Today’s Passage: Isaiah 7
The first handful of chapters in Isaiah are a prophetic message from God to Israel, but chapter 6 begins a tradition into historical narrative, and by chapter 7, we’re fully into the story. The two Jewish kingdoms are at war with each other, and Pekah, the king of Israel, has teamed up with King Rezin of Syria to lay siege to Jerusalem in Judah. King Ahaz of Judah freaks out over the attack, so God sends Isaiah and his son out to reassure the king that Judah will not fall. If it seems like there’s a lot going on and it’s hard to make sense of, don’t worry; you’re in good company. I myself had to check out a study guide by David Guzik just to distill it all down to that summary.
This chapter is home to the well-known virgin birth prophecy that Matthew later cites in his gospel. What struck me today was the context in which God gives the prophecy to King Ahaz via Isaiah. God says to Ahaz, “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (7:11), but Ahaz replies, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” (7:12). It would appear that he’s refusing to break the commandment “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16); he uses the same Hebrew verb, nacah, which carries a sense of subjecting a thing to testing or trial, and can even mean “to tempt.” But God never asked Ahaz to test him! In fact, while Ahaz may appear devout and obedient to the law here, he’s refusing to obey God. God commands him to ask for a sign, and Ahaz says, “No.”
The business of “signs” and asking God for them is complex, and we’re prone to misstep in our interpretations of what God is trying to tell us. I don’t want to encourage credulity, or get you jumping to look for signs in everything. And when it comes to it, this passage is less about the sign and more about trust and obedience. The two kings’ allied assault against his city has Ahaz shaken to the core, and he can’t see how it could turn out well, even when God tells him otherwise; to him, the message appears too good to be true.
I can identify with that. I tend to be cautious; I mistrust extremes of happiness or good news in order to avoid disappointment. But maybe I, like Ahaz, need to learn that God can make things better than I expect.