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Isaiah 7:10-16                                          


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 coalition’s 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 Yahweh’s 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). [1]

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 Yahweh’s 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 king’s 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 God’s 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. [2]


When have you felt like you’ve needed some sign from God to assure you of God’s 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 didn’t 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 Isaiah’s or Ahab’s marriage companion. And what about the child? The name, Immanuel, affirmed God’s 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 bull’s 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-pileser—even bribes him by stripping the gold from Jerusalem’s 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 enemies—the 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.

[1] Christine Roy Yoder, “Hope that Walks,” in Journal for Preachers (Advent 2001): 22.
[2] Ibid., page 23.