Child of a Virgin: Hope in Our (In)ability - Isaiah 7:1-17
A recent NY Times article tells the story of Horace Parlan, who died this year at the age of 86. He was acclaimed for his unique style of jazz piano. He began piano lessons at age 7, but two years later, he contracted polio and was partly paralyzed on the right side of his body. He quit his lessons, but decided to try again at age 12, and though he was unable to use the middle fingers of his right hand, he kept playing, and he managed to create a technique that eventually made him a world-renowned jazz artist. The will to overcome that kind of inability is a gift from God. But we see something like that, or we experience success of our own, and we begin to assume that our best chance for success will always come through compensating for our inability by relying on our own strength. However, the Scriptures point out that in many circumstances, we can’t compensate for our inability. Some situations are too much for us. And especially through the virgin birth of Jesus, God means to show us that while our inability is too much for us to overcome, it’s not too much for him.
So we should trust that God can compensate for our inability with his strength. But how does he do that?
There are three ways outlined in Isaiah 7:1-17.
- by reassuring us of His power when we are frozen in fear. (v.1-4)
- by reminding us of His trustworthiness when we are weak in faith. (v.5-9)
- and by delivering us from His wrath when we are dead in sin. (v.10-17)
First, by reassuring us of His power.
This takes place over 200 years after the death of King David. It’s the 8th century B.C. Israel was now divided. There was what was called “Israel” but was the northern kingdom. Jerusalem was not within their borders. They set up a capital city called Samaria. And the southern kingdom was called Judah. Jerusalem was there, and the kings that descended from David were in Judah. Both kingdoms rebelled against God and eventually fell, but the northern kingdom, Israel, was worse, and they were conquered sooner. At this point, Israel has formed an alliance with the nation of Syria. So “Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it.” They’ve come to fight Judah.
Now the major threat to all nations at that time was Assyria, not to be confused with Syria. Syria and Israel wanted Judah to form an alliance with them to fight Assyria.
Verse 2 calls Judah, “the house of David.” In 2 Sam 7, God told King David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne forever. Pekah was not a descendent of David. The house of David is in Judah. 2 Sam 7 also tells us the Messiah would be from the house of David. So Ahaz should know that God has promised to be with him and to help him. Ahaz “was told, ‘Syria is in league with Ephraim,’” Ephraim is another name for Israel. And when Ahaz and all of Judah heard that Israel and Syria were united, it says their hearts, “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”
Picture the footage taken during hurricanes, as the wind shakes the trees. These people are shaken. But their inability is magnified by the fact that their king does not trust in God.
And so God sends Isaiah the prophet to give Ahaz a message. In the New Testament, Hebrews 1 says that in these times God spoke to their leaders through the prophets. Isaiah takes his son and they go to a specific location. You see the historical detail of the event. And verse 4 says, “say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands.” God reassures them that they don’t have to fear because he is real and powerful, especially compared to these “two smoldering stumps of firebrands.”
We had a men’s bonfire the other night. Built a big, blazing fire. But it burned out eventually. Down to the last two smoldering pieces of wood. What they used to call “firebrands.” These two kings, Rezin and Pekah, seem scary, but they won’t last. Compare them to what the Scriptures say about God: Deuteronomy 33, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Psalm 90, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” These blowhards have temporary status. Fear and trust the eternal God. God reassures them of his love and power. Yes, their inability is showing. But at those times, the power of God can be demonstrated.
When have you been frozen in fear, your heart shaking like the trees in the hurricane? Those who trust in Jesus have this hope, that God is with them and for them. Romans 8 says that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The apostle Paul then explains that what it means that they are “called.” He says, “For those whom (God) foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…And those whom he predestined he also called.”
When God works in your heart, brings you to life while you’re dead in sin, he does so because he was determined to do so. He has the power to overcome sin and death. And that he determined that he would make you right with him. And he determined that your home with him in eternity is secure. He has the power to determine the future – because he made it. This is our reassurance in times of fear. We are guaranteed that he can compensate for our inability.
Also, God reminds us of His trustworthiness when we are weak in faith.
Syria and Israel figure that if Ahaz won’t form an alliance with them, they can get him out and put their own puppet in his place who will do what they want. And they’ve picked a guy – the son of Tabeel. But God is not having it.
On the TV show “College Game Day,” the show hosts pick who they think will win CFB games. One host, Lee Corso, is a funny character, and if the person picking a game before him makes a pick he disagrees with, he says, “Not so fast my friend.” Here God is saying of Rezin and Pekah – “Not so fast my friend.”
Verse 7, “thus says the Lord GOD: ‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.” He names their capital cities (Damascus in Syria; Samaria in Israel) and their kings as if to say that these are not worthy adversaries of the one true God. Historically we know that their coalition didn’t last. Both of those nations eventually fell to Assyria. But Ahaz must trust God. God tells Ahaz and Judah this, end of verse 9, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” They were not going to be able to walk by sight through this one. Faith would be necessary.
We naturally want to walk by sight. We would rather trust in tangible things: like our health, our money, our possessions, our education, our opportunities and reputation, our connections. We would rather trust in our good record, thinking we deserve a good life because we are good people. But the Scriptures teach that God’s people must walk by faith. Jesus said that his people would have to suffer for his name. Often it’s a believer’s response to suffering that has an impact on the people around them. Hard times are inevitable. Without faith in God, we won’t make it. That was the situation for Ahaz and the people of Judah. But no one will walk by faith unless they believe that God is trustworthy. God reminds us of his trustworthiness so we will step out and trust him.
