Counting the Days: December 6, 2023
Robert Gmeiner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Financial Economics
How does context illuminate a prophecy of Christ? These well-known verses foretell the miraculous virgin birth of our Lord and Savior. It has been two millennia since Christ’s birth, so how can Isaiah’s words guide us today? Isaiah begins by telling King Ahaz to “ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God.” He implies that almost any sign could be given, saying, “ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.” Just prior to these verses, Isaiah discusses the war being waged on Judah by Ephraim and Syria, two powerful nations that seemed sure to bring ruin. Isaiah plainly states, “It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass,” meaning that Ahaz’s kingdom of Judah would survive this battle. The sign that Isaiah invites Ahaz to request is to confirm this prophecy of victory. Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.” We know we shouldn’t tempt God, so this sounds like a good show of humility, but it really wasn’t.
What kind of ruler was Ahaz? Not a very good one, as we read elsewhere in the Old Testament. He instituted idolatry and sacrificed his own son in a heathen manner. Sure enough, Ephraim and Syria did not prevail against him, but he didn’t seek victory in the right way. He plundered the temple to offer gifts to the king of Assyria, first hoping for an alliance, and then hoping to avoid an attack, which eventually happened anyway. Why wouldn’t Ahaz want a sign from God? If he received a sign, he would know of God’s promises, and that God would judge him for his misdeeds, which were many. He would not be able to disbelieve in his heart. He would know that he was not right before God. Is this why Isaiah promised him a sign from God anyway, to tell him to change? I think so. The sign had a near-term fulfillment of the quick successful end of the war, but an even more important distant fulfillment in a Savior who would redeem the people. Had Ahaz been more upright, maybe he could have received the sign happily, rejoicing that the war would end in his favor, and that he too would be redeemed. Instead, he shrank.
Are God’s promises delightful or fearful? They may seem improbable, but are they certain? Do we trust ourselves like Ahaz, or do we trust God? Does God’s promise make us what to change and repent? Answering these questions gives me cause for deep reflection. Feigning humility and while trusting ourselves is not the same as coming “boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). To those who sincerely follow Him, God’s promises are delightful, and they are certain.