Trust in Jehovah in the Face of Adversity
ISAIAH chapters 7 and 8 are a study in contrasts. Isaiah and Ahaz both belonged to a nation dedicated to Jehovah; both had God-given assignments, one as a prophet, the other as a king of Judah; and both faced the same threat—the invasion of Judah by superior enemy forces. Isaiah, however, faced the threat with confidence in Jehovah, whereas Ahaz gave way to fear. Why the different reactions? Since Christians today are likewise surrounded by hostile forces, they do well to examine these two chapters of Isaiah to discover what lessons they contain.
Facing a Decision
2, 3. What summary does Isaiah give in his opening words?
2 Much like an artist who defines the outline of a new painting with a few sweeping strokes, Isaiah starts his account with a few broad statements that mark the beginning and the end of the events he is about to relate: “It came about in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham the son of Uzziah, the king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, the king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem for war against it, and he proved unable to war against it.”—Isaiah 7:1.
3 It is the eighth century B.C.E. Ahaz has succeeded his father, Jotham, as king over Judah. Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel, invade Judah, and their armies hit hard. Eventually, they will besiege Jerusalem itself. However, the siege will fail. (2 Kings 16:5, 6; 2 Chronicles 28:5-8) Why? That we will learn later.
4. Why are the hearts of Ahaz and his people filled with fear?
4 Earlier in the war, “a report was made to the house of David, saying: ‘Syria has leaned upon Ephraim.’ And his heart and the heart of his people began to quiver, like the quivering of the trees of the forest because of a wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) Yes, it is frightening to Ahaz and his people to learn that the Syrians and the Israelites have teamed up and that their armies are at this very moment encamped on Ephraim’s (Israel’s) soil. They are merely a two- or three-day march from Jerusalem!
5. In what way do God’s people today resemble Isaiah?
5 Jehovah tells Isaiah: “Go out, please, to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, to the end of the conduit of the upper pool by the highway of the laundryman’s field.” (Isaiah 7:3) Just think! At a time when the king should be looking for Jehovah’s prophet and asking for guidance, the prophet has to go and find the king! Even so, Isaiah willingly obeys Jehovah. Similarly, God’s people today readily go out to find people who are fearful because of the pressures of this world. (Matthew 24:6, 14) How satisfying that each year hundreds of thousands respond to the visits of these preachers of the good news and take hold of Jehovah’s protective hand!
6. (a) What heartening message does the prophet convey to King Ahaz? (b) What situation exists today?
6 Isaiah finds Ahaz outside the walls of Jerusalem, where, in preparation for the expected siege, the king is inspecting the city’s water supply. Isaiah gives him Jehovah’s message: “Watch yourself and keep undisturbed. Do not be afraid, and do not let your heart itself be timid because of the two tail ends of these smoking logs, because of the hot anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.” (Isaiah 7:4) When the attackers ravaged Judah earlier, their anger was as hot as flames. Now they are merely ‘two tail ends of smoking logs.’ Ahaz need not dread Syrian King Rezin or Israelite King Pekah, son of Remaliah. Today it is similar. For centuries, Christendom’s leaders have subjected true Christians to fiery persecution. Now, though, Christendom resembles a log that is nearly burned up. Her days are numbered.
7. Why do Isaiah’s name and that of his son give reason for hope?
7 In Ahaz’ day, not only Isaiah’s message but also the meaning of Isaiah’s name and that of his son give hope to those trusting in Jehovah. True, Judah is in danger, but the name Isaiah, meaning “Salvation of Jehovah,” signals that Jehovah will provide deliverance. Jehovah tells Isaiah to take with him his son Shear-jashub, whose name means “A Mere Remnant Will Return.” Even when the kingdom of Judah finally falls, God will mercifully bring a remnant back to the land.
More Than a War Between Nations
8. Why is the attack on Jerusalem more than a war between nations?
8 Jehovah, through Isaiah, reveals the strategy of Judah’s enemies. Here is what they are planning: “Let us go up against Judah and tear it apart and by breakthroughs take it for ourselves; and let us make another king reign inside it, the son of Tabeel.” (Isaiah 7:5, 6) The Syro-Israelite league schemes to conquer Judah and replace Ahaz, a son of David, with their man. Clearly, the attack on Jerusalem is now more than a war between nations. It has become a struggle between Satan and Jehovah. Why? Because Jehovah God made a covenant with King David, thus assuring him that his sons would rule over Jehovah’s people. (2 Samuel 7:11, 16) What a triumph for Satan if he could install some other royal dynasty on the throne in Jerusalem! He might even frustrate Jehovah’s purpose for David’s line to produce a permanent heir, the “Prince of Peace.”—Isaiah 9:6, 7.
