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Chapter 6 Isaiah’s Vision of God and His God-given Commission.
Having learned in chapters 1-5 of the doom approaching for Judah and Jerusalem we now learn of the credentials of the one who had declared that doom. And yet they are not just credentials, they rather explain how this man was able to see into the very heart of Israel. For in this chapter we learn of Isaiah’s remarkable vision of God, a vision that seemingly came at the beginning of his ministry, and which is immediately followed by the commission which he received. In it He sees the exalted holiness of God, and becomes aware as never before of the One with Whom He is dealing. As a result of this he is made aware of his own utter sinfulness before Him, and of the utter sinfulness of the people. Then, on responding to God’s call, he is commanded to go and witness to these very people, and to go on witnessing, even though they will not hear. Finally he is promised that after trials which will decimate their numbers, there will be further trials, until in the end a holy remnant, but only a holy remnant, will be preserved.
Thus this chapter explains to God’s people why he has the right to speak as he does, and how it is that he can see their true state rather than the outward appearance that they confidently present to others. It will be followed by reference to specific historical incidents and will connect these with the general message that has gone before.
The Vision of God (6.1-4).
At the heart of Isaiah’s ministry lies this vision of God. In it he sees the glory of God, and yet he makes no attempt to describe God Himself, probably because what he saw was indescribable. So instead he is satisfied with describing all that surrounded Him, leaving the impression of what he saw to our imagination.
Analysis of 6.1-4.
In ‘a’ he says that he saw Yahweh sitting on His throne, high and lifted up, and in the parallel the Temple is shaking, and is filled with smoke. The whole picture is reminiscent of Mount Sinai, with God being revealed and yet hidden (Exodus 19.18). In ‘b he sees the ‘burning ones’ (seraphim) and in the parallel the ‘burning ones’ cry to one another and declare His utter holiness.
6.1 ‘In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.’
It is unusual for Isaiah to date his prophecies, or for a regnal year to be defined in terms of death, (but compare 15.28) and we are therefore probably justified in seeing in these words some kind of implication. The year would be 740/739 BC. King Uzziah had been a good king, favoured by God, but he had been very foolish in the matter of burning incense before Yahweh, a practise forbidden to all but priests (2 Chronicles 26.16-8) and had been punished for his folly with leprosy (19-21). He had thus become a recluse, an isolated leper king, with his son Jotham reigning as regent (2 Kings 15.5) and was probably at this time seen to be approaching death with his leprosy still affecting him. But there was no doubt that his death would be a great blow to the people.
It was at such a time that Yahweh visibly revealed Himself to Isaiah in order to demonstrate that there was a yet more powerful King Who was sat upon the throne, One Who was over all, One Who, far from being a leper, was the essence of purity itself, (‘the Holy One of Israel’), and who far from dying was the very essence of life (‘the living God’). These two kings were in total contrast. The one sinful, frail and temporary, and despite the glory that had been his, passing away a helpless leper, and the Other holy, glorious, Almighty, permanent, unchanging and everlasting.
In view of what follows we are probably justified too in considering that Isaiah saw in the state of the king a picture of the spiritual condition of Judah and Jerusalem (see for example 1.6). For just as Uzziah was seen to be approaching his end after being smitten by God, so were they. The whole combined nations of Israel and Judah were leprous and doomed and awaiting their end.
Note that here God is called ‘the Lord’, the One Who is Sovereign over creation. At the time that this occurred Isaiah was in the Temple, aware that in ‘the Holiest of All’ (the Holy of Holies), the inaccessible inner sanctuary, Yahweh’s earthly throne was hidden behind the great Veil, set over the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh. But now he was to see something that was beyond this, something which filled him with awe. For he saw a heavenly throne on which was seated the exalted, glorious and holy Lord. And the sense that he had was of the whole Temple being filled by this glorious figure, seated in majesty and purity, for the whole Temple appeared to be filled by His swirling train. It was a sight that filled him with an awe beyond anything he had ever known. Indeed it made him cry out with awe. For now he knew as never before that God was Lord indeed.
We do not have to ask how he could see One Whom no man can see and live. We must as always accept that the heavenly vision was in some way partially concealed so that he as frail man could bear what he saw, as previously in the case of Moses (Exodus 33.21-23), so that while he saw God, it was not all that was God (1 Timothy 6.16). But it was more than enough, and the sense of His presence alone would have been sufficient to prostrate him on the ground.
6.2-3 ‘Above him stood burning ones (seraphim), each one had six wings. With two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet and with two he flew. And one cried to another, and said, “Holy, holy, holy, is Yahweh of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory.” ’
It is noteworthy that Isaiah does not try to describe the glory of the Lord. Rather he seeks to bring out His glory by the description of His throne and temple-filling train, by the description of Him as ‘high and lifted up’ (compare 57.15), and here by the vision of the burning ones, winged flames of fire, and yet presumably in human form having both faces and feet, that hovered around and over Him.
We are probably to see them as representing the heavenly cherubim, but in different form and shape from the earthly cherubim in the temple (Revelation 4.8 seems to combine the two). This is no earthly vision. And so holy was the presence of the One on the throne that these glorious beings shielded their faces and feet before His awesome ‘otherness’, their faces because they could not look on His glory and total purity, and felt unworthy to see His face, and their feet because such were seen as contaminated by the touching of some inferior, or earthly, thing. We are not told what they stood on but it was clearly sufficient to defile them by its contact in the light of the awesome presence of the One Who was totally separate, and totally holy. We can consider how the feet of the priests had to be washed continually when they entered the sanctuary or approached the altar to sacrifice, for the same reason (Exodus 30.19-21; 40.31).
And the cry and attention of these holy beings is centred only on the Lord. Compared with Him they recognise their own nothingness. And they proclaim His holiness in a threefold cry, a sign of His complete and absolute holiness. He is the holy of holy of holies. Indeed so much so that the whole earth is full of His glory.
So the earth also is seen here as manifesting His glory. All creation speaks of His creative power (compare Revelation 5.13; Psalm 145.21; 150.6; Romans 1.18-20), and none more so than the earth with its wonderful God-given provision for man, its living creatures into which God had breathed life and finally man himself, who had received life from God of an even more wonderful kind, made with a heavenly nature, even though now a sadly fallen one, God’s ‘image’ on earth. That is why all Nature also cries out to proclaim His glory, and to wonder at man’s sinfulness (1.2-3).
The word ‘holy’ is central to Isaiah’s awareness of God. He is the Sovereign Lord, He is the Mighty God, He is Yahweh of Hosts, but above all He is ‘the Holy One’. Distinct, unique, set apart from all else in being and purity, He is the One compared with Whom there is no other.
6.4 ‘And the foundations of the thresholds were moved at the voice of him who cried, and the house was filled with smoke.’
At the words of each of these mighty beings as they declared the glory of Yahweh, the very foundations of the Temple shook, and every entranceway responded, vibrating vigorously to the voice of the seraphim (a reminiscence of Sinai - Exodus 19.18). And at the same time ‘the house was filled with smoke’ as a result of the presence of the glory of God and of His power (Revelation 15.8), revealing, while at the same time concealing, the figure on the throne. Such smoke was reminiscent of theophanies , and especially of the theophany at Sinai (Exodus 19.18; Deuteronomy 4.11; compare Exodus 13.21; 40.34).
The glory, and the smoke, and the shaking could hardly have failed to remind Isaiah, steeped in his nation’s holy writings, of the original giving of the covenant (Exodus 19-20). And now here was the covenant God come in a similar way to call His people to account.
Yahweh’s Call To Isaiah (6.5-13).
As Isaiah stood, or possibly prostrated himself, before the wonderful vision of resplendent holiness, it was all too much for him as he was made aware of his own sinfulness. But God arranged for his cleansing preparatory to calling him to the task that he has in store for him, the proclaiming of God’s message to an ungrateful people, with the promise that it would finally result in a holy seed.
Analysis of 6.5-13.
In ‘a’ we have the sense of the uncleanness of this holy man, who was separated to God and seeing the King, and in the parallel we have a description of the ‘holy seed’ who will survive as those who are separated to God. In ‘b’ we have the description of how God cleanses His messenger, and in the parallel how He will go about the process of cleansing the land. In ‘c’ we have Isaiah’s response to the call of God, and in the parallel what it will involve in heartache and disappointment
6.5 ‘Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Hosts.” ’
Isaiah’s response is one of terror, and awareness of his own total unworthiness. Like Job he saw himself as totally unfitted to see God, and unfit for His presence. We have here a parallel thought to that of Job, ‘Now my eye sees you for which reason I abhor myself and repent in sackcloth and ashes’ (Job 41.5-6).
‘Woe me.’ Woe was the word that supremely declared the deserts of those who came under God’s anger, and later Isaiah would declare God’s woes on those whose behaviour angered God (5.11-24). But at this time he sees that woe as directed against himself. Indeed it is only because he has seen this that he can be permitted to declare God’s woe on others. For the man of God does not stand as judge, he stands as one of the accused who has found mercy, speaking on behalf of the Judge. And at this moment Isaiah could see no hope for himself at all.
In the previous chapter we have seen God’s six woes declared. Are we to see in this the seventh woe in the series? Isaiah’s recognition that he too is subject to woe?
‘For I am undone (destroyed, ruined).’ As a result of what he was experiencing he could only visualise disaster for himself. He was devastated in the fullest sense. He was appalled at his own state. For he recognised that only one thing was now fitting, his own total destruction. All hope that he had had of being a minister to God’s people was now come to an end. The word ‘undone’ contains within it the idea of being silenced by disaster, sorrow or death, and by all that is most devastating.
‘Because I am a man of unclean lips.’ Here was the cause of his ruin, for what a man is, is revealed through his lips (Matthew 12.37). And he knew that his lips were not worthy to say ‘holy, holy, holy’. Rather they were only fit to be silenced and doomed. They demonstrated him as fitted for destruction. With them he had sworn fealty to Yahweh. But with them he had also spoken that which was contrary to all that Yahweh is. Thus they were ‘unclean’, barred from God’s presence, not fitted to speak of God, excluded from referring to holy things. Approach to God was totally out of the question. Like the dying king he could only wait for the death that he deserved. He was a spiritual leper.
Such an experience of awareness of sinfulness, of self-abhorrence, of feeling totally unworthy can be the experience of every godly person in times of spiritual exaltation, although possibly not in the intensity with which it struck Isaiah, because as we become aware of the glory and holiness of God it contrasts with what we ourselves are. For in ourselves we too are often people ‘of unclean lips’, saying but not doing, and when we come into the presence of God it can make us very much aware of it. But thankfully there is for us too a ‘burning coal’ that contains within it all the essence of sacrifice, for ‘if we walk in the light as He is in the light --- the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin --- if we openly admit our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1.7, 9).
‘And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’ He knew also that what was true for him was also true for his people. They also were without hope. They were excluded from God. They were no longer the people of the covenant, a prospective holy nation. They were rather under sentence. And any hopes that he had entertained of being God’s representative to them were now gone. For he knew that he was not fit, and that they were not fit. They were unclean. They had proved unfaithful to the sworn covenant, the covenant which their lips had sealed but their lives had denied. Their sins and their iniquities had thus totally separated them from God.
With their mouths they had sought or declared what was unjust, voiding justice, they had lied and deceived in life and business, they had encouraged lust or expressed it, they had arranged theft, and even encouraged murder, they had expressed envy, they had revealed hatred, they had dishonoured the Sabbath, and above all they had treated God lightly in the way that they maintained the cult, going about their activity apathetically, and even denying Him by giving to their idols the honour due only to Him. They were utterly unclean. All this has been expressed in chapters 1-5 preparatory for these words.
The words bring new meaning to the words ‘in the year that King Uzziah (the isolated leper king) died’. He was dying an isolated leper. And now Isaiah was aware that he himself was spiritually a leper, and that the people too were lepers, and thus isolated from God, and that they too were worthy only to die as the king had died, repulsive and spurned.
‘For my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Hosts.” ’ And this was because his eyes had seen the King, Yahweh of Hosts. And yet not his eyes only. It had pierced into his heart and his whole moral being. For the first time he had seen Who and What God really is. And once he had seen Him all else was unworthy, and nothing more so than sinful, disobedient man. Note that it is as ‘the King, Yahweh of hosts’ that he speaks of God (compare Deuteronomy 33.5). Splendid, glorious, all-powerful, The One Who on Sinai had adopted His people for Himself and declared Himself Overlord over their hosts. Here was the One with Whom Israel had confirmed covenant, and Whom they had subsequently so miserably neglected and spurned. No wonder that he did not feel that his lips were clean enough to swear fealty to such a One. And it was from this vision that would be born his favourite title for God, ‘the Holy One of Israel’.
We too may have made many promises to God in the past, especially in times of crisis. But deeply mistaken, are the ones who can say that they have fully kept them all. For ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of the Holy One’ (Romans 3.23). And we too must thus cry out in the presence of the Holy One, ‘I deserve woe. I have broken my promises. I have not loved Him as I should. I am unclean.’
6.6-7 ‘Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar, and he touched my mouth with it, and said, “Lo, this has touched your lips, and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged.” ’
‘Then’, as Isaiah watched in total despair, he saw one of the seraphim fly to the altar and, with the holy tongs, pick up a live coal from the altar, from among the coals on which the blood of many sacrifices had fallen. And as he watched the seraph flew to him and touched his lips with it. That coal represented in itself the consuming of all the offerings and sacrifices of Israel. in their being offered to God. It represented all that was good in the sacrificial system. It represented the God-provided means of atonement. And when Isaiah later condemned the Israelite perversion of the sacrificial system (compare 1.10-15), it was not this that he condemned. This represented the good side, the God provided side, of that system. He realised that he was covered by the shedding of blood, by the death of a thousand substitutes offered on his behalf, but all pointing ahead to the One great Substitute Who would be offered for the sins of many (53.5, 12; Romans 5.25).
That the seraph flew at God’s command is not stated but can be assumed, for in His presence none would dare to move except at His command, whether expressed or unexpressed. There He was all prevailing.
‘A live coal from the altar.’ Its glowing ‘life’ represented its immediacy in connection with the recent offerings and sacrifices. It had helped to consume the current sacrifices. Thus it represented present atonement. The thought is not of fire purging, but of the sacrificial significance applied, as the words of the seraph reveal. By it his sins would be ‘covered’, atoned for. He could thus once more look upwards to God with hope.
‘He touched my mouth with it, and said, “Lo, this has touched your lips, and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged.’ It was his ‘lips’, his mouth, that Isaiah had declared to be the proof of his utter sinfulness, and so it was his mouth that was symbolically cleansed. His unclean lips were now touched by the God-provided means of atonement. His iniquity was taken away, his sin was purged. Rightly used and approached the sacrifices were still effective for atonement to those who truly sought God, until One would come Who would Himself be the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world (Isaiah 53). Then all would need to look to Him.
‘Taken away -- purged.’ ‘Iniquity’ is the sin deep within that affects our very ‘hearts (our inward beings), and is an essential part of our sinning, staining us in God’s presence. But now for Isaiah this was taken away, removed, got rid of. ‘Sin’ is the actual outworking of iniquity in wrongful action, and that too was ‘purged, covered, atoned for’. There was now no barrier between Isaiah and God. The result was that from a position of complete self-despair he came to a place of being able to listen to the voice of the Lord God.
For us there is better than even this live coal, for we may see Jesus Who was the one sacrifice for sin for all time, and we may call on Him knowing that, if we admit to Him our sin and look to Him, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1.7).
6.8 ‘And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am. Send me.”
The plural ‘us’ reveals that God is talking to the seraphim. They were His support in the work of salvation. Or it may be a plural of majesty. We can compare it with the ‘us’ spoken at creation (Genesis 1.26). But the question was really intended for Isaiah. It was the voice of the Sovereign Lord seeking for a messenger. Any one of the seraphim would have been delighted to be the messenger, but it is a sign of how Isaiah had been transformed by his experience that he steps into the conversation and offers himself to be the messenger. Filled with gratitude and awe he cries, “I am here, send me.”
We should recognise from this that any true experience of God will do the same. Once we have truly known God we cannot but speak of those things which we have seen and heard.
6.9-10 ‘And he said, “Go, and tell this people, ‘Hear you indeed, but do not understand, and see you indeed, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again and be healed.’ ”’
God does not want Isaiah to be deceived into thinking that his ministry will be gloriously successful. The message that he as messenger will have to bear will not be an easy one. He is called to go to a stubborn people, and most would remain stubborn to the end.
Some ministries are much harder than others, and outward success is not the only criterion of the genuineness of a man’s calling. Some sow, and others reap (John 4.37-38). The words did not describe literally all he had to say (his whole prophecy indicates how wide ranging his message was), but they were the essence of what would be achieved. As he proclaimed God’s truth and saw the people’s negative reaction, (and that, God stressed, is what he must mainly expect), he would be driven to point out to them what was happening. They were hearing, but they were not accepting with understanding, they were outwardly seeing, but not inwardly perceiving. Thus the more they heard the more they would become hardened to his words because their hearts were closed. Yet let them but open their hearts and they would both see and hear.
But he knew that most would not. The result of his words would only be that their hearts would become fat (clogged up, inactive), their ears heavy, their eyes closed. They would refuse even more to see, they would refuse even more to hear, they would refuse even more to understand. Like Pharaoh they would harden their hearts, and become hardened, and all through God’s activity in seeking to reach perverse hearts.
There is a slight sarcasm in the final phrases. By constantly preaching to them he will be finally ensuring that the vast majority do not respond and be healed. And the more he proclaims God’s word the more certain it will be. Thus paradoxically by preaching to them he is making their turning to God theoretically less likely because they will have hardened themselves further. It is not that God does not want them to turn, He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It is rather that He sees their hearts, He knows what their response will be and how they will react. How by their hearing they will be even more hardened. How by their obstinacy they will destroy themselves. Thus He knows that His very act of seeking to help them will result in their condemnation. By pleading with them He will be hardening their hearts. And yet they must be given the opportunity.
But what if He had left them alone? Would they have turned? Of course not. Their hearts were so set that turning was not for them. It was only a theoretical possibility, not a practical one. They would simply become theoretically ‘less reachable’. Previously it was certain from God’s viewpoint that most would not respond, after the preaching it will be even more certain. The hardening will have taken place. Even the theoretical possibility will have been removed. Then why preach to them? Firstly because it gave them every chance to exercise the theoretical possibility. Once they had heard His word they could blame no one but themselves. God’s justice and fairness would be revealed. Up to that point they could have said, ‘if only we had known’. After it they had no excuse. And secondly because some few would respond as God worked in grace on their hearts. There would be ‘a holy seed’ (verse 13). God’s purpose for the few would be carried through in the hardening of the many.
We can compare how when Jesus preached to the antagonistic among the Pharisees His words hardened them. Instead of responding they became more antagonistic, and so much so that He had to warn them that they were in danger of ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’, that hardening against the Spirit that guarantees that no response can be even theoretically possible. And He knew that this would happen, but He still gave them their opportunity. They would not come because they were not of His sheep, given to Him by the Father (John 10.26, 29). Yet through His words some among the Pharisees did come. The hardening of the many had to be, for the sake of the few.
We have here specifically expressed the mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Man is ever free to choose, but his freedom is limited by what he is. God is sovereign over all and in the end it is His purposes that will be worked out. And He knows what the consequences of what He does will be. And so, in a real sense, He is responsible for all. When He allowed Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened by Pharaoh himself in the time of Moses, He knew that by His continued actions He was hardening Pharaoh’s heart. When He arranged for a messenger to these people, He knew that He was bringing about the consequences described, that He was bringing about the sealing of the ears, the closing of the eyes, the hardening of the heart. And yet it was they who were responsible for their own response. It came because of what they were. No blame could be attached to God. Thus does He carry through His purposes.
6.11a ‘Then I said, “Lord, how long?” ’
We can understand Isaiah’s misgivings. How long must he engage in this thankless task? What will be the limit? He is ready to obey but wishes for a limit to be put on what he has to do. But he has to learn that there is no limit. He must go on to the end. God has purposed judgment and he must go on until that judgment is fulfilled. There is no let up in the work of God.
6.11b-13 ‘And he answered,
Apart from a few details the whole of Isaiah’s message is contained in these words. From the moment of his calling he was informed that one day first Israel, and then Judah and Jerusalem, would be invaded, would be taken over, and would be carried into exile. It was the inevitable consequence of the fact that they would not hear. The cities would be wasted. The houses emptied of occupation. The land would become a wilderness. The inhabitants would be removed far away, either by captivity or flight Few would remain. Only a ‘tenth’ would be left. But would this be a new beginning? No. For even for them would come judgment, for the land would be ‘eaten up’ again. And then finally after all the felling there would be a stump left. The holy seed would be the stump (4.3).
