Scary Times

Just so you know, Ahaz is not the hero of the story. As a matter of fact, when you read about him in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28, he is kind of horrible. The account in 2 Kings tells us that he made his son pass through the fire, which means he burned his son as a sacrifice to some god or other. He burned incense in the high places. And because of his rebelliousness, God allows Rezin and Pekah to invade the land and cart off thousands of his people. But, in our passage, he is, for now, doing what God wants him to do. And even though at one time Rezin and Pekah were allowed to invade, Ahaz is being told that they will not remain long enough to be a problem for Jerusalem. Ah, but that is dealt with in the following oracles.

Isaiah 7:1-2 is the setting scene for the oracles which follow. Assyria is the power. Aram, Israel, and Judah are all vassal countries. They pay tribute to Assyria. They answer to Assyria. Rezin, who is the king of Aram, is not happy about this. He wants to throw off the shackles of taxes and servitude. He convinces Pekah, the king of Israel, and the Philistines to join him in his rebellion against Tiglath-Pileser III. Now, Pekah was also an evil king, who murdered king Pekahiah and took over as king of Israel (2 Kings 15:25). He is described as an evil king. So, in 735 B.C., Rezin orchestrated a rebellion and he wanted the relatively new king of Judah, Ahaz, on board. But Ahaz refused and Rezin and Pekah are invading with the goal of replacing Ahaz with the son of Tabeel, who most have been a much more compliant guy.

Rezin came in from Moab and took Elath for himself, and cleared out those troublesome Judeans. In the process of invasion he carried away a great number of captives and took them to Damascus. Israel inflicted heavy casualties and was able to capture 200,000 people and tried to cart them off to become slaves. Interestingly, God made them return them to Judah. As angry as he was at Ahaz and Judah, he did not want them to be reduced to being slaves of their kinsmen in Israel. The Philistines invaded from the south and captured cities of the Negev: Beth-shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, and Soco. This invasion is described in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28.

But when these two kings go up (you always go up when you approach Jerusalem) to Jerusalem to battle against her, they are not able to prevail. Verse 1 is most likely an overview. They invaded. They did some damage in Judah. But they could not take the city itself. Verse 2 shifts back to when Jerusalem first received the news; when it was first made conspicuous. Okay, it may be important to know that Ahaz was twenty when he became king and this is early in his reign. He is young. Evil. Yes, but also young. And even though his is not a follower of God, he is, in the moment doing what God wants. God does not want Judah to join this rebellion. God wanted Judah to accept their current situation of being a vassal kingdom; to learn what it means to be his people within this construct.

It is significant that Ahaz is designated here as “the house of David.” As evil as he was, he is still the descendant of David. And God had made a covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:16: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever, your throne shall be established forever.” It is not just the evil king Ahaz who is being threatened here. It is the house of David. So, the heir of the Davidic covenant receives word that the Arameans are camped in Ephraim. Ephraim, as the largest territory in Israel, came to represent the whole of the northern kingdom. The heart of Ahaz and of the people shake like trees in a great wind storm. The word “shake” means “tremble, quiver, wave, totter.” So, have you ever had your heart totter with fear? Has it ever felt like your insides were shaking with a violent wind? Remember, this is when they first heard of the threat.

There are many lessons to be learned here. Even when you are doing the right thing; the very thing God wants you to do, there will be opposition; there will be threats. And there may be difficult times; scary times; times that make your heart waver and shake like trees in a mighty wind. Ahaz may have been unfaithful, but God was not. God is always faithful. He honors his covenants. Even when he has to deal with an evil descendant of David. Ahaz faced consequences, to be sure. But he and Jerusalem would survive this current threat. One of the main themes in Isaiah is how to be the covenant people of God in a shifting landscape. They are a vassal kingdom. God wanted them to learn how best to serve him under this reality. Sometimes God does not want us to fight against our reality. Serve him where you are at. Shalom.