Monday, December 13, 2010

The Immanuel Book- Isaiah 7-12 # 2

TEXT :  Isaiah  7:  10 -17 
TITLE : “ Ask for a sign … Immanuel ”
DATE PREACHED  :  12th  December 2010

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your  God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he  said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

We have entered the  “ Christmas season” of the year   when the church traditionally reflects upon the  birth of our dear Saviour , the Lord Jesus Christ .  I join the chorus  of all the saints  past and present with joy, as we give  corporate thanks to God our Father for sending us His Son !
This year I wanted  to meditate with you on  one of the most  powerful  OT Scriptures  concerning  the incarnation  of  our   Lord.  Isaiah  9 : 1-7  is traditionally read  and proclaimed  at this time , but I think that it is  it is really important to  pay attention  to  the greater context . The  Lutheran commentator Leupoldt  has  recognized this context  and  has  therefore called  Isaiah Chapters 7-12 the “Immanuel book” .[1]
Isaiah Chapter 7  contains  the  prophecy of the virgin birth  of  a son called Immanuel  (7:14)[2]. The name  of Immanuel and the circumstances  under which he was conceived  are as  mysterious  and  unique  as   the life  of  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) or of the man  that wrestled with Jacob   ( Gen  32:22ff) .  The mystery   is thankfully lifted when we  read  the NT Scriptures  , and in this case particularly  Matthew  1:20-23 . But more about that in a moment .

We may be  somewhat   surprised when reading and meditating  on this text that  it does not sound  very “ Christmassy”  at all when you consider the  historical picture . Somehow  we have managed to focus  on  selected texts from the  Scriptures  and  have ‘ sentimentalized ‘ them , without recognizing the historical context and  prophetic  profundity  of these texts.
I  have showed you previously  that  Isaiah’s commission begins with  a  great vision of  God  (6:1-8)  which  ends with a very difficult commission   in 6:9,10  where God said to Isaiah  :  “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing,  but do not understand; keep on seeing,  but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”  What a message !  You may well ask ,  What gospel or good news is there in this ? I trust that at the end of our exposition you will indeed  behold the gospel  of our Lord Jesus Christ !

Let us begin  with the basic facts .  Isaiah was  sent to preach the Word of God ( for that is what prophets did!)  to people  who wouldn’t listen ! At least not  according to their own  choice .
In his very first assignment  from God this happened  . God called Isaiah to speak to king  Ahaz  in Jerusalem  concerning his fears  about the invading allies and  armies of Syria and the  apostate  Northern kingdom ( i.e. the northern 10 tribes) . The message from God  is  captured  in  7:4  :  “ 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.”

Let me remind you  that Ahaz  , although he was  a son of David , and mentioned   in the  covenantal line of the Messiah (see  the genealogy  in Matt 1:9 ) , he  wasn’t   a spiritual man  who trusted  the Word of the Lord .  The Scriptures testify in   the historical narrative  of 2 Ki.16:3  that “ he   walked in the ways of the kings of Israel . He even  burned his son as  an offering, according to  the despicable practises of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.  .  
So , Ahaz was  essentially   a godless man  -  a man given to making his own plans  , and  from the  historical accounts  in 2 Kings 16:7–8 we know that he trusted more in  an alliance with  the Assyrian king than in  the God of his father David  . Historically, within 65 years the Northern Kingdom of Israel would be taken captive and Syria would be destroyed by Assyria (2 Kings 15:29; 16:9). All this  happened  just as God said it would.  The study of the  prophecies  and  their fulfillments in history  are a great  testimony to the reliability   and  authority  of Scripture . 

Ask for a sign (vv. 10–17)
With this in mind , Isaiah  appears  before Ahaz at the upper pool (7:3)  with words that we would not have expected  to be spoken to this godless, faithless king . Isaiah comes with  a  good and encouraging  message from God and  along with  this he also brings a  challenge in v. 9  :  If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” .
But   he finds  king Ahaz  apathetic to this positive   message  .  So , God in His patient mercy says  to Ahaz through  His servant Isaiah  in v.10-11   : “Ask a sign of the Lord your  God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
The God of grace and mercy is surely  extremely patient with this apostate son of the covenant . He does this for the sake of His covenant  and for the sake of the throne of David and his offspring  the Messiah  , and not because  Ahaz deserves God’s patience .
God tells  Ahaz by the mouth of His servant  Isaiah  to choose a sign as evidence that the message is true. He tells  him also  Make it as difficult as you like  – make it  as deep as  Sheol or high as heaven" (v. 11).  What an offer – what an opportunity to  see the Living God at work . Imagine you were given that opportunity !  What would you have asked for?
Astonishingly we read  in v.12  : “ But Ahaz  said , I will not  ask,  and I will not put the LORD to the test  .”  Some think that Ahaz is being merely   humble or modest . Perhaps he remembers Deut  6:16  where it says : “ You shall not  put the LORD your God to the test” . But  as  others have pointed out , when God  proposes a sign  , man is not putting God to the test. If the truth be told, the pious  answer which he gives here  actually masks  a very stubborn unbelief.  I do not need to remind you  that some of the strongest unbelief  hides behind  religious, pious  language  !

