Isaiah 7 – The Sign of Immanuel & The Syro-Ephraimite War

So did Isaiah tell the people what You told Him to tell them?

1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.

Ahaz
Ahaz, an abbreviation of Jehoahaz, “Yahweh has held”. He was king of Judah, and the son and successor of Jotham. Ahaz was 20 when he became king of Judah and reigned for 16 years. Ahaz is portrayed as an evil king in the Second Book of Kings (2 Kings 16:2).

Edwin R. Thiele concluded that Ahaz was co-regent with Jotham from 736/735 BC, and that his sole reign began in 732/731 and ended in 716/715 BC.[3] William F. Albright has dated his reign to 744 – 728 BC.

The Gospel of Matthew lists Ahaz of Judah in the genealogy of Jesus. He is also mentioned in Isaiah 14:28.

2 And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.

In the prophetic books “Ephraim” and “Israel” are the collective names of the ten tribes who under  Jeroboam, established the Northern Kingdom, subsequently called Samaria (1 Kgs 16:24) and were sent to exile (722 B.C.) which still continues (2 Kgs 17:1-6).  They are distinguished as “the outcasts of Israel” from the “dispersed of Judah” (Isa 11:12).  “Hidden” in the world (Matt 13:44) they, with Judah, are yet be restored to Palestine and made one nation again (Jer 23:5-8; Eze 37:11-24).

3 Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field;

4 And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.

King Hoshea
Hoshea was the last king of the Israelite Kingdom of Israel and son of Elah (not the Israelite king Elah). William F. Albright dated his reign to 732–721 BC, while E. R. Thiele offered the dates 732–723 BC

Assyrian records confirm the Biblical account of how he became king. Under Ahaz, Judah had rendered allegiance to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria, when the Northern Kingdom under Pekah, in league with Rezin of Damascus, had attempted to coerce the Judean king into joint action against Assyria. Hoshea, a captain in Pekah’s own army, placed himself at the head of the Assyrian party in Samaria; he then removed Pekah by assassination; Tiglath-pileser rewarded Hoshea by making him king over Ephraim, which had been reduced to smaller dimensions. An undated inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III boasts of making Hoshea king after his predecessor had been overthrown:

Israel (lit. : “Omri-house” Bit-Humria)…overthrew their king Pekah (Pa-qa-ha) and I placed Hoshea (A-ú -si’) as king over them. I received from them 10 talents of gold, 1,000(?) talents of silver as their tribute and brought them to Assyria.

5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying,

6 Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal:

7 Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.

8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people.

9 And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.

10 Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying,

King Pekah
Pekah was king of Israel. He was a captain in the army of king Pekahiah of Israel, whom he killed to become king. Pekah was the son of Remaliah. Pekah became king in the fifty-second and last year of Azariah, king of Judah, and he reigned twenty years. Died in 732 B.C.

11 Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.

12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.

13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?

The prophecy isn’t addressed to the faithless Ahaz, but to the whole “House of David.” The objection that such a far-off even as the birth of Christ could be no “sign” to Ahaz, is therefore puerile.  It was a continuing prophecy addressed in the Davidic family, and accounts at once for the instant assent of Mary (Lk 1:38).

14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.

Indicating the plain and simple life that Jesus would be raised up in.

16 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.

17 The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.

18 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.

19 And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes.

20 In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard.

21 And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep;

22 And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land.

Samaria
Ruins of the walls of the ancient capital of Samaria, built by Omri and Ahab, husband of Jezebel.

23 And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briers and thorns.

24 With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; because all the land shall become briers and thorns.

25 And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thorns: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle.

The Syro-Ephraimite War

The great promise of Isaiah 7:14, that a virgin would give birth to a son and call him Immanuel (Matt 1:23), did not arise in a vacuum but form within a specific historical context.

Jeroboam II
Jeroboam II was the son and successor of Jehoash and the thirteenth king of the ancient Kingdom of Israel, over which he ruled for forty-one years in the eighth century BC. His reign was contemporary with those of Amaziah and Uzziah, kings of Judah.

