE AS THE SOURCE OF HUMAN HAPPINESS. It is self-evident from the history of what is past and from observation and experience of what is present that, amidst all the enjoyments, whether more gross or more refined, the objects of sense can possibly furnish to flatter or gratify the passions, nothing is to be found that can give establishment to the human heart, or settle and compose the restless spirit. There are three things which render it impossible that any mere worldly object or pursuit should render us happy.
1. The difficulty of acquiring what, in imagination or forethought, we have placed our happiness upon, and in the possession of which we have fondly dreamed of enjoying all that our hearts could desire.
2. When with infinite labour we seem to have surmounted every difficulty and to have gained the point we had in view, our promised happiness is snatched from us in a moment, and we feel our disappointment and distress rendered more poignant from the flattering prospects that lay before us, and the ideal estimate we had formed of what we have lost.
3. But let us suppose that we could acquire with ease, and enjoy with security, for a limited time--to our dying day--the objects we so eagerly pursue; how do we know that we shall preserve our relish for them? “Our very wishes give us not our wish.”
II. FAITH ALONE HOLDS FORTH THOSE OBJECTS THAT CAN ESTABLISH THE HUMAN HEART OR QUIET THE RESTLESS SPIRIT. Nothing can give establishment to the mind of man but what can effectually remove the cause of our present disordered state and prove a never-failing source of inward peace and self-enjoyment.
1. What is the cause of this disorder; of this disquietude and restlessness, amidst all the objects of sense; of this vacancy of the human mind, amidst all the profusion of nature? The cause is evidently a departure from the original constitution of our nature. For no creature can be unhappy, continuing in that state, in which, he was placed by perfect wisdom and goodness.
2. The remedy which faith provides for the cure of this evil. It directs us to the righteousness of God, manifested without the law, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all that believe; for there is no difference. The doctrine that holds forth a finished salvation by the blood of Christ, as the alone ground of a believer’s hope, is, of all others, the best fitted to beget not only a humble submission, but a cheerful resignation to our gracious Lord in the various allotments of His providence concerning us. Who that believeth all this with all his heart could for a moment entertain a doubt that his bodily and temporal concerns would be safe in His hands? (T. Gordon.)
Stability through faith
1. The promises of God are not at all times easily, steadily, and firmly believed.
2. God, in the communication of His Word, does not regard us as mere machines. The Word cannot profit unless it be mixed with faith in those who hear it. In the Christian’s life there are three kinds of stability.
I. THERE IS A STABILITY OF JUDGMENT. This regards the truths of religion. It is of great importance to have a judgment clear and fixed as it respects the great concerns of the soul and eternity, and the doctrines of the Gospel of Christ; for as we think we feel, as we feel we desire, as we desire we act, and as we act our characters are formed, and our conditions determined. There are some things in revelation concerning which a man’s mind, so to speak, need not be made up. Little or no injury will arise from his hesitation or suspense. But this is not the case with all. There are some things which must be fundamental, and therefore sustain others; and according to the firmness of the foundation will be the firmness of the whole superstructure. Now what is to lead us into this stability but faith? It cannot be human authority among men. What one patronises another denies, and here you would soon find yourself like a man in a labyrinth, who on this side and on that is calling out, “Is this the way?” and knows not what direction to take with safety and comfort. Or, if you depend upon reason, this may do something from observation and analogy; but if you receive the revelation of God only as far as you can understand it, you will make your faith commensurate with your knowledge. Thus obstructions and difficulties will arise continually, and you will be strangers to all satisfaction and repose. No, we must believe all that the Lord has spoken to us in His Word, and because He has spoken it. “I had a little talent and a little learning,” said Dr. Watts before his death; “but now I lay them all aside, and endeavour to receive the Gospel as the poor and unlearned receive it.”
II. THERE IS A STABILITY OF PRACTICE. This regards the duties of religion. By faith we stand. In order to see the strength and beauty of the sentiment contained in our text, let us place the believer in three positions.
1. In a place of secrecy. When alone, how do we act? Faith is a principle that always operates alike upon the mind, i.e., its motives are the same in private as in public. Faith shows us the future and eternal consequences of our actions. Faith brings God and places Him before us Hence the closet is visited as the temple. The good fight of faith is carried on amidst many struggles, unobserved by any human being, but all well known to Him who is the Captain of our salvation.
2. In cases of prosperity and indulgence. How easily is a person drawn aside from the path of duty by the honour which cometh from men, by a regard to the friendship of this world, or by earthly riches! We are therefore told that the prosperity of fools destroys them. But the believer in Christ is not a fool: faith makes him wise unto salvation, wise both for time and eternity. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
3. In a condition of suffering and danger. What an agonizing trial was Abraham called to endure, when God bade him take his only son Isaac, whom he loved, and offer him up for a burnt offering! yet faith enabled him to do it. Moses had a hard task to accomplish, when he went and stood before Pharaoh, but we are told, “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward”; “by faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” And how was it with Daniel? There was something dreadful in being cast into the den of lions; but what was this to a man who saw that God would shut the lions’ mouths, so that they should not hurt him? What was this to a man who by faith heard the voice of Him who said, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell; yea, I say unto you, fear Him.” Faith also views the Saviour as acting and as suffering for us.
III. THERE IS A STABILITY OF HOPE. This regards the comforts of religion. How is it that Christians can rejoice amidst their sorrows? The Scripture assigns the reason when it tells us of the joy of faith. Faith appropriates. (W. Jay.)
Isaiah’s commission and King Ahaz
Isaiah had a very heavy commission from God. He was to go and speak to people who would not hear him, and to be to them a messenger rather of death than of life. Though the message itself would be full of life, yet they would refuse it, and so bring upon themselves a ten-fold death. As a sort of experiment in his work, he was called upon first to go and speak to King Ahaz, that wicked king. He knew in his own soul that what he had to say would be rejected; but, nevertheless, at the command of God, he went to speak to the king. He was told where he would meet him. God knows where to send His faithful servants. He knows how to adapt the message with great speciality to the individual case of each person who is within sound of the preacher’s voice; and He knows how to adapt even the voice itself to the ear of every hearer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
No fixity without faith
These words furnish us with a warning and an encouragement.
I. GOD DESERVES TO BE BELIEVED.
1. He is God; and being God, He cannot lie.
2. His Word always has been true.
3. He has no motive for being untrue.
4. The honour of God is involved in His veracity.
5. Suppose even for a moment that we could not trust in the truthfulness of God, what would be left for us to trust to? When rocks move, what stands firm?
