Monday, December 6, 2010

The Immanuel Book- Isaiah 7-12 #1

TEXT :  Isaiah  7:  1-10
TITLE : “ Be careful , be quiet , do not fear …”
DATE PREACHED  :  The Lord's day, 5th  December 2010

Let me begin with a short biographical sketch on the  prophet Isaiah.
His name   (Yeshayahu) means  “ God saves”.  Nothing much is known about  Isaiah except what we read  in this book .  Isaiah Chapter 6  contains   his  famous  call or commission in the year that  king  Uzziah   died . He lived in Jerusalem and his prophetic activity extended at least from  742-701 BC . He was the son of Amoz (1:1)  and he was married . The greatest political event of his prophetic career would have been  the fall of the Northern kingdom  ( Israel)  at the hand of the Assyrians in  about 722 BC  . 
No other prophet  in the Scriptures has  prophesied more  concerning the  Messiah than Isaiah  .  He  reveals the Messiah as Immanuel ,  the incarnate God  (Isa 7-11). We know this with the hindsight  of Matthew  1:21-23.   He also reveals  the  Messiah  as the suffering servant (Isa 53)   who was wounded for our transgressions.
Chapter 7  contains  the  prophecy of the virgin birth  of  a son called Immanuel  (7:14). This “ Immanuel “  is as  mysterious  and  unique  as   the king Melchizedek  in Genesis 14:17ff  (who is without father or mother or genealogy  , having neither beginning  of days or end of life…” – Hebr 7:3).   The Lutheran  commentator  H.C. Leupold  gives this section the title “ Immanuel book”. These are rich Scriptures foretelling the conception and birth of Immanuel   . The gospel of Matthew makes a direct connection to this text with Jesus Christ.  The mysterious Immanuel is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ . 

Chapter 7
I must give you some  further  historical background to Chapter 7 .   Here  we read   that God commands  Isaiah to speak  to   king of Judah[1] ,  King Ahaz,  who is   presently in a real quandary  .  We read  in   7 :1- 2 [2]  :  
In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with  Ephraim, ( i.e. Israel or the NK) the heart of Ahaz  and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”
King Ahaz was  clearly very afraid  !  The language is  very picturesque  : ”the heart of Ahaz  and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”

Isaiah was commanded by God to speak to Ahaz and the people about this fear :
“ And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, 6 “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” 7 thus says the Lord God: “‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. 9 And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’”

 Isaiah found king Ahaz  at the upper  pool . Jerusalem’s water came from outside the city   and so it could be easily  cut off by an enemy.   No water  - no hope  !  Ahaz was worried what the enemy could do . Isaiah was sent by the Lord to give Ahaz   courage  , faith and hope .
Now keep in mind that  in  Isa 6:9,10  Isaiah was told that  that “ the hearts of this people would be  dull…. Their ears heavy  and their eyes blind…” .   Men like king Ahaz  would not believe any word  that would come to them from  God.  But , no one  must  accuse God  of not being patient  with rebellious people . He sends His servants into His vineyard time and again  (Parable  of the tenants of the vineyard : Matt 21: 33-46)
So  it appears  that King Ahaz already had his mind made up. He  believed that only Assyria  could  help him now. He would even give away the temple treasury ( the things devoted to God) to save his neck . In  2 Kings 16:7–8 we  read : 7 So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king's house and sent a present to the king of Assyria.

This sort of thing   appears to be  disturbingly  habitual among those who call themselves God’s people . In  Isa 30:1-3 we read of a similar  mindset  where  God’s people were  wanting to trust  in Egypt  rather than in the  LORD their God   :
“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,“ who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance,  but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin;2 who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! 3 Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your  humiliation.
… and these  following words in Isa 30: 12-16
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, 13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; 14 and its breaking is like that of a potter's vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to   take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”
15 For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning  and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling,  16 and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
The message to Ahaz  was simple : Stop worrying ! I am in control  of these events : Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands.

