700 years before the birth of Jesus, King Ahaz ruled over the nation of Judah. This reign was not marked by peace and prosperity, but by difficulty and war. Judah was being attacked by the armies of Israel (the Kingdom was divided at this time) and Aram. Ahaz, fearing the stability of the nation and his future legacy, turned to the feared Assyrian army to try to buy some help to fight off Aram and Israel. For a King who was leading God’s chosen people, Ahaz’s choice of an ally was very peculiar. God had made promises to protect Judah and provide for her needs, and He had delivered on those promises time and time again in her history. Ahaz, however, did not trust in the Lord, instead looking to other men to secure the stability He desired.
In Isaiah 7, God speaks to Ahaz and dares him to trust God (not man) for his deliverance. In 7:9-11, God says to Ahaz, “‘If you (Ahaz) want me (God) to protect you, learn to believe what I say. . . Ask me for a sign Ahaz, to prove that I will crush your enemies as I have promised. Ask for anything you like, and make it as difficult as you want.’”
I firmly believe that Ahaz thought that this dare from God was a test. Ahaz did not want to fail the test, so he says back to God in 7:12, “No, I wouldn’t test the Lord like that.” Ahaz must have puffed out his chest a bit as he said he would never put God to the test. What Ahaz thought was a pious rejection, however, was actually a good depiction of his spiritual allegiance. Ahaz would not put the Lord to ANY use in his real life. He wanted God on his side, but he assumed that in order to maintain the nation’s stability, he would have to impress God with his self-directed wisdom, not a declaration of his utter need for dependence. Ahaz did not want to show God any weakness, thinking that God wanted him to be strong (or at least have strong friends).
After rejecting God’s call for a sign, Ahaz is confronted by the prophet Isaiah who spoke God’s response in 7:13-16: “Then Isaiah said, ‘Listen well, you royal family of David! You aren’t satisfied to exhaust my patience. You exhaust the patience of God as well! All right then, the Lord Himself will choose the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call Him Immanuel – God with us! By the time this child is old enough to eat curds and honey, he will know enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong. But before he knows right from wrong, the two kings you fear so much – the kings of Israel and Aram – will both be dead.’’” In this verse, God is telling Ahaz that God will extract Judah from underneath the oppression of the armies of Israel and Aram in a short amount of time. Indeed, God sets a time sensitive “sign” in place that says when God’s people see a child named Immanuel born to a woman who was still a virgin at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, it will be less than two years until the kings of Aram and Israel will die and their threat to Judah will be subdued. In this way, Ahaz and Judah were called to renew their trust in God alone to provide deliverance from their enemies. This prophecy was given in 735 BC. Just 3 years after this prophecy was given (in 732 BC), the kings of Israel and Aram were dead and the threat to Judah from these two “enemies” was subdued. God had made good on his promise. There most likely was a woman who was not married in 735 BC who met a man shortly after Isaiah’s prophecy, married him, and they had a child together. (NOTE: This would not have been an immaculate conception. The “virgin” referred to the fact that the woman was not married yet at the time of Isaiah’s original prophecy.) Before that child grew to be old enough to eat more than just baby food, Judah’s threats had been eliminated by God Himself. God had showed Himself worthy to be trusted.
Fast forward 700 years from the events of King Ahaz, and you will find a young virgin woman pregnant with a child named Jesus. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Matthew, as he writes his Gospel, is directed to draw a connection between Isaiah 7 and the birth of Jesus. Matthew 1:21-23 says, “‘She (Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.’” Though undoubtedly there was a contemporary application to Isaiah 7 in Ahaz day, ultimately, the words of Isaiah were looking to a day seven centuries away . . . when another baby born, this time by a woman who was still a virgin, would be a sign that an even greater deliverance was forthcoming for God’s people. Jesus did not just come to rid His people of two pesky foreign kings . . . He came to deliver people from their sins!!
As someone who gets to read both stories from the comfort of the 21st century, I am so glad that Immanuel means more for us than just temporary military conquest. Ahaz got temporary relief from Aram and Israel 2 years after a child was born. We get to have permanent relief from the consequences of our sin 2,000 years after Jesus was born.
In our lives, like Ahaz, many times we assume that victory over our chief enemies (sin and its consequences) is found in our own self-righteous behavior. Real victory, however is not found in ourselves, it is found in a child who was born to a virgin. Jesus alone can deliver us from our sins. When it comes to the forgiveness of our sins, God is daring us to trust Him. He gave us (as Ahaz 2,700 years prior) a sign showing He is able to do marvelous things and is worthy to be trusted. “The virgin shall conceive a child” . . . and she did. . . and we can be saved as a result. Immanuel . . . God with us! Remember that blessed truth this Christmas season.