Ahaz Receives a Sign
1 During#tn The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2. the reign of Ahaz son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel marched up to Jerusalem#map For location see Map5-B1; Map6-F3; Map7-E2; Map8-F2; Map10-B3; JP1-F4; JP2-F4; JP3-F4; JP4-F4. to do battle, but they were unable to prevail against it.#tn Or perhaps, “but they were unable to attack it.” This statement sounds like a summary of the whole campaign. The following context explains why they were unable to defeat the southern kingdom. The parallel passage (2 Kgs 16:5; cf. Num 22:11; 1 Sam 17:9 for a similar construction) affirms that Syria and Israel besieged Ahaz. Consequently, the statement that “they were not able to battle against them” must refer to the inability to conquer Ahaz.
2 It was reported to the family#tn Heb “house.” In this context the “house of David” includes King Ahaz, his family, and the royal court. See also Jer 21:12; Zech 12:7-8, 10, 12, for a similar use of the phrase. of David, “Syria has allied with#tn Heb “rests upon.” Most understand the verb as נוּחַ (nuakh, “rest”), but HALOT 685 s.v. II נחה proposes that this is a hapax legomenon which means “stand by.” Ephraim.” They and their people were emotionally shaken, just as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.#tn Heb “and his heart shook and the heart of his people shook, like the shaking of the trees of the forest before the wind.” The singular pronoun “his” is collective, referring to the Davidic house/family. לֵבָב (levav, “heart”) here refers to the seat of the emotions. 3 So the Lord told Isaiah, “Go out with your son Shear-jashub#tn The name means “a remnant will return.” Perhaps in this context, where the Lord is trying to encourage Ahaz, the name suggests that only a few of the enemy invaders will return home; the rest will be defeated. and meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool which is located on the road to the field where they wash and dry cloth.#tn Heb “the field of the washer”; traditionally “the fuller’s field” (so KJV, NAB, NASB, NRSV); NIV “the Washerman’s Field.” 4 Tell him, ‘Make sure you stay calm!#tn Heb “guard yourself and be quiet,” but the two verbs should be coordinated. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be intimidated#tn Heb “and let not your heart be weak”; ASV “neither let thy heart be faint.” by these two stubs of smoking logs,#sn The derogatory metaphor indicates that the power of Rezin and Pekah is ready to die out. or by the raging anger of Rezin, Syria, and the son of Remaliah. 5 Syria has plotted with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah to bring about your demise.#tn This sentence opens with the conjunction יַעַן כִּי (ya’an ki, “because”). Consequently some take vv. 5-6 with what precedes, as another reason why Ahaz might be tempted to fear (see v. 4). However, it is more likely that vv. 5-6 give the basis for the Lord’s announcement in vv. 7-9. The conjunction יַעַן כִּי here introduces the basis for judgment (as in 3:16; 8:6; 29:13), which is then followed by the formal announcement of judgment. 6 They say, “Let’s attack Judah, terrorize it, and conquer it.#tn Heb “and let us break it open for ourselves”; NASB “make for ourselves a breach in its walls”; NLT “fight our way into.” Then we’ll set up the son of Tabeel as its king.”#tn Heb “and we will make the son of Tabeel king in its midst.”sn The precise identity of this would-be puppet king is unknown. He may have been a Syrian official or the ruler of one of the small neighboring states. See Y. Aharoni, Land of the Bible, 370. 7 For this reason the sovereign master,#tn The Hebrew term translated “sovereign master” here and in vv. 14, 19 is אֲדֹנָי (’adonay). the Lord, says:
“It will not take place;
it will not happen.
8 For Syria’s leader is Damascus,
and the leader of Damascus is Rezin.
Within sixty-five years Ephraim will no longer exist as a nation.#tn Heb “Ephraim will be too shattered to be a nation”; NIV “to be a people.”sn This statement is problematic for several reasons. It seems to intrude stylistically, interrupting the symmetry of the immediately preceding and following lines. Furthermore, such a long range prophecy lacks punch in the midst of the immediate crisis. After all, even if Israel were destroyed sometime within the next 65 years, a lot could still happen during that time, including the conquest of Judah and the demise of the Davidic family. Finally the significance of the time frame is uncertain. Israel became an Assyrian province within the next 15 years and ceased to exist as a nation. For these reasons many regard the statement as a later insertion, but why a later editor would include the reference to “65 years” remains a mystery. Some try to relate the prophecy to the events alluded to in Ezra 4:2, 10, which refers to how the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal settled foreigners in former Israelite territory, perhaps around 670 b.c. However, even if the statement is referring to these events, it lacks rhetorical punch in its immediate context and has the earmarks of a later commentary that has been merged with the text in the process of transmission.