II. SOME ARE NOT WILLING TO BELIEVE GOD. That is clear by the fear expressed in the text: “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” Believing is a matter of the will. God’s grace works faith, not upon us, but in us. God works in us to will and to do; and in the willing He leads us up to believing. We voluntarily believe; and certainly men voluntarily disbelieve. Why is this, this strange unwillingness of some men, nay, in a sense of all men, to believe in God?
1. They are willing to believe other things.
2. Another thing is significant, that men cling tenaciously to faith in themselves.
3. Instead of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life, some prefer an emotional religion.
4. Some stubbornly suffer under unbelief.
5. I notice, too, that such people demand this and that of God, beyond what He has revealed.
III. FAITH IS NOT A THING TO BE DESPISED. Have you never heard people say, “Oh, they preach up faith, you know”? “Well, what is faith?” “Well, it is just believing so-and-so.” Faith is a most wonderful thing, for--
1. It is a fair index of the heart.
2. A sure proof of a change of mind.
3. It inaugurates purity of life.
4. It is faith that leads to prayer, and prayer is the very breath of God in man.
5. It is faith that glorifies God.
IV. THOSE WHO REFUSE TO EXERCISE FAITH WILL MISS MANY GREAT PRIVILEGES. I might mention many, but the text gives us the one which I will dwell upon: “If ye will not believe, surely he shall not be established.”
1. It means, first, that those who believe not will miss establishment in comfort.
2. Ye shall never enjoy establishment in judgment. There are many persons who do not know what to believe; they heard one man the other day, and they thought that he spoke very cleverly, and they agreed with him. They heard another the next day, who was rather more clever, and he went the other way, so they went with him. Poor souls, driven to and fro, never knowing what is what! “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established”; you shall be like the moon, that is never two days alike; you shall seem to believe this, and to believe that, and yet really believe nothing.
3. Next, we want an establishment in conduct.
4. So it is also with establishment in hope.
5. We want to be established in spiritual vigour and strength. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The principle of true permanence
The principle of true permanence is here shown to be a holding of Divine truth. “He who confides in God will abide.” (B. Blake, B. D.)
Holding and being held
If Judah does not hold fast to his God, he will lose his fast hold by losing the country in which he dwells, the ground beneath his feet. (F. Delitzsch.)
Ahaz a representative of double-mindedness
Ahaz was a mixed character. He has been convicted in history of being an idolater as well as a professor of the true religion. He was therefore the representative of double-mindedness, a halting between two opinions, that double-mindedness which is unstable, and which cannot excel. Probably Isaiah, marking the workings of his countenance under the delivery of this communication, saw signs of fear, doubt, hesitancy: the king did not spring at the word with access of energy and with the confidence of inspiration; so the prophet, quick to detect all facial signs, blessed with the insight that follows the spirit in all its withdrawment, said instantly, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
Unbelief undermines character
To take an illustration from architecture, materialism cuts out the foundation of the soul structure just where the strain comes. We are told that the lamentable disaster to the Campanile of St. Mark’s at Venice was due to the action of the Loggia architects in cutting out the stone coping in its whole length, thus making a wound on the side, where the pressure was severest, half a yard deep and half a yard high. If this be true, it is not remarkable that the massive tower came down bodily. Neither is the downfall of many a man remarkable to us when we come to know how his faith in God had been utterly destroyed. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
The power of faith
Lord Wolseley said, “Give me 20,000 fanatics and I would march across Europe.” Grotius, in describing the success of the Dutch in snapping the Spanish yoke, gives this as the secret of their prowess, “Believing that they could do it they did it.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God
God’s grace towards the wayward
Jehovah does not scorn to call Himself the God of this son of David who so hardens himself.
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
A critical moment
In this hour when Isaiah stands before Ahaz, the fate of the Jewish people is decided for more than two thousand years. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
But Ahaz said, I will not ask
Why did Ahaz refuse to ask a sign?
Ahaz who looked on Jehovah not as his God, but only (like any of his heathen neighbours) as the god of Judaea, and as such inferior in the god of Assyria, and who had determined to apply to the King of Assyria, or perhaps had already applied to him as a more trustworthy helper than Jehovah in the present strait, declines to ask a sign, excusing himself by a canting use of the words of Moses, “Thou shalt not tempt Jehovah.” He refused the sign, because he knew it would confirm the still struggling voice of his conscience; and that voice he had resolved not to obey, since it bade him give up the Assyrian, and trust in Jehovah henceforth. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
A secret disaffection to God
A secret disaffection to God is often disguised with the specious colours of respect to Him. (M. Henry.)
Making a decision
How often men, like Ahaz, arrive at decisions which are irrevocable and unspeakably momentous!
1. To have to make decisions that may be solemn in both these senses is one of the things that make the position of a ruler or statesmen so serious.
2. Every man is at some juncture celled to make a decision, the results of which to him individually will be of unspeakable importance; e.g., the young ruler. Every one of you will at some moment be called to decide for or against Christ, and the decision will be final and irreversible. The test may come to you in the shape of a temptation, appealing to some passion of the mind or lust of the flesh, and your eternal destiny may be determined by the manner in which you deal with that one temptation.
3. Like a railway train we are continually arriving at “points,” and the manner in which we “take” them affects our whole after career. (R. A. Bertram.)
Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary thy God also?
The work and experience of the prophet and the Gospel minister in dealing with men are similar.
I. IT IS NO SMALL SIN TO WEARY GOD’S PROPHETS AND PREACHERS. They are His ambassadors.
II. IT IS INFINITELY WORSE TO WEARY GOD, whose hand holds their life and destiny. God is patient. This is evident from Scripture and observation. Exodus 34:6-7; 2 Peter 3:9.) Consider also the history of nations and individuals and of our own life.
III. GOD’S PATIENCE MAY BE WEARIED OUT by indifference, obstinacy, procrastination, backsliding. The sinner is in present danger of doing this. Others have done it in Scripture and history. Application--The axe is laid at the root of the tree; make haste to repent. (Homiletic Review.)
Ahaz refused to ask a sign, probably wishing to avoid as much as possible further intercourse with Isaiah, who, he feared, would reprove him for his vices and idolatry.
1. That which seems specially to have wearied God in the instance of Ahaz was, the sinning yet more in a season of distress.
