Ahaz, Isaiah, and Immanuel: Hope for the Hopeless; Pt. 2 - Isaiah 7
AVirginShallBearaSon_12-13-2009.mp3 — MP3 audio, 16904 kB (17310040 bytes)
Last week we began a study of the Old Testament book of Isaiah and the texts in that book that refer to the coming of Christ. Specifically, we looked at one of the most well-known passages in all the Bible which is quoted in Christmas services every year all over the world. Hundreds of years before His birth, the prophet spoke of Jesus being born of Mary by saying:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14b) 1
We all know that passage. If you’ve ever been in a Christmas service or watched A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV, you know that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. No mystery there, at least as far as knowing the verse goes. But one of the things that puzzles us regarding that verse is Isaiah speaks these words to evil King Ahaz, the King of Judah. When Isaiah spoke to him, Ahaz was fearing an invasion of the armies of Israel and Syria. You can probably see visions of middle-eastern maps projected on a screen dancing in your heads.
It is easy for us to understand from a New Testament perspective, Matthew’s statement in his gospel that the birth of Jesus by the virgin Mary was a literal fulfillment of Isaiah’s words centuries before. But it is hard for us to understand why those words would have had any significance to King Ahaz in his circumstances. This curious phrase is tucked neatly into a paragraph that speaks of the problem at hand which Ahaz understood very well: the impending invasion of two enemy armies. But God says to Ahaz, in effect, “No way”. Both of those armies will be destroyed by the king of Assyria.
But this one sentence about the virgin birth of a future child is buried in that paragraph which contains God’s promise to Ahaz to deliver him from his enemies. What should have been encouraging to Ahaz and the people of Judah is that the child would be called Immanuel: “God with Us”.
We also said it seems to be that the little boy Isaiah speaks of is in fact his own son who has not yet been born. Chapter 8 speaks of that event, and that seems to be the best explanation of his words to Ahaz that a child will be born as a sign to him. Look with me once again at Isaiah 7, beginning in verse 10.
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”
13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:10-14).
Look at verse 13. Notice how Isaiah addresses Ahaz: Hear then, O house of David! We don’t usually speak in these kinds of terms. Why does Isaiah not say, “Hear then, O King Ahaz”? What does he mean when he addresses Ahaz as “the house of David”?
What is implied is that he is not only speaking to Ahaz as a descendant of King David, but to the entire royal family and even the future Davidic line. It is an implicit reference to God’s covenant with David, a promise He made with David hundreds of years prior to Ahaz. Turn with me to 1 Samuel 7. I want to look at verses 1-16.
1 Now when the king [David] lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, 2 the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” 3 And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7 In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ 8 Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” 2
King David expressed a desire to make a house for the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark had been carried about and moved from place to place, always being kept inside the Tabernacle. Since God had given David peace and rest from all his enemies, and since he had a permanent residence for himself, it was certainly reasonable that David should desire to build a permanent place for the Ark and for the worship of God. Even Nathan agreed and told David to go ahead with his plans because, obviously, God was with him.
But God spoke to the prophet, and then to David. God told David that He had never spoken to anyone that a house should be built for Him. However, God made a promise, an everlasting covenant with David to build his house. Not his physical residence, but his lineage. God promised David, “Your throne will be established forever.” THAT is what is meant by the phrase “the house of David”. It is a reference to the kingly line, the royal progeny from which the Messiah would someday come. And God was promising not only to be with David presently, during his own lifetime, but also that his offspring would sit upon his throne forever.
This is why the genealogy we read in Matthew chapter 1 is there! The Jews understood that the Messiah would come from the lineage of David. They understood that the son of David (or the great, great, great, great, . . . grandson of David) would ascend once again to the throne in Israel, and that there would be a descendant of David upon his throne forever. There would always be a throne with a King upon it. That is why the opening words of the gospel of Matthew say:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Mt 1:1)
This one who was born of the virgin Mary is the direct descendant of King David. And of King Ahaz.
. . . and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, (Mt 1:9)
In Christ, God fulfills His promise to establish David’s throne forever. Now, in the Lord Jesus, David has a son who reigns upon His throne for all eternity.
In the days of Ahaz, the threats of foreign invasion were very real. In the days of Joseph and Mary, the Roman invasion had already happened. Both situations appeared, from a Jewish perspective, to be bleak, unacceptable, and a sign of God’s judgment upon them. Ahaz’s enemies wanted to depose him and put a new king upon his throne. But in the days of Jesus’ birth, there was no Jewish throne at all. A foreigner, King Herod, ruled over them as a Roman governor. The days of the everlasting throne of David seemed to be over. Isaiah and Matthew both tell of the sad state of the Jews under the threat of their enemies.
But, even in the midst of Ahaz’s greatest fears, God sends a young boy to live in the midst of Judah who is called Immanuel. This boy is meant to be a living, breathing, continuous reminder that God has not, and never will abandon His people. He will never break His covenant with the house of David. God was with David. God was with Ahaz as David’s offspring, in spite of his wickedness. But even though Isaiah’s son may have been called “God with Us”, no one would have expected the son of Isaiah to actually BE God.
There is a song that Christians sing: “God be with you ‘til we meet again.” How do we understand that statement? We understand it to be a prayer that God would accompany us, be near us, be a help to us every day. That He would hear our prayers, and grant us grace. That is what we mean when we speak of God being with us. We think of Jesus saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.“ But we do not expect Jesus to show up “in person” and follow us around all day.