9 Ephraim’s leader is Samaria,
and Samaria’s leader is the son of Remaliah.
If your faith does not remain firm,
then you will not remain secure.”#tn Heb “if you do not believe, you will not endure.” The verb forms are second plural; the Lord here addresses the entire Davidic family and court. (Verse 4 was addressed to the king.) There is a wordplay in the Hebrew text, designed to draw attention to the alternatives set before the king (cf. 1:20). “Believe” (תַאֳמִינוּ, ta’aminu) is a Hiphil form of the verb אָמָן (’aman); “endure” (תֵאָמֵנוּ, te’amenu) is a Niphal form of this same verb.
10 The Lord again spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask for a confirming sign from the Lord your God. You can even ask for something miraculous.”#tn Heb “Make it as deep as Sheol or make it high upwards.” These words suggest that Ahaz can feel free to go beyond the bounds of ordinary human experience. 12 But Ahaz responded, “I don’t want to ask; I don’t want to put the Lord to a test.”#tn Ahaz uses the verb נָסַה (nasah, “test”) in its negative sense of “challenge, provoke.” However, this is false piety, a smokescreen designed to cover up his lack of faith in the Lord. 13 So Isaiah replied,#tn Heb “and he said.” The subject is unexpressed, but the reference to “my God” at the end of the verse indicates the prophet is speaking. “Pay attention,#tn The verb is second plural in form, because the prophet addresses the whole family of David. He continues to use the plural in v. 14 (with one exception, see the notes on that verse), but then switches back to the second singular (addressing Ahaz specifically) in vv. 16-17. family#tn Heb “house.” See the note at v. 2. of David.#sn The address to the “house of David” is designed to remind Ahaz and his royal court of the protection promised to them through the Davidic covenant. The king’s refusal to claim God’s promise magnifies his lack of faith. Do you consider it too insignificant to try the patience of men? Is that why you are also trying the patience of my God? 14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign.#tn The Hebrew term אוֹת (’ot, “sign”) can refer to a miraculous event (see v. 11), but it does not carry this sense inherently. Elsewhere in Isaiah the word usually refers to a natural occurrence or an object/person vested with special significance (see 8:18; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 55:13; 66:19). Only in 38:7-8, 22 does it refer to a miraculous deed that involves suspending or overriding natural laws. The sign outlined in vv. 14-17 involves God’s providential control over events and their timing, but not necessarily miraculous intervention. Look, this#tn Heb “the young woman.” The Hebrew article has been rendered as a demonstrative pronoun (“this”) in the translation to bring out its force. It is very likely that Isaiah pointed to a woman who was present at the scene of the prophet’s interview with Ahaz. Isaiah’s address to the “house of David” and his use of second plural forms suggests other people were present, and his use of the second feminine singular verb form (“you will name”) later in the verse is best explained if addressed to a woman who is present. young woman#tn Traditionally, “virgin.” Because this verse from Isaiah is quoted in Matt 1:23 in connection with Jesus’ birth, the Isaiah passage has been regarded since the earliest Christian times as a prophecy of Christ’s virgin birth. Much debate has taken place over the best way to translate this Hebrew term, although ultimately one’s view of the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is unaffected. Though the Hebrew word used here (עַלְמָה, ’almah) can sometimes refer to a woman who is a virgin (Gen 24:43), it does not carry this meaning inherently. The word is simply the feminine form of the corresponding masculine noun עֶלֶם (’elem, “young man”; cf. 1 Sam 17:56; 20:22). The Aramaic and Ugaritic cognate terms are both used of women who are not virgins. The word seems to pertain to age, not sexual experience, and would normally be translated “young woman.” The LXX translator(s) who later translated the Book of Isaiah into Greek sometime between the second and first century b.c., however, rendered the Hebrew term by the more specific Greek word παρθένος (parqenos), which does mean “virgin” in a technical sense. This is the Greek term that also appears in the citation of Isa 7:14 in Matt 1:23. Therefore, regardless of the meaning of the term in the OT context, in the NT Matthew’s usage of the Greek term παρθένος clearly indicates that from his perspective a virgin birth has taken place. is about to conceive#tn Elsewhere the adjective הָרָה (harah), when used predicatively, refers to a past pregnancy (from the narrator’s perspective, 1 Sam 4:19), to a present condition (Gen 16:11; 38:24; 2 Sam 11:5), and to a conception that is about to occur in the near future (Judg 13:5, 7). (There is some uncertainty