Wednesday

07 December 2016

“Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (v. 14)

Psalm: Psalm 68:24-35


Background

Will King Ahaz avoid giving in to the threats of Ephraim and Aram whilst, at the same time resist a deepening alliance with Assyria (see yesterday's passage). Will he fully put his trust in the promises of the Lord? This is such a vital moment that the Lord invites Ahaz to ask for a sign - any sign - to assure him of God's faithfulness. Ahaz declines the offer in beautifully sounding pious words about not testing God (verse 12), but the implication is that Ahaz does not want a sign because he does not want to believe! The divine frustration is clear as Isaiah suggests that not only are his people tired of the king, but that he is even managing to "weary my God" (v. 13).

Dismissing the protestations of Ahaz, the Lord offers a sign anyway: "Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel". The adoption of this sign in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 1:23) as finding fulfilment in the coming of Christ has made the promise controversial with many. At first sight, the promise of the birth of a child could be understood as simply saying 'by the time this child is twelve, the powers you fear will be no more'(see Isaiah 7:16). But that is to overlook a number of interesting and illuminating elements.

  • Firstly, the Lord urges Ahaz to ask for a remarkable sign. So surely the sign chosen by the Lord would be expected to fulfil that remit: an ordinary young woman having an ordinary baby (miracle though new life is) perhaps falls short of those expectations!
  • Secondly the word translated as 'young woman' is not the most common one for 'woman' or 'girl', but is much rarer word indicating a 'young woman of marriageable age'.
  • Thirdly, the name given to the child (Immanuel) must surely have significance given the use of children's names in other related passages and yet does not seem to have a direct relevance here. Perhaps like so many prophetic words this sign has a single meaning but a double significance. The promise 'God with us' would of course offer assurance to the King  (should he choose to believe it) when faced with uncertainty and opposition from surrounding nations.

The same promise is a blessing to each of us too in our own experiences. And yet the promise surely finds unique illumination through the breaking in of God in to our world in Christ. With the birth of Immanuel at Bethlehem, God is miraculously and completely 'present' with God's own people. Perhaps Ahaz was not overjoyed to receive the sign from the Lord - but we have reason to be.


To Ponder

  • Can you recall a time when the experience of 'God with us' became real for you in moments of crisis? What happened?
  • How have you found the 'Immanuel' promise real for you this week?


Bible notes author: The Revd Mark Dunn-Wilson

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