This then was God’s purpose. Although He would yet spare and delay, the end was inevitable because of what men were. The whole would be whittled down to a tenth (a small proportion). But this tenth was not the Lord’s, and they would refuse Him even that tenth. So that tenth would be whittled down even further. The land was doomed because the covenant which gave them the land was broken. Yet out of all of it would come a stump. And that stump was the holy seed that He continually promised, the final remnant. Only God could populate Heaven from a stump!
The terebinth and the oak were both symbols of Israel’s sin (1.29-30; Hosea 4.13). Thus the thought includes the hewing down of idolatry out of which would spring the holy seed.
Note. While Assyria were the initial rod of God’s anger (10.5), Isaiah was to learn later that this would not be just by Assyria. Thus when the Babylonians came on the horizon he knew in his heart, guided by God, that they also would contribute to Judah’s downfall (39.5-7), and would later learn and recognise, again by God’s inspiration, through whom initially deliverance would come, the house of Cyrus I of Persia (44.28-45.1). Thus he knew the essence of what was coming, without the detail, and could give due warning. He was a prophet not a fortune teller. End of note.
Chapter 7-12 The Coming One of The House of David.
It was in accordance with what God had told Isaiah at his calling that success would not be immediate. But Isaiah also knew that past revelation had shown that final deliverance must come through the house of David which had been established for ever (55.3; 2 Samuel 7.13, 16; compare also Genesis 49.10-12). In this he had complete confidence. ‘God has said it, and will He not do it?’ Thus he knew that his task must include the encouraging the house of David to faith in Yahweh, and the proclamation of the final success of that house. And it is in this that he now engaged himself in chapters 7-12.
Chapter 7 The Failure To Believe of the House of David, Resulting In God’s Promise of a Great Sign and Remarkable Birth in the Future Restoring Of That House.
In this section from 7.1 to 8.10 great emphasis is laid on sons as being signs of what God is going to do. We have Sheerjashub (‘a remnant will return’) in 7.3, Immanuel (God with us’) in 7.14; 8.8; 8.10 and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (haste the spoil, speed the prey) in 8.3-4. The first and third are sons of the prophet, the second a son of the Davidic house. The sons of Isaiah are a portent of the judgment that is coming, with the promise that a remnant will return (8.18). But Immanuel (God with us) is the hope for the future, the coming David, although He too will arise when times are bad.
Judah and Jerusalem are at this point being threatened with invasion by Syria and Israel, because they have refused to join an alliance against the Assyrians (see Introduction). But God is in favour of Ahaz’s position in refusing to join the alliance and therefore encourages Ahaz by promising that if he will but trust in Yahweh he will have nothing to fear. God will be with him. And He even offers him a mighty sign.
However, Ahaz spurns the offer with the intention of appealing to Assyria for aid, and God therefore gives him instead a sign that he does not seek or desire, a sign which is a consequence of his refusal. It is a sign of rejection. For it is revealing that from now on his house, the seed born through him. are to be seen as rejected. God will no longer be with him. So the coming Messianic (Anointed) king whom Judah are expecting, instead of being a son of Ahaz, will be supernaturally born. A virginal young woman will produce a child, who will be called Immanuel (God is with us). The idea is that Ahaz’ own seed will have been rejected, and replaced with God’s seed. And through this child God will again be with His people. Meanwhile before such a child would even have time to grow up Syria and Israel will be destroyed, following which Judah will be devastated by Assyria.
We must recognise that this was a crucial moment in the life of the people of God. Prior to this they had remained independent, apart from times when Egypt had exercised their influence, which had been on and off and on the whole relatively benign, but from now on the choice was between independence and trust in God, or submission to the great empires to the north. This was the choice that lay before them. To put this in its historical perspective, Uzziah died around 740/739 BC, Assyria invaded Syria and Israel in 733-32 BC, probably only a year or so after this prophecy, because they had rebelled and refused tribute. Damascus fell in 732 BC, and Samaria in 722 BC. The question was, what would happen to Judah and Jerusalem?
God Appeals to Ahaz Asking Him To Trust Him (7.1-9).
Syria and Israel, in seeking to join an alliance against Assyria, called on Judah to join them, and when Ahaz was reluctant, determined to bring him to heel. (As far as we know up to this point Judah had not had to pay tribute to Assyria, probably because of the remoteness of its capital). But Yahweh tells Ahaz that he is right to reject any part in the alliance, but must rather trust in Him. Unfortunately, and very foolishly, however, Ahaz has rather decided to submit to Assyria, pay them tribute, and call on them for assistance, thus bringing Judah within the sphere of the Assyrian Empire.
Analysis of 7.1-9.
In ‘a’ Rezin and the son of Remaliah come up against Judah, and in the parallel God promises that they will be broken in pieces. In ‘b’ they could not prevail against Israel, and in the parallel this prevailing that Judah were afraid of will not come about. In ‘c’ the house of David were afraid because of Syria and Ephraim, and in the parallel the reason for their fear is described, the attitude of the kings of Syrian and Israel. In ‘d’ Isaiah goes to meet Ahaz, and in the parallel the meeting is in order to assure him that he need not be afraid.
7.1 ‘And it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, the king of Syria and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, went up to Jerusalem to war against it. But they could not prevail against it.’
The verse begins by stating Ahaz’s credentials. He is a true son of the Davidic house, the grandson of the great King Uzziah. It then follows this up with a summary of what is about to happen.
So this verse is a summary verse, and verse 2 takes us back in time before it. It is setting the context of the passage, the prospective new invasion by Syria and Israel, and stressing that it will not finally succeed. Jerusalem will not be taken. This was a regular method of presentation of history from Genesis onwards.
Alternately it may be summarising the previous invasion by the alliance. But the above seems more likely.
We are not here given the reason for the invasion, except that it was of Yahweh (2 Kings 15.37; 16.5) with the intention of making Ahaz think again about his idolatry (2 Chronicles 28.19), but humanly speaking it almost certainly because Ahaz had refused to join an alliance against a threatening Assyria. With Assyria threatening from the north Syria and Israel, along with other rebels, were wide open to attack, and they were seeking allies. It would seem that Edom and Philistia had been willing to join them (2 Chronicles 28.17-18). Presumably, however, representations to Ahaz had not been favourably received. Thus they determined that they would bring Ahaz to heel and enforce the support of Judah by replacing Ahaz with a puppet king.
This in fact helps to explain why Ahaz finally did later appeal to Assyria (2 Kings 16.8-9). Once he had refused to trust God for help, they were the obvious allies to help his cause. It is very probable that he was not really fully aware of the power of the forces to whom he was looking. He was probably looking for a temporary alliance, obtained by the giving of a present, not to be permanently swallowed up. Assyria had in the past appeared, and then disappeared again. But like Hezekiah after him he was just not fully aware of the strength and ambitions of the one to whom he appealed (although sufficiently aware to recognise the folly of combining against him).
Here in microcosm was what God had said would happen to Judah. A backsliding, a failure to respond in trust and obedience, followed by another backsliding that would lead to disaster.
7.2 ‘And it was told the house of David, saying, ‘Syria is confederate with (or ‘has settled on’) Ephraim.’ And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest are moved with the wind.’
The news of the prospective invasion by Syria and Israel (the latter often called Ephraim, because Ephraim was the largest tribe) reached Ahaz. The fact that the Syrians had gathered in force and had stationed themselves in (‘settled on’) Israel, joining forces with the Israelite army, was alarming. And both he and the people were afraid. Their hearts were stirred as trees are stirred by the force of the wind, shaking violently without cessation. Note the reference to the house of David. The inference is that as a member of the house of David he should have stood firm on the promises of God made to that house. He should have looked to the God of David. Compare Psalm 2. He should have been aware that none could stir themselves against God’s anointed and prevail. But instead he cowered before the enemy. His faith was lacking and he clung to his idolatry.
7.3-7 ‘Then Yahweh said to Isaiah, Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shearjashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the launderer’s field, and say to him, “Take notice and be quiet. Do not be afraid, nor let your heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah, who are saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach in it for us, and set up a king in its midst, even the son of Tabeel.’ Thus says the Lord Yahweh, It will not stand, nor will it come about.” ’
God in His goodness sends Isaiah to speak to the faithless Ahaz. He is to seek to win Ahaz back to God’s covenant, which was in fact His very purpose in the proposed invasion. So Yahweh tells Isaiah to go, along with Shearjashub his son, to meet Ahaz. The name Shearjashub means ‘a remnant will return’, which is probably why he was to accompany his father. He would be a living reminder of the message of Isaiah. This confirms Isaiah’s vivid awareness even at this stage of the central content of his own message, a message of departure from and return to Yahweh, possibly with exile and return in mind (compare 6.12). It should also have acted as a warning to the king of the house of David, for we cannot doubt that Isaiah had proclaimed to him his message from God.
‘A remnant will return’ stressed both coming judgment and subsequent mercy, but always with the recognition that repentance could delay judgment. So the name of Sheerjashub hung like a warning notice of what the future could hold.
‘At the end of the conduit (aqueduct) of the upper pool in the highway of the launderer’s field.’ This aqueduct was in process of being built to seek to ensure a water supply in case of siege. Although not fully adequate, for it went overground, it was better than nothing. It would serve until it was discovered and destroyed by the enemy. It was part of Ahaz’s fearful preparation for what was coming. It would seem that he was supervising the work himself. The launderer’s field would be where the washing of clothes was done in the river, presumably because the water was ample there, and fairly clear.
Yahweh’s word to him was to trust Yahweh and thus gain confidence. ‘Take notice and be quiet. Do not be afraid, nor let your heart be faint.’ If only Ahaz would listen to Yahweh and return to Him, then he could have full confidence that Yahweh would be with him. Returning to the covenant (‘taking note’) would mean that he could have quiet confidence in Yahweh’s willingness to deliver. Then his fear would evaporate and his heart would cease to be faint. This is confirmation that Yahweh approves of his stance against joining the alliance, and is yet ready to work through the house of David and be with him if only Ahaz will repent.
‘Because of these two tails of smoking firebrands (or ‘smouldering stubs’), for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah, who are saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and vex it, and let us make a breach in it for us, and set up a king in its midst, even the son of Tabeel.’ Thus says the Lord Yahweh, It will not stand, nor will it come about.’
God’s contempt for the enemy is clear, especially for ‘the son of Remaliah’ who is not even named. They are but like two tails of foxes or jackals to which firebrands have been tied. That is their combined arsenal! (Or alternately like two smouldering stubs, soon to be extinguished). He promises that their attempt to replace Ahaz will fail. The plot to install ‘the son of Tabeel’ as puppet king will not succeed. Tabeel was probably a pretender to the throne of David, a connection with the royal house who was seeking his main chance.
However, the description of the two ‘sons’, the son of Remaliah and the son of Tabeel (whom the alliance hoped would potentially in the future represent the people of God) in terms of the name of the house that they came from rather than by their own names is significant for another reason. There is a clear implied contrast with ‘the son of David’. These men are not the true heirs of David. They are the sons of Remaliah and Tabeel. Therefore they should not be relied on. Furthermore Ahaz should ask himself what chance the house of Remaliah and the house of Tabeel could possibly have against the house of David, the anointed of Yahweh, if only Ahaz would trust Yahweh.
Notice the grace of God. ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, It will not stand, nor will it come about.’ He gives this guarantee before Ahaz has repented, with the hope that he will be grateful and repent, recognising that Yahweh of hosts is the only One to be relied on for defence, and thus resubmitting to the covenant.
‘The son of Tabeel.’ Tabeel was possibly a son of Uzziah or Jotham by an Aramaean princess connected to Beth Tab’el, a place known from contemporary Aramaean inscriptions as an Aramaean land in northern Transjordan.
Set out in this way the balance of the statement is clear. What is in mind is the future of Israel and Judah, the two sections of God’s covenant people. In the first case doom awaits, for, because of their trust in Rezin rather than in Yahweh. As a result Israel (Ephraim) will cease to be a people, because they have finally rejected the covenant by their alliance with Syria. They have rejected dependence on Yahweh and placed it in Rezin. In the second case possible doom is threatened for Judah and Jerusalem depending on Ahaz’s response. Judah’s future too is in the balance. The question is, will Ahaz depend on the Lord Yahweh, or on the son of Remaliah, whose dependence is on Rezin?
Ephraim (Israel) have chosen to rely on Syria rather than Yahweh. Well, let him consider. What is Syria? They are summed up in Damascus and finally in their king, Rezin. Thus Ephraim are stayed on Rezin. But king Rezin is not a reliable stay. That is why Ephraim’s fate is sealed. They have chosen King Rezin and his gods and rejected the Lord Yahweh and the Davidic house. Thus their future is hopeless. Defeat awaits them and within sixty five years they will even cease to be a people at all.
And once a large number of Israelites were deported as a result of the Assyrian invasion, and once foreign settlers and leaders were incorporated into the land of Israel by Esarhaddon in 671 BC about sixty five years later, that was what happened. Israel was no more (although many would have fled to Judah maintaining God’s people as ‘Israel’).
Now what about Ahaz? Ahaz was facing both. He of the house of David now had to choose. He could elect to have the son of Remaliah to depend on, but before doing so he should consider what weak support the son of Remaliah was depending on. He was depending, not on God, but on Rezin. Is he, therefore, the son of David, going to yield to, and depend on, these two weak supports? Or is he, as Yahweh’s Anointed (1 Samuel 12.3; 24.6 ff; 26.9 ff; 2 Samuel 1.14; Psalm 2.2; Lamentations 4.20), going to trust the Lord Yahweh, the One Who provides unfailing support? That is the question. (The question of Assyrian alliance has possibly not yet been determined). Unless he chooses to believe on Yahweh he will indeed not be established. He too, and his people, will be removed from the scene.
Perhaps also Ahaz was supposed to read further into this the unspoken inference and consider Judah’s own idealistic position. Had the parallel been stated this would have read, ‘the head of Judah is Jerusalem the city of David, and the head of Jerusalem is the son of David.’ This should then have awoken him to the true situation. How can David’s son possibly depend on anyone but Yahweh, who had chosen David as His kingly representative on earth, and Jerusalem as His dwelling place?
The overall message that comes to us from this passage is, ‘if God be for us who can be against us?’ But in the event we must trust and not be afraid, otherwise we will not be established.
The Miserable Failure of Ahaz and God’s Judgment On His House (7.10-17).
We must not underestimate this incident. In this total turnabout of history in Israel’s most crucial time, for it would determine the whole of the future, the scion of the house of David rejects God’s protection, and, uniquely, God’s offer of a striking supernatural sign, and the result is that he and his descendants born from his seed are thereby debarred from being the future Davidic king. Because of Ahaz’s shameful lack of response, the future expected king is not to be descended from his seed, but will be miraculously born.
Analysis of 7.10-17.
In ‘a’ Ahaz is offered a sign, either in the depth or in the height above. In the parallel he is given a sign ‘in the depth’, the invasion of Assyria. In ‘b’ Ahaz in unbelief refuses the sign, and in the parallel receives a sign ‘in the height’, of a (miraculous) child who will be born at a time of oppression and poverty. In ‘c’ the house of David has wearied God, and in the parallel will be replaced by a miraculous child who will not be descended from Ahaz.
God Makes Ahaz An Astounding Offer (7.10-12).
7.10-12 ‘And Yahweh spoke again to Ahaz saying, “you may ask a sign of Yahweh your God. Ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test out Yahweh.’
God’s backing of Ahaz if only he would believe was so assured that He graciously offered a sign of any magnitude so as to bolster Ahaz’s flagging faith, simply because he was the son of David. Note that there was no limit to what he could ask. Here in one sense was the most favoured man in history. This demonstrates the crucial nature of what was involved. Clearly a remarkable, even incredible, miraculous sign was being offered (compare 38.7-8). And yet Ahaz refused to ask for the sign. His reply was not as pious as it sounds. What he was effectively doing was dismissing Yahweh as an option. He was refusing the offer. For to take up the offer to ‘test out Yahweh’, would be to bind him to Yahweh, and he did not wish to be bound. He was a man of no genuine faith.
‘Ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.’ The range offered was remarkably wide, going down into Sheol, or the depths of the sea, or rising up to the heavens among sun, moon and stars. God was willing for any required sign to be asked for, even something outside the sphere of living man’s experience, something unusual, awesome and miraculous, greater even than those granted to Moses, Joshua (Joshua 3.5-8; 11.12-14) and Gideon (Judges 6.36-40). There was no limit. Thus Ahaz was left without excuse. His refusal was the direct result of his attitude as being anti-Yahweh. He was openly and directly rejecting obedience to the covenant. Rarely if ever has a man had such an offer and refused it. No wonder God was angry. Such a statement from God was clearly preparing the way for a genuinely awesome event, and that is precisely the kind of sign that Yahweh gives him, although not in the way originally intended. In view of what God had offered Ahaz, any sign He now gave had to be incredible and amazing. And so it was, ‘A virgin will bear a child.’
‘Of Yahweh YOUR God.’ The ‘your’ is emphatic. Contrast ‘my’ in verse 13.
The Offer Refused God Declares His Particular Judgment on Ahaz - The Coming King Will Now Not Be of His Seed But Will Be Miraculously Born (7.13-17).
In order to fully appreciate the words that follow we have to get into the electric atmosphere of the moment. Here God, quite understanding that, in the light both of the threat of the nations allied against him, and of the King of Assyria, Ahaz was afraid, had offered him any sign that he asked for, of whatever nature, however miraculous, a sign to surpass any that had ever been given before. Such a build up could only result in an outstanding miracle. Clearly any response by Yahweh must include such a sign, for this is what the whole narrative has been leading to. If Ahaz will not ask for a sign, then Yahweh will give him a sign of such proportions that it can never be doubted. But because God never seeks directly to convert unbelievers by miraculous signs it has to be in the form of a declaration about the future.
7.13-14 ‘And he said, “Hear you now, O house of David, is it a small thing for you to weary men, that you will weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign, behold a virginal young woman will conceive and bear a son and will call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah replies forcefully to Ahaz’s words, addressing him as the ‘house of David’, the Davidic representative of that house. In the face of the promises to the Davidic house he is appalled at Ahaz’s attitude. Here was a dreadful thing indeed. The anointed of Yahweh refusing the command of Yahweh in the face of the threats of the nations (contrast Psalm 2.1-2). He challenges the king on the basis that he has already wearied men by his behaviour, (Isaiah and those of the leadership who support him?), and that that is no small thing, although as a king he gets away with it for the time being. But he will surely recognise that he cannot treat God like this? That is going too far. In view of the fact that he has refused a remarkable sign God now has a remarkable sign for him. It will not, however, now be a favourable sign but a sign of his rejection. For that is the whole point behind these words. As he is wearying God by his prevarication in refusing to accept a remarkable sign, a remarkable sign will now be given to him but instead of being a sign of blessing it will be a sign of rejection.
The situation is very similar to that of Saul previously. The anointed of Yahweh had flouted the direct command of Yahweh and was therefore rejected and replaced in the mind of God long before he ceased to be king (1 Samuel 15.26; 16.14), even though it would take time to work itself out before men (1 Samuel 31). In the case of Saul this was evidenced by the secret anointing of the young David before the actual physical transfer of power took place some time later (1 Samuel 16.13-14). But here it is to be evidenced by something even more startling, the promise of the unusual birth of a remarkable child. Again, although in secret, the transfer of power was taking place.
The use by Isaiah of ‘my God’ is in itself suggesting the rejection of Ahaz by God. Isaiah now sees Ahaz as excluded from the right to see Yahweh as his God. By pointedly rejecting the use of ‘our God’ Isaiah is excluding Ahaz from the company of those who can call Yahweh ‘my God’, and thereby rejecting him as the Davidic representative.
For whether Ahaz likes it or not, Yahweh, the ‘sovereign Lord Himself’, does intend to give him a sign. And that sign is of a virginal young woman who will bear a son and call his name Immanuel - ‘God with us’. What an impossible thing. A sign indeed ‘in the heights above’. And God’s guarantee of it is a sign to Ahaz (for what God has said, He will do) that his own position is no longer tenable. In the future Ahaz can no longer anticipate the possibility that he or his blood descendants might be Immanuel, the ultra-successful coming king. For now when Immanuel comes he will not be from the house of Ahaz. He will be supernaturally born.
