Act 2 Scenes 1 and 2. The reign of Ahaz of Judah

Calm and steady in critical times

Isaiah 7:1 to 10:23

You may remember that Isaiah the book is divided into 12 Acts, each covering a generation. With the end of Chapter 6 we have reached the end of Act one. Isaiah (and we) have received our call and have been warned of the likelihood that what we say may not be heeded.

Now we move to Act 2. We are a generation later – Uzziah and Jotham are dead and Ahaz reigns in Jerusalem. The Assyrians are on the move under Kings Tiglath-Pilezer (745-727), Shalmanezer (727-722) and Sargon (722-705).

The first two scenes of this Act describe two separate events. Scene 1 (7:1 – 9:6) tells of the attempts by Aram and Israel to get Ahaz to join a rebellion against the Assyrians, and of their attempted invasion of Judah when he would not join in. They hoped to oust Ahaz and install a puppet king in his place. The attempt was unsuccessful but caused great damage and pain to Judah and their machinations brought the wrath of Assyria who annexed Aram and took several districts of Israel and exacted tribute from the rest.

The second scene (9:7 – 10:23) tells of the siege of Samaria, its fall in 721BC and the end of the Northern Kingdom never to be re-established.

Throughout there is a promise that Judah will survive which it does for a further century (but only narrowly after the siege of Jerusalem in 701BC).

The message is simple – in the words of Corporal Jones in Dad’s army ‘Don’t panic!’  Ahaz is told not to be afraid – ‘Take heed, be quiet, do not let your heart be faint…’[1]

There are things that you cannot change. In the major moves of nations, God is at work – no plotting by Ahaz will unscramble or change it. If God promises then have faith

But the Lord gives a sign. The King’s wife will become pregnant and have a son and he is to be called ‘Immanuel’ (God with us).[2]  Here we have the first of three passages (all in Act 2), which we now see as Messianic prophecies, prefiguring Christ but first were a relevant prophecy to the people of that day. This was a prophecy that the Davidic line would continue which, of course, it did in Jesus.

Isaiah has two sons in this passage – the first called Shear-jashub (a remnant shall remain)[3] and the second Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Swift plunder- hastening booty)[4] – you cannot help but feel sorry for the boys – but Isaiah makes his point. Whilst the Lord will preserve Judah and some shall always remain, the action of Assyria against Israel will mean its end and Judah’s foes will be dealt with.

The whole point of Chapter 8 is that God is in control – Assyria is his agent – he is masterminding the bigger picture – and Isaiah has had his say and now ‘binds up the testimony’ regarding the northern kingdom and does not speak again until the latter years of Ahaz reign when all he has spoken about the northern kingdom has come true.

In 8:19-22 the people enter the scene making fun of Isaiah’s prophecies and suggesting alternative sources for information.

Here we need to recognize that our society does the same – as it dismisses the voice of the church, it seeks answers form tarot cards, palmists, fortune tellers and all other sort of New Age places. It is a futile exercise because God has spoken and it will not change. This is exemplified by the withdrawal of Isaiah and his aptly-named sons from public life.

Chapter 9 begins with the second Messianic prophecy ‘ The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light… for unto us a child is born unto us a son is given and his name shall be called…”[5]

This is the seeking of hope of a people bereft of it – but yet their prefiguring of a better day is a wonderful anticipation of the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This beloved passage comes almost by accident, not from the mouth of the prophet but from the desperate hope of the people. Here, how God can inspire the ordinary folk to prophetic utterance is clear. Prophecy is a gift for all God’s people – not for a special set of gifted people.  Centuries later Paul will say ‘eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.’[6]

Israel is gone – and Judah is saved – but chapter 9:7 to the end of 10 is a salutary warning not to take God for granted – if he can destroy Israel, he can destroy Judah, and Assyria is his anointed instrument to carry out his will.

Complacency has no part in the life of God’s people – we need to be calm and unafraid trusting in God, knowing not that things will remain the same but that whatever happens God is in control and he is utterly to be trusted.

Hard lessons to learn then and now – but vital lessons for us all.

[1] 7:4

[2] 7:14  Both Hebrew and Greek use the same word for a young woman and a virgin. It is therefore difficult to be sure whether the word can be taken to mean a ‘virgin will conceive’. This particularly as the original reference is probably to Ahaz’ new young wife.

[3] 7:3 There are many other examples of children named as a prophetic statement in the OT.

[4] 8:1

[5] 9:2-7 Many of course recognize this and the Immanuel passage in chapter 7 from Handel’s Messiah and from the Lessons and Carols at Christmas. It is salutary however to see them in their original context.

[6] 1 Corinthians 14:1