HERE'S YOUR SIGN
Yes, I'm borrowing the famous line from the "Redneck" comedian Bill Engvall. "Here's Your Sign" helped make him a comedic hit for a while. Why am I using that line for our study today? Because God gives King Ahaz and the Judeans a sign. Somewhere around 734 BCE Judah, under the rule of King Ahaz, was being pressured by Syria and Israel to join in their coalition. Ahaz faced a dilemma; should he give in or fight against them? So, Isaiah is sent to Ahaz to give him advice.
"Say to him (Isaiah is to say to Ahaz) 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood." (Isaiah 7:4)
Did God just resort to name calling? The reason for this description of these people is because of their anger. (as discovered in next verse) It does imply, however, that their fire is going out and they have little fuel left. God tells Isaiah to ensure the king that, "It will not take place (Judah's ruin at the hands of the enemy), it will not happen...If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all." (Is. 7:7b,9b) Ahaz is to put his faith in Yahweh to take care of this battle. God ensures Ahaz that the guys coming at him are nothing.
God then invites Ahaz to ask the Lord for a sign. Ahaz refuses to do so because "I will not put the Lord to the test." (Is.7:12) So, God gives Ahaz a sign anyway. This sign was to be concrete evidence of God's care. You may have heard this passage before:
"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." (Is.7:14)
Now, I wonder where and when it is that we usually hear this verse? Yes, during the season of Advent. (Not Christmastime, because Christmastime is the time period that follows Christmas day, Advent is the time period that leads up to Christmas day, beginning with the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Have you ever heard the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas? "On the first day of Christmas..." Yes, it begins with Christmas Day.) Ok, enough of the calendar lesson. This verse is familiar to us, but is also often the subject of much "un-needed controversy." How many times have I heard people argue that there are those who have taken the virgin birth out of the Bible? Yes, there are translations that do interpret the word used for virgin as being "young woman." The problem is, the translation of Hebrew and Greek. What do I believe? I assure you that I believe in the virgin birth of Jesus.
If I ask the question: "Who is this child?" I will probably get in serious trouble. So, I won't ask it. Now, I know what the answer would be to that question. Everyone would quickly respond; "What do you mean, who is this child? Why, It's Jesus! Hmmm...to think that you went to seminary. I have always heard what seminary does to a person." Well, let's look at this verse for a moment and let's be serious about this. First of all, we do know that without a shadow of doubt the name Immanuel means "God is with us." Now, I will be the first to say that when Jesus was born, and he was given the name Immanuel, he too was to be a sign that "God is with us." Keep in mind that the sign (a son born) was to assure Ahaz that God was with him. Now, folks just because we are to have faith, does not mean we have to take leave of common sense. In fact, common sense would do the church and the world a whole lot of good now days. Ahaz has a problem that he is facing when? Well...right then. When does he need God? Well...he needs God right then. When would Jesus come along? Well...long after Ahaz's "right then." No, God gives Ahaz a sign then and there that God was with him there and then. Who was this child? If we need further help we need to look no further than verses 16-17:
'But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The Lord will bring on you and your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah-he will bring the king of Assyria." (Is.7:16-17)
OK, this is referring to the time of Exile. The threat to the North would go away (into their own exile), but as we know the Judeans would also be taken into exile. What Ahaz is told is quite vivid: "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." (Is.7:20) The NRSV uses the word "feet" for "legs" I think you may remember what we have said "feet" indicates in the Bible. In other words, there would be total humiliation. But, hasn't God made a promise? What about the promise of this child? Who is this child?
"For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace..."(Is. 9:6)
We are very familiar with this passage too, aren't we? We know who this child was. But, how do we connect this verse with Isaiah 7:14? I would argue that Ahaz's wife would in fact deliver a child. *Please wait until I get done to disagree or agree with me. Remember, Ahaz needed a sign then and there. Let me ask you a question. What is the greatest "concrete" evidence that a family name will carry on? The birth of a son. *Doesn't assure that it will happen, but it definitely won't without a son being born. With God promising this son, he is assuring Ahaz that, not only his family name will continue, but something even more important. What would that be? It would be the Davidic line...the line of David. Now, how is that even more important? Yes, Jesus Christ was a descendant of David. Regardless of who the child was for Ahaz, he was "God with us" just as for us the promise and the birth of Jesus is "God with us!" It would be through the line of David that God would mediate peace and salvation to the people...and to us. Exile would not end the Davidic line, just as the crucifixion would not bring to an end what God set out to do.
OK., well we will continue our journey on Monday. I hope you will join me as we continue to look at the Book of Isaiah. Join us Sunday, if you can, for worship and holy communion. Sunday's sermon will be titled: "What in the World is God Doing?" -Pastor Rick