2. There is a likelihood that his offence may be copied, and that, too, not merely in the general, but even in minute particulars. God became wearied by a repetition of the sin when He had tried by calamities to produce its abandonment. It does not seem that there was ever the least pause in his wickedness. God smote him, but he went on frowardly. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The house of David weary the long suffering of God by letting Him exhaust all the means of their correction without effect. (F. Delitzsch.)
1. The great God is pleased to consider the indignities and injuries done to His servants as done to Himself.
2. Beware then of wearying God by refusing to comply with the administrations and offers He gives you by His servants; but now, while it is called today, hearken to His voice and obey His call. (R. Macculloch.)
Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign
God’s sign to King Ahaz
Perhaps more perplexity has been produced among commentators by this passage than by any other in Old Testament prophecy.
The chief difficulties of the passage may be stated as follows: Does the prophecy refer to some event which was soon to occur, or does it refer exclusively to some event in the distant future? If it refers to some event which was soon to occur, what event was it? Who was the child intended, and who the virgin who should bring forth the child?
1. The first step toward the unravelling of the prophet’s meaning is to determine the exact significance of the words. What, then, is the meaning of the word אוֹף, which is translated “sign”? Delitzsch defines the word as
“a thing, event, or act which may serve to guarantee the Divine certainty of some other thing, event, or act.” It does not of necessity denote a miracle. For example, in Genesis 17:11, circumcision is said to be a “sign,” or token. The context, together with the nature of the thing, event, or act, must decide whether the אוֹח is a miracle or not. All that is necessary to constitute a “sign” to Ahaz is that some assurance shall be given which Jehovah alone can give. And the certain prediction of future events is the prerogative of Jehovah alone.
2. We turn now to the word עַלְסָח, translated “virgin” and shall try to find its exact meaning. The derivation of it from עָלִם, to hide, to conceal, is now generally abandoned. Its most probable derivation is from עָלִם, to grow, to be strong, and hence the word means one who has come to a mature or marriageable age. Hengstenberg contends that it means one in an unmarried state; Gesenius holds that it means simply being of marriageable age, the age of puberty. However this may be, it seems most natural to take the word in this place as meaning one who was then unmarried and who could be called a virgin. But we must guard against the exegetical error of supposing that the word here used implies that the person spoken of must be a virgin at the time when the child is born. All that is said is that she who is now a virgin shall bear a son.
3. Let us now proceed to consider the interpretation of the prophecy itself. The opinions which have generally prevailed with regard to it are three--
1. The context demands it. If there was no allusion in the New Testament to the prophecy, and we should contemplate the narrative here in its surrounding circumstances, we should naturally feel that the prophet must mean this. If the seventh and eighth chapters, connected as they are, were all that we had, we should be compelled to admit a reference to something in the prophet’s time. The record in Isaiah 8:1-4, following in such close connection, seems to be intended as a public assurance of the fulfilment of what is here predicted respecting the deliverance of the land from the threatened invasion. The prediction was that she who is a virgin shall bear a son. Now Jehovah alone can foreknow this, and He pronounces the birth of this child as the sign which shall be given.
2. The thing to be given to Ahaz was a sign or token that a present danger would be averted. How could the fact that the Messiah would come seven hundred years later prove this?
Let us now look at the reasons for believing that it contains also a reference to the Messiah.
1. The first argument we present is derived from the passage in Is
9:7. There is an undoubted connection between that passage and the oneunder consideration, as almost all critical scholars admit. And it seems that nothing short of a Messianic reference will explain the words. Some have asserted that the undoubted and exclusive reference to Messiah in this verse (9:7) excludes any local reference in the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.But so far from this being the ease, we believe it is an instance of what Bacon calls the “springing, germinant fulfilment of prophecy.” And we believe that it can be proved that all prophecies take their start from historical facts. Isaiah here (Isaiah 9:7) drops the historical drapery and rises to a mightier and more majestic strain.
2. The second and crowning argument is taken from the language of the inspired writer Matthew (Matthew 1:22-23). (D. M. Sweets.)
Who was the “virgin” and who the son?
1. Some have supposed that the wife of Ahaz was meant by the “virgin,” and that his son Hezekiah was the child meant. There is an insuperable difficulty against this view. Ahaz’s reign extended over sixteen years (2 Kings 16:2), and Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he succeeded 2 Kings 18:2). Consequently, at this time Hezekiah could not have been less than nine years old. It has been supposed that Ahaz had a second wife, and that the son was hers. This is a mere supposition, supported by nothing in the narrative, while it makes Isaiah 8:1-4 haveno connection with what precedes or follows.
2. Others have supposed that some virgin who was then present before Ahaz was designated, and they make the meaning this: “As surely as this virgin shall conceive and bear a son, so surely shall the land be forsaken of its kings.” This is too vague for the definite language used, and gives no explanation of the incident in chap. 8. about Maher-shalal-hash-baz.
3. Another opinion is that the virgin was not an actual but an ideal virgin.” “Michaelis thus presents this view: “By the time when one who is yet a virgin can bring forth (i.e., in nine months)
, all will be happily changed and the present impending danger so completely passed away that if you were to name the child you would call him Immanuel.” Surely this would not be a sign or pledge of anything to Ahaz. Besides, it was not a birth possible, but an actual birth, which was spoken of.
4. But the view which is most in keeping with the entire context, and which presents the fewest difficulties, is that the prophet’s own son is intended. This view does require the supposition that Isaiah married a second wife, who at the time of this prophecy was still a virgin and whom he subsequently married. “But there is no improbability in the supposition that the mother of his son, Shear-jashub, was deceased, and that Isaiah was about again to be married. This is the only supposition which this view demands. Such an occurrence was surely not uncommon. All other explanations require more suppositions, and suppositions more unnatural than this. Our supposition does no violence to the narrative, and certainly falls in best with all the facts. We would then identify Immanuel (as Ahaz and his contemporaries would understand the name to be applied) with Maher-shalal-hash-baz. With this view harmonises what the prophet says in Isaiah 8:18 : “Behold, I and the children whom Jehovah hath given meare for signs and for wonders in Israel from Jehovah of hosts, which dwelleth in Mount Zion.” It is no objection to this view that another name than “Immanuel” was given to the child. It was a common thing to give two names to children, especially when one name was symbolic, as Immanuel was. Jesus Christ was never called Immanuel as a proper name, though almost all scholars agree that the prophecy referred to Him in some sense. (D. M. Sweets.)
