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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 7

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 7-12 The Coming One of The House of David.

It was in accordance with what God had told Isaiah at his calling that success would not be immediate. But Isaiah also knew that past revelation had shown that final deliverance must come through the house of David which had been established for ever (Isaiah 55:3; 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; compare also Genesis 49:10-12). In this he had complete confidence. ‘God has said it, and will He not do it?’ Thus he knew that his task must include the encouraging the house of David to faith in Yahweh, and the proclamation of the final success of that house. And it is in this that he now engaged himself in chapters 7-12.

Chapter 7 The Failure To Believe of the House of David, Resulting In God’s Promise of a Great Sign and Remarkable Birth in the Future Restoring Of That House.

In this section from Isaiah 7:1 to Isaiah 8:10 great emphasis is laid on sons as being signs of what God is going to do. We have Sheerjashub (‘a remnant will return’) in Isaiah 7:3, Immanuel (God with us’) in Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 8:10 and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (haste the spoil, speed the prey) in Isaiah 8:3-4. The first and third are sons of the prophet, the second a son of the Davidic house. The sons of Isaiah are a portent of the judgment that is coming, with the promise that a remnant will return (Isaiah 8:18). But Immanuel (God with us) is the hope for the future, the coming David, although He too will arise when times are bad.

Judah and Jerusalem are at this point being threatened with invasion by Syria and Israel, because they have refused to join an alliance against the Assyrians (see Introduction). But God is in favour of Ahaz’s position in refusing to join the alliance and therefore encourages Ahaz by promising that if he will but trust in Yahweh he will have nothing to fear. God will be with him. And He even offers him a mighty sign.

However, Ahaz spurns the offer with the intention of appealing to Assyria for aid, and God therefore gives him instead a sign that he does not seek or desire, a sign which is a consequence of his refusal. It is a sign of rejection. For it is revealing that from now on his house, the seed born through him. are to be seen as rejected. God will no longer be with him. So the coming Messianic (Anointed) king whom Judah are expecting, instead of being a son of Ahaz, will be supernaturally born. A virginal young woman will produce a child, who will be called Immanuel (God is with us). The idea is that Ahaz’ own seed will have been rejected, and replaced with God’s seed. And through this child God will again be with His people. Meanwhile before such a child would even have time to grow up Syria and Israel will be destroyed, following which Judah will be devastated by Assyria.

We must recognise that this was a crucial moment in the life of the people of God. Prior to this they had remained independent, apart from times when Egypt had exercised their influence, which had been on and off and on the whole relatively benign, but from now on the choice was between independence and trust in God, or submission to the great empires to the north. This was the choice that lay before them. To put this in its historical perspective, Uzziah died around 740/739 BC, Assyria invaded Syria and Israel in 733-32 BC, probably only a year or so after this prophecy, because they had rebelled and refused tribute. Damascus fell in 732 BC, and Samaria in 722 BC. The question was, what would happen to Judah and Jerusalem?


Verses 1-9

God Appeals to Ahaz Asking Him To Trust Him (Isaiah 7:1-9).

Syria and Israel, in seeking to join an alliance against Assyria, called on Judah to join them, and when Ahaz was reluctant, determined to bring him to heel. (As far as we know up to this point Judah had not had to pay tribute to Assyria, probably because of the remoteness of its capital). But Yahweh tells Ahaz that he is right to reject any part in the alliance, but must rather trust in Him. Unfortunately, and very foolishly, however, Ahaz has rather decided to submit to Assyria, pay them tribute, and call on them for assistance, thus bringing Judah within the sphere of the Assyrian Empire.

Analysis of Isaiah 7:1-9.

a And it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, the king of Syria and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, went up to Jerusalem to war against it (Isaiah 7:1 a).

b But they could not prevail against it (Isaiah 7:1 b).

c And it was told the house of David, saying, ‘Syria is confederate with (or ‘has settled on’) Ephraim’, and his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest are moved with the wind (Isaiah 7:2).

d Then Yahweh said to Isaiah, Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shearjashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the launderer’s field (Isaiah 7:3).

d And say to him, “Take notice and be quiet. Do not be afraid, nor let your heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands

c For the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah, who are saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach in it for us, and set up a king in its midst, even the son of Tabeel (Isaiah 7:4-6).

b Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “It will not stand, nor will it come about.” (Isaiah 7:7).

a For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin, and within sixty five years will Ephraim be broken in pieces that it be not a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If you do not believe, surely you will not be established (Isaiah 7:8-9).

In ‘a’ Rezin and the son of Remaliah come up against Judah, and in the parallel God promises that they will be broken in pieces. In ‘b’ they could not prevail against Israel, and in the parallel this prevailing that Judah were afraid of will not come about. In ‘c’ the house of David were afraid because of Syria and Ephraim, and in the parallel the reason for their fear is described, the attitude of the kings of Syrian and Israel. In ‘d’ Isaiah goes to meet Ahaz, and in the parallel the meeting is in order to assure him that he need not be afraid.

Isaiah 7:1

‘And it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, the king of Syria and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, went up to Jerusalem to war against it. But they could not prevail against it.’

The verse begins by stating Ahaz’s credentials. He is a true son of the Davidic house, the grandson of the great King Uzziah. It then follows this up with a summary of what is about to happen.

So this verse is a summary verse, and Isaiah 7:2 takes us back in time before it. It is setting the context of the passage, the prospective new invasion by Syria and Israel, and stressing that it will not finally succeed. Jerusalem will not be taken. This was a regular method of presentation of history from Genesis onwards.

Alternately it may be summarising the previous invasion by the alliance. But the above seems more likely.

We are not here given the reason for the invasion, except that it was of Yahweh (2 Kings 15:37; 2 Kings 16:5) with the intention of making Ahaz think again about his idolatry (2 Chronicles 28:19), but humanly speaking it almost certainly because Ahaz had refused to join an alliance against a threatening Assyria. With Assyria threatening from the north Syria and Israel, along with other rebels, were wide open to attack, and they were seeking allies. It would seem that Edom and Philistia had been willing to join them (2 Chronicles 28:17-18). Presumably, however, representations to Ahaz had not been favourably received. Thus they determined that they would bring Ahaz to heel and enforce the support of Judah by replacing Ahaz with a puppet king.

This in fact helps to explain why Ahaz finally did later appeal to Assyria (2 Kings 16:8-9). Once he had refused to trust God for help, they were the obvious allies to help his cause. It is very probable that he was not really fully aware of the power of the forces to whom he was looking. He was probably looking for a temporary alliance, obtained by the giving of a present, not to be permanently swallowed up. Assyria had in the past appeared, and then disappeared again. But like Hezekiah after him he was just not fully aware of the strength and ambitions of the one to whom he appealed (although sufficiently aware to recognise the folly of combining against him).

