MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.15
Isa 7:10,11 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
There are two things about signs in Scripture, both of which seem to go against popular understanding. The first is that God is not put off when His people ask for signs and is not averse to providing a sign for them. The second is that despite the fact that God gives signs, people are notoriously bad at responding to them.
Gideon is an example of the first when an angel came to him: “Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” (Jud 6:17). The angel then set fire to the offering Gideon presented. Pharaoh is the classic O.T. example of someone responding badly to God’s signs: “though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you.” (Ex 7:3,4). In John’s Gospel Jesus berated the Jews for their unbelief: “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (Jn 6:26). ‘Signs’ are really for people with open hearts.
There is a third thing we should note about God’s signs and it is that often the signs is an “afterwards sign”. For instance when Moses was asking for guidance the Lord told him: “And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Ex 3:12). In other words when you have done it and find yourself back here, that will be a sign that it was me leading you! We find something similar in this passage in Isaiah.
In our verse today, the Lord asks Isaiah to ask for a sign. Now that is incredibly gracious. The Lord is willing to help Ahaz’s unbelief and is willing to do something to reassure him. The Lord knows our frailty and is willing to help us in it. Perhaps one of the most famous instances of this is Gideon’s fleece (Jud 6:36-). Twice the Lord did what Gideon asked for. I have always felt that it was a sign of immaturity to go asking the Lord for signs, but in reality we are frail people and we are called to a life of faith and not sight (2 Cor 5:7) and the Lord does not chide those who ask for such confirmation. In fact in chapter 7 of Isaiah He chides Ahaz for not asking! “Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” (7:13)
It is at this point that the Lord says that HE will provide a sign even though Ahaz will not ask for one: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 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.” (7:14-17)
Now most people miss a large part of this ‘sign’. It is not merely the child; it is also what happens in his early years. Yes, this is the verse that Matthew picks up and applies to Mary (Mt 1:23) and the child will be Jesus. Here, however, a child will be born to a young woman but before this child is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, the Lord will bring Assyria to deal with the two kings opposing him – and on Ahaz’s land! In other words, when this has happened, Ahaz will know that this was not an accident, but the discipline of the Lord. He can take it as a sign of the Lord’s dealing with him and (implied) he will then need to put his life right with the Lord.
Ahaz’s failure to ask for a sign, when asked by the Lord, was an indication of his state of unbelief, and it was that unbelief that the Lord was moving against. Do we see that? The Lord is going to discipline Ahaz but the intent of the discipline is to bring him back into a right relationship of belief with the Lord, which his father had had. Because the Lord wants Ahaz to learn from it, He tells him before it happens what He is going to do, so that when it does happen it will act as a sign to Ahaz of the Lord’s activity that should bring him to his senses. Tragically, the record, that we looked at in the previous mediation, reveals that Ahaz didn’t learn and went from bad to worse, but he could never say, when he faced the Lord in eternity, that he didn’t know.
Oh no, when each of us comes before the Lord, when our time on earth comes to an end, we will never be able to say we didn’t know. I am convinced that when such a time comes, the Lord will be able to show us countless ‘signs’ that He gave us throughout our lifetime. The truth is that God is continually working to draw us into relationship with Him so that we can receive His blessing on our lives. He wants to bring us into a good place where we are living the way He has designed us to live so that we can be most fulfilled, but because of the nature of sin, He has to speak again and again to us. Have you heard or missed the quiet whisper that recently came, or the loud proclamation that came on a Sunday morning, or through the circumstances that make up your life, that are partly there by the Lord’s making as He seeks to draw you closer? Do we have eyes to see the wonder of what He is doing, of the wonder of His love as He constantly reaches out to us, giving us indication after indication of His love for us? May it be so!