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THE SIGN OF IMMANUEL

Isaiah 7:1-7:14
Key Verse: 7:14

Looking around our places, we can easily find many kinds of signs. There are very important signs to help us in our troubles such as wash room or emergency exit. On the highways, many traffic signs help to find our destinations and secure our safe trips while ignoring signs can cause more troubles and even dangers. In the bible, we also see that God gives his signs to his people. Today’s passage is one of the cases. He gave an unfaithful king various signs with warning and hopeful messages. Particularly, this passage relates to the true Christmas sign that should be kept in us to live as God’s people in our materialistic and secular environments. May God bless us to humbly understand and accept his sign of Immanuel through this study.

Part I. Stand firm in your faith

Isaiah 7 describes the situation of Judah when Ahaz was a king. Ahaz was 12th king of Judah and ruled 16 years. His father was Jotham and his son was Hezekiah. Unlike his father and son, he was one of the wicked kings in Judah. His evilness was very well described in 2 Kings 16. He worshipped idols and followed all kinds of detestable things just as pagan kings did. He offered his son as sacrifice in the fire. Spiritually, people lived in a darkest time under his ruling. Therefore, God handed Ahaz over to the king of Aram according to 1 Chronicles 28. He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel. This event was described in this passage.

Let’s read 1b “King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.”(1b). This war was called the Syro-Ephraimite war happened in BC 734. At that time, Assyria had a great regional power. Small countries like Aram and Northern Israel made coalition in defense of the expansion of Assyria. But Judah refused to join. Israel and Aram devised a plan to kill Ahaz and raise another king for them. They invaded Judah two times. During the first attack, Ahaz was greatly inflicted. A vast multitude of Judean people were carried into captivity but with God’s intervention, many of them were sent back to Judah. Since Ahaz had no power to resist, the two countries collected an army and made the second attack. They captured all Judah except Jerusalem. This was described in verse 2 “Now the house of David was told, “Aram had 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”. Ahaz was greatly trembled in such a national crisis.

In that situation, God initiated to meet Ahaz. Look at verse 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.” God sent two people, Isaiah and his son. The names of Isaiah and his son mean “God is salvation” and “Remnants will return”, respectively. So, sending these two people was God’s clear sign to the king, telling that when he believes God’s salvation, the house of David would be remnant. At that time, the king was at the Upper Pool which was the important source of water supply in the city. He urgently took care of this place in preparation of a protracted war. But God sent his servants to Ahaz and teach him what he must do in this situation.

What is God’s message to him? Verse 4a. “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart.” “Be careful” means that Ahaz should take this crisis as God’s warning sign to him. This situation looked political and international power game. But this was God’s discipline for the king to return to his God. He should think this crisis before God who punishes his people with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men when they are wrong. So, this is the time for the king to seek God humbly. But Ahaz ignored this sign and tried to escape this situation through political ways by seeking a help from Assyria.

God encouraged Ahaz “keep calm, 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.” To Ahaz, they were like furious blazing fires that can devour him. But God said they are smoldering stubs of firewood that will be soon put out. Message version says that “And don’t panic over these two burnt-out cases, Rezin of Aram and the son of Remaliah. They talk big but there’s nothing to them.” They talked big and said “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." Yet, the Sovereign LORD said “It will not take place, it will not happen, for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.” (V 7-8) Here, God doubly emphasized against their plan “It will not take place, it will not happen”

In his saying, God taught him a very important message about battles. Ahaz was afraid of the joined force of the two countries because they outnumbered Judah with stronger power and he also had no power to sustain. But God said they cannot win because their heads are weak. Their kings, Rezin and Remalia’s son were just mere men who are also subjected to God’s judgment. As God said, Northern Israel was destroyed in sixty-five years (722 B.C.) by Assyria. Rezin was also put to death by Assyria. But Assyria was just God’s instrument. Winning or losing the battles is not about great forces or numbers of the army but about who the head of the army is. God wanted to teach Ahaz that God is the head of Judah and he is the only one the king must rely on.

Judah was not a strong country at all. But they could experience many victories because of God. For instance, when Hezekiah the son of Ahaz was a king, Assyria attacked him with a great number of armies and threatened him and also mocked God of Israel. At that time, Hezekiah humbly prayed and depended on God. God said “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant. That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning--there were all the dead bodies!” (2 kings 19:34-35). This is the victory of those who have God as their head.

Now, God challenged Ahaz. “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”(9b) There was no other option for him to stand in this trouble. He tried to find visible solutions through securing the military power of the strong nation, Assyria. But his dependency on Assyria also put Judah into more troubles later.