The word for young woman (‘almah) is never, as far as is known, used of a non-virgin or married woman. It refers to a young woman of marriageable age, with growing sexual desires, who is not yet married, and thus is assumed to be a virgin. The use of ‘almah in Song of Solomon 6.8-9 confirms this. There it is contrasted with queens and concubines and clearly describes those who are in the same situation as the loved one, unmarried and virginal, and in verse 9 it is associated with ‘the daughters’ of their mothers, (they have not yet left their own households), the many compared with the one. It is a word containing the idea of sexual purity, without the taint that had come on the word bethulah which was specifically linked with pagan deities of doubtful morality, and did not strictly mean a pure virgin at this time (compare Joel 1.8).
As this is intended to be a sign of unusual significance (‘in the depth, or in the height above’ - verse 10) it is clear that it is not just to be seen as an illustration in passing. We are probably to see verse 14 as meaning ‘I will give you such a sign as I offered’. That is required by the context. To suggest that it is simply using an ordinary birth as a sign (say, of the prophet’s wife or one of Ahaz’s wives) is to go totally against the significance of the words and of the whole situation. A remarkable and unusual sign is required here. This is promising something so unusual as to constitute absolute evidence of God’s direct intervention. At the very least it is saying that someone totally unexpected, who would not naturally be seen as a child-bearer, will have a child.
Nor can it have an illegitimate birth in mind, for that would not have been seen as either unusual or evidence of God’s activity, and this especially as the child is to be called ‘God with us’. Rather than being a divine sign such a birth would have been seen as a matter for severe condemnation. (Only the modern day with its loose morality could turn such an idea into something glorious).
It is true that in 8.3-4 the birth of a son to Isaiah’s wife the prophetess is described, and he too is indicative of the length of time within which Syria and Israel will be spoiled by Assyria (8.4), but that is no unusual sign. It is simply a confirmation of the situation being described here. Births were commonplace, and there is no suggestion of anything unusual abut his birth, and the name given to the child is very different, with different implications (Maher-shalal-hash-baz - ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’) and not even suggestive of ‘God with us’. It can hardly be seen as a sign of the kind in mind from the sovereign Lord Himself.
Who then is this son? The context later tells us. In 9.6 reference is made to an unusual child who is to be born, who is described as having the name ‘Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. This child is to establish the everlasting kingdom. That will be a sign indeed. The name Immanuel - ‘God with us’ - thus fits well with him in every way. God is decidedly with him in what he is ‘named’, and God will be with him in the establishing of the finally triumphant kingdom. Thus we are well justified in seeing this unusual and significant birth pronouncement as applying to him. Here truly is a worthy sign from the sovereign Lord.
This brings home the high expectations there were for the house of David at this time. The throne of its kingship was to be established for ever (2 Samuel 7.13, 16), its representative was Yahweh’s anointed (Psalm 2.2), Yahweh’s begotten son (through adoption) (Psalm 2.7), whose final destiny was to rule and judge the nations to the uttermost parts of the earth (Psalm 2.8-9), so much so that he could be likened to God because he stands in the place of God and is appointed above all kings both great and small (Psalm 45.6-7). Thus he will one day be called Wonderful (compare Judge 13.18), Mighty God, Everlasting Father (9.6). His ascent to some kind of divinity is clear. Jesus certainly saw it in this way (Matthew 22.41-44). So there is no wonder that He should experience an unusual and divinely accomplished birth.
We can compare also the high expectation spoken of by Micah, ‘But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little among the thousands of Judah, out of you will one come forth to me who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting’ (Micah 5.2). There too we find the expectation of an extraordinary child.
What then is the significance of this sign to Ahaz? It is that when this great prince comes, in the imminent (but not necessarily immediate) future, he will not be born by descent from Ahaz, but will be wonderfully born without human father, closely associated with the house of David so as to be seen as the Davidic heir, but not of it, so as to escape the taint of Ahaz. It is a specific sign of Ahaz’s rejection. Rather than Ahaz’s seed inheriting the promises made to the Davidic house, another will arise to fulfil the promises made to David, replacing Ahaz and his seed, for God will ensure by a miracle that he will not be of Ahaz’s seed. It is Ahaz’s final humiliation, a sign that he has brought an unusual kind of rejection on the house of David. In him the house of David has so wearied God, that God will work a wonder so great that the coming Greater David will be of it and yet not of it. This would hit at the very root of Ahaz’s pride in what he saw himself to be, the Davidic representative, and as such one who was uniquely exalted. Now he was being substantially downgraded and totally disinherited. The very divine right of the king was being overthrown.
This idea of One born from a virginal young woman would not be the problem to Isaiah and his hearers that it is to the modern day. They looked back and remembered that Isaac, the chosen son, had been born by God’s miraculous intervention (Genesis 17.17-19; 21.1-2). They remembered that Manoah’s wife had been barren and had had her womb made fruitful by God (Judges 13.3), thus producing the great deliverer Samson. They remembered that the mother of the great Samuel had also been unable to bear children (1 Samuel 1.5), and that she too had been miraculously touched by God (1 Samuel 1.19-20), and had thus borne that even greater deliverer. And all these births had been at vital times for God’s people. So the thought that such a miraculous birth would occur in the future, even more miraculous than them, would demonstrate to them that the covenant God was still with them, working His wonders (for a similar use of the promise of a future event as a sign compare Exodus 3.12).
The name Immanuel (God with us) is also significant. The people of Judah saw the Davidic house as evidence that God was ‘with them’. Were not all His promises to be brought about through them? Thus God may well be saying here that the name Immanuel (God is with us) can no longer be applied to the house of David as represented in Ahaz, for God is no longer with them, but will uniquely now apply to the coming King. It is He who will be called Immanuel.
But it may be asked how such a future birth could be a sign to the house of Ahaz? The answer is that because of the nature of what the sign was declaring there was no necessity for the birth actually to be witnessed at that time. God was not now seeking to convert or comfort or reassure Ahaz by the sign. That opportunity had been refused. This was not an attempt to convince Ahaz. Rather by it God was declaring that by His own miraculous intervention He would disinherit Ahaz. His declaration of what He would do was therefore sufficient sign to Ahaz of what would be. It constituted the guarantee of a miraculous event some time in the future whose consequence would be the total disinheriting of Ahaz. Thus the guarantee of it happening was all the sign required. Ahaz was finished. He could now only wait with foreboding in his heart, knowing that his own fate was sealed, watching with fear the birth of every royal child. Outwardly he was still the son of David. But before God he was no longer accepted. It was a very similar situation to that of Saul and the secret anointing of David (1 Samuel 16).
This sign can be compared to the one given to Moses in Exodus 3.12. It was a sign from the future. It was the sign of a future event promised by Yahweh, which while not seen at the time would be a stay for the future. In Moses’ case it was ‘you shall serve/worship God in this mountain’. A distant coming event was promised by Yahweh and was to give him the assurance that he needed, even before it happened, for it had happened in the mind of God, and he could believe. It was a sign to faith. Here similarly was a sign to faith. It was the sign of a future miraculous birth, which was a similar future sign, and could be accepted as a sign by faith because God had promised it.
It should be noted that while to us there is seen to be a considerable time lapse between these words and the coming of the King in Jesus, to both Ahaz, and even Isaiah, that birth was seen as ‘imminent’, as ‘something that could happen at any time’. They had no way of knowing when it would be. Indeed Judah would constantly hope in the future for the birth of a special God-favoured king who would prove to be the coming triumphant one. None could know when it would be, nor possibly indeed would initially necessarily know when it had taken place. It was a promise of the future certain activity of God. And no royal mate would be involved. It was thus a date that could be either near or far, and the birth might be secret or open. All that Isaiah and Ahaz were shown was the fact that it would occur and what its significance would be. That was a sufficient sign to both of Ahaz’s total rejection.
Thus the following description would also have immediate significance as a time indicator for both of them. The child might be born at any time, and yet they can be assured that before it was even possible for such a child to grow up the events described would have taken place. However it should be noted that that is not the stress of the sign. That is an after-result. The sign itself is rather focused on the rejection of Ahaz and on the fact that when the coming king was born he would now be miraculously disassociated from Ahaz.
Excursus on The Virgin Birth.
Here in Isaiah the promise is of an unmarried young woman of marriageable age (‘almah in Hebrew, parthenos in LXX) who will bear a child which will reveal to Israel that ‘God is with us’, and will be a sign to Ahaz that God has rejected him and his house.
The Hebrew word used for young woman (‘almah) is never, as far as is known, used of a non-virgin or married woman. It refers to a young woman of marriageable age, with growing sexual desires, who is not yet married, and is thus assumed to be a virgin. The use of ‘almah in Song of Solomon 6.8-9 especially confirms this. There it is contrasted with queens and concubines and clearly describes those who are in the same situation as the loved one also being described, unmarried and virginal, and in verse 9 is associated with ‘the daughters’ of their mothers, (they have not yet left their own households), the many compared with the one. It is a word containing the idea of sexual purity, without the taint that had come on the word bethulah. Bethulah was specifically linked with pagan deities of doubtful morality at Ugarit, and could be used to describe fertility goddesses, who were certainly not virgins. It did not strictly mean a pure virgin at this time, whatever it came to mean later. Compare Joel 1.8 where a bethulah mourning the husband of her youth is described where there are no grounds at all for considering that they had only been betrothed.
Some have used Proverbs 30.19 as an example of ‘almah being used of a non-virgin, when it speaks of ‘the way of a man with a maid’. But there are no real grounds at all for suggesting that that indicates sexual activity. Indeed the opposite is more indicated. Using sexual movements as such an example, as something being watched by others, would with an innocent couple have been heavily frowned on. But we only have to look at what it is being compared with to recognise that it refers to no such thing. Rather it is being paralleled with flight and directional movement which is watched by others. The thought is thus more of a couple on the move in their flirtatious activity, or even of the man’s behaviour of which the young woman is not so much aware, the observers being the amused onlookers as he trails her and tries to be noticed by her. It thus rather supports the use of ‘almah for an unmarried maiden than the opposite.
We can therefore understand why here the LXX translators translated ‘almah by the word ‘virgin’ (parthenos), just as they did in Genesis 24.43. They recognised the emphasis that Isaiah was placing on this woman as being unmarried and pure.
It is true that the word ‘virgin’ (parthenos) does not always refer to what is today indicated by the term virgin, an intact virgin who has not had relations with a man, but there is nevertheless always behind it the thought of underlying ‘purity’. The term could, for example, be applied to sacred prostitutes in Greek temples, who were by no means intact virgins. But these were seen as having their own kind of ‘purity’ by those who wrote of them, for they were seen as daughters of the temples and of the gods, not as common prostitutes. They were ‘holy’. On the other hand, they were certainly not technically virgins. Furthermore after Dinah had been raped in Genesis 34.2 she was still called a parthenos in verse 3 (LXX). She was seen as pure at heart even though she had been violated and was no longer an intact virgin. And in Isaiah 47 the ‘virgin daughter of Babylon’ could lose her children and be brought to widowhood (Isaiah 47.1, 9). In none of these cases then are parthenoi seen as intact virgins. On the other hand, the idea of purity might be seen as lying behind them all.
Nor did Hebrew at this time have a word for ‘intact virgin’. Virginity was assumed for all unmarried young women, unless there was reason to think otherwise, and then it was a shame to speak of it. The often cited ‘bethulah’ did not indicate that at that time. Nor did it necessarily indicate purity. As we have seen above it was specifically linked with pagan deities of doubtful morality at Ugarit, and could be used to describe fertility goddesses, who were certainly not virgins, or even pure. They were far more lascivious and lustful than human beings. And in Joel 1.8 a bethulah mourning the husband of her youth is described. There are no grounds for thinking that she was a virgin. Indeed if she had had a husband for even one night she would not have been. Furthermore the word bethulah sometimes has to be accompanied by the words, ‘neither had any man known her’ (Genesis 24.16; compare also Leviticus 21.3; Judges 11.39; 21.12). That comparison would have been unnecessary if bethulah had specifically indicated a virgin. So a bethulah is a young woman, whether married or not, with no indication of her virginal state. An ‘alma is an unmarried young woman of marriageable age, who if pure (which she would be assumed to be) could in Israel be called a parthenos.
The next thing we note is that this unmarried and pure woman who is to bring forth a child is to be a sign to Ahaz of the rejection of him and his house (demonstrated by the coming of Assyria on them - Isaiah 7.17), and an indication that he will shortly see that God can do what He says and empty the lands of both his enemies, something which will also be a warning to him, for what can be done to them can be done to him in the same way.
Who then was this son who would act as a sign in this way? A number of suggestions have been made of which we will select the three most prominent.
In order to decide which one was meant we must consider the context. In context God had offered to keep Ahaz safe under his protection, and in order to give him assurance in the face of what lay before him, had offered to give him a sign of miraculous proportions (an example of which we find later on when the sun goes back ten degrees under Hezekiah - 38.5-8). God says, ‘Ask a sign of YHWH, whether it be as high as Heaven or as deep as Sheol’ (7.11). This was an offer which Ahaz suavely rejected, because he preferred to look to the King of Assyria. But this sign once given would have been the sign that Ahaz would be ‘established’. It was thus related not only to the deliverance from the current problem, but also to the guaranteeing of the future establishment of the house of David through the line of Ahaz, protecting him from all comers.
And it is on his refusal to respond to God’s offer that God says that He will nevertheless give him a sign, but that this time it will be a sign, not of God’s help and protection, but of the king of Assyria coming on him, (thus he will not be established). And the sign will be that a child will be born of an ‘almah.
The first thing that must be said about this is that it suggests that God intends to bring before him a sign that will indeed be one of miraculous proportions, ‘as high as Heaven or as deep as Sheol’, in accordance with what He has previously described, even though it is one which will not be of benefit to him at all. For only such a sign could demonstrate the certainty that the future of the house of Ahaz was no longer ensured. And if that was to be so then only a virgin birth would fit the bill. It was the virgin birth of the Coming One that guaranteed that He would not be of Ahaz’ house, and that instead God Himself would have stepped in.
1) The suggestion that it refers to a child to be born of the royal house, or of Isaiah’s wife, whose very birth would act as a sign.
The birth of a son to the royal house in the normal course of events (Hezekiah had already been born) or to the prophetess could hardly have been such a sign as the Lord has described above. For one thing no one would have believed that the child was born of a virgin. And indeed it was not possible to the prophetess who was no longer a virgin. The prophetess bears two sons, both of whom by their names will be signs to Judah/Israel, as would their father (8.18), but note that while the prophetess was mentioned earlier in respect of one of the sons (8.3), she is not mentioned in verse 18 where we have the mention of ‘signs and portents’ referring to both sons and their father. There is therefore no emphasis on it being the prophetess who bears both sons who were ‘signs and portents in Israel’ (along with their father) even though she had in fact done so. The emphasis here is on the father.
However, the argument is often that that is the point. The emphasis is in fact on her bearing one of the sons, Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8.3), who will be a sign of the devastation of the two kings, something which in 7.16 was to be gathered from the sign of the ‘almah with child. But here we should note that in 8.3 it is not in fact specifically described as a sign. It is rather seen as a prophetic acting out of what is to be, which is not quite the same thing. Of course we may accept that it was an indication of what is to be, and in that sense a sign. But it is equally certainly not the kind of sign that the Lord had originally spoken of, a sign of startling proportions. Nor is it said to relate to the now greater matters that were involved, that Ahaz’s house would no longer be established, and that the king of Assyria was about to descend on him and his land because he had forfeited the Lord’s protection.
We may therefore justifiably see the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz as a partial sign, but not as a great and wonderful sign. The child’s birth, through the name given to him, was indeed a sign that the kings would be destroyed from their lands within a short while, but that was all that he is described as being. But he was not born of an ‘almah, and he is not said to be a sign of the larger matter in hand, the rejection of the house of Ahaz as manifested by the coming of Assyria and devastation of Judah. Nor is he said to be the sign of the coming of a king who would achieve what Ahaz has failed to achieve (Isaiah 9.7), that is, of the fulfilment of the promises to the house of David. (A fact that will later be made even clearer by the rejection of his son Hezekiah and his seed - Isaiah 39.5-7). The same problems as these lie with any attempt to relate the birth of the child to the birth of any child in the house of Ahaz. The birth of such a child would hardly rank as an unusual sign, and would be even less significant than that born to the prophetess. The heir, Hezekiah, was already born.
2) The suggestion that it refers to any child born at the time the emphasis being on the fact that before it was weaned what God had said would happen.
This suffers from even more disadvantages than the first, for it does not even have the partial support in context that the first interpretation has when related to the prophetess. It is fine as an evidence of how short a time it will be before both of Ahaz’s opponents are devastated, but it has nothing to say about the non-establishment of the house of Ahaz or of the coming of the king of Assyria, nor could it possibly be seen as in any way parallel with the kind of sign that the Lord had spoken about. For the truth is that if the Lord made His great declaration about ‘a sign almost as beyond the conception of man as it could possibly be’, and then gave one which was merely a birth in the usual run of things, it would appear to all that all that He had offered was a damp squib.
And this is especially so because in the past He had specialised in special births in that a number of past ‘greats’ had been born miraculously (even though not from an ‘almah), and almost with the same words. Thus Isaac was born ‘miraculously’ (Genesis 18.10-11, 14; 21.2 - ‘conceived and bore a son’), Samson was born ‘miraculously’ (Judges 13.3 - ‘will conceive and bear a son’), Samuel was born ‘miraculously’ (1 Samuel 1.5, 20 - ‘conceived and bore a son’). And all these births would be engraved on Israelite hearts. But there is no suggestion that they were born of ‘almah’s, nor was the child of the prophetess in fact born ‘miraculously’, even though she ‘conceived and bore a son’. Indeed she had already previously had another son. It will be noted that the only exact parallel to ‘will conceive and bear a son’ in the whole of the Old Testament is Judges 13.3, 5, 7, and that of a birth that was certainly to be unusual and unexpected, and of one who was to be saviour of his people. Thus these words would raise in the minds of the hearers the expectancy of some quite remarkable birth.
3) The suggestion that it refers to the child described in Isaiah 9.6-7, the coming One Who would be greater than David, Who would be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and would rule over the whole world, thus indicating that He would be miraculously born of an ‘almah (parthenos, virgin).
There can be no question that this suggestion of the virgin birth of the coming hope of the house of David has the most going for it from an Israelite’s point of view and from the point of view of the context. It would tie in with the past history of conceiving and bearing a ‘miraculous child’ as being signs to Israel. It would tie in with the Lord’s promise that He would give a remarkable miraculous sign. It would tie in with the following description of the ‘birth of a child’ in 9.6. It would give full weight to the use of ‘almah. It would explain why it demonstrated that ‘God is with us’. It would confirm that the hope of the house of David was indeed coming, in spite of present appearances, even though Ahaz’ house would be excluded.
And as no one knew when the child would be born (it could be at any time) the indication that both kings would be devastated before the child could possibly grow to boyhood was a sufficient indicator of time, especially when associated with the actual example of the birth of the son to the prophetess. Indeed the only question that it might raise is, how could such a birth in the future possibly be a sign to Ahaz?
The answer to this question lies in the nature of the sign. It should be noted that this was no longer intended to be a sign to Ahaz that he was to be established (7.9). But what it certainly was, was a sign of the fact that he would not be established, and while that did not really require a great present miracle at the time then current, God was determined to give him a miraculous sign which would demonstrate the fact in an inescapable way. He lived at a time when all hopes were on the coming of the future triumphant son of David, who would be of the line of David, and who would rule the world. And Ahaz would pride himself in the fact that it would be of his seed. Thus to inform Ahaz that he was now receiving a miraculous sign in the statement by God that ‘the coming David’ would now in fact be born of a virgin, and not be of his seed, was indeed a sign that he would not be established, and was an unwelcome sign indeed. It was an indication that the future throne would go to one not born of Ahaz’s seed. The sign was thus now not a matter of when the child would be born, but of what his birth would signify as regards the hopes for the future. Furthermore we have a good example in the past of precisely such an idea of a sign that was given as a sign to its recipient, with the actual working out of the sign being a future event. For such an example see Exodus 3.12. There the sign that Moses had been sent would be the fact that the people to whom he went would one day ‘serve God on this mountain’. The sign was a promise of a better future that had to be believed in, and that they could hold on to, and in which they had to continue to believe. It was a sign of a future which would actually be the result of their response of faith, just as this sign in Isaiah 7.14 is a similar promise of a better future in which the people are called on to believe, even if Ahaz will not (Isaiah 7.9).
Strictly speaking in fact Ahaz did not want or merit a sign. He had refused it. He had already made up his mind to look to Assyria. Thus the point here is that he was receiving a spoken sign that he did not want, a sign indicating God’s decree, which demonstrated the very opposite of what the original promised sign would have indicated. It demonstrated his rejection by God. Meanwhile Israel could indeed be confident that one day it would receive its promised king Whose coming would prove that God was with them, but they would now know that He would not be born of the seed of Ahaz, but would rather be born of a virgin. We should also note that while this might cause problems to our scientific age, it would have caused no problems to Israelites. They would not be looking for some interpretation that avoided the ‘miraculous’. They would have seen no difficulty in the Creator bringing about a virgin birth. That is a modern problem.