A double tolerance in Isaiah’s prophecies
The careful, critical student of Isaiah will find this thing common in his writings, namely, that he commences with a prophecy having reference to some remarkable delivery which was soon to occur, and terminates it by a statement of events connected with a higher deliverance under the Messiah. His mind becomes absorbed; the primary object is forgotten in the contemplation of the more remote and glorious event. (D. M. Sweets.)
The Hebrew word rendered “virgin” in the A.V. would be more accurately rendered “damsel.” It means a young woman of marriageable age, and is not the word which would be naturally used for virgin, if that was the point which it was desired to emphasise. (Prof. A. F. Kirkpatrick.)
Our English word “maiden” comes as near, probably, as any to the Hebrew word. (Speaker’s Commentary.)
The Hebrew lexicons tell us that the word almah, here translated virgin, may denote any mature young woman, whether a virgin or not. So far as its derivation is concerned, this is undoubtedly the case; but in Biblical usage, the word denotes a virgin in every case where its meaning can be determined. The instances are, besides the text, that in the account of Rebekah (Genesis 24:43), that of the sister of Moses (Exodus 2:8), the word used in the plural (Psalms 68:25-26; Song of Solomon 1:3; Song of Solomon 6:8), its use in the titles of Psalms (Psalms 46:1-11; 1 Chronicles 15:20), and its use in Proverbs 30:19. The last passage is the one chiefly relied on to prove that the word may denote a woman not a virgin; but, “the way of a man with a maid” there spoken of is something wonderful, incapable of being traced or understood, like the way of an eagle in the air, a serpent on a rock, a ship in the sea, and it is only in its application to that wonderful human experience, first love between a man and a virgin, that this description can find a full and complete significance. The use of the word in the Bible may not be full enough in itself to prove that almah necessarily means virgin, but it is sufficient to show that Septuagint translators probably chose deliberately and correctly, when they chose to translate the word, in this passage, by the Greek word that distinctively denotes a virgin, and that Matthew made no mistake in so understanding their translation. (Prof. W. J. Beecher, D. D.)
Deliverance by a lowly agent
Not Ahaz, not some high-born son of Ahaz’s house, is to have the honour of rescuing his country from its peril: a “nameless maiden of lowly rank” (Delitzsch) is to be the mother of the future deliverer. Ahaz and the royal house are thus put aside; it is not till Isaiah 9:7 --spoken at least a year subsequently--that we are able to gather that the Deliverer is to be a descendant of David’s line. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
God’s sign to Ahaz
The king having refused to ask a sign, the prophet gives him one, by renewing the promise of deliverance (Isaiah 7:8-9), and connecting it with the birth of a child, whose significant name is made a symbol of the Divine interposition, and his progress a measure of the subsequent events. Instead of saying that God would be present with them to deliver them, he says the child shall be called Immanuel (God with us); instead of mentioning a term of years, he says, before the child is able to distinguish good from evil; instead of saying that until that time the land shall lie waste, he represents the child as eating curds and honey, spontaneous products, here put in opposition to the fruits of cultivation. At the same time, the form of expression is descriptive. Instead of saying that the child shall experience all this, he represents its birth and infancy as actually passing in his sight; he sees the child brought forth and named Immanuel; he sees the child eating curds and honey till a certain age. But very different opinions are held as to the child here alluded to. Some think it must be a child about to be born, in the course of nature, to the prophet himself. Others think that two distinct births are referred to, one that of Shear-jashub, the prophet’s son, and the other Christ, the Virgin’s Son. Yet others see only a prophetic reference to the birth of Messiah. (J. A. Alexander.)
A prediction of the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ
While some diversity of judgment ought to be expected and allowed, in relation to the secondary question (of the child of the period that is referred to), there is no ground, grammatical, historical, or logical, for doubt as to the main point, that the Church in all ages has been right in regarding this passage as a signal and explicit prediction of the miraculous conception and nativity of Jesus Christ. (J. A. Alexander.)
The figure of Immanuel an ideal one
The language of Isaiah forces upon us the conviction that the figure of Immanuel is an ideal one, projected by him upon the shifting future--upon the nearer future in chap. 7, upon the remoter future in chap. 9, but grasped by the prophet as a living and real personality, the guardian of his country now, its deliverer and governor hereafter. The circumstances under which the announcement is made to Ahaz are such as apparently exclude deliberation in the formation of the idea; it is the unpremeditated creation of his inspired imagination. This view satisfies all the requirements of the narrative. The birth of the child being conceived as immediate affords a substantial ground for the assurance conveyed to Ahaz; and the royal attributes with which the child speedily appears to be endued, and which forbid hit identification with any actual contemporary of the prophet’s, become at once intelligible. It is the Messianic King, whose portrait is here for the first time in the Old Testament sketched directly. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Immanuel, the Messiah
It is the Messiah whom the prophet here beholds as about to be born, then in chap. 9 as born, and in chap. 11 as reigning. (F. Delitzsch.)
What sign could the distant birth of Christ be to Ahaz?
The answer is plain, as evidenced by the prophet turning away from the king who repudiated, his privileges to the “house of David,” to which in all its generations the promise was given. The king was endeavouring to bring about the destruction of “the land,” but his efforts in that direction would be useless until the destiny of the house of David was fulfilled. The virgin must bear the promised Son; Judah is immortal till that event is accomplished. It matters not whether it is near or far, the family and lineage of David must survive till then. Hence the sign was plain enough, or ought to have been, to Ahaz and the people in general. The closing portion of this section of Scripture fully discloses the destruction that should befall Judah as well as Israel, but the final fall of Judah is after the birth of Immanuel. (F. T. Bassett, M. A.)
The virgin mother
To maintain that Isaiah did not mean to say that a certain Person in the future was to be born of a virgin, is not the same thing as to hold that Christ was not so born as a fact. (F. H. Woods, B. D.)
The mystery of the sign
The “sign” is on the one side a mystery staring threateningly at the house of David, and on the other side it is a mystery rich in comfort to the prophet and all believers; and it is couched in such enigmatic terms in order that they who harden themselves may not understand it, and in order that believers may so much the more long to understand it. (F. Delitzsch.)
