War against Jerusalem
King Ahaz, who was the son of Jotham and grandchild of Uzziah, was a wicked king for Judah. Ahaz worshiped false gods and even sacrificed his son to Molech. (2 Kings 16:1-4) The only good that came out of Ahaz is that he was the father of Hezekiah who became a good king for Judah. “He was a cowardly, superstitious and hypocritical ruler, one of the worst kings Judah ever had.” (Bultema)
Syria and Israel formed an alliance against Judah and waged an unsuccessful attack against Jerusalem. (2 Kings 16) While the attack against Jerusalem was unsuccessful the toll against the nation of Judah the southern kingdom was great. (2 Chronicles 28:6) Pekah, who was the son of Remaliah, and the King of Israel killed 125,000 thousand in one day in Judah. They were valiant men but they had forsaken the Lord. (2 Chronicles 28:5) Rezin the King of Syria carried of multitudes of the people as his captives. Pekah also captured 200,000 men, women, and children but he sent them back to Judah as commanded by the Prophet Oded. (2 Chronicles 28:8-15)
As the events of this chapter unfold Judah faced terrible calamity and the nation was devastated. As the armies approached Jerusalem it looked like everything would be lost. King Ahaz was challenged to trust God and it soon looked as all was lost.
Rather than trusting God King Ahaz formed an ungodly alliance with the King of Assyria Tiglath-Pileser. Ahaz even gave the gold and silver from the Temple of God to seal the alliance. (2 Kings 16:7-9) When Ahaz was in Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser and he saw the pagan altars and places of sacrifice. Ahaz coped the designs and then remodeled the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Ahaz’s example is that he entered into an unholy alliance for a good reason and then was corrupted by that alliance. (2 Kings 16:10-18)
The events of this chapter happened before Ahaz made his decision to form an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser. Verse 2 gives us the result of the attack. Isaiah is giving us the outcome before recording his prophecy to Ahaz.
Ephraim is another title for the northern kingdom of Israel. As King Ahaz had heard that Syria and Israel had joined together to make war with Judah.
Ahaz and the people react in fear rather than trust in God. They are anxious and unstable in their hearts. Rather than the people being the people of God they are becoming the people of Ahaz and rely on him instead of their God. If the king, King Ahaz, and his people had placed their trust in God, then through this conflict they would have had the peace of God in their hearts.
Isaiah was told to take his son and bring God’s Word to King Ahaz. Isiah brought his son with him as an object lesson. His son’s name was Shear-Jashub and means “A Remnant Shall Return.” There is an important point in the details of where this meeting was to take place. These details show that this was a real place and these events were happening to real people. It is not a Bible story but historical fact.
Isaiah told Ahaz to “take heed” meaning that he should pay attention to the words that Isaiah was to speak. Ahaz needed to trust God and find his courage in the Lord. The calamity and devastation which had racked Judah had made Ahaz stop trusting in God. Isaiah is telling him that in times of trial God is the only one to trust.
This was hard for Ahaz to do as he did not see the situation as the Lord did. Ahaz saw Israel and Syria and only saw them as a great threat. God saw them only as two stubs of smoking firebrands. In the eyes of the Lord, they were only all smoke and no fire. “One would think that they are endued with so great power that they could burn and destroy the whole world. To put down the excess of terror, the Lord declares that what we imagined to be a burning and a perpetual burning, is but a slight smoke and of short duration.” (Calvin)
Assuredly the kings of Israel and Syria had made evil counsel against Judah. They wanted to attack Jerusalem and make a gap in its wall. Then they would dispose of Ahaz and appoint their own king. They were no threat to God and His purposes and He said: “It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass.” Their plans will not succeed because their armies are led by ungodly men and not the Lord. This is a promise from God and Isaiah calls Ahaz to trust in God’s promise.
Now here is the challenge. God has promised and King Ahaz must believe. If Ahaz will not believe, then the promise of God will not affect the outcome of the attack. God had already decreed that the attack would not succeed but it would affect the course and outcome of Ahaz’s life and reign as King. If Ahaz does not trust in the Lord, then he will not be established.
Ahaz did not believe and he did not place his trust in the Lord. Instead, he formed an alliance with the Assyrians. Jerusalem was speared and Ahaz no doubt believed that his plan had worked. If Ahaz had trusted in the Lord Jerusalem would have been spared and Ahaz would have been blessed.
Isaiah had brought his son named Shear-Jashub, meaning “A Remnant Shall Return.” This was so Ahaz would know that because of his trust in an ungodly king from Assyria, Judah would eventually be taken into captivity and only a remnant would return.
The Child Immanuel
God asks Ahaz to ask for a sign through the Prophet Isaiah. This was another challenge for Ahaz to believe and trust the Lord to be blessed. God in His grace was giving Ahaz bases for belief.
Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” This sounds spiritual from Ahaz and is almost as Jesus had said. “Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7) This may be a similar statement but the hearts of the person speaking are far apart. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign that he would not be obligated to believe in the Lord. This would not be testing God in a wrong way as it is never wrong to do as the Lord says. If the Lord asks to be tested, then we should. (Malachi 3:10)
Then Ahaz may have become bitter because of all the devastation that had come to Judah. It could be that in his mind he was saying “I want nothing to do with the Lord who allowed it to get this bad.” Have we not done this ourselves? Reject the gifts of God because of some strange and silly reason. “Here let us each descend and dive into his own conscience, to see whether we also have not matched Ahaz in his madness, or at leastwise coasted too near upon his unkind usage of the Lord, by rejecting his sweet offers of grace and motions of mercy, by slighting his holy sacraments, those signs and seals of the righteousness that is by faith.” (Trapp)
The way that the people of Judah treated other people was poor, but they treated the Lord even poorer. If many of us treated other people as with distrust as we distrust the Lord, then we would offend many. “How heartily angry is the prophet, how blessedly blown up in this case to so great dishonor done to God! We should be so too.” (Trapp) “Did I not hear someone say, ‘Ah, sir, I have been trying to believe for years.’ Terrible words! They make the case still worse. Imagine that after I had made a statement, a man should declare that he did not believe me, in fact, he could not believe me though he would like to do so. I should feel aggrieved certainly; but it would make matters worse if he added, ‘In fact, I have been for years trying to believe you, and I cannot do it.’ What does he mean by that? What can he mean but that I am so incorrigibly false, and such a confirmed liar, that though he would like to give me some credit, he really cannot do it? With all the effort he can make in my favor, he finds it quite beyond his power to believe me? Now, a man who says, ‘I have been trying to believe in God,’ in reality says just that with regard to the Most High.” (Spurgeon)
One of the most famous prophecies in the Bible is in this verse. “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” “One of the most difficult in all the Word of God. It may be so; I certainly did not think it was until I saw what the commentators had to say about it, and I rose up from reading them perfectly confused.” (Spurgeon)
The prophecy concerning Ahaz centered on him, Jerusalem, and the attacks from Israel and Assyria. The sign centered on a time span. “For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.” The sign that God would give Ahaz is that within a few years both Israel and Syria would be crushed. For Ahaz, this was a sign of deliverance. “The name ‘Immanuel’ was a rebuke to Ahaz. If ‘God is with us,’ then why should he have feared the enemy?” (Wolf) “The ‘sign’ of the child, therefore, constitutes an indication that the all-sovereign and all-knowing God has the situation completely in hand, and it rebukes the king’s lack of faith in him.” (Grogan)
The prophecy reaches far beyond the days of Ahaz. The ultimate fulfillment comes with the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. There is no question of this as the Holy Spirit says so through Matthew. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) The prophecy is also addressed to the “House of David.” We know this speaks of Jesus because of the name given, “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” This speaks of the deity of Jesus, God with us, and His identification and nearness to man, God with us. “Christ, indeed, was not called by this name Immanuel that we anywhere read of . . . but the import of this name is most truly affirmed and acknowledged to be fully made good in him.” (Trapp) “He is, therefore, called God with us, or united to us; which cannot apply to a man who is not God . . . it denotes not only the power of God, such as he usually displays by his servant, but a union of person, by which Christ became God-man.” (Calvin) “In what sense then, is Christ God with us? Jesus is called Immanuel, or God with us, in his incarnation; God with us, by the influences of his Holy Spirit, in the holy sacrament, in the preaching of his word, in private prayer. And God with us, through every action of our life, that we begin, continue, and end in his name. He is God with us, to comfort, enlighten, protect, and defend us, in every time of temptation and trial, in the hour of death, in the Day of Judgment; and God with us and in us, and we with and in him, to all eternity.” (Clarke)
Trials to Come for Judah
Then Isaiah gives Ahaz bad news from the Lord. Ahaz had placed his trust in the king of Assyria instead of the Lord. It is as if the Lord said, “You though trusting Assyria was clever but the armies of Israel and Syria are defeated. Now the Assyrians will defeat you as well.”
If Ahaz had believed and understood the words of the Lord he would have been terrified. The Assyrians were known as cruel people and worse so for nations they had defeated. They were delighted by their means of torture and they humiliated by shaving the hair on the heads and legs. “To shave off the beard of an Oriental was an unbearable shame to him and was a sign of great sadness and mourning as well as despicable slavery.” (Bultema) We see an example of this by David in the book of Samuel. “So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved off half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle as far as their hips, and sent them away. When they told it to David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly humiliated. And the king said, “Stay at Jericho until your beards grow, and then return.” (2 Samuel 10:4-5)
Judah was not only facing the Assyrians but also the Egyptians. They would now be caught between two nations. One to the north and the other to the south. Judah would be brought down and would be unable to farm their land. The land would fill with briers and thorns and would only be suitable for oxen and sheep to roam.