A. The sign of Shear-Jashub.
1. (1-2) The northern nation of Israel and Syria combine to attack Judah.
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told to the house of David, saying, “Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.” So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind.
a. In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham: Ahaz was a wicked king of Judah, worshipping other gods and even sacrificing his son to Molech (2 Kings 16:1-4). The only good thing Ahaz seemed to do was to father Hezekiah, who became a good king of Judah.
i. “He was a cowardly, superstitious and hypocritical ruler, one of the worst kings Judah ever had.” (Bultema)
b. Rezin king of Syria and Pekah…king of Israel: The alliance between these two nations and their unsuccessful attack on Jerusalem is described in 2 Kings 16.
i. The attack on Jerusalem was ultimately unsuccessful, but the war against Judah greatly weakened the kingdom southern tribes. 2 Chronicles 28:6 documents the damage: For Pekah the son of Remaliah killed one hundred and twenty thousand in Judah in one day, all valiant men, because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers. 2 Chronicles 28:5 says that the Syrian army carried away a great multitude of them as captives. The king of Israel also captured 200,000 men, women and children, but sent them back to Judah at the command of the prophet Oded (2 Chronicles 28:8-15).
ii. All in all, when the events of this chapter unfold, the nation of Judah had faced terrible calamity and was devastated. As the combined armies of Israel and Syria approached Jerusalem, it looked like everything would be lost. Ahaz was challenged to trust God when things were bad, and it looked like soon, all would be lost.
c. Went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it: How was Ahaz saved from this attack? Because he entered into an ungodly alliance with Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and even gave Tiglath-Pileser silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD as a present to win his favor and protection (2 Kings 16:7-9).
i. When Ahaz went to meet Tiglath-Pileser, his new master, in Damascus, he saw the pagan altars and places of sacrifice. He copied these designs and remodeled the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem after the pattern of the pagan temple and altars in Damascus. Ahaz is a powerful, extreme example of someone who enters into an ungodly alliance for “good” reasons yet becomes thoroughly corrupted and compromised (2 Kings 16:10-18).
ii. It is important to understand that the events of this chapter happened before Ahaz made his final decision to put his trust in Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria. Though we are told the end result of the attack in Isaiah 7:1-2 (could not prevail against it), Isaiah is telling us the end result before he describes his prophecy to Ahaz. This disregard for chronological order may be frustrating to us but is completely natural to the ancient Hebrew mind.
d. Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim: Ephraim is another title for the northern nation of Israel. King Ahaz heard that Syria and Israel had joined together to make war against Judah.
e. So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind: King Ahaz and his people react with fear instead of with trust in God. They are shaken and unstable in their hearts.
i. In this, the people of Judah really are the people of Ahaz (his people), not the people of the LORD. God was not shaken or unsettled by this threat. If the king of Judah and the people of Judah had put their trust in the LORD, they would have had the peace of God in this conflict.
2. (3-9) The word of the LORD to Ahaz through Isaiah.
Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel”—thus says the Lord GOD:
“It shall not stand,
Nor shall it come to pass.
For the head of Syria is Damascus,
And the head of Damascus is Rezin.
Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken,
So that it will not be a people.
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
And the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son.
If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.”’”
a. You and Shear-Jashub your son: Isaiah was told to take his son, named Shear-Jashub, and bring a word from the LORD to Ahaz. He brought his son as a walking object lesson because the name Shear-Jashub means, “A Remnant Shall Return.”
b. At the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field: These seemingly irrelevant details make an important point. All this happened to real people at a real time and in real places. This isn’t make-believe or fairy tales. This is real.
c. Take heed, and be quiet: Seemingly, Ahaz needed to pay attention (take heed) and stop his talking about the problem (be quiet). He needed to trust God and take courage in the LORD (do not fear or be fainthearted).
i. Perhaps also, the calamity and devastation that had wracked Judah so far had made Ahaz stop trusting in God. “If God loves me, why am I in this mess at all? Trust Him now, after all He has allowed to happen? Are you crazy?”
d. Do not fear or be fainthearted: It was hard for Ahaz to do this because he didn’t see the situation the way the LORD did. Ahaz looked at Israel and Syria and saw a terrible threat. God looked at Israel and Syria and saw two stubs of smoking firebrands. To the LORD, they were all smoke and no fire.
i. “One would think that they are endued with so great power that they could burn and destroy the whole world. To put down the excess of terror, the Lord declares that what we imagined to be a burning, and a perpetual burning, is but a slight smoke and of short duration.” (Calvin)
ii. “Calleth them in contempt a couple of firebrands, such as would do mischief but cannot, because smoking and not burning, and but the tails of smoking firebrands neither, such as are smoking their last, and shall shortly be utterly extinct. In a word, they have more pride than power, being a mere flash.” (Trapp)
e. It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass: Certainly, the king of Israel and the king of Syria had their plans – they plotted evil against Judah. They wanted to attack Jerusalem, defeat the capital of Judah (make a gap in its wall), then depose Ahaz and set up their own king. But God was not worried about their plans. They looked like a big, flaming threat to Ahaz, but God looked and saw two stubs of smoking firebrands, and simply said, “It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass.”
