Isaiah 7
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. THE POLITICAL OUTLOOK. The kings and chieftains of Palestine were in dread of the great Assyrian power. Under the weak rule of Ahaz Judah had sunk very low, and the King of Damascus, with the King of Ephraim, think it a favorable opportunity to attack the little kingdom, and so strengthen themselves against the Assyrians. "Far down to the gulf of Akaba the shock of invasion was felt. Elath, the favorite seaport of Jehoshaphat and Uzziah, was made over to the Edomites" (2 Kings 16:6; 2 Kings 15:37). Jerusalem was now threatened, and a usurper was to be placed on David's throne (ver. 6).

II. THE ALARM OF THE ROYAL FAMILY. (Ver. 2.) News is brought to the palace "Aram encampeth in Ephraim;" the junction of the forces of Syria and Israel had taken place. A shivering fear, like the wind swaying the trees of the forest, passed over their hearts. The court went forth to inspect the fortifications and the waterworks, and came to "the end of the conduit of the upper reservoir, upon the path to the fuller's field" - a well-known spot (cf. Isaiah 36:2; 2 Kings 18.).

III. THE MEETING WITH ISAIAH. At this spot the prophet, with his son, stood before them. It seems that by Divine intimation the prophet had called the boy Shear-Jashub, which means "Remnant-shall-be-converted," reminding us of the hope of his calling (Isaiah 6.). He would look upon the boy as a living pledge, not only of conjugal affection, but of Divine promise for a nobler Israel. See how he dwells upon the thought in Isaiah 10:20-22. Inspired by this confidence, he now addresses the king.

IV. COMFORT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED. "Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, and be not faint-hearted." A calm, collected mind is a match for any danger. Agitation and fear magnify the ill; stout resolve reduces it to its true proportions. The worst is ever in our own fancy.

"Some of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived;
But what torments of grief you endured
From evils which never arrived!" The timid king sees a fiery mass of war rolling towards him; the stout heart of the prophet contemptuously defies the two kings as "two stumps of smoking firebrands." If we would comfort men, we must, like the prophet, tell them to draw upon the resources God has placed in the soul: intelligence, prudence, self-reliance, and self-help. There is no true self-trust which is not at the same time a trust in God.

IV. THE DEEPEST SOURCE OF STRENGTH AND COMFORT. What are the heads of the Syrian power and of Israel's power against Judah's Head, the Lord? Damascus and Samaria will rear their fronts in vain against Jerusalem, if Jerusalem only trust in Jehovah. (Ewald supposes that the words," Judah's head is Jerusalem, and Jerusalem's head is Jehovah," have fallen out of the text, ver. 9.) Only have confidence. There is a play upon words in the original which we might represent in English by: "Fear not, fail not;" or, "Firm in faith is free from scathe; "or," If ye confide not, abide ye shall not."

1. Confidence, presence of mind, is a duty in times of danger.

2. It may be gained, if we will fall back upon God as our Leader and Defense. "The Lord is on my side: I will not fear what men shall do unto me." - J.

The practical force of this prophetic utterance is found in the final words of it: "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established" (ver. 9). We may see in them a declaration expressly personal. They intimate to Ahaz that if he, the present King of Judah, does not put his faith in the minister and in the message of the Lord, his kingdom and his power will suffer loss.

1. His faith was sorely tried. "His heart was moved as the trees of the wood by the wind" when he heard that two powerful monarchs were confederate against him (vers. 1, 2). It required no little faith to accept, without reserve, the assurances of Isaiah (vers. 4-9).

2. But he had solid ground on which to build his hope. The history of his country should have made it perfectly practicable to believe that, whatever the Lord had decided upon, all the hosts of heathendom would be unable to withstand.

3. His human fears proved too strong for his religious convictions.

4. The prophet warned him that with the failure of his faith would come material loss. This minatory prediction was only too painfully fulfilled. Elath, a port on the Red Sea, was lost to the kingdom (2 Kings 16:6); great numbers of the people were slaughtered (2 Chronicles 28:6); many captives were carried away (2 Chronicles 28:8); Judah became tributary to Assyria (2 Kings 16:8, 9). "The Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz" (2 Chronicles 28:19). He was not established; he was enfeebled and humiliated. The lesson which the passage, particularly these final words, conveys to us is this, that WHEN FAITH FAILS, POWER DEPARTS; that faith is the one sustaining power which will establish us in the spiritual position to which we have attained. We look, therefore, at this broad principle applicable to every one.

1. As Christian men we enjoy an excellent estate. We are "kings and priests unto God;" we are made to "sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." "Now are we the sons of God," and all the joys and privileges of sonship are ours.

2. But our position is threatened by powerful adversaries. There come up against us the foes of our race - worldly allurements, fleshly indulgences, incitements to spiritual pride and unbelief, temptations to fall into selfishness or into untruthfulness, etc.

3. Only a living faith will uphold us in our integrity. We must have the faith which

(1) enables us to realize the nearness of the living God;

(2) makes spiritual realities and successes seem to our souls the great things they are;

(3) brings near to our hearts the future world, with its judgment and its reward;

(4) calls down from above, by believing prayer, Divine direction and support. Without this living faith, we may expect the enemy to overcome us; with it, we may hope to be established in our high and blest estate. - C.

