Sunday School Lesson 3 - Isa. 7:7-17 - GOD PROMISES
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in Isa. 6:1-13, after denouncing the sin of Judah and warning them of judgment in the previous five chapters, we learned the amazing story of Isaiah as he witnessed the presence and glory of God in the Temple and how he came to fully grasp the extent of his own sinful condition. Then we saw one of God's angelic Seraph take a hot coal from the altar and touch it to Isaiah's "unclean" lips in order to cleanse him and make him fit to stand in the presence of a holy God. When God asked "whom shall I send?," we heard Isaiah reply, "here I am, send me." Then we heard God give Isaiah the mission that he didn't expect: that God had already made His mind to destroy the entire nation of Judah because He knew in advance they would refuse to understand. The only ray of hope God gave Isaiah was that a "holy seed," a remnant, would later spring up.
This week's lesson, from Isa 7:1-17, will take us up the steepest slope of OT prophecy. It is 733 B.C., about eight years since Isaiah's encounter with God in the Temple, and Uzziah's son, Ahaz (one of the bad kings) is now ruler of Judah. In order to understand the context of the lesson, we'll need to take a brief tour of the geopolitical situation in the Ancient Near East. At that time, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (the ten tribes that had split off after Solomon's reign in 930 B.C.) and Aram (later known a Syria) had formed a military alliance as a defense against the growing power of Assyria (see map). Thus far, King Ahaz has resisted their efforts to invite Judah to join the Israel-Aram coalition because he feared a backlash from the Assyrians. At the same time, Aram and Israel believed that if they could not force Judah to join their alliance, that Judah would attack their southern borders while they were occupied fighting the Assyrians. As a final solution, Aram and Israel decided they needed to force the issue-to invade Judah and take control of the country and its military assets. This threat of this imminent invasion terrified Ahaz and the people of Judah. We come into today's story as God calls Isaiah to deliver a message of encouragement to King Ahaz.
Read Isa. 7:7-9 - IT SHALL NOT COME TO PASS
7 this is what the Lord GOD says: "It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken to pieces, so that it is no longer a people), 9 and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you certainly shall not last."
v. 7: " this is what the Lord GOD says: "It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass." - Here, God basically calls Isaiah to make a point blank declaration: that this particular conspiracy against Judah and King Ahaz will not be successful; and that Jerusalem will remain in the same hands for now. The question then is whether or not Ahaz will believe-whether he's willing to step out with faith in God.
v. 8: For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken to pieces, so that it is no longer a people)" - This verse and the next explain God's rationale. First, he describes the specific enemies of Judah: Damascus, the capital of Aram (Syria) is ruled by Rezin; and Ephraim (the ruling tribe of the Northern Kingdom). God further says that within 65 years the Northern Kingdom would cease to exist as a nation (and this did in fact happen in 722 B.C.) The 65 years predicted that due to inter-marriage and a scattering of the population, that they would even cease to be part of the original people of God, the Israelites.
v. 9a: and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah" - Samaria is the capital of the Northern Kingdom and Remaliah is its ruler. This area would later become the region of Samaria that was so despised by the Judean and Galilean Jews of Jesus' day.
v. 9b: "If you will not believe, you certainly shall not last." The "you" here is King Ahaz and the people he rules. So, the choice belongs to Ahaz. He could trust the LORD's word and survive, or he could fall into enemy hands. This will require Ahaz to make a leap of faith-to trust God completely.
APPLICATION 1: True security comes from an abiding faith in God's supernatural provision or protection. In today's lesson, Ahaz was forced to decide whether would he step out in faith and trust God for the security of his kingdom or place his trust in the human governments he was dealing with. Today, in this life we can be faced with the same dilemma: to trust God for the outcome or depend solely upon our human initiative.
Read Isa 7: 10-13 - AHAZ, ASK FOR A SIGN
10 Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 "Ask for a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I put the LORD to the test!" 13 Then he said, "Listen now, house of David! Is it too trivial a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?
v. 10: "Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying" - It isn't revealed here whether God is speaking directly to Ahaz or though Isaiah, but the divine authority behind it is the same in either case.
v. 11a: "Ask for a sign for yourself from the LORD your God" - God challenged Ahaz to believe and be blessed in v. 9 and now He gratuitously offers him something to prove the basis for his belief. We tend to think of the OT God leaning heavily toward judgment, while in the NT, He leans more toward grace. This invitation, however, shows YHWH as the God of the second chance-a God of grace. Note: Signs that confirm God's promises are common in both the OT and NT-e.g., Noah's rainbow after the flood, the blood of the Passover Lamb in the exodus, Gideon's angelic fire, plus approximately 12 miracles of Jesus that were all classified as signs.
v. 11b: "make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven" - God, in effect, is offering Ahaz carte blank-power to ask for anything. He could ask God the hide the sun or for a healing miracle. However, if Ahaz asks God for a sign and God performs it, then Ahaz will be forced to acknowledge God's power and align himself with God. So, this is as much a test as it is an invitation-for Ahaz to believe.
v. 12: "But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I put the LORD to the test!" - Although Ahaz isn't really a faithful servant of God, he knows enough Hebrew Scripture to quote Deut. 6:16 (in part), which on its face, seems to obey a requirement not to test God. But in fact, the situation with Ahaz is quite different: in Deut. 6:16, the Israelite people demanded a test from God to prove that He hadn't abandoned them; here God offers the test voluntarily. So, Ahaz' excuse is in reality hypocritical The real reason he doesn't want to name a sign is that he's already made up his mind to enter an alliance with Assyria against Aram and Israel. Bottom line: Ahaz is more willing to trust Assyria than God.
v. 13: "Then he said, "Listen now, house of David! Is it too trivial a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?" - Isaiah saw straight through King Ahaz' flimsy excuse. Isaiah's impersonal reference to the "house of David" implies a warning to Ahaz that he was still standing there in one piece only because of God's covenantal promise to David. Ahaz' hypocrisy is certain to have sorely tested the patience of both Isaiah and God at this point.
