Ahaz was the grandson of Uzziah, and he was a very wicked king in Judah in the line of David. During his reign Judah was threatened by an alliance of Israel and Syria. The people of Israel (sometimes referred to by the name Ephraim here), were fellow Jews with the tribe of Judah, but they were unwilling to submit to the chosen line of kings who were the descendants of David. They hoped to use their relationship with Syria, their neighbor to the northeast, in order to conquer Judah for themselves.
Ahaz and the people of Judah were deeply concerned by these events. What was the Lord’s assessment concerning this distressing antagonism against Judah? “It shall not stand.” The Lord promised Ahaz that Israel would be destroyed as a nation within the next sixty-five years.
God knew that Ahaz, not being a strong man of faith, would have much trouble believing the Word of the Lord through Isaiah. Therefore He invited Ahaz to request of the Lord a great sign that might help him to believe God’s promise that he might find courage in these dangerous times.
Ahaz refused the offer. Pretending to be too pious to put the Lord to the test, he continued in his ways of disobedience. (See 2 Kings 16 for more information on Ahaz’s rebellion against God.) Isaiah’s response to Ahaz’s supposed righteousness? “Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?”
The Lord Himself would choose a sign. The word translated “virgin” here can also mean “young woman.” Before the ultimate fulfillment of this sign, it must have seemed that the Lord was referring to a very common event: A young woman “shall conceive and bear a son.” Many young women were regularly giving birth to baby boys. How could this mean anything? But the great fulfillment of this promise, as we learn in Matthew 1:18-25, was anything but a frequent occurrence. The “virgin” who would conceive would not merely be a young woman, she would be a girl who had never known a man. The conception of this child would be a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. The baby would indeed be “Immanuel” or “God with us.”
In the immediate future, the Lord would use the far-off Assyrian empire to break the alliance between Israel and Syria and to scatter the northern tribes away from the Promised Land. God would provide for some who would remain in Canaan, but the land itself and many of her exiled inhabitants would suffer. Yahweh would “whistle” for the Assyrians. This brutal nation would be the Lord’s “razor” that would shave the hair off of His chosen people, but a remnant would survive.
Through all the troubles that the Lord’s elect would face, the promise of Immanuel would remain. One day the Child of the virgin would be born. He would be “God with us” in His death for sinners. As He assured His disciples, even after His death He would be with them in a new way: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18) In the person of the Holy Spirit, God is now with those who have faith in Christ.
We need to hear the words of the Almighty to Ahaz: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” We need to believe the Lord’s promise to us if we are to live a stable life of joyful obedience. He is with us. Despite the corrections that He may yet administer to the church, we know that He is coming soon to show us His perfect salvation. The way to a solid life of holiness is to be firm in our faith concerning the good Word of the Almighty.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
O Lord God, the King that You have provided for Your church is faithful and true. You know the wickedness of those who seek to overwhelm us, but You have the power to stop the hand of every adversary. Make us firm in faith. Help us to rejoice in the sign that You have chosen for us. A virgin has conceived. Immanuel has been given to us. Through Him, sin and death have been overthrown. We thank You for the wonder of His mighty love. The very thought that You are with us through the person of Your Son is a comfort in the present day of trouble. Though all of our problems have not yet been removed from us, the sign of Immanuel speaks to us of a powerful victory that can never be reversed. The Christ has come for our atonement. He will return again to rescue us from this evil age.