These are some of my notes for Sunday, Mar 15, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible quarterly series.
Books referenced here include:
1.) Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Intervarsity Press, 2000
2.) Gary V. Smith, NAC: Isaiah:1-39, B& H Publishers, 2007
3.) John N. Oswalt, Isaiah (NIV Application Commentary), Zondervan, 1993
4.) NET Bible
I s 7:1
The chronology here is a bit tangled, but the invasion mentioned here likely took place in 735 or 734 BC. Ahaz’s father Jotham (750-735) began a policy of non-cooperation with Syria and Israel which Ahaz (735-715) continued. The whole ANE political situation was agitated by the ascension of Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727) to the Assyrian throne in 745. TPIII was ambitious to restore and expand Assyria’s power, which had been in decline for about 75 years. He defeated his border nations then turned to campaigns against more distant nations. By 738 he had made vassals of Hamath, Tyre, Biblos, Damascus, and Israel. Vassalage included three steps:
1. Tribute payment under a treaty.
2. Replacing rebellious rulers with local supporters, deporting the upper classes and reducing the territory by reapportioning it.
3. Removal of rebellious ruler with an Assyrian, transformation of area into Assyrian province, deportation of locals and substitution with foreigners.
TP III often skipped steps 1 and 2 to go directly to 3.
In 734 Tiglath-Pileser III started further operations to the West. Rezin, likely a transliteration of the Aramaic name Radyan, ruled Syria from at least 738, when Assyrian records show him paying tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III. Rezin likely had no small part in putting Pekah on the throne in Israel. Thus Syria and Israel “united” against Assyria, and sought to add Judah to the union, either by diplomacy or force, their combined strength at least required to fight Assyria’s power. (BBCOT, Smith)
Water in Jerusalem at this time came from the Gihon spring on the East side of the city southwards through an aqeduct called the Siloam Channel into the Pool of Siloam. This pool was presumably opened to provide water for laundering at times. The road to the Washerman’s/Fuller’s Field then would have been through the Kidron Valley, which would have been where one would expect to find Ahaz if preparing the city water supply for an anticipated siege. It was actually quite near the city walls, based on Is 36:2 and 36:11.(BBCOT, Oswalt)
Why send the son with Isaiah? His name, Shear-Jashub means “a remnant will return”, but can be interpreted as a sign for Ahaz in several ways:
1.Only a small part of the Syrian/Israelite army will survive the battle with Assyria.
2.A small group in Judah will return to God.
3.Some portion of Judah’s army will survive.
4.Some part of the House of David will survive. (Smith)
The first portion of God’s message to Ahaz (v.3- 4) stress what the king’s reaction should be: calm down, be quiet. Don’t be afraid or faint- hearted. Some think the command to do nothing like Ex 14:14, but it seems rather an encouragement to faith and an incentive not to turn to another nation for help. Likely Ahaz and his advisors had two ideas of what to do:
1.Ask Assyria for assistance against Syria and Israel.
2.Join Israel and Syria against Assyria.
The next portion (v. 5-6) sees God showing His knowledge of Israel and Syria’s plans for Judah, which include conquering Judah, dividing it among them, and setting up a puppet king “the son of Tabeel” Tabeel means “worthless”and who exactly his son is is much debated. Suggestions include:
1.Rezin by another name
2.Son of Uzziah by an Aramean princess from the tribe of Tab’el
3.A Judean noble who supported the Syria/Israel alliance
4.Phoenician Tubail or Ithbaal, king of Tyre(Smith)
This is a tangled section some scholars today think better rearranged poetically. Smith’s version is:
“It will not happen, for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
It will not occur, for the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son.
Within 65 years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”(Smith)
The 65 years of Ephraim probably refers to 670 BC, when the Bible records the last of the Israelites were exiled by Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon and foreigners put into Israel/Samaria. So far there is no archaeological evidence of deportations into or out of Israel during the reign of Esarhaddon, 680-669 BC (BBCOT)
Translation: Israel and Syria are doomed, and if Judah doesn’t stand firm in faith in Yahweh, Judah will also fall.
What exactly was God asking by faith in Him at this time?
1.Ahaz is to do his best circumstances without reference to God?
2.Ahaz is to trust God but still do his own best in circumstances?
3.Ahaz is to trust God but do nothing?
Is this part of same message, or same message from a later time? If a second message, there mustn’t be too long a gap between 7:1-8 and 7:10-17.
