- The Meaning of Mahersalahashbaz
- A Man's Pen
- Who is Zechariah
- Rivers and Armies
- Coming Together
- Stand Out in a Crowd
- Seal Up the Law & Testimony
- Hidden Knowledge
- A Different Kind of Seal
- Be Wary of the Occult
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
Isaiah 8 continues the message delivered to Ahaz concerning the sign that it is not yet time for the demise of Judah.
Isaiah 8 starts off with a prophecy concerning Mahersalahashbaz. I talked a bit about him and this prophecy in
The Meaning of Mahersalahashbaz
When God gives names to people, they always have a special meaning and this case is no different! Mahersalahashbaz means "plunder speedeth; booty hasteth." This was quite appropriate since he was a sign of the fall of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel. Assyria would plunder and spoil (i.e., take booty from) both kingdoms in a short time after his birth.
A Man's Pen
An interesting part of God's instructions to Isaiah is the command to write with "a man's pen." Was there some other type of pen Isaiah could have used? If you remember, during the Exodus, Moses wrote some of the law with God's supervision, but God Himself wrote the 10 Commandments (Exodus 31:18). A major difference between God's 10 Commandments and Moses' law is that the commandments speak of moral rights and wrongs, whereas Moses' law says more about what to do in the event of a moral wrong. For example, God tells us not to commit adultery, Moses tells us the penalty for committing adultery. The prophecy Isaiah gives is about a consequence—the northern kingdom of Israel was in rebellion against God and the prophecy was Ahaz's sign that God would dismantle their kingdom. Perhaps this is why God specifies "a man's pen." Of course, the dreamer in me wants to believe there's an angel's pen or something that is quite different than a man's pen. Alas, this is but fantasy.
Most commentaries assert that this was in reference to commonality. God wanted everyone to understand the prophecy so Isaiah was to write in a common script. This may sound odd to us today, but up until modern times, the common tongue of the poor was vastly different than that of the elite. For many years, the Bible was only written in Latin so in countries that spoke English, or German, there was no way to read the text unless they learned Latin.
This still happens today in countries like India and Haiti, where the official languages are English and French respectively, but the majority of the population speak a different language as their first language. There's also the tendency of specialists to use jargon, preventing the average person from understanding what is said. God wanted His message to be plain and understandable to as many people as possible.
Who is Zechariah
When God gives more details about Isaiah's son whom is to fulfill the prophecy, Isaiah brings two other men with him to witness (2 Corinthians 13:1). The two men he chooses are Uriah the priest and Zechariah. We can all agree that the priest seems like a logical choice, but who is Zechariah and why was he chosen?
If you're somewhat familiar with the Bible, you already know of a man in the Old Testament named Zechariah, and you know that he was a prophet too. My first question was if this Zechariah is the same as the prophet Zechariah who has his own book. The book of Zechariah tells us that the prophet Zechariah is the son of Berechiah, while Isaiah tells us that the Zechariah he chose to witness is the son of Jeberechiah. Names in the Bible aren't alway consistent with spelling. On top of that, many people either had their names changed by God or went by nicknames; even many of the kings are referenced by multiple names. When you look at some of those examples, Berechiah and Jeberechiah seem even more likely to be the same person. However, I couldn't find a prophecy about Mahersalahashbaz by name in Zechariah, but I would have to reread the entire book to see if anything looked like it could be a prophecy.
Thanks to the internet and the amount of time that has passed since the book was written, I can actually research the connection (or lack thereof) before I reread Zechariah. I didn't find concrete evidence that the Zechariah of Isaiah is Zechariah the prophet, but I did confirm that I'm not the only one who had that thought. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Zechariah is more likely to be the father in law of king Ahaz than the prophet. References to this Zechariah can be found in 2 Kings 18:2 and 2 Chronicles 29:1.
Rivers and Armies
In the next section of Isaiah 8 (Isaiah 8:6-8), Isaiah starts talking about the waters of Shiloah, but it's unlikely God is talking about literal water.
First, God says that the people reject the water of Shiloah in favor of Rezin and the son of Remaliah. Rezin was the king of Syria, while Remaliah's son was Pekah, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel (also known as Samaria). This juxtaposition alone makes it obvious that the water spoken of is not literal water—why would you replace real, drinkable water with two kings?
Second, God describes the water of the river to be "strong and many." While water can be powerful and plentiful, the context of passage makes it hard to believe that God was bringing a literal river of water to destroy the nation. Instead, these waters are lumped in with the king of Assyria.
