When I taught my two year long Bible study on Isaiah, I used The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell to give me a starting point and rough outline of the material covered in the chapters. In this article, when you read the phrase “my commentary”, I am referring to this volume.
Read Isaiah 7:13. Isaiah uses “house of David” in his rebuke, implying that all of Judah, not just Ahaz, is acting sinfully. This fits with what we discussed earlier, that all of Aram is really just Rezin and all of Israel is just Pekah; all of Judah is just Ahaz, as he goes, so goes the nation.
There is also a subtle pronoun change here, in verse 11, when God, through Isaiah is entreating Ahaz he uses “Ask the Lord your God…” but when Ahaz rejects God, it becomes “Will you try the patience of my God also?” Overall this verse is fairly straightforward – isn’t it bad enough that you are ignoring me and my warnings, Isaiah says, that you dare to push God to the end of his limits?
Read Isaiah 7:14. In contemporary language we might say, “OK, you refuse to ask for a sign? We’ll you’re going to get a sign anyway!”
This verse is a controversial one, believed to have two meanings, one for Isaiah’s day and one for the future, as a Messianic prophecy. Let us look first at this passage from the most familiar angle, that of Messianic prophecy. It would be 700 plus years before Jesus would be born to a virgin. Read Matthew 1:18-25. The name Immanuel means “God with us” or “God is with us.” Isaiah was saying that God was going to come to earth in human form and actually live with mankind.
The Hebrew word translated here as “virgin” in Isaiah, however, can also be translated as “young woman.” And why would God give Ahaz a sign for something that wasn’t going to happen for centuries? Another interpretation, therefore, is that God is speaking of another boy that was going to be born, possibly to Isaiah’s wife. Read Isaiah 8:3-4.
This interpretation better fits the verses that follow.
Read Isaiah 7:15-16. The language here is somewhat confusing in the NIV. Here is a summary or abridgement version in modern language from the Living Bible:
By the time the child is weaned and knows right from wrong, the two kings you fear so much – the kings of Israel and Syria – will both be dead
Where does the Living Bible get “weaned”? Well “curds and honey” (sometimes translated “butter and honey”) would be something a young child, not an infant, would eat. This was a common staple, of the simplest kind, indicating a common or poor background. By the time it takes the child to be conceived, born, weaned, and he reaches the age of being able to tell right from wrong, both the lands of Israel and Syria will be destroyed. This contemporary interpretation fits with what we read in Isaiah 8:3-4; before Isaiah’s son can talk, Syria and Israel are plundered by Assyria. Within 12 years of this prophecy the Northern Kingdom of Israel falls to the Assyrians.
So the virgin and child mentioned here probably have a dual meaning, describing two different mothers and two different sons. Not everyone accepts this duality. I’m guessing the Orthodox Jew would not recognize these verses as applying to the birth of Jesus as described in the New Testament (which they don’t accept as Holy Scripture), choosing to recognize only the contemporary birth of Isaiah’s son. Some Christians probably refuse to recognize the problems with accepting these verses as purely messianic, and disregard any contemporary (Isaiah’s time) interpretation.
Read Isaiah 7:17. This verse is a dramatic switch in tone from the promise (blessing) of Immanuel to the coming judgment.
A time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah
God is referring back to the time of the revolt under Jeroboam when the kingdom was split and the royal house of David is left with just the two tribes. This is an event which would have rankled greatly among all true Judeans. A modern day example for us might be “a time unlike any since September 11…” It has a lot of cultural connotations.
Once more we see that God is in control “he will bring the king of Assyria” and that he uses nations as tools to chastise other nations.
But Judah isn’t just going to have to worry about Assyria. We see that there is another player in this great game. Read Isaiah 7:18. Egypt is also coming. The word “whistle” here is sometimes translated as “hisses”; beekeepers would hiss to call their bee swarms to and from the hive. Notice that the Egyptians are associated with flies while the Assyrians are associated with bees. My commentary says that the Egyptian forcers were like flies in that they were swarm-like, hastily brought together and very poorly disciplined. Flies, as you know, go hither and yon, lighting where they like, a sort of haphazard sort of insect. Bees, on the other hand, are well-trained troops, have specific goals, are used to war, and are well disciplined, just like the Assyrians.
During this historic period, from now to the time of Cyrus of Persia (approx. 536 BC), Judah will be a battleground as Egypt and Assyria/Babylon contend for the title as the greatest empire of Western Asia. A prime example of how Judah gets caught in the middle of this conflict is given in the description of King Josiah’s death. Josiah was the last good king of Judah, dying around 607 BC. Read 2 Chronicles 35:20-36:4. Josiah unwisely goes up to defend Assyria from Egypt, even though Pharaoh warns him God is with Egypt, and therefore against Assyria. Josiah dies and for a time Judah is Egypt’s vassal.
To be continued…
H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (editors). The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah