Isaiah 7: A Prophecy for Ahaz

In Isaiah 7, we see Isaiah presenting Ahaz, king of Judah with a message from God. This takes place at a crucial time when the northern kingdom and Syria began forming an alliance.

Introduction

Imagine if North Korea and Russia suddenly became best buddies. Would you be worried for the safety of the United States? In Isaiah's day, they didn't have to worry about bombs (let alone nuclear weapons), submarines, or planes, so countries that far away probably weren't even on their radar. However, they still had to worry about armies and invasions from the nations nearby. The relationship between Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel) and Israel (the northern kingdom) was very rocky. When Israel formed an alliance with Syria, their northern neighbor, it was cause for concern. This issue is also discussed in 2 Kings 16.

Distance

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Cédric Dhaenens
Out of curiosity, I used Google Maps to determine exactly how far the kingdom of Judah was from Syria; I used Jeruslaem, which would have been the captial of Judah and Damascus, the capital of Syria, even then, to estimate the distance. In our modern society, we could drive from one city to the other in about 5.5 hours. This is about the same time it takes to drive from the coast of South Carolina to the tip of South Carolina that borders Tennessee. That's pretty close, right?

Of course, back then they didn't have cars so the army would have had to march or ride horses to get to their destination. Google Maps doesn't have a horse riding option and the bicycle option was unavailable so I looked to see how long it would take to walk. The estimate was 59 hours, about 2.5 days, and that's if you were to walk continuously. Since the army would have to stop to eat and rest, I imagine it would probably take them about a week to reach Jerusalem.

I imagine that once Ahaz heard the two nations had formed an alliance, he expected an attack within the week.

Trusting In God

Ahaz and the Israelites were full of distress and worry at the turn of events, but God sent Isaiah to correct Ahaz's doubt. God had promised to protect his people so why was Ahaz sweating the small stuff? God had already defeated so many nations—including the very powerful Egypt—for the Israelites so why did they think this would be any different?

Although we aren't kings waiting on nations to come attack our nation in a literal sense, we deal with Ahaz's struggle every day. Satan is constantly attacking the Kingdom of God by attacking us. Just as God tells Ahaz that he will succeed as long as he believes, the same holds for us today.

Isaiah's Son Shearjashub

In Isaiah 7:3, God commands Isaiah and "Shearjashub, thy son" to meet Ahaz and deliver this message. This is the only place in the Bible in which Shearjashub is mentioned. No hints are given as to how old Isaiah's son is or why he was to go with Isaiah to deliver the message.

65 Years

In Isaiah 7:8, God explains that "Ephraim", which refers to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, would fall within 65 years. This gives us reason to date the time of the prophecy. It is estimated that the siege in which Pekah and Rezin joined forces against Judah occurred in 742bc.[2] If this is the correct date, the message to Ahaz would have been around that time as well and 65 years later would be approximately 677bc. Most scholars agree that the northern kingdom fell to Assyria in 722 bc.[3] That's well within 65 years, but often ask why such a wide time frame. It seems as though God would have said 20 years where he speaking of the defeat of Israel in 722. My study Bible suggests that another event occurred closer to the date of prophecy, which they give as 670.[4]

Remember the exact dates are merely approximations; back then, each nation had their own calendar and kings altered their calendars at will. Today's scholars try their best to assign dates to the events in the Bible, but a quick search will show that there is disagreement among these dates. Given this, many references site different dates for the time in which Isaiah gives this prophecy and thus find a different endpoint for when it should be fulfilled. As I searched for events near the end of the 65 year time frame, my goal was to figure out if there was another event further out that could have been the object of this prophecy, not to verify the exact dates.