Here in microcosm was what God had said would happen to Judah. A backsliding, a failure to respond in trust and obedience, followed by another backsliding that would lead to disaster.

Isaiah 7:2

‘And it was told the house of David, saying, ‘Syria is confederate with (or ‘has settled on’) Ephraim.’ And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest are moved with the wind.’

The news of the prospective invasion by Syria and Israel (the latter often called Ephraim, because Ephraim was the largest tribe) reached Ahaz. The fact that the Syrians had gathered in force and had stationed themselves in (‘settled on’) Israel, joining forces with the Israelite army, was alarming. And both he and the people were afraid. Their hearts were stirred as trees are stirred by the force of the wind, shaking violently without cessation. Note the reference to the house of David. The inference is that as a member of the house of David he should have stood firm on the promises of God made to that house. He should have looked to the God of David. Compare Psalms 2. He should have been aware that none could stir themselves against God’s anointed and prevail. But instead he cowered before the enemy. His faith was lacking and he clung to his idolatry.

Isaiah 7:3-7

‘Then Yahweh said to Isaiah, Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shearjashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the launderer’s field, and say to him, “Take notice and be quiet. Do not be afraid, nor let your heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah, who are saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach in it for us, and set up a king in its midst, even the son of Tabeel.’ Thus says the Lord Yahweh, It will not stand, nor will it come about.” ’

God in His goodness sends Isaiah to speak to the faithless Ahaz. He is to seek to win Ahaz back to God’s covenant, which was in fact His very purpose in the proposed invasion. So Yahweh tells Isaiah to go, along with Shearjashub his son, to meet Ahaz. The name Shearjashub means ‘a remnant will return’, which is probably why he was to accompany his father. He would be a living reminder of the message of Isaiah. This confirms Isaiah’s vivid awareness even at this stage of the central content of his own message, a message of departure from and return to Yahweh, possibly with exile and return in mind (compare Isaiah 6:12). It should also have acted as a warning to the king of the house of David, for we cannot doubt that Isaiah had proclaimed to him his message from God.

‘A remnant will return’ stressed both coming judgment and subsequent mercy, but always with the recognition that repentance could delay judgment. So the name of Sheerjashub hung like a warning notice of what the future could hold.

‘At the end of the conduit (aqueduct) of the upper pool in the highway of the launderer’s field.’ This aqueduct was in process of being built to seek to ensure a water supply in case of siege. Although not fully adequate, for it went overground, it was better than nothing. It would serve until it was discovered and destroyed by the enemy. It was part of Ahaz’s fearful preparation for what was coming. It would seem that he was supervising the work himself. The launderer’s field would be where the washing of clothes was done in the river, presumably because the water was ample there, and fairly clear.

Yahweh’s word to him was to trust Yahweh and thus gain confidence. ‘Take notice and be quiet. Do not be afraid, nor let your heart be faint.’ If only Ahaz would listen to Yahweh and return to Him, then he could have full confidence that Yahweh would be with him. Returning to the covenant (‘taking note’) would mean that he could have quiet confidence in Yahweh’s willingness to deliver. Then his fear would evaporate and his heart would cease to be faint. This is confirmation that Yahweh approves of his stance against joining the alliance, and is yet ready to work through the house of David and be with him if only Ahaz will repent.

‘Because of these two tails of smoking firebrands (or ‘smouldering stubs’), for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah, who are saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach in it for us, and set up a king in its midst, even the son of Tabeel.’ Thus says the Lord Yahweh, It will not stand, nor will it come about.’

God’s contempt for the enemy is clear, especially for ‘the son of Remaliah’ who is not even named. They are but like two tails of foxes or jackals to which firebrands have been tied. That is their combined arsenal! (Or alternately like two smouldering stubs, soon to be extinguished). He promises that their attempt to replace Ahaz will fail. The plot to install ‘the son of Tabeel’ as puppet king will not succeed. Tabeel was probably a pretender to the throne of David, a connection with the royal house who was seeking his main chance.

However, the description of the two ‘sons’, the son of Remaliah and the son of Tabeel (whom the alliance hoped would potentially in the future represent the people of God) in terms of the name of the house that they came from rather than by their own names is significant for another reason. There is a clear implied contrast with ‘the son of David’. These men are not the true heirs of David. They are the sons of Remaliah and Tabeel. Therefore they should not be relied on. Furthermore Ahaz should ask himself what chance the house of Remaliah and the house of Tabeel could possibly have against the house of David, the anointed of Yahweh, if only Ahaz would trust Yahweh.

Notice the grace of God. ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, It will not stand, nor will it come about.’ He gives this guarantee before Ahaz has repented, with the hope that he will be grateful and repent, recognising that Yahweh of hosts is the only One to be relied on for defence, and thus resubmitting to the covenant.

‘The son of Tabeel.’ Tabeel was possibly a son of Uzziah or Jotham by an Aramaean princess connected to Beth Tab’el, a place known from contemporary Aramaean inscriptions as an Aramaean land in northern Transjordan.

Isaiah 7:8-9

‘For the head of Syria is Damascus,

And the head of Damascus is Rezin,

And within sixty five years will Ephraim be broken in pieces that it be not a people.

And the head of Ephraim is Samaria,

And the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son.

If you do not believe, surely you will not be established.’

Set out in this way the balance of the statement is clear. What is in mind is the future of Israel and Judah, the two sections of God’s covenant people. In the first case doom awaits, for, because of their trust in Rezin rather than in Yahweh. As a result Israel (Ephraim) will cease to be a people, because they have finally rejected the covenant by their alliance with Syria. They have rejected dependence on Yahweh and placed it in Rezin. In the second case possible doom is threatened for Judah and Jerusalem depending on Ahaz’s response. Judah’s future too is in the balance. The question is, will Ahaz depend on the Lord Yahweh, or on the son of Remaliah, whose dependence is on Rezin?

Ephraim (Israel) have chosen to rely on Syria rather than Yahweh. Well, let him consider. What is Syria? They are summed up in Damascus and finally in their king, Rezin. Thus Ephraim are stayed on Rezin. But king Rezin is not a reliable stay. That is why Ephraim’s fate is sealed. They have chosen King Rezin and his gods and rejected the Lord Yahweh and the Davidic house. Thus their future is hopeless. Defeat awaits them and within sixty five years they will even cease to be a people at all.

And once a large number of Israelites were deported as a result of the Assyrian invasion, and once foreign settlers and leaders were incorporated into the land of Israel by Esarhaddon in 671 BC about sixty five years later, that was what happened. Israel was no more (although many would have fled to Judah maintaining God’s people as ‘Israel’).