A new thing in the earth
I. THE PLEDGE PROPOSED.
1. The condescension which God displayed on this occasion was very remarkable.
2. There may be a semblance of regard for the honour of God, while the heart is in a state of hostility against Him.
3. God may sustain a certain relationship to those who are not His in reality.
II. THE INDIGNANT REBUKE ADMINISTERED. (Isaiah 7:13.)
1. The persons to whom it was addressed. Not the king only, but the whole nation; which shows that they, or a large portion of them, were like-minded with their ungodly ruler. They are called “the house of David,” a designation which was doubtless intended to remind them of his character, and the great things which God had done for him. Well would it have been if he by whom David’s throne was now occupied had been imbued with David’s spirit, and walked in David’s ways; and that his influence had been exerted in inducing his subjects to do so likewise.
2. The feeling by which it was prompted. It was evidently that of holy indignation.
3. The grounds on which it rested. There were two things especially by which God was dishonoured on this occasion.
III. THE GLORIOUS EVENT PREDICTED. As to this striking prediction, in itself considered, there are several particulars which it sets before us--
1. The miraculous conception of Christ.
2. The essential Deity of Christ.
3. The design of the coming of Christ. For Him to be called “Immanuel, God with us,” shows that He appeared to espouse our cause.
4. The lowly condition of Christ. “Butter and honey shall He eat,” etc.
5. The moral purity of Christ. Although the expression, “before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good,” has literal reference to His attaining the age of discernment, yet it may be applied with special propriety to the spotless sanctity of His character. He knew, in a sense in which no one else ever knew, how to refuse the evil and choose the good. (Anon.)
The birth of Christ
I. THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
1. We see here a miraculous conception.
2. Notice next, the humble parentage. Though she was not a princess, yet her name, Mary, by interpretation, signifies a princess; and though she is not the queen of heaven, yet she has a right to be reckoned amongst the queens of earth; and though she is not the lady of our Lord, she does walk amongst the renowned and mighty women of Scripture. Yet Jesus Christ’s birth was a humble one. Strange that the Lord of glory was not born in a palace! Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a habitation for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend?
3. We must make one more remark upon this birth of Christ, and that remark shall be concerning a glorious birthday. With all the humility that surrounded the birth of Christ, there was yet very much that was glorious, very much that was honourable. No other man ever had such a birthday as Jesus Christ had. Of whom had prophets and seers ever written as they wrote of Him? Whose name is graven on so many tablets as His? Who had such a scroll of prophecy, all pointing to Him as Jesus Christ, the God- man? Then recollect, concerning His birth, when did God ever hang a fresh lamp in the sky to announce the birth of a Caesar? Caesars may come, and they may die, but stars shall never prophesy their birth. When did angels ever stoop from heaven, and sing choral symphonies on the birth of a mighty man? Christ’s birth is not despicable, even if we consider the visitors who came around His cradle.
II. THE FOOD OF CHRIST. “Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.” Our translators were certainly very good Scholars, and God gave them much wisdom, so that they craned up our language to the majesty of the original, but here they were guilty of very great inconsistency. I do not see how butter and honey can make a child choose good, and refuse evil. If it is so, I am sure butter and honey ought to go up greatly in price, for good men are ver much required. But it does not say, in the original, “Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the owl, and choose the good,” but, “Butter and honey shall He eat, till He shall know how to refuse the evil, and choose the good,” or, better still, “Butter and honey shall He eat, when He shall know how to refuse the evil, and choose the good.” We shall take that translation, and just try to elucidate the meaning couched in the words. They should teach us--
1. Christ’s proper humanity. When He would convince His disciples that He was flesh, and not spirit, He took a piece of a broiled fish and of a honeycomb, and ate as others did.
2. The butter and honey teach us, again, that Christ was to be born in times of peace. Such products are not found in Judea in times of strife; the ravages of war sweep away all the fair fruits of industry.
3. There is another thought here. “Butter and honey shall He eat when He shall know how to refuse the evil, and choose the good.” This is to teach us the precocity of Christ, by which I mean that, even when He was a child, even when He lived upon butter and honey, which is the food of children, He Knew me evil from the good.
4. Perhaps it may seem somewhat playful, but I must say how sweet it is to my soul to believe that, as Christ lived upon butter and honey, surety butter and honey drop from His lips. Sweet are His words unto our souls, more to be desired than honey or the honeycomb.
5. And perhaps I ought not to have forgotten to say, that the effect of Christ’s eating butter and honey was to show us that He would not in His lifetime differ from other men in His outward guise. Butter and honey Christ ate, and butter and honey may His people eat; nay, whatsoever God in His providence gives unto them, that is to be the food of the child Christ.
III. THE NAME OF CHRIST. “And shall call His name Immanuel.”
1. The Virgin Mary called her son Immanuel that there might be a meaning in His name
2. Would you know this name most sweetly you must know it by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The responsibility of revelation
1. This Annunciation to Ahaz was a great opportunity for him--a crisis in his spiritual life. He was getting entangled in idolatrous ways, involved in disloyal relations with the Assyrian monarchy, and had already seriously compromised himself in sacrilegious appropriation of temple treasure. And here was a golden opportunity to break through his bends, and cast himself loose, once for all from his unworthy associations. He was only asked to trust on for a little while longer, to watch events, and, as they fell out in a certain direction, to recognise that they were of God’s special ordering, and that they constituted a claim on his obedience and trust in God. But he was incapable of profiting by God’s goodwill towards him. He rejected the Divine overtures of prosperity and peace; and, while God still carried out the dictates of His purpose, they came to Ahaz without blessing and without relief. His enemies were removed, but a direr foe stood in their place; he could not but learn that God was faithful, but the word that he compelled God to keep was a word of retribution.
2. And if we were capable of the combined mental and spiritual effort that such a course would require, and were to sit down calmly and without prejudice to dissect our past lives, and with unerring judgment were to separate cause from effect in every case, and to trace each important issue of life to its true turning point, how often, probably, should we find that the unsatisfactory features of the past were largely due to our neglect of some revelation--some annunciation--of God! By experience, by example, by warning, by discipline; by difficulties significantly placed in our path, or by clearances unexpectedly but unmistakably made; by words in season, out of season; by a thousand things, and in countless ways, we have had annunciations from God--plain indications of His will and pleasure concerning us, and no indistinct prophecies of things that shall be hereafter. And our judgment upon a review of the whole is this--that our true happiness and our genuine success have been in very exact proportion to our faithfulness or our unfaithfulness in reading the signs of God. (E. T. Marshall, M. A.)
