July 19, 2010 David Balzer

Isaiah 7:1-9:7: What’s in a name?

Children and names. Choosing names for your kids is an important decision. Most teachers struggle to come up with a name for their own kids because every name reminds them of some NAUGHTY kid they’ve taught.

You don’t want a name that’s too old fashioned, or too weird. But at the same time you don’t want one that’s too BORING.

Then there’s what the grandparents will think. And whether there’s a FAMILY name to include somewhere.

And that’s even before you get to the question of what names MEAN. In SOME countries it becomes a huge decision. In Egypt, you can tell someone’s RELIGION by their name. If you give your kids a CHRISTIAN name, you are assigning them to a lifetime of being discrimination by the Muslim government.

I wonder if Grant’s parents knew his name meant GREAT or TALL. Or Alison’s that her name mean NOBLE. Or Andrew’s that HIS meant WARRIOR. Or Steve’s that HIS meant CROWN. Or Melissa’s that hers means HONEY-BEE. Or Joanne’s that hers means God is GRACIOUS.

Gordon’s parents MAY not have realised his name meant LARGE FORT. Or Marijke’s that her name means BITTER. Or Doug’s that HIS means BLACK WATER.

Today’s passage is full of children with very SIGNIFICANT names. Beginning with Isaiah’s own kids. Who God decides the names for. Because they send a message. All the way up to Jesus himself. Who God ALSO gives names to; God WITH us, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace.

But that’s LATER.

A remnant will repent

At the start of Ch 7, we’re introduced to Ahaz, king of Judah. It’s 735 BC, and two countries to the north of Judah, Aram and Israel, have invaded. (show map)

And v2 tells us that Ahaz is quaking in his boots. And all the rest of the people WITH him. So God sends Isaiah with a message. But not just a message, with HIS SON as well. Who’s name is Shear-Jashub, which means A REMNANT WILL REPENT, or return. (Which we’ll see the significance of soon).

So Isaiah and his son go out to find Ahaz. He’s out checking out the battlements. Keeping an eye on the invading armies. And in v4, he delivers God’s message.

Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood–because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.

The two big bullies want to rip Judah apart. Put a puppet king on the throne. And together, hopefully resist the even BIGGER bully who’s threatening from even FURTHER north – Assyria.

And poor old King Ahaz is weighing up his options. Give in to the small fry. Or resist them, and try his luck giving in to Assyria when SHE comes knocking.

But God’s word/ is DON’T DO EITHER! Be careful, keep calm, don’t be afraid. They’re only smouldering twigs. Harmless.

And then he goes on to say. V7. They want to smash you, but

“‘It will not take place, it will not happen,

And v8.

Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

And it’s easy to be like Ahaz, isn’t it? To stand on the barricades, and look out at all the THREATS, and CHALLENGES, and DANGERS. And start to WORRY. To look for human solutions. Human answers. Human alliances.

Relationships break down, or your health suffers. You’re worried about finances, or your teenagers are going off the rails. The house is falling to bits; the washing machine’s broken. And the car won’t start. You’re about to be retrenched, your neighbour abuses you, and your family is collapsing around you.

And it’s so easy to try to fix everything ourselves. To spend, or think, or talk, or argue, or re-finance, or fight, or struggle, or worry.

Instead of trusting God. Handing it over to him.

Why isn’t God our FIRST port-of-call? Rather than our LAST?

Listen to how Isaiah puts it. There at the end of v9.

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.'”

You’re sliding down a slippery slope, desperately grabbing for anything to slow you down. But the shrubs won’t hold, the rocks pull loose, every hand-hold too smooth or slippery to grab. Until you land against the base of a solid tree. IT’S not going anywhere. And it will hold you fast.

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.'”

Trust God, and you’ll remain. But if you try to keep everything together YOUR WAY, you’ll fall. Which way will Ahaz go?

And it’s here we see the significance of Isaiah’s SON. His name means, “A remnant will REPENT.”

It’s what God wants ALL the people to do. But he said in ch 6 that one response to Isaiah’s message would be that the people would be BLIND and DEAF. They’d HEAR, but not UNDERSTAND. Their hearts would be HARDENED. Too stubborn to change.

But then he finishes Ch 6 with a ray of hope. In the midst of all the destruction of invasion (v13) A TENTH will remain. Like stumps after a forest is cleared.

“So the holy seed will be the stump in the land”

God’s saying that not EVERYONE will be destroyed. There’ll be a REMNANT. A FRACTION who DO listen to Isaiah. Who ARE faithful. And who God will preserve.

And that’s the point of Isaiah taking along his SON. Who’s name means, “A remnant will repent.” Because that’s what God wants King AHAZ to do. To be part of that believing remnant.

A sign to confirm the promise

And because that’s what God wants, he gives Ahaz a wonderful offer. V10 of Ch 7.

10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.