End of Excursus.
7.15-17 ‘He will eat butter and honey when he knows to refuse the evil and choose the good, for before the child will know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you hate will be forsaken. Yahweh will bring on you, and on your people, and on your father’s house, days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah, even the King of Assyria.’
To ‘eat butter (or curds, thick sour milk) and wild honey’ has been interpreted as meaning either a time of plenty, the food of the gods, or a time when it was necessary to exist on basic things because the land itself was unfruitful. Verse 22, however, read in context makes clear that the reference is to the latter. So the coming miracle child will not be born in a time of plenty. His birth will come while the land is under judgment, and He will have to exist on basic foods. The idea of his coming is thus a sign of the hard times ahead. Meanwhile Ahaz can be sure, as God has promised, and will not now renege on, that before there could be time for such a child to grow to maturity the doom of Syria and Israel will have been sealed. But let him not gloat on that fact, for he himself also will in fact find himself no more an independent king but merely a vassal prince, subject to heavy tribute. In contrast to what he could have had from the Lord Yahweh, independence, glory and prestige, the one to whom he has actually chosen to look will demote him to being a mere vassal, a mere servant prince. He will reap what he has sown.
‘When he knows to refuse the evil and choose the good.’ This can mean either when the child is of an age to appreciate the world and make right decisions (2 Samuel 19.35), or when he comes to moral discernment (Genesis 2.17; 3.5, 22 see 50.20; Deuteronomy 1.39; 30.15). The phrase is used with both meanings, which timewise roughly tie in with each other.
‘The land whose two kings you hate will be forsaken.’ The lands of Syria and Israel will be deserted, the kings will be no more. Possibly it includes the idea that they will also prove to have been forsaken by their gods in whom they trusted.
‘Yahweh will bring on you, and on your people, and on your father’s house, days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah, even the King of Assyria.’ Ahaz has chosen the king of Assyria in preference to Yahweh, and so the king of Assyria he shall have, at Yahweh’s hand. Both Ahaz and his people will become subject to them, but worse, the proud, exalted Davidic house, for which God had promised so much, would also be subjected. The house ‘destined to rule the world’ would be the puppet of Assyria. With the faithlessness of Ahaz all the dreams for the house of David had collapsed.
‘From the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.’ Ever since the death of Solomon the kings had been independent. Now it will be so no longer. From now on they will always be subject to another earthly overlord, until the son is born in hard times who is destined to rule the world (9.6-7).
Reference will be made in chapter 8 to the birth of a son to the wife of Isaiah. But he is specifically named Maher-shalal-hash-baz (‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’) to indicate the coming judgments of God, and the downfall of Syria and Israel and the desolation of Judah. Nothing could be more in contrast with this promise in 7.14. The child of 7.14 is a child of hope. The prophetess’s child is a child of judgment. Nor was Isaiah’s wife at the time an ‘almah. While therefore it may have been left open to some to see that child as fulfilling the prophecy, if they wished to do so, the child did not really do so. He was named rather in confirmation of the coming judgment already placarded (8.1-2). He was not ‘Immanuel’, God is with us. Nor was his birth such a remarkable sign as to prove anything. Something greater had certainly to be looked for in order to fulfil 7.14, as the continuing emphasis on Immanuel makes clear (8.8, 10; 9.6).
End of note.
God’s Judgment Upon Ahaz and Judah (7.20-25).
God now declares certain judgment on Ahaz. Not only is his seed permanently rejected, but, having rejected the authority of Yahweh, he will now come under another authority, an authority that will strip Judah of its wealth and bring it to poverty, and will result in oppressors throughout the land.
Each paragraph commences with ‘in that day. In ‘a’ the land is wholly occupied and its thorns are described, and in the parallel it is wholly desolate and its thorns are emphasised. In ‘b’ it is shaved with Yahweh’s razor, the king of Assyria and in the parallel is so shorn that minimum requirements are required in order to maintain its few inhabitants.
7.18-19 ‘And it shall come about in that day that Yahweh will whistle (literally ‘hiss’) for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria, and they will come, and settle all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and on all thorns and on all pastures.’
The phrase ‘in that day’ always refers to whatever day of Yahweh’s judgment is in mind, sometimes near, sometimes far. Here it is the soon-coming consequences of what Ahaz has chosen to do that are in mind. Both Egypt and Assyria are going to be finally involved, for that is what Yahweh has decided to do. Judah will be just a pawn in the middle unable to do anything about either.
The picture is vivid (compare 5.26 where the identity of the nations is not revealed). It begins with Yahweh signalling to the Egyptian fly. Egypt was noted for its flies, swarming when the Nile was flooded. The uttermost part of the rivers (including irrigation canals) covers the whole inhabited land. Like a fly it would buzz in and out of Judah’s affairs in the future, always active, ever a nuisance, never reliable (e.g. 18.1-7; 30.1-5; 31.1-3; 36.6; 2 Kings 17.4).
And he would signal for the Assyrian bee. Bees were well known to proliferate in the Assyrian hills. It is possibly significant that flies cause a nuisance, but bees sting and take the nectar, and in swarms can kill. So the major impact would be from Assyria. And like fly and bee these two nations would move in and out and settle all over the land, in desolate valleys, in holes in the rocks, on thorns and pastures, just like the insects they were. Judah would never be rid of them and their nuisance. Thanks to Ahaz.
7.20 ‘In that day the Lord will shave with a razor which is hired, which is in the parts beyond the River, even with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet, and it will also consume the beard.’
But it was the king of Assyria, from the parts beyond the Euphrates, that God would use like a hired razor to totally fleece them and humiliate them. And the payment for His hire would be the treasures of Judah. The consuming of the beard was a special insult. In Judah the beard was a sign of manliness and virility. A man whose beard was shaved off felt ashamed until it had grown again (2 Samuel 10.4-5). Whereas in the previous verse the judgment had been on the land, here it is on the people.
‘Shaving the hair of the feet’ may be a euphemism for shaving the private parts, for to ‘cover the feet’, was to relieve oneself (Judges 3.24; 1 Samuel 24.3), and ‘waters of the feet’ meant urine (36.12). If so it was a double humiliation, both privy parts and beard.
There is here a reference to the fact that just as Ahaz had thought in terms of hiring the king of Assyria to rid him of his foes (2 Kings 16.8), so now Yahweh would hire the king of Assyria to shame and humiliate Ahaz and his people. The difference was that Ahaz had made a fool of himself, and had, by his act, subjected himself to bondage, when he could have been Yahweh’s servant, while Yahweh was in complete control. The king of Assyria may become Ahaz’s taskmaster, but he was only Yahweh’s tool. Ahaz would suffer under the tool of Yahweh.
7.21-22 ‘And it will come about in that day that a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, and it will come about that for the abundance of milk that they will give he will eat curds, for curds and wild honey will everyone eat who is left in the midst of the land.’
The picture is one of poverty and scarcity. Instead of many cattle and large flocks a man is only able to ‘keep alive’ one young cow and two sheep alive. The milk that they will produce is minimal and he will keep the animals alive so as to provide a meagre diet of curds. The reference to ‘abundance’ is ironic. The reader will recognise the kind of abundance that can be obtained from so few beasts. And all will be in the same situation. All will eat curds and wild honey.
The word translated ‘keep/save alive’ is elsewhere used to denote the preservation of life in danger (Psalm 30.4), which emphasises here the difficulties that the man has in even preserving these. Hungry armies do not usually care too much if they leave the local population without food and necessities.
Alternately the thought might be that there will be so few people in the land that the equivalent of one cow and two sheep are enough, so that those who remain can be satisfied with their supply and some wild honey. But the following verses suggest shortage, and Assyria would empty the land of its leaders, not of its common people.
7.23-25 ‘And it will come about in that day that every place where there were a thousand vines at a thousand pieces of silver, shall even be for briars and for thorns. With arrows and with bow shall one come there, because all the land will be briars and thorns. And all the hills that were dug with the mattock, you shall not come there for fear of briars and thorns, but it shall be for the sending out of oxen and the treading of sheep.’
All the places which were once prosperous, producing vines worth a silver piece each, will be wilderness. They will grow briars and thorns. So much so that the hunter will come into that wilderness with his bow and arrows to shoot the wild game, for it will not be recognisable as someone’s land, because it is all briars and thorns (or the thought might have been of the need for defence against wild beasts). And the hills which were once prepared for seeding will be so no longer because the briars and thorns are so fearful. Instead they will be made available for oxen and sheep to graze there.
‘Dug with the mattock.’ This has in mind the terraced land inaccessible to the plough, which has now simply become pasturage.
Note the threefold repetition of briars and thorns (compare 5.6). The land has gone back completely to its primitive state. Man has fallen once again (compare Genesis 3.18-19). So the final picture is one of scarcity and shortage with the land turned into a wilderness, and the people struggling for survival and surviving on a basic diet. And all this will be the result of the failure of Ahaz, along with his people, to trust Yahweh.
If we do not respond to God’s prompting when it comes clearly to us, we must not be surprised if our disobedience results in briars and thorns.
Chapter 8 Isaiah’s Testimony.
In this chapter Isaiah writes a strange series of words on a large tablet for public display. The words were maher-shalal-hash-baz (‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’). It is a warning that the times of judgment that he has prophesied are speedily coming on Syria, Israel and Judah. Then a son is born to him and he is told to give him that name, because before the child has passed his tender years both Syria and Israel will have been despoiled and devastated.
He then warns of what is first coming on the land of the coming Immanuel, but promises that after coming judgment there will be final deliverance for God’s people, and it will be because of Immanuel, because ‘God is with us’. Meanwhile he must withdraw from all political manoeuvring and write down and seal his testimony and establish the Law among his followers. For those who refuse that testimony and Law can only look forward to darkness. (This will be followed in chapter 9 by the promise of the coming of the expected King, of Immanuel).
The Birth of the Prophet’s Son (8.1-4).
As previously mentioned, one central point in this passage is the sign given to Israel in terms of the birth of three sons, two of whom were sons of Isaiah, and one of a virgin, in each case, at least partially, indicated by their names. Here we now have described the birth of Isaiah’s second son.
In ‘a’ and parallel the emphasis is on the name Maher-shalal-hash-baz. In ‘b’ the faithful witnesses take note of his record of the name and in the parallel the prophetess produces a son of that name.
8.1 ‘And Yahweh said to me, “Take for yourself a great tablet, and write on it with the pen (engraving tool) of a man, For maher-shalal-hash-baz.” ’
God tells Isaiah to write a series of words on a large tablet, probably for public display, for it is to be witnessed by two witnesses. The words were maher-shalal-hash-baz and its meaning was ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’. It would be a cryptic message to all in Jerusalem of what God was going to do. We are not specifically told timewise how this relates to chapter 7 apart from the fact that both occur before the desolating of Syria and Israel, but the inference is that it was after Ahaz’s rejection. The public tablet would raise questions which Isaiah would be able to answer. At this stage it is not directly associated with the birth of his son. It is an enigma.
8.2 ‘And I will take to myself faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.’
The tablet is to be witnessed by two prominent men. It was necessary that when the events took place no one would be able to deny the source or veracity of the words or the timing of the tablet. It should be noted that the element of sign here was in the tablet, not in the subsequent birth of the son. That merely confirmed the prophecy.
Month by month passed and the strange tablet, with its strange cryptic message, was on display. It was like an advertising board. And as men in Jerusalem saw it, it would make them wonder about what was coming.
8.3-4 ‘And I went in to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then Yahweh said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz”, for before the child will have sufficient knowledge to cry ‘my father’ and ‘my mother’, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.” ’
Isaiah now produces a son and is immediately informed that he must give him a name utilising the mysterious words on the tablet. If this was to be seen as the fulfilment of 7.14 it is remarkably well concealed. The prophetess is not an ‘almah, and the child’s name is in absolute contrast to that of Immanuel. There is no direct hint of connection, and instead of a triumphant cry it is a word of judgment. This is therefore, rather a third sign following that of Sheerjashub and Immanuel. The threefold sign confirms the completeness of the prophecies, the coming of judgment ‘with haste’, the need for the return of a remnant, the appearance of Immanuel Whose promised birth has doomed the house of Ahaz.
‘The prophetess.’ We do not know whether the prophetess was a prophetess in her own right, a prophetess because married to a prophet, or a ‘prophetess’ because her period of childbearing proclaimed Yahweh’s word. It was at least the second for the description is primarily in order to indicate that she was Isaiah’s wife. But it may well be all three.
It should be noted that here the birth of the child is confirming, and making permanent, the previous sign of the publicised tablet and is therefore being used to indicate the nearness of its fulfilment. The child is not the prophecy. That was given on the tablet. This naming of the new born child with the same words rather confirms the prophecy already made, and demonstrates its soon fulfilment.
The inference seems to be that this was slightly closer in time to the event than chapter 7 because here it is before the child can say ‘Dada’ and ‘Mama’ that the events will happen, a shorter period than the period of growing up to discernment (7.16).
However while we do not see this as the fulfilment of 7.14, it was certainly intended to be in parallel with it, and confirmation of Ahaz’s rejection, although in this case in terms of the coming judgment. On the one hand ‘God is with us’, but not with Ahaz, on the other ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’ which will directly affect Ahaz. It could not be a more emphatic choice. While not the son described in 7.14, this was the birth of a son whose birth was indeed a kind of sign, even though of an inferior nature (as was the birth of Isaiah’s first son). It confirmed the second part of the previous prophecy, and actually acted as a reminder to all of that previous prophecy. But this was not the one promised. They must continue to look for the rise of a greater, miraculously born, son of David.
The birth of this son would increase the apprehension in Ahaz’s mind that he himself was shortly to be replaced by Immanuel, for he had no knowledge of when he would be born.
Judah Having Made Their Final Choice Even Immanuel’s Land Will Suffer. Nevertheless Final Triumph Is Certain Because It Is Immanuel’s Land (8.5-10).
Two facts emerge from the words that follow. The first is that Immanuel’s coming cannot be too near, for the land is first to be possessed by Assyria. And the second is that when Immanuel does come none will be able to resist him.
In ‘a’ the northern kingdom of Israel have rejected the house of David and sought to other kings, while in the parallel His true people will finally look to the true son of David, Immanuel. In ‘b’ Israel will be swamped by the waters of The River, by the Assyrian might, but in the parallel the final result can only be that all peoples will be broken in pieces (by Immanuel). In ‘c’ and parallel both Israel and Judah will be swamped by the king of Assyria.
8.5-8 ‘And Yahweh spoke to me yet again, saying, “Forasmuch as this people have refused the waters of Shiloah which go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son, now therefore, behold, Yahweh brings up on them the waters of the River, strong and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And he will come up over all his channels, and go up over all his banks, and he will sweep on into Judah, he will overflow and pass through. He will reach even to the neck. And the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” ’
The choice that Israel, the northern kingdom, have made is now clearly outlined. (For ‘this people’ as referring to Israel see 9.16. Right from the beginning Isaiah has been concerned for Israel as well as Judah. All the prophets considered them to be one kingdom. See on 1.3). They have refused the gentle waters of Shiloah, Jerusalem and the son of David, and have chosen Rezin and the son of Remaliah.
The waters of Shiloah (Siloam) ran from the spring Gihon into Jerusalem. They represented the lifeblood of Jerusalem, especially in time of siege, and were the place of coronation for the Davidic house (1 Kings 1.33, 38, 45). Furthermore the continual reference to ‘Remaliah’s son’ without giving a name is drawing attention to the fact that they have rejected ‘David’s son’. They have continually turned from Jerusalem, the place of God’s earthly dwelling, and from Yahweh’s anointed, the Davidic king, to a stranger to that house.
But instead of the gentle waters of Shiloah, which could have been theirs and which they have refused, their choice will bring on them the raging torrent of Assyria. ‘The River’ is the Euphrates, and symbolises the king of Assyria with his mighty and splendid forces, his ‘glory’. He will come like a great river overflowing its channels and banks, sweeping away Syria and Israel, and then continuing on into Judah, overflowing and passing through at such depth that it reaches to the neck. So in spite of Ahaz’s hopes Judah will not escape. He will discover just what it means to be a tributary of Assyria.
The reference to ‘even to the neck’ may be intended to indicate a deep flood (see Ezekiel 47.3-5), or it may suggest that it would not quite drown Judah as it would Israel. Or indeed it may indicate both of these (compare 30.28). Although Judah may be caught up to the neck, it will not overwhelm them. They will finally survive. This may refer to the effects of the large Assyrian army as it stations itself in Judah as its tributary, as a warning of its presence to nations round about, or it may more likely have in mind the future when inevitably Judah will seek to withhold tribute and will become the objects of Assyrian anger. It could be seen as a fair picture of the later situation when the whole of Judah was subdued, Lachish was taken and Jerusalem stood alone (36.2). It was then certainly in it up to the neck. But either way Judah will not be swept away, because it is the land promised to Immanuel.
What now follows takes up what has been said, and will shortly be said (9.5-6), about the coming Immanuel. The point being made is that the coming of Immanuel is not to be seen as so near that it will prevent the consequences of Ahaz’s disobedience, and this is expressed for his hearer’s sake in terms of prophetic words spoken to the future Immanuel.
‘And the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.’ Let the coming Immanuel be aware of what will happen before he comes. We must most probably see this as depicting Yahweh as speaking warningly through Isaiah into the future, as though speaking to the coming child, the coming Immanuel. The coming child of the house of David must ‘recognise’ the true situation (although the intention is really that his listeners, and those who follow them, will recognise the situation). None must think that because Immanuel is coming they will escape the consequences of Ahaz’s behaviour (and subsequently of Hezekiah’s behaviour - 39.3-5). While the land will still belong to Judah when he comes, nevertheless when he does come he must not expect to come to a powerful throne. He must expect rather to find that he comes in a time of need when his land has been possessed by the enemies of Judah, with enemy forces everywhere.
And this process of occupation will begin shortly with the descent of Assyria like a bird outstretching its wings, who will fill the whole land (compare 36.1). Those who have travelled in the wilderness and been aware of vultures hovering overhead when they sense the possibility of a dead carcase, casting the shadow of their wings over what is below, will best appreciate these words. But the shadow of Assyria’s outstretched wings will be so threatening that it will darken the whole land.
This was thus a portent, a portent of the fact that, as a result of disobedience and folly, the land would continue thus to be overshadowed until Immanuel came to deliver it. And as we now know, the Assyrian shadow would continue on through their successors. There would come the Babylonian shadow, and then the Persian shadow, and then the Greek shadow, and then the Roman shadow, and all as a result of disobedience. Judah would never again be truly free from such shadows for long, and there will rarely be any relief from them, until Immanuel comes, so that Immanuel must recognise that He will inevitably come to a war torn country suffering under a continuing powerful threat, because as a result of God’s rejection of the seed of Ahaz, Jerusalem’s continual independence is over until He comes.
‘O Immanuel (‘God is with us’).’ This cryptic reference, coming here following the prophetic declaration in 7.14, must be seen as confirming the centrality of the Immanuel idea to the whole passage from 7.1 onwards up to 9.6. All has in mind that Immanuel is coming. Ahaz, having been rejected, will fail. The king of Assyria will come, and Syria and Israel will be desolated. Then Assyria will descend on Judah, who up to this point had been free, and will take it all under his threatening wing. All this must precede his coming. But at last, once man has done his worst Immanuel will eventually come. For he will come in the midst of disaster, as a result of God’s miraculous intervention, with the guarantee that after disaster hope will spring up, even in the midst of that disaster. (It is a kind of pre-run in respect of His first coming of the second coming teaching of imminence connected with delay).
Alternately some see the ‘He’ here as referring to God. Then it is saying ‘the stretching out of His wings will fill the breadth of your land, (but) God is with us’, indicating that while God will allow them to be submerged to the neck He will not finally allow Judah and Jerusalem to fall. His outstretched wings would protect them because ‘God is with us’. For in Scripture outstretched wings regularly indicate protection (Psalm 17.8; 36.7; 57.1; 63.7; 91.4).
A third possible alternative, although verse 10 might be seen as against it, is that here Ahaz is sarcastically being referred to as considering himself to be Immanuel. The people saw him as the Davidic representative, ‘the breath of their nostrils’ (Lamentations 4.20), the proof that God was with them, and he may possibly have thought in that way of himself. But what is to happen will prove otherwise. So in terms of this interpretation Isaiah is saying in a sarcastic tone, ‘O Immanuel’, in other words ‘you think you are Immanuel but you are not’. The first interpretation seems to us the most likely as it takes the term in its plain meaning, and is in keeping with the idea of hope for the future, which is a constant Isaianic theme (1.24-27; 2.2-4; 4.2-6).
