Virgin puzzle solved
Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel…”
(Isaiah 7:13-14, NIV)
Here is a famous verse, which at first sight is very puzzling. But it need not be.
Twenty-seven centuries ago, King Ahaz of Judah faced a crisis. His land was threatened with invasion by the armies of Samaria and Syria. They wanted to replace Ahaz as king. So both he and his people were trembling with fear. God sent the prophet Isaiah to assure the king that the threat would not materialise. But the king refused to listen.
That was when the famous words quoted above were first spoken. Through the prophet, God promised another sign - that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son, who would be Immanuel, which means, “God with us”. Matthew quotes them in his gospel, telling us that they were fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus. (Matthew 1:22)
But here’s the puzzle: in what way will the birth of a baby to a virgin, especially so far in the future, address the king’s unbelief? Commentators tend to offer a variety of half-satisfactory answers, including the idea that this also refers to a baby born in Ahaz’s time.
At the risk of sounding brash, I think there is an answer which is not difficult (you’ll need Isaiah 7 open at this point). The key lies in understanding that Ahaz comes from what Isaiah twice calls the house of David (7:2,13). He is descended from David, the king to whom God had made a very great promise:
“Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.” (2 Samuel 7:16)
This promise meant that Ahaz should not have feared this alliance of invaders. Isaiah speaks disparagingly of the possible invaders in terms of their ‘heads’ - “The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.” (7:9) By implied contrast, the head of Ahaz is David, and David’s head is God! Ahaz’s line, unlike the invaders, is backed by the sure promise of God, whose kingdom cannot fail.
But Ahaz won’t listen, so God now promises a sign. It’s addressed to a plural you - it’s a message not just to Ahaz, but to all God’s people. The virgin will conceive and have a son. Here’s the point: God will prove that He keeps His promises, even in the unlikeliest situations. He will keep that ancient promise to David, even through the biological impossibility of a virgin to conceiving a son! Ahaz, in failing to trust God to keep His promises, shows how little he understands of God’s power and faithfulness.
Centuries of devastation followed, the result of Ahaz and others not trusting God. And then, the virgin did conceive and bear a son, a descendant of David and Ahaz (Matthew 1:6, 9). More than that - the One born of the virgin was (and is) Immanuel - ‘God with us’.
God’s people needed a better king than flops like Ahaz. Here, then, is the promise of the Son who will be Mighty God, and who will reign on David’s throne (Isaiah 9:6, 7).
The lesson? Stand firm in your faith (Isaiah 7:9). Here is an extraordinary sign that God keeps His promises: His kingdom cannot fail. And with Immanuel as King, how could it?
In what ways do the churches in our country fail to trust God’s assurances, all through Scripture, that His kingdom cannot fail - and so make alliances with the world? In what ways do we, as individuals, doubt God’s power, and so take matters into our own hands - for instance, with a wrong relationship? We have so much more to go on than Ahaz had - we have seen the fulfilment of the astounding virgin promise. We have Immanuel!
We continue to read Isaiah in many of our church small groups this week.
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