13 July 2010

Isaiah 7:1-9

"If you do not stand firm in faith you shall not stand at all." (v.9)


This passage takes us to the same crisis that we saw yesterday, but at a slightly different time. The northern kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim) is in an alliance with Syria (or Aram) and is attacking the southern kingdom of Judah. An attack on Jerusalem has failed, so now the two allied kings plan to isolate Jerusalem and to replace Ahaz with another king (called the "son of Tabeel"). It is not surprising that Ahaz and his people are described as shaking like trees being blown around in the wind.

Verses 8 and 9 include a word play using a word which probably means both 'head' and 'poison'. At the moment, Judah is threatened by an alliance between Aram (whose capital is Damascus and whose king is Rezin) and Ephraim (whose capital is Samaria and whose king is Pekah, son of Remaliah). It appears that what Isaiah was saying was that as soon as Rezin and Pekah are replaced then the threat will disappear.

Isaiah urges Ahaz to stand firm and he does so using another word play. The basic word that Isaiah is playing with is the word from which we get 'amen'. So, very roughly, the second half of verse 9 says, "If you do not 'amen' you are not 'amened'". The word in Hebrew can cover a range of meanings including 'be firm', 'have faith' and 'be faithful'. So the first half of the verse called on Ahaz and the people of Judah to find firmness of purpose in their faith. What is implied in the Hebrew but difficult to convey in English is that 'standing firm in faith' does not mean simply 'believing what God says' but also 'being faithful to God'.

There are several ways to translate this verse. One possible paraphrase would be, "If you hold firm to the ways of God, God will hold you firm against this threat".

To Ponder

What are the situations today where people need to 'hold firm to the ways of God'?

We think of prophets as predicting the future, yet often what they really do is interpret the present. Who are the prophets today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.