BACKGROUND Scholar Christine Yoder describes the context that
will throw light on our passage:
It is a time (735 BCE) steeped in international
tension. The Assyrian Empire looms ominously on the horizon, while, closer to home, the
Northern Kingdom of Israel (Ephraim) and neighboring Syria (Aram) form a coalition to
rebel against it. The Southern kingdom of Judah, led by King Ahaz, refuses to join them,
prompting kings Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel to march their armies against Jerusalem
(Isa. 7:1). Their plan is to conquer the city, depose Ahaz, and install a king ("the
son of Tabeel") who will take part in their revolt (v. 6). Ahaz is terrified by the
coalitions advance. His heart shakes "as the trees of the forest shake before
the wind" (v. 2) and, in his panic, he hastily sends tribute and an urgent appeal for
help to the Assyrian emperor, Tiglath-pileser III (see 2 Kgs 16:7-9). At some point during
these events, Yahweh sends Isaiah to Ahaz (Isa. 7:3-9). Urging the king not to fear
("take heed, be quiet, do not fear," v. 4), the prophet assures Ahaz that the
coalition will fail of its own accord (7:7). Ahaz need only have courage, be patient, and
trust in Yahwehs assurance and the protection long ago promised to his family and
people. However, if Ahaz persists in acting out of fear instead of faith, the prophet
warns his reign will end (v. 9c). 
ADVENT TEASER Advent Reminder: waiting can be a nerve-twitching,
confusing time . . .
Ahaz stands face-to-face with the prophet and his son
Shear-yashub ("a remnant shall return"), a child whose very presence signals
Yahwehs control of the future. He is given the divine word and a sign, assurance
that the threat will soon end. And yet, the king cannot escape his fear. His is a time of
crisis, a season during which he finds it most difficult to hope. In his anxiety, he looks
around for another means of security, a way to ensure the future. Frightened, he abandons
his trust in Yahweh for the long-term, opting for short-term hope in that which will one
day defeat him. The kings palpable angst and foolish decision caution us in these
days. Waiting in "in between" time is not easy. Insecurities and fear can loom
large and take hold of our choices. We may put our faith more in systems, peoples,
institutions, ideologies, and our own strategies to "get ahead" than in
Gods ultimate weaving of history. We may refuse to see the signs in our own time.
And we may, of course, discover we really have no hope at all. 
When have you felt like youve needed some sign from God to
assure you of Gods presence in your life?
The following bullets may give you some door into this passage as you
think about preaching for this final Sunday in Advent.
First, the issue about the connotations of what "virgin" meant, would
certainly have been lost to the immediate context. The young woman didnt have to be
a conceiving virgin to create meaning. No defense of the text needed. Be careful not to
play polemicist and spend too much energy defending historic faith. That will lead us away
from more important considerations.
In the immediate context the young maiden/virgin may have been someone that both Ahaz
and Isaiah knew. Could have been Isaiahs or Ahabs marriage companion. And what
about the child? The name, Immanuel, affirmed Gods purposeful involvement in the
midst of these ominous times. By the time the child would reach two or three years of age,
the coalition would collapse.
Isaiah goes for a prophetic bulls eye a promise from God; what more could
anyone want? Apparently, Ahab needs more than a promise from God. For when the story
finally winds down to an end, Ahab has not turned to God for help, but instead has turned
to Tiglath-pilesereven bribes him by stripping the gold from Jerusalems Temple
and sending it to him (2 Kings 16:8). In the final scenario Ahaz places his bets on
Assyria instead of God.
Poetic irony? In the end, Isaiah predicts that Ahaz will fall not to his
enemiesthe northern coalition, but to his ally, Assyria! The war machine to which
Ahaz has sold his soul and money, will in the end crush the very life out of him.
 Christine Roy Yoder, Hope that Walks, in Journal for Preachers
(Advent 2001): 22.
 Ibid., page 23.