In the Bible, waters often symbolize peoples or nations (Revelation 17:15), and most commentaries I've read associate the waters with peoples or armies. When we consider that Shiloah is a place in Judah, this interpretation speaks to the lack of trust in their own nation (and thus, God). They didn't have confidence in their own army, but instead feared that of their enemies. I have also read interpretations suggesting that the rejoicing the people did for their enemies was for their defeat. The first part of the verse about refusing the waters of Shiloah seems to paint a different picture, to me. Either way, I think it's safe to say the waters are meant to represent people.
One thing that stood out to me, however, is that waters which are rejected come from Shiloah, which looks a lot like "Shiloh." Why do I bring this up? Shiloh is the place in which the Israelites set the tabernacle until the Temple was completed (Joshua 18:1). Shiloh is also used to reference the coming of Jesus in Genesis 49:10. I was curious if "Shiloah" was actually "Shiloh" and thus tied to the symbolism of Shiloh, representing the Temple and the Messiah. It turns out that the Hebrew word used in passages that read "Shiloh" versus the word used in Isaiah 8:6 are not the same. Outside of that, I couldn't find anything relating the two words.
The conclusion of this passage contains the second and final reference to Immanuel (also spelled Emmanuel), which means "God is with us." Unlike in Isaiah 7 where Immanuel appears to be a specific name, in Isaiah 8:8, it seems that Isaiah is literally saying "God is with us."
Isaiah 8:9-10 talks about the people associating with nations that were not of God and the consequences that come with it. Israel had a bad habit of tethering themselves to countries that didn't believe in, or respect God, instead of just trusting God to handle the situation. We still do this today, whether with friends and cliques, in school, or at work. We're often afraid to stand on our own with just God in our corner. What we fail to realize is that we are much stronger with just God than backed by the most powerful army in the world.
Verses 9 and 10 actually remind me of the Tower of Babel from Genesis. Back then, all the people came together and tried to outdo God. In Isaiah 8:9-10, the people are warned about creating unholy networks. God is essentially calling them to remain set apart from the other nations of the world, which is how we are called to walk in Christ.
Stand Out in a Crowd
Growing up, we all heard the phrase "if your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it too?" Most of us already learned that lesson, and we know that we should think for ourselves, but sometimes we get caught up in the world. Our thoughts seem like our own, but they're actually heavily influenced by what we see. This is especially true for us today with all the forms of media we have.
14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
God warns Isaiah not to follow the ways of Israel, but follow God instead. Following God isn't easy though. Many of Isaiah's fellow Israelites would stumble, and fall. These people would eventually be taken. This applies directly to the Israelites in that they were taken into captivity, but we can also see an application to us today. When we don't cling to God, we too will stumble, and if we aren't careful, we may be taken by sin.
Seal Up the Law & Testimony
Isaiah 8:16-18 is one of those passages you have to read multiple times to really appreciate. The first time, I didn't really pay it any attention, and the second time, I wondered why the law and testimony was being kept from people (i.e., "sealed"). It wasn't until the third reading that I started connecting the dots. The complicated thing about the Bible is that sometimes you need later passages get the full depth of earlier passages! This is one of those times.
Isaiah is not the only prophet to be told to hide away knowledge. Both Daniel and John (the one who wrote Revelation) are given similar instructions in Daniel 12 and Revelation 5, respectively. We'll talk in detail about Daniel's vision when we actually get to Daniel 12, but for now lets focus in on Daniel 12:49. In both verses Daniel is told that the knowledge of the prophecy is sealed or hidden until some specified time. Daniel's job was to record information, but it wasn't meant to be understood just yet. Although it feels like God showing Daniel a locked door without the key, it can also be seen as God handing His people a key to a door He has yet to reveal to them. In Revelation 5, John is witnessing the opening of a previously sealed book by the Lamb of God. We won't worry about what that book is in this post, because we're focusing on the fact that it existed and it was sealed. I just want to point out that there are clear examples of God giving a preview of knowledge that will not be revealed until a later time.
A Different Kind of Seal
What really floored me, however, was how much this seems to relate to a different end time prophecy. The word "seal" has many meanings. Obviously we aren't talking about the animal, but are we talking about a seal, like an insignia or special mark, or a seal like a method of closing (e.g., sealed bag, sealed envelope). Of course, there's also the possibility that we're talking about both; back in the day, high ranking official sealed their messages with their seal.
We already confirmed that the Bible talks about closing up messages until a specific time, but the Bible also talks about seals and marks as identifiers.
The same passage in Revelation (Revelation 5) shows that the book is kept closed with 7 seals. The seals keep the book shut, but when they are released they become signs to us that the end is near. We aren't told what the seals look like, but the Lamb is said to have 7 horns which represent the 7 Spirits of God. Is it possible each seal is a mark of a Spirit of God?
