10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
Here’s a quick version of the back story, a tale of war in the Mideast with perplexing characters and shifting alliances that sounds too familiar. But this one is set in 734 B.C. Ahaz in Jerusalem is the king of Judah, which had been united with Israel until Solomon’s death, but which in this passage is facing an attack from Israel and Aram because it wants to attempt making a treaty with Assyria, the enemy of Israel and Aram. Isaiah enters this tangled picture to consult Ahaz.
“Then God names the issue here – faith,” explains scholar Stan Mast in summarizing Isaiah’s message to Ahaz. “In whom will you trust in this time of international strife and domestic danger? Will it be the walls of Jerusalem, your tenuous alliance with Assyria, your political skills, and military might? Or will it be Yahweh, your covenant God who has shown himself faithful for centuries and now promises to save you?”
But Ahaz says in verse 12 that he won’t be asking for a sign from God. Isaiah is undeterred and tells Ahaz that God will give him a sign anyway; it’s spelled out in verses 14 to 16.
“In a time of war and fear, God gave his Old Testament people a simple sign to assure them that their God was with them even though the northern coalition seemed invincible,” Mast writes. “In another time of international turmoil and internal danger, God gave his New Testament people a grand sign to assure them that God was with them, even though Rome seemed almighty. That sign still stands for us today, in a time of war and fear when leaders jockey for power and enemies are at the gates and we don’t know whom to trust. … Advent is a call to faith when Christmas seems a long way off. We don’t have to ask for a sign to help us believe. He has already been born.”
Contributed by Dave Edmark