Stay the Course

A few years ago, Cindy and I were hiking up to Lake Serene in Washington State. This was a long hike that meandered up several feet in elevation. Can you say, “switchbacks” boys and girls? Sure, I knew you could. As we were hiking, people coming back down kept telling us, “Its not far now.” And as we hiked and hiked and heard over and over again, “Its not far now,” we questioned whether or not we should just turn back. But we didn’t. We stayed the course. We believed that Lake Serene was really up there . . . somewhere. And, after a long tiring hike, we were confirmed in our belief. My knee was killing me on the way back down to the point that I could barely walk. But I don’t regret making it. The scenery and maybe even the bragging rights, made the hike well worth it. I would do it again. With better shoes this time.

Isaiah 7:3-9 is an oracle delivered to King Ahaz to encourage him to stay the course. Verses 1-2 set the scene: Rezin and Pekah have invaded Judah because Ahaz refused to join with them in their rebellion against Assyria. Aram, Israel, and Judah were all vassal kingdoms of Assyria. When Assyria became suspicious that a vassal king may be getting crazy ideas about not paying tribute they marched in and deposed him and usually reduced the size of the kingdom. If this failed to curb ideas of sedition, they marched in again and took over. And good job. Now you are no longer a vassal kingdom. Nope. Now you are an Assyrian province ruled by Assyrian officials. Young king Ahaz and his people are shaking with fear because of the threat of Aram and Israel. Within this situation Yahweh sends Isaiah (Yahweh saves) and his son Shear-yashub (a remnant shall return) to encounter Ahaz on the highway that went near the launderer’s field near to the end of the aqueduct of the upper pool. Many associate this upper pool with the Spring of Gihon, which was located outside the walls of Jerusalem on the northwestern side in the Kidron Valley. We can’t be sure, but this would make good sense.

So, Yahweh saves is sent to encounter Ahaz with his son “The Remnant Shall Return” in tow. The names are a part of the message to Ahaz. No matter how bad it gets a remnant shall return. Trust in Yahweh, who saves. The verbal message was “Keep watch or persevere and be undisturbed; have no fear and do not be weak in your heart.” So, in the midst of a trembling heart, God speaks and says “you don’t have to be all unstable in your heart because these two are the end of a smoldering firebrand.” They won’t last long. They may seem like a roaring, angry fire, but they are just smoke. They have plotted to cause a sickening dread in Judah and to cleave open the wall. They have conspired to do harm. They have plans to supplant Ahaz with the son of Tabeel. We don’t know who this is, but you can bet that he is more likely to listen to ol’ Rezin. Ah, but for all of their plotting, it will not arise – it will not fall out the way they want. When Rezin dies, the heat of Aram’s rebellion will die with him. Israel will last 65 years, but in that time they will be broken and not really a people any more. Assyria conquered Israel in 722 B.C. At that time, many of the people were killed or taken away. A policy of repopulating the land with people of other lands resulted. The main point is that these two kings will die shortly and with them, all of the plotting and invading will also die.

The final phrase in verse 9 is literally something like “If you will not be firm, you surely shall not be made firm.” Or, “If you do not firm up, you will not be confirmed.” The article “you” is plural and may be a general warning/encouragement for all of Judah, or it may be the royal plural, or it may be for the king and his advisors. The word “be firm” often contains the idea of believing. If Ahaz and his people believe in Yahweh; that Yahweh saves; and firm up their trembling hearts, they will be made firm by Yahweh. But if not, they will remain in their fear. Well, that just makes sense.

Sometimes it may be tempting to turn back. Or to even jump ship. The waters have become turbulent and you have grown weary and sick. Ah, but stay the course. Keep walking. Firm up and Yahweh will make you firm. Keep telling yourself that the lake really is up there. And with every walking around a bend or cresting an incline, hopefully look for the crystal-clear waters. And if you cannot see it yet, keep trusting and keep walking. It is worth every difficult step. We all of us have our Rezins and Pekahs to face; people and forces that don’t like it that we haven’t joined in with them in their rebellion. They may seem to be a roaring fire, but they’re not. Just some smoke that is dying out. Stay the coarse then, and follow Jesus. Shalom.