Where is God calling you to walk by faith, to rest in the knowledge that he is trustworthy? There’s a new year coming up. Who knows what lies ahead? When difficult times come – times that are too big for you to handle, where your inability weighs on you and you have to trust in God, you can take small steps of faith, and when you do, you come to know him in a deeper way. God becomes more real to you as you trust him. Pray this for yourself and your spouse and children, those you love, that God would be real to them. Parents, your kids are going to have to go through things. We read the promises of God’s trustworthiness in the Scriptures, and coupled with steps of faith, we learn that God is worthy of our trust.
And finally, God compensates for our inability by saving us from His wrath when we are dead in sin.
When God wanted to help his people walk by faith, at key times in the story of redemption, he would give them a visible sign of his power and faithfulness. Notice verse 10, “Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz:” this is through Isaiah of course, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Basically, ask anything. Nothing is too hard for God. What kind of sign do you want, Ahaz? But, “Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.’ Ahaz refers to the command in Deuteronomy 6 not to test God. It sounds like a good response. But Ahaz doesn’t want a sign. He’s already made up his mind not to trust God. In the Old Testament book of 2 Kings, this event is recorded. It says, “Ahaz sent messengers to (the) king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.”  Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasures of the king's house and sent a present to the king of Assyria.  And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive..and he killed Rezin.” Ahaz tells the king of Assyria, “I am your servant and son.”
The king of God’s people should only call God is his master and father. Ahaz is bowing down to a false god. He’s trusting in the king of Assyria and in his own wealth to buy protection. But God knew what Ahaz would do. And so in verse 13, Isaiah replies, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? By “weary” Isaiah means “to exhaust.” Kings often exhausted their people by their poor decisions. Ahaz made many poor choices. For instance, 2 Kings 16 says “he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering.”
Other nations, who worshipped false gods, did this, but it was forbidden in the Old Testament law given to Moses. Yet because of God’s promise to David, he gives Ahaz this chance. But notice Isaiah doesn’t say “your God” like he did in verse 11. Rather, he says “my God.” Isaiah call tell that the one true God is not Ahaz’s god. But God will still give a sign. Verse 14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel meant “God with us” in their Hebrew language. Ahaz didn’t think God was with him.
Some scholars argue that what we interpret as “virgin” here simply means a young woman, but that wouldn’t be much of a sign, would it? A young woman having a baby is something that happens all the time. So it would be a miraculous birth, otherwise impossible. But why the sign of a little baby? Of all the things God could do, he chooses a birth.
And why a sign that Ahaz would never see taking place. It happened years after his death. What’s going on here?
Well, for those who believe, the signs of God serve as a source of hope. For those who don’t believe, they serve as a source of judgment. Ahaz isn’t going to change his mind. But God would always have a group of people, what the Scriptures call a “remnant” of those who would trust in him. The sign is for them. The fact that they sign is a baby speaks directly to the faulty reasoning of Ahaz. Couldn’t God send a plague on his enemies or give strength to his army? Babies are weak and helpless. You don’t take little babies with you into battle. You put your strength forward. You send your most powerful soldiers. The child was reminder of what Ahaz should have known: that God’s people depend on him like a baby depends on it’s mother. And God fights the battles for his people. This is what the Philistines learned when they sent Goliath to defeat God’s people. God intentionally defeated them through a young boy named David. Incidentally, that’s not a story about you slaying the giants in your life. God is the giant slayer. The sign of this baby would demonstrate that God was fulfills his plans through weakness.
In 2 Cor 12, the apostle Paul describes a great weakness that he had. He says,
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul then says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Back to Isaiah, in Verse 15, Isaiah says of the child, “He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.” “Curds and honey” seems to be a reference to when all of Judah, both non-believers and the believing remnant, would be exiled from their land. The child would be one of the remnant. And verse 16, “For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” In a short time, like the time it takes a child to learn good from evil, the kings of Syria and Israel will no longer be in power. This threat will be gone. But because Ahaz would not trust in God, God would turn him and the people over to their enemies. Verse 17: “The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”
Their fall to Assyria would be the judgment of God because of their sin. And yet this Savior child would be born. Why would they need a Savior? Well, obviously they wanted to be saved from Assyria. But we read earlier this morning why he came. Matt 1, “he will save his people from their sins.”
These nations were not the bigger, eternal problem. Sin was the problem. In Romans 5 says, Paul writes, “ For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
Bible teacher R.C. Sproul passed away last week. He was a tremendous influence on me. And he famously stated, “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” He meant to explain what the Bible teaches: that people are, in their natural state, enemies of God because of sin. We are born under the curse of sin, even from the time we conceived we are sinners. Some people argue that sin doesn’t affect a person until they reach an age of accountability. But there is no Biblical evidence of that. Even infants are affected by sin, otherwise they wouldn’t die. Death came into the world through sin.
And so something has to be done with this sin and the barrier it puts between us and God. Paul writes in Galatians 4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law. Jesus was born, fully human, experiencing the outward affects of sin and death, while still being fully God, born of a virgin and without the sinful nature that we all have. Jesus was not a sinner, and so he lived a pure and sin-free life by the power of God. A perfect, human life as a substitution for those who trust in him and that life he lived. And he died, paying for sins of those who trust in him and absorbing the wrath of God that they deserved.
As we come to the table today, it reminds us of the substitutionary death of Jesus. Do you see that without God compensating for your inability by sending Jesus, born of a virgin, to live and die in your place, you would be without hope and without God in the world? He offers this hope, he offers himself, to you today.