Isaiah 7 has been the subject of endless controversy throughout the Christian centuries. However, the Holy Spirit makes this portion of Scripture clear to those who are ready to receive His testimony because of the way it is used in connection with the birth of our blessed Lord.
During the reign of King Ahaz (the grandson of Uzziah) war broke out between Judah and Israel. Pekah, the son of King Remaliah of Israel, entered into a confederacy with King Rezin of Syria; and they went together to besiege Jerusalem. Though the siege lasted for some time, they were unable to subjugate the holy city.
When Ahaz learned of the confederacy against him, his heart and the heart of his people were moved with fear, for Ahaz had walked in the ways of the kings of Israel rather than in those of the house of David. He had therefore little or no reason to expect divine help against his foes. But God’s heart was inclined to help the people of Judah, for the time had not yet come to deliver them up to their enemies. There had been quite a measure of return to the Lord during the days of Jotham, the father of Ahaz.
God heard the prayers of His almost distracted people and sent the prophet Isaiah to meet Ahaz and give him a word of encouragement. Isaiah took with him his son Shear-jashub, whose name meant “the remnant shall return.” All of Isaiah’s children seem to have been named prophetically in order that they might be signs to the people of Judah.
The message that Isaiah brought to Ahaz was one of trust and comfort: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted.” In the sight of God the kings who had united their forces against Ahaz were like two smoking firebrands soon to be extinguished. Their wickedness and ungodliness were such that the Lord was about to deal with them in judgment and therefore would not permit them to overcome Judah or subdue Jerusalem. It was in vain that they took counsel together against Ahaz and his people and sought to make a breach in the defenses of Jerusalem.
Regarding the scheme of Pekah and Rezin, the Lord God declared, “It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass…Within threescore and five years shall Ephraim [Israel] be broken, mat it be not a people.” Syria would be unable to help them against the king of Assyria, who in God’s own time was to carry the northern kingdom into captivity.
At the time when Isaiah was sent to encourage Ahaz, God confirmed through the prophet the gospel message that had been given in the garden of Eden. There God had declared that the Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. The Seed of the woman is a most significant expression because it refers to the virgin birth of the Messiah. All others born into the world are definitely of the seed of the man, but the great Deliverer was to come only through the woman.
Isaiah told Ahaz to ask the Lord for a sign that would confirm the word the prophet had spoken. Ahaz refused, saying, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.” His words sounded pious enough, but actually they came from an unbelieving heart; he was afraid to ask for a sign lest it should not come to pass. The pretended humility of Ahaz was hateful to God. Isaiah declared, “Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?” He who is all-powerful might have given any sign that could have been asked.
Isaiah went on to say, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign [and of such a character that men would think it was impossible for it to come to pass]; “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel, as we know, means “God with us.” The virgin’s Son was to be God manifested in the flesh. (Fuller details are given in Isaiah 9.)
Only unbelief could cause anyone to try to nullify the force of this passage by reading “a young woman” in place of “a virgin,” and by saying that the young woman was the wife of the prophet and the son was their son. It is perfectly true that the word rendered “virgin” might also be rendered “maiden,” but every maiden is presumably a virgin—if not, something is radically wrong. So the prophecy here clearly and definitely declared that an unmarried virgin would become a mother and the child would be named “God with us.” I am not saying, as Rome does, that the virgin Mary is the mother of God. She became the mother of the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, but He who was born of her was God manifested in the flesh.
This sign would come to pass, but it was not to be fulfilled during the days of Ahaz. The fulfillment would come some time afterward, for the prophet immediately added, “Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.” Before this child would come on the scene and grow to maturity, not only the king of Israel but also the king of Judah would have ceased to reign; the land would have been left without a son of David sitting on the throne of Judah, or any representative sitting on the throne of Israel.
The expression “butter and honey shall he eat” is very striking, for it indicates the true humanity of the child to be born of the virgin. Although He was to be supernaturally conceived, he would have a real physical body, which would be sustained by proper food. Butter (curds) is the quintessence of animal food, and honey the quintessence of vegetable food. With such fare therefore the holy Child was to be nourished that He might grow from infancy to manhood in a normal way. When we turn to the New Testament records, we do not read of some remarkably precocious child whose early activities were different from those of other little ones. Luke 2:52 says that He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Feeding on the food provided, He grew from childhood to youth and from youth to manhood.
In the Apocryphal gospels many curious and weird legends are connected with the boy Jesus. From the very first He is pictured as acting in a supernatural way, even at His birth taking three steps forward to the amazement of those attending His mother. It is said that when playing with other boys He would work strange miracles that amazed them; on the other hand, if they failed to appreciate Him, He would visit judgment upon them. But this is not the Christ of God; the person thus portrayed is a creature of man’s unholy imagination.
As a babe, as a growing child, as a youth, and as a man, the humanity of our Lord was exactly like that of other people, except that He did not sin. He was made in all things like His brethren (Hebrews 2:17) that He might properly represent us before God as our kinsman-redeemer.
To Ahaz and his people and his father’s house, God would bring distress and trouble by means of the king of Assyria’s coming into the land. In fact Judah was to be the bone of contention between two great powers: Assyria on the east and Egypt on the west. As Judah contemplated the increasing might of Assyria, they turned desperately to Egypt, hoping to find in that people an ally who would help protect them from the eastern power. But Judah learned in the end that Egypt was a broken reed. Instead of becoming helpful she would herself turn against them.
As a result of the conflict that would ensue, the day was not far distant when famine and pestilence would sweep through the land. The great cities of Judah would fall. Out in the country, those who remained would exist on the produce of the soil; but even this would be available in limited quantities, for thorns and briers would soon cover large districts where industries, plantations, and vineyards had once flourished. Nevertheless God would still intervene to protect the poor of the flock and those who waited on Him; in response to their toil the land would once more bear fruit instead of thorns and briers, and oxen and sheep would again be raised in sufficient numbers to meet the needs of the people.
To some it might seem strange that the prophecy of the virgin’s Son would be given in such an unexpected place, but we need to remember that God always had Christ before Him, and that every king of Judah was the anointed of the Lord in his time. Our word Messiah simply means “the anointed” and therefore each of these kings was supposed to prefigure God’s own blessed Son, who was to come into the world as the Son of David. In the fullness of time God would present His Son to the chosen nation as the anointed One in whom alone deliverance was to be found. Many of these kings failed utterly to typify the Lord. Their behavior showed that they were far removed in spirit from what God had in mind for them. Ahaz had shown himself forgetful of the law of the Lord, and so in the hour of his distress he did not have the courage to count on God or to expect help from Him. How natural then that under the circumstances God should speak of another King, a Son of David, who would be born into the world supernaturally, and who in His own time would show who was the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.