The Word Made Fresh
1When Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah was king of Judah, King Resin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem but could not take it. 2When Ahaz and the family of David learned that Aram had joined forces with Ephraim, their hearts trembled like the trees of the forest shaking before the wind.
3Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out and meet Ahaz at the end of the stream from the upper pool on the road to Fuller’s Field. Tell him, ‘Be quiet and listen. 4Don’t be afraid, and don’t let your heart tremble because of these two burned out torches. The fierce anger of Resin and Aram and the son of Remaliah is no more than a sputtering firebrand. Don’t let it trouble you that 5Aram, along with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, have joined forces against you. 6They have decided to go against Judah and seal off Jerusalem and take it for themselves. They plan to make Tabeel king in Jerusalem.
7“But this is what I say: That will not happen! None of it shall come to pass 8because Aram answers to Damascus and Damascus to Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be smashed, no longer an organized people. 9The real head of Ephraim is Samaria, and Samaria’s head is the son of Remaliah. If you don’t stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
10The LORD spoke to Ahaz again: 11“Ask for a sign from the LORD your GOD. Ask for it to be as deep as the grave or as high as heaven.
11But Ahaz answered, I won’t ask. I won’t put the LORD to the test.”
12Then Isaiah said, “Listen, then, house of David. Is it too small a thing to make people weary? Must you make my God weary as well? 14Okay. The LORD will personally give you a sign: Look, a young woman is with child and shall bear a son. She will name him Immanuel. 15He will eat curds and honey until he knows how to refuse evil and choose good. 16Before he knows to refuse evil and choose good the land before whose two kings you fear will be deserted. 17The LORD will visit you and your people and your family such days as they have not had since the day Ephraim separated from Judah; the LORD will bring the king of Assyria.”
18When that day comes the LORD will summon the fly from the sources of the rivers of Egypt, and the bee from the land of Assyria. 19They will settle in the ravines and in the clefts of the rocks and on the briars and on the pastures.
20On that day the LORD will use a razor brought from beyond the River – none other than the king of Assyria – to shave the head and the hair of the feet and the beard as well.
21On that day you may keep alive a young cow and two sheep. 22You will eat curds because they give so much milk. Everyone left in the land shall eat curds and honey.
23When that day comes every place where there used to be a thousand vines, each worth twenty-five pounds of silver, will become nothing but briers and thorns. 24The people will carry bows and arrows, for all the land will consist of briers and thorns. 25As for the hills that used to be tilled with the hoe, you will not go there for fear of briers and thorns, and they will become a place where cattle are set loose and where sheep wander.
1-2: At least half a dozen years have passed. Ahaz (ruled from about 732 to 716 B.C.) is on the throne. He was judged to be a wicked king (2 Kings 16), taking part in worship at the hilltop pagan shrines and altars that had become so popular among the people. During his reign the country quickly declined. King Pekah of Israel and King Resin of Damascus became allies and attacked Judah unsuccessfully, but psychologically the people of Jerusalem were shaken.
3-9: The LORD tells Isaiah to encounter Ahaz at a certain place and tell him to have faith because Rezin and Pekah will not prevail. There is a curious parenthetic remark in verse 8 about Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel) being shattered within 65 years. The overthrow of Samaria actually happened about 12 years later. The reference to the “heads” of Damascus and Samaria is intended to be an assurance to Ahaz, who is in fact a descendant of David, and David’s line was to rule forever, you know.
10-17: God speaks directly to Ahaz, inviting him to demand a sign, presumably to assure him that what Isaiah has told him is truly of God. Ahaz self-righteously refuses to demand a sign, upon which Isaiah makes a pointed pronouncement: by the time a pregnant woman can have a child and raise the child to the age of accountability (about age 12), the king of Assyria will have wiped out Damascus and Samaria. The child will be named Immanuel, which means “God with us,” an assurance that God will thwart the current plans Samaria and Damascus have against Jerusalem.
In the Greek translations of the text the pregnant young woman is referred to as a virgin and this verse became a proof text for Matthew 1:23, for the early Christian evangelists understood Jesus, born of a virgin, to be the incarnation of the very presence of God.
18-25: These four pronouncements, each beginning with “on that day,” or “when that day comes,” flesh out the destiny of the northern kingdom. The countryside will suffer the kind of devastation visited on Egypt during the time of Moses. Assyria will be like a razor in God’s hands, “shaving” the countryside. Though there will be a scarcity of cattle, because the land has reverted back to nature the cattle will be well fed and able to provide an “abundance of milk.” Finally, as the land becomes more and more overgrown, cattle will graze freely, and hunters will roam the briar-covered hills in search of game.
Isaiah’s pronouncements about God’s plans were not heeded by the leaders of Israel and Judah or by the people. It seems that folks in those days were just as oblivious to God’s will as folks are today. It is a hard lesson to learn, isn’t it?