Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Unwanted Offer, Unwelcome Source

The country of Judah was in a dismal state.  Ahaz had taken the throne and was leading the nation into great wickedness, even offering his own son to be burned (2 Ki 16:2–4).  During his reign, Israel and Syria had joined forces and conspired to overthrow Jerusalem and place it under Syrian control.  As would be expected, Ahaz, with all Judah, feared the coming armies.  Before the attack could be mounted, Isaiah went to Ahaz with a message of hope and peace: nothing would come of this.  On top of this good news was a warning call: If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all (Isa 7:9).  The only certainty of a firm foundation was in national repentance.

To sweeten the deal, God gave Ahaz the opportunity to name any sign as surety that the promise would be fulfilled:
Ask a sign of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.
The offer was remarkable.  Whatever Ahaz could conceive was his to ask.  His response?
I will not ask, and I will not put the Lᴏʀᴅ to the test.
This sounds rather pious, making Ahaz appear to suddenly humble himself before the Lord, however, such is not the case for two reasons.  First, Ahaz was apostate.  He had nothing but contempt for the God of Abraham and Moses, as evidenced by his worship practices.  An offer from YHWH would be admitting he had been entirely wrong—not a pleasant place to find oneself.  Second, Isaiah’s response exposed the king’s attitude:
Hear then, O house of David!  Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?
Isaiah levels his aim at the entire nation of Judah. It has been bad enough that people are wearied by the pretense of being faithful.  How do they think it possible to pull the same stunt on God Himself?  Also, notice the change in language: from “Lᴏʀᴅ your God” in the offer to “my God” in the rebuke.  The prophet communicated further that the True Ruler over Judah was giving a sign, whether or not Ahaz liked it.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
Besides the amazing birth, Isaiah makes known that, unlike the nation, this child will know the difference between good and evil and will choose appropriately in the face of impending disaster and see a beginning of normalcy from the destruction.  As for the united Syrian-Israeli invasion:
For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.  The Lᴏʀᴅ will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!
Within a short time the feared invasion would come and many be carried away (2 Chr 28:5–8).  Ahaz and Judah deserved everything that came, but it did not serve His purposes to deal with Israel.  Something far worse was promised—an Assyrian invasion.  God sent His prophet with an unwanted promise to an ungrateful king and people, yet within the act we see divine grace and mercy.  The Lord condemned Judah’s wickedness, but He also promised to restore after the impending invasion and gave fair warning of future events.  In doing so, Judah was given every opportunity to see the faithfulness of their Deliverer with a view to repent and wholly turn to Him.

Some centuries later, God repeated the process with a twist.  The people had largely neglected the Lord and His Word.  The rulers of the people cared more for their system of governance and piety than had been divinely delivered and expected.  He sent a prophet but one more than a prophet, a son but one more than a son.  He sent Himself.  The Word of God came to His people to declare a message of great tidings to all people.  Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom and called for repentance, warning of the destruction that would meet them.  He came to His own, and they did not receive Him.  Indeed, the leadership sought to destroy Him.  Within this atmosphere of hostility, He continued the mission on which He was sent for the benefit of mankind.  A greater danger is yet coming, the final judgment and eternal damnation.

The offer is still unwanted and the source unwelcome, yet we continue sharing the need for repentance from sin and the glorious gospel found in our Lord and Savior.  May we continue faithful to the task.

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