This passage is famous, but its original context is often ignored. Ahaz has just become King in Jerusalem, and his Kingdom is under serious military threat on all sides. He and the people of Jerusalem are terrified, shaking “as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (7:2). To secure his future and preserve his Kingdom, Ahaz begins negotiating an alliance with the mighty military power of Assyria. Surely they will protect us! But Isaiah the prophet pleads with him not to do it. “If you are not firm in your faith, you will not be firm at all,” Isaiah tells the King (7:9). Don’t trust in military powers-- trust in the God who can save you!
Then Isaiah tells the King that God is going to give him a sign-- a sign of his faithfulness that God will indeed rescue him. What is the sign? An angelic army? A tornado to wipe out his enemies? No: a baby. “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and you will call his name Emmanuel” (7:14). Ahaz sees this as no help to him whatsoever. A baby? With armies breathing down his neck on every side, God is giving him a baby? That is not the sign that he expected or wanted.
Yet it is the sign we need. As we struggle, as we wrestle with our own fears and sorrows and anxieties, we may wish and hope that God brings all sorts of things we think we need into our lives. Money, security, healing, rescue from our problems. But instead God gives us the ultimate sign of his goodness and faithfulness: a baby. Not just any baby, but the baby named “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” In Jesus, God gives us his presence, what we all really need. Without his presence, we can have all the resources in the world and have nothing. With his presence, we can have nothing yet have everything.
This is the unexpected sign and gift of God to the world at Christmas. The baby. Emmanuel. God with us.
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10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”
13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.