The historical circumstances connected with this and the following two chapters throw light on the object and meaning of the prophecy. At the close of Jotham's reign, both the neighboring nations of Israel and of Syria invaded the country of Judah, wasting and desolating it. Now, in the beginning of the reign of Ahaz, they agreed to unite their forces, and so they hoped to take even the chief city, dethrone the reigning king, and partition the land between them. News of this confederacy reached Ahaz, and produced the utmost consternation and bewilderment both in him and in the people of Jerusalem. Hurried efforts were made to fortify the city, and especially to secure the water-stores, on which their ability to stand a siege so directly depended. Plans were also formed to secure the help of the King of Assyria, though the price of such help would too surely be the loss of national independence, and the payment of tribute to Assyria. In those degenerate days few people even thought of seeking help from Jehovah, the mighty God of their fathers. While busy, inspecting the waterworks, and probably filled with new anxiety on finding them neglected and out of repair, Ahaz sees the prophet of Jehovah approach. Isaiah's message is full of mercy and encouragement. He would quiet the unreasoning and unreasonable fears of the king; he speaks slightingly of Rezin and Pekah, as only two tails of smoking firebrands, whose strength is almost spent; they can only smoke, not blaze, and their kingdoms are hasting to decay. He bids the king not to think for a moment of leaning on Assyria, but to trust in the living God. He graciously offers, in God's Name, a sign for the confirming of his faith, bidding Ahaz even choose such a one as he felt would convince him. The king stubbornly refuses; and then Isaiah gives one, after sternly rebuking the false humility of the king. The sign is a figurative and poetical assurance that, within some three or four years, the power of his present enemies would be utterly broken. And then mercy passes into judgment, and the prophet sternly reveals the consequences that will follow any leaning upon Assyria. In the text we have a state of public affairs that might well cause alarm, and we dwell on the spirit in which times of national peril may and should be met.

I. NATIONAL CALAMITY WITHOUT THOUGHT OF GOD THE OVERRULER. Just this we have in the historical connection of the text. Viewed politically, there were grave and perilous complications. Assyria was pushing its way towards the Mediterranean. Syria and Israel were in its way. Instead of resisting their more serious Eastern foe, they confederated to injure the small country of Judah, which blocked their way southwards towards Egypt. Rezin had seized Elath, Judah's great commercial port on the Red Sea, and Pekah had overrun the territory of Judah. There was a general panic. King and people alike asked - How could they resist this combination of the neighboring countries against them? A great fear possessed the king, and drove him to the most impolitic action he could possibly take. Having no sense of reliance on God, consciously severed by his willfulness from God, he sought alliance with Assyria, and brought ruin on himself and his neighbor-foes. The figure of the trees waving to and fro confusedly in the wind, is expressive of the man who is not stayed on God, but left to the uncertainties of a judgment based only on circumstances.

II. NATIONAL CALAMITY WITH THE THOUGHT OF GOD THE OVERRULER. This is the contrast suggested in the passage, If Ahaz had been a God-fearing man, how differently he would have locked on these circumstances! If he had been a David, or a Jehoshaphat, or a Hezekiah, a man with the fear of God before his eyes, he would have met the perilous conditions with calmness, and seen in them an occasion for

(1) special prayer;

(2) renewed dependence;

(3) and the testing of the sincerity of his trust;

(4) also a call to watching for the Divine will;

(5) and the requirement to set himself in an attitude of obedience, ready at once, and heartily, to follow the Divine lead.

Apply to modern complexities of party politics and international complications, as well as to times of national calamity, by disease, or by depressed trade. Show what a vantage-ground he occupies who believes in God as the God of nations, looks for his providential rulings and overrulings, and knows that he "makes the wrath of man praise him, and restrains the remainder of that wrath." Show how quiet a nation may be when it knows that national polity is directed in the fear of him who must be called the "God of the whole earth." - R.T.

Recalling the scheme at which Rezin and Pekah had been so busy, arranging everything so cleverly, and making so sure of a speedy and triumphant success, Jehovah, sovereign Ruler and Judge, looks from above upon it all, and says of it, "It shall not stand, neither shall it be." "The plan shall not even take practical shape, much less would it achieve a permanent success." "They should neither of them, Syria nor Israel, enlarge their dominions nor push their conquests any further; they shall be made to know their own; their bounds are fixed, and they shall not pass them" (Matthew Henry).


(1) free to think;

(2) free to judge;

(3) free to plan.

There is a sense in which man has dominion over the world in which he is set, and over the circumstances in which he is placed. God, in a sense, put man, separate from himself, in the garden of this world, and stands aloof to see what he will do. Man has the trust of

(1) intelligence, so that he may estimate things and the relations of things;

(2) free-will, so that he may choose his course of action, But it is limited intelligence - limited

(a) by brain-capacity;

(b) educational opportunity;

(c) conditions of health;

(d) surrounding prejudices;

(e) measures and degrees of Divine revelation.

And it is carefully circumscribed free-will - graciously limited because man's decisions are constantly made upon

(a) imperfect knowledge, and

(b) upon impulses of biased feeling.

The will of man is also limited by the condition of its accordance with the supreme will of God. Man can plan, purpose, and propose; but there he must stop until he can gain Divine permission to carry out his plans. If he dares to force his plans into action against God, he will surely find that he does but run "upon the bosses of Jehovah's buckler." Who hath ever resisted God and prospered?

II. THE ILLIMITABLE CHARACTER OF GOD'S CONTROL. There is the firmest and most peremptory tone in this declaration, "It shall not stand." Affirming his authority over all nations, the Lord of hosts says, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance" (Isaiah 19:25). God controls

(1) the minds that plan;

(2) the bodies that execute;

(3) the spheres and circumstances in which the plan is to be worked.

Watching everything, God has the arresting hand, and can say, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no further." - R.T.

If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. Faith is older than the Law. It is, in fact, the eider principle of all Divine teachings. Believe. "For he that cometh to God must believe that he is." Moreover, it is a living principle. It is not a cold precept, but is vital with trust and confidence.

