Isaiah 7=Emmanuel, God With Us!
Bible Background: This story mixes politics and religion! In 734 BCE, King Ahaz of Judah is being threatened by the King of Israel and one of his allies. King Ahaz reaches out for an alliance with superpower Assyria (who will eventually crush Israel and Judah). The prophet Isaiah urges King Ahaz to trust in God and not in a bad political alliance. He invites Ahaz to ask God for a ‘sign’-any sign, in fact. Ahaz refuses to ask-in a show of fake reverence for God. God tells Ahaz he will be given a sign anyway! The sign is of a child who will soon be born to a young woman, and named “Emmanuel”. This was not originally a prophecy about the birth of Jesus over 700 years later, though Christians have come to read it that way!
Digging Deeper: 1. King Ahaz is in a precarious situation, and is afraid. He does have a choice: to trust in God and listen to Isaiah; or to trust in his own instincts. He utterly fails to trust God. The ‘sign’ of Emmanuel for him is both a promise and a threat, as in: God will be with you, all right; but God will be your judge, too!
2. The original Hebrew story is about a young woman, who is pregnant at that time (maybe Mrs. Ahaz, maybe Mrs. Isaiah). Before the child is 3-4 years old, Isaiah declares the threat to Ahaz from outside enemies will be over. These words were taken over by Matthew in writing his gospel, and ‘a young woman’ was changed to ‘a virgin’ to describe for Joseph, how the birth of Jesus would take place.
3. We have here both a big question and a big point about the use of ancient scripture: This passage applied to one, specific, historical dilemma in the time of Isaiah. It was not a prophecy about the future birth of a messiah. How did it get used that way? Basically, scripture and our reading and understanding of it is always evolving. Matthew, and other Christians-looking back, saw God’s hand at work in this 700 year old proclamation, and it helped them understand the birth of Jesus as the extension of God’s promise to be with us. Matthew’s gospel ends with this beautiful promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age!”
4. Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles that said “Gott mitt Us” in WWII. (Certainly some of those soldiers were trying to be faithful to God, even while they were forced to honor Hitler’s wishes.) How is this ‘sign’ of Emmanuel=God with us, both a promise and a threat to us today? Do we recognize and welcome God’s presence? God’s will? God’s authority? Will we put our trust in God? Or do we want to operate according to our will; be our own authority; and put our trust in ourselves, or certain political figures, or the almighty dollar? Will we cave in to fear? Or side with God?