In our trials, faith in God is the way we can stand firm. The best example is the King Jehoshaphat. When he was attacked by a joined force of Moabites and Ammonites, Jehoshaphat fasted and prayed with his people. He prayed to God “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” God answered him “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.”(2 Chronicles 20:15,17) With this promise, Jehoshaphat encouraged his people “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” (2 Chronicles 20:20) Indeed, the enemies were defeated. God is truly with those who have faith in him. In the midst of our trials, we may pray and hear the words of God so that we may stand firm in our personal faith.

Part II. Sign of Immanuel

Although God gave him such messages of encouragement and promise, Ahaz did not appreciate it. Look at verse 10-11. “Again God spoke to him “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights” This was a very generous offer. God tried to help this one soul again to have faith in him and grow in intimate relationship with him like other men of faith such as Gideon. When Gideon was not sure of God’s calling as a leader, he asked God for several signs. “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised – look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said” (Judges 6:36) God answered as he asked. And Gideon asked again “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew” God answered as he requested. Gideon was sure of God’s calling and promise.

So, asking God’s sign can be an opportunity for Ahaz to experience his God very personally. He can ask anything. It was like writing any number on a blank check from billionaires. MSG version says "Ask for a sign from your God. Ask anything. Be extravagant. Ask for the moon!"

What is Ahaz’ response? “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” His refusal shows his strong unbelief and stubbornness. He rejected God’s favor because he loved Assyria. He was like an adulterous woman who loved another man and never heard her husband who dearly loved her.

Anyhow, his refusal seemed to end the relationship between Judah and God completely. Isaiah’s patience ran out to bear this stubborn and hypocritical king and said “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” Bearing such person takes great patience. Yet, amazingly God was still patient to him. Look at verse 14. “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This verse shows that God is truly God of love and faithfulness to his promise. God spoke this prophetic message when he was rejected by the unfaithful king. God could revoke his promise to David and judge the king in a second or abandon him. Instead, he gave him such an amazing sign not the sign of warning but the sign of great hope. God’s patience and faithfulness is beyond our understanding. In his great patience, he showed Ahaz the clearer picture of Messiah. In verse 14, “you” is plural which means that this sign was not just for Ahaz but included anyone who is seeking God and even anyone who is a unbearable sinner like the king. Apostle Paul described such great patience of God for sinners. 1 Timothy 1: 15-16 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. [16] But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” Truly, God pours out his grace to undeserved sinners. Praise God for showing his unlimited patience and carrying out his redemptive work by his grace alone.

Now, we can think the meaning of this sign. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” Woman’s having child can be possible only through biological ways between man and woman. So, virgin’s pregnancy is beyond human understanding and ability. In light of this, this sign is a very unique throughout the history. More than that, this sign points out that what kind of child he would be. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that he would send the messiah through woman’s offspring. “And 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.” (Ge 3:15) Then, Isaiah 7:14 shows more definite picture that the child is the son who would be conceived through the power of God. Indeed, this prophecy was fulfilled through the virgin Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit. In Matthew gospel, an angel gave a message to Joseph. “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”

Based on these reference verses, the child is the sinless God incarnate who is perfect man and perfect God so that he can save sinners from sin and judgment. So far, there has been countless birth of babies. But among them, only the birth of Jesus was unique in history. It is because he was sinless at birth to become a Savior while all other men are sinful at birth and need his salvation. King David confessed in Psalm 51:5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” In sins, men suffer, groan, and eventually die. But sinless Jesus, God incarnate came to save us from our sins.

To save people, what did God do? Let’s read again “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” Here, we see a very unique word “Immanuel” This means God with us. God was with sinners. People do not want to be associated with man with problems. But in order to be with sinners, God left his heavenly glorious throne and came down to this world with full of problems. Holy Jesus met many people who suffered with their wounds. He was with an adulterous woman who was about to be stoned to death. He was also with a lady who failed her marriage life five times. He was also with the weak, the sick, the needy, and even the betrayer. This Immanuel love changed people. It included Matthew. He was a cold-blood selfish tax collector and lived a money-oriented life. His life motto was “Money with me”. But his inner soul was agonized since none was with him. But Jesus invited him “Follow me”. Jesus was with him. He was changed in this Immanuel love. So, Matthew quoted this Isaiah 7:14 verse in his gospel, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.” (MT 1:23) Praise Jesus for his unfathomable grace of Immanuel.

God gave this amazing sign to Ahaz. Like Ahaz, I was also indifferent, ignorant, and rebellious to God. But Immanuel Jesus changed this unworthy sinner. He died for me to save me from my sins. He has been and will be with me forever. This Jesus is with each of us. Through this upcoming Christmas, we may encounter baby Jesus newly and personally as our God. We may dwell in his deep grace of Immanuel.

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