So when Isaiah said to Ahaz that a boy would be born to a virgin and she would call him Immanuel, neither Ahaz nor anyone else actually believed God was going to come and be with them in some tangible form. God promised to be with David, and to be with the house of David (even with someone like Ahaz), forever. And a child would be born in their midst who would be referred to as “God with us” through the awful days to come He was called that, not because he was God, but because he was a reminder to the people of God’s promised presence with them.
God assured Noah and Abraham and Joseph and Moses and Joshua and Gideon and Daniel everyone else that ever trusted in Him that He would be with them. But that is NOT what Matthew means when he quotes Isaiah 7 and applies it to Jesus. When Matthew says Jesus is the one whom God promised would be born of a virgin, whose name would be called “Immanuel” (God with us), he is saying Jesus is actually and in reality God with us in the flesh! He is not simply with us by His Spirit, or with us in order to be for us in times of calamity. Matthew is saying that God has become a human being, God really is here with us, in the person of Jesus Christ. He is saying Mary’s Son is God. It was revealed to the saints of the New Testament that Isaiah’s words were literally fulfilled in the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary.
But also, the Lord Jesus has come as the King of His people to sit upon His throne, the throne of David, for eternity. In Revelation 3, Jesus is speaking to the church in Laodicea. Just in case you don’t remember, that was the church to who He said they were neither hot nor cold. They made Him nauseous. Nevertheless, because He is Immanuel, He stands at the door of His church, and calls His people to repentance. Listen to what He says:
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Rev 3:20-21).
The Lord Jesus is the King of Israel, the King of His Church, the King of Heaven, the King of Glory, the King that sits upon David’s throne forever! THE Son of David is at this moment, in some real sense sitting upon the throne of the universe. That King is also Immanuel, God with us. God the man, God the human being, the God who is one of us. And Isaiah has more to say about this future child, Immanuel. Look with me at Isaiah chapter 9.
1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah is a prophet, and we often tend to think prophets always speak of future events. That is not always the case. It may even be that the majority of the time, the Old Testament prophets were not speaking of something future. Elijah and Elisha were spokesmen for God to the nation of Israel, but they said very little if anything concerning future events.
Isaiah does not always speak of the future either, or at the very least he does not speak of the distant future. But in chapter 9, he most certainly does. Previously, in chapter 7, he spoke to Ahaz in regarding his troubles with Israel and Syria. But now in chapter 9, he goes into Distant Future Mode. He talks quite clearly and quite precisely about the future, coming Messiah.
Verse 1 - Here Isaiah speaks of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. These were regions located in the northern kingdom of Israel, near the Sea of Galilee. He speaks about the gloom and the darkness that existed there. The spiritual darkness was dark indeed. Israel was grossly wicked, and they incorporated the idolatry of the Gentile nations that surrounded them, and were eventually over taken by them. Galilee of the Gentiles was without hope, and without God.
But in the latter time, meaning at some point in the future, God will make what was a spiritually dark place, magnificently glorious! That region around Galilee will have a new spiritual light dawn upon it. Those people who live in that darkness, even the Gentiles, will be enlightened by the coming of a Child. And it will be no ordinary Child. Look how He is described:
The government will be upon His shoulder - This Child will rule over all.
His name will be Wonderful Counselor - His wisdom towards His people will be beyond that of Solomon.
He will be called Mighty God - This Child will be Almighty God, in the flesh!
Everlasting Father - This Child will be our ancient progenitor and predecessor, our Creator.
Prince of Peace - This Child will bring an end to His enemies and to ours.
This is the promised eternal Son of David, the King who will sit upon David’s throne, who will be the fulfillment of God’s promise. This Child will rule over all of spiritual Israel forever! He will be the King of all kings. There will never be need for God’s people to fear anyone ever again. And because of the zeal of God Himself, He WILL bring this to pass: The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The birth that Isaiah and the people of Israel looked forward to, we look back upon. The Child has been born. The Son has been given. He does sit upon the throne of David even now. But we also look forward to the great day when He will come again to establish that throne over all the earth. He will put His and our enemies under His feet, and we will rule and reign with Him in His heavenly Kingdom for eternity.
Christmas is about ALL of that! Christmas isn’t simply about a baby being born. It is about a Conquering King being born to set His people free once and for forever. That is what the Magi referred to when they asked the question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.“ (Matt 2:2).
Christ was born to set His people free from sin and death and Hell and Satan and the tyranny of evil men and anything else that rises up against God and His people. He has come to rule and reign as King! The zeal of the Lord has accomplished Phase One. Christ has come into the world. Now for Phase Two, when He comes again as the King of Glory. At that time, what Isaiah says in verse 7 will come to pass:
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore
So we as believers in the Lord Jesus live in what some people call “the Already and the Not Yet.” The zeal of the Lord of Hosts has already accomplished the Incarnation of Christ. The Lord Jesus, through His substitutionary death on the cross has already accomplished our redemption. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our regeneration and our deliverance from the kingdom of darkness has been completed. But God is not finished. There is more to come. The best is yet to come!
1. All Scripture is from the ESV.
2. See also Ps 89:1-37; 2Chron. 21:1-7.