The mercy of God
The first word of this text joins the anger of God and His mercy together. God chides and rebukes the king Ahaz by the prophet; He is angry with him, and therefore” He will give him a sign--a seal of mercy.
I. GOD TAKES ANY OCCASION TO SHOW MERCY.
II. THE PARTICULAR WAY OF HIS MERCY DECLARED HERE. “The Lord shall give you a sign.”
III. WHAT THIS SIGN WAS. “Behold a virgin,” etc. (J. Donne.)
Miracle of miracles
King Ahaz saith, I will not tempt God, and, making religion his pretence against religion, being a most wilful and wicked man, would not. We may learn by this wretched king that those that are least fearful before danger are most basely fearful in danger (Isaiah 7:2). We may see the conflict between the infinite goodness of God and the inflexible stubbornness of man; God’s goodness striving with man’s badness. When they would have no sign, yet God will give them a sign. Behold.
It is atheistical profaneness to despise any help that God in His wisdom thinketh necessary to support our weak faith withal. The house of David was afraid they should be extinct by these two great enemies of the Church; but, saith Isaiah, “A virgin of the house of David shall conceive a son,” and how then can the house of David be extinct? Heaven hath said it; earth cannot disannul it. God hath said it, and all the creatures in the world cannot annihilate it. How doth friendship between God and us arise from hence, that Christ is God in our nature?
1. Sin, the cause of division, is taken away.
2. Our nature is pure in Christ, and therefore in Christ God loveth us.
3. Christ being our head of influence conveyeth the same Spirit that is in Him to all His members, and, little by little, by that Spirit, purgeth His Church and maketh her fit for communion with Himself.
4. The second person is God in our nature for this end, to make God and us friends. (R. Sibbes.)
Christ in prophecy
You will find that the presence of one Person pervades the whole book If you go into a British navy yard, or on board a British vessel, and pick up a piece of rope, you will find that there is one little red thread which runs through the whole of it--through every foot of cordage which belongs to the British government; so, if a piece of rope is stolen, it may be cut rote inch pieces, but every piece has the mark which tells where it belongs. It is so with the Bible. You may separate it into a thousand parts, and yet you will find one thought--one great fact running through the whole of it. You will find it constantly pointing and referring to one great Personage. Around this one mighty Personage this whole book revolves. “To Him give all the prophets witness.” (H. L. Hastings.)
Shear-jashub; Maher-shalal-hash-baz; Immanuel
The three names taken together would mean this--the Assyrians would spoil the countries of Syria and Ephraim, and though they would threaten Judah, God would be with His people, and save them, and so a remnant would For left which would return at once to religious faith and to national prosperity. For these two last are almost always associated in the prophet’s view. (F. H. Woods, B. D.)
A prophecy of the Messiah
When Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the Jews saw quite clearly that this was indeed nothing less than the claim to be Divine, and they cried out that this was blasphemy. And what was His reply? Jesus reminded His hearers that the earliest judges and leaders of the people of Israel, as testified by the language of their Scriptures, had been called gods. “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods? If He called them gods, unto whom the Word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken; say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” The judges and rulers of the early days of Israel had been called gods because their office and function was just this--to represent God on earth to men, to reflect His character, and do His will, and lead His people. They often failed to do this because they were merely human. In some cases they were false to their trust, and then God’s vengeance overtook them. Yet they pointed to that one far-off Divine event when One who should perfectly fulfil that name was to interpose for the world’s deliverance. And thus, just as the implied prophecy in calling men gods was to be one day fulfilled, so the prophecy of Isaiah before us was also a prophecy of that same later far-off event, when one who was in every sense “God with us” should come to satisfy the needs and the longings of the human heart. (Canon Ainger.)
Immanuel, the Sympathiser
“God with us.” This means omnipotence with us, omniscience with us, perfection with us, and the love that never fails. Some of us, perhaps, have tried, in conformity with the passion for getting rid of the supernatural that marks the latest struggle of the scientific world, to construct a new religion out of the old, in which the same pathetic and lovely figure as before shall be placed beside us for our example, but from whom the aureole of Deity has been taken away; they have been trying to find all that life needs in the presence only of a fellow man, however superior to ourselves in holiness and purity. There are moments in our lives when we feel ourselves face to face with sin, in the presence of sorrow or of death from which no man can deliver us. In the sad hours of your life, it has been said, the recollection of that Man you read of in your childhood, the Man of sorrows, the great Sympathiser with human woes and sufferings, rises up before you. I know it is a reality for you then, for you feel it to be not only beautiful but true. In such moments does it seem to you as if Christ were merely a person who eighteen hundred years ago made certain journeying between Judea and Galilee? Can such a recollection fill up the blank which some present grief, the loss of some friend, has made in your heart? It does not. It never did this for you or for anyone. But the comfort that came to you from the thought of Him may be safely trusted not to betray you, for that voice that came to you in your anguish says, “You may trust Me, you may lean upon Me, for I know all things in heaven and earth. I and My Father are one.” (Canon Ainger.)
Nature, God, and Jesus are words often used to designate the same power or being, but are suggestive of very different associations. The word “nature” veils from our view the glory of the Godhead, and removes His personality from our consciousness. It removes the Deity to a distance from us, but Jesus, the newer and better name, the latest revelation, brings Him nearer to us. The associations of the name Jesus, as a name of God, are most tender and endearing. Jesus does not remind us of blind power or unfeeling skill, as the word nature does; nor yet of overwhelming greatness, distant force and vast intelligence, the conception of which strains our faculties, and the realisation of which crushes our power, as the word God does. The name of Jesus reminds us chiefly of sympathy, kindheartedness, brotherly tenderness, and one-ness with ourselves. The word God presents a picture of the Deity to the mind, in which those attributes of the Divine character which are in themselves most removed from us, occupy the most prominent position, and are bathed with a flood of light, while those features of character, by which the Divine Spirit touches the delicate chords of human affections, are dimly seen amid the darkening shadows of the background. The picture is reversed in Jesus. The great attributes are buried in the light of love, as the stars are covered by the light of day. (Evan Lewis, B. A.)
