Isaiah's Prophecy

| Isaiah 7:10-14; 9:6-7; 11:1-5 | November 25, 2018

Week of December 2, 2018

The Point:  The birth of Jesus was no mere circumstance. It was planned by God.

The Sign of Immanuel:  Isaiah 7:10-14.

[10] Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, [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] And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? [14] Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.   [ESV]

[7:10-14].  “It does not seem that any time elapsed before Yahweh, using His inspired spokesman as His intermediary, again … spoke to Ahaz in the presence of the royal entourage while they were still inspecting the city water supply. It is, however, a mark of divine grace that there is this further challenge to Ahaz to exercise faith, and that in it Yahweh still presents Himself as your God. Furthermore, Yahweh caters to the spiritual immaturity of Ahaz by offering to perform a sign. The purpose to this sign was to authenticate Isaiah’s message by the immediate occurrence of an event which could only be the product of divine agency. The sign was designed to show that Yahweh possessed the power to fulfil His promises. Ahaz refuses: I will not ask. He did not want to be coerced by any sign, no matter how spectacular, into a course of action he had already rejected. He would do things his own way. But at the same time the seeming piety of his response would not offend any in his entourage who had religious scruples: I will not put the Lord to the test. This was forbidden by the law of Moses [Deut. 6:16], and no one could find fault with Ahaz for declining to do so. This was, however, seriously to misread the situation. Yahweh, as your God, had offered the choice to Ahaz. It was not a case of an unbelieving individual seeking to coerce God and demanding that He prove Himself. Rather it was flagrant disobedience not to comply with the proposal put before him. Ahaz, however, did not want to be convinced. Although it is not mentioned in Isaiah, the king would shortly petition the King of Assyria for help, saying to Tiglath-Pileser, I am your servant and your son [2 Kings 16:7-8]. At the time of crisis when a choice had to be made, Ahaz did not opt for trust in Yahweh, but instead hardened his heart and chose to walk by sight, not by faith. Isaiah, in frustration, responds to the king: Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? [13]. When, after God has given repeated warnings, His long-suffering is exhausted, then it is only judgment that can be expected. Therefore frequently introduces a statement of judgment arising out of what has preceded. That seems to be the case here also – though it is judgment which clears the way for the furtherance of God’s redemptive purpose. Ahaz, as the representative of the house of David, has faced the divine challenge to trust, and has failed it. He has spurned the offer of a sign, but a sign they will have. However, it will not be one of divine favor towards the existing representatives of the house of David. The sign is one chosen by the Lord himself. The term used here for Lord emphasizes His sovereign omnipotence over the created realm, whereas the name Yahweh points to His covenant commitment. Even so, covenantal considerations are still evident. Ahaz’s line is doomed, but Yahweh gives a sign to be realized in the future that bears the unmistakable mark of its divine origin. The destiny of David’s dynasty will be assured through miraculous divine intervention. Behold calls attention to a matter requiring the closest attention. The word translated virgin never denotes a married woman, but a girl of marriageable age. Although it is not a technical term for virginity as such. It comes as close to expressing this as any Hebrew word does. The sign is one that points to an event of supernatural origin: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. Understanding this as a prediction of a virgin birth provides an undoubted counterpart to the sign declined in verse 12, and displays Yahweh’s ability to work out His covenant promise notwithstanding the apostasy of mankind. It is also specifically predicted that the virgin … shall call his name Immanuel. This fits in with the description being that of a virgin birth. Generally naming a child was the father’s responsibility, but without a human father involved the duty falls on the mother. She shows her awareness of the significance of her son by naming him Immanuel (‘with us, God’). This name is repeated in 8:8 in a reference to Immanuel as the possessor of the land, and there is a further play on it in 8:10, where he is the source of the land’s security. Although, names in the Old Testament frequently incorporate statements about God, this one is distinctive in its incorporation of a plural first-person element to refer to his people (‘with us’). The name is not used elsewhere in the Old Testament, but it undoubtedly refers to the same individual whose birth is foretold in 9:6 and 11:1. The import of the name goes beyond expressing awareness of God’s help extended to His people, and foreshadows the incarnation of God on earth as uniquely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The future of God’s promise of salvation for His people did not depend on Ahaz. He had rejected Yahweh, but God would still act in a way bearing His unique imprint to fulfil His promise and provide for His people. The sign is one of judgment against Ahaz, but a grand and glorious pledge to those who trust the one who gave it.”  [Mackay, pp. 193-202].

