Summary: As Isaiah reminds Ahaz to believe in God’s security we are also reminded by the Christmas season to trust in the Immanuel.
Around the year 720BC, God’s chosen nation was already a divided nation: there was the Northern Kingdom, called Israel ruled by a king named Pekah; and there was the Southern Kingdom, now called Judah, ruled by an able but misdirected leader named Ahaz. There were small tribal wars nearby and there was a looming empire up north in Assyria. The Assyrian empire who was then led by a master maniacal named Tiglath Pileser was already bullying everyone in that part of the world. It will only be a matter of time before before every civilization falls under the cruel dominion of Assyria. But for now, smaller kingdoms are doing conquests of their own within their neighbors. In short, the smaller nations are at war with each other.
These small nations include the neighboring: Israel, Judah and Syria (not to be mistaken from Assyria). Israel wanted to conquer Judah but Judah seems a formidable fortress, so Israel forged an alliance with its northern neighbor Syria to attack the Southern Kingdom of Judah. This strategic alliance, called the Syrio-Ephraimite alliance is the beginning of a long line of conflict for this region for the nation of Yahweh. The events that happened here were so crucial that it “paved the way for the prolonged period of foreign domination that continued beyond the time of Christ” ( J.A. Motyer, s.v., “Ahaz,” in Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987], 26.)
Why this story is important for us is because of a watershed moment for a king at a crucial time. A watershed moment is a point in time that marks an important, often historical change. This Christmas season, we are also faced with this challenge. We call Jesus Immanuel. Today, in this sermon we will talk about how that term Immanuel came to be in the Bible, what is its role in the unfolding drama of redemption and what it would mean for us today.
BIG IDEA: ISAIAH REMINDS AHAZ TO BELIEVE IN GOD'S SECURITY
Ahaz, king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, learned from his prophet Isaiah that
5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son
have plotted your ruin, saying,
6 "Let us invade Judah;
let us tear it apart
and divide it among ourselves (Isaiah 7:5-6 NIV)
His southern brothers, the Israelits or Ephraimites, are planning to attack him in alliance with a pagan nation of Syrians. Ahaz – ruler, military strategist with a bad moral compass -- made some wrong decisions despite the fact that his trusted prophet gave him some pretty specific instructions:
7'It will not take place, it will not happen, 8 for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.' " 10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." (vv. 7-11 NIV)
Isaiah instructed him to ask the Lord for a sign but he refused saying, “"I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test." (v. 12 NIV). This disobedience foreshadows for Ahaz a bittersweet future. Yes God will save him from the Syro-Ephraimite invasion, but it will eventually lead to his downfall as Isaiah gives him a strange prophecy,
20 In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the River--the king of Assyria--to shave your head and the hair of your legs, and to take off your beards also. (v. 20 NIV)
So yes, the “Immanuel” passage of verse 14 is a passage of salvation, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (v. 14 NIV).
But it is a salvation from the first invasion, the first onslaught. In effect this work is not complete, for the simple reason that the salvation that comes from God is complete. What will happen here is that the nation of God will fall into bondage preparing the way for the Messiah, the real Immanuel to complete the story. This Christmas season, the Immanuel will remind us again that He is our peace and that His presence must not be traded for anything less. In the face of threat we may well ask: “What makes the people of God secure? How do we keep hold of our God-given possession and privileges? Isaiah answered these questions with one word: faith!.
In many ways our struggle is like the struggle of Ahaz. We know God is good but we think we are BETTER. This is the reason why we rush mindlessly; we become impatient; we worry; we become anxious; we are driven towards the wrong solutions; we swallow our food in gulps; we eat our troubles away; we become addicted; we are arrogant, we are proud. We are better, in our hearts we say. The apostle Paul admonishes us, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, (Rom 12:3 NIV)” Yet we do the exact opposite. The wise man said, “Pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18).