Separation Filters: Isaiah 9

The story of King Ahaz, the Syrian threat versus the Assyrian hope, the Immanuel promise, and the names of Isaiah’s sons all point to one amazing truth: This suffering world is the venue for sorting people both by their deeds and by God-given faith.


The first verses of Chapter 9 parallel last three verses of Chapter 8.

There is the remnant again! And the remnant, those who know their God, goes through the same dark anguish common to all of humanity. All mankind fell into a state of sin and misery. We were all of the same lump of clay (Rom 9). We all live in a broken world. Yet the anguish results in a different set of deeds.

“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish,” it says (v1).

Then there are some cryptic words about Galilee:

“He has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (v1).

There is a group of people in this world whose hearts leap with the name of Galilee.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin…”(Luke 1:26).

People who know Jesus see him already here in verse one.

What happens to this group of people as they are in the darkness? They have the dawn.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (v2).

This group of people does not curse God. The light shines in their hearts because God has “shone his face” on them, as is prayed for in the Aaronic blessing. As a result of God’s face shining upon them, sorrow turns to joy and the speeding spoils takes a completely different turn.

“You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy. They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil”(v3).

Upharsin + Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Here, both concepts are tied together in the dawn of God’s shining face. In the Immanuel, darkness brings light, for very soon we hear the words:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…”(v6).

In the Nativity story we see this dawning.

Zechariah’s prophecy after the birth of John makes this connection:

“because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

And Simeon said when he held the Babe in the temple,

“my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:31-32).

Isaiah speaks of the Immanuel, God-with-us, who is born. This one whose birth earns him David’s throne forever, the promised one who is born (earthly) and given (divine). And if that is not clear enough, he declares the name of the one who is born:

“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (v6).

Isaiah, who urgently called people away from idolatry and to worship the living and true God, would not have accidentally called a born-man “God.” Rather, through Isaiah’s amazing prophecy, God intentionally made this truth of a coming God-man known to those who listened to Isaiah.

But as we saw earlier, the truth of Immanuel would become a sanctuary or a stone of offense (8:14-15). Immanuel’s nature would sift people in to two camps.


“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy,
and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy” (Rev 22:11)


In Isaiah 7-9 we clearly see God using suffering as a separation filter, sorting people into his sheep and the goats. We see the fists lifted in defiance and the faces hung in despair. People are given a choice to trust or not. They are culpable for their choices, and they choose exactly what they want. But we see, too, that only if God shines his face on people will they see the great light.

Thus we see that a suffering world is the venue to sort people, both by their deeds and by their God-given faith.


Isaiah 7 | Isaiah 8 | Isaiah 9

 

 

Separation Filters: Isaiah 8

The story of King Ahaz, the Syrian threat versus the Assyrian hope, the Immanuel promise, and the names of Isaiah’s sons all point to one amazing truth: This suffering world is the venue for sorting people both by their deeds and by God-given faith.


Maher-shalal-has-baz. Isaiah’s son, born as the first proof of God’s being with Israel, is named “The spoil speeds, the prey hastens.”

What kind of name is this? What kind of hope is here? The proof Ahaz got is this: the one you trust will betray you. This happened in the lifetime of Ahaz.

God had offered his presence as proof, and had promised consistent covenant provision if Israel would choose to trust his Character. As Christ had promised “living water” to those who came to him, here God refers to his faithful covenant-keeping acts as “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently.”

Yet in the face of suffering, Israel is being sifted. The test proves their mettle:

“Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently…therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River” (vv6-7).

Two waters: peace or war. They refused peace, so war will come. And it comes from the hand of God: “the Lord is bringing up against them” (v7) this consequence. God is like a parent who consistently disciplines his children to teach them the wise and prudent way to go.

So does this prove God is a dictator and a monster? Why doesn’t he just let them be the way they want to be?

If you notice, he does let King Ahaz, and all Israel, “choose this day whom [they] will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

Interestingly, or purposefully, the meaning of Maher-shalal-has-baz is equivalent to the third part of the warning Belshazzar himself heard at his blasphemous feast.


Mene: You have been measured.

Mene: You have been measured.

Tekel: You have been weighed.

Upharsin: You will be divided.


The Upharsin judgment of losing one’s home, life or kingdom is the ultimate consequence God may decree upon any man or king.

“The spoil speeds, the prey hastens” sounds like the tension that makes our hearts race in a suspense or horror film.

Loss of everything is coming, and there is nothing you can do about it.

“The spoil of Samaria will be carried away by Assyria” (v4) because their time is up, because they trusted Assyria instead of trusting in God’s promise. Man will betray them.

This example is for us. Israel’s remnant lived through these difficult times to prove its faithfulness. They went through this for us: so we would weigh our own lives in comparison.

The remnant clings to hope that the three names give. Even though the spoil speeds and the prey hastens, the remnant will return and God will be with us.

