The seventh chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy is a story of threat and counter-threat, alliance and subversiveness, and vassalage. Aram and Israel have invited Judah to form an alliance with them against the growing menace of Assyria—the region’s new superpower. King Ahaz of Judah refused, leading Aram, Israel, and perhaps Edom and Philistia to attack Judah. Ahaz had to choose between political alliances with these weak kings to his north or submission to the Assyrians. This led to one of the classic confrontations between prophet and king (Isa. 7:1-25). Ahaz’s choice is between trusting God or trusting in his own ability to play the power games of international politics. Ahaz chose to trust Tiglath-Pileser III rather than God. He calls upon Tiglath-pileser of Assyria for protection against Aram and Israel. That part of the story is found in 2 Kings, chapter 16.
“Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem and besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him. At that time, Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram by driving out the men of Judah. Edomites then moved into Elath and have lived there to this day. Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death.” (2 Kings 16:5–9, NIV)
The Assyrians responded to Ahaz’s invitation swiftly, moving westward, conquering Damascus in 732 BC and killing King Rezin of Aram. The Assyrians also captured all of Galilee and Gilead from Israel which Isaiah had predicted: “The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 7:17, NIV). Assyria would altogether obliterate Israel ten years later in 722 BC and the ten tribes disappeared from history in mass deportations. Judah lasted longer—until 587 BC when Jerusalem’s walls and Temple were razed by a Babylonian army.
Ahaz’s petition to Tiglath-pileser III came at a price. When Assyria responded to Ahaz’s plea for help, she swept down to crush both Damascus and Samaria, and then turned on Judah, her ally! Tiglath-Pileser came against Ahaz and “gave him trouble instead of help” (2 Chr. 28:20). Ahaz was forced to strip the land of its wealth to buy off Assyria (2 Chr. 28:21) and Judah became in effect a satellite nation that reflected the policy of its powerful neighbor.
Bitterly angry at God, Ahaz closed the Jerusalem temple, stripped it of its remaining treasures, and cut up even the golden vessels dedicated to God’s worship. From this time forward, Judah would never really be free.
Chapter 8 begins with an announcement of destruction—the people will walk in darkness. But chapter 9 begins with an announcement of deliverance—the people who have walked in darkness will see a great light.