The Child with Four Names:  Isaiah 9:6-7.

[6] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.   [ESV]

[9:6-7].  “The third explanation of the rejoicing foreseen in 9:3 is again introduced by for, and presents the most fundamental aspect of the situation. The prophet has revealed to him in vision the royal agent through whom Yahweh will transform His people’s fortunes. The one whose miraculous birth had been foretold in 7:14 is now further described in terms of his character and activity. When Isaiah first delivered this prophecy, the child had not yet been born, but in the visionary perspective of a prophet he associates himself with those who will rejoice over this birth after it has already occurred. The first line of the verse does not need to point to anything more than a normal human birth, but in the parallelism of the second line the birth announcement is elaborated and heightened by the passive is given, which denotes divine agency and purpose in the matter. To us shows that the child’s birth is for the advantage of those for whom Isaiah speaks – that is, the believing remnant of the nation. Principally this future figure of a child and a son is presented as a ruler: the government shall be upon his shoulder. On him will devolve the responsibilities of maintaining the security of Yahweh’s people and providing for their needs. The burden will no longer be on their shoulder [9:4], but on his. The focus is on the name that he will be called. The fulfilment of this prophecy in Jesus Christ does not require that He should actually be called by this name, only that His character and career should realize the terms of the description. It is only in Him that the substance of what is predicted has been translated into fact. This is what informs the angelic announcement to Mary [Luke 1:32-33]. So vast is the potential of the child to be born that four double descriptions have to be employed to do justice to all that He is. Since the first element of the fourfold name consists of two nouns, it is sometimes treated as two separate items, ‘Wonder’, ‘Counselor’. But it is preferable to take it as one combined title in the same way as the others clearly are. Wonderful indicates that which transcends human understanding and experience. It is the extraordinary and the supernatural, and is used of Yahweh Himself in 28:29. The one being described here as ‘a wonder of a counselor’ is divinely extraordinary, and stands apart from others. This Counselor has the wisdom that permits him to carry out his office completely [11:2], possessing within himself the capacity to understand and assess situations and to formulate appropriate policies to cope with them. In the light of the immediately preceding military context, it may especially be his strategic ability to gain victory that is in view. The second element in the name points out that the child will be mighty, like a heroic soldier, and so will be able to implement his policies for the defense and well-being of his people. This arises from the fact that he is also God. This title can be realized in nothing less than the divine nature of the one described, and contrasts with the earlier child is born, which point to his humanity. While Isaiah states the combination, he does not explain how it will be achieved. Everlasting Father occasions some difficulty if the text is approached in terms of Trinitarian characteristics. To us it seems confused and confusing to call the Messiah, the Son, Father. But the Old Testament description is not couched in Trinitarian terms. ‘Father’ expresses the role of a king as he exercises care and concern on behalf of his people, a care modeled on that of God. Unlike the reign of even the most outstanding of earthly monarchs, this royal child will exercise his role eternally. The final element in the title, Prince of Peace, clearly designates the one to be born. The term ‘prince’ clearly echoes ‘government’, which occurs earlier in the verse and at the beginning of the following verse. This designates the Prince as the one whose whole administration nurtures his people and provides them with all they require for their well-being. It is not to be misunderstood as depicting him as so placatory as to permit anything. He provides Peace, a total security which transcends and eclipses the social, political and economic achievements of a merely temporal government. In verse 7 there are three important assertions made regarding the rule of the coming king. In the first four lines of the verse the emphasis is on the limitless nature of his regime. There will be no end probably refers to an absence of temporal curtailment. Increase refers to the way in which his government, or princely administration, will extend (by implication from a small beginning) to fill the earth, and in so doing will bring with it the blessings of his peace. The Messiah will fill the office of the Davidic king perfectly, and so will consummate the covenant promises made to David. The contrast with an apostate king such as Ahaz is very evident. Indeed it is noteworthy that the coming child is not called ‘a king’, as if that term had been tainted by those who had recently held royal office. It is not just extensiveness that is attributed to his realm; justice and righteousness are too. The supreme virtues of kingship which are also the foundations of the divine throne will be not just an ideal to be aimed at, but living reality achieved by the one who will be a more than worthy successor to David or Solomon at their best. Again this presents a sad contrast with what prevailed in Jerusalem in Isaiah’s day. From this time forth and forevermore stresses that, while earthly monarchs inevitably pass away, there will be no termination to the blessings this king will bestow on his subjects. The guarantee that all this will come to pass is the zeal of the Lord of hosts – that is, His committed love which is backed by power. Zeal, or jealousy, relates to the passionate and unremitting pledge of Yahweh to those whom he has chosen. He will brook no rival in their attachment to Him, nor will He permit anything to thwart His purpose for His people. So, to keep His own reputation unsullied, and to restore and maintain the faithfulness of those He has made His own, He sends them the messianic king. It will take a miracle to effect the needed transformation in the people, but that is just what Yahweh will provide.”   [Mackay, pp. 240-246].

The Messiah’s Endowment with the Spirit:  Isaiah 11:1-5.

[1] There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. [2] And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. [3] And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, [4] but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. [5] Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.   [ESV]

[11:1-5]. “[1]  Yahweh will again provide for His people not so much another king from David’s line as another David who will eventually become king. There will be a significant discontinuity between the present, frequently arrogant and unfaithful, dynasty and the messianic Son of David whom Yahweh will send. The word for branch indicates the greenness of the growth. Yahweh will intervene in such a way as to bring from his roots – that is, from the line of Jesse – the one who will fulfil the promise given to David. It is particularly emphasized that this final representative of David’s line shall bear fruit. He will achieve what Yahweh has planned and will realize the potential of his situation. [2-3a]  It is not just through his royal descent that the new ruler is equipped for office. He will be divinely endowed so that he surpasses any king of the ancient Davidic lineage. The Spirit of God came upon various individuals in the Old Testament to provide them with divine resources of energy, power, courage or skill to perform the tasks that were allotted them. It was envisaged in the messianic era that such Spirit-endowment would come upon all the people of God. When the Spirit came upon kings such as Saul and David, there was always the possibility of the Spirit in this empowering capacity being withdrawn. The fact that the Spirit shall rest upon him indicates the permanence of this communication of aptitude and ability to the Messiah, who will not act independently of divine support, but will constantly draw on it and so be enlivened by the Spirit. The Spirit provides the Messiah with wisdom. Although this term may indicate a practical competence, the dominant thought here is the intellectual ability to think about life in general with insight and moral sensitivity. Understanding, or perception, perhaps relates more to particular circumstances and relationships, to the ability to identify key issues and the impact of specific intervention in affairs. Unlike Israel, who did not understand [1:3] and who did not perceive [6:9], the messianic king will excel in these characteristics for which Solomon was renowned [1 Kings 3:9-12]. Counsel is the skill in applying general knowledge to specific sets of circumstances and in making competent plans. It is obviously the product of wisdom and understanding. Might is the capacity to execute the decisions that have been arrived at. Both the ability to make decisions and the decisiveness and strength of purpose to carry them through are required for effective rule. Knowledge is here related closely to the fear of the Lord, and together they denote the absolute loyalty to God which characterizes a life of piety lived in accordance with the divine will. The Messiah will be so enabled by the Spirit to understand the will and way of God that His reverential walk before God will exemplify the right life-relationship between creature and Creator. So loyalty to the covenant and respect for the covenant King will motivate all His conduct. The first line of verse 3 summarizes the preceding description by playing on the similarity between the Spirit and his delight. This brings out the fact that the action of the Spirit is reciprocated in the Messiah’s satisfaction in the role assigned to Him and in acting in the way expected of Him. It is not an imposition, but a matter of personal fulfilment and gratification. He is the ruler who is perfectly equipped for the task allotted Him and who responds appropriately to what Yahweh gives to Him. It was a distinctive feature of Israelite kingship that it was not an absolute monarchy; their king was always answerable to Yahweh. [3b-5]  The second part of verse 3 moves on from the qualities of the