Summary: 1) The Meaning of the Sign. 2) The Miracle of the Sign. 3) The Message of the Sign.
Twenty years ago today on Dec. 6, 1989, a gunman entered a classroom in Montreal’s École Polytechnique. He separated the men from the women, then shot the women, shouting, “I hate feminists!” as he did so. Fourteen young women died. Ten more were injured. Four men were also shot. (http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/12/05/helena-guergis-twenty-years-later-honouring-the-201-cole-polytechnique-victims.aspx)
Endless debate has raged on why this individual did this? A crucial debate centers on what kind of sign was this act? Was it reflective of underlying hostility that society, part of society, men, or just some men has for women? It has been used as a basis to call for the abolition of all firearms, just handguns, for teaching women’s studies, general tolerance education and so on. Understanding the particulars of the event, help one determine the meaning of the sign.
The prophet Isaiah was used by God to deliver the most significant prophecy in all of history to the most significant sign of God’s love. Isaiah is considered one of the greatest men of God in the ancient world, a counselor to kings and a writer whose Holy Spirit-inspired OT book is quoted more often in the NT than any other, except Psalms. When our Lord Jesus preached His very first sermon, He chose for His text a passage from this man’s writings.
He was a contemporary to Amos, Hosea, and Micah, each radically devoted to the Lord of Israel and His purposes in the world. But this man is unique among them. He rises to grapple with the troubled times that marked the end of the 8th Century B.C.
What was the trouble that Isaiah confronted in chapter 7? The relationship between Israel in the north and Judah in the south had been fractious since the division of the kingdom in the time of Jeroboam (some 200 years earlier). Judah’s strength had grown under Uzziah, and (Israel) her northern neighbours had every reason to fear a potentially hostile power on the southern borders (Derek Thomas. God Delivers. Welwyn Commentary Series. Evangelical press. 1998. p. 70).
The Arameans had made an alliance with the Israelites in order to create a united front against Assyria. In order to further their goals, they planned to dethrone Ahaz and place their own man (“the son of Tabeel,” 7:6) on the throne in Jerusalem. The prophet and his son Shear-Jashub (whose name signifies the hope that “a remnant will return”) meet Ahaz at the upper pool. Ahaz is shaken by the alliance and needs counsel (7:1–9).
Isaiah calls on Ahaz to face the crisis from God’s perspective. These two “mighty” kingdoms, Israel and Aram, are nothing more than “two smoldering stubs of firewood” (v. 4). Aram came to an end in 732 B.C. and Assyria exiled Israel in 722 B.C. (Elwell, Walter A.: Evangelical Commentary on the Bible . electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1996, c1989, S. Is 7:1).
In the midst of threats and challenges, the message of Isaiah 7 is for us to trust God and know that His promises are sure. The sign in the coming of Immanuel, God with us, is proof that God stands by His promises and cares for His people.
1) The Meaning of the Sign. Isaiah 7:10-11
Isaiah 7:10-11 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, "Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." (ESV)
Ahaz is now challenged to give God a chance to prove his trustworthiness. Although our faith is not to be in the signs, nevertheless God has, throughout all the ages, given his people evidence by which their faith might be strengthened. To this extent “the leap of faith” concept, as popularly held, is incorrect, presuming as it does that God cannot, or will not, intersect the world of space/time/matter and that thus there is no evidence for faith external to our own psyches.
Rather, according to the Scriptures, God has always given such evidence, sometimes in greater or lesser abundance, but he never asks us to believe without rational foundation. The hallmark of the Judeo-Christian faith is that God has acted in space/time/matter in unique ways. If we now deny that he can or has done so, the whole reason for being a Christian drops to the ground.
Biblically, a sign is a visible event intended to convey meaning beyond that which is normally perceived in the outward appearance of the event (Elwell, Walter A. ; Beitzel, Barry J.: Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Book House, 1988, S. 1961).
• It is something that points to, or represents, something larger or more important than itself (Youngblood, Ronald F. ; Bruce, F. F. ; Harrison, R. K. ; Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville : T. Nelson, 1995).