In approximately 734 B.C., Israel (the Northern Kingdom), also called Ephraim) and Syria (also called Aram) formed a military alliance in defiance of the growing power of Assyria.

The king of Israel was Pekah, who had apparently assassinated his predecessor, Pekahiah, son of Menahem, seized power and instituted an anti-Assyrian policy in Israel.

The king of Syria was Rezin.  Syria had for a long time been a major opponent of the Assyrian Empire, which was at that time under the control of Tiglath-Pileser III.

Assyria (located in what is now Iraq) was strategizing an approach from the east against Damascus, the capital of Syria, and then Samaria, the capital of Israel.

Pekah and Rezin realized that their position would be that much more difficult if Judah, to the south of Samaria, was against them.  In such a situation the Pekah and Rezin realized that their position would be that much more difficult if Judah, to the south of Samaria, was against them. 

In such a situation the would have had to fight a two-front war against Ahaz of Judah to the south and the Assyrians to the northeast.

Damascus
Damascus is the capital of the Syrian Arab Republic; it is also the country’s largest city, following the decline in population of Aleppo due to the battle for the city. It is colloquially known in Syria as ash-Sham and titled the City of Jasmine.

They decided to launch a preemptive strike against Jerusalem and to replace Ahaz with a puppet king, an individual referred to simply as the “son of Tabeel” (Isa 7:6).

A historical problem in this story is that 2 Kings 15:30 reports that Hoshea, the last king of Israel, assassinated his predecessor Pekah, in the 20th year of Jotham, father of Ahaz.  If so, how could Pekah have led a war against Ahaz?  The probable solution is that Ahaz was at the time of the war a coregent with his father, Jotham.

At the opening of Isaiah 7, the prophet found Ahaz at the conduit of the Upper Pool, perhaps inspecting the city’s water supply in anticipation of a siege.  The coalition of Syria and israel had already devastated the territory of Judah.

House of King David
For many years critics argued that many biblical figures, including King David, are myths.
In 1992, a team of archaeologists digging in northern Galilee found an inscription from the 9th century B.C.E. that refers both to the ‘House of David’ and to the ‘Kin of Israel.’ The inscription also shows that Israel and Judah were important kingdoms in the 9th century B.C.

Isaiah offered Ahaz assurance from God that the city would not fall and urged him to ask for a sign from God, but Ahaz curtly refused.  It appears that Ahaz didn’t want to be bothered with religious talk because he had already sent an appeal to Tiglath-Pileser for help.  The Assyrian king did indeed respond and moved swiftly against the Syro-Ephraimite coalition.

But Isaiah was furious that Ahaz was placing his hope in Assyrian rather than in God.  He informed the king that Jerusalem would indeed survive but that Assyrian troops would pass through and land like a flood, decimating everything in their path.

The Assyrians would sweep the land clean, like a razor that shaves all the hair from a man’s body (v 20).  The people of Judah would be reduced to near starvation.  Since farming would be impossible under these condition, the land would revert to pasture and wilderness (Isa 7:23).

People would have to live off whatever they could hunt or gather in the wild, as well as the dairy products of whatever cattle they could manage to retain (Isa 7:21-25).

Tiglath-Pileser III
Tiglath-Pileser III was a prominent king of Assyria in the eighth century BCE who introduced advanced civil, military, and political systems into the Neo-Assyrian Empire. TiglathᐨPileser III seized the Assyrian throne during a civil war and killed the royal family.

Just as Isaiah had predicted, the coalition of Syria and Israel came to nothing.  Pekah was assassinated by Hoshea, and Damascus fell to the Assyrians in 732 B.C.  Hoshea would ultimately lead Israel to resist Assyria again in 722 B.C.

Samaria would be destroyed and the Northern Kingdom would come to an end.  But Assyrian power nearly brought down Jerusalem as well.  Ahaz’s rejection of the sign had nearly cost Judah everything but it did lead to God’s giving a much greater sign in Isaiah 7:14.