Jehovah’s Loving Assurances
9. What assurances should give courage to Ahaz as well as to Christians today?
9 Will the scheme of Syria and Israel succeed? No. Jehovah declares: “It will not stand, neither will it take place.” (Isaiah 7:7) Through Isaiah, Jehovah says that not only will the siege of Jerusalem fail but “within just sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered to pieces so as not to be a people.” (Isaiah 7:8) Yes, within 65 years Israel will no longer exist as a people.a This assurance, with its specific timetable, should give Ahaz courage. In the same way, God’s people today are strengthened by knowing that the time left for Satan’s world is running out.
10. (a) How can true Christians today imitate Jehovah? (b) What offer does Jehovah make to Ahaz?
10 Perhaps Ahaz’ face registers disbelief, since Jehovah, through Isaiah, says: “Unless you people have faith, you will in that case not be of long duration.” Jehovah, in his patience, “went on speaking some more to Ahaz.” (Isaiah 7:9, 10) What a fine example! Today, although many do not readily respond to the Kingdom message, we do well to imitate Jehovah by “speaking some more” as we visit again and again. Jehovah next tells Ahaz: “Ask for yourself a sign from Jehovah your God, making it as deep as Sheol or making it high as the upper regions.” (Isaiah 7:11) Ahaz may ask for a sign, and Jehovah will perform it as a guarantee that he will protect the house of David.
11. What assurance is found in Jehovah’s expression “your God”?
11 Note that Jehovah says: ‘Ask a sign from your God.’ Jehovah is truly kind. Ahaz is already reportedly worshiping false gods and following disgusting pagan practices. (2 Kings 16:3, 4) Despite that and despite Ahaz’ fearful attitude, Jehovah still calls himself the God of Ahaz. This assures us that Jehovah does not reject humans rashly. He is willing to reach out to those who err or whose faith has grown weak. Will this assurance of God’s love move Ahaz to take hold of Jehovah’s hand?
From Doubt to Disobedience
12. (a) What haughty attitude does Ahaz adopt? (b) Instead of turning to Jehovah, to whom does Ahaz go for help?
12 Ahaz replies defiantly: “I shall not ask, neither shall I put Jehovah to the test.” (Isaiah 7:12) Ahaz is not here observing the words of the law: “You must not put Jehovah your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16) Centuries later, Jesus quotes that same law when Satan tempts him. (Matthew 4:7) In Ahaz’ case, though, Jehovah is inviting him to turn back to true worship and is offering to strengthen his faith by performing a sign. However, Ahaz prefers to seek protection elsewhere. It is possibly at this point that the king sends a large sum of money to Assyria, seeking help against his northern enemies. (2 Kings 16:7, 8) Meanwhile, the Syro-Israelite army encircles Jerusalem and the siege is on.
13. What change do we notice in Isa 7 verse 13, signifying what?
13 With the king’s lack of faith on his mind, Isaiah says: “Listen, please, O house of David. Is it such a little thing for you to tire out men, that you should also tire out my God?” (Isaiah 7:13) Yes, Jehovah can get tired of constant defiance. Observe, too, that the prophet now says “my God,” not “your God.” An ominous change! When Ahaz rejects Jehovah and turns to Assyria, he loses a fine opportunity to restore his relationship with God. May we never sacrifice our relationship with God by compromising our Scriptural beliefs in order to gain temporary advantages.
The Sign of Immanuel
14. How does Jehovah show his faithfulness to his covenant with David?
14 Jehovah remains faithful toward his covenant with David. A sign was offered, a sign will be given! Isaiah continues: “Jehovah himself will give you men a sign: Look! The maiden herself will actually become pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son, and she will certainly call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey he will eat by the time that he knows how to reject the bad and choose the good. For before the boy will know how to reject the bad and choose the good, the ground of whose two kings you are feeling a sickening dread will be left entirely.”—Isaiah 7:14-16.
15. What two questions does the prophecy about Immanuel answer?
15 Here is good news for anyone fearing that the invaders will put an end to the Davidic line of kings. “Immanuel” means “With Us Is God.” God is with Judah and will not allow his covenant with David to be nullified. In addition, Ahaz and his people are told not only what Jehovah will do but also when he will do it. Before the boy Immanuel is old enough to distinguish between good and bad, the enemy nations will be destroyed. And this proves true!
16. Why may Jehovah have left the identity of Immanuel in Ahaz’ day uncertain?
16 The Bible does not reveal whose child Immanuel is. But since the young Immanuel is to serve as a sign and Isaiah later states that he and his children “are as signs,” Immanuel may be a son of the prophet. (Isaiah 8:18) Perhaps Jehovah leaves the identity of Immanuel in Ahaz’ day uncertain so as not to distract later generations from the Greater Immanuel. Who is that?
17. (a) Who is the Greater Immanuel, and what did his birth signify? (b) Why can God’s people cry out today, “With us is God”?