Now what about Ahaz? Ahaz was facing both. He of the house of David now had to choose. He could elect to have the son of Remaliah to depend on, but before doing so he should consider what weak support the son of Remaliah was depending on. He was depending, not on God, but on Rezin. Is he, therefore, the son of David, going to yield to, and depend on, these two weak supports? Or is he, as Yahweh’s Anointed (1 Samuel 12:3; 1 Samuel 24:6 ff; 1 Samuel 26:9 ff; 2 Samuel 1:14; Psalms 2:2; Lamentations 4:20), going to trust the Lord Yahweh, the One Who provides unfailing support? That is the question. (The question of Assyrian alliance has possibly not yet been determined). Unless he chooses to believe on Yahweh he will indeed not be established. He too, and his people, will be removed from the scene.

Perhaps also Ahaz was supposed to read further into this the unspoken inference and consider Judah’s own idealistic position. Had the parallel been stated this would have read, ‘the head of Judah is Jerusalem the city of David, and the head of Jerusalem is the son of David.’ This should then have awoken him to the true situation. How can David’s son possibly depend on anyone but Yahweh, who had chosen David as His kingly representative on earth, and Jerusalem as His dwelling place?

The overall message that comes to us from this passage is, ‘if God be for us who can be against us?’ But in the event we must trust and not be afraid, otherwise we will not be established.


Verses 10-17

The Miserable Failure of Ahaz and God’s Judgment On His House (Isaiah 7:10-17).

We must not underestimate this incident. In this total turnabout of history in Israel’s most crucial time, for it would determine the whole of the future, the scion of the house of David rejects God’s protection, and, uniquely, God’s offer of a striking supernatural sign, and the result is that he and his descendants born from his seed are thereby debarred from being the future Davidic king. Because of Ahaz’s shameful lack of response, the future expected king is not to be descended from his seed, but will be miraculously born.

Analysis of Isaiah 7:10-17.

a And Yahweh spoke again to Ahaz saying, “you may ask a sign of Yahweh your God. Ask it either in the depth, or in the height above” (Isaiah 7:10-11).

b But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test out Yahweh” (Isaiah 7:12).

c And he said, “Hear you now, O house of David, is it a small thing for you to weary men, that you will weary my God also?” (Isaiah 7:13).

c “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign, behold a virginal young woman will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

b “He will eat butter and honey when he knows to refuse the evil and choose the good, for before the child will know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you hate will be forsaken” (Isaiah 7:15-16).

a “Yahweh will bring on you, and on your people, and on your father’s house, days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah, even the King of Assyria” (Isaiah 7:17).

In ‘a’ Ahaz is offered a sign, either in the depth or in the height above. In the parallel he is given a sign ‘in the depth’, the invasion of Assyria. In ‘b’ Ahaz in unbelief refuses the sign, and in the parallel receives a sign ‘in the height’, of a (miraculous) child who will be born at a time of oppression and poverty. In ‘c’ the house of David has wearied God, and in the parallel will be replaced by a miraculous child who will not be descended from Ahaz.

God Makes Ahaz An Astounding Offer (Isaiah 7:10-12).

Isaiah 7:10-12

‘And Yahweh spoke again to Ahaz saying, “you may ask a sign of Yahweh your God. Ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test out Yahweh.’

God’s backing of Ahaz if only he would believe was so assured that He graciously offered a sign of any magnitude so as to bolster Ahaz’s flagging faith, simply because he was the son of David. Note that there was no limit to what he could ask. Here in one sense was the most favoured man in history. This demonstrates the crucial nature of what was involved. Clearly a remarkable, even incredible, miraculous sign was being offered (compare Isaiah 38:7-8). And yet Ahaz refused to ask for the sign. His reply was not as pious as it sounds. What he was effectively doing was dismissing Yahweh as an option. He was refusing the offer. For to take up the offer to ‘test out Yahweh’, would be to bind him to Yahweh, and he did not wish to be bound. He was a man of no genuine faith.

‘Ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.’ The range offered was remarkably wide, going down into Sheol, or the depths of the sea, or rising up to the heavens among sun, moon and stars. God was willing foranyrequired sign to be asked for, even something outside the sphere of living man’s experience, something unusual, awesome and miraculous, greater even than those granted to Moses, Joshua (Joshua 3:5-8; Joshua 11:12-14) and Gideon (Judges 6:36-40). There was no limit. Thus Ahaz was left without excuse. His refusal was the direct result of his attitude as being anti-Yahweh. He was openly and directly rejecting obedience to the covenant. Rarely if ever has a man had such an offer and refused it. No wonder God was angry. Such a statement from God was clearly preparing the way for a genuinely awesome event, and that is precisely the kind of sign that Yahweh gives him, although not in the way originally intended. In view of what God had offered Ahaz, any sign He now gave had to be incredible and amazing. And so it was, ‘A virgin will bear a child.’

‘Of Yahweh YOUR God.’ The ‘your’ is emphatic. Contrast ‘my’ in Isaiah 7:13.

The Offer Refused God Declares His Particular Judgment on Ahaz - The Coming King Will Now Not Be of His Seed But Will Be Miraculously Born (Isaiah 7:13-17).

In order to fully appreciate the words that follow we have to get into the electric atmosphere of the moment. Here God, quite understanding that, in the light both of the threat of the nations allied against him, and of the King of Assyria, Ahaz was afraid, had offered him any sign that he asked for, of whatever nature, however miraculous, a sign to surpass any that had ever been given before. Such a build up could only result in an outstanding miracle. Clearly any response by Yahweh must include such a sign, for this is what the whole narrative has been leading to. If Ahaz will not ask for a sign, then Yahweh will give him a sign of such proportions that it can never be doubted. But because God never seeks directly to convert unbelievers by miraculous signs it has to be in the form of a declaration about the future.

Isaiah 7:13-14

‘And he said, “Hear you now, O house of David, is it a small thing for you to weary men, that you will weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign, behold a virginal young woman will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Immanuel.”

Isaiah replies forcefully to Ahaz’s words, addressing him as the ‘house of David’, the Davidic representative of that house. In the face of the promises to the Davidic house he is appalled at Ahaz’s attitude. Here was a dreadful thing indeed. The anointed of Yahweh refusing the command of Yahweh in the face of the threats of the nations (contrast Psalms 2:1-2). He challenges the king on the basis that he has already wearied men by his behaviour, (Isaiah and those of the leadership who support him?), and that that is no small thing, although as a king he gets away with it for the time being. But he will surely recognise that he cannot treat God like this? That is going too far. In view of the fact that he has refused a remarkable sign God now has a remarkable sign for him. It will not, however, now be a favourable sign but a sign of his rejection. For that is the whole point behind these words. As he is wearying God by his prevarication in refusing to accept a remarkable sign, a remarkable sign will now be given to him but instead of being a sign of blessing it will be a sign of rejection.