The most important seals discussed in the Bible are the seal of God and the mark (i.e., seal) of the beast. There are many parallels between these two seals—too many to get into right now—but let's focus on one major similarity: both are taken in the head and hand (Exodus 13:9, Deuteronomy 6:8, Deuteronomy 11:18, Revelation 13:16-17, and Revelation 20:4). Remember, the significance of the head and hand are thoughts and actions, respectively. The mark of God is believing in and exercising His law and testimony. Those who reject God and accept the law and testimony of the beast will receive the mark of the beast. Thus, God's people will think and act according to God, whereas the others will think and act according to the beast (i.e, Satan).
When we look at the passage in Isaiah, it sounds closer to establishing this mark than hiding knowledge away. Isaiah is told that the law and testimony are to be sealed among the disciples. Thus the information would be known, but only those who believed would take note. The disciples who were sealed with law and testimony, however, would continue to spread the word of God and live trying to please God. As such they would serve as signs to those around them.
Be Wary of the Occult
One thing I've found is that a lot of people just don't understand God. Most people learn everything they know from haphazard teachings at their church, and thus they approve of and indulge in behaviors God clearly condemns. When you refuse to partake in such behaviors, they become confused. God warns Isaiah that he would have to deal with this kind of pressure as well. The people wanted him to consult with spirits of darkness, like wizards or soothsayers.
It's always been interesting to me that people are so easily swayed to believe in pagan superstitions but have trouble with God and His laws. You have people who won't put their purse on the floor or can't sleep without a Bible under their pillow, but they're content to break all of God's laws... Why? If I had to guess, I'd say it's for two reasons. One, the devil wants us to believe we can do everything on our own without God, and practices like this make us feel like we can get answers or effect change. Two, they're often easier than the actions God asks of us. Mediums and soothsayers often include theatrics to appear as though spirits are communicating with them, whereas God speaks in a still small voice to us. For some reason, it's much harder to believe you've heard God speak than to believe you saw something move on an Ouija board. Thus people flock to the occult for answers rather than relying on God.
I don't know how it was in Isaiah's day, but today, we have so many cultures and beliefs mangled into our society that it's hard to tell when we're dabbling in ungodly forms of entertainment, relaxation, communication, etc. I've even had Christian friends say they've consulted mediums or psychics for answers.
In Isaiah 8:20, God gives us the tell-tale sign of whether something is safe or not: if it's not according to His law and testimony it's not safe.
To the law and to the testimony:
I use this test on everything, from actions to what I watch on TV. It helps keep my frame of reference centered around God. Remember, God clearly tells us in His word that we aren't to consult the dead, witches, or wizards to determine His Will.
Now that God has told us a cut and dry rule to determine if we're participating in things of light (i.e., things in accordance with the law and testimony of God) or of darkness (i.e., anything not in accordance with the law and testimony of God), He tells us the consequences for choosing darkness over light. Choosing darkness only leads to more darkness. God proclaims that the people would experience hunger and anguish due to their decisions.
The hunger that God speaks of in this passage could be literal hunger and the affect of a famine, but it could also reference spiritual hunger. The Bible tells us that we don't live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Thus, if we are not feeding ourselves spiritual food, our soul becomes malnourished. Just as we have physical consequences for not eating or eating improperly, there are spiritual consequences for not feeding the soul properly.
Not surprisingly, Isaiah 8:21-22 also seems to parallel Revelation 16:10-11, which discusses a time of spiritual darkness. While Isaiah is probably talking about the immediate troubles of Israel and Revelation speaks to our troubles today, both are relevant for us to learn from and show how little we have changed over time. In both cases there is darkness from the lack of spiritual truth within the kingdom, and God punishes the people with plagues and illnesses. Instead of the people realizing the errors of their ways and repenting, they curse God, blaming Him for their own sins. This is a common thread among us; from the very beginning Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. It is very rare that we take responsibility for our own actions. We should be mindful of this in our daily lives because admitting fault is a crucial part of repentance!
References and Footnotes
- American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Zechariah". Jewish Virtual Library; visited April 2018
- "Isaiah 8:1 Commentaries". Bible Hub; visited April 2108
- Brian Kelly. "Why Does (Did) the Roman Catholic Church Make Latin Her Language?". Catholicism.org. September 18, 2014
- "7975b. Shiloach". Bible Hub; visited April 2018
- "Isaiah 8:6". Bible Hub; visited April 2018
- "Joshua 18". Bible Hub; visited April 2018
- "7887. Shiloh". Bible Hub; visited April 2018
- "The History and Resurgence of Wax Seals". Stamps Direct. August 2, 2013
- "Sealing Wax". Wikipedia; visited April 2018
- "Seal (emblem)". Wikipedia; visited April 2018
Other Pages to View