8.9-10 ‘Make an uproar, O you peoples, and you will be broken in pieces, and give ear all you of far off countries, gird yourselves, and you will be broken in pieces, gird yourselves and you will be broken in pieces. Take counsel together and it will be brought to nought, speak the word and it will not stand. For God is with us (or ‘because of Immanu-el’).’
Once Immanuel Does Come All Will Be Broken Before Him.
Isaiah now challenges the nations about their dealings with Immanuel’s people. Let them beware, for while God may allow them to be downtrodden in the short term, resistance against Immanuel when he comes will be futile. Whoever then comes against his people will be confounded. For whatever may happen at the present time, they can be confident of one thing, that once Immanuel comes all will be well. None will be able to stand against him, because God will be with him. So let all nations who have their eyes on Judah beware and take note that on the coming of the anticipated triumphant son of David all who oppose him will in the end face disaster. If the people make an uproar against him they will be broken in pieces, if they hear the call to go against him and prepare themselves, they will be broken in pieces, Yes, if they prepare themselves for battle against him they will be broken in pieces. Note the threefold repetition (typical of Isaiah, compare 7.23-25) of ‘broken in pieces’. For to fight against the coming Immanuel will, to use a modern illustration, be like battering their heads against a brick wall. Even if they take counsel together it will be brought to nothing (see Psalm 2.1-2; Acts 4.24-27), if they speak the word to move against him it will only result in disaster. For in the end whatever happens Immanuel will triumph. (For the whole of this idea compare Psalm 2.1-6). And this is because Immanuel is destined to rule. It will be because for his sake ‘immanu El’, ‘God will be with us’. The deliberate use of El here (rather than Elohim) stresses the specific connection with the name of Immanuel.
Meanwhile Isaiah And His Followers Are Not To Align Themselves With Any Political Party. All Are Heading For Disaster. Rather He Must Seal The Testimony of Yahweh (8.11-18).
In the light of this future hope Isaiah now calls on the faithful to stand firm. Like him they must renounce the present conspiracies that are rivalling each other, (what he describes as, ‘the way of this people’). On the one hand are one set of plotters saying ‘we must persuade the king to yield to Syria and Ephraim or else we will be destroyed’, on the other another set saying, ‘we must persuade him to gain the help of the king of Assyria, or we are done for’, and possibly a third set muttering ‘we must persuade him to put our trust in Egypt, for they have promised to save us’. But the common factor is that they are all seeking to put their trust in men. What his followers must do, however, is put all their hope and trust in God for the future. If He is the One Whom they fear, and in Whom they put their trust, they will find Him to be all the sanctuary that they need, and this will be in direct contrast with those who see such an idea as a stumbling stone, and God’s call to faith in Him as a rock of offence. The attitude of such people to Him and His call to faith will trip them up and bring them crashing down.
So like him what his disciples must do is seal up his words, and wait for Yahweh to act in His own way, and have nothing to do with conspiracies. For while He is as yet hiding His face from Judah, nevertheless He has given an indication of what lies ahead for both houses of Israel (Israel and Judah) in the naming of Isaiah’s two sons, ‘a remnant will return’ and ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’. And all this in the light of their expectation of the coming of Immanuel. So while at first they must expect disaster, in the end they can be sure of restoration.
In ‘a’ Yahweh speaks to Isaiah with a strong hand telling him not to walk in the way of the people, and in the parallel his children are for signs and wonders from Yahweh. In ‘b’ his people are not to look to conspiracies, but rather, in the parallel, are to wait for Yahweh and look for Him. In c’ they are to set apart Yahweh as holy, and in the parallel are to bind up His testimony and seal His instruction among his disciples. In ‘d’ Yahweh will be a stumbling stone and rock which causes offence and in the parallel will be a snare and a cause of stumbling to all who do not believe.
8.11-14a ‘For Yahweh spoke thus to me with a strong hand (literally ‘strength of hand’), and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, “Do not say (the verb is plural) ‘a conspiracy’ concerning all of which this people say ‘a conspiracy’, nor fear their fear, nor be in dread. Yahweh of hosts, him you will sanctify, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread, and he shall be for a sanctuary.’
Isaiah now comes back to his present situation. He stresses that in some way which he does not describe Yahweh has spoken powerfully and emphatically to him, ‘with a strong hand’. This might suggest some unpleasant experience that he had had to go through. Possibly this had been necessary because he and his followers had begun to entangle themselves with an anti-Assyria party who would have been happy to enrol such an important figure in their cause. But, as Yahweh had warned him emphatically, they were not to get caught up in conspiracies, or rumours of conspiracies, but were simply to trust in Him.
Judah was clearly rife with conspiracies, with each seeing the other parties as guilty of conspiracy and being filled with dread because of it, and because of what they saw as coming if they had their way. Fear was on every side, for all were afraid of what might come on them if their own idea was not followed. There would be the pro-Israel and Syria party, the anti-Assyria party, the pro-Assyria party, the pro-Egyptian party, and so on. We must recognise that these threats on the horizon were real. On the one hand Syria and Israel were even then about to invade. On the other was the dislike and fear of the ultra-foreign king of Assyria, which was strong among many. A third group were convinced that submission to Assyria was the only hope. But those, including the king, who saw hope nowhere else, must still have been apprehensive. So Jerusalem and Judah were divided in their thoughts. None of the choices really looked appealing. Conspiracy theories abounded everywhere. To them it was just a matter of finding the least disastrous of the alternatives.
But Isaiah was told that he and his followers were not to get entangled with any of these. Rather they were to set their hearts on Yahweh. They were to set ‘Yahweh of hosts’ apart in their minds, and thoughts, and behaviour and think only of Him and His will. By fearing and dreading Him they would be freed from any other fear and dread, and would be a testimony to those around them. And by doing this they would discover that Yahweh really was the true and reliable sanctuary, in contrast with all these false sanctuaries.
But while the sanctuary was a place of safety for those seeking protection the thought is more than that. It was also a holy place, it was the sanctuary of God. Thus they would receive not just protection, but positive sustenance and strength. Yahweh would be their strength, set apart in their hearts.
8.14b-15 ‘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. And many will stumble on it and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.’
However to others Yahweh would instead be a stone which caused men to trip up, a rock which caused them to stumble. Because they had wrong ideas about Him and His will, through refusing to consider and believe His word (verse 16), they would be led astray and go forward into disaster. They were not the first or the last to think that God was on their side whatever they purposed and however they thought. But they would soon discover otherwise.
‘Both houses of Israel’, that is, Israel and Judah. Both still come within the ambit of God’s warnings through Isaiah. Both could still listen if they would. But they will not, and therefore they will stumble as a result of what they believe about Yahweh. Their wrong belief and ideas lead will lead them into disaster.
‘For a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.’ God’s people under David were politically split into three parts, Israel, Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The last named saw their city primarily as the city of David rather than as of Judah. But all three parts will find themselves entrapped by their wrong beliefs about Yahweh, especially Jerusalem.
‘And many will stumble on it, and fall and be broken, and be snared and be taken.’ So this stone of stumbling and snare will bring many to disaster. They will fall and be broken, they will be snared and taken, stumbling along, tripping over obstacles, and then finding themselves caught in a snare, and all because they have the wrong ideas about God.
The Sealing of Isaiah’s Testimony In The Light Of The Coming King.
Having come to the end of this part of his ministry Isaiah now arranges for his words to be recorded and sealed. He warns that men must either look to God’s Instruction (Law) and His word through Isaiah, and trust in Him, or must walk in darkness and come to despair. Then he elucidates what he has prophesied in 7.14. Finally the great expected king will come and he will bring light to all who receive him, and the everlasting kingdom will be established (9.1-7). It is simply a question of believing and trusting until that time.
8.16-18 ‘Bind up the testimony. Seal the Instruction (Torah - the Law) among those whom I have taught. And I will wait in expectancy for Yahweh who hides his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold I, and the children whom Yahweh has given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel from Yahweh of hosts who dwells in mount Zion.’
‘Bind’ and ‘seal’ are in the singular. Isaiah now gives instructions (we are not told to whom, but it was clearly to a trusted follower) for his testimony (possibly 6.1-8.15) and the teaching of the Law which he has expounded to them, to be bound up and sealed. They are to be kept among his followers as a sealed and witnessed testimony to what he has prophesied and taught. They alone have been privileged to know the truth, and it must be preserved so that future generations may know what God had told all of Israel and Judah to do. Then they will see that the coming disasters were not His fault. Meanwhile Isaiah himself will wait for Yahweh, Whose face is at present hidden from the house of Jacob (all Israel and Judah), and will look for Him. He will await with expectancy the fulfilment of the promises of judgment, and of the glorious future beyond. All is within God’s timing and he is confident in God.
The hiding of the face from the house of Judah is in contrast with the general thought of His face shining on them (Numbers 6.25; Psalm 31.16; 67.1; 80.3, 7, 19). Previously His face had shone on them. Even recently they had just enjoyed the good times during the reign of Uzziah. Now He has withdrawn His face and presence from them for a little while so that it no longer shines on them. But if only all would trust in Yahweh He would bring them through unscathed. (In the Psalms His face shines on them that they might be saved). Thus Isaiah knows that he must learn yet more from God that he may continue to appeal to them.
Some, however, see the first instruction, ‘Bind up -- among those whom I have taught (my instructed ones)’, as given by Yahweh to Isaiah.
‘Behold I, and the children whom Yahweh has given me, are for signs and for portents in Israel from Yahweh of hosts who dwells in mount Zion.’ But God’s truth need not have been hidden from the people. They had had a clear testimony. The first sign was Isaiah himself, and his name (‘in Yahweh is salvation’) and his vivid experience of Yahweh. And then there were his children, Shearjashub (‘a remnant shall return’) and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’). All three were for signs and for portents among them. And they were given by Yahweh of hosts from His holy hill, from His dwellingplace in Mount Zion. It was indeed on Mount Zion that Isaiah had had his unique experience and call (chapter 6) and from which he had come with his testimony to the people as a prophet from God. So he especially had cause to know that Mount Zion was where Yahweh came to reveal Himself, and where He had revealed Himself. Thus he could not understand why the people would not trust the ever present Yahweh
So he is reminding all that they should not forget that God has been pleased to place His earthly dwellingplace among them on the holy mount, symbolised by the Ark of the covenant of Yahweh, and has sent Isaiah as a sign and a portent through his revelation of God’s truth, and through his children, with their unusual names (‘a remnant shall return’ and ‘haste the spoil, speed the prey’), especially Maher-shalal-hash-baz whose birth had been so mysteriously proclaimed on the public tablet beforehand. What more evidence do they need?
We should note when interpreting these passages that Isaiah was equally a sign and portent with his sons. Indeed more so. He was the major sign. They were only involved because of his prophetic ministry. Thus the emphasis here is on God’s revelation through Isaiah, which has included the giving of unusual prophetic names to his sons. His being a sign and portent may well be especially referring back to his experience of chapter 6 on the holy mount. (Thus the new sign of Immanuel was not referring to these signs, for there all the attention had been on Immanuel). Note that we have here the threefold sign of Isaiah and his two sons.
The People Must Now Make Their Choice Between the Occult and the Word of Yahweh (8.19-20).
It may be that like Saul before him (1 Samuel 28), Ahaz, recognising his rejection by Yahweh, had begun to seek to mediums and spirits. Or it may be that that was what some of his advisers were suggesting. When people do not like what God says to them they often turn to such alternatives, especially when they have no faith and do not know what to do. But whoever is in mind Isaiah’s instruction is clear. Let them rather look to God’s Law, and His testimony through the prophets, including his own.
Note that in ‘a’ they are warned against seeking the occult, and in the parallel are warned that to do so is to enter darkness, without the hope of light. In ‘b’ they should rather seek to their God, and in the parallel are to look to His Instruction and testimony.
8.19-20 ‘And when they shall say to you, “Seek to those who have familiar spirits, and the wizards, that chirp and mutter”, should not a people seek to their God? Should we seek on behalf of the living to the dead? To the Instruction (the Law) and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning (approach of light, dawning) for them.’
Isaiah now draws attention to where many of the leaders and the people are looking for guidance in their desperation, they are looking to mediums and to necromancers, to fortune-telling and spiritualism, and he urges his followers not to listen to those who encourage such things, but to turn to the only place where truth can be found, God’s Instruction (Law) and His testimony through Isaiah and the prophets. He expresses the folly of seeking to the dead about the living. They see not neither do they know anything. How then can they advise the living?
Those who seek to familiar spirits, mediums and spiritists, are like the medium of Endor (1 Samuel 28.7-25), who sought to call up her familiar spirit only to be thwarted by God. Such doings are strictly condemned in God’s Instruction (Law) for they are seen as defiling (Leviticus 19.31; 20.6; Deuteronomy 18.11 compare 2 Kings 21.6; 23.24). Rather they are to look to God’s prophets (Deuteronomy 18.15). It was because Saul had sinned grievously and was rejected that he had no word from a prophet (1 Samuel 28.6) and had to look to such sources. Such familiar spirits are therefore looked on as evil.
The wizards (necromancers), those possessed by spirits, who seek to the dead, who ‘chirp and mutter (moan)’, are aptly described with their mutterings and strange sounds. But they seek to those who know nothing of the land of the living. They are condemned along with mediums in the above Biblical references.
All must be tested by God’s Instruction as given in His written word, and by Isaiah’s testimony which is in accordance with that word. If ‘they’, those who seek to mediums and necromancers, do not speak in accordance with that word then it is because they have no light, there is for them no dawning. They have exchanged light for darkness.
Alternatively ‘no morning’ might signify no future, no dawning of a new day. If they turn from God’s word they have no future.
Darkness Awaits Those Who Turn From Yahweh But In The Latter Times Will Come Light in Galilee (8.21-9.1).
The offer having been made of light or darkness most of the people will choose darkness. A bleak future awaits them. But all is not despair. For there is the promise of Immanuel yet to come. And in the latter times light will come to Galilee, (and it will lead up to the triumph of the great coming King - 9.6-7).
In ‘a’ they will pass through it hardly pressed and hungry, and it will be that when they are hungry they will fret themselves and curse by their king and their God, and turn their faces upward and in the parallel this turning upward in their despair will finally result in Galilee of the nations being made glorious (filled with His glory). In ‘b’ they will look to the earth, and behold distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, and into thick darkness they will be driven away, and in the parallel there will be no gloom to her who was in anguish (those who suffered first will be blessed first).
8.21-23 ‘And they will pass through it hardly pressed and hungry, and it will be that when they are hungry they will fret themselves and curse by their king and their God, and turn their faces upward, and they will look to the earth, and behold distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, and into thick darkness they will be driven away.’
The significance of ‘no morning’ is now explained. There is great stress on continuing darkness. They will be in despair and in great need, they will have nowhere to look, their king and God will be merely swear words, names by which to curse, whether they look upwards or to the earth they will be in desolation and thick darkness. Because for those who turn from God’s word there is only darkness.
‘They will pass through it.’ The ‘it’ is not defined. It could refer to their time of hopelessness, to the land through which they will pass into exile, or to the time of darkness which will never turn into morning. The verbs are in the singular. We could therefore translate, ‘each of them will --’, emphasising the personal effect for all.
The picture is one of total hopelessness and despair. They will be hard pressed and hungry. They will be under stress and fret themselves. The king, whom they at present see as the anointed of Yahweh, will be simply a name to curse by, or even curse at. God too will be the same. But then, in despair, some will turn their faces upwards.
But all most will see when they look to the earth (or the land) will be distress and darkness, gloom and anguish. And finally they will be driven away into thick darkness. The future without God must in the end be harsh.
9.1 (8.23 in the Hebrew text) ‘But there will be no gloom to her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations.’
For those who turn their face upwards there will be hope (verse 2). Most of the verbs in this and the following verses are in the perfect tense. In Hebrew the perfect tense does not necessarily indicate the past, it indicates something which is completed. Thus the prophets used the tense to indicate that which, while future, was certain. Because God was going to do it, it was already seen as completed.
For, for one part of Israel and Judah, Galilee of the nations, there will be no such gloom. That will be because having already passed through their gloom in the earlier invasion they are under the Assyrian heel. They are not therefore in a position to make any choice with respect to present circumstances. They will not be involved in the present disobedience. Thus they need not fear, for when Immanuel comes he will bring them light in their darkness (see 60.1-2). The next thing therefore that they await is for the light which will come to Galilee. But that will only be once they have passed through their ‘gloom of anguish’ (8.22). It is to them, walking as they are in darkness, that great light will come, so that their gloom will vanish.
Galilee were the first to suffer in any invasion from the north and had been seized in about 733 BC during the initial invasions (2 Kings 15.29). So while their leaders were exiled in accordance with Assyrian policy (leaderless people were more easily controlled) it is probable that they escaped the worst kind of treatment, for at that stage of their capture there would still be hope in Assyria’s mind that Israel would submit and escape the final vengeance, which in fact under Hoshea they did, although being left that much smaller.
Thus when Hoshea later rebelled and Samaria was finally taken Galilee had already long since been in submission as part of Megiddo, one of the three Assyrian provinces which had been set up, and was therefore probably not settled by the foreigners brought into Israel by Esarhaddon (2 Kings 17.24). Indeed being a land of mixture, with many ‘Gentiles’ settled there and surrounding it, something which brought them into contempt in Israel, they may well have been seen by Assyria as not fully Israel at all but as a subject people (there were no maps and no boundaries permanently laid down). It should be noted in this regard that they were never seen as part of the mixture who arose from the settling of foreign nations in Israel.
This prophecy may have first arisen at the time of their separation, which would explain why Galilee is selected out for mention, as an assurance to them not to despair in their plight because there was hope for their future in the latter times in the coming king. Or it may simply be pointing out that in their case they had no choice whether to obey or disobey, and did not therefore share the guilt of Israel and Judah. But God clearly had a greater purpose in this in that it was in Galilee that the King when He came would grow to mature years, and it was in Galilee where He would first widely proclaim the Kingly Rule of God as at hand (Mark 1.14-15). It was to be a chosen land. Light would arise first in Galilee. It was a clear indication that God’s light was to be shared with Gentiles.
The land of Naphtali lay on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and extended northwards, Zebulun was west and south-west of Naphtali, in the centre of the northern part of the land. As we know these areas were where Jesus particularly ministered
‘In the latter time He has made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations.’ The origin of the name Galilee is unknown, although it is very ancient. It is nowhere else described as ‘of the nations’ but its position made it susceptible to Gentile influence and penetration. Presumably the name had been given because Israel saw it jestingly, and contemptuously, as ‘half-Gentile’. The sea may be the Sea of Galilee beyond the part of Jordan familiar to Judah, or the ‘way of the sea’ may define territory on the way to the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) going from Jordan. The thought of Galilee being ‘made glorious’ would bring a smile to the faces of men of Judah, but here Isaiah declares that in the latter time it will indeed be so. As a prophet he spoke on behalf of the whole of God’s people. He wanted all to know that God had not finally forsaken them, even Galilee. Little did any realise at the time that Galilee would bring forth the Light of the world to the nations.
Chapter 9 The Rise of Immanuel and God’s Anger Against Unresponsive Israel.
The first part of this chapter continues the theme, depicting the removal of darkness and God’s final solution in the raising of Immanuel. The second part describes the slow decline of Israel, the northern state.
The Rise of The Great King Immanuel (9.2-7).
The rise of Immanuel is described in terms of great light and rejoicing, and is connected with the defeat of the enemies of God’s people. As a result the child promised in 7.14 will be born and will gain worldwide dominion.
In ‘a’ we have the shining of God’s light on the people, and in the parallel the establishment of the everlasting throne of David. In ‘b’ we have the growth of the people and their great rejoicing as though of harvest, and in the parallel the rise of the chosen seed with the great joy that that will bring. And in ‘c’ we have the defeat of the great enemy, and in the parallel the destruction of his armour.
9.2 (9.1 in the Hebrew text)
Galilee was yet to have a time when their darkness would be turned to light. There would, as it were, be a new creation when darkness became light (compare Genesis 1.2-3). For although they were now seemingly cut off from Israel and Judah and walked in darkness, even severe, deathlike darkness, they were not to despair, for in the future they would yet enjoy glorious light which would shine on them, for the king was coming who would bring hope to all and would bring them a great light (compare 42.6; 49.6).