“Immanuel,” a stimulus to the prophet himself
Isaiah may have meant the Name to speak to him as well as to the nation. He may have desired to bring the message of the Name into his personal and family life. For, after all, a prophet is but a man of like passions with” ourselves, subject to the same infirmities and fluctuations of spirit, “warmed and cooled, by the same winter and summer.” There were times, no doubt, when even Isaiah lost faith in his own function, in his own message, when the very man who had assured a sinful nation that God was with them could hardly believe that God was with him or could even cry out, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” And in such moments as these, when, weary of the world and weary of himself, he lost courage and hope, he may have felt that it would be well for him to have that in his very household which would help to recall the truths he had recognised and taught in hours of clearer insight, help to restore the faith with which he had first sprung up to greet the Divine message. We may believe that there were many darkened hours in his experience, hours of broken faith and defeated hope, when he would fall back on his earlier faith and brighter hopes; when he would call his little son to him, and, as he fondled him, would repeat his name, Immanuel, Immanuel--God-with-us, God-with-us,--and find in that Name a charm potent to restore his waning trust in the gracious presence and gracious will of Jehovah. (“Niger” in Expositor.)
The child Immanuel
Isaiah may have felt, as we feel, that God is with a little child in quite another sense, in a more pathetic sense, than He is with grown men. To him, as to us, their innocence, their loveliness, and, above all, their love, may have been the most exquisite revelation of the purity and love of God. “Heaven lies about their infancy”; and in this heaven the prophet may often have taken refuge from his cares, despondencies, and fears. Every child born into the world brings this message to us, reminds us that God is with us indeed and of a truth; for whence did this new, pure, tender life come if not from the central Fountain of life and purity and love? And from this point of view Isaiah’s “Immanuel” is but the ancient analogue of our Lord’s tender words: Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (“Niger” in Expositor.)
The text is prophecy of the Messiah (Matthew 1:23).
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH IT WAS SPOKEN.
II. ITS FULFILMENT. For more than seven hundred years devout Jews waited for the Divinely predicted sign. Then came the day which Christmas commemorates,
III. ITS PRACTICAL IMPORT. To Christians this prophecy is significant of those blessings which are pledged to us in Christ. In Him we have the assurance of God being--
1. With us in the sense of on our side. Nature shows us God as above us; law shows us God as against us, because we have made ourselves His enemies; but the Gospel shows us God with us to defend us from the power of sin and to deliver us from the penalty of sin.
2. With us in the sense of in our nature. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”; became one of ourselves, shared with us--
(a) The Divine sympathy, because He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”
(b) The Divine salvation, because He has “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
(c) The Divine succour, because He “ever liveth to make intercession” for us; and His parting word to His Church is, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (T. H. Barnett.)
God with us, though His presence is not always realised
Professor Tyndall has told us how, as he wandered through the higher Alpine pastures in the earlier months of the present summer (1879), he was often surprised to find at evening lovely flowers in full bloom where in the morning he had seen only a wide thin sheet of snow. Struck with the strange phenomenon, unable to believe that a few hours of even the most fervent sunshine had drawn these exquisite flowers to their full maturity, he carefully scraped away the snow from a few inches of pasture and examined the plants that were growing beneath it. And, to his surprise and delight, he found that the powers of life had been with them even while they seemed wrapped in death; that the sun had reached them through the snow; that the snow itself had both held down the rising warmth of the earth upon them, and sheltered them from the cold biting winds which might else have destroyed them. There they stood, each full grown, every flower maturely developed, though the green calyx was carefully folded over the delicately coloured petals; and no sooner was the snow removed, no sooner did the rays of the sun touch the green enfolding calyx, than it opened and revealed the perfect beauty it had shrouded and preserved. And so, doubtless, we shall one day find that God, our Sun, has been with us even during the winter of our self-discontent, all through the hours of apparent failure and inertness, quickening in us a life of which we gave but little sign, maturing and making us perfect by the things we suffered; so that when the hindering veils are withdrawn, and the full light of His love shines upon us, at that gracious touch we too may disclose a beauty of which we had not dreamed, and of Which for long we gave no promise. (“Niger” in Expositor.)
Life’s best amulet
A Mohammedan negro in Africa was once taken prisoner in war. He wore suspended around his neck an amulet or charm. When this was taken from him he became almost frenzied with grief, and begged that it be returned to him He was willing to sacrifice his right hand for it. It was his peculiar treasure, which he valued as life itself. It was a very simple affair--A little leather case enclosing a slip of paper on which was inscribed in Arabic characters one word--“God.” He believed that the wearing of this charm secured for him a blessed immunity from ill. When it was returned to him he was so overjoyed that the tears streamed from his eyes, and falling to the ground he kissed the feet of the man who restored to him his treasure. That poor negro had but the bare name--we have God! Not a distant monarch seated lonesomely away from any human voice or footstep. There is one name that ought to be dearest of all to every Christian--“Immanuel.” It means not a Deity remote or hidden, but “God with us.” (Christian Endeavor.)
God with us
An old poet has represented the Son of God as having the stars for His crown, the sky for His azure mantle, the clouds for His bow, and the fire for His spear. He rode forth in His majestic robes of glory, but one day resolved to alight on the earth, and descended, undressing Himself on the way. When asked what He would wear, He replied, with a smile, “that He had new clothes making down below.” (Gates of Imagery.)
The Lord shall bring upon thee . . . even the king of Assyria
The prophecy fulfilled
The calling in of Assur laid the foundation for the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah not less than for that of the kingdom of Israel Ahaz thereby became a tributary vassal of the Assyrian king, and although Hezekiah again became free from Assyria through the miraculous help of Jehovah, nevertheless what Nebuchadnezzar did was only the accomplishment of the frustrated undertaking of Sennacherib.
Assyria and the Jews
If Isaiah here, in chaps, 7-12, looks upon Assyria absolutely as the universal empire (2 Kings 23:29; Ezra 6:22), this is so far true, seeing that the four empires from the Babylonian to the Roman are really only the unfolding of the beginning which had its beginning in Assyria. And if, here in chap. 7, he thinks of the son of the virgin as growing up under the Assyrian oppressions, this is also so far true, since Jesus was actually born in a time in which the Holy Land, deprived of its earliest fulness of blessing, found itself under the supremacy of the universal empire, and in a condition which went back to the unbelief of Ahaz as its ultimate cause. Besides He, who in the fulness of time became flesh, does truly lead an ideal life in the Old Testament history. The fact that the house and people of David did not perish in the Assyrian calamities is really, as chap. 8 presupposes, to be ascribed to His presence, which, although not yet in bodily form, was nevertheless active. Thus is solved the contradiction between the prophecy and the history of its fulfilment. (F. Delitzsch.)