Yet remains the second fulfillment of the prophecy. There has been great debate as to the definition of “virgin” in the Immanuel prophecy. As is often the case, God uses one word to pivot two-prophecies in one. Only when we see this scene from a New Testament perspective can we understand it in fulness.

In Chapter eight, the Messiah is presented as one who will also be born, along with Isaiah’s son. “God with us” yet of a technical “virgin.” Maher-shalal-hash-baz comes up wanting.

King Ahaz has made a decision the remnant does not agree with. He trusts in “horses and chariots” but they trust “in the Name of the LORD” (Ps 20:7; Is 31:1). Those who believe in Immanuel are themselves called Immanuel (v8). Even as the destruction comes, God will keep his promise. The enemy nations will be broken and shattered.

They will “take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us” (v9-10).

Those who know their God know this: though the nations rage, God will never break his covenant with true Israel.

It is time for the great sorting.

“Do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (vv12-13).

This is the call to return to the covenant. The first and second commandment.

And after the call to return comes the sifting. Two groups will respond to this call:

“And he will become a sanctuary,”

(Rock of Ages, cleft for me)

the first response is juxtaposed against the second response:

“and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap. And a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken” (vv14-15).

Either you hold firmly to the covenant promise of “God with us whatever happens,” or you will trip and fall and be broken. The very promise of the Messiah is a separation filter. Sheep from goats.

But people will be what they will be. Some will be blind to the word of God. Isaiah says,

“I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him” (v17).

Obviously God was not hiding his face from Isaiah. The remnant alone, whose choosing proves their loyalty, can see the face of God. The Who of God is known by his people, and “whatever happens” his people will keep believing in his Character. To others, God is unseen and unknown.

“Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples,” God says (v16).

In Chapter 6, this is the very call God put on Isaiah’s life;

“Go, and say to this people:
Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy
and blind their eyes.”

The absence of seeing God’s face or hearing his word is equated as being in the darkness. Instead of seeking God’s voice, Israel seeks messages from mediums and necromancers. Isaiah begs them to look “to the teaching and to the testimony!” (v20). But then he says

“If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn”(v20).

The dawn has not lit them from inside. They cannot because they have no light. And the lack of light in itself sorts them into certain types of deeds:

“They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness” (v21-22).

They have no hope in the promises of God, because they do not know God. The suffering has sorted and sifted them. It has proven the fact that they were not true Israel in the first place. The suffering will cause them to shake their fist at God, to “speak contemptuously against…their God.” To hate him.

And we look upon this story and we ask ourselves, which group am I in? How do I respond to difficulty? Do I cling to the hope given that “the remnant shall be saved”? Or do I conclude that since I suffer, therefore there is no God?


Isaiah 7 | Isaiah 8 | Isaiah 9

 

Separation Filters: Isaiah 7

The story of King Ahaz, the Syrian threat versus the Assyrian hope, the Immanuel promise, and the names of Isaiah’s sons all point to one amazing truth: This suffering world is the venue for sorting people both by their deeds and by God-given faith.


King Ahaz has an amazing opportunity. He meets with Isaiah not only to hear the direct word from God, but also to respond. As Joshua had commanded the people, “choose this day whom you will serve,” Ahaz is given hope and a choice. Isaiah’s son Shear-jashub comes with him to the meeting, his very name that of hope: “a remnant shall return.”

Isaiah presents to Ahaz an opportunity to prove his mettle. Pleasure and peace or war.

“Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two…” (v4).

We hear echoes of Moses and Joshua speaking to trembling Israel.

“Do not be dismayed or discouraged for the Lord is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

God recognizes the enemies are fearsome:

“two smoldering stumps of firebrands…fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah…. Syria has devised evil against you” (v4).

In spite of this God presents Ahaz with a great opportunity to throw in his hope onto God’s side.  This is his only opportunity for success.

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (v9).

Then King Ahaz is given the option of choosing proof. Like with Gideon, God condescends to strengthen the faith of Ahaz with a sign of God’s presence.

“Let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (v10).

How many of us would love such an opportunity for divine proof? Yet Ahaz declines.

So God gives a promise that will come about in double-time:

“Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (v14).

The child will be named “God with us.” Can you hear Handel’s version of this playing in your head?

The immediate fulfillment of this proof happens in the next chapter, but with a twist. God tells all the signs of sorrow and suffering that will come upon Israel, with Sheer-jashub standing right there. To the hope of the remnant is added the hope of God with us.

What will Ahaz do? His decision is our decision. His choice pushes us to look inwardly. What would I have done? What do I do in my desperate times?

Ahaz is being sifted, shaken, stirred. How does he come out in the face of suffering? Ahaz chooses to put his faith in Assyria. This nation promises to help Israel against Rezin and Syria, but Israel has not considered the dear cost.


Isaiah 7 | Isaiah 8 | Isaiah 9