Now you can hear  Isaiah’s frustration beginning  to manifest  in v. 13  : “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?   It is very likely that Isaiah  was speaking this not only to the King but in the presence of a multitude assembled  at the  conduit of the  upper pool on the  highway to the washer’s field .  Many may have heard this word  that now came to  Ahaz and to them (v.14)  : “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 

A virgin shall bear a son ?
“…the virgin shall conceive and bear a son” . The  Hebrew word used here for virgin   is ‘almah  -  a   marriageable young lady of unblemished character who was   sexually pure. Many  modern  scholars have  had a problem  with this , because  according to them  virgins ,  by definition cannot conceive or give birth ! ( a real anti-miracle bias) 
And yet this is  not a grammatical  mistake . Many years before Christ was born , Jewish scholars translated  the OT  into Greek (this was called the  Septuagint - or the LXX)  and they  used the word “ parthenos   for  the word  “virgin” . The Greek language is  precise and unambiguous . The term is  deliberate, and  a parthenos is  a virgin ! They did not  use  the word “ young woman”  or another equivalent .
This prophecy  is truly  astonishing  .  Everybody knows that virgins  do  not  give birth . So, this was going to be something extraordinary .  
However , here is the  ‘ problem’  . There is no  further indication in our context  of who this virgin might be or who Immanuel might be, and so we are left guessing  with respect to a contemporary fulfillment. 
From our Christian  perspective  we would say  that God was  giving  a  sign beyond the understanding and time of Ahaz. Ahaz would never see it. This sign was impossible beyond the deepest depths of Sheol  and the highest heights  of heaven (v.10). A virgin would give birth to a male child.
The male child would be called “Immanuel” , meaning “God with us”.   Immanuel is mentioned again in 8:8 & 10 .
  • The land which was under the rule of the House of David was His land.
  •  He is addressed in prayer (8:8) so He must be the LORD . He  is the Lord who frustrates the plans of His opponents in 8:10.

All this  would have remained  a mystery  had we not  received  the interpretation  in  Matt 1:20-23 :
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
 And  Luke 1:30-37 reads :
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Now please note the deliberate  language used here by Mary  :
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”   Mary knows that  she is a virgin . She knows that it is technically impossible for virgins to fall pregnant !

And from this follows the fact that  this birth is going to be an extra-ordinary birth !
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born  will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, ( here is an extra sign and a confirmation !)  your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”

  1. Much of the  OT ( the prophecy of  Isaiah  by way of application) does not make much sense without  the revelation of Christ our Immanuel .
  2. The Christian faith   rests upon this prophecy in Isaiah 7 .
  3. The deliverance of Judah’s hopeless position at the time of king Ahaz  comes not by  human might or power , but by God ‘s miraculous  intervention – and that despite the  deafness and stubbornness of  king and people ( or if you like – government and nation) . When I consider the  issues that Namibia and the world faces ,  I know that there is no United Nations  and no United States  and  no World Council of churches  that will  help us . There are simply no human alliances  that will get the world out of this sticky mess , this entanglement of sin . But we thank God for the gospel !  
  4. This story  of Isaiah and Ahaz proves to us once again , that the gospel comes to us utterly undeserved  and   unsought   .  It comes to us  because God is faithful to His covenant . In that covenant He has given  a people ( a bride)   to His Son . The Son has prayed for that bride in John 17.  All that the Father has given to the Son will come.  The sheep know Him  and they follow Him   (John 10: 14, 27) .  Evil  people  like Ahaz  will not stand in the way of God’s gospel – in fact , evil people  like Ahaz  are  sometimes  overwhelmed by the gospel and brought into submission of the gospel  .  The apostle Paul was a spiritual Ahaz before the grace of God overwhelmed him  .  
  5.  Today I have prayed  once again  that  God  would be pleased to pour out His great gospel  into the heart of  many  an Ahaz .  Amen ! 

[1] H.C. Leupoldt: Exposition of Isaiah , p159
[2]  For the name  Immanuel : See Isa  7 : 14; 8:8,10

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