Isaiah 7:10–16 (NET trans.) – The LORD again spoke to Ahaz: 7:11 “Ask for a confirming sign from the LORD your God. You can even ask for something miraculous.” 7:12 But Ahaz responded, “I don’t want to ask; I don’t want to put the LORD to a test.” 7:13 So Isaiah replied, “Pay attention, family of David. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 7:14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel. 7:15 He will eat sour milk and honey, which will help him know how to reject evil and choose what is right. 7:16 Here is why this will be so: Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land whose two kings you fear will be desolate.
Overview – The Setting of Immanuel – The historical context is important for understanding this well known passage. Jerusalem is under the threat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel allied with Syria because Judah under the Davidic King, Ahaz, refused to band with them to fight Assyria. “Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel marched up to Jerusalem to do battle” (7:1). So Israel was about to besiege Jerusalem in order to overthrow him and his Davidic dynasty. Fear rather than faith was the result, “They and their people were emotionally shaken” (7:2). Just at this time, Isaiah goes to reassure Ahaz as he was out checking on the water reserves for the city of Jerusalem (probably worrying about holding out against such a siege) (7:3). Isaiah is to say, “Make sure you stay calm! Don’t be afraid! Don’t be intimidated” (7:4). The Word of hope that God gives to Ahaz, “It will not take place; it will not happen” (7:7). But faithfulness is called for on the part of Ahaz in his third year of reigning. Therefore, “If your faith does not remain firm, then you will not remain secure” (7:9). Or a more literal sense is, “be firm and then you will be confirmed [as king].” The Lord offered to give a confirmation (even miraculous sign) to him, but Ahaz rejected the Lord with pious words (7:12). Ahaz rejected trusting the Lord, while at the same time it is clear that he was maneuvering to ally Judah with Assyria (trusting men rather than God, 2Kgs 16:7).
Insight – The Sign of Immanuel – This is the setting for the well known words of the next Immanuel prophecy. Given this, it is clear that the prophecy (7:10-16) is both a promise of deliverance and a threat of judgment to Judah. The Lord says I will give you (plural, meaning the “House of David”) a sign anyway. “Immanuel” will come and the Davidic covenant will be fulfilled. The promise is fulfilled temporarily in that the line of David continued in Hezekiah (Mt. 1:9). The prophecy is both a promise of salvation in that this is finally Jesus Christ (who saves His people from their sins), but it is also a promise of judgment for those whose faith “does not remain firm” (i.e., Ahaz himself). Therefore, the rest of the chapter indicates that Assyria will be God’s instrument of judgment on both Israel and Syria, but this will also threaten Judah (Jerusalem). Judah is temporarily sustained but historically also went into exile (in Babylon) and Jerusalem was besieged (586 B.C.). The final Sign was that Jesus was born of Mary at a time when hope was lost and now one could find a son of David. The near fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy may have been that a virgin gave birth to a son of David (Hezekiah) and there was temporary deliverance.
Prayer – Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for Advent 4, BCP)