I. THE PROPHETIC REVELATION. It is very wonderful, and very distinct. See the succeeding (ver. 14): "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Well, therefore, has Isaiah been called" the evangelical prophet," seeing that we have in his words the revelation of an immaculate Messiah and a suffering Messiah.

II. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE. That we are not "established" unless we believe is a principle, not only of particular but of universal application. We must believe in each other to have commerce established. Home itself is never secure without mutual trust, and there can be no established character in religion unless we have that faith without which it is impossible to please God, and which gives vital energy to all other graces.

III. THE ABSOLUTE CONDITION. "If ye will not believe." Here is the responsibility of the soul. And doubtless we are responsible for our beliefs. We are to weigh, to judge, to consider, to prove all things. "Judge, I pray you," says God in this same Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:3), "betwixt me and my vineyard." The condition must be absolute. It is not a threat; it is a statement of that which cannot be other than so. If I do not believe that corn will grow, I shall not plant it. If I do not believe that God is able and willing to save, I shall not be amongst those who believe to the saving of their souls. If I do not believe that spiritual aid will be given to perfect my. graces, I shall not pray for it. "If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established." - W.M.S.

If ye have no faith, verily ye shall not have continuance (Cheyne's translation). "If ye hold not fast, verily ye shall not stand fast." See the expression illustrated in Jehoshaphat, when going out to meet the army of the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chronicles 20:20). Habakkuk gives the same sentiment in his familiar expression, "The just shall live by his faith." Faith in him and in his Word is the one universal condition that God demands, and righteously demands, in view

(1) of what he is;

(2) of what he is in relation to us; and

(3) of what he has already done for his people, in the experience of which we have shared.

God's law for creatures dependent on him is, "Trust me." God's grace for his creatures is, "Response to trust." He unfolds his best blessings to those who can both trust and hope in him. The demand for faith, as the condition of receiving Divine blessings, may be traced in the Divine dealings with men through all the ages and dispensations.

I. GOD REQUIRED FAITH IN THE PATRIARCHS. Enoch was translated as a response to a life of faith; Noah was saved from the flood because he believed; Abraham's faith was "counted for righteousness." They all "died in faith." The glory on their lives is the shining of God's acceptance given to men of faith.

II. GOD REQUIRED FAITH IN THE ISRAELITES. For forty years he was teaching them the trust-lesson. And if the Divine reproaches and reprovals and chastisements could be gathered up into a sentence, they would read thus: "You will not trust me wholly." "The Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people despise me? and how long will they not believe, for all the signs which I have showed among them?" (Numbers 14:11). Those Israelites "could not enter in because of their unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19).

III. GOD REQUIRED FAITH IN THE TIME OF THE KINGS. This was the one demand made in God's Name by the prophets; and striking illustrative incidents may be found in the mission of Elijah, and in the reigns of Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah.


(1) his effort to secure faith in sufferers before he healed them; and

(2) his reproaches of his disciples, again, and again saying to them, "O ye of little faith!" How is it that ye have no faith. Impress that this is God's necessary condition still, and for us. Whence proceed sterility and unfruitfulness in the knowledge of Christ, and inefficiency to good works, and the life of righteousness? The answer is - We have not faith, even as a grain of mustard seed." - R.T.

Faith in the Eternal personified in the prophet, to whom all things desirable are to be hoped for, all things to be hoped for are possible; and distrust, the weakness of mere flesh and blood, represented in the timid Ahaz. Such is the illusion of appearances. The outwardly kingly man is the coward; the real king of men is the plain-looking prophet.

I. THE CHALLENGE OF FAITH. In the Name of Jehovah, Isaiah bids the king ask a sign from above - a sign "going deep down to hell or high into heaven." Truth should be its own evidence to every mind; intuition is better than proof. Isaiah has seen and listened to God in the depths of his own spirit, and no sign in the air above or in the earth beneath can give him more assurance than he already possesses. Would any man but listen and look, he should find the shrine, the oracle, the Shechinah, in his own heart. Within that awful volume of the heart, it may be said, lies the mystery of mysteries. Yet not to all is it given to read therein clearly; all other reading, even in dead tongues, is easier.

"Happiest they of human race
To whom our God has granted grace
To read, to fear, to hope, to pray,
To lift the latch and force the way!" The duller eye, untrained to such visions, needs the large bold characters of the visible sign. "It comes in with its palpable meaning to aid human weakness. The prophets complained of the craving for signs, yet were compelled to comply with it. Men trust their senses more than they trust the ghostly and majestic shape of abstract truth; and the appeal to the ear, as the Roman poet said, produces but a sluggish movement in the mind compared with the appeal to the faithful eye. We must all confess ourselves weak; needing to see before we can believe, instead of believing that we may see. Yet such incidents as this may remind us that there is a Spirit to help our infirmities, and restore its poise to the mind unhinged by doubt. When Midian threatened Israel in the days of old, God's voice was heard by Gideon: "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." Yet the heart of the hero still quailed. "O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of?" (Judges 6:12, sqq.). Again the voice came: "Go and save Israel: have not I sent thee?" And again the diffident reply: "O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor, and I am the least in my father's clan." Then the sign is asked for and granted; the fire, bursting from the rock, consumes Gideon's offering. God, in the strength of an almighty wisdom, "reasons together" with men. In our day it is equally hard to "hold on and hope hard in the subtle thing called spirit;" and we crave as urgently for signs, though not of the same kind.

