Isaiah: Prince of Prophets: “In whom do you trust?”
There is a very familiar verse in Isaiah 7 that we very clearly and quite properly associate with Christmas. It is a prophecy that assures us that Jesus was to be born of a young woman. “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.” (v. 14). Most of you know the verse, but you may not know and understand the context. It is amazing how God works. It is thrilling to see how he orchestrates events, even when men mess it up, so that his purposes are accomplished. And when you see it, I believe it will cause you to stand in awe and trust him more.
It is very easy for us to say we trust God. Our behavior sometimes suggests otherwise. It is always tempting to rely on money or the ability of another person or some greater human power to help us. When God says something in his Word, do we really trust Him to carry out His work on our behalf?
That is what we want to study this evening as we look at a familiar scripture and understand it together.
I. WHEN YOU ARE THREATENED vv. 1-2
- the opening verses give us a synopsis of the situation
- “When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.” (Isaiah 7:1, NIV)
- more of the story is told in 2 Kings
- King Ahaz of Judah refused to join them
- the two kings decided that the best thing to do was conquer Jerusalem and depose Ahaz putting their own puppet-king on Judah’s throne who would support their cause
- then they thought the three nations combined could resist the great superpower of Assyria
- well, what do you do when you are threatened by bullies?
- you hire a bigger bully to beat them up
- that’s what Ahaz did
- he gathered up the gold and silver of the temple and sent them to none other than the king of Assyria hiring him to deliver Judah from the threat of Israel and Aram
- talk about making a pact with the devil!
- it was a foolish thing to do
- ILLUS. It’s the proverbial hiring of the fox to guard the chicken coop! The fox is pleased with his new job, but the chickens are living in fear and trembling!
- when we are threatened by seemingly overwhelming odds we tend to trust what we can see
- God is unseen and to human comprehension so very far away
- our temptation then is to reach for what we can do ourselves, or arrange for ourselves—we will solve our own problems
- this behavior goes against what we as followers of Jesus say we believe
- “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6)
- that’s what happened to Ahaz
II. TRUST ME (vv. 3-4)
- God knew of the fear that paralyzed Ahaz and sent Isaiah to tell him two things
- the first was this: Trust Me
- “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. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and 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.” (Isaiah 7:3–4, NIV)
- King Ahaz has two fears
- 1st is that Judah will be invaded by Aram and Israel and he will lose the throne
- 2nd is that if he joins Aram and Israel in opposing Assyria, Assyria’s retribution will be worse than anyone can imagine
- but God says not to fear because Aram and Israel are all used up, they are nothing But smoke and ashes—there is no fire in them
- and there is no need to ask Assyria for help as a result
- "Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “ ‘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. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’” (Isaiah 7:7–9, NIV)
- God clearly says the invasion will not happen
- it just won’t
- there is nothing to fear
- these people are weak and they can’t pull it off
- ILLUS. God is like a spy in the enemy camp. He can see the enemy forces and he reports that there is nothing to them.
- He tells them “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
- in the Hebrew it is a play on words that in English would go something like this: “If there is no belief, you will find no relief.”
- while this is taking place, while Isaiah speaks to Ahaz, there is a little boy who says nothing and does nothing
- the son of Isaiah, Shear-Jashub, stands quietly by his daddy
- yet his very presence gives the prophecy meaning
- his name means “a remnant shall return”
- what’s in a name that makes this so important?
- we name our children after the popular trend of our time; Hebrew names were given for a purpose
- ILLUS. The oldest person in the Bible was named Methuselah, which means “when he dies it will come.” Genesis 5 tells us that Methuselah lived 969 years. So whatever was supposed to come didn’t for a long time. Methuselah had a son whom he named Lamech when he was 187 years. That son had a son (Methuselah’s grandson) named Noah. Methuselah was 369 years old when Noah was born. Noah had three sons when he was 500 years old; Methuselah was then 869. It was in the 600th year of Noah’s life that the flood came upon the earth. Methuselah died that year at the age of 969. “When he dies it will come,” was proven correct. When Methuselah died, the flood came!