Messiah into describing how these will be revealed in the conduct and policies he adopts. It is probable that the four lines in 11:3b-4a reflect on the first pair of endowments listed in 11:2, the last two lines of 11:4 comment on the second pair and 11:5 on the third pair. The two terms, judge and decide, are also found together in 1:17-18 and 2:4. Here the combination shows that the rule of Yahweh in the end of the days will be exercised through the Spirit-endowed ruler. Judge is not confined to the determination of judicial cases, but includes the whole decision-making process of His administration. In this He will not focus on outward appearances, or rely on reports brought to Him by others. His insight and ability will enable Him to reach decisions that go to the heart of the matter and display penetrating impartiality. This ruler fears God and seeks His approval, not the plaudits and favors of mankind. Unswayed by the pleadings of the powerful, the Messiah will give due attention to the rights of the poor and weak who are without the resources or influence to obtain justice for themselves. The meek of the earth refers to the attitude of those who have been weighed down by external circumstances and who have learned to live in dependent trust on Yahweh for their relief and vindication. Righteousness and equity characterize the way in which the Messiah will determine their affairs, and in this He reflects the attitude of God. The rule of the Messiah will not just be a matter of reaching irreproachable verdicts; He will also enforce them. Strike the earth with the rod seems here to refer to educational, corrective discipline, an impression which is reinforced by his mouth. However, the Messiah’s action will go beyond that in the case of those who have stubbornly rejected His message. With the breath of his lips conveys the effortlessness with which His decisions will be translated into action. He shall kill the wicked shows how effective his action will be towards the unrepentant. The term wicked has specifically in view those who abuse their power or status to act in an immoral fashion or with violence. Such behavior will be eliminated from the kingdom of the Messiah. In many respects this description is reflected in Paul’s description of the end of the lawless one whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming [2 Thess. 2:8]. The description of His rule ends with a picture of the Messiah ready to work. The belt of his waist was a belt of cloth used to gather up long robes in preparation for activity. The Messiah’s outward appearance is consistent with the inward reality of His person and with His regal conduct. It is a display of righteousness, that which conforms to the standards of Yahweh, and faithfulness, conduct which holds unswervingly to the divinely ordained path.”  [Mackay, pp. 288-296].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What do we learn about God and Ahaz in 7:10-14? What attributes of God do we see? Why did Ahaz reject the offer of a sign? Why is his statement in verse 12 an indication of false piety? Why does God give a sign anyway? What is the meaning of the sign that God gives? How does it have a double meaning: one for Ahaz and one for God’s people?
  2. The Son promised in 7:14 is now described in terms of his character and activity. What do these four names tell us about the promised Son? What do the terms peace, justice, and righteousness add to the description of this Son?
  3. What additional characteristics of the promised Son do we find in 11:1-5? What is his delight? Why is it important that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him? What three paired description is given of the Spirit’s work in this Son? How will this Son use these gifts of the Spirit to accomplish his God-given task?
  4. These three passages from Isaiah make an excellent Advent season devotional for you and your family.

References:

Isaiah, vol. 1, John Mackay, Evangelical Press.

The Prophecy of Isaiah, J. Alec Motyer, Inter Varsity.

The Book of Isaiah, vol. 1, Edward Young, Eerdmans.