II. THE EXCUSE OF MISTRUST. The king alleges that he dare not "tempt Jehovah." True, this was a deep reproach of old against Israel's temper. At Rephidim, in the wilderness, Moses stigmatized the demand of the people for water by this phrase, "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Exodus 17:2). There lay the canker of guilty skepticism. In a general way the same thing is seen in our time, in the impatient demand that the difficulties of the great problem of the universe shall be cleared up to our private satisfaction. Who gave us the right thus to interrogate and cross-examine him whose works, as a whole, witness to his goodness and love? God did not copy our puny schemes in this construction; nor does he manage the universe as we manage a business, an expedition, the government of a state. "Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God," means - You shall not weigh him in the scales of your finite intelligence, nor call upon him to execute your wishes as if they were the same as his holy will. So difficult is it to distinguish the plea of honesty and humility from that of dishonesty and disbelief, it looks as if Ahaz might be right, and Isaiah wrong; the latter too bold, the former more reverent. Scripture may be made to mean anything and everything; the right heart alone reads the right meaning for particular time, place, and person. While it is the mark of presumption to "tempt God," it is the symptom of unbelief when proffered light and help are refused.

III. THE PERSEVERANCE OF FAITH. With a rebuke of the king's spirit, charging him in effect with despising the goodness and tending to weary the patience of God, the prophet proceeds with his unasked-for message. What are we to learn from the expression, "wearying God?" All such poetical figures of Scripture have their deep meaning. To despise the riches of God's forbearance, to grieve his Spirit, to quench his Spirit, - these are ways of pointing out and stigmatizing that indifference and coldness to the true and Divine which may be a worse symptom than open hostility. We may either neglect to ask Divine guidance, we may disobey it when we have it intimated, or we may refuse its proffer. Perhaps this last state of mind is the worst. It shows the heart to be already prepossessed and biased. Ahaz was, in fact, under the influence of his false prophets and soothsayers. But why should he decline to hear at least what Isaiah had to say? He should have recognized that there were "two sides" in the great question at issue. Ahaz then warns us against listening to ex parte counsels. He who will only attend to the flattering echoes of his own wishes, is like him who trusteth in his own heart and who proves a fool. From Isaiah, again, the lesson comes back of faithful perseverance in our word and work, in spite of indifference, which threatens to blunt our edge and paralyze our energy. When a matter is on the conscience, let it come forth, "whether men will hear or whether they will forbear." We calculate consequences too much; and while few have the courage to risk danger by preaching unwelcome truth, perhaps fewer still have the faith in its worth to insist on pressing it upon reluctant ears.


1. It will be of mixed import. Partly it will confirm previous expectation, and partly it will intimate what had not been expected. It proclaims a happy event which Ahaz had not looked for, but also a calamity which he might have averted had he possessed greater faith and truth. Mysteriously, our wishes or fears have some creative influence on our future. "Omens follow those who look to them," whether for good or evil.

"Man is his own star; and the soul that can
Render a perfect and an honest man,
Commands all light, all influence, and all fate;
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still."

(Beaumont and Fletcher.)

2. The Immanuel. In a dark saying the prophet opens his mouth. "Lo! haalmah (the maiden, she who is no longer a girl, nor yet an old woman) will conceive, and bear a son, and then call his name With-us-God." Time is thus hinted at; it will be soon, perhaps in a year's time. Also the certainty and the joy of deliverance, as the boy's name betokens. It is the very rallying cry of Israel: "God with us." We must have a watchword in every noble cause, that shall condense its purport and sound the tocsin to every true aspiration and energy within. So the Crusaders shouted "Dieu le veut!" at the preaching of Peter the Hermit; so were English warriors heartened in the olden days by the cry of "England and St. George!" Notice how this phrase echoes and re-echoes - "Immanuel, God-with-us" - in Isaiah 8:8, 10 (cf. Isaiah 9:6). Every great. man raised up from time to time among us in politics, in religion, to deliver, to lead, to counsel, is, in his way, an heroic reflection of Israel's Messiah. To prophetic faith and hope a Messiah, a Deliverer, is ever at the doors. If the Eternal lives and reigns, and fulfils himself by the agency of men, we need not fear that when the hour strikes, the hero, with all the credentials of his anointing, will appear.

3. Speedy help. "Jehovah shall help thee, and that right early," is a chronic promise. When the boy is approaching years of maturity and of judgment, his food will be curds and honey; that is, before he comes to manhood, Ephraim and Damascus will be discomfited, and a new "golden age" will have set in. No more is known about any particular youth of Isaiah's time to whom the mystic prediction could refer than is known about the illustrious boy of Virgil's prophetic Eclogue, who was to restore good King Saturn's reign (Ecl. 4.). It is a misunderstanding of the nature of prophecy when we try to fix its forecasts to place or time. A prophecy is never fulfilled as we expect. It refers to a world not bounded by our horizons, and to a history which does not fall into our time perspective. This ideal Immanuel was destined yet to float before the pious hope of the nation for many centuries, till it was united with the real in the person of Jesus.

4. The chastisement that must precede prosperity. The great Assyrian conquest and the desolation it brings must come, in punishment of the unfaithfulness of the royal house, and the estrangement of the nation from Jehovah's ways. It is only after long trial in the fire and thorough regeneration that prosperity can come. It is a doubtful picture of the future, in which rays of glory strike athwart dark masses of gloom. Such is ever our outlook, whether for personal history, as for Isaiah in the preceding chapter, or for a nation, as here. Never has the hope of Christ been wanting, never the promise of his coming died out; and never proclaimed without the intimation of woes and tribulations first to come. Christ's own forecasts of the future (see the closing chapters of Matthew) present the like half-veiled, half-revealed perspective. We must ever look out upon the coming time with confidence or with mistrust, according as our hearts are stayed, like Isaiah's, upon Jehovah, or weak, because trusting only to the arm of flesh, or to the irrational dreams of superstition, like Ahaz. - J.

