Isaiah 8 – The Sign of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz
A. The coming Assyrian invasion against Syria and Israel.
1. (1-4) The invasion is announced by the naming of Isaiah’s son.
Moreover the LORD said to me, “Take a large scroll, and write on it with a man’s pen concerning Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. And I will take for Myself faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.” Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz; for before the child shall have knowledge to cry ‘My father’ and ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria.”
a. Moreover the LORD said to me: This prophecy continues from Isaiah 7, where God assured Ahaz, king of Judah, that he would not be overthrown by the combined forces of Syria and Israel. God announced judgment against Syria and Israel, saying of their attack against Judah: It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass…. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, so that it will not be a people. Here, God gives Isaiah a sign to explain more about how soon the defeat of Syria and Israel will come.
b. Take a large scroll: It isn’t often that the prophets are commanded to write, but here is one instance. Isaiah will write concerning Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which means speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder.
c. Write on it with a man’s pen: Isaiah’s message was meant to be public, and at a level any man could read and understand.
i. Calvin on with a man’s pen: It “denotes any man of ordinary rank; and the meaning is, that not even the most ignorant and uneducated persons may be unable to read the writing.”
d. I will take for Myself faithful witnesses to record: The LORD appointed two witnesses, so the validity of this word would be established. By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. (Deuteronomy 19:15)
e. Then I went to the prophetess: This refers to Isaiah’s wife. She is called a prophetess, though it could be in the sense of simply being the wife of the prophet. However, she clearly brought forth prophecy on at least one occasion. The birth and naming of her son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was a word from God, so she certainly “brought forth” that prophecy.
i. There are many examples of prophetesses in the Bible: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8-9). So, it may be that the wife of Isaiah had a prophetic ministry in her own right. But it may also be that she was simply the wife of the prophet, and her “prophecy” was giving birth to Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.
f. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry “My father” and “My mother”: Through the birth and naming of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, the LORD gives a time frame for the invasion of Assyria that will punish Syria and Israel.
i. This is essentially the same as the near meaning of the Immanuel sign of Isaiah 7:10-17, but this sign was more public and plainer.
2. (5-10) Judah will be afflicted also.
The LORD also spoke to me again, saying:
“Inasmuch as these people refused
The waters of Shiloah that flow softly,
And rejoice in Rezin and in Remaliah’s son;
Now therefore, behold, the Lord brings up over them
The waters of the River, strong and mighty—
The king of Assyria and all his glory;
He will go up over all his channels
And go over all his banks.
He will pass through Judah,
He will overflow and pass over,
He will reach up to the neck;
And the stretching out of his wings
Will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel.
“Be shattered, O you peoples, and be broken in pieces!
Give ear, all you from far countries.
Gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces;
Gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
Speak the word, but it will not stand,
For God is with us.”
a. These people refused the waters of Shiloah that flow softly: The people of the northern kingdom of Israel did not appreciate their humble streams (the waters of Shiloah). Instead, they rejoiced in wicked leaders (in Rezin and Remaliah’s son). So, God will give them a different kind of river – the waters of the River, strong and mighty.
i. “The little stream of Shiloah sprung from Mount Zion on the southwesterly side of Jerusalem. It flowed as softly as oil without any murmur. Jerusalem’s existence and continuation depended on it.” (Bultema)
ii. The capital of the Assyrian Empire was Nineveh, and the city of Nineveh was founded on a great river: the Tigris. The Assyrian Empire was also centered across another mighty river: the Euphrates. The whole land of Israel simply did not have a river like the Euphrates or the Tigris. God is using the difference between the small, humble, yet adequate waters of Israel and the mighty, yet uncontrolled rivers of Assyria to make a point. It is as if God is saying, “You don’t like what I have given you? You persist in rejecting what I give you? Then I will give you something different, but you won’t like it either.”
iii. “The small and gentle waters should be more highly valued by us than the large and rapid rivers of all the nations, and we ought not to envy the great power of the ungodly.” (Calvin)
b. He will go up over all his channels and go over all his banks: Like a large river in a flood, the Assyrian army will not stay confined to its “banks.” Instead, they will “flow over” their attack on Israel and Syria, and “flood” Judah with violence and destruction (He will pass through Judah).
