Isaiah (Part 09): Shear-jashub and Immanuel Prophecies (Ch 7)
Chapter 7 begins telling us that Ahaz is on the throne. We have just left Isaiah’s call in chapter 6 that began with Uzziah’s death. However, 16 years transpire between Uzziah’s death, when his son Jotham ascends the throne, and Jotham’s death, when Ahaz begins his reign. The time lapse between call and prophecy does not need to worry us. What God has to tell us in this book simply begins 16 years after Isaiah’s call. The lapsed time is according to God’s ever-present coordination and preparation of all things.
Verse 1 also gives a hint as to the discussion of this chapter although it should not be taken as the first event. It is more a summary to acquaint the reader with the events of the day, especially since at least 16 years have passed since the previous chapter. The real action begins in verse 2.
In verse 2, Judah begins hearing rumors about an alliance formed between Israel (or Ephraim) and Aram. This worries Ahaz and the Jews because they recognize the purpose of the alliance is to attack southward, looking for control over Judah. This threat was of deep concern, described by Isaiah as causing hearts to tremble “like trees of a forest shaking in the wind.”
God instructs Isaiah to go to Ahaz, the king, who is checking on a conduit of the upper pool, located just west of Jerusalem. Ahaz is busy ensuring the water supply for Jerusalem if a long siege on the city comes about.
A question of timing concerns this passage. We read in 2 Chronicles 28 of attacks by Ephraim and Aram resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and captured Jews. Did that event occur before Isaiah 7 or after? Many scholars argue that Isaiah 7 occurs after the first attack since Ahaz’s rejection of God’s help in verse 12 indicates that Ahaz had already approached Assyria for help. However, we just read in verse 2 that Judah had only recently heard of the Aram/Ephraim alliance, clearly a pre-attack condition. The best resolution is to understand this chapter in two sections. The first section includes verses 2 through 9. The second begins in 10 and continues to the chapter’s end.
In the first visit by Isaiah to Ahaz, God instructs Isaiah to take his son with him. The son is named Shear-jashub, which means “a remnant will return.” Clearly the boy’s accompaniment and this name provide the basis for this first section—the Shear-jashub prophecy. Coming with a message that “a remnant will return” could be taken in a couple of ways. It could be a prophecy of bad news, emphasizing that only a remnant will return. However, the context suggests that God’s intent is to inform Ahaz that he need not worry about Ephraim and Aram succeeding in their plot to conquer Judah and place Tabeel’s son as king in Jerusalem (7:6). They may attack, but God’s word to Ahaz is that they will not lose Judah because “a remnant will return.”
Perhaps this is not much of a comfort to Ahaz. Ahaz may be concerned with a strengthening of Judah and the destruction of Ephraim and Aram. Ahaz may be hearing Isaiah’s prophecy as bad news, that Ephraim and Aram will attack and only a remnant would remain.
But the prophecy that Isaiah speaks tells us that God’s purpose in this Shear-jashub prophecy is to speak of God’s protection and urge Ahaz to trust in that.
The prophecy may be divided into five parts. The first is the opening statement of action: “It will not happen; it will not occur” (7:7). Repeating the outcome twice for emphasis, God promises that Ephraim and Aram will not take control of Judah and Jerusalem. The second part (v. 8) includes a review of Aram’s rulership. Damascus is the capital—the political influence over Aram. And the control of that capital is the king Rezin. The prophecy moves to the third part with a prediction that Ephraim would be totally annihilated within 65 years. While the threat of attack from Ephraim would be settled within just a few years, this prophecy takes a stronger and longer view in speaking not only of Ephraim’s lack of success in the immediate future, but of their long term dissolution as a nation. The fourth part of the prophecy then discusses Ephraim’s control in the same format as Aram’s control was discussed in verse 8. Ephraim’s center of political influence was its capital city Samaria. And controlling Samaria was Ephraim’s king, Pekah (the son of Remaliah). Finally, the prophecy concludes with a warning condition for Ahaz, urging him to stand firm—meaning, to maintain faith in God.
