Guests: Alden Thompson and Zdravko Stefanovic
Read: Isaiah 7
Background Considerations We are introduced in chapter 7 to an interesting role PKs (prophets’ kids) play in the ministry of their parents. Not unlike preachers’ kids, the offspring of prophets are not necessarily happy with the gold-fish bowl in which they are forced to live and grow up. But while preachers might invade the lives of their families by telling stories about them, prophets often named their children as constant reminders of the point they were making.
Isaiah’s (and Mrs. Isaiah’s) sons were: Shearjashub and Mahershalalhashbaz. The first son appears in chapter 7 as one of the central figures, his name meaning: “A Remnant Will Return.” Good news or bad? Well, bad in that there would be some kind of disaster from which a remnant could in fact return, but good in that there would be a remnant at all. The second son plays a major role in chapter 8. His name means “Speed the Spoil; Hasten the Destruction.” No ambiguity here! All bad news. Interestingly, these two sons appear in chapters 7-9, mixed in with references to the sign-son of chapter 7 – Immanuel – and the delivering son of chapter 9.
We meet in Isaiah 7 one of the many stories of military siege in the Old Testament. We can date this one because of historical connections and because it shows up so many times in the Bible. Called the Syro-Ephramaitic War because in it Syria and Israel (Ephraim) conspired against Assyria, the dominant empire of the 8th century, and needed the help of other states including Judah to revolt and escape from beneath the yoke of Assyria. So Syria and Israel laid siege to Jerusalem in order to force their support of their plans against Assyria. For some reason this battle, which began in 734 and lasted less than a couple of years, was important enough to show up in 2 Kings 16, 2 Chronicles 28, Hosea and Isaiah 7-9. While the accounts vary in some of the details, it is clear that the event was important to ancient Israel and will be important to us as well, since without this backdrop it will be difficult for us to understand and appreciate Isaiah 7-9.
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Read Isaiah 7-9 a couple of times this week. These chapters may represent the first edition of a collection of Isaiah’s speeches to Judah, and the core on which the rest of the book was built.
- 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chron 28 – Descriptions of the “Syro-Ephraimitic War” of 734-732.
- Isaiah 7:1-2 – We meet here the cast of characters on the international stage surrounding Judah. Syria and Israel have taken up arms against Judah to gain their support for a tax revolt against Assyria. This is our context … for the entire chapter or set of chapters and if we disconnect ourselves from them, we will have separated ourselves from the original setting and with it the original meaning.
- Isaiah 7:3-9 – The stuff of prophet-speak! Attention to important details like specific place names and directions. A call to “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear,” which in many ways should inform the title of chapter 7 – An Invitation to Trust in God – and is one of the major and most precious themes of the prophet (see Isaiah 26:1-3; 30:15). A “Thus says the Lord ….” against those hoping to defy God’s plans. Some unusual numbers which don’t seem to add up to anything we now know. A call to believe and be established.
- Isaiah 7:10-17 – As part of God’s invitation to King Ahaz to put his confidence in God, these verses press the king to ask for a sign that the prophet’s message is valid. Is Ahaz’ refusal one of faith or resistance? While we will focus more on these verses next week, it would be worth reflecting on how they fit into the flow of this chapter and the prophet’s message about trusting God.
Contributions to the study of Isaiah It very well might be that we have here the core of the prophet Isaiah’s message. If we are correct about identifying chapters 7-9 as the first edition of the prophet’s book, this would be the place to find the center-piece, the real point of it all, especially if we can see a development of the themes described here – especially holiness and trust – in other parts of the book.
Lessons for Life How to put our trust in God, especially in crisis situations. What if this in fact IS the main point of the prophet? Hmmm.