Many scholars suggest the event that was being foretold was actually the final deportation of Israelites into the Assyrian kingdom, since Isaiah 8:4 confirms that Isaiah knew the northern empire would be powerless soon. Like with the Babylonian captivity, the transferral of people from their homeland into captivity was gradual and came in phases. They suggest that even though the kingdom fell in 722, it wasn't until much later that the process was complete.[5] A personal thought is that it could reference the end of their Israelite identity. In the Old Testament, 40 years represent a generation (roughly), so in 20 years, the nation fell, and 40 years later, it was a generation that knew nothing of Israel. Unlike the southern kingdom of Judah, the tribes from the north were never recovered; this was literally the end of those tribes.

Asking for a Sign

There are times when God tells us not to ask for signs (see Exodus 17 and Deuteronomy 6:16), but here, God commands Ahaz to ask for a sign proving the prophesy would come true. Ahaz, actually refuses, but God proclaims a sign anyway!

Refusing the Sign

Many interpret Ahaz's refusal to ask for a sign as him mocking God. I think this comes from God's response to Ahaz's refusal. God tells Ahaz that it's one thing to "weary" or frustrate men, but something entirely different to frustrate God. Because of this, I take it as a show of false modesty.

Have you ever been in a situation where you try to help someone or compliment them and they act like they can't accept your help (or compliment). Instead they make you beg them or pay them compliments on top of the original compliment? It seems like modesty at first, but you quickly become frustrated when you realize they're jerking your chain. I think this is how Ahaz approached the situation with God.

Nonetheless, there is a major difference between Ahaz's situation and the events of Exodus 17. The Israelites were questioning whether God is God; they were saying "if you're really God, then perform this miracle." Ahaz on the other hand was being told by God to ask for a sign. This was more like asking for a confirmation or a deposit. The request, had it it been carried out the way God instructed, would not have been to question if God was who He said He was. Instead it would have been a sign to look out for God's coming miracle. By refusing the sign Ahaz was actually expressing the same disbelief the Israelites had during the Exodus. He was rejecting the sign because he didn't believe any of this would happen.

The Actual Sign

Isaiah 7:14 describes the actual sign, the birth a son to a virgin. This is widely considered to be a Messianic prophecy, foretelling the virgin birth of Jesus. However, the translation of this verse is also fiercely debated. As I began writing about the controversy and fulfillment of this prophecy, I realized it should be a post all to itself. You can read "Isaiah 7: Born of a Virgin" for more on this prophecy.

The Prophecy

Verses 17-25 discuss the destruction upon Judah. There would be desolation and a complete destruction of the agriculture in Judah. Something that stands out to me in this passage is the revelation that God will "hiss for the fly" in Egypt and "for the bee" in Assyria. This is clearly figurative language, which made me curious as to the meaning behind God's words. Egypt was infested with flies—Isaiah points this out again in Isaiah 18:1. Assyria, on the other had was known for it's bees; further, bees re used to describe dangerous nations in Deuteronomy 1:44 and Psalm 118:12. In many cases, God uses animals to symbolize nations (one of the first examples to come to mind is Daniel 7), so its no surprise that He likens these nations to animals as well.

God also informs Ahaz that embarrassment will fall upon them. By mentioning a razor and the consumption of a beard, He is alluding to the act of shaving off one's hair, which was humiliating in Israelite culture. We see this in 2 Samuel 10:4-5 when David's men can't return to the city due to their shaved condition.

So, although Judah would escape demise at the hands of Syria and Israel, they would not be spared from Assyria and Egypt. This is a poetic situation because it is Assyria that Ahaz turns to when He doesn't trust God. We often turn to mankind because we don't trust God to handle things and it always backfires because mankind is fallible. Instead, we should always turn to God to solve our problems. While God may send humans to assist us after we have called upon Him, I believe they will offer to help us as opposed to us seeking their help instead of God's.

References

  1. "Damascus, Syria to Jerusalem, Isreal". Google Maps; visited March 2018
  2. "Rezin". Bible Hub; visited March 2018
  3. "When and how was Israel conquered by the Assyrians?". GotQuestions.org; visited March 2018
  4. Holman Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 1139. 2014
  5. "Isaiah 7:8 Commentaries". Bible Hub; visited March 2018

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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