The passage is interesting for this among other reasons, that Ahaz is charged with guilt for declining that course the resort to which became the national sin (1 Corinthians 1:22), and for using words which were afterwards employed by the Savior himself in repelling the attack of the evil one (Matthew 4:7). We are, therefore, reminded -

I. THAT THE WORTH OR UNWORTHINESS OF AN ACTION DEPENDS LARGELY ON ITS ATTENDANT CONDITIONS. The Jews who sought a sign from Christ were rebuked by him for so doing (Matthew 12:38, 39). Ahaz is reproved for not asking for one on this occasion. The circumstances of the two cases made all the difference. In the ease of the Pharisees, abundant miraculous evidence had already been granted, and they demanded a work of a particular kind after their own fancy; in the case of Ahaz, he deliberately refused the special privilege which God offered him. That which is right and wise under certain circumstances may be wrong and foolish under others. Many things which are proper to youth are improper to age, and vice versa; language which is devotion on the lips of the half-enlightened would be irreverence in the mouth of the children of privilege. Clearly instructed by God, the Israelites were simply obedient and courageous when they expelled the Canaanites from the country and occupied their land, but an invasion of another's territory and expulsion or slaughter of its inhabitants without such express authority from above would be a crime of the greatest magnitude; etc.

II. THAT WE DO WELL TO SHRINK HONESTLY AND EARNESTLY FROM TEMPTING GOD. Honestly; for an insincere profession of doing so is of no account. Ahaz probably used this as a mere pretext with which to cover his real unwillingness to have the will of God unmistakably revealed. And earnestly; for to tempt God is a serious sin and a calamitous mistake. We do tempt him when we neglect our duty as citizens of this world or as travelers to eternity, or when we deliberately run great risks, whether bodily or spiritual, unwarrantably presuming on God's interposing power or inexhaustible grace.

III. THAT WE SHOULD GRATEFULLY ACCEPT THE LOWER AS WELL AS THE HIGHER INFLUENCES WHICH GOD OFFERS US. A sign such as Jehovah offered Ahaz was a privilege of a lower order than the exhortation of his servant Isaiah. A miracle which appeals to the senses and the imagination is not so high and pure an influence as a sacred truth which appeals to the conscience and the reason. Yet it had its own value, and was not to be disregarded or declined. We should fear God, should exercise faith in Jesus Christ, should serve our race, first stud most because it is our sacred duty so to do; but we may well be animated and impelled by other and less lofty considerations - by the fear of offending God, by the hope of gaining his favor and his reward, by a desire to win the gratitude of those we serve, by a wish to please those to whom we are related. The superfine purity which will not be moved by any but the very highest considerations does not suit our human nature, and is not sanctioned in the Divine Word.

IV. THAT THE PATIENCE OF A LONG-SUFFERING GOD MAY BE OUTWORN BY OUR PERVERSITY. "Will ye weary my God also?" (ver. 13). Much is said in Scripture of the patience of God. He is "slow to anger, and of great mercy" (Psalm 145:8). We read of "the riches of his forbearance and long-suffering" (Romans 2:4). And they who are honestly trying to please and serve him may count on his considerateness, though their efforts be imperfect and their mistakes be many. But they who pertinaciously refuse his yoke, and stubbornly go on their own way when he is calling them to walk in his paths, may find that it is only too possible to "weary him also," and to bring down irreparable evil on their souls. - C.

We are to understand that Ahaz had already made up his mind to resort to Assyria for help; probably he had even already sent his ambassadors to Tiglath-Pileser, and he would not be deterred from his purpose by any promise or threatening of Jehovah's But he dissembled, and tried to get out of his difficulty by hypocritically pretending that he was deterred from asking a sign by a religious fear of tempting the Lord. His words sound as if he were humble and reverent; his heart was strong in its self-willed purposes. He says, "Neither will I tempt the Lord," as if it could be a tempting of God to do that which God directed and invited him to do. Remember that, in such passages as this, the word "tempt" means, "Put God to the test, as if you doubted him." Dr. Kay, in 'Speaker's Commentary,' says, "In his estrangement of heart Ahaz had come to look on God as his enemy, as a dangerous person who was thwarting him in his most cherished plans, and from whom, therefore, it were best to stand entirely aloof. If he should ask a sign and it were to be granted him, would he not be bound by his own act and deed to confess the greatness of his past sins, to give up his politic plans for the future, to submit to the bends and fetters of the old cycle of religious teaching from which he had shaken himself free? 'Can we find some searching test by which true humility can be distinguished from false? (It is assumed that humility is explained and enforced as the proper attitude for man to take, and spirit for man to cherish, in the presence of God.)

I. TRUE HUMILITY SUBMITS AND OBEYS. If Ahaz had been truly humble, he would have responded at once to the Divine invitation. Illustrate from Moses shrinking from obedience to the commands which God gave him. True humility will always say, "If God has called me to do anything, I must do it; I can do it, and I may be quite sure his grace will be with me or the doing. True humility is bold unto obedience.

II. FALSE HUMILITY SUBMITS, BUT DOES NOT OBEY. This is precisely the attitude of Ahaz. He submits; he takes the humble posture; he speaks the humble words; lout he does not obey. His humility is but hypocrisy. Bishop Hall says, "Art imitates nature, and the nearer it comes to nature in its effects, it is the more excellent. Grace is the new nature of a Christian, and hypocrisy that art that counterfeits it; and the more exquisite it is in imitation it is the more plausible to men, but the more abominable to God. It may frame a spiritual man in image so to the life that not only others, but even the hypocrite himself, may admire it, and, favoring his own artifice, may be deceived so far as to say and to think it lives, and fall in love with it; but he is no less abhorred by the Searcher of hearts than pleasing to himself." And Matthew Henry says, "A secret disaffection to God is often disguised with the specious colors of respect to him; and those who are resolved that they will not trust God yet pretend that they will not tempt him." It may be impressed that the truly humble man is more jealous of God's honor than of his own, and therefore promptly submits and obeys; but the man who is not really humble is anxious about his own honor, and only makes a show of being jealous of God's. Ahaz needed this counsel, and so do we: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." And the greatest test of this great grace is - Does it lead its possessor to follow and obey? - R.T.

