Our reading today begins with the recounting of the alliance between Syria and Israel against Judah (7:1). We read about this event in 2 Kings 16:5-9. Here we get some more details of the event, like the overwhelming fear of Judah (v. 2), and this prophecy of Isaiah to Ahaz (vv. 3-25). Note in verse 3 that Isaiah’s son is named Shear-jashub, literally: “A Remnant Shall Return.” Isaiah tells Ahaz not to fear because of Syria and Israel (called here Ephraim), and the kings Rezin and Pekah (“son of Remaliah”). Their conquest will not come to pass (v. 7). Isaiah points out that those who rule from the capitols (both Damascus and Samaria) are merely human (vv. 8-9). Isaiah predicts the end of the Northern Kingdom (v. 8 – the “65 years” is likely the same as saying “within this generation”). Isaiah ends this oracle by calling Judah to faith in God (v. 9).
In verse 10, we see that the Lord spoke to Ahaz “again.” This shows that when the prophet speaks the words of God (v. 7), it is really God speaking. God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign so he can be sure of what Isaiah just said (v. 11 – like we saw in 2 Kings 20:8-11). Ahaz’s response in verse 12 is not humility, it is lack of faith – the faith God just called for in verse 9. We know this by God’s reaction to Him in verse 13. So God will choose the sign He will give (v. 14).
This sign has a triple significance. First, God is telling Ahaz that before a newborn (Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz – see 8:3-4) will be held responsible for himself, both Syria and Israel will be conquered by Assyria (vv. 15-16 – see 2 Kings 16:9 and 17:6). This prophecy was likely given about 12 years before the Assyrian invasion of Israel. Second, this prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, literally God with us (Matt 1:22-23). Third, the names of the children in this chapter and the next detail the program God has set forth: judgment of the physical people (Maher-shalal-hash-baz, meaning “the spoil speeds, the pray hastens”), preservation of a remnant (Shear-jashub, meaning “a remnant shall return”), and the salvation that will come from the remnant (Immanuel, meaning “God with us”).
In verse 17, God again identifies the instrument of judgment as Assyria. Foreign powers will come and establish themselves in the land (vv. 18-19 – remember that Assyria was also at war with Egypt at this time). Assyria is likened to a razor that God has hired to shave Israel (v. 20). Shaving was a means of humiliating an enemy (see 2 Sam 10:4-5). In verses 21-22, God is saying that there will be so few people left in the land that they could be sustained by the milk of one cow and two sheep. Verses 23-25 promise utter desolation for Israel (see 5:6).
Chapter 8 begins with the making of a legal contract. Isaiah will write the “contract” and have two witnesses to validate it (8:1-2). In light of Ahaz’s lack of faith (7:12), God will make the sign He is about to give legally binding as a public demonstration. Then the sign is given (the initial fulfillment). That Isaiah’s wife is referred to as “the prophetess” (v. 3) and that he takes his older son with him to prophesy to Ahaz (7:3), it would appear that Isaiah’s whole family were prophets. Isaiah names this younger son as a sign of the coming judgment, which God guarantees is fast approaching (v. 4).
The people of Israel have refused what God provides and look to Rezin and Pekah for provision (v. 6). God uses the symbol of a gentle river to represent His provision. But since that is refused, He will punish them at the hand of Assyria, which is compared to the mighty waters of the Euphrates River (v. 7), which is next to Assyria. In verse 8, we see that Assyria will take Israel and “overflow” – she will come against Judah (see 2 Kings 19:10-13). Verses 9-10 speak of God’s protection (for now) of Judah. The “O Immanuel” of verse 8 is a reference to the newborn son of Isaiah (the initial fulfillment of 7:14). While his one name is judgment for Israel, his other name is salvation for Judah, for they can say “God is with us” (v. 10). This is a type of Christ, Who is judgment for the enemies of God, but salvation for the chosen of God (see Phil 2:9-11).
God then encourages Isaiah to be set apart from the people – not to be like them or fear what they fear (vv. 11-12). Isaiah is called to honor God as holy and fear Him (v. 13 – see 1 Pet 3:15). Verse 14 picks up the theme of the previous prophecy. God is salvation (a sanctuary) to some, and judgment for others. Note that both Israel and Judah will stumble, fall, be broken, and be taken (v. 15). This idea is picked up by Paul as he explains the rejection of physical Israel (Rom 9:33), by Peter to explain how the church is the true Israel (1 Pet 2:8), and even by Jesus as He explained to physical Israel that they would not be part of the kingdom (Matt 21:44). I am not sure how the New Testament could have made the meaning of this prophecy any clearer: God is going to be finished with physical Israel when Christ comes.
In verses 16-17, Isaiah professes faith in God. The binding up of the testimony and sealing of the teaching among Isaiah’s disciples could be instruction for them to put together this book of his prophecies. Isaiah understands that he (who will be rejected by Judah – see 6:9-10) and his two aptly names sons are “signs and wonders” for the people (just like Jesus’s signs and wonders were meant to elicit faith from Israel) (v. 18). Isaiah predicts that they will not respond to these signs (him and his sons), but will seek truth apart from YHWH, and will be punished accordingly (vv. 19-22).
Chapter 9 begins with an exposition of the child from 7:14 that is to be born (the ultimate fulfillment in Christ). God brought into contempt (judged) the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali (in the north of the Northern Kingdom), but “in the latter time” He will make glorious “Galilee of the nations.” Galilee was the kingdom defeated by Joshua in which the allotments of Zebulun and Naphtali (and others) eventually fell (see Josh 12:23 – “Goiim” is the Hebrew word for nations, hence “Galilee of the nations”). Galilee will also be the name of the northern territory of Israel in Jesus’s day (Judea will be the southern territory, with Samarian in between the two). Galilee is where Jesus lived and began His ministry, which is the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy (see Matt 4:12-17).
Those (Israel and Judah) who will be judged for living in darkness – it is these to whom the Light will be sent (v. 2 – see John 1:4-5, 9-13). Multiplying the nation (goi, the singular of goiim) is referring to the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant (v. 3). They (we) will not be overtaken, but joyously “divide the spoil” (God’s salvation as opposed to His judgment). Our oppressor – sin – is broken as on the day of Midian, which was a victory given completely by God in spite of the weakness of those He saved (v. 4 – see Judges 7). The battle will be won and the remnants of the war will be destroyed (v. 5).
And why will all of this happen? Why will light shine in darkness, and Gentiles be incorporated, and salvation be won by God, and sin be overcome by God, and our fight be over? Because to us a child is born; to us a Son is given. This is Immanuel. This is the promised Son of David (v. 7). This is our King (v. 6). And His name is not just Immanuel, it is Wonderful Counselor, “wonderful” meaning working wonders (miracles). His name is Mighty God (Who is YHWH Himself, according to 10:20-21). His name is Everlasting Father, “father” being a name ascribed to kings. This is He Who will be King forever (see 2 Sam 7:13). His name is Prince of Peace. He will bring ultimate peace to all (see 11:6-9), after making peace between YHWH and the nations in the church (see Eph 2:14).
Verse 7 establishes with no doubt that Isaiah is talking about the Greater Son of David (again, see 2 Sam 7:13). Note that His kingdom will be established “from this time forth.” What is “this time?” From His first coming. From the time of Christ’s first coming, He is king. And His kingdom is not of this world…yet. But it is visible in the church. That “the zeal of YHWH of hosts will do this” ties this in with Isaiah’s prophecy of the church (the true remnant) in 2 Kings 19:31.