Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NASB)
At Christmas time we see this verse a lot on memes and Christmas cards and in sermons. But today the “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.
Israel is under attack by two kings, and Isaiah is instructed by God to go to King Ahaz with a message. So, Isaiah tells Ahaz, one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history, to “‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood’” (Isaiah 7:4). He assures Ahaz that what these two kings have in mind for Israel will not happen. And then, Isaiah gives Ahaz a blank check to ask anything he wants as a sign that God is telling the truth:
“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
But Ahaz refuses.
“I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” (7:11-12)
I will not – Ahaz continues his rebellion against the will of God. And then he puts on a fake and hypocritical religious posture in order to cover his fear and lack of faith in God, and to make himself look good – I don’t want to put the Lord to the test. After all, he could have added, isn’t that what the law commands? “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).
The word translated “test” in both these verses is the Hebrew word nasah (נָסָה), which means “to put to the proof or test.” In the wilderness God was asking them to trust Him to take care of them, but they refused to trust and demanded that He prove it. Here in Isaiah, God wants Ahaz to put Him to the test. This verse reminds me of Psalm 34:8 (NIV).
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
But Ahaz does not want to taste, he refuses. God is offering Ahaz the world, anything at all, but Ahaz does not want to know the goodness, the power, the authority of this God. He doesn’t want to have his eyes opened to “see.” He wants to stick with his own ideas, his own feeble religion.
Doesn’t this kind of describe the whole human race from the beginning? Rebellion, fear, mistrust, unbelief, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, willful blindness. And yet, what is God’s response to all of this? Yes, Isaiah is more than a little irritated at Ahaz, exclaiming, “Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” But what does God say?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
What is God’s response? Mercy, redemption. God says, you don’t want to know me, you don’t want to see, you refuse all the good I long to give you, but I’m going to give it to you anyway! I will give you the deepest depths and the highest heights, I will give you Wonderful, I will give you Truth! I will give you Life! I will give you the Way out of your mess, the way back. I will give you all my love, all my goodness, all my power and authority! I will give you Myself. Me with you and you with Me – always!
Therefore, let us – all us rebels – take God up on his offer. Let’s put God to the test. Let’s taste and see that the Lord is good. Let’s open our eyes and see and receive how much he loves us. Here is the sign. Here is the miracle. Here is the Gift.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)
Image, photograph taken by ESA/Hubble Telescope, NASA