Monday, May 19, 2008

Weekly Meditations: Is. 7 (2)

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

In that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thornbushes, and on all the pastures.

In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also.

In that day a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, and because of the abundance of milk that they give, he will eat curds, for everyone who is left in the land will eat curds and honey.

In that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns. With bow and arrows a man will come there, for all the land will be briers and thorns. And as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not come there for fear of briers and thorns, but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread. (Is. 7: 10-25)

In the first part of Is. 7, the prophet Isaiah was sent to pass a message to the wicked king Ahaz of Judah to inform him that the combined armies of Israel (Ephraim) and Syria would not succeed. After Isaiah prophesied the failure of the confederate campaign, the LORD continued to speak through Isaiah's prophecies, which we shall look at now.

The LORD in His mercy and kindness called upon the wicked king Ahaz to ask of God a sign (v. 10-11). This sign could be as deep as Sheol (Hell) or high or heaven, two extremes which symbolizes everything. In other words, God is telling Ahaz that He is willing to give any sign to him. From this, we can see the kindness of God even to the wicked calling for their repentance, even sending His Word to them to aid them and send offers of signs. The wicked king Ahaz however spurned God's offer under the guise of piety (v. 12); of not willing to "put God to the test". God therefore through Isaiah call upon Judah, asking them whether they think that wearying men is not enough for them such that they must weary God even (v. 13). God then proceeds to give Ahaz and Judah a sign, even though Ahaz rejected it due to his unbelief, and what a sign it will be.

Verse 14 of Is. 7 is one of the Messianic prophecies uttered in the Old Testament, as God has decided to give this sign for Israel in the midst of their unbelief, and what a prophecy it will be. The prophecy is that of the birth of the Messiah who will be called Immanuel — God with us — through his conception and bearing by a virgin. Such a supernatural event is to be a sign unto Israel, and will show forth God's presence among them to help them and aid them in their times of distress.

Before we apply this verse, a note must be said about the translation of the Hebrew for 'virgin', almah. The origianal word just mean 'young woman; maiden', though it must be noted that its usage in Scripture is always limited to young, unmarried women who are virgins. The translation to virgin is most definitely correct here, notwitstanding the liberal error which causes the word in the RSV for this verse to be translated as 'young woman'. For if it just refers to young women, the sign makes utterly no sense, for how can the fact that any woman conceive, no matter how young, be a sign unless it is not a natural conception?

And so the sign is proclaimed, which God will fulfil in His time and as a sign to Israel, when Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary. Jesus came as Immanuel, and he came to offer true peace to His people, who were also physically under distress. Of course Jesus came to offer them true spiritual peace (aid) which they understood not, but nonetheless the true Israel, the remnant of physical Israel, would embrace Christ. And this priviledge is expanded to the world, where God in Christ begin to open up the Kingdom of heaven to Man from every nation, tribe and tongue, starting from the time of Pentecost.

Now, it may be asked if this sign was to have a double fulfilment, a 'mini-fulfilment' then foreshadowing its true fulfilment in Jesus Christ, seeing as to how it is supposed to a sign to King Ahaz. However, this cannot be the case, for any true virgin birth then would undermine the uniqueness of Jesus' own virgin birth, and furthermore how can a mere mortal be called Immanuel? The sign was initially called upon for King Ahaz to ask of, yet his refusal resulted in the sign being given to Israel/Judah in general (v. 13). And God has never said that the sign must be fulfilled by Him now, but that this is sign functions rather as a promise to the remnant within Israel/Judah that God will one day send a Messiah to aid them in their distress.

Verses 15-16 are much more difficult to exegete, seeing that they seem to be linked to verse 14 yet it seems to be talking about the events happening in the near future. Verse 15 tells of the a boy eating curds and honey when he knows how to 'refuse the evil and choose the good'. And verse 16 through the use of the word 'for' (ki) links up verse 16 to verse 15, and it states that before the boy 'knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good', the two kingdoms attacking Judah now will be deserted and thus they have been destroyed as a nation. Of course, the defeat of these two kings occurred in Isaiah's and Ahaz's lifetime, and therefore this seems strange. John Calvin for example in his commentary of this passage chose to take the view that verse 15 refers to Christ, following on from verse 14, while verse 16 takes on a new subject matter (the boy here refering to Isaiah's son Shear-jashub who was bought to meet King Ahaz earlier - verse 3). Matthew Henry took the same position also. So they mention that through verse 15, Jesus' humanity can be seen.

