RPM, Volume 15, Number 49, December 1 to December 7, 2013

Doubting Ahaz

Isaiah 7:1-12

By D. Marion Clark

Introduction

We are in one of the rare sections of Isaiah that is an actual historical recount. Most of the book is made up of Isaiah's actual prophecy. It takes a bit of study to figure out the context of much of the prophecy. It is clear that Isaiah does not write chronologically. But here we have an actual story that Isaiah is recounting.

It involves King Ahaz, the third king of Judah that Isaiah prophesied under. 6:1 refers to the death of Uzziah. Ahaz, his grandson, ascended to the throne sixteen years later. Let me retell what I said about him back in May when we began the series. Ahaz was the consummate opportunist. He was guided by one principle — to save his skin by whatever means. It was during his reign that Assyria conquered Israel; indeed, by his invitation Assyria took the opportunity to ravage Israel until eventually destroying the country. Israel formed a partnership with Damascus to stand against Assyria. They wanted Judah to join them and intended to dethrone Ahaz, placing their own puppet king on the throne. Ahaz's reaction was to entreat the king of Assyria to come to his aid. The result was devastation for Israel and submission of Judah. Ahaz also used his throne to promote idolatry and even offered his own sons to the fires.

The Text

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
2 Now the house of David was told, "Aram has allied itself with Ephraim" so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

We are in the time period of 733-32 B.C. Jotham is still alive. He dies in 732 B.C. 2 Kings 15:37 reports that the attacks of Pekah and Rezin began against him. Ahaz was co-regent. That is, he began to reign with his father, a practice that was common. Why are the kings of Israel and Aram, which is the territory of Syria, attacking Judah? They are trying to form an alliance to defend themselves against Assyria. Tiglath-Pileser III, is spreading the Assyrian Empire and has already inflicted heavy casualties on Israel. Ahaz will not join their alliance, so they scheme to dethrone him and replace him with the son of Tabeel, who will serve as a puppet king for them and keep Judah in line. The accounts of the attacks and Ahaz' reign, by the way, are given in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28. The chronology of events are difficult to sort out. Israel and Aram attack, and while inflicting a lot of damage, they do not capture Jerusalem in their first invasion.

3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field.

It would seem that it was soon before the second invasion that Isaiah visits Ahaz. All the more reason Ahaz and Judah are fearful. Judah's army has been devastated. Ahaz has gone out to inspect his defenses, probably here checking on the security of his water supply.

It is interesting that the Lord has Isaiah take his son with him. It might seem like an inconsequential detail except for the son's name. Shear-Jashub means "a remnant will return." Commentators note that the stress in the Hebrew text falls on the word "remnant." The boy, someone, served as a message to Ahaz. We will discuss that later.

Isaiah begins by stating the situation. 4 Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood�"because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it."

The plot of invasion is told, but the message is for Ahaz not to fear. The rendering of the command should be, "Be careful to keep calm and not fear." Ahaz is quite fearful. He knows the might of Israel and Aram, that they might very well carry out their aim to destroy him. Isaiah is not giving friendly admonition; he is giving the Lord's command to arrest his fears and be calm under the protection of the Lord.

Ahaz is not to lose heart over the threats of Pekah and Rezin. They have turned from firebrands into smoldering stubs. God had used them to punish Ahaz. 2 Chronicles 28:5 states: Therefore the LORD his God handed him over to the king of Aram. The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus.
He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel, who inflicted heavy casualties on him. The Lord did that because Ahaz had renewed pagan worship, including sacrificing his own sons. Indeed, God had begun to send the attacks before Jotham had died. 37 (In those days the LORD began to send Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah against Judah (2 Kings 15:37).

Verse 7: Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says…There is no question as to why Isaiah introduces the further prophecy calling God, the Sovereign Lord — Adonai Yahweh. What he prophesies will take place, not because God looks into the future or is a shrewd political observer, but because he is sovereign and will control what happens.

"'It will not take place,
it will not happen,

The invasion, or at least its success, will not happen. Why? Because God is God and the kings are nothing more than mere men.

8 for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin…
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son.

These words remind me of verse 22 in chapter 2: Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he? These are not equal odds. God is going to win.

Isaiah then says what will happen to Ephraim, i.e. Israel.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

I don't know why he does not speak of Aram's demise, but if he had to choose one, it would be Ephraim because of her relationship with Judah. Note the parallel structure of verses 8 and 9. Verse 8 refers to the leader of Aram and then prophesies the downfall of Ephraim. Verse 9 refers to the leader of Ephraim and then prophesies the downfall of Judah if her leader, Ahaz, does not stand firm in faith.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.'"

This is quite a dramatic scene for Ahaz. He has been attacked, and if we are right, he has already been badly defeated by these two kings. The threat they are making is real. This is not a football game. The loser doesn't lose a title. He loses his life and the lives of many others. It is all well and good for Isaiah to speak so confidently, but Ahaz had never been impressed with Isaiah's God. The very reason he had turned to the worship of pagan gods was because their worshippers had greater victories in battle (2 Chronicles 28:23). And besides, he knew that he was not on good terms with Yahweh.

And then Isaiah adds the special offer: 10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." What a gracious offer by God. Ahaz did not deserve this further condescension by God to bolster his faith. I say further, because his sending Isaiah in the first place with his message was a gracious act. Ahaz did not request it. But God knows that Ahaz is a weak man and so offers a sign to shore up his faith.

12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test." If we took this verse out of context and let it stand alone, we might surmise that it was spoken by a man of God as an expression of faith and humility. After all, Jesus himself refuted Satan by stating that man shall not test God. But it is one thing to test God's patience; it is another to refuse his gift. Ahaz' response is a slap in the face of God. Isaiah is not offering friendly advice. He is not saying, "If you're feeling a little shaky, ask the Lord for a sign. I'm sure he will be favorable to a request." He pronounces that the Lord is speaking directly to him, commanding him to choose a sign by which God might display his power. And Ahaz refuses.

Why? Why would he do that? What can it hurt? If the test fails, then Ahaz can know that he was right all along to turn to other gods. Isaiah is proved a fraud, and he, Ahaz, is vindicated. If the test is fulfilled, well then great; Ahaz doesn't have to worry about his enemies. But then, what about the path that Ahaz has already chosen? How can he continue along it, when Isaiah demonstrates that the Lord truly is a great God? Who then is shown to be the fraud? Ahaz may be worried, but he does have a plan — to call on the aid of Assyria. He thinks that he does have his problem worked out, and he doesn't need Isaiah to throw a wrench into his plans by somehow making it appear that God met a test. Why should he trust Isaiah who undoubtedly had been speaking against all of his policies as king? No, he was too shrewd for that. In his own mind, he was too shrewd to be a fool, and he proved himself to be the greatest of fools.

Observations

1. God is sovereign. Note how the Lord used the armies for his own purposes.

2. How much people are like Ahaz. The problem is not that God will not give a sign, but that they are afraid of seeing one. The implications for how they have been living and how they must live are too unnerving.

3. What purpose did Isaiah's son's name serve as a message? A remnant will return. Is that a message of promise? A remnant will continue through whatever calamity may come. Is that a message of woe? Only a remnant will return. Or is it a challenge? "Do you, Ahaz, belong to the remnant? Are you with God or not?" He proved where he stood.

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