Isaiah 7:10-17 (CSB)
10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz:
11 “Ask for a sign from the Lord your God—it can be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.”
12 But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.”
13 Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God?
14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
15 By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating curds and honey.
16 For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.
17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s house such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah: He will bring the king of Assyria.”
This time of year lots of people are thinking about the Christmas traditions. It gives us an opportunity to meditate on the gospel story behind those traditions. This year, I want us to think about one of the prophesied nicknames of Jesus: Immanuel. This passage is the first time in the Bible that name is mentioned, but the idea can be traced throughout the Bible. What does it mean for God to be with someone?
Adam & Eve’s Immanuel
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”” (Genesis 3:8-9). Imagine what it was like for God to personally visit you every evening! But as soon as they sinned, they could not bear that presence!
Noah & his family’s Immanuel
Gen 6:3 And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.” (Genesis 6:3).
Imagine what it was like for this family to be singled out for preservation of all the families of the earth! God was with everyone up to a point, but he would stay with Noah and his family.
“The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master. (Genesis 39:2). “But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden. ” (Genesis 39:21).
Imagine the horror of being betrayed and abandoned by your family, and your employer, and losing your freedom and hope. But Joseph had a secret that kept him from despairing in the midst of that trial. The Lord was with him.
Moses and Joshua’s Immanuel
“the Lord your God will be with you, as he was with Moses” (Joshua 1:17). “And the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land” (Joshua 6:27).
Image the tremendous responsibility of leading an entire nation. But Moses and Joshua had a secret that kept them strong. The Lord was with them.
the judges’ Immanuel
“Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the Israelites, the Lord was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive.” (Judges 2:18)
Imagine having the responsibility not just to lead a nation, but to rescue it from the consequences of its failures and wrong choices! But the judges had a secret that gave them all the strength they needed – even the strength of Samson! It wasn’t their hair. That secret was that the Lord was with them.
“Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4) “Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul.” (1 Samuel 18:12)
For David, having God with him was a mixed blessing. It meant fellowship with God, and God’s presence when he went through the darkest valley. But it also meant that king Saul would be jealous of him and hate him. But God’s presence helped him through all the ordeals he would face as God’s chosen king.
AHAZ could have had an Immanuel!
Isaiah 7:10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz:
The first time God spoke to Ahaz, he tried to get him to calm down and not to fear getting invaded by Syria and Israel, because he said it ain’t going to happen. He tried to get Ahaz to stand firm in his faith and trust God to deliver him and his nation. But Ahaz did not trust God. He had already decided that he could be rescued by an alliance with Assyria instead.
Isaiah 7:11 “Ask for a sign from the Lord your God – it can be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” The prophet said, Hey Ahaz, this is your lucky day. God wants to give you a sign, and you get to choose what it is. You want God to raise someone from the dead, just ask. You want God to send an angel down from the sky, just ask.
Isaiah 7:12 But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.”
This makes Ahaz sound so humble and pious, but he was not. Ahaz was not a righteous king. He was an idolater. In fact, he had even sacrificed his own sons to Moloch. The reason Ahaz didn’t want to ask God is that Ahaz had rebelled against God. He wanted to be a success without God’s help.
Isaiah 7:13 Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God?
Isaiah had previously gone to Ahaz and assured him that his immediate neighbors to the north would not be able to overthrow him. But Ahaz ignored that assurance from Isaiah, so he tried the patience of the man – Isaiah. But Now Isaiah is speaking for God himself, and Ahaz still refuses. He is trying the patience of God.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
We Christians are used to taking this verse out of this context. We tend to only think about it as Christmastime, and only in the context of the birth of Jesus. I want to talk about Immanuel in its Christmas context next week. This week, I want us to think about it in its Ahaz context. Who is the virgin that Isaiah mentioned to Ahaz? She had to be a young woman of marriageable age, and someone who is known by both Ahaz and Isaiah. The two most possible options are a young woman in Ahaz’s harem who will bear Ahaz a son, or a new bride for Isaiah. I think the second option has the most scriptural support. If you go on and read chapters 8 and 9 of Isaiah, it seems like those chapters continue the Immanuel prophecy, and that the son that Isaiah predicts in chapter 7 is Maher-shalal-hash-baz. That’s the name his father gives him, and Immanuel was probably a nickname that his mother gave him.
Isaiah 7:15 By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating curds and honey. Isaiah 7:16 For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned.
God’s word to Ahaz was that in the few years it takes for a young boy to grow to his age of accountability, Israel and Syria are not going to be the immediate threat that they are now. Something is going to change.
Isaiah 7:17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s house such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah: He will bring the king of Assyria.”
What is going to happen instead is the superpower of Assyria is going to lay waste those lands to the north, and lay siege to Judah itself. Things are going to get so bad that the only things left to eat will be curds and honey – because all the crops will be gone. By the time mommy’s little Immanuel was ready for his Bar-Mitzvah, that had happened. God wanted to be Immanuel to Ahaz, but Ahaz refused to ask.
Is God with you? Have you invited the Lord into your heart? Let’s sing O Little Town of Bethlehem, and let’s make its final verse our prayer. O holy Child of Bethlehem Descend to us, we pray Cast out our sin and enter in Be born to us today We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell O come to us, abide with us Our Lord Emmanuel.
This message was preached by Jeff on Sunday, December 8th, at Lone Star Advent Christian Church in Clifton Forge, Virginia.
The video stream of the service is available here.