Imagine that you have an uneasy relationship with a close family member. You have your differences, your squabbles and fights but at the end of the day you are family. Then one day you discover that they have been working with someone else, a rival, an enemy of yours to bring you down. Imagine the sense of betrayal you would feel and perhaps fear as this makes things much worse. This was the situation that Judah were in.
Read Isaiah 7-8
Israel, the northern kingdom form an unholy alliance with Syria in order to attack Judah. The people in Jerusalem are overwhelmed. It seems like the odds have been stacked against them (7:1-2). However, God sends Isaiah to tell them that they do not have to fear this alliance. God will bring down Syria and Israel/Ephraim (7:3-9).
God then offers Ahaz a sign to confirm this. However, Ahaz refuses insisting that he will not put God to the test. This seems extremely pious but in fact isn’t because Ahaz is refusing what God himself is offering. So God insists that he will receive a sign but it might not be what he desires . The sign is that a young woman will have a child called Immanuel and this will act as a marker for the pace at which things are going to happen (7:10-15).
Whilst the boy is still young, God will send a greater enemy who will lay waste to the northern alliance, their land will be deserted as the Assyrians will take them into exile. However, this isn’t the good news it seems. The language of shaving suggests humiliation and shaming, Yes, there will be an abundance of milk but that is all, the land will become wild and desolate, a place of fear (7:16-25).
It seems that the prophecy concerning “Immanuel” finds its immediate fulfilment in the next chapter, although he is given an additional/different name. Isaiah’s wife has a son. The child’s birth is the signal that God is about to bring down a deadlier enemy, Assyria (8:1-4).
Whilst the people’s attention has been on Syria and Israel/Ephraim, they should have been alert to greater dangers further north/northeast, the coming danger of the mighty Mesopotamian empires. Notice the contrast, the people have rejected God’s gentle waters (Shiloah was one of the places where the Tabernacle had been), they would instead be overwhelmed with a raging torrent that would sweep away the northern kingdom and even overflow into Judah. The water will reach Immanuel’s neck, according to the prophecy and in fact whilst the Assyrians inflicted great damage up until Jerusalem, they were unable to take the city on that occasion and had to pull back (8:5-8). So, the people are to prepare for war but not in anticipation of victory (8:9-10).
It would have been tempting for Isaiah and God’s people to see a conspiracy at work against them through the alliances that were being formed and in one sense there was but God tells him not to think in those terms. Conspiracy suggests that they are the innocent victims. It also encourages fear but Isaiah is not to join the people in their fear and paranoia. There was a greater danger than Syria but there was a greater danger still. We are not to fear men but God. The real problem was not the alliances and manoeuvres to the north. The real problem, the real danger was that the people had failed to trust faithfully in God. He is the one in whom we should find refuge but because the people had rejected him, he becomes a stumbling block to them (8:11-17). Isaiah and his family act as signs and witnesses to this (8:18).
The people will be tempted to look in all kinds of places for help, even to mediums and spiritists but they are not to. As long as they keep looking elsewhere for help, they will find none (8:19-22).
The Gospels take the prophecy concerning Immanuel and apply it to Jesus. We see here how a prophecy can have an immediate fulfilment but point forward to something greater still. Just as the arrival of Isaiah’s son marked the point when God would act, so too, the coming of the greater Immanuel marked the point where God would act again.
There are two differences. The Hebrew word for the mother could describe a virgin or possibly a young woman. It seems that the immediate focus was on the latter or that the baby would be the result of her first time with a man. However, the New Testament, working with the Greek translation makes it explicitly clear that Mary was a virgin and that her conception was miraculous.
The name Immanuel means “God is with us” and this takes us to the second difference. For Isaiah’s Immanuel, this meant that God was with his people, to judge them. They were not to see the enemy’s attack as a conspiracy against them but to recognise God’s hand in it. The greater Immanuel is literally “God with us” and in his case it was to bring salvation. WE look to the greater Immanuel.
In response to threats and fears, Isaiah announces “it will not take place” or in some transl;ations “it shall not stand.” This is God’s verdict and response to all who illegitimately seek to attack and harm God’s people in order to oppose him. Use those words meditatively by thinking of some situations and offering them as a response. For example:
- When secular governments seek to bring in laws that disregard God’s purposes… it shall not stand.
- When I’m mocked or falsely accused … it shall not stand.
- When I turn away from Christ to idols and seek false hope … it shall not stand.
Thank you Lord God for Immanuel, that in Christ you came to dwell amongst us. Thank you that because of his death and resurrection, evil intentions will not stand or succeed.