I’m not sure I’m supposed to, but I’ve always found the story in Isaiah 7 somewhat humorous. Rezin, king of Aram, and Pekah, king of the northern tribes of Israel, have formed an alliance to attack and destroy Jerusalem. Ahaz, the king in Jerusalem at the time who is mostly known in the Bible for being a wicked guy, becomes frightened, and God sends the prophet Isaiah to him to encourage him. Isaiah tells Ahaz not to fear because whatever Rezin and Pekah are planning will fail. He closes with a great line, “If you do not stand firm in the faith, you will not stand firm at all.”
Then, in 7:10, the LORD tells Ahaz to ask him for a sign to confirm that what Isaiah has told him is true. Ahaz refuses, saying that he will not put the LORD to the test. Isaiah responds in vv. 14-16 as follows:
“Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and will bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before you whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”
Today we recognize v. 14 as a prophecy of the birth of Christ. However, when we look at it in the context of the passage, doesn’t it seem just a little bit funny? First off, this child is supposed to be a sign for Ahaz that he has nothing to fear from Kings Rezin and Pekah. So wouldn’t Ahaz (and Isaiah) expect to actually see this sign in their own day? Can’t you see Ahaz looking around and then turning to Isaiah to ask, “Um, hey Prophet, which young woman is God talking about?”
Second, the land of these two kings is supposed to be deserted by the time the kid can tell the difference between right and wrong. So isn’t it probable that Ahaz and Hezekiah might have actually seen this sign happen before their eyes, long before the prophecy was fulfilled in Christ? It wasn’t very long at all until the Assyrians came through and destroyed much of the kingdoms of Aram and Israel. Then again, maybe Ahaz never saw this sign in his own time, because the record shows that he did not “stand firm in the faith” as Isaiah exhorted him to do. Ahaz sent to Assyria for help rather than depending on God
I don’t really know what Ahaz and Isaiah thought about this prophecy; I do think that if it only was talking about Jesus, Ahaz must have been mightily confused! Why would God seek to reassure him with a sign that wouldn’t be fulfilled for 700 years? Perhaps this prophecy referred to two events, one soon to be and one far in the future
Again, I don’t know, but I do know that this is just one of many prophecies about Jesus that were not fulfilled for hundreds of years. Many of these must have left their prophets scratching their heads, wondering what the hope they were writing about was pointing towards. We can see the connections clearly today, but the prophets only had a hazy picture of what was to come.
1 Peter 1:8-10 makes an incredible observation concerning the willingness of the prophets to serve later generations by prophesying what they could not fully appreciate themselves. Peter writes, “Though you have not seen him (Jesus), you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
Even though Isaiah was serving Ahaz with his prophecy in Isaiah 7, he was also serving us, pointing us toward the Messiah in whom we would find faith and salvation. It seems a great mystery to me that God would choose to work in this way, just as it must have seemed a mystery to Isaiah. Even so, it is a beautiful mystery, one which gave people hope before Christ, and one which provides an anchor for our faith afterwards.
And so, Isaiah was serving us in Is 9:6-7 when he wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
He was announcing the good news to us in Is 61:1-2 when he prophesied, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.
He was telling us about the sufferings of Christ in Is 53:4-6 when he said, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The prophet Micah was serving us in this Christmas season when he wrote in Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days
We celebrate a wonderful mystery this Christmas, a mystery in which God becomes a man because he loves us, a mystery in which the Lord of Heaven becomes Immanuel, God with us. He comes down in a tiny village called Bethlehem, the child of a humble virgin girl, announced only to a few nobody shepherds who hurried into town to see the Creator of everything lying in a box of hay. He lives and dies humbly. He is resurrected. He planned it all along. And he kept his word.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” – Gen 3:15