Not content to just give a PROMISE. God offers a SIGN to SUPPORT the promise. To CONFIRM it.

Which is what God does time and again in the Bible. Back in Genesis, he doesn’t just PROMISE to be Abraham’s God, but he gives him the SIGN of circumcision to SUPPORT it.

And in the New Testament he doesn’t just PROMISE to wash away our sins. He gives us the sign of BAPTISM to CONFIRM it. To strengthen our faith in the PROMISE.

And Jesus doesn’t just PROMISE that his death pays the price for our sin, he gives us a SIGN to SUPPORT the promise. The sign of the Lord’s Supper. Pictures that help us to TRUST the PROMISE.

And he offers Ahaz the SAME. “Ask the Lord YOUR God for A SIGN.”

It’s the chance for Ahaz to claim God as HIS God. To put his hand up as belonging to God’s people. His faithful clan.

But Ahaz’s mind is made up. He prefers what he can see and negotiate with, what he can BUY, who he can CONVINCE. Rather than put his faith in a God he CAN’T see. “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Which sounds pious. After all, God DOES SAY, Don’t put the Lord your God to the test.

But it’s NOT testing, is it? Because God’s OFFERED the sign. You see, it’s actually SINFUL to REJECT the sign God OFFERS. To say it’s not important, and doesn’t matter. Whether it’s baptism, or the Lord’s Supper. Or the sign God offers Ahaz. Who’s already made up his mind. He’s going to work things out on his own.

And so Isaiah responds on God’s behalf. “Because you’re trying the patience of MY God, he’ll give you a sign ANYWAY”. Notice how Isaiah doesn’t say the LORD YOUR God anymore. It’s MY God. Like Ahaz has made his choice, and he’s no longer able to call God HIS God.

And the sign’s there in v14. A strange mix of judgment and salvation. They’re FAMILIAR words, but a bit hard to work out what they MEAN.

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a SIGN: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

You’ve heard them before, haven’t you? Matthew’s Gospel uses them to describe the birth of Jesus. We read them every Christmas. But is that their ONLY meaning? It’s tricky, but I don’t think so.

For one thing, the word for VIRGIN can also mean young woman, or engaged woman. But also have a look at how he continues.

(14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel) 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah–he will bring the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah seems to be talking about a child who’ll be born some time SOON. And he’ll be called Immanuel, which means GOD WITH US.

But that’s not the ONLY part of the sign. There’s a TIME aspect to it. First, look at v16. Before he’s at an age to make up his own mind – maybe 11 or 12 – the two enemies of Judah will be defeated. In other words, within a few years, Israel and Aram will be gone. Just like God had PROMISED! And the boy called Immanuel is the sign.

But then there’s the NEXT part to the sign. There in v15. And I think this is where the JUDGMENT bit comes in.

15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.

Some time LATER, when the boy’s GROWN UP, things will be so tough in the land that the only food will be curds, and wild honey. No crops to harvest. In other words, Judah ITSELF will be conquered. Which v17 tells us will be by Assyria, the same army that defeats Israel and Aram.

And Isaiah goes on to explain that in more detail for the rest of the chapter. About Assyria streaming in and causing ruin and chaos and destruction in the land.

Quick To The Plunder, Swift To The Spoil

And then in ch 8, we see how the sign comes about. Another name for a child. God says write down the name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Which has to be the pick of the names so far. It means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil”.

Just what God’s promising will happen to Ahaz’s enemies. But also what will come for Judah. “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil”.

And then we read about a woman who gives birth to A SON. Isaiah’s WIFE to be precise. And I can’t be SURE, but it seems likely that it’s who Isaiah’s talking about back in Ch 7. A different name. But perhaps the different name represents the choice Ahaz has made. If he’d LISTENED to Isaiah, then Immanuel – God WITH US – would have been the sign.

But since he’s chosen the opposite, the name is something DIFFERENT. “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil”.

Have a look at v4. It says a very similar sort of thing that to what ch 7 said about the baby Immanuel.

4 Before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”

Aram and Israel conquered. Swift to the spoil. Just like the name of the child who is a SIGN of God’s promise.

And then v5 to 10 seem to describe the same thing as Ch 7. What comes NEXT. Judah ITSELF will be conquered by Assyria.

And notice the way Isaiah describes it (v6)

6 “Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah (that’s stands for the refreshment and life GOD gives)

v7.

7 therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River–the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks 8 and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck.

They don’t like MY water; I’ll send them A FLOOD.

But notice it doesn’t completely drown them. Only up to the neck. Which I think is talking about the remnant that survives. The ones who keep trusting God.

And those who DO trust God, this is how they respond. The end of v8.

Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, O IMMANUEL!”

9 Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! 10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for GOD IS WITH US.

God IS with those who trust him WHATEVER the circumstances. He will keep his faithful remnant safe. He PROMISES that all things work for good for those who love God, and who’ve been called according to his purposes.

