(December 10, 2019) Brian Bell reflects …
It’s almost Christmas when Christians and churches celebrate the birth of Jesus who would become the Saviour of the world.
We’ll sing Christmas carols and choruses and refer to those scriptures that come naturally to mind at this time… from the gospels of Matthew and Luke and also Isaiah 7:14NLT, ‘All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).’
As I mediate on this Old Testament verse the background of Isaiah 7 comes to mind – God prompting Ahaz, the king of Judah, who was in a difficult situation to ask him for a sign… ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want –’ (Isaiah 7:11 (NLT).
Now that’s an amazing dare by God – and, equally amazing, when Ahaz didn’t respond was God’s choice of a ‘difficult sign’ (v14).
I wonder… If God were to ask you to ask him for a sign – and you didn’t hesitate to ask – what would come to your mind?
This leads me to several ‘little seed thoughts’…
A Personal Sign
Reading verses 1- 6 of this chapter we get a fuller picture of the situation in which Ahaz found himself. Facing attack and a siege of Jerusalem, in addition to fear he was likely struggling with doubt. And God always knows how best to answer the doubts of his people – remember how God spoke to Elijah (1 Kings 19) and how the Lord Jesus dealt with Thomas (John 20).
It would be quite natural that Ahaz should be fearful to some degree and even doubtful (it comes naturally to us in our humanity) but God had spoken to Ahaz through Isaiah to reassure and strengthen him, yet despite this Ahaz was still struggling.
Have you ever been in that position? Some issue of life in which you felt as if you were under attack and isolated – and it caused you to experience fear or doubt, perhaps both. And perhaps even when the Holy Spirit reminded you of some truth from God’s word – I’ve certainly been there.
The fear and doubt we experience is likely to come from issues such as fear about…
- Our own health
- Health of those we love
- Loss of a loved one in tragic and difficult circumstances
- Redundancy strikes and threatens the financial well-being of a family
- Feeling we have failed the Lord in some way and doubt his forgiveness or his ability to restore us.
When King Ahaz was reluctant to ask for a sign regarding his fears and doubts, God took the initiative and chose a sign for Ahaz. It is not unusual in Old Testament scripture to read about ‘signs’ – for example in Isaiah chapter 38, as a sign to Hezekiah, God caused the sundial to be moved back (Isaiah 38. 7-8).
For those of us living in days since the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven I believe the signs God gives to us today are contained primarily in his word – God is still taking the initiative, his word is available to help in times of fear, doubt or when needing guidance.
However in context of the passage, God chose to give Ahaz a personal sign – in so doing God displays his sovereignty and reminds us that he knows our situation and is able to speak into it in a way which is relevant and meaningful to us.
A Purposeful Sign
As I understand scripture, God does not say or do anything which is without a purpose. In the context of the passage I believe the primary purpose was to demonstrate the authority of God’s Word.
In Ahaz’s case verse 5 the words of the enemy were designed to plant fear… ‘We will invade… throw its people into panic – install Tabeel as Judah’s king.’ But in verse 7 we read God’s word: ‘Yet this is what the sovereign Lord says: “This invasion will never happen.”’
Isaiah was the messenger through whom the Lord spoke and God’s word was contrary to the words of the enemy and could only be spoken by One who was the sovereign authority.
Perhaps you have heard or are hearing some word of fear from the enemy of our souls, a word designed to cause you to panic, a threat he says will bring about some awful consequence – if that is where you are then you need a ‘word from the Lord.’ And I can assure you from personal experience, he will speak a word to you or perhaps through some good friend or encourager – as he has done for me on past occasions.
Note this: We know the enemy of souls will always use deceit and seek to undermine the authority of God’s word – that is what happened in Eden when the serpent spoke to Eve ‘Did God really say…’
Ever since then our fallen sinful nature leans more easily towards lies rather than truth! We must remember that deception comes from the ‘Father of lies’ who is still opposing the God’s word, God’s work and the very people of God! (Just as he did in Eden … and usually it comes in a subtle and or underhand manner seeking to cast doubt on the authority of God’s word).
It’s purposeful to note the grace of God demonstrated in his dealing with Ahaz. In giving the king this opportunity ‘to ask’ I think we need to ‘read between the lines’ a little – in verse 9 we read God said to Ahaz, ‘You do not believe me…’ Surely God knew the heart of Ahaz (as he does ours) and chose to extend grace in asking him to choose a sign.
It is not that Ahaz deserved – or that we deserve – to receive from the Lord, but that is why it is the grace of God… he gives us that which we do not deserve and it is purposeful in relation to the reliability of God’s word.
In politics we hear people of different political persuasions and authority speak many words, especially promises of what they will do if elected. Ultimately it is the reliability of those words which matter – often they are empty promises.
This is not the case with God’s word – in verses 15 -16 he says that before the promised child is old enough to make decisions the two kings who Ahaz fears will be dead. How final and reliable a word is that!
A Prophetic Sign
Isaiah 7 verse 14 is well known and most often quoted around the Advent period. I believe Isaiah may not have fully appreciated the prophetic extent of the message the Lord gave him. It was a message of forth-telling for Ahaz to bring him further reassurance but also fore-telling in a scriptural context.
I cannot say whether the Lord may have given Isaiah a ‘prophetic’ glimpse of a young woman in a future generation, a virgin to whom the angel Gabriel would appear to tell her she would carry a child conceived of the Holy Spirit and who would be the embodiment of Immanuel God with us. This prophecy would be fulfilled in what we call ‘the fullness of time’ – meaning a time of God’s choosing.
The apostle Paul tells us about God’s timings – ‘And this is the plan: At the right time God will bring everything together under the authority of Christ’ (Ephesians 1:10).
We live in a generation in which we are able to see the fulfilment of certain prophetic signs spoken through Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel to name only three. We’re more able to realise the full extent of the prophetic word given through Isaiah to Ahaz because we can know…
(1) Not only that the child has been born, that he was God incarnate,
(2) The cleansing and forgiveness from sin which the Lord Jesus purchased on Calvary, and
(3) That by the presence of the Holy Spirit he is with those who love him in every situation of life.
If you find yourself in some situation causing you fear and or doubt, be reassured that just as God was with Ahaz, so he will be for you and will minister his grace to you — the following words taken from Rise and be Healed (author not identified) sung in different versions by various artists may be an encouragement –
‘Has fear and doubt come against your mind,
Has your faith been sorely tried,
Just lift up your eyes here cometh your help,
It is Jesus for you he has died.
Rise and be healed in the name of Jesus,
Let faith arise in your soul, rise and be healed in the name of Jesus
He will touch you and make you whole.’
A Particular Sign
Maybe today you need a particular, a specified sign, from God – or a reminder of some sign he has already given you. I encourage you… ask, or ask again!
I especially encourage you to ask God for a scripture that will resonate with your spirit, one you sense the Holy Spirit is confirming to your heart. For example… if healing is needed, then 1 Peter 2:24 will be a blessing.
And don’t fear, don’t doubt! Don’t hold back as Ahaz did!
Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’ Link: firstname.lastname@example.org