about the interpretation of Judg 13:5, 7, however. See the notes to those verses.) In Isa 7:14 one could translate, “the young woman is pregnant.” In this case the woman is probably a member of the royal family. Another option, the one followed in the present translation, takes the adjective in an imminent future sense, “the young woman is about to conceive.” In this case the woman could be a member of the royal family, or, more likely, the prophetess with whom Isaiah has sexual relations shortly after this (see 8:3). and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him#tn Heb “and you will call his name.” The words “young lady” are supplied in the translation to clarify the identity of the addressee. The verb is normally taken as an archaic third feminine singular form here, and translated, “she will call.” However the form (קָרָאת, qara’t) is more naturally understood as second feminine singular, in which case the words would be addressed to the young woman mentioned just before this. In the three other occurrences of the third feminine singular perfect of I קָרָא (qara’, “to call”), the form used is קָרְאָה (qar’ah; see Gen 29:35; 30:6; 1 Chr 4:9). A third feminine singular perfect קָרָאת does appear in Deut 31:29 and Jer 44:23, but the verb here is the homonym II קָרָא (“to meet, encounter”). The form קָרָאת (from I קָרָא, “to call”) appears in three other passages (Gen 16:11; Isa 60:18; Jer 3:4 [Qere]) and in each case is second feminine singular. Immanuel.#sn The name Immanuel means “God [is] with us.” 15 He will eat sour milk#tn Or, perhaps “cream,” frequently, “curds” (NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT); KJV, ASV “butter”; CEV “yogurt.” and honey, which will help him know how#tn Heb “for his knowing.” Traditionally the preposition has been translated in a temporal sense, “when he knows.” However, though the preposition לְ (lamed) can sometimes have a temporal force, it never carries such a nuance in any of the 40 other passages where it is used with the infinitive construct of יָדַע (yada’, “to know”). Most often the construction indicates purpose/result. This sense is preferable here. The following context indicates that sour milk and honey will epitomize the devastation that God’s judgment will bring upon the land. Cultivated crops will be gone and the people will be forced to live off the milk produced by their goats and the honey they find in the thickets. As the child is forced to eat a steady diet of this sour milk and honey, he will be reminded of the consequences of sin and motivated to make correct moral decisions in order to avoid further outbreaks of divine discipline. to reject evil and choose what is right. 16 Here is why this will be so:#tn Heb “for, because.” The particle introduces the entire following context (vv. 16-25), which explains why Immanuel will be an appropriate name for the child, why he will eat sour milk and honey, and why experiencing such a diet will contribute to his moral development. Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land#sn Since “two kings” are referred to later in the verse, the “land” must here refer to Syria-Israel. whose two kings you fear will be desolate.#tn Heb “the land will be abandoned, which you fear because of its two kings.” After the verb קוּץ (quts, “loathe, dread”) the phrase מִפְּנֵי (mipney, “from before”) introduces the cause of loathing/dread (see Gen 27:46; Exod 1:12; Num 22:3). 17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s family a time#tn Heb “days” (so KJV, NAB); NASB, NRSV “such days.” unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria!”#sn Initially the prophecy appears to be a message of salvation. Immanuel seems to have a positive ring to it, sour milk and honey elsewhere symbolize prosperity and blessing (see Deut 32:13-14; Job 20:17), verse 16 announces the defeat of Judah’s enemies, and verse 17a could be taken as predicting a return to the glorious days of David and Solomon. However, the message turns sour in verses 17b-25. God will be with his people in judgment, as well as salvation. The curds and honey will be signs of deprivation, not prosperity, the relief announced in verse 16 will be short-lived, and the new era will be characterized by unprecedented humiliation, not a return to glory. Because of Ahaz’s refusal to trust the Lord, potential blessing would be transformed into a curse, just as Isaiah turns an apparent prophecy of salvation into a message of judgment. Because the words “the king of Assyria” are rather awkwardly tacked on to the end of the sentence, some regard them as a later addition. However, the very awkwardness facilitates the prophet’s rhetorical strategy here, as he suddenly turns what sounds like a positive message into a judgment speech. Actually, “the king of Assyria,” stands in apposition to the earlier object “days,” and specifies who the main character of these coming “days” will be.
