This week we are looking at an echo of Christmas that is preserved and recorded for us in a section of a letter in the Old Testament of the Bible called the book of Isaiah. And it is in this event from history that we are reminded of an echo of Christmas that has reverberated throughout history. Yesterday we looked on and discovered that, as the united armies of the northern kingdom of Israel and Aram marched toward Jerusalem, the Jewish people were shaken with fear. Just like a tree that is pummeled by the winds of a monsoon storm, the Jewish people shook from fear at the prospect of being invaded and conquered by the invading armies of the northern kingdom of Israel and the nation of Aram.
And as the invading armies approached, King Ahaz and the Jewish people were faced with a choice. And that choice was this: who were they going to trust? Would they trust in the Lord? And it is in this context, as King Ahaz faced a potential invasion of the nation that shook him to the core of his being with fear, that the prophet Isaiah approached king Ahaz as the king was preparing for the defense of Jerusalem to deliver a message from the Lord.
Now the Lord’s message to King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, if communicated in the language we use in our culture today, would have sounded something like this: “Do not fear these two armies that are plotting together to conquer you and set up a puppet king in place of you, because this plan of theirs will never happen. This plan will never happen because the nation of Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel will soon be conquered themselves. As a matter of fact, within 65 years the nation of the northern kingdom will no longer be Jewish. So do not place your trust in the Assyrians, place your trust in me. But if you do not trust me, if you trust the Assyrians, understand this; you surely will not last”. And to make sure that King Ahaz understood how serious the Lord was when it came to His message and His promise, we see the Lord say that following in verse 10-11:
Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 "Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven."
Now, if Isaiah was writing these verses today, these verses may have sounded something like this: King Ahaz, the Lord, the God of the Jewish people who has made Himself known to the Jewish people throughout history and has intervened for the Jewish people in history. The Lord, who has entered into a covenant relationship with your ancestor King David so that the Jewish people would live in a special relationship with Him invites you to put Him to the test. The Lord invites you to ask for whatever sign that you would like the Lord to do to prove that He will do what I have told you He would do. King Ahaz, there is no limit on what you may ask for when it comes to a sign from the Lord to demonstrate to you that He will do what I have told you He would do. We see how King Ahaz responded to the invitation to put the Lord to the test in verse 12:
12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!"
King Ahaz responded to the invitation to test the Lord by trying to give the appearance of trusting the Lord by refusing to test the Lord. However, the reality was that King Ahaz refused to test the Lord because King Ahaz had already made up his mind to not trust the Lord. The king had already decided that he would place his confident trust in the nation of Assyria instead of the Lord.
In 2 Kings 16:7-11, we discover that King Ahaz responded to his situation by appealing and paying the nation of Assyria a great sum of money to come to their aid. The Jewish people broke their covenant with the Lord in order to enter into a covenant with the false gods of the nation of Assyria. However, such a short-sighted decision by King Ahaz failed to recognize that the nation of Assyria, and not Israel or Aram, were the real threat to the Jewish people of the southern kingdom. And it was this decision by King Ahaz that signaled the beginning of the end for the Jewish people of the southern kingdom. This was the turning point that would lead to the southern kingdom being conquered and led captive by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.
However, while King Ahaz and other leaders of the Jewish people would continue to demonstrate a lack of trust in the Lord, that did not mean that the Lord was done with the Jewish people. Instead, it is at this point that the Lord, through the prophet Isaiah, made a proclamation and a promise that served as an echo of Christmas. And echo of Christmas that we see beginning in verse 13-17:
13 Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? 14 "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. 15 "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 "For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken. 17 "The LORD will bring on you, on your people, and on your father's house such days as have never come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah, the king of Assyria."
Now Isaiah’s words that are recorded for us in Isaiah 7:14 are some of the most often cited words during the Christmas season: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. However, these very familiar words are only a part of what the Lord had to say to King Ahaz through Isaiah.
The prophet Isaiah’s prediction and proclamation, if communicated in the language we use in our culture today, would have sounded something like this: “so, it’s not enough for you to test the patience of men. Instead you want to test My patience by refusing to place your trust in Me and in My promises to you. Well, I will give you a sign anyways, whether you want it or not. A virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. And before the child has reached an age that he can understand the difference between good and evil, both of these nations that you fear will cease to exist. And this child will eat curds and honey because I, the Lord, will deliver the Jewish people from the threat you face in spite of your unwillingness to trust in Me.”
And just one chapter later, we see the fulfillment of this prediction and proclamation in Isaiah 8:1-4:
Then the LORD said to me, "Take for yourself a large tablet and write on it in ordinary letters: Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey. 2 "And I will take to Myself faithful witnesses for testimony, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah." 3 So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then the LORD said to me, "Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for before the boy knows how to cry out 'My father ' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria."
Here we see the Lord command Isaiah to take a tablet, and in the presence of two witnesses, Uriah the priest and a man named Zechariah, write the phrase “swift is the booty, speedy is the prey”. After following the Lord’s command in the presence of these two witnesses, Isaiah became engaged to a woman who was a prophetess and who was a virgin. Most scholars and historians believe that Isaiah’s first wife died after giving birth to his first son.
After marrying this prophetess, Isaiah approached his wife, which is another way to say that he had sex with his wife. Isaiah’s wife became pregnant and subsequently gave birth to a son, who he named Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Because that seems like a natural name for a child, doesn’t it? Actually, this name literally means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil”, which sounds remarkably similar to what the prophet Isaiah wrote on the tablet before the two witnesses.
You see, Isaiah’s son would be the fulfillment of the sign that the Lord would give to the Jewish people. And before the child reached the age of two, in 732 B.C. the nation of Assyria plundered both the nation of Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel. And ten years later in 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel would be conquered and led into captivity by the Assyrian Empire.
Now a natural question that could arise here is “Well Dave, I was always told that this was a prediction about the virgin birth of Jesus on Christmas. But how can this be about Jesus is you are saying that this prediction was already fulfilled over 700 years before Jesus showed up? So is this verse about Jesus or not?” If that question is running through your mind, I just want to let you know that you are asking a great question.
Friday we will answer that question and discover a timeless echo of Christmas...