c. He will reach up to the neck: Assyria would completely conquer the northern nation of Israel. The ten northern tribes would cease to be a nation after the Assyrians conquered them. But the Assyrians would not conquer the southern nation of Judah. They would “flood” them (fill the breadth of Your land), and reach up to the neck, but not over their heads. Judah would survive the Assyrian invasion but suffer much destruction from the Assyrians.
i. Indeed, 2 Kings 18:13 describes the extent of the Assyrian invasion against Judah: And in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. Yet, Hezekiah was able to keep the king of Assyria away from Jerusalem, and barely able to survive, by buying his favor with riches from the temple – even stripping gold from the temple doors to appease the pagan king.
ii. “The sacred history assures us that these things were fulfilled…for the Assyrians, whom the Jews called to their assistance, destroyed them. This was the just punishment of their distrust; and we see in it a striking instance of the wicked greediness of men, who cannot be satisfied with the promise and assistance of God.” (Calvin)
d. Your land, O Immanuel: This refers back to the “Immanuel” prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. The land the Assyrians will invade doesn’t really belong to Judah or to King Ahaz. It belongs to the LORD God, to the coming Messiah, to Immanuel.
e. Gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces…. speak the word, but it will not stand, for God is with us: The victims of this Assyrian invasion (Syria, Israel, and Judah) could prepare for the invasion all they wanted (gird yourselves). But all their preparation would not protect them (but be broken in pieces). They could take counsel together, but it will come to nothing. All their plans and words and ideas will not stand, for God is with us. God’s will was going to be done, despite all the plans and preparations Syria, Israel, and Judah might make against it.
i. Who is the us of God is with us? In one sense the us is the Assyrian army because they were the instruments of God’s judgment against Syria, Israel, and Judah. Nothing could stop the Assyrian army, because even if they did not know it, or even if their own hearts were wrong in the matter, God was using them. But the us is also the prophet himself. As a messenger of God, his word would come to pass no matter what the three nations did to prepare against it.
ii. God is with us also alludes to the Immanuel prophecy, because Immanuel means “God is with us.”
B. How Judah can prepare for this invasion.
1. (11-15) Prepare by fearing God, not Assyria.
For the LORD spoke thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying:
“Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’
Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy,
Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.
The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow;
Let Him be your fear,
And let Him be your dread.
He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense
To both the houses of Israel,
As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
And many among them shall stumble;
They shall fall and be broken, be snared and taken.”
a. Do not say, “A conspiracy”…nor be afraid of their threats: Isaiah, and all the people of Judah, were tempted to give in to fear and panic, knowing the dangerous place they were in. At the time of this prophecy, the combined armies of Israel and Syria had destroyed much of Judah. Their armies either encircled Jerusalem or were on the way. They planned to depose King Ahaz of Judah and set their own man on the throne (Isaiah 7:6). Now, Isaiah’s prophecy declared the armies of Syria and Israel would not succeed in conquering Judah, but the Assyrians (who they trusted to help them) would attack them and do much damage. In the midst of all this, it would be easy to let your heart or mind settle on conspiracies and threats. But God tells them not to.
b. The LORD of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear: Instead of fearing conspiracies and threats, fear God. Don’t see yourself at the mercy of opposing armies; you are in God’s hands. Worry about your place with the LORD instead of your enemies.
c. He will be as a sanctuary: The LORD will be our sacred place and our place of protection. He will keep us safe from our enemies.
d. But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense: For those who trust Him, the LORD will be as a sanctuary. But for those who don’t, He will be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Instead of finding protection from the LORD, they will “trip” over Him, falling to destruction. Indeed, many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken.
i. We love to sing the song, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” and every line of the song is true. But for those who reject the LORD, they could sing, “What an Enemy I Have in God.” Instead of being as a sanctuary, He will be a trap and a snare. Instead of being protected, they shall fall and be broken. No wonder Psalm 2:12 says, Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
ii. We know that Jesus is this stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (1 Peter 2:6-8). This is a strong statement of the deity of Jesus, because clearly in Isaiah 8:13-14, the LORD of hosts is the stone, and clearly in 1 Peter 2:6-8, Jesus Christ is the stone.
iii. This same idea is behind the statement of Simeon when he held the child Jesus, as recorded in Luke 2:34: Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.
2. (16-18) Prepare by waiting on the LORD.
Bind up the testimony,
Seal the law among my disciples.