The picture is one of deliverance from all oppression. (Note that no specific oppressor is named). One day Galilee, it is promised, will be abounding in inhabitants, replacing those carried off into captivity, and will be full of joy, joy like the joy at harvest time when there has been a good harvest. Joy similar to that of victors when they divide up abundant loot. For God will have raised up His anointed king. The yoke of all oppressors will have been removed from them. The staff which struck them will have been broken, the rod destroyed, just as God once removed from them the unbearable yoke of Midian (Judges 7.19-25; Psalm 83.9). The armour (or footwear) of the enemy, and their clothing, sprinkled with the blood of those they have slain, will be thrown in the fire and burned. The conquerors will be conquered.
The picture is one of full deliverance from all oppression. And this became literally true. For Galilee did at one stage literally know release and freedom even prior to Jesus’ coming, and did find joy, and once again became part of Israel. But even more did they come to know great joy at the coming of Jesus when He went around teaching, healing the sick and proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God, shining as a light in the world, and offering to remove the greatest of all oppressions, the oppression of sin and death and Satan. And the joy continued when He took the yoke off many of their shoulders and they were redeemed, so that they might enter under the Kingly Rule of God, and so that one day they would be with Him in the greater Galilee, in the new heavens and the new earth.
9.6-7 ‘For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government will be on his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, (or ‘a wonder of a counsellor’), Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom to establish it, and to uphold it with judgment and with righteousness from now on even for ever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.’
Now we understand the full significance of the child born of a virginal young woman. For He is to be great David’s greater son. There is emphasis on the words ‘child’ and ‘son’, stressing that it is a unique child who is coming, and a unique son who will be given, and the previous prophecy stresses whose son He would be. The child is to be a miraculous gift of God, born of a virginal mother, and brought into being through God’s power (7.14). He is to be God’s final answer to Ahaz.
The son is also to be God’s gift to us, especially ‘given’ by God. The emphasis all through is on His unique status and unique origin. He is a special gift from God. Here we have the virgin birth, resulting from the activity of God on the womb of a chosen woman, made clear. And although born in lowly status in a captive land (8.8) the government will be placed on His shoulder, the place of strength, so that He reigns indeed. And He will be so supreme that He will be called by great titles, revealing His wonder, His wisdom, His power, His overall fatherly care and His establishing of peace.
‘His name will be called.’ This is how the world will see him and describe him in his very nature. He will be called ‘a wonder’, just as Yahweh had said that His own name was Wonderful (but a different Hebrew word - Judges 13.18). Compare how the same word is used of God’s acts in 25.1. He will be called the Counsellor (Determiner, Purposer), not needing the guidance of counsellors, just as it is Yahweh Who is the final Counsellor (Determiner, Purposer - see 14.24, 26, 27; 19.17; 23.9; 40.14; Psalms 16.7; 32.8 Jeremiah 49.20; 50.45). Or alternatively he will be called ‘a wonder of a counsellor’ with similar implications. (This would fit in with the remaining dual descriptions, but a fivefold name would link Him directly with the covenant, for five is the number of the covenant, and the fivefold name therefore seems more likely). He will be called ‘the Mighty God (El)’, a title later used of Yahweh (see 10.21; Jeremiah 32.18), demonstrating that at the least he will be seen as standing uniquely in the place of God and acting in His name (Psalm 45.6), but in a far deeper sense than earlier Davidic kings. (There are no good grounds for making El merely mean ‘godlike’. El used in this way is always predominant).
He will also be called the Everlasting Father. The title ‘father’ is never applied to a king in the Old Testament. He may be seen as the shepherd of his people but never as their father. God is the father of Israel. Early on God is seen as adopting Israel, ‘Thus says Yahweh, Israel is My son, my firstborn’ (Exodus 4.22). That is why Moses can say to the people of Israel, ‘is He not the Father who has bought you, who made you and established you?’ (Deuteronomy 32.6). So they had a genuine sense of their nation as being the ‘child of God’, with God as their Father.
That is why, when Isaiah saw that they were forsaken because of their sins, he remembered these promises and cried out to Him, ‘Look down from Heaven and behold from the habitation of your holiness and of your glory, where is your zeal and your mighty acts? The longings of your heart and of your mighty acts are restrained towards me. For you are our Father. Though Abraham does not know us, and Israel (i.e. the patriarch Jacob) does not acknowledge us, you, O Yahweh, are our Father, your name is our Redeemer from everlasting’ (Isaiah 63.15-16). Then he adds submissively ‘but now, O Yahweh, you are our Father, we are the clay and you are the potter, and we all are the work of your hand’ (Isaiah 64.8). He recognises that they have sinned so badly that even their ancestors will not recognise them, but he depends on the faithfulness of God as their Father.
The same concept is held by later prophets. God, in seeking to bring them back to Himself, is depicted as saying ‘will you not from this time cry to me, ‘My Father, you are the guide of my youth’?’ (Jeremiah 3.4). To which is added, ‘A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I then am your Father, where is my honour? And if I be a master, where is your fear?’ (Malachi 1.6). This is why Malachi adds his remonstrance to that of God, ‘Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?’ (Malachi 2.10). So when the coming child and son is not only called Father, but Everlasting Father, He is genuinely being seen as acting very much in God’s place, especially as He is now seen as having everlastingness.
And finally He will be called the Prince (sar) of Peace, the establisher and overseer of peace. This rather unique idea in those violent days contrasts him with all the surrounding kings of Isaiah’s day. Each king when he came to the throne had to establish himself by bloodshed, removing any other claimants, but not so this prince. He will establish His throne in peace. And we should note inn this regard that in 66.12 it is Yahweh Himself who is seen as extending peace to Jerusalem, and in 45.7 it is Yahweh Himself who perpetually ‘makes peace’ (compare Psalm 147.14).
So the coming king will be seen and described in terms directly associated with God in a way never known before. He will be seen, as it were, as a God-man. It is doubtful if Isaiah was actually thinking in terms of him being Yahweh, but it is difficult to see how he could have got closer to calling Him so without using the name. We might feel that God was revealing more than Isaiah could at that time accept or understand, that the king would not only be a superhuman figure (it is clear that he saw him as that) but was indeed Yahweh, or if we prefer to so express it, the supernatural Angel of Yahweh, Yahweh’s ‘other self’.
‘Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom to establish it, and to uphold it with judgment and with righteousness from now on even for ever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.’ The superlatives continue. Continual and unending increase in both his authority, and in His establishing and maintenance of peace over the throne of David and over His kingdom, and the upholding of it with true justice and total righteousness from now until eternity. And all this the result of the zealous purpose of Yahweh Himself. The everlasting kingdom will thus be established in eternal justice and righteousness. The final triumph will have come.
The word for ‘zeal’ regularly means jealousy. There is thus emphasis here on God’s ‘jealous’ activity on behalf of His own. They are His and He is jealous over them and will therefore act on their behalf (compare Exodus 20.5-6; 34.14). The powerful feeling of Yahweh for His people, as well as His effectiveness, comes out here.
The Sovereign Lord’s Effective Word Against Israel Who Have Failed To Respond To His Warnings (9.8-10.4).
It is a huge and deliberate anticlimax to move from the coming of the Davidic king and his great triumph back to the sinful state of Israel, the northern kingdom. (But as we have already seen these contrasts are a feature of Isaiah). For whereas the future was moving forward to triumph, the present was heading for disaster. As well as being concerned for Judah, Isaiah was desperately concerned for Israel in its present state, and we now have depicted a series of events in which God will reveal His anger against Israel because of their disobedience to the covenant, and will seek by chastisement to bring them back to Himself.
The Four Chastisements (9.8-10.4).
The four chastisements are distinguished by their all ending with the words, ‘For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.’
In ‘a’ there is the threat of captivity and in the parallel it is to become a reality. In ‘b’ their leadership is to be removed, and in the parallel it results in their society becoming disjointed.
The First Chastisement, Invasion by Syria and Philistia (9.8-12).
In ‘a’ the Lord’s word comes against Israel, and in the parallel it is brought about. In ‘b’ their hearts are high against Yahweh and in the parallel acts highly against them. In ‘c’ their comparative claims are stated in parallel.
Here we see ‘the zeal (jealousy) of Yahweh of hosts’ revealed in another way as the sovereign ‘Lord’ acts against Israel with the purpose of bringing them back to Himself after they have turned to other gods and rejected the covenant, and their kings have done evil in the sight of Yahweh. His powerful and effective word has gone out against them, bringing about events that have destroyed their buildings and denuded their forests. But they spurn His warning. They vaunt themselves, and in response to disaster declare that they are not concerned, for they will make things better than before. Their attitude is that they do not need Him. But they have forgotten with Whom they are dealing. Spurning His word can only lead to further judgment.
‘Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria.’ Ephraim was the largest tribe in Israel and often used to depict the whole. Samaria was Israel’s capital city.
‘Proudness.’ Exalting themselves and choosing their own way. ‘Stoutness of heart’ (arrogance) indicates self-sufficiency and unwillingness to respond to another or be dependent on them. They had no time or place for God.
‘The bricks are fallen’ may refer to an earthquake or to houses demolished in war, either way it was the judgment of Yahweh, but they ignored the warning and rose above the situation. The cutting down of the sycamores is mentioned because they also were presumably cut down by an enemy, an act of great enormity. Trees were usually preserved, even by an enemy (Deuteronomy 20.19-20), but not by Assyria (37.24). But even this had not prevented Israel from rising again on their own, without help. They are seen as being proud of their endurance and durability, and unwilling to respond to Yahweh’s pleas.
This prophecy probably came early in Isaiah’s ministry as it refers to the Syrians as attackers, and this must presumably be before they were crushed by Assyria. It was therefore one of the first of Isaiah’s warnings to Israel, seeking to bring them back to obedience to the covenant. They would have to face both the enmity of Assyria and the enmity of their neighbours. The situation would seem to be that of Assyria (the adversaries of Rezin, king of Syria) approaching from the north to attack Syria, (and thus being the main cause of what followed), and Syria and Philistia joining in alliance, against them, and seeking to persuade Israel to join them. They appear to have invaded Israel successfully for they are depicted as devouring Israel with open mouth. This may well have been what resulted in Pekah’s revolt against Pekahiah (2 Kings 15.25) with the result that he then joined the alliance, which would finally prove disastrous for Israel. Pekah was ‘the son of Remaliah’ mentioned earlier (7.1, 5, 9).
‘For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.’ Compare verses 17, 21; 10.4 and 5.25. These may originally all been part of one prophetic word, but not necessarily so. A good phrase is worth using again and again. But if they were once part of one prophecy they have been deliberately separated into two and brought into use to illustrate Isaiah’s current message. They indicate a series of attempts by Yahweh to win back Israel, which failed because of their obstinacy, resulting in His anger against them increasing. And thus His hand was still stretched out against them.
The Second Chastisement. The Removal of the Leadership (9.13-17).
In ‘a’ the people have not turned to Him nor have they sought Yahweh, and in the parallel they have continued in their evil and experienced His anger. In ‘b they have cut off from them both head and tail, and in the parallel their young men and weak ones will also not be protected. In ‘c’ the head and tail are defined as their leaders and prophets, and in the parallel such leaders cause the people to err, and thus destroy those whom they lead (‘c’ leads into the contrast between ‘b’ and ‘b’).
Although God sought to win them back by chastisement the whole people of Israel (‘people’ is emphatic) spurned His plea, they refused to turn back to Him, or seek Him. So Yahweh will remove their leadership; elder (an officially appointed leader from among the people and theoretically popularly accepted), honourable man (influential but not official) and prophet. This is depicted as cutting off head and tail, palm branch and rush. The prophets who teach falsehood are here dismissed summarily as the tail, and as mere rushes in contrast with the tall palms. They may think that they are important but they are not. They are a disaster for Israel, as false teachers always are for all.
‘In one day’. This may have indicated a sudden purge of the leadership when one dynasty replaced another, and the old leadership was rooted out, for they were troubled times, or it may be referring to the collapse of Samaria to the Assyrians. If we see the chastisements as chronological the former is the more probable (see 10.3).
But the sad result of all this is then declared. The leaders have led the people astray, and the people have followed them, thereby the people are destroyed. The next verse suggests that their destruction initially lay in the fact that they became morally corrupt. But they did not, of course, need to obey the leaders when they went against Yahweh’s Law so that they had no excuse for rejecting Yahweh. They were like sheep determined on having their own way, and thus went astray (53.6).
All the people, almost without exception, are in fact guilty, even their young men, the fatherless and the widows, those who were led and guided by others. All had become profane and spurned Yahweh, all did what was evil, all spoke foolishness and rejected the covenant (compare Psalm 14.1). So the Lord will turn away from His usual stance of ‘rejoicing in’ the young men and having compassion on the weak and helpless. This will be because of the evil that they have allowed to develop within themselves, and because of their profanity against Him. ‘Rejoicing in’ is probably to be seen as including the idea that He will watch over them and protect them. Thus the negative indicates that His protection is to be removed and they also will suffer in the situations that result.
As already mentioned, the removal of the leadership may have taken place at the many purges when one dynastic house replaced another, as happened regularly in Israel. Their monarchy was not stable. Or it may have been seen as taking place in 722 BC when the cream of the nation were taken into exile. But either way the people who remained also suffered, and yet they still did not change but continued in their rejection of Yahweh. Thus God did not remove His anger from them, and continued to stretch out His hand against them.
The Third Chastisement. The Disintegration Of Their Society (9.18-21).
In ‘a’ wickedness is all-devouring and consumes thorns and thistles, and in the parallel wicked Israel are against thorny Judah. In ‘b’ the people are fuel, and even brothers are not spared, while in the parallel the people will desperately eat anything, even ‘the flesh of his own arm’.
The new leadership was inadequate and the result was the open rise of wickedness. And wickedness always eventually results in destruction. It is self-destroying. Thus here it is pictured as being like a fire which destroys all in its path. It begins with the briars and thistles, which here refer to those who perpetrate the wickedness, but then it spreads and becomes a great forest fire, burning the thickets and producing huge plumes of smoke, thus affecting everyone. This is then defined in the following verses as being as a result of the wrath of Yahweh and as resulting in civil unrest which eventually affects everyone, even the highest.
We should learn from this that sin self-multiplies. It may begin in a small way but it soon becomes a forest fire. Thorns and thistles are often used as emblems of the wicked (Micah 7:4; Nahum 1:10; 2 Samuel 23:6), and their burning as a figure for the punishment of sinners (Isaiah 33:12; Psalm 118:12; 2 Samuel 23:7), especially by means of foreign enemies (Isaiah 10:17; 32:13).
‘Through the wrath of Yahweh of hosts is the land burnt up.’ Isaiah boldly depicts all that results as due to the wrath of Yahweh ‘bursting out’ (which lies at the root of the word used for ‘wrath’) and burning up the land. The lesson is that Yahweh lies behind everything. Nothing happens outside His control. He is over all. But we must recognise that a part of this is not direct action but the result of the restraints and consequences that He has built into creation, and Israel are in fact bringing their troubles on their own head as a result of the bursting out of their own sinfulness.
(Thus there was a human explanation for all that happened. It is just that Isaiah is bringing out that behind the human situation was always the hand of Yahweh).
The deterioration of the leadership has resulted in civil unrest and famine which spreads like a fire. Neighbour attacks neighbour. Everyone looks to his own interests. Men are desperate for food, looking everywhere and snatching it wherever it is to be found, but unable to obtain enough to be satisfied. Self-preservation takes over. There will be no tribal loyalty, (Manasseh and Ephraim were brother tribes), and Israel will also turn on Judah their brother nation in order to find sustenance.
‘They will eat every man the flesh of his own arm.’ Not cannibalism but unneighbourliness and disloyalty. They will eat at the expense of those nearest to them, and of those on whom they depend (their arm). As a result of the rejection of the covenant, which has not been replaced by anything acceptable by all, there is a moral void in Israel which weak leadership has allowed to break out and take over.
But still God did not remove His anger from them, and continued to stretch out His hand against them, because they did not repent and seek His face.
Chapter 10.1-4 The Fourth Chastisement. Bad Leadership, Rank Injustice, and Captivity (10.1-4).
In ‘a’ the leaders make unrighteous decrees and their underlings write them in such a way as to cause trouble, and in the parallel they are humbled even below the prisoners, and fall as the slain. In ‘b’ they had betrayed the needy, but in the parallel they themselves will become needy with none to help. In ‘c’ they spoiled the widows and preyed on the fatherless, and in the parallel they themselves will become a prey and be spoiled’
Note that 10.1-4 continues the theme of 9.8-21, and of chapter 5.
God’s woe is now threatened against the new leadership that has taken over and are worse than the old. They have no regard for justice or for the weak. They issue unfair decrees, and their administrators write them down in terms that will only cause trouble. And the purpose is so as to prevent the needy from obtaining justice, and to take away people’s rights, especially those of the defenceless. Thus the widows and fatherless, those with no strong arm to defend them, will be despoiled and become victims. Having been given power these leaders are determined to use it to wring as much out of people as possible, especially out of those who cannot defend themselves. The needy are here in deliberate contrast with those who make decrees, and the poor in deliberate contrast with those who articulate the decrees. It is a clear case of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
But these very leaders need to consider the fact that God sees what they do and will pay them a visit. He will exact the justice that they have failed to deliver. And He will do it by bringing from afar one who will wreak desolation among them. This is clearly a reference to the king of Assyria and his forces.
‘Where then will you flee for help?’ They have made it impossible for the poor to find help, but now it will turn on their own heads. They too will find themselves with no one to go to, nowhere to go for help. They will be left to face their troubles alone.
‘Where will you leave your glory?’ Their ‘glory’ is what they have built up for themselves including wealth and status. All that they have will be lost, position, prestige, wealth, all their glory will be lost, they will have nowhere for it to be preserved and kept safely.
The end result is that they, who fleeced others and paraded themselves over them, will be left with nowhere to go. They who paraded themselves will each bow down and cringe as the least of the prisoners, and many of them will fall among the slain. ‘Under’ seems to indicate humiliation and loss of status. There will be prisoners and there will be slain, and they will be the least among them.
Note the use of the two tenses. Each speaks of the future, but the perfect specifies the certainty and completeness of the humiliation of each one in the future, while the imperfect expresses the normal more general indefiniteness of what will happen and when. Not all will be slain.
Even yet God’s anger is still not assuaged. There remains the final judgment, the total cessation of Israel as a nation.
(Note. It is of interest that the ‘Woe’ here would fit with the ‘woes’ of chapter 5 to make a seventh woe, and that part of chapter 5 fits into the pattern here, with the repetition, ‘For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.’ If the transpositions did take place, and it is by no means certain, we have no reason to doubt that they were deliberate, and therefore the final message of the book is as we find it here. The Davidic promises have been set as a gleam of light within the woes. End of note).
Chapter 10.5-34 Assyria Will Advance And Conquer As A Judgment On God’s People But Will Finally Be Brought Down, For Final Deliverance Is Certain.
In the remainder of this chapter is described God’s call on Assyria to fulfil His will and act as His punitive rod, and Assyria’s subsequent arrogance in doing so which will bring judgment rebounding on themselves. This is followed by assurance of final deliverance for God’s people. But before that they must experience the Assyrian advance,
1). God First Calls On His Selected Instrument To Act But Then Rebukes Him For Overreacting (10.5-15).
In this vivid illustration Assyria is depicted as being the rod of God’s anger. Assyria might think that they are acting under the instructions of their own gods, but the real truth is that they are being used by Yahweh to do His will.
In ‘a’ the king of Assyria is to be Yahweh’s instrument, but in the parallel he is not considered to have behaved like a true instrument of Yahweh. In ‘b’ his intention is to is to go beyond his remit and destroy and cut off nations and in the parallel his proud attitude towards them in doing so is described. In ‘c’ he boasts about his ability to destroy kings, and in the parallel Yahweh will punish him for the glory of his proud looks. In ‘d’ he boasts at having conquered kingdoms with greater gods than those of Israel and Judah, and in the parallel boasts of what he will do to what he sees as the gods of Judah.
‘Ho.’ A peremptory call to Assyria like that of a master to his beast. (Or ‘woe to’, either is a possible translation. But ‘ho’ fits the context better. He is calling on His instrument in carrying out the woes).
God now calls on Assyria to act as the rod of His anger against Samaria and against Judah and Jerusalem. The Assyrians hold in their hands the means of chastisement and punishment which will express the ‘snorting anger’ (‘aph) and wrath of Yahweh. So Assyria is ‘sent’ (intensive, indicating the authority of the sender) by Yahweh against the people who have rejected Him, and are given a charge against the people with whom God is angry. Their charge is to collect spoil, to take booty and to tread the people down as men tread down the mire in the streets. This was their God-given task. Note the limit to His purpose. It was that these people might be despoiled and punished, but not more than that. Assyria, however, would not be satisfied with that.