We naturally ask the question - In what ways is God ours? "Immanuel;" in what respect is he one of whom we can say that he is "God with us;" how and where is his presence to be found and to be felt? There are many answers to this question; there is -

I. THE ANSWER OF SACRED POETRY. That the presence of God is seen in the results of his Divine handiwork, in the foundations and pillars of the earth, in the "meanest flower that blows," in the varied forms of life; that it only needs a true imagination to see him in all the objects and scenes of his creative power; that "every bush's afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes."

II. THE ANSWER OF PHILOSOPHY. That his presence is in all-surrounding nature, in which he is immanent; that though all nature does not include Deity, the Divine power is present in all things, sustaining, energizing, renewing; the "laws of nature" are the regular activities of God.

III. THE ANSWER OF NATURAL RELIGION. That he is with us in his omnipresent and observant Spirit; that he fills immensity with his presence, being everywhere and observing everything, and taking notice of every human soul; that the Infinite One is he who cannot be absent from any sphere or be ignorant of any action.

IV. THE ANSWER, OF THE EARLIER REVELATION. That his presence is in his overruling providence; that God is with us, not only "besetting us behind and before," not only "understanding our thought afar off," but also "laying his hand upon us," directing our course, ordering our steps (Psalm 37:23), making plain our path before our face, causing all things to work together for our good, defending us in danger, delivering us from trouble, establishing us in life and strength and joy (see Genesis 39:2; 1 Samuel 3:19; 1 Samuel 18:12; 2 Kings 18:7; Matthew 28:20).

V. THE ANSWER OF THE LATER REVELATION. That his presence was in his Divine Son. The time came when the words of the text proved to have indeed "a springing and germinant fulfillment;" for a virgin did conceive, and bring forth a Son, and he was the "Immanuel" of the human race, God with us - that One who dwelt amongst us, and could say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." They who walked with him and watched his life, and who understood and appreciated him, recognized the spirit, the character, the life, of God himself. In his mind were the thoughts, in his words the truth, in his deeds the principles, in his death the love, in his mission the purpose, of God. When "Jesus was here among men," God was with us as never before, as never since.

VI. THE ANSWER OF OUR OWN CONSCIOUSNESS. That his presence is in and through his Holy Spirit. God is with us because in us; present, therefore, in the deepest, truest, most potent, and influential of all ways and forms; in us, enlightening our minds, subduing our wills, enlarging our hearts, uplifting our souls, strengthening and sanctifying our spiritual nature. Then, indeed, is he nearest to us when he comes unto us and makes his abode with us, and thus "dwells in us and we in him." Our duty, which is our privilege, is

(1) to realize, increasingly, the nearness of the living God;

(2) to rejoice, practically, in the coming of God to man in the presence of the virgin-born Immanuel;

(3) to gain, by believing prayer, the presence of the Divine Spirit in the sanctuary of our own soul. - C.

This being the first in the Book of Isaiah recognized as Messianic, the general subject may be illustrated in connection with it. Isaiah here gives a sign. Looking upon some woman in the king's presence who at the time was a virgin, he, in effect, says, "You shall know that Jehovah is the living God, and the all-sufficient Helper of his people, by this. - Before this woman can bear a son, and that son grow old enough to know good from evil, your land shall be delivered, and your enemies overthrown." Many Christian interpreters see in this a direct reference to Messiah, as the Virgin's Son; a reference which makes them quite indifferent to the connection of the passage with events then transpiring. There are some cases in which we must admit that the prediction almost wholly concerns the Messiah. It is nearly impossible to exhaust Isaiah lift, for instance, by any local and historical references. But in most cases we shall find that the Messianic meaning of the passage is its second reference, its inner and less evident teaching. The words immediately relate to some existing condition or national prospects, and through these they have to reveal the higher truth. We ought not to be surprised at this; we should rather expect it, as in perfect harmony with the idea of revelation to the Jews. Their history was a series of deliverances and redemptions; a succession of types of the coming spiritual redemption. Their religion was a set of complicated signs, all more or less keeping up the expectation of him who was to come. What, then, could be more natural and proper than that the prophecies should do, what the history and the religion had before done - bear within their external form a deeper meaning, and help to lift the soul of the nation on towards its great glory, the coming, as a member of the Isaiah race, of the long-promised r, Seed of the woman" who should "bruise the serpent's head?" The general fact that many of the prophecies do refer to the life and times of Christ cannot reasonably be doubted; but difficulties will be found in the treatment of each particular case. The language must be carefully weighed, the figures skillfully considered, and the connections adequately explained, ere any decision can be arrived at. We illustrate the difficulties by considering the very perplexing passage now before us.

I. The prophet gives a sign by renewing the promise of deliverance, and connecting it with the birth of a child, whose significant name is made a symbol of the Divine interposition, and his growth a measure of the subsequent events. Instead of saying that God would be present to deliver them, he says that the child shall be called 'Immanuel,' God with us. Instead of mentioning a term of years, he says, 'Before the child is able to distinguish between good and evil.' Instead of saying that until that time the land shall lie waste, he represents the child as eating curds and honey, spontaneous products, here put in opposition to the fruits of civilization. In a figurative manner, and using the large vague figures and metaphors characteristic of prophetic writing, Isaiah asserts that within some three or four years their deliverance would be effected.