See how much God is for Ahaz  .
This is  apparent in the fact that God sends  a prophet  with the true Word of God  to  him .  Oh how God loves us  when He does not withhold His word from us  .
Remember  too  that  Ahaz,  the son of Jotham, was a son of David.  Pekah  of the Northern kingdom was not of the line of David. He murdered the previous king  Pekahiah  and seized the throne of Israel. He  ruled  20  years before Hoshea the  son of Elah   killed  him and took the throne  from  him (2 Kings 15).  The point is that  the  Lord   had no covenantal dealings  with  the kings of the Northern kingdom .  Pekah was merely the son of Remaliah.  In contrast to this, Ahaz could have rested in God’s promise, “… I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:14).  
Sadly,  this  king born into the Davidic line  could not see  that  a great and mighty  God was committed to  fight his battles  for David’s sake – for His own glory’s sake .  Ahaz  only saw  these two immediate threats – these  two   earthly kings , who from God’s perspective were   described as smoldering stubs -   where the fire had died and all that was left was the smoke !   
Ahaz should have been comforted by this message .     He should not have been intimidated by their threatening  words  ( see v.6)  ;  he should have taken comfort  in the Word of the Lord   .  He should have remembered the  truth expressed  in Isa 40 :15-17 :  15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. 16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Ahaz  had to do nothing  but to stand firm in His faith  in the God of his father David . It was not a leap in the dark . It was a faith that  was tested and tried by his  many godly  predecessors.  Not to stand in faith in this situation would mean the downfall of the nation.
As it  happened in the course of history , it was not only so that the Northern kingdom would be taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC  , but that 150 years  later  the Southern kingdom would share the same fate , being  taken  into captivity by the Babylonians  .
See how much God is for Ahaz  !
Next week (D.V.)   we will consider  an incredibly generous  offer from the LORD God  to   this  spiritually  weak king Ahaz   . God  says to Ahaz through the prophet  “Ahaz , ask for a sign  to prove  that I am the faithful God  that  will  protect you and sustain you …”  ( 7:10) .  We shall see that Ahaz fails to make an opportunity  of this. And we shall see that despite his unbelief  God Himself will give a sign – “Immanuel”  to prove  that He is the faithful God who will deliver His people  from  their trials and tribulations .  But , as I said , that will be the  subject matter for our next sermon on  Communion Sunday , the 12th December 2010  .

Right  now I want to conclude with some  application
This  is the month and time  of the year  when we remember the birth of our Immanuel – the  Living Word , who   was  given  for our  release from   fear and anxiety – from darkness  . 
We  too are currently living  in  a very  fearful and anxious age . Many people  are sick and stressed . In Jesus  day , He saw that many were  sick and distressed and demon oppressed .  And like the woman  who had a constant flow of blood and had exhausted her finances ( Mk 5:26)  to find a cure  to her ailment  , people  are  harassed  by all sorts of fears  and   emotional ailments  leading to all sorts of psychosomatic diseases. They  crowd the consultation rooms of the doctors   and psychologists.  They are religious like Ahaz . They go to church , but  their demons  of  fear  and anxiety  remain . 
And the main problem is this :  They hear but do not understand ; they keep on seeing , but do not  perceive …”  ( Isa 6:9) .  Like Ahaz and the people  of His day  they do not respond  to the word of the Lord because they  think more  of their enemies than  about the Lord .
They will  not hear  the Word of the Lord speaking into their fears . They  do not want to believe these words from the Immanuel book, because they believe the false prophets , the false words around them more  than this WORD   .
Therefore  they  do not  hear  these words  : Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands…”
God is theory  for   them  …  their  fears and existential  anxieties  are  their  realities!
Our generation is  not firm in  faith !   We  know  very little  of what it means to live by faith . We may not be atheists , but we are practical atheists
We trust our purses  and  we pay for  the opinions  of secular life coaches  , motivational  speakers  , psychologists , doctors  to get rid of our  fears and anxieties.  We   are  pumped full of anti depressants  and  drugs and other stimulants. We cover our  emptiness  by pleasure seeking. 
We are not a generation  that   listens  to God .  We  accumulate  for ourselves teachers  to suit our own passions , and  we easily turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths ( 2 Tim 4:3,4)
We are not  committed worshippers . We do not work from the  center of a  God ordained , biblical fellowship. We do not disperse from the  prayer meeting full of faith  and power .
We are Ahaz’s . We do our own thing . We are intimidated  by people and their opinions . God’s Word does not  seem to touch us  as it ought to . 
Brothers and sisters  :  In every faithful sermon God calls us to faith and obedience  !  But we are deaf and  blind .
We need Immanuel  to come and restore us . This whole  passage begs for a divine solution .  Thank God  that  He holds the key to our every crisis .
Turn with me  now to Him in prayer .

[1] See the list of kings  in whose reign Isaiah  prophesied in  Isaiah  1:1
[2] The historical  background  is found  2 Chronicles 28 and 2 Kings 16    .The time frame is  roughly about 735 BC.

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