i. Their plans will not succeed because the nations are led by ungodly men (Rezin and Remaliah’s son), and not by the LORD. This is God’s promise, and Isaiah calls Ahaz to trust in the LORD and in His promise.
f. If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established: Here is the challenge to Ahaz. God has promised, now the king of Judah must believe. If he will not believe, it will not affect the outcome of the attack against Jerusalem. God has already decreed that their attack would not succeed. But it would affect the course of Ahaz’s life and reign as king (surely you shall not be established).
i. As it happened, Ahaz did not believe. He did not put his trust in the LORD. He put his trust in carnal methods and the king of Assyria. Jerusalem was spared, and Ahaz no doubt believed he was successful, and his plan had worked. But if he would have just trusted in the LORD, Jerusalem would have been spared, and Ahaz would have been blessed.
ii. Isaiah brought his son Shear-Jashub (Isaiah 7:3) because his name meant A Remnant Shall Return, and God wanted Ahaz to know that because of the kind of ungodly trust he put in the king of Assyria, Judah would eventually be taken into captivity, and only a remnant would return.
B. The sign of Immanuel.
1. (10-12) Ahaz will not ask for a sign.
Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!”
a. Ask a sign for yourself: Through the prophet Isaiah, God invites Ahaz to ask for a sign. God has just challenged Ahaz to believe and be blessed, and now God offers to give Ahaz a basis for belief – a sign for yourself.
b. But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD”: This sounds very spiritual from Ahaz. He almost seems to say what Jesus said in Matthew 4:7: “You shall not tempt the LORD your God.” Though the words are similar, the hearts are far apart. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, because when God fulfilled the sign, he would be “obligated” to believe.
i. This was not tempting or testing God in a wrong way. It is never testing God to do as He says, and if the LORD invites us to test Him, we should. For example, in Malachi 3:10, the LORD invited Israel to give as He commanded, and thereby to try Me now in this.
ii. Again, perhaps Ahaz was bitter against the LORD, because of all the disaster Judah had already been through at the hands of Israel and Syria. Perhaps his mind is, “I want nothing to do with the God who allowed it to get this bad.”
iii. Haven’t we, in some way, to some degree, been in the same state of mind as Ahaz? Haven’t we rejected the gracious, free gifts of God for silly and strange reasons? “Here let us each descend and dive into his own conscience, to see whether we also have not matched Ahaz in his madness, or at leastwise coasted too near upon his unkind usage of the Lord, by rejecting his sweet offers of grace and motions of mercy, by slighting his holy sacraments, those signs and seals of the righteousness that is by faith.” (Trapp)
2. (13-16) The LORD’s sign to Ahaz: the sign of Immanuel.
Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will 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. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.”
a. Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? The rulers of Judah treated other people poorly, but they treated the LORD even more poorly. If many of us expressed the same distrust we have towards the LORD towards other people, we might get a punch in the nose.
i. “How heartily angry is the prophet, how blessedly blown up in this case to so great dishonour done to God! We should be so too.” (Trapp)
ii. Spurgeon spoke well to this point: “Did I not hear some one say, ‘Ah, sir, I have been trying to believe for years.’ Terrible words! They make the case still worse. Imagine that after I had made a statement, a man should declare that he did not believe me, in fact, he could not believe me though he would like to do so. I should feel aggrieved certainly; but it would make matters worse if he added, ‘In fact I have been for years trying to believe you, and I cannot do it.’ What does he mean by that? What can he mean but that I am so incorrigibly false, and such a confirmed liar, that though he would like to give me some credit, he really cannot do it? With all the effort he can make in my favour, he finds it quite beyond his power to believe me? Now, a man who says, ‘I have been trying to believe in God,’ in reality says just that with regard to the Most High.”
b. Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. This is one of the most famous prophecies regarding the birth of Jesus the Messiah in the Bible. It also illustrates a principle of prophecy, that prophecy may have both a near fulfillment and a far fulfillment.
i. Spurgeon said of this passage, that it is said to be “One of the most difficult in all the Word of God. It may be so; I certainly did not think it was until I saw what the commentators had to say about it, and I rose up from reading them perfectly confused.”
ii. “It is characteristic of predictive prophecy that it often mingles different times together in one composite picture” (Martin)
c. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings: The near fulfillment of this prophecy centered around Ahaz, Jerusalem, and the attack from Israel and Syria. For Ahaz, the sign centered on this time span. Simply put, God would give Ahaz a sign that within a few years, both Israel and Syria would be crushed. This was a sign of deliverance to Ahaz.