II. But the question which is found so difficult to answer is this - Of what child does the prophet here speak? One class of writers suggest a child born in the ordinary course of nature, and in Isaiah's days. Some say it was Hezekiah; others a younger son of Ahaz, by a second marriage; others refer the passage to the birth of the prophet's own son, by a person then present, who is afterwards called "the prophetess." Another class of writers affirm that intentional reference is made to two distinct children, and two births - that of Christ, as Immanuel, and that of Shear-Jashub, the son of Isaiah; and so a double meaning was given to the passage. Yet another class of writers refer these three verses directly and exclusively to the Messiah. One of this class says, "The passage describes the actual desolations of the early period of Christ's life." Another skillfully paraphrases one of the sentences thus: "Before the Messiah, if he were born now, could know to distinguish between good and evil." And one suggests that Isaiah had a prophet's vision of the birth of Messiah, and so spoke of it as though taking place then.

III. The conclusion of a sober and careful examination of this, and other so-called Messianic prophecies, will probably be that the sign or the figure always relates, more or less distinctly, to passing events and passing interests; but that no local associations can exhaust their meaning and mission. The spiritually minded will always discern more in the Bible than appears to those who treat it only as a common book. The Spirit, who is given to us, "searcheth all things," even the deep things of God, the hidden references of his revelation. - R.T.

It is one of the most important facts concerning the manifestation of Christ, that he was "born of a virgin," or, as the "Te Deum" expresses it, "He did not abhor the Virgin's womb." We dwell on two points.

I. IN THE VIRGIN'S CHILD LIES HID THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION. Isaiah could have had but faint and shadowy glimpses of those deeper meanings which we can find in his words. Reading his prophecy in the light of its fulfillment in the wonderful beginnings of Christianity, we can tell of a virgin unto whom the angel of the Lord came, saying, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." That was the announcement of the coming of the one only true virgin's Child. It is surely a surprising thing that we make so much of the great events of Christ's life, and dwell with so much interest upon the circumstances of his death, and yet pay such comparatively slight attention to the original mystery, the wonder of his coming to earth at all, the marvel of the woman-born God. The Incarnation is the mystery of mysteries, and he who has received right impressions concerning it will find no further mysteries in our Redeemer's life or death over which he will need to stumble. Men say - Can there be such things as miracles? Is there not an antecedent improbability that the order of nature, as we know it, should ever be changed? To receive the record of Christ's birth of a virgin-mother is to settle the whole question of the miraculous. The Incarnation is put before us at the very beginning of the gospel history; it is the vestibule of the temple of the Christ. He who can venture past that entrance-hall will find no grander mystery in any of the courts or holy places. That Incarnation is so distinct from the ordinary working of human laws, so manifestly the operation, in the human sphere, of higher and Divine laws, that he who can receive Christ as the Child of the virgin-mother and the Divine Father, will find no miracle wrought during our Lord's life raise any disturbing doubts. The idea of incarnation is not, indeed, peculiar to Christianity. It is found in other religions, especially in those of India and China. But the contrast they present is most significant. In other religions the incarnation is transient; it is more like the angelophanies of the Old Testament times, than like the living Man, Christ Jesus, of the New Testament. Theirs is only into the appearance of a man; this is into the reality of human flesh. Theirs is usually into some monstrous form of man or beast; this is into the simple but perfect form of a true manhood. Our faith is asked for the incarnate God. Born in accordance with human times; coming into the world as every member of the race must come; nourished for months with a mother's own life. At once Man and God: born of the earth, earthy; born of heaven, heavenly and Divine. Deity in the dress of the human flesh; the Creator become a creature; the Lord of heaven and earth in the form of a servant. Infinity pressed into the hour of a mortal life. Immortality submitting to die. A babe, yet a King. An infant, yet a God. He who was from everlasting consenting to begin in time. That being the awful mystery of the Christ, it is no longer strange that he should heal diseases, feed multitudes, still the raging seas, and waken the slumbering dead; all difficulties begin to fade before us when we can say, "This was the Son of God."

II. IN THE NAME, IMMANUEL, LIES HID THE MYSTERY OF THE REDEMPTION. If God is with his creatures, it can only be to bless and save them, to deliver them from evil, to bring them into full unity with himself, to establish them in all good. If God, who is love, is with his sinful, rebellious, self-willed children, it can only be that he may deliver them from the consequences of their transgressions, and recover them from the denudation of their sinfulness. There is light and hope for humanity in this great name; the name by which prophecy pointed to him who should come; the name by which he was called when he came; the name which fits in with Jesus. The full name is Immanuel-Jehoshua - "God with us, saving us from our sins." - R.T.

Before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. Some take this expression as referring to pleasant or unpleasant food; but it probably is used in a general moral sense. Compare the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in Genesis 2:9; Genesis 3:5. For the expression as used in reference to children, see Deuteronomy 1:39. Isaiah evidently intends, by a figure of speech, to indicate two or three years, the time when a child may be regarded as getting out of his infancy of ignorance and innocence. Without discussing philosophically the nature of conscience, or the sense in which man has innate ideas, and keeping quite within the sphere of observation and experience in family life, we may say, with Reid, "Conscience, like all other powers, comes to maturity by insensible degrees, and may be more aided in its strength and vigor by proper culture." The following, line of thought is given barely and suggestively, because its detailed treatment must depend on the philosophical and theological standpoint of the preacher.

I. WE BEGIN LIFE WITH DESIRES. AS soon as Eve was made she looked longingly on the beautiful fruits of the garden. The infants are crying for something, if it be only the light. Man wants. He is not sufficient to himself. And the wants are ever growing.

II. WE FIND THE SUPPLY OF SOME DESIRES BRINGS PLEASURE, and of some brings pain. So we begin to distinguish things by their attendant consequences in our feeling.