“Signs” can be miraculous (sundial Is 38:7-8, Gideon’s fleece Jud 6:36-40) but aren’t necessarily miraculous. The language here though seems to encourage Ahaz to request something spectacular “from the depths to the heights”. Indeed God seems to be simply saying “ask me for anything”.(Smith)
Ahaz rejects God’s offer of a sign, citing Deu 6:16. This is hardly appropriate given that God offers a sign. It is instead a cover for Ahaz’s two faults:
1.He trusted his own abilities, his military defenses and political strategy of asking Assyria for aid.
2.He promoted Baal worship (2 Chr 28:1-4) and practiced some form of Molech worship, either passing his sons through ceremonial fires or even sacrificing at least one son in fire to Molech. Much of this occurred due to his domination by Assyria after the events of this chapter, I suspect.
The question is, how should Ahaz have responded?
1.To act only in response to a sign is hardly faith
2.To reject the sign is to reject God
3.The best way is faith with no sign, but here Ahaz was required to ask a sign. The traditional OT test of a prophet’s legitimacy, by the way, was that his prophecies came true.
Ahaz’s rejection of God’s open offer is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Not the change in language, from 7:11′s “your God” to 7:13′s “my God”. “House of David” shows how dire the consequences of Ahaz choice are, for they affect the whole ruling dynasty in Judah. (Smith)
Although reams have been written about these verses, no consensus has been reached on how to view it. There are some seven debated points within these verses, including:
1.ID of the woman
2.ID of Immanuel
3.When the prophecy is fulfilled
4.Whether “curds and honey” is positive, negative, or both somehow?
5.What the time length is implied by the reference of the child’s knowing to choose between good and evil?
6.Is Is 7:14-17 actually positive, negative, or both?
7.Should Is 9:1-7 and Is 11:1-10 be used to explain Is 7:14-17?
There are about five general interpretations of these verses, each with their strengths and weaknesses. They include:
1.Unknown woman or women will have son(s): Not widely popular
2.A wife of Isaiah will bear a son also called “Hurry spoil; be swift, plunder”: Turns son into dual positive and negative sign. Jewish sages Rashi and Ibn Ezra like this explanation, and it’s still popular, but of course, has problems.
3.A wife of Ahaz bears Hezekiah: Has two problems: Hezekiah likely about nine years old at this time; Ahaz, a Baal worshiper, not likely to give a Yawehist name to a son.
4.Birth of Jesus: Right there in Matt 1:18-24: chief problem: relevance to Isaiah’s day.
5.Dual fulfilment: same problem as 4.(Smith)
Betulah “young woman, virgin” take your pick. There have been serious language studies that favor each as the correct meaning. There’s something to be said for the Jewish notion that any young woman of marriageable age is also virgin, even if that isn’t primary meaning.(Smith)
“The” seems to point to definite woman, but Hebrew can use the definite article for a specific but undefined person, or class of person.(Smith)
The chief point of the sign seems to focus on the name Immanuel, “God with us”, rather than the mother.
“Curds and honey” can be both the food of royalty, and indicator of good times, or the sort of food one is forced to eat when most crops aren’t available, indicating bad times. Take your pick. Interestingly, unlike most translations, the NET Bible translates this as a indicator of purpose, not time, thus “because he eats curds and honey” the child will learn to choose good over evil, not to sin. The standard temporal interpretation could indicate something like by age twelve (time of male maturity in traditional Judaism) or up to twenty years. (Smith, NET)
This is again difficult, because “the boy” is a different term from “son” or “Immanuel”. Thus Isaiah is likely addressing another boy, typically believed to be his son Shear-Jashub. Thus before Isaiah’s son matures, Syria and Israel will be devastated. On into 7:17, God tells Ahaz that Judah will be ravaged by the very country he thinks to trust for deliverance (Assyria).
Smith gets around the great difficulties of understanding 7:16-17 by proposing an alternate translation that makes 7:16 negative along with 7:17:
“For before the young boy (Shear-Jashub) knows how to refuse evil and choose good (12-15 years), you (Ahaz) will be abandoned on the soil (Judah) which you tore up because of these two kings (Rezin and Pekah)”.
The standard translation/interpretation takes the verses to indicate that the soil of the two kings Ahaz feared (Rezin and Pekah) will be torn up: Syria and Israel will be devastated in 12-15 years.
Is 7:17 is definitely negative: Isa 7:17 NET. The LORD will bring on you, your people, and your father’s family a time unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah — the king of Assyria!”