I disagree however with those views. On reason of course is that verse 16 through the use 'for (ki) links that verse with verse 15. A more fundamental problem however lies in the fact that the boy in verse 15 is stated as having a stage whereby he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, and certainly how can it be said that there was a time in Jesus' life whereby He does not know how to refuse the evil and choose the good? Therefore, it is my view that verse 15 and 16 refers to Isaiah's young son Shear-jashub who function as an immediate sign to King Ahaz. So therefore, Isaiah proclaims that before his own son grew up to become more discerning (to know how to refuse the evil and choose the good), both Ephraim and Syria would be wiped out as nations (v. 16). Furthermore, when he matures enough to do that, he shall 'eat curds and honey' (v. 15), which refers to the fact that only such food are available during such a time, and the reason why we will look at in later verses.

Verse 17 starts the prophesying of disaster upon wicked King Ahaz, whom God knows has already called on Assyria for help. God calls forth to mind the spector of the worst disaster in the history of Judah so far — the day that the ten northern tribes split from the kingdom of the house of David — and states that He the LORD will bring forth worse calamities upon Judah, and the king of Assyria would be its cause. This is indeed judgment upon King Ahaz for his unbelief and his dependence on Assyria to help him against Ephraim and Syria, of which fact God does indeed knows. Verse 18 calls forth in the agents of judgment Judah would get, which is also their "just reward" for meddling around in International Politics when God has not called them to. Both Egypt and Assyria would hence forth fight for dominance over this region, and Judah would be ravaged in the process. The Egyptians and Assyrians are stated as settling in steep ravines, clefts of the rock, thornbushes and on all pastures (v. 19), which depict them as taking over the territory and being tenacious in their occupation of the land. Verse 20 shows the judgment of God against King Ahaz in particular and against Judah in general, as God will use the King of Assyria to punish them as like a razor. It is likened to a razor because God is using him to inflict humiliation and defeat (head, hair of the feet, and bear also), yet not to destroy Judah. It is hired because the king os Assyria most certainly did not yield to obedience to God to do His will, and therefore the LORD uses him as if hired since he did not submit himself willingly to God.

We end with verses 21-25 which tells of the economic hardship and yet God's provision during this time of judgment. On the one hand, verses 23 tells of the loss of agricultural products and that wildness will overrun the land, thus making once cultivated land into wild areas for hunting (v. 24). Yet on the other hand, God's provision is manifested as those who are still alive will have enough to eat, though perhaps not what they would like to have. Such provision is likened to a man keeping alive a young cow and two sheep (v. 21), who then derived his food from them as they produce much milk (v. 22) to make curds, and therefore they would eat curds and honey. Verse 25 shows God's provision too, that though the land is desolate and devastated, yet the land could still be used for rearing of cows and sheep, and therefore Judah would not starve.

Remembering verse 15, it can be seen therefore that what Isaiah was prophesying was that such a desolation of the land caused by Assyria (and Egypt) would come about as his own son mature in knowing 'how to refuse the evil and choose the good', and therefore not very far off in the future. Such therefore is the sober judgment rendered upon wicked King Ahaz for his unbelief and rebellion against God in procuring Assyria's aid.

In conclusion therefore, as we looked upon this passage, let us not follow the example of King Ahaz, of despising God's grace and kindness to him but instead rely on Man. While such a solution would indeed help you for a time, God will see to it that your solution will cause you much more harm in the future. Let us therefore trust in God in whatever we do and not create our own solutions, which may prove detrimental in the future. Remember also Abraham's 'experiment' with Ishmael and the harm it caused, and continue to cause.

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