Seven Centuries Before Christmas
The Adoration of the Shepherds
Events Leading to the Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14
In the year 735 B.C., Ahaz began to reign over the small kingdom of Judah, at the age of 20 (2 Kings 16:1-2, 2 Chronicles 28:1). Ahaz was a descendant of King David, to whom God had promised that his house, his throne, and his kingdom would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Chronicles 17:14).
But unlike David, Ahaz displeased God: he worshipped many idols, and he even burned his children to them as offerings (2 Kings 16:2-4, 2 Chronicles 28:2-4).
Shortly after Ahaz became king of Judah, Pekah the king of Israel and Rezin the king of Syria besieged Jerusalem, the capital of Judah (2 Kings 16:5-6, 2 Chronicles 28:5-8, Isaiah 7:1). Their intention was to set a new king (Isaiah 7:6), possibly so this new king would help them in their campaign against Assyria.
When the house of David (David’s descendants, including Ahaz) and the people of Judah learned that Pekah and Rezin had come to war against Israel, they were very afraid (Isaiah 7:2). Eventually, King Ahaz would resolve to ask Tiglath-pileser III, the king of Assyria, for help against Pekah and Rezin (2 Kings 16:7-8; 2 Chronicles 28:16-21), which would end in Judah become a vassal state to Assyria. Nevertheless, the Lord sent Isaiah and his son Shearjashub to speak to Ahaz.
The Message Leading to the Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14
God had a message for Ahaz: Pekah and Rezin’s plans to depose Ahaz would not succeed (Isaiah 7:4-7). Israel (Ephraim) would cease to be a people within 65 years, a prophecy which would be fulfilled after Assyria captured Samaria, the capital of Israel, in 722 B.C., and took the Israelites into exile, and repopulated Samaria with foreigners (2 Kings 17:6, 24).
In Isaiah 7:7-9, God also tells Ahaz that Rezin is the head of Damascus, the capital of Syria, and that Pekah is the head of Samaria, the capital of Israel. Perhaps God was hinting that both Rezin and Pekah were vulnerable, since both of them would be murdered in 732 B.C. (2 Kings 15:30, 2 Kings 16:9).
God then instructed Ahaz to request a sign in the depth or in the height (in hell or in heaven). According to Strong’s Concordance, the word translated as sign, the Hebrew word ‘owth, can refer to an omen, a distinguishing mark, and a miraculous sign. Clearly, God was telling Ahaz to request something out of the norm, something unusual: a miracle.
Nevertheless, Ahaz refused to ask for a sign (Isaiah 7:12). His pretext was that he did not want to tempt God (Deuteronomy 6:15), nevertheless his refusal to obey God’s word was taken as disobedience (Isaiah 7:13).
For this reason, God decided to give David’s house (not just Ahaz, but all of David’s descendants) a sign of his own (Isaiah 7:14): an almah, a young woman who culturally was a virgin, would conceive and deliver a child, and the child’s name would be called Immanuel (which means, God is with us).
The child would eat curds and honey until he would be old enough to discern between right and wrong; and by then, both Israel and Syria would have been forsaken by both its kings. In fact, Israel was conquered by Assyria in 722 B.C., and Syria fell to Assyria also in 732 B.C.
Moreover, God warned Ahaz that Judah itself would fall to Assyria (Isaiah 7:17-20). The land would be so desolate, that there would be no more farming in it, and the people would use it to hunt and to feed their cattle (Isaiah 7:21-25). In fulfillment of this prophecy, Assyria attacked Judah in 701 B.C. Jerusalem was not destroyed, but many other cities were.
The Significance of Shearjashub
Nevertheless, God’s message to Ahaz and the house of David would be incomplete if we did not take into account that God had sent to Ahaz not only Isaiah, but also Isaiah’s son: Shearjashub. According to Strong’s Concordance, Shearjashub’s name means a remnant shall return.
Why would that matter? Why would God tell Judah that a remnant would return? The reason is that Judah would also be taken away captive, but not by Assyria, but by Babylon (2 Kings 24:1, 8-16); and they would not return to Jerusalem until 537 B.C. God was assuring the house of David that despite all that would transpire, the house of David would return to Jerusalem.
Thus, the sign of Immanuel, the sign that would indicate to the house of David that God was with them, would not take place until further in the future. By the time Immanuel was born, Israel would have ceased to be a people, Pekah and Rezin would have died, Assyria would have oppressed Judah, and Judah would have returned from its own captivity in Babylon.
Moreover, the people of Israel would have resettled in the land, and Immanuel would eat the food that was customary for children of the region: curds and honey.
Thus, while Ahaz was concerned about his present distress, the conflict between Judah and the coalition of Israel and Syria, God was not only speaking to Ahaz, but also to all the house of David. God wanted David’s house to know that although distressing times were coming, God would keep the house of David until the coming of a child who would demonstrate to them that God was with them.
The Significance of Maher-Shalal-Hash-baz
Now, a child was born to the prophetess, Isaiah’s wife, in Isaiah 8:3. The name of the child was Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which according to Strong’s Concordance means speedy booty. This child’s birth signified that soon, even before the child knew how to call his father and his mother, Israel and Syria would fall before Assyria. Nevertheless, this did not signify to the house of David that God was with them, for Assyria would also occupy Judah, the land of Immanuel (Isaiah 8:5-8).
Moreover, the birth of Maher-shalal-has-baz was not a miraculous sign. Isaiah clarifies that Maher-shalal-has-baz was the product of Isaiah having intercourse with his wife, the prophetess (Isaiah 8:3).
Also, the prophetess is the only wife of Isaiah identified in the Bible. If she then was the mother of Shear-jashub, the prophetess was not an almah (for almah cannot refer to a married woman with children), so she could not be the mother of Immanuel.
In fact, according to Isaiah 8:9-10, the nations would eventually fail to in their plans because “God is with us” (Immanuel). Clearly, Immanuel’s name is associated with victory beyond Judah’s conflicts with Israel, Syria, Assyria, and even Babylon.
The Significance of Immanuel's Birth
Immanuel (whose name means that God is with the house of David to preserve them and to fulfill His promise to David concerning his house, his kingdom, and his throne; and who is also associated with the failure of the nations to destroy God’s people, specifically the house of David) cannot refer to the child of Isaiah 8:3, whose birth foretold that Israel, Syria, and Judah would fall before Assyria. Instead, it must refer to the birth of another child, of a child who would be a great light, a great joy, and a great deliverer (Isaiah 9:2-4), a child who would be born to rule (Isaiah 9:6) over the throne and the house of David for ever (Isaiah 9:7). His would be a miraculous birth, brought about by the zeal of the Lord (Isaiah 9:7).
Approximately between the years 4 and 6 A.D., a young woman not yet married was given news by an angel: she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-21). This was truly a miraculous birth to a young family of the house of David: the child was born without the need of a human father, among a people who had been restored to their land and who had been preserved from many enemies. The name of the child was Jesus, and according to the Gospel of Matthew, his birth fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, and let the house of David know that God was with them, for the Messiah had come.
Questions for Reflection
Why would Isaiah 7:14 not refer to the prophetess and to Maher-shalal-hash-baz in Isaiah 8:3?
How does the name of Shearjashub indicate that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 does not concern only the attack on Jerusalem by Israel and Syria?
How do we know that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 must refer to the baby whose birth is announced in Isaiah 9:6?
Why is Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus reliable?
Take time to praise God because in Jesus Christ He fulfilled the promises He made to David and to Israel concerning the Messiah, and because He loved the world so much He sent His Son, Jesus, to this world to show us the way.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Marcelo Carcach