The situation is very similar to that of Saul previously. The anointed of Yahweh had flouted the direct command of Yahweh and was therefore rejected and replaced in the mind of God long before he ceased to be king (1 Samuel 15:26; 1 Samuel 16:14), even though it would take time to work itself out before men (1 Samuel 31). In the case of Saul this was evidenced by the secret anointing of the young David before the actual physical transfer of power took place some time later (1 Samuel 16:13-14). But here it is to be evidenced by something even more startling, the promise of the unusual birth of a remarkable child. Again, although in secret, the transfer of power was taking place.

The use by Isaiah of ‘my God’ is in itself suggesting the rejection of Ahaz by God. Isaiah now sees Ahaz as excluded from the right to see Yahweh as his God. By pointedly rejecting the use of ‘our God’ Isaiah is excluding Ahaz from the company of those who can call Yahweh ‘my God’, and thereby rejecting him as the Davidic representative.

For whether Ahaz likes it or not, Yahweh, the ‘sovereign Lord Himself’, does intend to give him a sign. And that sign is of a virginal young woman who will bear a son and call his name Immanuel - ‘God with us’. What an impossible thing. A sign indeed ‘in the heights above’. And God’s guarantee of it is a sign to Ahaz (for what God has said, He will do) that his own position is no longer tenable. In the future Ahaz can no longer anticipate the possibility that he or his blood descendants might be Immanuel, the ultra-successful coming king. For now when Immanuel comes he will not be from the house of Ahaz. He will be supernaturally born.

The word for young woman (‘almah) is never, as far as is known, used of a non-virgin or married woman. It refers to a young woman of marriageable age, with growing sexual desires, who is not yet married, and thus is assumed to be a virgin. The use of ‘almah in Song of Solomon 6:8-9 confirms this. There it is contrasted with queens and concubines and clearly describes those who are in the same situation as the loved one, unmarried and virginal, and in Isaiah 7:9 it is associated with ‘the daughters’ of their mothers, (they have not yet left their own households), the many compared with the one. It is a word containing the idea of sexual purity, without the taint that had come on the word bethulah which was specifically linked with pagan deities of doubtful morality, and did not strictly mean a pure virgin at this time (compare Joel 1:8).

As this is intended to be a sign of unusual significance (‘in the depth, or in the height above’ - Isaiah 7:10) it is clear that it is not just to be seen as an illustration in passing. We are probably to see Isaiah 7:14 as meaning ‘I will give you such a sign as I offered’. That is required by the context. To suggest that it is simply using an ordinary birth as a sign (say, of the prophet’s wife or one of Ahaz’s wives) is to go totally against the significance of the words and of the whole situation. A remarkable and unusual sign is required here. This is promising something so unusual as to constitute absolute evidence of God’s direct intervention. At the very least it is saying that someone totally unexpected, who would not naturally be seen as a child-bearer, will have a child.

Nor can it have an illegitimate birth in mind, for that would not have been seen as either unusual or evidence of God’s activity, and this especially as the child is to be called ‘God with us’. Rather than being a divine sign such a birth would have been seen as a matter for severe condemnation. (Only the modern day with its loose morality could turn such an idea into something glorious).

It is true that in Isaiah 8:3-4 the birth of a son to Isaiah’s wife the prophetess is described, and he too is indicative of the length of time within which Syria and Israel will be spoiled by Assyria (Isaiah 8:4), but that is no unusual sign. It is simply a confirmation of the situation being described here. Births were commonplace, and there is no suggestion of anything unusual abut his birth, and the name given to the child is very different, with different implications (Maher-shalal-hash-baz - ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’) and not even suggestive of ‘God with us’. It can hardly be seen as a sign of the kind in mind from the sovereign Lord Himself.

Who then is this son? The context later tells us. In Isaiah 9:6 reference is made to an unusual child who is to be born, who is described as having the name ‘Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. This child is to establish the everlasting kingdom. That will be a sign indeed. The name Immanuel - ‘God with us’ - thus fits well with him in every way. God is decidedly with him in what he is ‘named’, and God will be with him in the establishing of the finally triumphant kingdom. Thus we are well justified in seeing this unusual and significant birth pronouncement as applying to him. Here truly is a worthy sign from the sovereign Lord.

This brings home the high expectations there were for the house of David at this time. The throne of its kingship was to be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16), its representative was Yahweh’s anointed (Psalms 2:2), Yahweh’s begotten son (through adoption) (Psalms 2:7), whose final destiny was to rule and judge the nations to the uttermost parts of the earth (Psalms 2:8-9), so much so that he could be likened to God because he stands in the place of God and is appointed above all kings both great and small (Psalms 45:6-7). Thus he will one day be called Wonderful (compare Judges 13:18), Mighty God, Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6). His ascent to some kind of divinity is clear. Jesus certainly saw it in this way (Matthew 22:41-44). So there is no wonder that He should experience an unusual and divinely accomplished birth.

We can compare also the high expectation spoken of by Micah, ‘But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little among the thousands of Judah, out of you will one come forth to me who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting’ (Micah 5:2). There too we find the expectation of an extraordinary child.

What then is the significance of this sign to Ahaz? It is that when this great prince comes, in the imminent (but not necessarily immediate) future, he will not be born by descent from Ahaz, but will be wonderfully born without human father, closely associated with the house of David so as to be seen as the Davidic heir, but not of it, so as to escape the taint of Ahaz. It is a specific sign of Ahaz’s rejection. Rather than Ahaz’s seed inheriting the promises made to the Davidic house, another will arise to fulfil the promises made to David, replacing Ahaz and his seed, for God will ensure by a miracle that he will not be of Ahaz’s seed. It is Ahaz’s final humiliation, a sign that he has brought an unusual kind of rejection on the house of David. In him the house of David has so wearied God, that God will work a wonder so great that the coming Greater David will be of it and yet not of it. This would hit at the very root of Ahaz’s pride in what he saw himself to be, the Davidic representative, and as such one who was uniquely exalted. Now he was being substantially downgraded and totally disinherited. The very divine right of the king was being overthrown.

This idea of One born from a virginal young woman would not be the problem to Isaiah and his hearers that it is to the modern day. They looked back and remembered that Isaac, the chosen son, had been born by God’s miraculous intervention (Genesis 17:17-19; Genesis 21:1-2). They remembered that Manoah’s wife had been barren and had had her womb made fruitful by God (Judges 13:3), thus producing the great deliverer Samson. They remembered that the mother of the great Samuel had also been unable to bear children (1 Samuel 1:5), and that she too had been miraculously touched by God (1 Samuel 1:19-20), and had thus borne that even greater deliverer. And all these births had been at vital times for God’s people. So the thought that such a miraculous birth would occur in the future, even more miraculous than them, would demonstrate to them that the covenant God was still with them, working His wonders (for a similar use of the promise of a future event as a sign compare Exodus 3:12).

