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Isaiah 7:10-17

Lesson Focus

We often want a sign that God will come to us as a conquering hero. Here, God gives us a sign that consists of a defenseless child, not a conquering hero.

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand some of the socio-political contexts for the early parts of Isaiah.

  2. Understand that God with us comes to us in unexpected and rather underwhelming ways.

  3. Have faith that God does promise to be with us always.

Catching up on the Story

Ahaz, the son of Jotham, who was the son of Uzziah, is king in Judah. At this time, King Reznicek of Aram (Syria) and King Pekah, son of Remaliah of Israel (also referred to as Ephraim), joined forces to attack Jerusalem to either compel Ahaz and Judah to join them in their rebellion from Assyria or to overthrow Ahaz and place a more agreeable king on the throne. All the while, Egypt, to the south, is taking advantage of the political instability and raiding cities and towns in Judah.

In the midst of all this, Isaiah is told by God to go, taking with him his son, Shear-jashub (which means “a remnant shall return”), to Ahaz to offer him advice and direction. Isaiah seeks to reassure Ahaz that God is indeed working for Judah. The two kings, which Isaiah refers to as “smoldering stumps of firebrands,” will not pose a permanent threat. Rather, both Aram and Ephraim will be destroyed.

The Text

This week’s text can be split up into two separate sections. The first section, verses 10-13, deals with the direct conversation that Isaiah continues to have with King Ahaz. The second section, verses 14-16, deals with the sign God offers to Ahaz.

Ask for a Sign: Isaiah 7:10-13

The word of the Lord again comes to Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah. The situation seems dire, with armies sitting to Ahaz’s north and south. We have just heard some reassuring words from God that the imminent tragedy will not indeed occur. So, God directly asks Ahaz to ask him for a sign. It matters not the extent of this sign; nothing is too large to request. Ahaz can request something from Sheol, the place of the dead, or something from heaven.

To our surprise, Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign. At the outset, it might look like Ahaz is doing the correct thing. Here God offers to prove to Ahaz what will come to pass, yet Ahaz declares that he will not put God to the test. Of course, we remember the words of Jesus during his wilderness temptation as he quotes Deuteronomy, saying that one should not put the Lord our God to the test. It certainly looks like Ahaz is exercising great faith in God by not asking for a sign.

Yet, Isaiah greets Ahaz’s refusal to seek a sign with a stern rebuke! “Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?” (v.12) Here, the sense of “weary” is to “exhaust the patience of.” (Brown, Driver, Briggs) Not only has Ahaz exhausted the patience of those around him but of God also.

Many commentators believe that Ahaz was not concerned with taking Israel’s faith seriously. The witness of those who compiled the book of Kings (2 Kings 16:10-18) judged Ahaz to be motivated by politics and pagan worship more than by devotion to the one true God (Watts, 98). Or, perhaps Ahaz was scared to ask for a sign because, like us, we may not like what we receive. It might be better to ask for forgiveness for doing the wrong thing than to ask for permission (Lundbald).

Whatever the case may be, Isaiah’s response and the giving of the sign anyway place Ahaz clearly in the wrong.

Here’s Your Sign: Isaiah 7:14-16

Isaiah proceeds to give Ahaz the sign that he clearly does not want. The content of the sign is also contrary to what Ahaz wants: that God is with us. It will be clear, as the narrative moves forward, that Ahaz rejects a world where God’s intended future exists. Ahaz could care less if God was with him.

The specifics of this sign are not unfamiliar to us. Here the NRSV and the NIV differ in their translation of the Hebrew word ‘alma. The NRSV renders the word “young woman” while the NIV renders it “virgin.” Going from the original Hebrew, “young woman” is the translation to be preferred. More broadly, the term refers to a woman of marriageable age and differs significantly from the Hebrew word normally translated as virgin or betulah (Childs, 66).