i. Many commentators think that this was immediately fulfilled when a young woman in the royal household shortly married, conceived a son, and unknowingly naming him “Immanuel.” Before this boy came to eat solid food, Israel and Syria would be defeated. It is also possible that God is just referring in a figurative way to a year or two period of time.
ii. “The name ‘Immanuel’ was a rebuke to Ahaz. If ‘God is with us,’ then why should he have feared the enemy?” (Wolf)
iii. “The ‘sign’ of the child, therefore, constitutes an indication that the all-sovereign and all-knowing God has the situation completely in hand, and it rebukes the king’s lack of faith in him.” (Grogan)
d. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son: The far or ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy goes far beyond Ahaz, to announce the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
i. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the Holy Spirit says so through Matthew: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
ii. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the prophecy is addressed not only to Ahaz, but also to David’s entire house (O house of David!).
iii. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says the virgin shall conceive, and that conception would be a sign to David’s entire house. Those who deny the virgin birth of Jesus like to point out that the Hebrew word translated virgin (almah) can also be translated as “young woman.” The idea is that Isaiah was simply saying that a “young woman” would give birth, not a virgin. While the near fulfillment may have reference to a young woman giving birth, the far or ultimate fulfillment clearly points to a woman miraculously conceiving and giving birth. This is especially clear because the Old Testament never uses the word in a context other than virgin and because the Septuagint translates it categorically virgin (parthenos).
iv. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says He will be known as Immanuel, meaning “God with Us.” This was true of Jesus in fact, not only as a title. Immanuel speaks both of the deity of Jesus (God with us) and His identification and nearness to man (God with us).
e. Call His name Immanuel: Jesus is truly Immanuel, God with us. “Christ, indeed, was not called by this name Immanuel that we anywhere read of…but the import of this name is most truly affirmed and acknowledged to be fully made good in him.” (Trapp)
i. “He is, therefore, called God with us, or united to us; which cannot apply to a man who is not God…it denotes not only the power of God, such as he usually displays by his servant, but a union of person, by which Christ became God-man.” (Calvin)
ii. “In what sense then, is Christ GOD WITH US? Jesus is called Immanuel, or God with us, in his incarnation; God with us, by the influences of his Holy Spirit, in the holy sacrament, in the preaching of his word, in private prayer. And God with us, through every action of our life, that we begin, continue, and end in his name. He is God with us, to comfort, enlighten, protect, and defend us, in every time of temptation and trial, in the hour of death, in the day of judgment; and God with us and in us, and we with and in him, to all eternity.” (Clarke)
3. (17-25) Assyria, the nation Ahaz trusted, will also bring ruin to Judah.
“The LORD will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house—days that have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.”
And it shall come to pass in that day
That the LORD will whistle for the fly
That is in the farthest part of the rivers of Egypt,
And for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.
They will come, and all of them will rest
In the desolate valleys and in the clefts of the rocks,
And on all thorns and in all pastures.
In the same day the Lord will shave with a hired razor,
With those from beyond the River, with the king of Assyria,
The head and the hair of the legs,
And will also remove the beard.
It shall be in that day
That a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep;
So it shall be, from the abundance of milk they give,
That he will eat curds;
For curds and honey everyone will eat who is left in the land.
It shall happen in that day,
That wherever there could be a thousand vines
Worth a thousand shekels of silver,
It will be for briers and thorns.
With arrows and bows men will come there,
Because all the land will become briers and thorns.
And to any hill which could be dug with the hoe,
You will not go there for fear of briers and thorns;
But it will become a range for oxen
And a place for sheep to roam.
a. The LORD will bring the king of Assyria upon you: This was bad news to Ahaz, who had been foolishly trusting in Assyria instead of the LORD. It is as if the LORD is saying, “It will seem to you like trusting in Assyria is a clever move, because the armies of Syria and Israel will be defeated. But the Assyrians will end up defeating you also.”
i. “Thou mightest have remained at home and at ease, and mightest have received the assistance of God; but thou choosest rather to call in the Assyrians. Thou shalt find them to be worse than thine own enemies.” (Calvin)
ii. If Ahaz understood and believed what the LORD said, it would have terrified him. The Assyrians were well known for their sheer cruelty, especially over the nations they conquered. They delighted in torture and humiliation (shave with a hired razor…the head and the hair of the legs).
iii. “To shave off the beard of an Oriental was an unbearable shame to him and was a sign of great sadness and mourning as well as despicable slavery.” (Bultema) We see this principle illustrated by the actions of David in 2 Samuel 10:4-5.
b. The LORD will whistle for the fly that is the farthest part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. They will come: Judah would not only be attacked by the Assyrians, they would also be invaded by the Egyptians. God would pinch Judah between these mighty nations to the north and south.
i. These invasions would bring Judah low, so that they could not farm as normally, and thus curds and honey everyone will eat who is left in the land. Normal agriculture would be devastated (wherever there could be a thousand vines…it will be for briars and thorns). Former farms will be suitable only for grazing (it will become a range for oxen and a place for sheep to roam).
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org