The name Immanuel (God with us) is also significant. The people of Judah saw the Davidic house as evidence that God was ‘with them’. Were not all His promises to be brought about through them? Thus God may well be saying here that the name Immanuel (God is with us) can no longer be applied to the house of David as represented in Ahaz, for God is no longer with them, but will uniquely now apply to the coming King. It isHewho will be called Immanuel.

But it may be asked how such a future birth could be a sign to the house of Ahaz? The answer is that because of the nature of what the sign was declaring there was no necessity for the birth actually to be witnessed at that time. God was not now seeking to convert or comfort or reassure Ahaz by the sign. That opportunity had been refused. This was not an attempt to convince Ahaz. Rather by it God was declaring that by His own miraculous intervention He would disinherit Ahaz. His declaration of what He would do was therefore sufficient sign to Ahaz of what would be. It constituted the guarantee of a miraculous event some time in the future whose consequence would be the total disinheriting of Ahaz. Thus the guarantee of it happening was all the sign required. Ahaz was finished. He could now only wait with foreboding in his heart, knowing that his own fate was sealed, watching with fear the birth of every royal child. Outwardly he was still the son of David. But before God he was no longer accepted. It was a very similar situation to that of Saul and the secret anointing of David (1 Samuel 16).

This sign can be compared to the one given to Moses in Exodus 3:12. It was a sign from the future. It was the sign of a future event promised by Yahweh, which while not seen at the time would be a stay for the future. In Moses’ case it was ‘you shall serve/worship God in this mountain’. A distant coming event was promised by Yahweh and was to give him the assurance that he needed, even before it happened, for it had happened in the mind of God, and he could believe. It was a sign to faith. Here similarly was a sign to faith. It was the sign of a future miraculous birth, which was a similar future sign, and could be accepted as a sign by faith because God had promised it.

It should be noted that while to us there is seen to be a considerable time lapse between these words and the coming of the King in Jesus, to both Ahaz, and even Isaiah, that birth was seen as ‘imminent’, as ‘something that could happen at any time’. They had no way of knowing when it would be. Indeed Judah would constantly hope in the future for the birth of a special God-favoured king who would prove to be the coming triumphant one. None could know when it would be, nor possibly indeed would initially necessarily know when it had taken place. It was a promise of the future certain activity of God. And no royal mate would be involved. It was thus a date that could be either near or far, and the birth might be secret or open. All that Isaiah and Ahaz were shown was the fact that it would occur and what its significance would be. That was a sufficient sign to both of Ahaz’s total rejection.

Thus the following description would also have immediate significance as a time indicator for both of them. The child might be born at any time, and yet they can be assured that before it was even possible for such a child to grow up the events described would have taken place. However it should be noted that that is not the stress of the sign. That is an after-result. The sign itself is rather focused on the rejection of Ahaz and on the fact that when the coming king was born he would now be miraculously disassociated from Ahaz.

Excursus on The Virgin Birth.

Here in Isaiah the promise is of an unmarried young woman of marriageable age (‘almah in Hebrew, parthenos in LXX) who will bear a child which will reveal to Israel that ‘God is with us’, and will be a sign to Ahaz that God has rejected him and his house.

The Hebrew word used for young woman (‘almah) is never, as far as is known, used of a non-virgin or married woman. It refers to a young woman of marriageable age, with growing sexual desires, who is not yet married, and is thus assumed to be a virgin. The use of ‘almah in Song of Solomon 6:8-9 especially confirms this. There it is contrasted with queens and concubines and clearly describes those who are in the same situation as the loved one also being described, unmarried and virginal, and in Isaiah 7:9 is associated with ‘the daughters’ of their mothers, (they have not yet left their own households), the many compared with the one. It is a word containing the idea of sexual purity, without the taint that had come on the word bethulah. Bethulah was specifically linked with pagan deities of doubtful morality at Ugarit, and could be used to describe fertility goddesses, who were certainly not virgins. It did not strictly mean a pure virgin at this time, whatever it came to mean later. Compare Joel 1:8 where a bethulah mourning the husband of her youth is described where there are no grounds at all for considering that they had only been betrothed.

Some have used Proverbs 30:19 as an example of ‘almah being used of a non-virgin, when it speaks of ‘the way of a man with a maid’. But there are no real grounds at all for suggesting that that indicates sexual activity. Indeed the opposite is more indicated. Using sexual movements as such an example, as something being watched by others, would with an innocent couple have been heavily frowned on. But we only have to look at what it is being compared with to recognise that it refers to no such thing. Rather it is being paralleled with flight and directional movement which is watched by others. The thought is thus more of a couple on the move in their flirtatious activity, or even of the man’s behaviour of which the young woman is not so much aware, the observers being the amused onlookers as he trails her and tries to be noticed by her. It thus rather supports the use of ‘almah for an unmarried maiden than the opposite.

We can therefore understand why here the LXX translators translated ‘almah by the word ‘virgin’ (parthenos), just as they did in Genesis 24:43. They recognised the emphasis that Isaiah was placing on this woman as being unmarried and pure.

It is true that the word ‘virgin’ (parthenos) does not always refer to what is today indicated by the term virgin, an intact virgin who has not had relations with a man, but there is nevertheless always behind it the thought of underlying ‘purity’. The term could, for example, be applied to sacred prostitutes in Greek temples, who were by no means intact virgins. But these were seen as having their own kind of ‘purity’ by those who wrote of them, for they were seen as daughters of the temples and of the gods, not as common prostitutes. They were ‘holy’. On the other hand, they were certainly not technically virgins. Furthermore after Dinah had been raped in Genesis 34:2 she was still called a parthenos in Isaiah 7:3 (LXX). She was seen as pure at heart even though she had been violated and was no longer an intact virgin. And in Isaiah 47 the ‘virgin daughter of Babylon’ could lose her children and be brought to widowhood (Isaiah 47:1; Isaiah 47:9). In none of these cases then are parthenoi seen as intact virgins. On the other hand, the idea of purity might be seen as lying behind them all.

Nor did Hebrew at this time have a word for ‘intact virgin’. Virginity was assumed for all unmarried young women, unless there was reason to think otherwise, and then it was a shame to speak of it. The often cited ‘bethulah’ did not indicate that at that time. Nor did it necessarily indicate purity. As we have seen above it was specifically linked with pagan deities of doubtful morality at Ugarit, and could be used to describe fertility goddesses, who were certainly not virgins, or even pure. They were far more lascivious and lustful than human beings. And in Joel 1:8 a bethulah mourning the husband of her youth is described. There are no grounds for thinking that she was a virgin. Indeed if she had had a husband for even one night she would not have been. Furthermore the word bethulah sometimes has to be accompanied by the words, ‘neither had any man known her’ (Genesis 24:16; compare also Leviticus 21:3; Judges 11:39; Judges 21:12). That comparison would have been unnecessary if bethulah had specifically indicated a virgin. So a bethulah is a young woman, whether married or not, with no indication of her virginal state. An ‘alma is an unmarried young woman of marriageable age, who if pure (which she would be assumed to be) could in Israel be called a parthenos.