18 At that time#tn Heb “in that day” (so KJV). The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2. the Lord will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria.#sn Swarming flies are irritating; bees are irritating and especially dangerous because of the pain they inflict with their sting (see Deut 1:44; Ps 118:12). The metaphors are well chosen, for the Assyrians (symbolized by the bees) were much more powerful and dangerous than the Egyptians (symbolized by the flies). Nevertheless both would put pressure on Judah, for Egypt wanted Judah as a buffer state against Assyrian aggression, while Assyrian wanted it as a base for operations against Egypt. Following the reference to sour milk and honey, the metaphor is especially apt, for flies are attracted to dairy products and bees can be found in the vicinity of honey. 19 All of them will come and make their home#tn Heb “and shall rest” (so KJV, ASV); NASB, NIV, NRSV “and settle.” in the ravines between the cliffs, and in the crevices of the cliffs, in all the thorn bushes, and in all the watering holes.#tn The meaning of this word (נַהֲלֹל, nahalol) is uncertain; some understand this as referring to another type of thorn bush. For bibliography, see HALOT 676 s.v. I *נַהֲלֹל. 20 At that time#tn Heb “in that day” (so ASV, NASB); KJV “In the same day.” the sovereign master will use a razor hired from the banks of the Euphrates River,#tn Heb “the river” (so KJV); NASB “the Euphrates.” The name of the river has been supplied in the present translation for clarity. the king of Assyria, to shave the head and the pubic hair;#tn Heb “the hair of the feet.” The translation assumes that the word “feet” is used here as a euphemism for the genitals. See BDB 920 s.v. רֶגֶל. it will also shave off the beard. 21 At that time#tn Heb “in that day.” The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2. a man will keep alive a young cow from the herd and a couple of goats. 22 From the abundance of milk they produce,#tn The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated, see note on 2:2. he will have sour milk for his meals. Indeed, everyone left in the heart of the land will eat sour milk and honey. 23 At that time#tn Heb “in that day.” The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2. every place where there had been a thousand vines worth a thousand shekels will be overrun#tn Heb “will become” (so NASB); NAB “shall be turned to.” with thorns and briers. 24 With bow and arrow#tn Heb “with arrows and a bow.” The more common English idiom is “bow[s] and arrow[s].” men will hunt#tn Heb “go” (so NAB, NIV, NRSV); TEV “go hunting.” there, for the whole land will be covered#tn Heb “will be” (so NASB, NRSV). with thorns and briers. 25 They will stay away from all the hills that were cultivated, for fear of the thorns and briers.#tn Heb “and all the hills which were hoed with a hoe, you will not go there [for] fear of the thorns and briers.” Cattle will graze there and sheep will trample on them.#tn Heb “and it will become a pasture for cattle and a trampling place for sheep.”sn At this point one is able to summarize the content of the “sign” (vv. 14-15) as follows: A young woman known to be present when Isaiah delivered this message to Ahaz (perhaps a member of the royal family or the prophetess mentioned in 8:3) would soon give birth to a boy whom the mother would name Immanuel, “God is with us.” Eventually Immanuel would be forced to eat sour milk and honey, which would enable him to make correct moral decisions. How would this situation come about and how would it constitute a sign? Before this situation developed, the Israelites and Syrians would be defeated. But then the Lord would usher in a period of time unlike any since the division of the kingdom almost 200 years before. The Assyrians would overrun the land, destroy the crops, and force the people to subsist on goats’ milk and honey. At that time, as the people saw Immanuel eating his sour milk and honey, the Davidic family would be forced to acknowledge that God was indeed with them. He was present with them in the Syrian-Israelite crisis, fully capable of rescuing them; but he was also present with them in judgment, disciplining them for their lack of trust. The moral of the story is quite clear: Failure to appropriate God’s promises by faith can turn potential blessing into disciplinary judgment.