Note the reference to ‘spoil’ and ‘booty’, both included in the name of Maher-shalal-hash-baz. They are to fulfil God’s will as prophesied.
Assyria, however, has far wider plans. It does not align itself with Yahweh’s plans but has plans against many nations. Here we have the conflict between sovereignty and free will. God is sovereign over the activities of Assyria, they come at His call, but He does not restrict them to that but allows them their freedom to reveal what they are by what they do, so that they will deserve the fate that will come on them. It is not that they openly disobey Him. They were not aware of the charge given to them. They are like a young stallion, controlled by its rider, but given freedom to express itself meanwhile, and that they do, revealing just how evil they are.
10.8-11 ‘For he says, “Are not my princes all of them kings? Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus? As my hand has found the kingdoms of the idols whose graven images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria, will I not, as I do (perfect tense) to Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?” ’
The pride of the king of Assyria is laid bare. He declares that his princes are in fact nothing less than kings who have been subdued, and now obey their overlord’s will. King’s are nothing to him, and princes even less. (So much for Ahaz’s expectations). None can resist him. He has conquered cities galore. These are named in such a way as to indicate a slow progress towards Samaria and Jerusalem, although not to be taken literally as signifying the order in which they were captured. Carchemish, Calno, Arpad, Hamath, Damascus - and then Samaria next! Whatever their boasting they were all the same to him. And in each case their idols had been superior to those of Samaria and Jerusalem. Thus let Jerusalem consider. What chance do they have? Compare here 36.19; 37.12-13.
Note his proud assumption that Samaria was already in his hands (expressed in terms of the perfect tense, the tense which signifies something which is complete, sometimes called the ‘prophetic’ perfect because regularly used by the prophets), although the way he describes the situation suggests otherwise. He mentions Samaria in such a way in verse 10 as to signify that it was not yet so taken. The word used for idols again signifies ‘worthless things, nonentities’ as in 2.8.
Carchemish, was on the upper Euphrates, Calno, Arpad were in northern Syria. Hamath in central Syria. Damascus was further south and the capital city of Syria.
It is worth noting that his words actually bring home a significant message, especially in the light of the later deliverance of Jerusalem. The idols of these cities, with all their grandeur and proliferation, had been truly powerless to help them, nor therefore, he assumed, would any idols aid Samaria and Jerusalem. All were useless. And he was right. But unknown to the king of Assyria Jerusalem had a secret weapon, Yahweh, the living God. And that was a different matter.
10.12 ‘For this reason it will come about that when the Lord has performed his whole work on mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish (visit on) the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.’
Assyria’s proud boasting is noted and because of it, once they have fulfilled God’s purpose, their boasting and their behaviour in the light of it will be visited on them.
‘When the Lord has performed His whole work on mount Zion and on Jerusalem.’ The mention of mount Zion is significant. Mount Zion was the site of Yahweh’s dwellingplace, a kind of meeting place between earth and heaven, and yet it too has a place in the work Yahweh has to do. For through its earthly connection it has been defiled by idolatry and needs to be cleansed once those who participate in the false worship have been removed. And the same applies to Jerusalem which is seen as a wider area than Mount Zion for this purpose. Both need to be purified.
‘I will punish (visit on) the fruit of the stout (arrogant) heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.’ Then, once he has fulfilled Yahweh’s will, the king of Assyria will be punished, both for his behaviour as a result of his arrogant heart, and because of the vainglory of his eyes which reveal his overweening pride. God had called him to administer punishment. He had not called on him to be cruel.
The king of Assyria saw what he had achieved as revealing that he was both mighty and supremely astute. He boasted that he had changed boundaries, setting up provinces as he would, and he had appropriated their treasures and resources, and like ‘a mighty man’ he had brought down those who sat on thrones. Like an egg collector he had come across the riches of the people, in the same way as a man who feels for a nest which he cannot see, in the hollow of a tree, and he had gathered all the earth like an egg collector gathers eggs from nests which have been deserted by their parents because of his presence. It was all so easy. And as with the parent birds no one had given any sign of protest, by either movement or words or chirp of protest. And all this was because he had gone beyond his remit.
But there was One who raised a protest, One Who saw the Assyrian as but a tool, and an arrogant one at that. The One Who had given him his remit. Will an axe or a saw boast against the carpenter and make a big thing of themselves? Of course not. They have nothing to boast at because they are only instruments that the carpenter uses. The boast is his, not theirs. Nor would a rod shake the one who held it. It rather responds to the one who holds and flourishes it. Nor would a pole lift up the flesh-and-blood bearers of the pole. It would lift up the wooden gods that were placed on it by the bearers. Thus the bearers are more significant than the helpless wooden gods. The implication is that the pole would of course lift up its wooden gods, assisted by those bearers, such was the helplessness of those gods. So the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. They are all but instruments in the carpenter’s hands. So why then does the king of Assyria boast against The One Who uses and directs him? It is totally illogical and ridiculous, and indeed arrogant and worthy of punishment.
2). Assyria Will Be Punished Because of Its Arrogance (10.16-19).
The punishment that Yahweh will bring on Assyria is now described. Yahweh will personally act to humble him.
‘Therefore will the Lord, Yahweh of hosts.’ There is deliberate emphasis on the great sovereign Lord, Yahweh of all the hosts of heaven and earth, in contrast with the crowing but soon to be humbled king of Assyria, who worshipped the hosts of heaven. ‘Yahweh of hosts’ will now put him firmly in his place.
‘Send among his sturdy (fat) ones, leanness.’ His mighty men will be turned into wimps, their health will go, they will waste away.
‘And under his glory (his pomp) there will be kindled, a burning like the burning of fire.’ All his pomp and his glory will be figuratively ‘burned up’ (it is ‘like the burning of’), that is it will disappear as though consumed. This picture of the burning of fire is a favourite theme in Isaiah, but here the fire is probably the fire of Yahweh’s power and holiness which will render the glory of this upstart king anaemic as the next verse indicates.
Some however see the disease and fire as the inward and outward methods of destruction in the judgment of Assyria.
‘And the light of Israel will be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame.’ The burning up will be done by the Lord Himself. He it is Who is the light (fire) of Israel, at a time when all lights were the product of fire. ‘Light’ speaks of what God is and of His truth (2.5; 5.20; 9.2; 60.1-2, 19; Psalm 27.1; 36.9; 43.3; 118.27; 119.30; Micah 7.8). And His holiness too is like a burning flame - compare the ‘burning ones’ of 6.2-3 and their words. So His glory and His truth and His holiness will ‘burn up’ the ‘glory’ of the king of Assyria.
‘And it will burn and devour His thorns and briars in one day. And the glory of his forest and of his fruitful field, He will consume, both life principle and body.’ A very similar description was given of the fate of Israel (9.18) where first briars and thorns, and then forest and fruitful field, were consumed by fire. So the fate that Assyria inflicted on Israel would in the end be its own fate. ‘Forest and fruitful field’ covers all its territory, natural and cultivated. ‘Life principle and body’ reminds us that human beings were involved. ‘In one day’ reminds us of that day when during the night the angel went out into the camp of the Assyrians and slew a multitude (37.36). That dealt with the briars and thorns. His glory and pomp was ‘consumed’ later.
‘And it will be as when a standardbearer falls (‘faints’). And the remnant of the trees of his forest will be few, that a child may write them.’ The word translated ‘standardbearer’ (nases) is rare and may mean one who wastes away. When a standardbearer falls, morale is hit, and the tide of battle may change. It can mean disaster. The picture is vivid. But it should probably be translated ‘when the sick man wastes away’, compare verse 16 where sickness is followed by fire. Here we have the contrary order as so often in Isaiah. This ties in with the deterioration in the previous phrases. So the decline of Assyrian power is likened to the tragic fall of a standard bearer or to the slow demise of a sick man.
And when God has finished with Assyria their trees will be so few that a child can number them and write it down. The destroyers of the trees of others (37.24) will themselves suffer the same fate. Whether the ‘trees’ represent people or real trees is open to interpretation, but the message is clear. The decimation of Assyria. For all their ‘trees’ will be able to be counted and written down by a schoolboy on his scholastic tablet. We should remember in this regard that a nation’s trees were indicators of its wealth.
3). Afterwards A Remnant of Israel the Northern Kingdom Will Turn Back to God (10.20-23).
At this time Isaiah’s vision is fixed on Assyria, the mighty power of the day. He sees everything in terms of Assyria as the ‘now’, and what follows as being ‘afterwards’. It is only later that he becomes aware of the shadow of the power of Babylon. Thus what is described here is the ‘afterwards’, without any indication of how long afterwards. It is possibly spoken in the light of the destruction of Samaria and the exile of the cream of the nation of Israel in 722 BC.
In ‘a’ Israel will no longer stay on him who smote them but on Yahweh the Holy One of Israel ‘in truth’, while in the parallel this will be because the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, has determined to bring a consumption and consummation on the one who smote them, one that ‘overflows with righteousness’. In ‘b’ in both cases a remnant will return.
In mind here is the northern kingdom, described as ‘Israel’ and ‘the house of Jacob’ as in 9.8. The central thought here is of the return of a remnant of the people of the northern kingdom to God. They will no more rely on their smiter, presumably here Assyria, but on Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, Who is also the light of Israel (10.17). When God’s rod has smitten them, a remnant of His rebuked people will return.
Note that it is ‘the remnant’ and ‘those who escape’ who are in mind. The vast majority of Israel will be lost. This remnant may represent some of the people who remained in the land, or some who escaped to Judah, as no doubt many did, especially the men of faith. But we need not doubt that there would be those who had been exiled who would also struggle to return to the land and may be included. But the main point is that God’s people as represented in the northern kingdom would not be totally cast off. A number of them will finally come back to God, fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham, and will be established as true worshippers of Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel (the One distinctive and pure God), in truth, or in steadiness of heart.
So after Israel was crushed and the cream of the nation was carried into exile in 722 BC, ‘a remnant would return’ to God (she’ar yashub - compare Shearjashub (7.3)). This brings out yet again the width of Isaiah’s vision. In 9.1-2 the people of Galilee were in mind, now here the remnant of the northern kingdom. Along with Judah they are to enjoy God’s final mercy.
‘A remnant will return, even the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.’ ‘Mighty God’ (El-Gibor - God the Mighty One) is the same as in 9.6, but compare Jeremiah 32.18 where the Great and Mighty God (God the Great the Mighty One) is Yahweh of hosts. The context here is stressing the return of the remnant to God, not to the house of David. Thus El-Gibor is seen as a full divine title. ‘God the Mighty Warrior’ is an apposite comparison with the warrior kings of Assyria.
The people of Israel were described in Genesis 22.17 as being prospectively like the sand on the seashore. It is a term which means a large number. Here Isaiah is therefore saying, your people are truly like the sand of the sea, reminding them of God’s promise to Abraham, and adding that a remnant of that huge number will return. While it is a remnant, the remnant is a fairly large one and not a small one (although small proportionately).
‘A consumption (destruction, a coming to an end) is determined, overflowing with righteousness.’ The thought here may be that the consumption and destruction of Assyria is determined, which will bring about God’s righteous purposes for His people, or that there will be ‘a coming to an end’ of Israel’s judgment resulting in God’s overflowing righteousness to the remnant or that Yahweh’s very acts of judgment will be in accordance with what is just and right. The probable parallel with staying on Yahweh ‘in truth’ could be used to support any of these alternatives. The principle point that comes from it is that Yahweh acts in truth and righteousness.
For it is the Sovereign Lord, Yahweh of hosts, Who will bring all His purposes in the earth to their final end. He has determined it and it will be. All will finally be resolved, and neither Assyria nor anyone else can interfere. In the end God’s final purposes will be achieved. For God is over all.
In fact during the tumultuous history that followed, with empire following empire, it must be seen as quite probable that many of these exiles, a remnant, did make their way back to their homeland, especially under kings like Cyrus who encouraged people to return to their homeland. This is not therefore a prophecy awaiting fulfilment. Only too often modern prophetic preachers can ignore fulfilment that took place within the inter-testamental period.
And While Zion Will Also Come Under Assyria’s Rod They Too Will Be Finally Delivered (10.24-27).
Zion too will come under Assyria’s rod. But they are not to be dismayed. For eventually God will remove the yoke from off their necks.
In ‘a’ the people of the Lord, Yahweh of hosts do not need to be afraid of Assyria, and in the parallel this is because Assyria’s yoke will be broken from their necks because they are the anointed of Yahweh. In ‘b’ Assyria might smite them with a rod and lift up their staff against them as the Egyptians did, but in the parallel Yahweh will use His rod against them as He did at the Reed sea, and will lift it up as He did against the Egyptians. In ‘c’ Yahweh’s anger will be vented on Assyria while in the parallel it can be compared to how He stirred up a scourge to slaughter Midian.
10.24 ‘Therefore thus says the Lord, Yahweh of hosts,
Here Isaiah under inspiration compares Judah and Jerusalem’s present state to that of their bondage under the Egyptians (Exodus 1.13-14; 2.23) and their miserable state under the Midianites in the time of Gideon (Judges 6.1-6), from both of which they were finally delivered after much suffering. And their sufferings under Assyria were indeed a distressing time. For although it is true that Jerusalem was (or would be, depending on when the prophecy was given) finally delivered, the nation as a whole would have been crushed and its cities destroyed, and the boot of Assyria would lay heavily on them. So in their extremity and their groaning he lifts their eyes to God.
They must first remember that He is the Sovereign Lord, Yahweh, over the hosts of heaven and earth. Then they must remember again that they are His people within the covenant, and dwell in Zion, the city of both David and the Davidic promises, in which is mount Zion where from an earthly point of view Yahweh dwells. Thus they need not finally be afraid of Assyria. Although they are being chastened they are not forgotten by God. (Indeed as he had said earlier, had they trusted in Yahweh from the beginning none of this need have happened).
Like Egypt (and Midian) Assyria has been permitted to smite them with the rod, and raise his staff against them (the rod and staff of God’s indignation - 10.5), but in a short while God’s anger against His people will be assuaged and that anger revealed in His destruction of Assyria. God will Himself be another Gideon and another Moses. God will lift up a scourge and scourge Assyria as Egypt had scourged Israel, and He will slaughter them as He slaughtered Midian at Oreb (as symbolised by their slain prince - Judges 7.25), He will raise His rod over the sea (whatever instrument He chooses to destroy Assyria) and the hosts of Assyria will be destroyed, as had happened to the Egyptians long before.
Note the contrasts. Assyria came with a rod and a staff, so God will deal with them with a scourge and a rod. The slaughter of the first of the princes of the Midianites at Oreb is seen as depicting the defeat of the whole, and what followed (Judges 7.25). In the same way the assassination of Sennacherib by his sons is seen as symbolising the total defeat of Assyria by Yahweh at Jerusalem, and what followed - Isaiah 37.38.
Finally Isaiah assures Judah and Jerusalem that their burden will be removed and the yoke will be taken off them. Assyria will no more burden them, neither by demanding tribute or other services, nor by controlling and driving them at their will.
‘The yoke will be destroyed because of oil.’ Oil refers in 5.1 to fertility, as ‘a son of oil’. It often represents joy and gladness and it can represent fatness. But none of these really fit here. (Although some have suggested that God’s goodness so fattens them that the yoke breaks).
There are various other ways in which we can see this reference to oil.
Thus we may see ‘because of oil’ either as indicating an offering of dedicatory worship, or as a ‘sanctifying’ act, setting apart for a holy purpose (Leviticus 8.10, 12, 30), or as symbolisng the sealing of a covenant with God, or as looking to the anointing of the son of David to the purposes of God (11.1; Psalm 45.7; 89.20), or as an offering of oil to God in prayer for deliverance, or as representing the light of Israel which burned perpetually before God, or even possibly as an indication that Judah owes its deliverance to the fact that it was itself seen as anointed by Yahweh through the anointing of the high priest who represented the people before God.
In some way or other therefore the oil symbolises a dedicatory act of the people, and/or a symbol of their position before God, which brings about the activity and deliverance of God and destroys the yoke in response to His people’s approach to Him. It probably also signifies the fact that they were therefore seen as sanctified to Him and that their light burned continually before Him. These were reasons why He delivered them.
The bare usage here does not fit with any usage in this way found elsewhere. It is in that sense unique. But Isaiah knew that his hearers would read into it all that oil symbolised to the Israelites mentioned above. Oil represented God’s ways of blessing His people.
Assyria’s Advance on Jerusalem (10.28-32).
We now have a very vivid representation of the onward march of Assyria towards Jerusalem as he approached Hezekiah’s Jerusalem.
In ‘a’ we have the description of the establishment of his base camp, and in the parallel his establishment at Nob and his shaking of his head over Jerusalem. In ‘b’ fleeing is mentioned and reference made to Geba, and Gibeah associated with Saul, and in the parallel again a description of fleeing, and reference made to Gebim. In ‘c’ certain towns are addressed and exhorted.
The slow, merciless advance of the king of Assyria, God’s rod of chastisement is now described. Every name mentioned represents a tragedy of slaying and destruction. The people quail at his advance, and they are cruelly brushed aside, crushed and slaughtered. He has come to Aiath, (only fifteen miles to go), more slaughter. He has passed through Mignon, he establishes his supply centre at Michmash. (indicating that his presence is to be permanent). He makes his way through the pass there, probably with much fierce fighting, and then descends into the valley, and then up the slope to settle his camp at Geba in order to pacify the surrounding area. (Now only six miles to go). The nearby fortress town of Ramah trembles - and waits in terror. Gibeah, another fortress town, has been evacuated. The Assyrians fan out. Those at Gallim cry out in terror, at Laisha they listen in fear for his approach, at Madmenah they become fugitives who are hunted down, and from Gebim they stream as refugees to the mountains. Judah is in turmoil and is being devastated. That very day he stops at Nob. And from there the next step is Jerusalem, which he can look down on and survey from the heights. So Judah is not getting off lightly.
‘He is shaking his hand at the mount of the daughter of Zion, at the hill of Jerusalem.’ At last he has reached his objective. All the killing, and the murder, and the mayhem has had this purpose in mind. Jerusalem is at last within his grasp. He shakes his fist at her. He is convinced that like all before her she will soon capitulate. This is the very hill of Jerusalem on which he has set his sights. But he does not realise that he is shaking his fist at Yahweh’s daughter, Zion (1.8), and that within Jerusalem is Mount Zion. He will soon learn that his battle with Yahweh has just begun.
The Final Result (10.33-11.10).
And now the scene suddenly changes. After the detail of the march the final result is dismissed in two sentences as a new prophecy opens up. Assyria is by now almost irrelevant. In mind now are all the enemies who come from the north in their proud and arrogant presumption against God’s people, all the enemies of Israel. They will be hewn down like a condemned forest and fall before the Lord, Yahweh of hosts, preparing the way for the new growth of the Spirit endued King. And then will arise God’s solution for the world, the anointed son of David, and He will establish everlasting righteousness.
All The Enemies of the Lord, Yahweh of Hosts Will Be Severely Dealt With And His King Will Reign In Righteousness (10.33-11.4).
The destruction of the high and mighty ones, and the raising up of His righteous king go together. It is as though from the felled forest grows up the shoot and branch of Jesse. Out of seeming disaster God will bring triumph.
Analysis of 10.33-11.4.
In ‘a’ the Lord Yahweh of hosts will reveal His righteousness (compare 10.22) by bringing down the high ones and the lofty ones, cutting down the forests as the Mighty One and in the parallel His chosen One will smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and slay the wicked with the breath of His lips. In ‘b’ a shoot will come forth from the stock of Jesse and a branch from his roots (in contrast with the high and lofty forests), and in the parallel He will judge the poor with righteousness and reprove the meek with equity, this in complete contrast with the king of Assyria. In ‘c’ The ‘Spirit of Yahweh’ will rest on Him, and He will be just and right, and in the parallel His delight will be in the ‘fear of Yahweh’ and He will judge fairly and honestly.
All who oppose God are in mind here, all the proud foes from the north. This includes Assyria and its attack on God’s people, but it also includes all others who come through Lebanon from the north. This prophecy is placed here, not only to emphasise Assyria’s defeat, but also to demonstrate God’s final victory on all who come from the north. It is the ultimate victory against the ultimate enemy. It was from the forests of Lebanon that the enemy continually emerged. But now the forests of Lebanon will be no more, with all that they represent of the foes from the north. They will be laid bare. All God’s enemies will be cut down and destroyed to prepare the way for the son of David, and it is inevitable, for they are in opposition to the sovereign Lord, Yahweh, Lord of all the hosts of heaven and earth.
