Isaiah 1-6 focus on the spiritual situation and needs of the people. Isaiah 7-12 focus on the political situation in which Judah found itself “in the days of Ahaz” (736-725 B.C.; Isaiah 7:1) and the failure of the nation’s leaders to trust the Lord.
Ahaz’s Behavior in a Crisis
What crisis was Ahaz facing?
During the reign of Ahaz, Assyria was growing increasingly stronger as a military power. The Assyrians had a reputation as fierce and ruthless warriors (see Isaiah 5:27-30). Some scholars refer to them as the Nazis of the eighth century B.C.!
Feeling pressured and threatened by Assyria (under the leadership of Tiglath-pileser III), Rezin (king of Syria/Aram) and Pekah (king of Israel) formed a military coalition and asked Ahaz (king of Judah) to join them. When Ahaz refused to join their coalition, Pekah and Rezin put in motion their plan to overthrow Ahaz (known as the Syro-Ephraimitic crisis) and set up a puppet government in Judah which would cooperate with them (7:6).
When Ahaz and the people of Judah learned that the two kings from the north were approaching, their hearts trembled with fear (7:2). God then commanded Isaiah to take his son Shear-jashub (whose name means “a remnant shall return”) and deliver a message of assurance to Ahaz (7:3-4): “Take care, and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted. . .” This is the first recorded encounter between Isaiah and Ahaz, who was inspecting the city’s water supply in anticipation of a siege (7:3).
Isaiah assured Ahaz that the two kings (or “two smoldering stubs of firewood” Isaiah 7:4, NIV), would soon die and that within sixty-five years Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom) would no longer exist (7:5-9). Isaiah spoke these words in 734 B.C. Syria fell to the Assyrians in 732 B.C., Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and by 669 B.C. the nation of Israel no longer existed.
God’s message was plain: trust in the Lord and live or do not trust in the Lord and suffer defeat. The Jerusalem Bible preserves a convicting play on words in the Hebrew text by translating Isaiah 7:9, “If you do not stand by Me, you will not stand at all.”
Note: Alarm is present where there is no confidence in God.
When King Ahaz and the people of Judah learned of the threat from Pekah and Rezin, they “shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind” (7:1). They had no confidence in the face of difficulties. Ahaz sought in vain to relieve his anxieties by inspecting his water-system and entering into a foolish alliance with Assyria. He sought to calm his fears apart from God. Alarm and panic is always present where there is no confidence and trust in God.
Note: It is foolish to refuse God’s help.
Ahaz foolishly refused God’s help and sought instead the help of Tiglath-pileser III. He sought the help of man above the help of God. He sought help from the arm of flesh rather than from God’s mighty arm. Whenever we are tempted to disregard the help of God we should remember Ahaz and allow his foolishness to be a warning beacon against refusing God’s help. God is worthy of our trust.
What did God offer Ahaz to assure him of victory over Pekah and Rezin?
God offered to give Ahaz any sign to assure him of victory over Pekah and Rezin (7:10-11). Ahaz piously refused to ask God for a sign, probably because his personal plan was to form an alliance with Assyria as indicated by 2 Kings 16:7-8. In addition, had Ahaz accepted the offer for a sign he would have had to alter his plans to ask Assyria for aid. Ahaz chose to seek aid from Assyria rather than from God.
God however, gave Ahaz a sign anyway. While the ultimate fulfillment of the sign (prophecy) is in the Lord Jesus Christ, it had an immediate significance to Ahaz and the people of Judah. A young woman would marry, conceive, and bear a son whose name would be “Immanuel.” Ahaz was told that before this boy reached an age of moral accountability, the two kings (Pekah and Rezin) would be destroyed. This prophecy was fulfilled when Assyria defeated Syria in 732 B.C. and Israel in 722 B.C.
7:10 [8th century BC; Northern Kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) under the leadership of King Pekah and Syria (Aram) under the leadership of King Rezin threatened to invade Judah for refusing to join them in an alliance against Assyria (ruled by Tiglath-Pileser III); God sent Isaiah to reassure Ahaz that Pekah and Rezin would not succeed] Again [cf. 7:4-9 re: what the Lord had spoken through Isaiah] the LORD spoke to Ahaz [an evil king of Judah; God spoke words of encouragement through Isaiah],
7:11 “Ask the LORD your God for a sign [to assure him that Judah would not fall to its attackers], whether in [no limits placed on what Ahaz might ask] the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
7:12 But Ahaz said [his answer sounds pious but is in fact hypocrisy because his personal plan was to form an alliance with Assyria (cf. 2 Kings 16:7-8) rather than to trust God], “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test. [perhaps alluded to Deut. 6:16 which prohibited testing God; in this case God commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign, therefore the only acceptable response was to obey God]“
7:13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now [Behold], you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience [to weary, to wear out] of my God also?
7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give [an example of God’s mercy and grace] you a sign [even if you don’t ask for one]: The virgin [Hebrew ‘almah: unmarried woman; some feel this refers to either Isaiah’s wife or Ahaz’s wife: the woman would have been unmarried at time of this prophecy, then married, then pregnant, then give birth to child who became sign to Ahaz] will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [means “God with us” — ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy was in virgin birth of Jesus (cf. Matt. 1:23)].
Note: There are differing views regarding the immediate identity (not the ultimate messianic identity) of the child named “Immanuel.” Some scholars believe that the child named “Immanuel” was Isaiah’s own son. Other scholars believe that the child was a son to be born to Ahaz, a royal heir to assure him of the continuance of the royal line. Those who adopt this view believe that the royal heir was Hezekiah.
Prophecies of Assyrian Invasion
What would happen as a result of Ahaz’s refusal to trust God?
Because Ahaz refused to trust the Lord, Isaiah warned him that Assyria and Egypt would invade and ravage the land of Judah. In fact, Judah would experience the worst days since the division of the kingdom (7:18). There are four oracles introduced by the phrase “in that day.”
First, God would whistle for Assyria (and Egypt) to descend upon the land like a swarm of insects (7:18-19).
Second, the Lord would shave the land as with a razor (from head to foot), leaving it completely barren (7:20).
The third and fourth oracles describe the conditions after the Assyrian rape of the land.
Third, the people would be forced to subsist on a meager diet of dairy products (7:21-22).
Fourth, briars and thorns would replace the rich agricultural resources of the land (7:23-25), alluding to the commercial implications of the crisis.