The next thing we note is that this unmarried and pure woman who is to bring forth a child is to be a sign to Ahaz of the rejection of him and his house (demonstrated by the coming of Assyria on them - Isaiah 7:17), and an indication that he will shortly see that God can do what He says and empty the lands of both his enemies, something which will also be a warning to him, for what can be done to them can be done to him in the same way.

Who then was this son who would act as a sign in this way? A number of suggestions have been made of which we will select the three most prominent.

1) It was a child to be born of the royal house, or of Isaiah’s wife, whose very birth and weaning would act as a sign.

2) It was any child born at the time, the emphasis being on the fact that before it was weaned what God had said would happen.

3) It was the child described in Isaiah 9:6-7, the coming One Who would be greater than David, Who would be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and would rule over the whole world.

In order to decide which one was meant we must consider the context. In context God had offered to keep Ahaz safe under his protection, and in order to give him assurance in the face of what lay before him, had offered to give him a sign ofmiraculous proportions(an example of which we find later on when the sun goes back ten degrees under Hezekiah - Isaiah 38:5-8). God says, ‘Ask a sign of YHWH, whether it be as high as Heaven or as deep as Sheol’ (Isaiah 7:11). This was an offer which Ahaz suavely rejected, because he preferred to look to the King of Assyria. But this sign once given would have been the sign that Ahaz would be ‘established’. It was thus related not only to the deliverance from the current problem, but also to the guaranteeing of the future establishment of the house of David through the line of Ahaz, protecting him from all comers.

And it is on his refusal to respond to God’s offer that God says that He will nevertheless give him a sign, but that this time it will be a sign, not of God’s help and protection, but of the king of Assyria coming on him, (thus he will not be established). And the sign will be that a child will be born of an ‘almah.

The first thing that must be said about this is that it suggests that God intends to bring before him a sign that will indeed be one of miraculous proportions, ‘as high as Heaven or as deep as Sheol’, in accordance with what He has previously described, even though it is one which will not be of benefit to him at all. For only such a sign could demonstrate the certainty that the future of the house of Ahaz was no longer ensured. And if that was to be so then only a virgin birth would fit the bill. It was the virgin birth of the Coming One that guaranteed that He would not be of Ahaz’ house, and that instead God Himself would have stepped in.

1) The suggestion that it refers to a child to be born of the royal house, or of Isaiah’s wife, whose very birth would act as a sign.

The birth of a son to the royal house in the normal course of events (Hezekiah had already been born) or to the prophetess could hardly have been such a sign as the Lord has described above. For one thing no one would have believed that the child was born of a virgin. And indeed it was not possible to the prophetess who was no longer a virgin. The prophetess bears two sons, both of whom by their names will be signs to Judah/Israel, as would their father (Isaiah 8:18), but note that while the prophetess was mentioned earlier in respect of one of the sons (Isaiah 8:3), she is not mentioned in Isaiah 7:18 where we have the mention of ‘signs and portents’ referring to both sons and their father. There is therefore no emphasis on it being the prophetess who bears both sons who were ‘signs and portents in Israel’ (along with their father) even though she had in fact done so. The emphasis here is on the father.

However, the argument is often that that is the point. The emphasis is in fact on her bearing one of the sons, Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:3), who will be a sign of the devastation of the two kings, something which in Isaiah 7:16 was to be gathered from the sign of the ‘almah with child. But here we should note that in Isaiah 8:3 it is not in fact specifically described as a sign. It is rather seen as a prophetic acting out of what is to be, which is not quite the same thing. Of course we may accept that it was an indication of what is to be, and in that sense a sign. But it is equally certainly not the kind of sign that the Lord had originally spoken of, a sign of startling proportions. Nor is it said to relate to the now greater matters that were involved, that Ahaz’s house would no longer be established, and that the king of Assyria was about to descend on him and his land because he had forfeited the Lord’s protection.

We may therefore justifiably see the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz as a partial sign, but not as a great and wonderful sign. The child’s birth, through the name given to him, was indeed a sign that the kings would be destroyed from their lands within a short while, but that was all that he is described as being. But he was not born of an ‘almah, and he is not said to be a sign of the larger matter in hand, the rejection of the house of Ahaz as manifested by the coming of Assyria and devastation of Judah. Nor is he said to be the sign of the coming of a king who would achieve what Ahaz has failed to achieve (Isaiah 9:7), that is, of the fulfilment of the promises to the house of David. (A fact that will later be made even clearer by the rejection of his son Hezekiah and his seed - Isaiah 39:5-7). The same problems as these lie with any attempt to relate the birth of the child to the birth of any child in the house of Ahaz. The birth of such a child would hardly rank as an unusual sign, and would be even less significant than that born to the prophetess. The heir, Hezekiah, was already born.

2) The suggestion that it refers to any child born at the time the emphasis being on the fact that before it was weaned what God had said would happen.

This suffers from even more disadvantages than the first, for it does not even have the partial support in context that the first interpretation has when related to the prophetess. It is fine as an evidence of how short a time it will be before both of Ahaz’s opponents are devastated, but it has nothing to say about the non-establishment of the house of Ahaz or of the coming of the king of Assyria, nor could it possibly be seen as in any way parallel with the kind of sign that the Lord had spoken about. For the truth is that if the Lord made His great declaration about ‘a sign almost as beyond the conception of man as it could possibly be’, and then gave one which was merely a birth in the usual run of things, it would appear to all that all that He had offered was a damp squib.

And this is especially so because in the past He had specialised in special births in that a number of past ‘greats’ had been born miraculously (even though not from an ‘almah), and almost with the same words. Thus Isaac was born ‘miraculously’ (Genesis 18:10-11; Genesis 18:14; Genesis 21:2 - ‘conceived and bore a son’), Samson was born ‘miraculously’ (Judges 13:3 - ‘will conceive and bear a son’), Samuel was born ‘miraculously’ (1 Samuel 1:5; 1 Samuel 1:20 - ‘conceived and bore a son’). And all these births would be engraved on Israelite hearts. But there is no suggestion that they were born of ‘almah’s, nor was the child of the prophetess in fact born ‘miraculously’, even though she ‘conceived and bore a son’. Indeed she had already previously had another son. It will be noted that the only exact parallel to ‘willconceive and bear a son’ in the whole of the Old Testament is Judges 13:3; Judges 13:5; Judges 13:7, and that of a birth that was certainly to be unusual and unexpected, and of one who was to be saviour of his people. Thus these words would raise in the minds of the hearers the expectancy of some quite remarkable birth.