The prophecy is a chiasm:
Action – Ephraim/Aram will not succeed
Aram’s rule – Damascus, Rezin
Prediction – Ephraim wiped out as nation
Ephraim’s rule – Samaria, Pekah
Action – Judah must stand in faith
The first and last points speak to the actions of the players: Ephraim and Aram would fail if Judah maintained faith in God. The mid-point climax discussed the ultimate action by God: Ephraim would cease to exist. The second and fourth points discuss control. The emphasis on Aram’s control in Damascus and in their king and then Ephraim’s control in Samaria and in their king ought to give Ahaz pause. He ought to think of the logical next corollary. What about Judah? Judah’s political influence centered in its capital city of Jerusalem. And who controlled Jerusalem? Ahaz should have recognized that God was at the helm. This prophecy shouts out, “Who are Rezin and Pekah to attempt to control God’s people, Judah!” And Ahaz should have seen this. Ahaz should have rested in God’s protection.
Ephraim and Aram did attack. Second Chronicles 28 indicates that Judah suffered tremendous casualties. But just as God had promised, Ephraim and Aram failed to capture Jerusalem. A remnant remained.
So Ahaz had seen the threat, heard the prophecy, and witnessed the result of the attack, fulfilling the prophecy. You would think that Ahaz’s faith would have grown in this. But it didn’t. Ahaz does not seem to have been impressed. He is not satisfied with God’s way. He apparently wanted a more immediate and definitive end to the Ephraim/Aram threat. A remaining remnant was not his idea of protection and victory. So Ahaz enlists the help of the Assyrians. Perhaps trust in them (rather than in God) would bring about the results he wanted.
It is then about this time—after the first attacks of Ephraim and Aram and after Ahaz begs Assyria for help—that Isaiah again approaches Ahaz in verse 10. Again, God (through Isaiah) offers Ahaz protection. And he suggests a sign to Ahaz’s trust. But Ahaz turns away from the suggestion. Ahaz is not interested in God’s help—a help that would provide him only a remnant. Ahaz is concerned with a little more security than that. Assyria has agreed to help him. So Ahaz rebuffs Isaiah and God with his possibly sarcastic remark that he “will not test the Lord” (7:12). Isaiah understands the falsehood in Ahaz’s heart and responds with indignation—an indication of God’s indignation. Isaiah says that God will present a sign anyway. And this section (verses 10-25) may be called the Immanuel prophecy.
The sign is that a virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. It is true that the Hebrew word used here (almah) is not the normal word for virgin (bethuwlah). This word actually means a woman who is in the early prime of life—a woman of marriageable age—a woman who is at the prime time of her life to produce children. The word (almah), although not specifically focusing on virginity, is primarily understood of a virgin—a woman in this prime but not yet married. The Septuagint here and the NT in Mt 1:23 use the Greek word parthenos which does mean virgin.
Here is the point as to how we should understand this. The Immanuel prophecy is a prophecy of double fulfillment. It has an immediate (historical context) fulfillment, and it has a future, what may be termed, spiritual fulfillment. We know for certain (Matthew tells us) that the overall, spiritual fulfillment of this prophecy is Jesus. He was born of a young woman of marriageable age who was a virgin. Mary depicted every aspect of the Hebrew word almah, including the implied virginity that the Greek parthenos emphasized in Christ’s birth. But the immediate, historical fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Judah was in the birth of another son of Isaiah, Mahershalalhashbaz. That name means “hurrying to the spoil.” And in reading Isaiah 8:1-4, we see how Mahershalalhashbaz was used to signify the Assyrian attack on Aram and Ephraim, resulting in the rescue of Judah.
Immanuel—God with us—meant God’s protection in rescuing Judah from Ephraim and Aram. Immanuel—God with us—meant God’s ultimate protection in rescuing his covenant people from sin and death through Jesus. Of course, the word almah would be used in the Hebrew. It is the only word that could cover both senses of the prophecy—the prophetess with whom Isaiah had their son Mahershalalhashbaz and Mary over whom the Holy Spirit came so that Jesus could be virgin born.
The prophecy continues with a dual result of judgment and hope. In just a few years, by the time the boy was born and would know the difference between good and bad (not a complete moral sense of right and wrong, but a distinction between what is good (helpful) and what is harmful), Ephraim and Aram would be defeated. The remnant (like the boy) would be eating butter and honey (7:15 and 7:21-22). Those judged would find their land decimated (7:23-25).