Judah’s loss of national independence
From this application of Ahaz to Tiglath-Pileser was to date the transition of Judah “to a servile state from which it was never permanently freed, the domination of Assyria being soon succeeded by that of Egypt, and this by that of Babylon, Persia, Syria, and Rome, the last ending only in the downfall of the State, and that general dispersion which continues to this day. The revolt of Hezekiah, and even longer intervals of liberty in later times, are mere interruptions of the customary and prevailing bondage.” (J. A. Alexander.)
The perspective of prophecy
God makes what was announced by prophecy separate itself in reality into different stages. (E. Konig.)
History and prophecy
Prophecy never seems to forsake the ground of history. However extended the vista which stretches before him, that vista begins at the prophet’s feet. (Bishop Perowne.)
Bees and flies
Bees and swarms of flies are used as a Homeric image for swarms of peoples (Il. 2.87)
. Here the images are likewise emblematic. The Egyptian people, being unusually numerous, is compared to the swarming fly; and the Assyrian people, being warlike and eager for conquest, is compared to the stinging bee, which is so difficult to turn sway Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalms 118:12). The emblems also correspond to the nature of the two countries; the fly to slimy Egypt, which, from being such, abounds in insects (chap. 18:1), and the bee to the more mountainous and woody Assyria, where bee-culture still constitutes one of the principal branches of trade in the present day. (F. Delitzsch.)
Hissing for the fly and the bee
To hiss for them, is to call or summon them, derived from the practice of the bee keepers, who, with a whistle, summoned them from the hives to the open fields, and, by the same means, conducted them home again We are assured by St. Cyril that [the practice] subsisted in Asia down to the fourth and fifth centuries. (J. Kitto, D. D.)
A sentence of doom
I. GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN THE WHOLE EARTH. All governments are but instruments which He uses when and as He pleases (Isaiah 7:17-21). A thought full of comfort for the righteous, of horror for the unrighteous.
II. THE CONSEQUENT INSECURITY OF ALL PROSPERITY THAT IS NOT BASED UPON, AND PROMOTIVE OF, RIGHTEOUSNESS (Isaiah 7:23). Britain will be “Great Britain” only so long as God pleases.
III. WHATEVER CHASTISEMENTS GOD MAY HAVE INFLICTED, HE HAS ALWAYS A MORE TERRIBLE ONE BEHIND (Isaiah 7:17).
IV. Seeing that all these things were threatened against and inflicted upon God’s chosen people, learn that NO MERCY THAT GOD HAS SHOWN US WILL FURNISH ANY IMMUNITY FOR US, IF NOTWITHSTANDING THAT MERCY, WE SIN AGAINST HIM. There is a tendency in our evil hearts to think that because God has been specially good to us, we may sin with less risk than others; but the teaching of the Bible is, that those who “turn the grace of God into lasciviousness” shall be visited with a sorer doom than others. (R. A. Bertram.)
In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired
The hired razor
There is involved the bitterest sarcasm for Ahaz; the cheap knife which he had hired for the deliverance of Judah is hired by the Lord in order to shave Judah wholly and most shamefully.
Shaving the beard
The most shameful of all. The beard is the sign of manly vigour, manliness, and manly dignity. (F. Delitzsch.)
The Lord’s razor
The Bible is the boldest book ever written. There are no similitudes in Ossian or the Iliad or the Odyssey so daring. Its imagery sometimes seems on the verge of the reckless, but only seems so. The fact is that God would startle and arouse men and nations. A tame and limping similitude would fail to accomplish the object. While there are times when He employs in the Bible the gentle dew and the morning cloud and the dove and the daybreak in the presentation of truth, we often find the iron chariot, the lightning, the earth quake, the sword and, in my text, the razor. This keen-bladed instrument has advanced in usefulness with the ages. In Bible times and lands the beard remained uncut save in the seasons of mourning and humiliation, but the razor was always a suggestive symbol. David says of Doeg, his antagonist: “Thy tongue is a sharp razor working deceitfully that is, it pretends to clear the face, but is really used for deadly precision.
I. If God’s judgments are razors, WE HAD BETTER BE CAREFUL HOW WE USE THEM ON OTHER PEOPLE. In careful sheath the domestic weapons are put away, where no one by accident may touch them, and where the hands of children may not touch them. Such instruments must be carefully handled or not handled at all. But how recklessly some people wield the judgments of God. If a man meet with business misfortune, how many there are ready to cry out, “This is a judgment of God upon him because he was unscrupulous, or arrogant, or over reaching, or miserly.” How I do dislike the behaviour of those persons who, when people are unfortunate, say: “I told you so--getting punished--served him right!” With air sometimes supercilious and sometimes Pharisaical, and always blasphemous, they take the razor of Divine judgment and sharpen it on their own hard hearts, and then go to work on men sprawled out at full length under disaster, cutting mercilessly. They begin by soft expressions of sympathy and pity and half praise, and lather the victim all over before they put on the sharp edge.
II. Again, when I read in my text that the Lord shaves, with the hired razor of Assyria, the land of Judea, I bethink myself of THE PRECISION OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE. A razor swung the tenth part of an inch out of the right line means either failure or laceration, but God’s dealings never slip, and they do not miss, by the thousandth part of an inch, the right direction.
III. Further, my text tells us that GOD SOMETIMES SHAVES NATIONS. “In the same day shall the Lord shave with the razor that is hired.” With one sharp sweep He went across Judah, and down went its pride and its power. Assyria was the hired razor against Judah, and Cyrus the hired razor against Babylon, and the Huns the hired razor against the Goths, and there are now many razors that the Lord could hire if, because of our national sins, He should undertake to shave us.
IV. But notice that God is so kind and loving, that WHEN IT IS NECESSARY FOR HIM TO CUT, HE HAS TO GO TO OTHERS FOR THE SHARP-EDGED WEAPON. “In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired.” God is love. God is pity. God is help. God is shelter. God is rescue. There are no sharp edges about Him, no thrusting points, no instruments of laceration. If you want balm for wounds, He has that. If you want salve for Divine eyesight, He has that. But if there is sharp and cutting work to do, which requires a razor, that He hires. God has nothing about Him that hurts, save when dire necessity demands, and then He has to go to someone else to get the instrument. (T. De W. Talmage, D. D.)
Allies and razors
You thought you were buying an ally when you were only hiring a razor by which you were to be rendered naked and made contemptible. (J. Parker, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter