Isaiah 7:1-17 is without question famous for its wide use around the Christmas season; because it is in this passage where we find one of the most well known prophesies of the birth of Jesus, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” I believe God has an exquisite meal for us in this text that will meet us exactly where we are. So let me set the table for you by walking through this passage so we can enjoy this meal together.
7:1-2 – “In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. 2When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”
The stage is set. King Uzziah has died (6:1), and Ahaz, his grandson, now sits as king on the throne of Judah, and it seems like right away we become aware of a problem: two nations have made an alliance. Israel ruled by Pekah and Syria ruled by Rezin. These two allies are coming to wage war against Judah. Even though they’re not quite ready to attack Jerusalem, you get the feeling that it’s coming soon. We read in 7:2 that “Syria is in league with Ephraim, and “the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind .” It appears that some kind of treaty has taken place between these two nations and the people living in Ephraim, implying that Pekah and Rezin have made camp within the borders of Israel.
When the word of this treaty went public, it went fast and it went everywhere, and struck fear into the hearts of Ahaz and the citizens of Judah. This is not meant to be taken as a minor detail. This “shaking” was intense because the same Hebrew word (nua) is used earlier in 6:4 referring to the temple “shaking” due to the heavenly voices crying out as they saw the Lord on His throne. This was the first time the throne of David and the city of Jerusalem had actually been in peril. The shaking was so intense that it was not only the people who shook, but the king as well. “The heart of Ahaz shook” it says. This reveals Ahaz’s underlying sin, fear due to a lack of faith in God to protect them from Rezin and Pekah. He should have trusted God because in God’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7) Ahaz has a clear word from God about the protection covering David’s house. Yet Ahaz shook with fear at the coalition coming against him, and as he shook, so did the people.
Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
This verse is stunning is it not? Everytime we speak God’s Word it will never return to Him void, but will always accomplish His purpose! When you think about this, it does not say what God’s purposes are does it? We can say that all people will have one of two responses to God’s Word upon hearing it. How can we say that? 2 Cor 2:15-16 says, “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.” Therefore one response is salvation and the other response is condemnation. All people will respond in one of the two ways. My question therefore becomes: Does God ordain (purpose) condemnation through His Word? Or to put it another way: When God’s Word goes out of my mouth, will God act so a person hears His Word as the aroma of death; so that my sharing the gospel to them would actually be the means God uses to condemn them? The answer is simple, but hard to swallow.
Yes, God does do this.
To whom? All those who are not elect. But, we ought to make it clear that we do not know who the elect are and who they are not, so we preach to everyone, hoping for salvation and praying that God’s Word would be the aroma of life to them. Far be it from us to pray and hope that God’s Word would be the aroma of death to someone upon leaving our mouths!
Ever since the 1700’s critical and liberal scholars have had a field day with the authorship of Isaiah. I say “ever since then” because before that time no one seriously questioned the authorship or unity of the book. In the 1700’s scholars decided that Isaiah was written by two people, and divided the book into two sections. They say the first section, 1-39, was written by Isaiah himself and the last section, 40-66, was written by a disciple of Isaiah often called “deteuro-Isaiah”. This began the de-coiling of the unity of Isaiah. The unity further de-coiled in the 1800’s with a new hypothesis. Scholars then said 3 people wrote Isaiah. 1-39 was by Isaiah, 40-55 by deteuro-Isaiah, and 56-66 by tripto-Isaiah, which means a “third” Isaiah. As well as making these separations in authorship, the dates they were giving Isaiah were moving earlier and earlier. They began around 700 BC, and now they’ve moved up to around 450-400 BC.
In our modern day, there has been a good progression in thought concerning these things. Rather than trying to show that the book of Isaiah is not unified, there have been many efforts to show that Isaiah is a unified work. Modern critical scholars have said that there is a unity within Isaiah, but there is a twist to its unity. Rather than saying that Isaiah wrote the whole thing himself, they say that the book was redacted by a group of Isaiah’s disciples, who collected his works and put them together in a collection. The number of authors continues to be added on as well. Conservative scholars have mostly remained the same throughout the years. They think Isaiah wrote the whole book himself (even the second and third sections), which brings a complete unity to the book. But they do think that Isaiah could have began his book (1-39) around 700 BC and finished it (40-66) around 500-400, because of the Assyrian nature of the first section and the Babylonian nature of the second. Now, I should say that 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66 do indeed sound different, but do we have to assume from this that someone other than Isaiah wrote these later sections? Not at all.
I think there is a deeper issue at stake as well. If someone dates the book of Isaiah post-exile rather than pre-exile, the nature of prophecy is impinged and the character of God is brought into question. Meaning that, the presupposed belief behind a later date (post-exile) of Isaiah is that God cannot predict the future, while the presupposed belief behind an early date (pre-exile) of Isaiah is that God can indeed predict the future. God claims to be able to do this all throughout Isaiah, especially in 40-55. Therefore if God cannot predict the future, when He claims to be able to do so, He cannot be trusted and is no different than the idols He contrasts Himself with in Isaiah 40-55. The questioning of God’s character that takes place when one gives Isaiah a later, post-exilic dating of the book is precisely why I think such a date is so dangerous. This is why I think an earlier, pre-exilic date of Isaiah is correct.