The name Immanuel means “God with us.” It’s part of a beautiful Messianic prophesy that God delivered to a sinful king. When confronted by people who wouldn’t do as they were told, who thought they didn’t need God, and wanted to do their own thing, God’s response was to promise He would come and visit them. He followed through on that promise by coming to live on our plane of existence, getting as close to us as He could so He could relate to us and save us in a uniquely vulnerable way.
For Christians today, there’s a temptation to look at the stories of the Old Testament as just that — stories. These include the stories about all the bad kings of ancient Israel and Judah, which might not seem particularly relevant to us. King Ahaz of Judah was just one in a long list. He committed idolatry, sacrificed his own children, and tore valuables out of the Lord’s temple to pay-off his neighbors (2 Kings 16).
When Jerusalem was attacked during Ahaz’s reign, the Lord sent Isaiah to him with a message. Isaiah tells Ahaz, “Be careful, and keep calm. Don’t be afraid, neither let your heart be faint” because the Lord will not let enemy plots against His people succeed (Is. 7:3-9, WEB). Even though Ahaz was actively practicing evil, God was still concerned with Judah and He still held open a door for Ahaz to repent.
What happens next leads to one of the most famous prophesies in the Old Testament. But rather than just skip ahead to the Immanuel prophecy, let’s take a close look at the conversation God had with Azah that led up to this incredible promise.
God Offers Proof
Yahweh spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of Yahweh your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.”(Is. 7:10-11, WEB)
Yahwweh calls Himself Ahaz’s God. Though the king didn’t acknowledge Him as God, that didn’t make Yahweh any less God. And because of His promises to Ahaz’s ancestor David, Yahweh still considers Judah His people. He still wants to have a relationship with them.
Most people aren’t offered a sign from God like this. But here, God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, presumably one that would prove to Ahaz that God is telling the truth. The sign would be yet one more proof of God’s “divine faithfulness and veracity,” to quote Matthew Henry.
Ahaz’s False Piety
But Ahaz said, “I won’t ask. I won’t tempt Yahweh,” (Is. 7:12, WEB)
Ah, yes. The old “I won’t do what I’m told because I’m sure God wouldn’t really want that” excuse. Ahaz’s reason for not asking sounds pious, but it’s not. In his heart, it seems that Ahaz thought he knew better than God and didn’t want anything to do with him. Excuses for disobeying God are never valid no matter how “religious” they might sound.
He would not thus far be beholden to the God of Israel, or lay himself under obligation to him. He would not ask a sign for the confirming of his faith because he resolved to persist in his doubts and distrusts; yet he pretends a pious reason; I will not tempt the Lord; as if it would be a tempting of God to do that which God himself invited and directed him to do (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Is. 7:10-16)
The Sins of Ahaz
Are we guilty of being like Ahaz? I’d probably have said, “No — he was an evil monster who burned children” a few days ago. But after starting this study I’ve been thinking more about what Ahaz was doing, and so I have a few questions for us:
- Do we put things higher in importance than God, which is idolatry?
- Have we ever taken inappropriate liberties with or caused damage to people who make up God’s church, which is the modern day temple of God?
- Are we trusting in something other than God to fight our battles for us?
- Do we ignore what God’s word says while pretending to honor Him?
Those are the sorts of things Ahaz was doing, and they’re also traps that it’s easy to fall into today. Paul says things that happened to ancient Israel “happened to them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11, WEB). We need to learn from Ahaz so we won’t fall into similar sins.
God Chooses A Sign
Isaiah doesn’t waste any time in telling Ahaz he sees through the king’s hypocrisy.
He said, “Listen now, house of David. Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God also?” (Is. 7:13, WEB)
The Hebrew here can also indicate Ahaz grieved, wearied, or offended God (H3811, laah). Presumably, God would have been justified in reacting to this sleight with anger and punishment. But He does something entirely different.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Is. 7:14, WEB)
Rather than crushing the house of David for rebellion, God offered a greater sign than Ahaz would have dreamed to ask for. This sign wasn’t about deliverance from the immediate attack on Jerusalem, but about a far greater deliverance from everything keeping God’s people separate from Him.
Like so many things in the Bible, God’s decision to send Immanuel connects with His longing for relationship with us. God wanted to give even sinful Ahaz a chance to participate in the covenants made with his ancestors and build a relationship with God. Similarly, Jesus Christ — God with us — came to this earth with an invitation for all who will listen. He says, “Come to me,” “Follow me,” Abide in me,” “Hear my voice.” God has already chosen us, and now He wants us to choose Him over everything else.