Isaiah 7:4, 9. “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood…If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
Exegesis and Application
In this wonderful passage, the great prophet is told by Yahweh to tell King Ahaz and the Judahites that they should be careful, calm, courageous and don’t get a coronary over foreign threats because God will deliver them from their aggressive enemies. The two enemies (Aram/Syria & Israel/Ephraim) were powerful and warlike firebrands to the north. However, in Yahweh’s wonderful sense of sovereign humor, these red-hot jingoistic neighbors were nothing more than “smoldering stubs” of wood incapable of causing damage to Jerusalem. (Using this same sense of irony, God will later tell Daniel that “Alexander the Great,” the scourge of the world, was nothing more than a “shaggy goat” in His eyes, Dan. 8:21). While the two kings of Syria and Israel talked a good game (“invade,” “tear apart,” “divide” – the trash-talking reminds me of present day North Korea and Iran) they were nothing more than “burned-out stumps.” They posed no real danger to God’s people if the people remained faithful to God.
The Lord’s reassurance is notable because it is rooted in reality. There really was nothing to fear, so Ahaz should relax in the words of his sovereign God, and he must not be faint-hearted and timid in the face of a vocal enemy and should not engage in foreign alliances which will compromise the dedication of Jerusalem to Yahweh.
What is interesting to me is that God does not discount the human emotion of fear. There is the divine recognition that it is impossible not to be afraid in certain situations. Faith in God’s kindness and sovereignty does not dispel us of human anxiety. Feelings are a natural part of human nature and are not to be dismissed. What we are not to do is to fear because we don’t believe our God cares for us. We are to overcome fear, not to dismiss it, through standing on our faith in His providence.
Finally, we get to the money verse, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Calvin has this paraphrase of Isaiah’s message: “This is the only support to which you can rely. Wait calmly and without uneasiness of mind for the deliverance that the Lord has promised. If you do not wait for it, what else remains for you than destruction?” Earlier, in vs. 7, the sovereign LORD told Ahaz that Syria “will not stand” and in vs. 8 the LORD implies that Ephraim will not stand (“it will be too shattered”). And now, in vs. 9, the word “stand” is used twice to describe Judah. So what the LORD is saying is that the enemies of God’s people will not “stand” against His people, if God’s people stand with Him.
To back up His promise, the LORD tells Ahaz to ask for a miraculous physical sign: “in the deepest depths or in the highest heights” (vs. 10). The danger facing Ahaz was real and terrible and threatened the existence of his country. The lesson for us is that the Lord God knows our weaknesses and provides confirmation to His verbal ordinances with physical signs. He does not let us twist in the wind but rather assures our faith infirmities. Comfort through security awaits us if we take a chance in believing His word!
And how does Ahaz respond to this promised deliverance and seal: “I will not ask.” Is this piety? No. It is arrogance. Gary Smith has a nice comment here: “Ahaz’s rejection of God and what God might have to tell him is an indication of little faith in God. Ahaz is not really interested in trusting God, for he probably has already developed his own plan to put his trust in foreign alliances to deliver him from Judah’s enemies.” The faith that Ahaz needed in order to stand was in God’s trustworthy word that God’s plan, as improbable as it seemed at the time, would bring security and success to Ahaz’s goal of occupying the throne of David for years to come. However, the price of national misplaced Judean security and personal power for Ahaz would be that pagan idolatry displaced Yahwistic devotion and Judah would become a vassal state of an alliance partner. The deal was with the devil. Was it worth it? If you now interviewed Ahaz, he would say, “No.”
This arrogant rejection by Ahaz to a generous offer from God is typical of human history and no more so than the rejection of the free gift of salvation and heaven through the promised Messiah (Is. 53:3).
Christian journalist let me suggest to you that the sin of Ahaz is always a temptation to us. We want to accomplish our goals by ourselves in our way, without having to share credit with anyone, including our Lord. God continually opens professional doors for us in writing possibilities, industry contacts and educational opportunities. We have our own plan and we are going to stick with it, even if we have to say to divine appointments: “No, not yet.” Furthermore, the Lord knows the opposition and obstacles facing you and the professional dangers that await you. His word provides a personal guide through the Homeric Scylla and Charybdis.