Prophecy of a Virgin Birth – Isaiah 7
Read the Passage: Isaiah 7
Problem Described (7:1–2)
Like many of the books in the Bible, the material recorded in Isaiah is not presented in strict chronological order. Note that between Isaiah 6 and 7 at least five years have passed. Indeed, Isaiah 6 occurs “in the year that King Uzziah died” (Isa 6:1), which was ~739 BC; while Isaiah 7 occurs “in the days of King Ahaz” (Isa. 7:1), who began to reign in ~734 BC. Note that Uzziah’s son, and Ahaz’s father, Jotham reigned for sixteen years (8–10 years as a co-regent with his father, who had leprosy), however specific events from the reign of Jotham are curiously not mentioned in the book of Isaiah. This may be because Jotham is regarded as being a good king, while Ahaz is described in the text as being an exceptionally bad king. Additionally, since little material about Jotham is revealed in the historical books, it may be the case that little of prophetic importance occurred during his reign.
When Ahaz assumed the throne of Judah, Tiglath-Pileser had been king of Assyria for about ten years, and he had transformed Assyria into a world superpower. Consequently, King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel sought to build an alliance of nations against Assyria in order to preserve their own independence. However, King Ahaz of Judah refused to join this alliance, thus Syria and Israel—along with their allies Edom, Philistia, and several other smaller nations—attacked Judah in an attempt to force them to join their anti-Assyrian confederation. These events are detailed in 2 Kings 16:5–20 and 2 Chron. 28:5–21. Isa. 7:2, then, describes the reaction of King Ahaz of Judah when he heard that Syria and Israel were preparing to attack Jerusalem, “His heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind” (Isa. 7:2).
Promise Given (7:3–9)
In response to the fear of the people and the king, God sent Isaiah with encouraging news. Note Isaiah was told that he would find Ahaz “at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool” (Isa. 7:3). The aqueduct was the source of Jerusalem’s water and would have been a prime target for the approaching armies. King Ahaz may have been examining the aqueduct in preparation for its defense during the anticipated coming battle. God’s message to the king was that Syria and Israel were akin to “two stubs of smoking firebrands” (Isa. 7:4). In other words, God declared that Judah’s enemies were like embers from a fire that had burned brightly for a time yet were nearly burned out. God commanded Ahaz, “Take heed . . . be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted” (Isa. 7:4). This was challenging for the king, as Isaiah also revealed that the approaching armies intended to replace him with a new puppet king.
In poetic prose Isaiah presented King Ahaz with a personal choice between: (1) trusting God and seeing Syria, Israel, and their allies defeated, or (2) trusting in his own strength, as well as the strength of others, and being defeated. Remarkably, in a very precise prophecy Isaiah foretold that “within sixty-five years Ephraim [i.e., Israel] will be broken so that it will not be a people” (Isa. 7:8). In actuality, just a few short years after Isaiah’s bold prophecy, in 722 BC the Assyrians captured and destroyed Samaria, the capital city of Israel. Then, roughly sixty-five years after Isaiah’s prophecy, in 670 BC, Israel ceased to exist as a people when the Assyrians deported most of the Jewish population and brought in foreigners to settle in the land. It was the importation of foreigners into the land at this time that created the people in Israel known in New Testament times as the Samaritans.
Prophecy Delivered (7:10–16)
In Isa. 7:10–12 God invited King Ahaz to request a sign to confirm the destruction of Syria and Israel. Feigning humility, however, Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, perhaps hypocritically referring to the law in Deut. 6:16 about not tempting God (cf. Jas. 1:31). In Isa. 7:13–16 God declared that even though Ahaz would not request a sign, one would be given—that is, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Of course, we know from Matthew’s exposition in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 1:23) that this prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. However, the prophecy must also have been fulfilled in Ahaz’s day, otherwise the sign would have been meaningless. Yet, in Anaz’s day it likely referred to a young woman who would soon bear a male child. It may even refer to the wife of Isaiah who would soon give birth to the prophet’s second son (cf. Isa. 8:3).
- Since the kings of Judah were usually succeeded by their own sons, how can we explain the fact that good kings followed bad kings, and vice-versa?
- Was King Ahaz’s reaction to the news of the impending attack on Judah reasonable? How do you react when faced with unsettling news?
- How do we balance man’s efforts with the Lord’s sovereignty (cf. Prov. 16:33; 21:31)? Is the wise preparation of man at odds with God’s loving providence?
- Given that Ahaz was an exceptionally evil king, why did God offer to deliver him and the nation of Judah if they would only trust in Him?
- What sign would you ask from the Lord if God gave you the opportunity to request any sign you wanted, as He did for Ahaz?