3) The suggestion that it refers to the child described in Isaiah 9:6-7, the coming One Who would be greater than David, Who would be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and would rule over the whole world, thus indicating that He would be miraculously born of an ‘almah (parthenos, virgin).

There can be no question that this suggestion of the virgin birth of the coming hope of the house of David has the most going for it from an Israelite’s point of view and from the point of view of the context. It would tie in with the past history of conceiving and bearing a ‘miraculous child’ as being signs to Israel. It would tie in with the Lord’s promise that He would give a remarkable miraculous sign. It would tie in with the following description of the ‘birth of a child’ in Isaiah 9:6. It would give full weight to the use of ‘almah. It would explain why it demonstrated that ‘God is with us’. It would confirm that the hope of the house of David was indeed coming, in spite of present appearances, even though Ahaz’ house would be excluded.

And as no one knew when the child would be born (it could be at any time) the indication that both kings would be devastated before the child could possibly grow to boyhood was a sufficient indicator of time, especially when associated with the actual example of the birth of the son to the prophetess. Indeed the only question that it might raise is, how could such a birth in the future possibly be a sign to Ahaz?

The answer to this question lies in the nature of the sign. It should be noted that this was no longer intended to be a sign to Ahaz that he was to be established (Isaiah 7:9). But what it certainly was, was a sign of the fact that he would not be established, and while that did not really require a great present miracle at the time then current, God was determined to give him a miraculous sign which would demonstrate the fact in an inescapable way. He lived at a time when all hopes were on the coming of the future triumphant son of David, who would be of the line of David, and who would rule the world. And Ahaz would pride himself in the fact that it would be of his seed. Thus to inform Ahaz that he was now receiving a miraculous sign in the statement by God that ‘the coming David’ would now in fact be born of a virgin, and not be of his seed, was indeed a sign that he would not be established, and was an unwelcome sign indeed. It was an indication that the future throne would go to one not born of Ahaz’s seed. The sign was thus now not a matter of when the child would be born, but of what his birth would signify as regards the hopes for the future. Furthermore we have a good example in the past of precisely such an idea of a sign that was given as a sign to its recipient, with the actual working out of the sign being a future event. For such an example see Exodus 3:12. There the sign that Moses had been sent would be the fact that the people to whom he went would one day ‘serve God on this mountain’. The sign was a promise of a better future that had to be believed in, and that they could hold on to, and in which they had to continue to believe. It was a sign of a future which would actually be the result of their response of faith, just as this sign in Isaiah 7:14 is a similar promise of a better future in which the people are called on to believe, even if Ahaz will not (Isaiah 7:9).

Strictly speaking in fact Ahaz did not want or merit a sign. He had refused it. He had already made up his mind to look to Assyria. Thus the point here is that he was receiving a spoken sign that he did not want, a sign indicating God’s decree, which demonstrated the very opposite of what the original promised sign would have indicated. It demonstrated his rejection by God. Meanwhile Israel could indeed be confident that one day it would receive its promised king Whose coming would prove that God was with them, but they would now know that He would not be born of the seed of Ahaz, but would rather be born of a virgin. We should also note that while this might cause problems to our scientific age, it would have caused no problems to Israelites. They would not be looking for some interpretation that avoided the ‘miraculous’. They would have seen no difficulty in the Creator bringing about a virgin birth. That is a modern problem.

End of Excursus.

Isaiah 7:15-17

‘He will eat butter and honey when he knows to refuse the evil and choose the good, for before the child will know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you hate will be forsaken. Yahweh will bring on you, and on your people, and on your father’s house, days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah, even the King of Assyria.’

To ‘eat butter (or curds, thick sour milk) and wild honey’ has been interpreted as meaning either a time of plenty, the food of the gods, or a time when it was necessary to exist on basic things because the land itself was unfruitful. Isaiah 7:22, however, read in context makes clear that the reference is to the latter. So the coming miracle child will not be born in a time of plenty. His birth will come while the land is under judgment, and He will have to exist on basic foods. The idea of his coming is thus a sign of the hard times ahead. Meanwhile Ahaz can be sure, as God has promised, and will not now renege on, that before there could be time for such a child to grow to maturity the doom of Syria and Israel will have been sealed. But let him not gloat on that fact, for he himself also will in fact find himself no more an independent king but merely a vassal prince, subject to heavy tribute. In contrast to what he could have had from the Lord Yahweh, independence, glory and prestige, the one to whom he has actually chosen to look will demote him to being a mere vassal, a mere servant prince. He will reap what he has sown.

‘When he knows to refuse the evil and choose the good.’ This can mean either when the child is of an age to appreciate the world and make right decisions (2 Samuel 19:35), or when he comes to moral discernment (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:5; Genesis 3:22 see Genesis 50:20; Deuteronomy 1:39; Deuteronomy 30:15). The phrase is used with both meanings, which timewise roughly tie in with each other.

‘The land whose two kings you hate will be forsaken.’ The lands of Syria and Israel will be deserted, the kings will be no more. Possibly it includes the idea that they will also prove to have been forsaken by their gods in whom they trusted.

‘Yahweh will bring on you, and on your people, and on your father’s house, days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah, even the King of Assyria.’ Ahaz has chosen the king of Assyria in preference to Yahweh, and so the king of Assyria he shall have, at Yahweh’s hand. Both Ahaz and his people will become subject to them, but worse, the proud, exalted Davidic house, for which God had promised so much, would also be subjected. The house ‘destined to rule the world’ would be the puppet of Assyria. With the faithlessness of Ahaz all the dreams for the house of David had collapsed.

‘From the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.’ Ever since the death of Solomon the kings had been independent. Now it will be so no longer. From now on they will always be subject to another earthly overlord, until the son is born in hard times who is destined to rule the world (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Note.

Reference will be made in chapter 8 to the birth of a son to the wife of Isaiah. But he is specifically named Maher-shalal-hash-baz (‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’) to indicate the coming judgments of God, and the downfall of Syria and Israel and the desolation of Judah. Nothing could be more in contrast with this promise in Isaiah 7:14. The child of Isaiah 7:14 is a child of hope. The prophetess’s child is a child of judgment. Nor was Isaiah’s wife at the time an ‘almah. While therefore it may have been left open to some to see that child as fulfilling the prophecy, if they wished to do so, the child did not really do so. He was named rather in confirmation of the coming judgment already placarded (Isaiah 8:1-2). He was not ‘Immanuel’, God is with us. Nor was his birth such a remarkable sign as to prove anything. Something greater had certainly to be looked for in order to fulfil Isaiah 7:14, as the continuing emphasis on Immanuel makes clear (Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 8:10; Isaiah 9:6).

End of note.


Verses 20-25

God’s Judgment Upon Ahaz and Judah (Isaiah 7:20-25).

