Friday, 26 September 2014

(269) September 26: Isaiah 7-9 & Galatians 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider how the events look forward to Christ.

To ponder:
These events take place as Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel (also called “Ephraim” after it’s most prominent tribe) are allied against the southern kingdom of Judah, ruled by king Ahaz. Although they are unable to take Jerusalem, Ahaz and his people are shaken (7v1-2). By commissioning Isaiah and his son (whose name means “a remnant will return”) to meet Ahaz, he is no doubt wanting him to realise that through faith, the people can survive. And so Isaiah urges Ahaz not to be afraid, describing the allies as smouldering firewood – ie. not particularly dangerous. He acknowledges that they are seeking Ahaz’s ruin, wanting to invade Judah and place their own king over it. But God declares through Isaiah that this won’t happen because Aram’s capital and king are not an especially significant power. Indeed, he also predicts that within 65 years the northern kingdom will be shattered (through their coming exile), similarly, because its capital and king aren’t an especially significant either. He adds that unless Ahaz is able to trust him in faith to protect him and his people, he will not be able to “stand” – ie. he will remain terrified (as 7v2) and eventually be defeated. Yet God is gracious: Accounting for Ahaz’s weakness, he urges him to ask for whatever sign he wants, in order to boost his faith that God is with him (7v3-11).
Foolishly, Ahaz refuses, and spiritualizes this as not wanting to test God. In reality, he is not even willing to try to trust God’s word, because he knows that might mean facing up to his enemies. Isaiah’s response is stark, and addressed to the kingly line. Ahaz is trying God’s patience, and in response God will give his own sign anyway: A woman who at the time was a virgin, will conceive and bear a son called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (7v12-14). Because of the ruin due to come on Judah, he will be destined to eat only curds and honey even when old enough to know right and wrong (7v15, see 7v22). Yet, even before that, and so in the next few years, God will lay waste the lands of the allies Ahaz fears, and then move the Assyrian empire against Judah too, bringing on them a time worse than any since the kingdom split after Solomon (7v13-17). This detail means that we cannot jump straight from 7v14 to its fulfilment in Christ (Matt 1v23). Most likely, it initially referred to Isaiah’s son via the prophetess, who would have been a virgin at the time the sign was foretold (compare 8v4 with 7v16). Matthew’s point is that just as in the days of Isaiah, Jesus’ birth is a sign of God coming in judgement against his people whilst calling them to trust him. The challenge is for us to do what Ahaz couldn’t, and so escape destruction.
            Isaiah continues with imagery that describes God calling Egypt and Assyria to ruin the land and humiliate the people. All they will be left to eat is curds from milk and honey (bringing the prediction about the son to pass) because vineyards and fields will be covered with briers and thorns (7v18-25). In then telling Isaiah to write the name meaning “quick to the plunder” on a scroll witnessed by others, God formalizes this prophecy as certain. And so the sign is fulfilled as the prophetess gives birth to a son, and God predicts the capitals of Aram and Ephraim will be carried off by Assyria before he can say father and mother. By naming him “quick to plunder” God also stresses this will happen (8v1-4). He then speaks again: Because the people considered his help like a mere gentle stream, and so rejected it, whilst rejoicing that the kings of Aram and Ephraim will be destroyed (no doubt when they should have lamented it), he will bring Assyria like a mighty floodwater drowning Judah, the land in which Immanuel lives.
But here there is an interesting change. Because Immanuel is a sign that God is with his people, whatever destruction they must suffer in the short term, they can be sure God will not abandon them. And so the prophecy calls the nations to prepare for battle whilst declaring that they will be shattered (8v8-10), and with great intensity (strong hand) God warns Isaiah not to follow the people in paranoid fear at plots against them. Instead, he is to fear God, who is almighty and so fully able to be a sanctuary to those who trust in him. However, for both kingdoms of Israel, he will be a stone they stumble over, in the sense that their attitude to him will bring their downfall in being broken and snared (8v11-15). Jesus makes just this point about himself, implying he saw himself as God (Matt 21v44, Rom 9v33). To reject him is extremely serious. But to trust him removes fear.
In the light of all this, Isaiah commits himself and the prophets who followed him as disciples to keep God’s law (or perhaps hold to the word God had given), trust God and wait for his deliverance. He declares how he and his sons named “remnant will return” and “quick to the plunder” (7v3, 8v3) are signs and symbols of what God has promised. He then seems to address his disciples in telling them not to give into pressure to consult mediums, who do not speak according to God’s word; promising that they, or those who consult them, will end up starving, cursing their king and God, before experiencing the darkness of death and what lies beyond (8v18-22). It’s a warning against giving up on God and seeking help elsewhere in times of trial.
We have little space for the famous chapter 9. Here we see clearly that there is more to Immanuel than Isaiah’s son. The hope for those who hold out in faith will come from Galilee, dispelling the darkness of despair and death with light. What follows is a promise of enlargement of the nation, joy, deliverance from oppressors, and a child born to rule as the everlasting God with wisdom, bringing peace, and fulfilling God’s promise to David by forever reigning on his throne with justice and righteousness – and all achieved by the LORD (9v1-7). Here we see that Judah’s exile ended not when the people returned, as they continued to be oppressed. It ended with the coming of Christ and the kingdom to come.
The rest of the chapter states that there would be no restoration for the northern kingdom, because God maintained his anger against them (9v8-12). Indeed, because the people hadn’t returned to him when experiencing his judgement, their leaders and prophets who mislead them would be cut off, and all the people suffer because they all acted wickedly. Indeed, just as wickedness consumes, so would God’s wrath, causing the northern kingdom to fight amongst itself and then turn against Judah (9v13-21).
Praying it home:       
Praise God for the deliverance from all oppression enjoyed through Christ. Pray that when faced with trial and the enemies of darkness, you would not fear or not look anywhere but Christ for help.

Thinking further:
None today.

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