APPLICATION 2: God uses "signs" to point those having faith in Him in the right direction. In Ahaz' case, God offered him a sign, but Ahaz basically refused it because he had already made a decision based on a purely human initiative. On a personal level, we can ask God to provide a sign to help us make a personal decision. The sign, when received typically indicates yes, no, or not yet, and when we receive God's answer, even if it's not the one we wanted, we must be faithful to follow it.
Read Isaiah 7:14-16 - THE LORD HIMSELF WILL GIVE YOU A SIGN
14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 For before the boy knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be abandoned.
Note: Here's where we get on the steep slope that I warned you about. The messianic prophecy of the next three verses has generated enough scholarly debate over the ages to fill a small library. If you feel inclined to explore all the arguments about the interpretation of this prophecy, pull up the Precept Austin website and read all the commentaries. After reading some of them, the great C. H. Spurgeon remarked that he came out of it more confused than when he went in.
v. 14a: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign" - Since Ahaz refused to choose a sign, God would give him a sign of His own choosing, robbing Ahaz of the excuse he hoped for. Later, when Ahaz' alliance with the Assyrians turned into virtual slavery, he would not be able to blame God.
v. 14b: "Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel" - This is a very familiar verse because it's restated in Mt. 1:23 as part of the Jesus' birth story. One of the major bones of contention over this verse is the proper translation of the Hebrew word almah, whether as "virgin" as it appears here in the NASB or as "young women" as in the RSV and some other translations. Understand that the issue over this word has no bearing at all on the virgin birth of Jesus, but pertains only to its context as used in this particular verse of Isaiah. When you look at the verse solely from Isaiah's context, it raises the question of whether it refers only to Mary or whether there was another near-time fulfillment. This has resulted in three views: (1) that the sign refers to the birth of Jesus and only that, in which case it would be largely immaterial to Ahaz and events in Judah; (2) the sign refers only to a child born to Isaiah, referred to in Isa. 8:3, and under this view, the name "Immanuel" (Heb. "God with us") would be seen as a rebuke to Ahaz, asking him why he feared Aram and Israel when Judah had "God with us"; and (3) the sign refers a double fulfillment the includes both the near-time fulfillment with Isaiah's son and the later fulfillment with the birth of Christ. Take your pick, but that's as far as I'm prepared to go with this. Amen?
v. 15: "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good" - If we take the near-time fulfillment theory into consideration, this verse means that Aram and Israel will be defeated before the child begins eating solid food. Again, this is only a theory, not a doctrine.
v. 16: "For before the boy knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be abandoned - The two kings are Rezin, King of Aram, and Pekah, King of Israel. Ahaz lives in dread of these two because they have attacked Jerusalem once and can be expected to do so again. Under the near-term fulfillment theory, both of these nations will fall before such time as the "boy" becomes intelligent enough to "refuse evil and choose good" (i.e., be faithful to God).
But since there's no definite proof of the boy's existence, the theory is basically a moot point.
APPLICATION 3: The sign that God gave Ahaz ultimately became a sign of hope for a lost world. God knew that Ahaz would reject His sign and enter into an unholy political and military alliance that would lead to the demise of his kingdom. The sign, "Immanuel" (or God with us) was actually a rebuke of Ahaz faithlessness-the reality that Ahaz couldn't save himself or his kingdom. To NT Christians, this sign represents the cross of Christ at Calvary: God's grace in providing a savior for us because we are incapable of saving ourselves.
Read Isa. 7:17 - THE DAYS OF THE KING OF ASSYRIA
17 The LORD will bring on you, on your people, and on your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah-the days of the king of Assyria."
v. 17: Not only did God use the Assyrians to judge the Northern Kingdom, He also used them to overrun Ahaz' dominion of Judah. Ahaz' pact with Assyria proved to be such a crushing drain on Judah's economy that it was the beginning of the end for the nation and eventually led to its Babylonian captivity in 597 B.C. Since Ahaz refused God's help, destruction was certain. This was a terrible calamity not just for the kings of Judah but for the people as a whole. From here to the end of this chapter, the desolation Isaiah prophesied began in the days of Ahaz and reached its climax when the Babylonians conquered Judah. And this result will continue until such time as the Messiah (Jesus) will return to deliver Israel and establish His kingdom on earth (Ezek. 11:17).
APPLICATION 4: The rejection of God's sign of a Savior to a lost world will result in death. The rejection of God's invitation to Ahaz ended in the death of the Davidic kingdom. Today, the invitation of God's sign is still open to those who will believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And end-time prophecy tells us that Jesus, as Messiah, will return to deliver Israel once again and establish His kingdom on earth (Ezek. 11:17).