The vivid picture brings home the direct action of God. No longer the indirect forest fire (10.16-19), but the direct action of the woodcutter which will be on all that is against God and His people. Note that the action takes place outside the land. His people will now be safe under their King. (It is the geography of parable, not to be taken literally).
The emphasis is on the humbling of proud man before the terror of Yahweh. The boughs are lopped. The huge giants of the forest are hewn down, the tallest of the trees are brought low. The impenetrable thickets are chopped down with iron. The whole of Lebanon will fall at the hands of the Mighty One. For a similar world picture see 2.10-21. We know Who has done it, but how it will come about is not described.
And then, in contrast, from the stump of a tree will blossom the One Who will change the world.
Chapter 11.1-4 The Coming of The Son of Jesse.
The word translated ‘stock’ means the basic element of the tree (40.24; Job 14.8). Here the stock is Jesse, the father of David (1 Samuel 16.1-13) and the father of the Davidic house. Each descendant was thought of as ‘David. (Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, is called ‘David’ and ‘son of Jesse’ in 2 Chronicles 10.16). But the tree has wilted, for the present representative of the Davidic house has been rejected (7.9). Thus a return must be made to the stock. Another David is required. And here He is promised. A shoot (young growth) will come forth from the stock, and a branch (sapling) from the roots. The failed branch of the Davidic house has been replaced by a new growth.
The importance of this cannot be overemphasised. This One is not just one of a long line of Davidic kings, He goes back to the root. The miraculous birth of 7.14 is required. And it is this shoot and this sapling Who will bear the fruit that God looked for from that house.
Once again there will come a king on Whom has come the Spirit of Yahweh. It is noteworthy that the last king who was said to have received the Spirit of Yahweh was David. But here the benefits are sevenfold indicating divine completeness. Here is the greater David. For the Spirit Who has come upon him is the Spirit of Yahweh, the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. When we remember that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom we see here the source of ultimate wisdom, founded in the might of Yahweh. He is the Mighty, All-Wise One, seven times wiser than Solomon, the wisest of the wise (see 1 Kings 3.12).
Note how the couplets go together. Wisdom is the basic fullness of knowledge, understanding its outworking. Counsel is the duty and expression of wisdom of princes, and might the ability to carry it through (He is the Counsellor and the Mighty God (9.6)). Knowledge constantly refers to awareness about God and His ways and ‘the fear of Yahweh’ is the result of that knowledge carried to fruition. This last part is then doubly emphasised. Faithfulness to Yahweh is all.
His great delight will be to serve and reverence Yahweh, and His reign will be in total justice. For all His judgments and reproofs will give consideration to what Yahweh is in His awesomeness and holiness. They will not be on the basis of what is seen on the surface or be based on hearsay, but will be given in true righteousness and on the basis of equity. The poor and the meek, those who have previously been at the mercy of unjust decisions based on bias, prejudice and desire for gain, will receive full justice. Those who deserve rebuke will be dealt with. The poor will be vindicated. He is the Everlasting Father.
The picture is an ideal one of the perfect king and judge, and the point is that everlasting righteousness will have come in (Psalm 119.142; Daniel 9.24 compare Psalm 72.2-5).
‘His delight will be in the fear of Yahweh.’ This will necessarily be so because the ‘Spirit of Yahweh’ rests on Him making Him delight in the fear (awe) of Yahweh. Where the Spirit is there is ‘His fear’.
On the other hand he will punish those who are in rebellion against Him and who refuse His right to reign. For them His words will be like a rod of chastisement and His breath like a powerful weapon for slaughter. When He speaks just punishment will follow, and finally death for those who reject Him. Here we see the righteous King doing precisely what the Lord, Yahweh of hosts has done in 10.33-34.
We can compare here Psalm 2.9, ‘you will break them with a rod of iron, you will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. The thought is of final judgment. In the New Testament this is cited as, ‘you will shepherd them with a rod of iron’ (Revelation 2.27; 12.5; 19.15), just as a shepherd uses his rod to smite the enemies of the sheep (note how in 2.27 it parallels the idea of the shattering of the potter’s vessel, and in 19.15 parallels the treading of the winepress of His wrath. To translate as ‘rule’ gives the wrong impression).
The Coming Paradise (11.5-10).
And now, having depicted a situation where good will triumph and evil perish, where all will be just and right, where everything will be in accord with the holiness and justice of God, Isaiah goes on to finalise the perfect picture. The King will rule in righteousness (verse 5), and even throughout the animal kingdom peace and harmony will reign. For He is the Prince of Peace (verses 6-9), while the nations and peoples will seek to the root of Jesse, and find a glorious resting place, in the same way as the animals will, a resting place provided by Him.
Many seek to depict these scenes as though they applied to a kingdom on earth, but a few moments thought will reveal the impossibility of such a situation. Such justice and righteousness can only be applicable where men are totally good. Otherwise men could not live with such righteousness and life would not be liveable. This is not describing a kingdom age where right conflicts with wrong, but a golden age in the new heavens and the new earth when all is harmony (66.22 and see 65.17-25). A time when death is no more. It is an idealistic picture, not one of which the details should be pressed. Both nature and man will have come to their consummation. (And to suggest that while all this peace and harmony within creation is going on, man is busy offering sacrificial memorial offerings in the Temple would be to contradict the whole picture).
Analysis of 11.5-10.
In ‘a’ we have the picture of the ideal king clothed for His ideal reign, and in the parallel He will be sought to by the people and His resting place for them (as for the animals and children) will be glorious. They too will enjoy His rest, as will nature. In ‘b’ all the fiercest predators will be at peace with their former prey, for in the parallel they will not hurt or destroy in all His holy mountain because all will have the knowledge of Yahweh. In ‘c’ all nature is at one, and in the parallel man is at one with nature.
The King will clothe Himself in righteousness and faithfulness. Righteousness will determine all His activities, and He will reveal His faithfulness by how He conducts His affairs. (‘The reins’ determine control and direction). For all things will be ruled in righteousness in His righteous kingdom, so that all nature will be in harmony and men will seek to Him and enjoy His glorious resting place.
Such will be His righteous rule that all nature will be in harmony. The picture is idyllic, the hunters and the hunted sharing their food and lifestyle together and at peace, and their young all in harmony together, and all will be in harmony with man whose young will have control over all. Genesis 1.28 is finally fulfilled. No one will seek to benefit by the death of another. All predatory instincts will have ceased. So much so that the snake will no longer be man’s enemy, but totally trustworthy and safe to dally with. It is the reversal of the fall in Eden. The Enemy will no longer be able to exercise his guile. There will be no killing, no bloodlust, no devouring of another, no fear, no bite of death, no fear or deceit of the snake. It will be Paradise, with evil fully defeated.
(Note: This sits ill with the suggestion made by some of a world where the cow and the lamb and the kid and the fatling have one thing to fear, being offered as an offering in an earthly Temple. That is the exact opposite of what is depicted here. There are no sacrifices here. This cannot reasonably be thought of as including such an idea. In this world no sacrifices are necessary. End of note).
Note how in 65.25 this glorious scene is linked with the new heaven and the new earth (65.17).
Thus there will be no more death, no more hurt, no more enmity, no more tears (compare Revelation 21.3-4), for all nature will have full knowledge of Yahweh and be obedient to His will. This is a picture of the everlasting kingdom. All will be made perfect just as it was intended to be in the beginning of creation. God’s holy mountain here has filled the whole earth, which is in turn filled with the knowledge of Yahweh. Knowledge here implies full understanding and harmony and response. It is a further reminder that God’s holy mountain is not the same as Jerusalem (see on 2.2-4). In 2.3 all nations came to the mountain of Yahweh, but here the mountain of Yahweh has embraced all that remains once the wicked have been slain with the breath of His mouth. The mountain of Yahweh is greater and more spiritually widespread than Jerusalem, that is, until finally ‘Jerusalem’ itself is also spoken of in universal terms (66.12-14, 20-23; compare Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22).
Thus does Isaiah present his picture of the time when God will have brought in perfection, presented in terms that the people of that time could appreciate, and yet having that added extra that warns us against taking it too literally.
And men too must have their part in this perfect kingdom (up to now all concentration has been on animals and little children, demonstrating its perfect innocence). The new King, the root of Jesse, will set up His banner, and all nations and people will seek to Him and enjoy His glorious resting place along with the animals and children.
So having expanded his thought to the restoring of Paradise Isaiah again brings attention back to the King. But now He is not just Jesse’s seed. He is a greater than Jesse. He is the root from which Jesse springs. He is the world King. It is He, the very root of Jesse, to whom the nations will seek. He will have raised Himself as a banner, and they will flock to Him and find rest within His glory, in His glorious resting place. This is a banner of peace as is appropriate for the Prince of Peace (9.6). Contrast 5.26; 13.2. It found a glorious fulfilment when His banner was raised at Pentecost and after, and the nations flocked to His banner. Jesus may well have had this verse in mind when He promised His own that in His Father’s house were many resting places (John 14.1-2).
The description of the coming One as ‘the root of Jesse’ contrasts with verse 1 and emphasises that His glory does not come from Jesse. He is the root, Jesse is the stock. So in the end He Himself is the root, the stock, the branch and everything. All eyes must be on Him.
‘In that day.’ That is, in the future ‘day’, whenever it is, when God brings His purposes to fruition. How long that day would be was unknown to Isaiah. It was simply the future restoration, and he did not know how long it would take. It would be a long day in our terms. It began with the restoring of the people to the land, continued when Jesus Christ first came and through the ages, and awaits its final completion at His second coming in glory when His people find rest within His glory. With God a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day (2 Peter 3.8).
The Restoration Of Israel And Judah (11.11-16).
And now, as after 2.5; 9.7, we are suddenly brought abruptly down to earth again. The glory of the coming eternal kingdom has been revealed. But what has been described is not just a myth, it relates specifically to the world situation and the position of God’s people. It is something to be truly enjoyed in the future. But before creation can be so blessed His people must return to Him and must be restored in readiness to act as His servant in the spreading of His truth, that the word of Yahweh may go out from Jerusalem (2.3).
In ‘a’ the Lord will restore His people from Assyria and Egypt, etc. and in the parallel there will be a highway for them from Assyria, just as there had been in the day they came out of Egypt. In ‘b’ the Lord will set up a banner and gather to it the exiles of both Israel and Judah, and in the parallel Yahweh will make ways for His people to cross the barriers to their return dryshod. In ‘c’ those who vex Ephraim and Judah will be dealt with, and in the parallel they themselves will triumph over them.
11.11 ‘And it will come about in that day that the Lord will set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people who will remain, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath and from the islands of the sea (coastlands).’
‘A second time’ refers back to Israel’s captivity in Egypt. Then the sovereign Lord delivered them, now He will deliver them again. Note that here we are back to the action of God Himself, and that it is only ‘the remnant’ of His people that He gathers. Large numbers of them have aligned themselves with the nations. Only the few will return. They will come from Assyria and Egypt, the then two greatest known nations, and from further afield, from Upper Egypt (Pathros), from North Africa (Cush), from beyond Assyria, from Elam and Shinar (Babylon), and from Hamath, and from the furthest coastlands. The spread reveals Isaiah’s consciousness of the fact that Yahweh will yet scatter His people further abroad because of their constant unfaithfulness (6.11-12). The scattering of first Galilee, and then Samaria is only the beginning.
Such a return of exiles undoubtedly took place within the inter-testamental period. All who wished to do so could return to their native land. Thus by the time of Jesus visitors from all over the world came to Jerusalem for the feasts, and could stay there if they willed. Compare Acts 2.5, ‘and there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, from every nation under heaven.’ And that is followed by a similar list to here (Acts 2.9-11).
Note that Babylon is not prominently mentioned. While there are exiles there (Shinar) they are simply some among many. Babylon is not specifically in his sights.
The ensign here is not necessarily to be equated with the one in verse 10. It is a favourite picture of Isaiah. In 49.22 an ensign/banner is set up ‘to the peoples’ calling on them to bring God’s people back to the land. The ensign there is God’s signal to the peoples. Presumably therefore the same thing is in mind here. The setting up of an ensign is also used to call nations to battle (5.26; 13.2), so the symbol does not have one fixed idea. Thus the nations are here being called on to help in the gathering of Israel/Judah back to the land.
We note that he is remembering 6.12; and the name of his son, Sheer-jashub, ‘the remnant shall return’. He is well aware that Judah is to have its exiles. But there is no stress on their being in Babylon.
Alternately, however, we may see verse 12 as recapitulating verses 10 and 11. (We might begin verse 12 by translating ‘so’.) Then we may see two actions as depicted here, the setting up of the Ensign for the nations on the one hand in 11.12a, as a recapitulation of verse 10, and the gathering together of God’s remnant on the other in 11.12b as recapitulating verse 11. Two necessary actions in God’s purposes. The Ensign to the nations is then the King Himself, and primary, and therefore comes first, while the gathering of the people is then also described as occurring.
But note that in verse 10 He is set up as an Ensign to gather all the nations and people together in order that they may seek Him, an act of peace, whereas here the purpose of the ensign is to call on the nations to send back the dispersed of Israel and Judah from exile, and at no stage elsewhere is He said to be set up as the Ensign around which Israel will so gather. That is why we prefer the first interpretation, which also fits better with the analyses.
Either way the emphasis is at this point on the fact that God’s people will gather once more, drawn by Him, to serve Him once again, as Acts 2.5-11 tells us that they had done.
(An ensign is set up in 5.26 to ‘the nations from far’ which calls the nations to come against His people. There the Assyrian invasion is probably mainly in mind, although it is deliberately not specific. In 13.2 an ensign is set up ‘on the bare mountain’ where again it calls the nations for battle, but this time with reference to the destruction of Babylon. The principle behind the ensign is Yahweh’s sovereignty in world events).
The mention of Babylon at this stage under the name of Shinar stresses that Babylon is not seen as yet as a distinctive power with its name established, but as one among others. It fits well with Isaiah’s earlier ministry before the danger of Babylon became more impressed on him.
We may see for all this a twofold fulfilment. Firstly when the people were gathered back after the exile, and, over the later decades and centuries, were once again established in the land as a united people, and secondly when the Message of the Gospel went out into the world, and the banner of Christ was lifted up, and Jews from every nation under heaven responded to Him (compare Acts 2.5), finally drawing in all whom God has chosen.
Those who envy Ephraim (or the envy that they have of Ephraim) will ‘depart’, they will not be able to do anything against them, and those who vex Judah will be cut off. And in their being gathered together the two nations will become one. Judah will not vex Ephraim, Ephraim will not envy Judah. They will be one people.
Then in what follows, as previously in 10.26, Isaiah probably has in mind past history after the exodus when the Philistines, the children of the East (Judges 6.3), Edom (Numbers 20.20), Moab and Ammon (Judges 3.13) were fierce enemies of Israel (see also 1 Samuel 14.47) seeking either to prevent their establishment in the land, or to bring them into bondage and despoil them.
Others see in this a reference to the time of David when all these tribes and nations were in submission to him.
The mention of the Philistines as being ‘on the west’ also suggests a deliberate contrast with the children of the East, thus signifying all their enemies round about. This time there will be no such problem. Yahweh will bring them all in submission to them. And certainly in the inter-testamental period these areas came into Israelite hands. Nor would the two nations themselves be divided. They would be in the land as one people.
Again we are probably to see the twofold fulfilment, the literal establishing in the land in unity and control over these nations who had once held them in bondage, which became a reality in the inter-testamental period, and the triumph of the Gospel as taken out by Jewish missionaries (the Apostles and disciples) to ‘conquer’ those nations and bring them into subjection to Yahweh. The uniting of the tribes is then symbolic of the oneness of the true church of Christ.
Access both from Egypt and from Assyria will be made possible by Yahweh’s power. Both the Egyptian sea and the Euphrates will open up to make it possible for God’s people to come over dryshod. Indeed the tongue of the Egyptian sea will be utterly destroyed so that it can hinder no more. It is under the Ban. There is no more division, no barrier from entering or leaving Egypt. (And as we know, until the construction of the Suez canal those ‘seas’ had disappeared). They will be exiles no more.
Later we will also be told of a highway between Egypt and Assyria as they are one with His people in worshipping Him (19.23-25). Such a situation was open to God’s people in the Roman Empire, and facilitated the spread of the Gospel in the days of the early church.
The descriptions are idealistic as is demonstrated by the River splitting into seven dried up river beds, dried up by Yahweh’s scorching wind. Seven is regularly the symbol of idealism. It is simply saying that by His power He will make a divinely perfect way open, as He did in the case of Egypt long before, and will do again.
This all connects with the glorious days when the Gospel had free rein in Egypt and Assyria and they united in worship along with the Christian Jews in Palestine in the early century of the Christian era. It will have even deeper fulfilment in the new heavens and the new earth where all are as one.
Note the emphasis on the power of the hand; the hand of the Lord in verse 11, the hand of Israel and Judah in verse 14, and the hand of Yahweh in verse 15. It is Yahweh Who also strengthens their hand. The hand is the means by which things are done (compare Psalm 44.2).
We may end our look at this chapter by considering the final phrase. ‘Like as there was for Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.’ There will be a new Exodus. It will be a new beginning. The old will have past, the new will have come.
Chapter 12 A Hymn of Praise at The Consummation.
This hymn is seen as being sung once the purposes of God have come to fruition. It is a hymn of triumph at what He has done. In a sense we could see it as a praise review of chapter 6-11. For the first three lines could be Isaiah’s testimony after his experience of chapter 6, when he was first of all aware of his own utter sinfulness, and then received cleansing through the mercy of God. While it also speaks of the final position of the redeemed, for they too, returning from enmity and rebellion and uncleanness, have been reconciled to God. And note the stress on the fact that it is all of God. It is He Who is their deliverance.
In ‘a’ His people will speak out the greatness of His mercy, and in the parallel will cry aloud concerning His greatness a the Holy One of Israel. In ‘b’ because he is their salvation He is their song, and in the parallel they sing to Him because of what He has done. In ‘c’ they draw water from the wells of salvation, and in the parallel they declare His doings among the peoples.
12.1-2 ‘And in that day you will say,
The hymn is first of all a song of thanksgiving that Yahweh’s anger has been turned away from them, even though they recognise that they have deserved it. Thus instead of visiting them in anger and judgment as they deserved He has visited them in comfort and strengthening. That indeed is why they, those who are left, are now in a position to sing the hymn. But note that the hymn is in the singular. Each one is able to echo the sentiments behind the words. It is an individual experience for them all.
It then goes on to declare that their whole confidence is in God. The God Who should have been the source of their punishment has instead been the source of their deliverance. It is to Him that they owe everything. And because of this they know that they can rest on Him in total confidence, and not be afraid. Indeed ‘Yah Yahweh’ has been, and is, their strength and their song, even in the midst of trial. But now He has also become their deliverance.
These last phrases come from Exodus 15.2. Thus they are related to the Exodus deliverance, re-emphasising that Isaiah sees their future deliverance as being a new Exodus.
Yah Yahweh is a dual repetition of the Name Yahweh. Yah is the shortened form often found in names (compare also Hallel-u-Yah - ‘praise to Yahweh’), and is found in Exodus 15.2. Thus here there is especial stress on the covenant relationship and on the uniqueness of their God, coming from hearts full of praise and worship.
12.3 ‘Therefore with joy will you draw water out of the wells of salvation.’
Isaiah adds his comment to the song, and speaks to all. ‘You’ is here in the plural. Because of their wonderful deliverance they can all come continually to draw water from the wells of salvation. The spring-fed well was the basis of life for the Israelites. It was alongside wells that they built their cities. From wells they irrigated their crops. And now their saving God has provided a continual spring, welling up abundantly, from which to finalise what He has begun, so that as they live day by day with God they can continue drinking from the abundance of that spring (compare John 4.13-14).
12.4-6 ‘And in that day you will say,
The first part of the song looked at themselves, now they look out so that the world might praise Him. They point to His activity, and all that He has done, and cry out that it should be publicised among the nations, so that His name might be exalted by all men.
‘Give thanks to Yahweh, call on His name.’ This parallels ‘sing to Yahweh’. Thus it is a calling of gratitude, worship and praise, to be followed by a declaration of all that God has done so that the whole world might know of His doings.
And lastly he calls on Israel/Judah, the inhabitant of Zion, to fulfil their function, and like a town crier, shout out about their God, because of the greatness of the One Who is among them, ‘the Holy One of Israel.’
So Isaiah ends this section with ‘the Holy One of Israel’ resident among His made-holy people. All that chapters 6-11 have led up to is summarised in this. God’s triumph and purpose is complete.
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