God continues to speak to Isaiah from v11. And they’re words for us too. As we struggle to be faithful in the midst of people who have no interest in putting God first.

11 The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me NOT TO FOLLOW THE WAY OF THIS PEOPLE. He said: 12 “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; DO NOT FEAR WHAT THEY FEAR, AND DO NOT DREAD IT. 13 THE LORD ALMIGHTY IS THE ONE YOU ARE TO REGARD AS HOLY, HE IS THE ONE YOU ARE TO FEAR, HE IS THE ONE YOU ARE TO DREAD, 14 AND HE WILL BE A SANCTUARY;

Aren’t they great words? Don’t follow the way of this people. Do not fear what they fear. Don’t fear armies. Don’t fear cancer. Don’t fear unemployment. Don’t fear opposition. Don’t fear disappointment. Don’t fear disaster. Don’t fear loneliness. Don’t fear tough decisions.

The Lord Almighty is the one you are to fear – to honour and respect. He is the one who controls ALL OF THAT. And he will be a SANCTUARY. A protection. A rest. A rock. A stronghold. A fortress. A comfort. A shield.

That was the word for Isaiah and his little remnant of faithful followers.

And we can be even MORE sure than them. Because God’s SIGN is doubly true. And doubly clear. Doubly SIGNIFICANT. He gave the sign of Immanuel for Ahaz. But he gave us a much greater sign of Immanuel.

Five centuries after. A virgin miraculously conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the baby is not just CALLED Immanuel, God with us. But IS God with us. Jesus, God’s Son. God’s ultimate declaration of his love and salvation for his people.

God who shields us, who is our sanctuary, not just from the disasters in THIS life, but from his own justice. Who shields us from the consequences of our sin. Who rescues us for ETERNITY.

More names

Over into Ch 9 Isaiah describes Jesus in MORE detail. A son with even more names. Isaiah just received it as a PROMISE. For US, it’s a FACT. V6.

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

A king who’ll rule perfectly. A king who’s reign has BEGUN. But who’s reign will only be COMPLETE when he RETURNS.

But even NOW, we have the opportunity, with every decision we make, every word we speak. To live under the rule of that king. As part of his faithful remnant.

Or as part of the WORLD. The majority.

Which will YOU choose? When the dangers around seem overwhelming, will you choose to trust God. Will you choose to fear HIM, rather than what THIS WORLD offers? Will you trust his promise and sign of IMMANUEL? That God is WITH you.

It was a choice Martin Luther made. Martin Luther was a Catholic monk in Germany in 1500. The Roman Catholic church had wandered a long way from what Biblical Christianity should look like. Everything was about EARNING favour with God. Trusting MAN rather than God. Listening to MAN’S words, rather than God’s words.

The more Luther read his Bible, the more he realised the problems of the church. On October 31, 1517, he nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Cathedral of Wittenberg, Germany. They were affirmations, or statements, that condemned the practices and teachings of the Roman church.

He’d decided he was going to trust God, and not to worry about the threats and challenges and dangers. It was the start of the Protestant Reformation.

To cut a long story short. After several years of stormy disputes with the Pope and other church leaders, Martin Luther was finally excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church in 1520.

Hundreds of men and women in Europe and England who stood with Luther ended up losing their lives as martyrs. Burned at the stake. Because they feared God, rather than man. Unafraid of death because they KNEW that God was WITH them.

But one of the important benefits of the Reformation Movement was the rediscovery of congregational singing. Luther said it “drives out the devil and makes people cheerful”. “The Devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles, flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”

In another place, “I wish to compose sacred hymns so that the Word of God may dwell among the people also by means of songs.”

The most powerful hymn of the Protestant Reformation was Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” based on Psalm 46.

It became the battle cry of the people, a great source of strength and inspiration. Even sung by those being martyred.

It’s been translated into practically every known language. It speaks of standing firm in your faith. Of trusting God whatever the threat. Because if God is with us, who can be against us?

1. A mighty fortress is our God,

a bulwark (shield/ floodgate/ protection) never failing;

our helper he amid the flood

of mortal ills prevailing.

For still our ancient foe

doth seek to work us woe;

his craft and power are great,

and armed with cruel hate,

on earth is not his equal.

2. Did we in our own strength confide,

our striving would be losing,

were not the right man on our side,

the man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is he;

Lord Sabbaoth, his name,

from age to age the same,

and he must win the battle.

3. And though this world, with devils filled,

should threaten to undo us,

we will not fear, for God hath willed

his truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim,

we tremble not for him;

his rage we can endure,

for lo, his doom is sure;

one little word shall fell him.

4. That word above all earthly powers,

no thanks to them, abideth;

the Spirit and the gifts are ours,

thru him who with us sideth.

Let goods and kindred go,

this mortal life also;

the body they may kill;

God’s truth abideth still;

his kingdom is forever.

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