And I will wait on the LORD,
Who hides His face from the house of Jacob;
And I will hope in Him.
Here am I and the children whom the LORD has given me!
We are for signs and wonders in Israel
From the LORD of hosts,
Who dwells in Mount Zion.
a. And I will wait on the LORD: Waiting on the LORD is not passive inactivity. It means to wait on the LORD as a waiter would wait on a table. It means to be totally attentive to the LORD, focused on His every move, and responsive to His every desire. At times it means inactivity, but even that is an “active inactivity,” where we stand before the LORD, totally focused on Him, waiting for what He wants next.
i. At the time Isaiah spoke, the leaders and the people of Judah were waiting on the armies of Israel and Syria, because they were under attack. As they heard of the danger from the Assyrians, they would be tempted to put their focus on them. But their focus was on these armies, not on the LORD. Isaiah says, “Battle against Syria and Israel by setting your focus on the LORD. Prepare for the coming attack from Assyria by waiting on the LORD instead of your enemies.”
b. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples: Waiting on the LORD is connected with His word. We can wait on the LORD by waiting on His word.
c. Here am I and the children whom the LORD has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel: Isaiah had been called to prophesy, and to use his children in his prophetic messages (Isaiah 7:3, 8:3). So, he declared, Here am I and the children whom the LORD has given me! It is as if he is said, “Look at us! We are the message!”
i. The name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz means, “Speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder.” This spoke of the coming attack on Syria, Israel, and Judah by Assyria. The name Shear-Jashub means, “A Remnant Shall Return.” This spoke of the restoration God would eventually bring. The name Isaiah means, “Salvation is of the LORD.” This spoke of the attitude and hope Judah needed to have.
ii. We are also the children of God, and we are His message. Hebrews 2:11-13 quotes this passage to communicate this truth: For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying…. “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” Just as much as Isaiah’s children were living witnesses of the truth of God’s word, so are we as God’s children.
3. (19-22) Prepare by seeking His light and word, not the darkness of the occult.
And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. They will pass through it hard pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward. Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness.
a. Seek those who are mediums and wizards: In the present danger from Syria and Israel, and in the coming danger from Assyria, Judah will be tempted to seek guidance and comfort from those who are mediums and wizards. Isaiah exposes the foolishness of this, when he says, “Should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?”
i. When you are in trouble, shouldn’t you seek your God? If you can’t rely on your God when you are in trouble, then what good is your God?
ii. What sense does it make to seek the dead on behalf of the living? The dead are the dead, the living are the living. The living God speaks through His living Word and His living people to guide us. There is no reason to seek the dead.
iii. This passage also exposes the foolishness of praying to the saints. The exact same question should be asked: Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?
b. To the law and to the testimony: Forget about mediums and wizards and the dead. Instead of all that deception and foolishness, To the law and to the testimony! Go to God’s word.
i. Law and testimony each refer to God’s word. We might say that law refers to God’s holy commands, and testimony refers to His dealings with His people as recorded in His Word. But that may be slicing it too thin, because often similar terms for God’s word are repeated, not for the sake of distinction, but for the sake of emphasis.
ii. How it needs to be proclaimed to our preachers today: To the law and to the testimony! Enough with the over-use of anecdotes and jokes. Enough with the emphasis on entertainment and sappy stories. Enough with the catering to itching ears. Enough with the hobbyhorses and pet peeves. To the law and to the testimony!
iii. “Let us remember, as ministers of the Gospel, what M’Cheyne beautifully said; ‘Depend upon it,’ said he, ‘it is God’s Word not man’s comment upon God’s Word, that saves souls;’ and I have marked, that if ever we have a conversion at any time, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, the conversion is rather traceable to the text, or to some Scripture quoted in the sermon, than to any trite or original saying by the preacher. It is God’s Word that breaks the fetters and sets the prisoner free, it is God’s Word instrumentally that saves souls, and therefore let us bring everything to the touchstone.” (Spurgeon)
c. If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them: If there is a disagreement between God’s word and the word of the messenger, it isn’t hard to figure out who is wrong. The messenger is wrong. The word judges the messenger; the messenger doesn’t judge the word.
d. They will be driven into darkness: When they forsake God’s word and trust in mediums and wizards and the dead, they are courting darkness, not light.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org