In the 8th grade I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Over the years I have managed to get my depression under control, but I have struggled at times to tame my anxiety. We live in a crazy world and often times my fear comes into direct opposition to my faith. Faith says one thing, but fear says another. It’s a battle that happens frequently in my life and it’s a battle that has happened many times throughout all of history. It’s that exact battle, faith vs. fear, that is taking place in our Old Testament lection this week.
King Ahaz is fearful of the two kings mentioned just before our lectionary text begins, Rezin and the Son of Remaliah (that is, Pekah). These two kings seemed to him to be a daunting challenge, one that he did not think he could overcome. He feared what would happen when they came to attack. He had forgotten that as a descendant of David he had a promise that his lineage would continue on no matter what was going on in the world. Isaiah had called this king to have faith, but Ahaz decided he would live into his fear rather than his faith.
It is here that we find our passage beginning. Ahaz was living into his fear rather than his faith. As a result of this fear the Lord, through the Prophet Isaiah, tells Ahaz to ask for a sign. Any sign. It could be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven. Whatever Ahaz needed to see to have faith in God’s plan and God’s will, God would do. Ahaz refuses, though. Some may view this as an act of faith as elsewhere it is said “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deut. 6:16) This is a false piety, however. Ahaz is not being faithful here, but instead is being faithless. He refuses to take God’s offer, not trusting God enough to come through on his promises. This encounter, it would seem, is not a testing God, but rather is testing Ahaz to see if he would began to live into his faith and rely on God or continue in his fear.
Isaiah, growing sick of Ahaz’s faithlessness, calls him out. “Listen up you king who sits on the throne promised to David and his descendants. Isn’t it enough that you’ve made the whole country exhausted with your anxiety and lack of faith, that now you exasperate my God.” (My paraphrase) Isaiah says “my God” rather than “our God” to show that Ahaz has rejected the Lord, the one in whom his power comes from. Tired of the king not having any faith, Isaiah declares that God will provide a sign, regardless as to whether or not Ahaz wants one.
The sign would be a woman, whom they apparently both knew, who would have a son and he would be named Immanuel, God with us! By the time this child is beginning to eat solid food, he will know right from wrong. Before even that time, though, so before the end of the next 2-3 years, the two enemies that Ahaz so feared would be demolished! Just a few verses early (v 4) these two were called “two smoldering stumps of firebrands.” They were dying fires about to be put out. The coming sign would mark their final flicker before becoming fully extinguished.
The Lord was promising Ahaz that he would remain faithful to Judah and its people even when Ahaz was not faithful to him. The birth of this child was the promise that God would remain faithful to his people no matter how fearful they had become. The child was to be a sign to the people who were living in fear rather than in faith that God would come to them and love them, that he would fight on their behalf, and that they had no need to fear. No matter how intimating the enemies before them appear to, the people of God have no reason to fear. Hope is coming to them and a small child is the sign.
The lection for this week reminds us this week that God indeed is with us. Even in this day and age when fear runs amuck, we have no need to fear for a small child has proven to us that God is with us and that God is faithful to his promises. When our faith is weak, but our fear is strong, God steps in without us evening asking for it. God tells us “I am with you!” Hope is coming. The enemy that you fear is nothing compared to the promise that God has made with us.
Not only is God with us, God appears to us where we would least expect it. What is more helpless against two powering armies than a small newborn child? A newborn child is not the sign on would expect in regards to overcoming two powerful enemies. Yet that’s where God’s salvific power is to be found, in the places one would least expect it. In our weakness, in our times of fear, God can be found present among his people saying “Look to me, I’m with you.” The birth of this child in Isaiah’s prophecy would signal God’s victory for his people. Just as our Immanuel, Jesus Christ, is God with us and our sign of victory.