- now here is Shear-Jashub, standing like a prophecy before Ahaz
- “A remnant shall return” said two things to Ahaz
- on the one hand there was a promise that the people of Judah would not be completely wiped out, a fraction of the people will be saved
- on the other, the presence of the little boy spoke of disaster because something terrible would happen to leave only a remnant of the people
- simply by his presence, Shear-Jashub represents a promise that God can be trusted
III. MEET ME AT A PLACE OF TRUST (vv. 9-10)
- when God asks us to trust him, he asks that we meet him at a place of trust
- we have to show that we are willing to put everything in God’s hands
- then God is able to show us how trusting Him will benefit us beyond what we can imagine
- the place of meeting where Isaiah meets Ahaz carries this significance also
- Yahweh had told Isaiah to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field
- from our modern English perspective the meeting place means nothing
- careful investigation tells us that God had a purpose in this meeting place however
- why this spot?
- there was a double-meaning in the exact location God commanded for this meeting place
- remember in Isaiah’s commissioning that God said to Isaiah, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isa. 6:9-10)
- now Isaiah speaks and Ahaz must listen and hopefully perceive
- some things God says are clear as crystal but His people do not understand
- the word “pool” in Hebrew can also mean “blessing”
- in a dry and thirsty land like Palestine it is easy to see how a pool of water could be a blessing
- the word “upper” means more than a higher level of ground; it can also mean “the most high”
- put it together and we have “the blessing of the Most High”
- this meeting place west of Jerusalem was where God wanted Isaiah to make his promises
- beside this pool was the road to the Washerman’s Field
- the NASB properly translates “road as “highway”
- a highway in the OT always means an ascent
- in ch. 35 it is called the highway of holiness
- the symbol of a highway to the laundry man is the way to righteousness and moral cleansing
- when we put these two symbols together, the Upper Pool and the highway to the laundry man, we have a meeting of the “upward way of cleansing and of washing, meeting the downward flow of the channel of blessings of the Most High”
- what does that remind you of?
- we know that from the Gospels this can only be Jesus Christ
- He is the way of cleansing of our filthy rags and the blessing of the Most High
- do you see where this is going?
IV. BELIEVING IN A SIGN YOU CAN TRUST (vv. 10-15)
- God knew that Ahaz still had doubts about being spared an invasion, and so the Lord offered Ahaz some assurance
- “Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” (Isaiah 7:10–12, NRSV)
- Ahaz gives what sounds like a pious answer doesn’t it? It’s not right to put God to the test
- but in this case it is a sniveling, doubtful, cowardly excuse for a king who insults his God
- “Then Isaiah 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? 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.” (Isaiah 7:13–14, NIV)
- it is in this moment that Ahaz seals the fate of Judah
- he had sold out Judah to Assyria, to God’s enemies, and the future of Judah was doom
- Ahaz ensured that Judah would go into captivity, the nation would never recover, and Jesus would be born in poverty and obscurity
- God’s Son would be born of a virgin to fulfill this prophecy, and more importantly, this promise
- when Isaiah gives this sign he no longer addresses Ahaz as an individual, he addresses the house of David
- like Ahaz, Joseph is faced with a decision: trust God or go with conventional human wisdom
- Joseph decides to trust God and Matthew tells us this is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, of Immanuel’s coming
- in the birth of Jesus God will be with us
- this may sound like it should apply to Immanuel but this is a bit of a problem with our English
- how could Jesus’ birth 700 years later coincide with the destruction of Israel only years after Isaiah preached this?
- to whom does the “he” of verse 15 refer to?
- Shear-Jashub! —that’s why Isaiah brought along his little boy
- two sons and two signs
- one for now and one for later
- Shear-Jashub was a sign to the unbelieving king concerning the invasion of Judah
- that sign was the only comfort Ahaz could know is that “a remnant shall return.”
I have just told you a remarkable story. The greatest challenge we face in telling a story like this is how we are going to respond to it.
The questions that we ask now are crucial for how we go on from here.
Is God trustworthy?
Can you trust God?
When you are threatened by financial crisis, by family issues, rebellious teens, when your business is at risk, when your health is in jeopardy, can you trust God? Are you tempted to rely on your own resources, on conventional wisdom, or on the advice of those who are not of God? Do you believe that God will work out the problems in your life for his glory? Do you believe that what happens to you is above God’s ability to fix? Or do you trust that he is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine?
How can we know that God is trustworthy? Let me tell you, we know this through the birth of Jesus Christ who is God in the flesh. Jesus is the sign of God’s faithfulness.
The Bible tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. Do we take this seriously? I wonder.
Jesus’ birth was foretold 7 centuries before he walked the earth. Is that not sign enough to tell you that God has his eye on you and that he loves you and that he wants you to step up? We can trust him. He will not let us down.