The first Christmas was scary. It troubled Mary (Luke 1:29). It took a dream from God to convince Joseph that God was behind it (Matthew 1:20). And the shepherds were all but undone by it (Luke 2:8, 9). Somewhere deep down in ourselves we realize that we do not deserve this divine visitation. King Ahaz was also scared. He was scared of his enemy’s armies, but evidently he was even more scared of the possibility of divine intervention in his life.
Good kings were hard to come by in Isaiah’s time. Four kings were in power during Isaiah’s days of prophetic service (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah). Hezekiah was the best of the four, but even he crashed and burned toward the end of his life (2 Kings 20:12-21). King Ahaz was not anything to write home about, but after King Uzziah’s death (Isaiah 6:1) he was the one with the power.
Following the record of Isaiah’s call to service (Isaiah 6:1-13), we read about political unrest and governmental alliances (7:1, 2). Syria aligned itself with Israel (the 10 northern tribes) to go to war against the house of David (two southern tribes). King Ahaz and his people shook in fear like a leaf. God commanded Isaiah to go encourage the king to place his faith in God and not worry about these “two smoldering stumps of firebrands” (7:4, English StandardVersion).
But instead of leaning into God, King Ahaz put his faith in other countries such as Egypt and Assyria. To strengthen his faith in God, King Ahaz was challenged to ask God for a sign (a token or maybe even a miracle). The sign could be as deep as Sheol or as high as the Heavens. [Sidebar: Testing or trying the Lord is not recommended (Psalm 95:7-11). But on a few occasions, when God wanted to stretch the faith of his people, he actually invited testing his character and promises (Malachi 3:10; here)]. But with presumptuous pride and plastic piety King Ahaz refused the challenge. We would have had to be there to hear the inflection of his voice. But, in light of God’s response, Ahaz tried the patience of God (i.e. made him weary or grieved him) with his pretended faith.
God did not allow the king’s plastic piety to derail his plans to preserve the remnant of God’s people so that ultimately the Messiah could come. No doubt Isaiah squared his shoulders and spoke in strong voice, “The Lord himself will give you a sign.” King Ahaz might not have wanted a sign, but he would get one anyway.
The promise was that within the king’s court there was a young woman of marital age (virgin) who would marry, conceive a child, and give birth to a son. And, before the son would enter the “terrible two’s” and learn the difference between wrong (evil) and right (good) God would intervene and take care of the Syrians and the ten northern tribes. In fact, the nations would be laid waste (left off; abandoned; forsaken). God did fulfill this promise through the Assyrians (2 Kings 16:7-10). King Ahaz made an alliance with the Assyrians, but it later backfired in his face (2 Chronicles 28:20, 21). Kings like their power and get nervous when God comes near. They would rather do things their way.
The prophetic promise that interests us in this passage is how Matthew used this text in the New Testament concerning the virgin birth of the Christ child (Matthew 1:21-23). Matthew saw in this Old Testament text a “type.” A type is a person, thing, or event in the Old Testament that prophetically prefigures something in the New Testament. The boy born from Ahaz’s court (probably not one of Isaiah’s own sons, 7:3; 8:1) would be quite young when God would act on behalf of his remnant. Likewise, Jesus would not be very old (maybe two) before God would act in strong salvific ways (Matthew 2:1-12). The only way God can save people is to get very close to them and thus the significance of the name, Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
The Bible does not say much about the virgin birth of Jesus in comparison to other Christological doctrines. But for over 2,000 years the church has fought tooth and nail to hold on to this doctrine. The church felt that something of the deity of Jesus would be lost if it surrendered this doctrine. The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels says it this way, “It is difficult if not impossible to explain why Christians would create so many problems for themselves and invite the charge of Jesus’ illegitimate birth by promulgating such an idea if it had no historical basis” (page 70).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.