I wonder what Isaiah was thinking when God told him, “Make a large signboard and clearly write this name on it: Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” First of all, that’s not a common name, it’s really just a series of words, and it “roughly” means, “Swift to plunder and quick to carry away,” according to the footnote. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want such a long name. Can you imagine having to write that every time you sign a check! But God had spoken, and Isaiah obediently named his second son accordingly.
We’ve already met Isaiah’s first son, Shear-jashub, which means “a remnant will return.” God was using the names of Isaiah’s offspring as another way to bring the message to the people. First will be the judgment and wrath, but it will be followed by rebirth and hope. It’s interesting to see how God is even using the little details to speak to the people.
It might help to know that Ahaz was not a good king, in terms of being devout in following God. He was evil and self-serving. Yet God tried to protect him because he was in the line of David and part of the kingly promise. Isaiah tells him God is okay with him asking for a sign to be sure it is really God who is speaking to him. Ahaz puts on a bit of a show of piety here when he says, “I will not test the Lord like that.” He knows that it is sinful to test the Lord. But he is being given “permission” to do so here and still refuses. Ahaz has obviously made up his mind he can do it on his own, or at least with the help of Assyria.
Then Isaiah says this. “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” This is recognizable to us as Christians. We find it also in Matthew 1:23. From the sources I reviewed, however, it is unlikely that Isaiah’s reference was strictly a pronouncement of the coming Messiah. Double prophecies happen, and I think that is what we have here. For purposes of the illustration given to Ahaz, it was a sign he could see with his own eyes rather than wait generations for fulfillment.
Have you ever “trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm?” Having grown up in Iowa, I remember watching many a tree shake in a storm or be left bare from those gusty winds of fall. But even more extreme would be the derecho winds that blew across the state of Iowa a month ago uprooting trees that have been there forever, decimating crops, and causing havoc over hundreds of miles. Now that is fear! When I think of such intense fear, I can think of a few times when I was left shaking. Those are not memories I want to spend a lot of time dwelling on to be sure. But it does give us an idea of how King Ahaz was feeling when he learned about the attack. These other leaders were ganging up on Ahaz. What do you think he was really feeling?
We see again how God was ready to intervene for his people. He enlisted Isaiah to bring a message to the king. God’s message was to tell King Ahaz to “stop worrying.” Sure, those two kings were plotting against him, but they were “burned-out embers.” In other words, they weren’t strong enough to compete with Judah despite their plans to invade and overthrow King Ahaz. I had to smile at the language God used to describe them.
Don’t be troubled by the timing of this reading. There are many who question why Isaiah’s commissioning doesn’t take place in Chapter 1. Is it a flashback? Is it out of order? Does Isaiah have a second calling? We can speculate all day long and read all sorts of commentaries. For me, I accept it as what it is supposed to be. It reminded me of watching a YouTube video. They always grab you in the first minute or two with something bold and eye catching. Then a few minutes in, there will be a break for introductions, intentions, and a bit of promotion. Then it’s back to the meat of the message. Following this pattern, Chapter 7 and following will be amazing!
We should truly savor Isaiah’s vision for the beauty and message it gives us as our focus for today. Isaiah saw the Lord! We get a glimpse into the majesty of the throne room of God. Isaiah heard these words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.” God is indeed holy. To be in the presence of his holiness was a privilege. Then it dawned on Isaiah what was happening.
You know as I read through today’s reading, I couldn’t help but be transported back to my college years. I can still remember guys in the fraternity, and some girls for that matter, who had all sorts of bragging to do about the amount of drinking they had done. They were proud of their “abilities” to hold liquor and carry on. I wasn’t impressed then, and I’m certainly not impressed now. It’s just one example of how the words of Scripture are alive and should speak to us still today.
Isaiah may have been used by God to bring this message to Jerusalem and the land of Judah, but we can’t let it end there. There is just too much carryover into the world we are now part of. I think as we dig a little deeper into these “woe oracles” we’re going to see some very familiar scenes. For each phrase that begins “what sorrow” we know what is to follow is the woe condemning certain behaviors that have offended the Lord. Various themes of social injustice run through the woes including drunkenness (as I have mentioned), idleness, selfishness, pride, and oppression, to name a few.