God now declares certain judgment on Ahaz. Not only is his seed permanently rejected, but, having rejected the authority of Yahweh, he will now come under another authority, an authority that will strip Judah of its wealth and bring it to poverty, and will result in oppressors throughout the land.

Analysis.

a And it shall come about in that day that Yahweh will whistle (literally ‘hiss’) for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria, and they will come, and settle all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and on all thorns and on all pastures (Isaiah 7:18-19).

b In that day the Lord will shave with a razor which is hired, which is in the parts beyond the River, even with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet, and it will also consume the beard (Isaiah 7:20).

b And it will come about in that day that a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, and it will come about that for the abundance of milk that they will give he will eat curds, for curds and wild honey will everyone eat who is left in the midst of the land (Isaiah 7:21-22).

a And it will come about in that day that every place where there were a thousand vines at a thousand pieces of silver, shall even be for briars and for thorns. With arrows and with bow shall one come there, because all the land will be briars and thorns. And all the hills that were dug with the mattock, you shall not come there for fear of briars and thorns, but it shall be for the sending out of oxen and the treading of sheep (Isaiah 7:23-25).

Each paragraph commences with ‘in that day. In ‘a’ the land is wholly occupied and its thorns are described, and in the parallel it is wholly desolate and its thorns are emphasised. In ‘b’ it is shaved with Yahweh’s razor, the king of Assyria and in the parallel is so shorn that minimum requirements are required in order to maintain its few inhabitants.

Isaiah 7:18-19

‘And it shall come about in that day that Yahweh will whistle (literally ‘hiss’) for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria, and they will come, and settle all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and on all thorns and on all pastures.’

The phrase ‘in that day’ always refers to whatever day of Yahweh’s judgment is in mind, sometimes near, sometimes far. Here it is the soon-coming consequences of what Ahaz has chosen to do that are in mind. Both Egypt and Assyria are going to be finally involved, for that is what Yahweh has decided to do. Judah will be just a pawn in the middle unable to do anything about either.

The picture is vivid (compare Isaiah 5:26 where the identity of the nations is not revealed). It begins with Yahweh signalling to the Egyptian fly. Egypt was noted for its flies, swarming when the Nile was flooded. The uttermost part of the rivers (including irrigation canals) covers the whole inhabited land. Like a fly it would buzz in and out of Judah’s affairs in the future, always active, ever a nuisance, never reliable (e.g. Isaiah 18:1-7; Isaiah 30:1-5; Isaiah 31:1-3; Isaiah 36:6; 2 Kings 17:4).

And he would signal for the Assyrian bee. Bees were well known to proliferate in the Assyrian hills. It is possibly significant that flies cause a nuisance, but bees sting and take the nectar, and in swarms can kill. So the major impact would be from Assyria. And like fly and bee these two nations would move in and out and settle all over the land, in desolate valleys, in holes in the rocks, on thorns and pastures, just like the insects they were. Judah would never be rid of them and their nuisance. Thanks to Ahaz.

Isaiah 7:20

‘In that day the Lord will shave with a razor which is hired, which is in the parts beyond the River, even with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet, and it will also consume the beard.’

But it was the king of Assyria, from the parts beyond the Euphrates, that God would use like a hired razor to totally fleece them and humiliate them. And the payment for His hire would be the treasures of Judah. The consuming of the beard was a special insult. In Judah the beard was a sign of manliness and virility. A man whose beard was shaved off felt ashamed until it had grown again (2 Samuel 10:4-5). Whereas in the previous verse the judgment had been on the land, here it is on the people.

‘Shaving the hair of the feet’ may be a euphemism for shaving the private parts, for to ‘cover the feet’, was to relieve oneself (Judges 3:24; 1 Samuel 24:3), and ‘waters of the feet’ meant urine (Isaiah 36:12). If so it was a double humiliation, both privy parts and beard.

There is here a reference to the fact that just as Ahaz had thought in terms of hiring the king of Assyria to rid him of his foes (2 Kings 16:8), so now Yahweh would hire the king of Assyria to shame and humiliate Ahaz and his people. The difference was that Ahaz had made a fool of himself, and had, by his act, subjected himself to bondage, when he could have been Yahweh’s servant, while Yahweh was in complete control. The king of Assyria may become Ahaz’s taskmaster, but he was only Yahweh’s tool. Ahaz would suffer under the tool of Yahweh.

Isaiah 7:21-22

‘And it will come about in that day that a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, and it will come about that for the abundance of milk that they will give he will eat curds, for curds and wild honey will everyone eat who is left in the midst of the land.’

The picture is one of poverty and scarcity. Instead of many cattle and large flocks a man is only able to ‘keep alive’ one young cow and two sheep alive. The milk that they will produce is minimal and he will keep the animals alive so as to provide a meagre diet of curds. The reference to ‘abundance’ is ironic. The reader will recognise the kind of abundance that can be obtained from so few beasts. And all will be in the same situation. All will eat curds and wild honey.

The word translated ‘keep/save alive’ is elsewhere used to denote the preservation of life in danger (Psalms 30:4), which emphasises here the difficulties that the man has in even preserving these. Hungry armies do not usually care too much if they leave the local population without food and necessities.

Alternately the thought might be that there will be so few people in the land that the equivalent of one cow and two sheep are enough, so that those who remain can be satisfied with their supply and some wild honey. But the following verses suggest shortage, and Assyria would empty the land of its leaders, not of its common people.

Isaiah 7:23-25

‘And it will come about in that day that every place where there were a thousand vines at a thousand pieces of silver, shall even be for briars and for thorns. With arrows and with bow shall one come there, because all the land will be briars and thorns. And all the hills that were dug with the mattock, you shall not come there for fear of briars and thorns, but it shall be for the sending out of oxen and the treading of sheep.’

All the places which were once prosperous, producing vines worth a silver piece each, will be wilderness. They will grow briars and thorns. So much so that the hunter will come into that wilderness with his bow and arrows to shoot the wild game, for it will not be recognisable as someone’s land, because it is all briars and thorns (or the thought might have been of the need for defence against wild beasts). And the hills which were once prepared for seeding will be so no longer because the briars and thorns are so fearful. Instead they will be made available for oxen and sheep to graze there.

‘Dug with the mattock.’ This has in mind the terraced land inaccessible to the plough, which has now simply become pasturage.

Note the threefold repetition of briars and thorns (compare Isaiah 5:6). The land has gone back completely to its primitive state. Man has fallen once again (compare Genesis 3:18-19). So the final picture is one of scarcity and shortage with the land turned into a wilderness, and the people struggling for survival and surviving on a basic diet. And all this will be the result of the failure of Ahaz, along with his people, to trust Yahweh.

If we do not respond to God’s prompting when it comes clearly to us, we must not be surprised if our disobedience results in briars and thorns.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-7.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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