A Blessedness No One has Imagined
“[Isaiah] said, ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’” (vv. 13–14).- Isaiah 7
Judah’s only hope for avoiding disaster during the eighth century BC was to recognize its uncleanness, trust the Lord, and serve Him faithfully—like Isaiah did (Isa. 6). Yet Judah did not get the message during Isaiah’s lifetime, as today’s passage reveals.
Isaiah 7 records events that took place in about 735 BC. Years earlier, King Menahem of Israel had paid tribute to Assyria to preserve himself and his country as the Assyrian Empire battled for control of strategic lands such as Palestine (2 Kings 15:17–22). In 735 BC, a new king of Israel—Pekah—decided the northern kingdom had been a client state of Assyria long enough and stopped sending tribute, probably because he thought Assyria was too occupied in other lands to pay Israel much notice. Pekah was wrong, and when Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria moved to teach Israel a lesson, Pekah allied himself with King Rezin of Syria and set his face against Jerusalem. Their intent was to force King Ahaz of Judah into an alliance with Syria and Israel against Assyria or, should Ahaz refuse, to put a new king in Jerusalem who would support their efforts (16:5; Isa. 7:1).
A frightened Ahaz had two options. He could trust God to protect him from Pekah and Rezin, or he could appeal to Assyria for help. Isaiah called Ahaz to trust the Lord, telling him to ask God for a sign that would assure him of divine protection (vv. 2–11). Ahaz refused because he had already decided to trust Assyria, not because he truly believed it a sin to test God. The Lord gave Ahaz a sign anyway: a virgin would bear a son called “Immanuel”—God with us. He would be a sign that God was with His people, for Israel and Syria would threaten Judah no more before the child reached the age of moral decision-making (vv. 12–16). The defeat of Pekah and Rezin while the child was very young would confirm the truth of Isaiah’s prophecy and the Lord’s presence. But the Lord’s presence to save Judah from Israel and Syria would be a mixed blessing. He would also curse faithless Judah by sending Assyria against Jerusalem (v. 17).
Seven hundred years later, God would give the fullest realization of this sign in the incarnation of His Son. This Savior’s name would mean “God with us,” and He would be God with us in His own person as well. This sign would be greater, for Jesus’ birth to a true virgin would be unquestionably miraculous. He would be a sign also—a sign of eternal judgment for those who would reject Him (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 2:34–35).
Scholars have long debated whether the original Hebrew of today’s passage is better translated “virgin” or “young woman.” This is a worthy debate, but if we are not careful, we could miss this key point: just as the son born in Isaiah’s day was a sign of Judah’s destruction for unbelief, Jesus is a sign of our destruction when we do not believe in Him. Christ is God’s sign to us of blessing and cursing—blessing if we trust only in Him for salvation, cursing if we deny Him.
Passages for Further Study
2 Chronicles 28