And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.
A brief historical background would help us understand in what shape and form Isaiah’s prediction against Judah and Jerusalem was coming. Judah had a king. Israel being led by a king as against God leading the nation was an indication of their backsliding. At the time of Isaiah the quality of kings were also progressively becoming worse. Uzziah was able but his impiety had made him literally a leper and his son was yet another.
God had set Samuel as their judge but that was not sufficient for children of Israel. When they wanted a king to lead them (like other nations) they had however a valid reason that Old Samuel could not refuse offhand. He had relegated on account of his old age the task of judging Israel to his sons. In our time we would call it nepotism. To make matters worse these sons ‘did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after lucre…and perverted judgment(1 Sa.8:1-5)’. Consequently all the elders together petitioned ‘Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations(v.5). God let him anoint a king accordingly.
Here we see in such changes to indicate their heart was loosening from the divine control. They had of course the laws and temple worship but such outward observances did not match with steadfastness their standing with God warranted. In wanting to shape their destiny according to the manner of other nations about them they had to be judged on their own human failings and strengths. It was thus the nation called to be God’s own peculiar people entered into league with other nations. What good it did to them can be seen in the manner Israel split into Northern kingdom (or Ephraim about Samaria), and Judah as the Southern kingdom. In this chapter the first verse mentions a league between North and Syria against Judah. The so-called statecraft,- a sample of which one can find in the Prince of Machiavelli, is clever but relies on man’s wisdom. It dictates counter measures to meet any threat that such a league could pose. Tit for tat or balance of powers sounds good but has it settled any war? Ahaz finds alliance with Assyria to deter Syria from making any belligerent move.
Who was Ahaz? He was thoroughly bad ‘and did not that was right in the sight of the Lord his God, like David his Father (2 Ki.16:2-4).’ Only we need to read the 46th Psalm of David to know the difference between having God as refuge and man as an ally. Assyria of course had power but when one examines the history of Israel it bodes ill. In the Psalm it becomes clear what it was to have God for King David:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;…. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge”.
“And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind (v.2)”.
Ahaz had reasons to fear. Rightly so since God and His might were unknown quantities in his calculation. Statecraft of the ungodly reckons in driving hard bargain where gold and silver changing hands carry value for both parties. He had never learned to put his trust in God than merely as required in a king as a matter of form, to pass muster of his people. Naturally when the king shakes one might well imagine the craven fear moving from the palace to the hovel like an ill-wind.
3 Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field;
Man may keep distance from God since he has not learned to walk with Him in good and bad times alike. But God did not take his eyes off Israel or his Holy Promise to Abraham. Faith is a spiritual aspect of glory with which God created the worlds. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible(He.11:3-NIV)” When a man speaks he has faith it has to show even though circumstances seem all contrary. So Ahaz not having had any life experience as his David father had, relied on a pact with Assyria as his life-saver. Whereas faith of God would not deny His divine nature. So he sent word to his prophet.
God asked the prophet Isaiah to take his son along. Name of the son as directed by God held special significance. Shear-jashub meant a remnant shall return. While studying the Bible we shall see the role of signs from the creation day of God till the very last book. ‘Let them be for signs’ said God after he made lights in the firmament(Ge.1:14); name of the Father written in the foreheads of the saints is similarly a sign. It shall help us to understand the sign of Immanuel to which we shall come anon.