III. WE CALL THE PAINFUL EVIL, AND THE PLEASANT GOOD; and so establish for ourselves a standard which will test more than we at first imagine.


V. WE ARE BROUGHT TO SEEK A STANDARD BY WHICH TO JUDGE THINGS; that is away from, and beyond ourselves; and we learn to find the only sure educating force in the revealed will of God. Man knows with certainty what is evil and what is good, when he recognizes that God has set him in this world of sensible relations, and, pointing to some things, has said, "Thou mayest;" and to other things, "Thou shalt not." Conscience is truly cultured only when it clearly witnesses to that of which God has, in his revelation, expressed his approval. - R.T.

The reference of these verses is clearly national; nevertheless they may be pointed so as to bear upon individual men; for we may be sure that it is on the same principles on which God governs communities that he rules the heart and life of each one of his subjects. We gather concerning Divine retribution -


1. Sometimes by unconscious instruments.

(1) It may be, as here, by men acting blindly. Egypt and Assyria would be wholly unaware that they were employed by God to do his punitive work. It often happens that men suppose themselves to be simply seeking their own ends when they are really fulfilling the purpose of the Most High.

(2) Or it more frequently is by the regular action of physical or social laws.

2. Sometimes by conscious agents. As when the parent utters his strong displeasure in the Name of the heavenly Father, or the Church passes its sentence of reproach or exclusion in the Name of the Divine Master.

II. THAT IT MAY TAKE ONE OR MORE OF VARIOUS FORMS. Retribution may assume the form of:

1. Diminution. (Vers. 21-23.) All diminution is not directly caused by sin, but sin always tends to despoil and to diminish. The result of doing wrong is to come down from the higher estate to the lower, from power to feebleness, from eminence to obscurity, from influence to nothingness.

2. Dishonor. "It shall also consume the beard" (ver. 20). When men have long persisted in folly and in transgression they become the mark of general dishonor. From qualified respect down, through all stages of ill opinion, to absolute aversion and contempt, does sin conduct its victims. Sin may start in lofty defiance, but it ends in lowest shame.

3. Degradation. (Vers. 24, 25.) The country that was once cultivated by the hand of skilful diligence is left to yield the wretched and useless crop of "briers and thorns." The mind that once produced noble thoughts now yields guilty imaginations; the heart that was once full of holy love is now crowded with unworthy passions; the spirit that once soared heavenward with lofty hopes now circles round ignoble aims and ambitions that are of earth and sense; the life which once brought forth all honorable and admirable activities has nothing to offer now but selfish schemes or even deeds of darkness. - C.

I. INVADING HOSTS. The armies of Egypt and Assyria are compared to swarms of bees. As the bee-master calls to his winged slaves with a peculiar sound, so at the call of Jehovah the swarms of Israel's foes will come on, with swords that sting, and settle down in the low-lying pastures of the land, in the rock-clefts, the hedges of thorn, and the pastures. (For the image of the bees, compare Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalm 118.) In Joel 2. we find a splendid picture of locusts as pictorial of an invading army.

II. DEVASTATION. Another striking image. The land, devoured by strangers, will be like a man clean shaven from top to toe of all his manly ornament of hair and beard. Like a keen razor will be the sweeping penal judgment of Jehovah on the holy laud. The rich vineyards will disappear. No pruning nor digging will go forward. Briers and thorns, quick usurpers of the neglected corn-fields, will flourish, and the courts of the houses will be weed-grown (cf. Isaiah 5:6; Isaiah 32:13). Here and there will be seen a cow and a sheep or two, grazing as on a great common or desert. The farmer will disappear, or will return to the wild nomad life, living on the produce of his few cattle and on honey. Thorns and thistles will replace the vines, and the hunter will wander with bow and arrow where once the husbandman had been seen busy with spade or plough. The hoe will cease from its work, for, alas! with hope of fruit the "fear of thorns and thistles" has ceased; and the ox and the sheep will find free pasture everywhere. We have seen Landseer's two striking pictures, "War" and "Peace," in the National Gallery, and can feel their pathos. To look out from peace and plenty upon a perspective of smoke, bloodshed, and desolation is that to which the prophet calls the king. Yet amidst the gloom appears the figure, mystically hinted, of the young Messiah. And, indeed, it was in the midst of down-trodden Galilee, over which armies had so often tramped, that Jesus appeared, and adopted the holy and comforting mission of the Messiah as his own (Luke 4.). - J.

In this latter part of the chapter we have one of those highly elaborate, intense, and suggestive pictures which are peculiar to the books of the prophets. The mighty Assyrian army sweeps over the land; the people flee before them; they fill every corner; they eat up all the food; they carry away all the flocks and herds; a man can barely save one cow and two sheep; they consume the fruits; they trample down the shrubs; they bear off the people captive; they leave behind them a wilderness; there is nobody to rent or till the land; the few scattered inhabitants are content to live on the spontaneous products, milk and curds and honey; agriculture is entirely stopped, and the wild beasts are again encroaching on the arable and pasture lands. William Jay, of Bath, was accustomed to say, "God can punish individuals in this life, and in the next; but he can only punish nations, as such, in this life." This may be further illustrated by reference to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, which was a direct national judgment on their sins as a nation, culminating in the judicial murder of their Messiah. The shout had risen, "His blood be on us, and on our children;" and so it was. We suggest the following points for consecutive illustration: -

I. Some sins are distinctively national. Such as the high-handed dealings of modern nations with semi-civilized peoples.

II. Some judgments are distinctly national. Such as Isaiah refers to: loss of statesmen; or of male population; war, etc.

III. These are directly related, the one to the other, as are sowing and reaping.

IV. They are thus fitted together, as outward and evident illustrations of the relations between sin and punishment, for the individual. - R.T.

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