17 Outside of the book of Isaiah, the name Immanuel occurs only once in the Bible, at Matthew 1:23. Jehovah inspired Matthew to apply the prophecy of Immanuel’s birth to the birth of Jesus, the rightful Heir to the throne of David. (Matthew 1:18-23) The birth of the first Immanuel was a sign that God had not forsaken the house of David. Likewise, the birth of Jesus, the Greater Immanuel, was a sign that God had not forsaken mankind or his Kingdom covenant with David’s house. (Luke 1:31-33) With Jehovah’s chief representative now among mankind, Matthew could truly say, ‘With us is God.’ Today, Jesus rules as heavenly King and is with his congregation on earth. (Matthew 28:20) Surely, God’s people have added reason to cry out boldly: “With us is God!”
More Consequences of Unfaithfulness
18. (a) Why do Isaiah’s next words bring terror to his listeners? (b) What turn of events is soon to take place?
18 Comforting though his latest words are, Isaiah’s next statement brings terror to his hearers: “Jehovah will bring against you and against your people and against the house of your father days such as have not come since the day of Ephraim’s turning away from alongside Judah, namely, the king of Assyria.” (Isaiah 7:17) Yes, disaster is coming, and at the hand of the king of Assyria. The prospect of domination by the notoriously cruel Assyrians must be the cause of many sleepless nights for Ahaz and his people. Ahaz has reasoned that befriending Assyria would relieve him of Israel and Syria. Indeed, Assyria’s king will respond to Ahaz’ plea by eventually attacking Israel and Syria. (2 Kings 16:9) This is likely why Pekah and Rezin will be forced to lift their siege of Jerusalem. Thus, the Syro-Israelite league will have proved unable to take Jerusalem. (Isaiah 7:1) Now, though, Isaiah tells his shocked audience that Assyria, their hoped-for protector, will become their oppressor!—Compare Proverbs 29:25.
19. What warning does this historical drama contain for Christians today?
19 For Christians today, this true historical account contains a warning. When under pressure we may be tempted to compromise Christian principles, thereby rejecting Jehovah’s protection. This is shortsighted, even suicidal, as becomes evident from Isaiah’s further words. The prophet goes on to describe what the Assyrian invasion will do to the land and its people.
20. Who are “the flies” and “the bees,” and what will they do?
20 Isaiah divides his pronouncements into four parts, each foretelling what will happen “in that day”—that is, the day when Assyria attacks Judah. “It must occur in that day that Jehovah will whistle for the flies that are at the extremity of the Nile canals of Egypt and for the bees that are in the land of Assyria, and they will certainly come in and settle down, all of them, upon the precipitous torrent valleys and upon the clefts of the crags and upon all the thorn thickets and upon all the watering places.” (Isaiah 7:18, 19) The armies of Egypt and Assyria, like swarms of flies and bees, will have their attention directed to the Promised Land. This will not be a passing invasion. “The flies” and “the bees” will settle down, infesting every nook and cranny of the land.
21. In what way will the Assyrian king be like a razor?
21 Isaiah continues: “In that day, by means of a hired razor in the region of the River, even by means of the king of Assyria, Jehovah will shave the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away even the beard itself.” (Isaiah 7:20) Now only Assyria, the chief threat, is mentioned. Ahaz hires the Assyrian king to “shave” Syria and Israel. However, this “hired razor” from the Euphrates region will move against Judah’s “head” and shave it clean, even removing the beard!
22. What examples does Isaiah use to show the consequences of Assyria’s imminent invasion?
22 What will be the result? “It must occur in that day that an individual will preserve alive a young cow of the herd and two sheep. And it must occur that, due to the abundance of the producing of milk, he will eat butter; because butter and honey are what everyone left remaining in the midst of the land will eat.” (Isaiah 7:21, 22) By the time the Assyrians have ‘shaved’ the land, so few people will be left that only a small number of animals will be needed to provide food. “Butter and honey” will be eaten—nothing else, no wine, no bread, no other staples. As if to stress the degree of desolation, Isaiah three times says that where there used to be valuable, productive land, there will now be thornbushes and weeds. Those venturing into the countryside will need “arrows and the bow” for protection against wild animals lurking in the thickets. Cleared fields will become trampling grounds for oxen and sheep. (Isaiah 7:23-25) This prophecy begins to be fulfilled in Ahaz’ own day.—2 Chronicles 28:20.
23. (a) What is Isaiah now commanded to do? (b) How is the sign of the tablet confirmed?
23 Isaiah now returns to the immediate situation. While Jerusalem is still under siege by the Syro-Israelite combine, Isaiah reports: “Jehovah proceeded to say to me: ‘Take for yourself a large tablet and write upon it with the stylus of mortal man, “Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” And let me have attestation for myself by faithful witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.’” (Isaiah 8:1, 2) The name Maher-shalal-hash-baz means “Hasten, O Spoil! He Has Come Quickly to the Plunder.” Isaiah asks two respected men in the community to attest his writing this name on a large tablet, so that they can later confirm the authenticity of the document. This sign, though, is to be confirmed by a second sign.
24. What effect should the sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz have on the people of Judah?
24 Isaiah says: “Then I went near to the prophetess, and she came to be pregnant and in time gave birth to a son. Jehovah now said to me: ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz, for before the boy will know how to call out, “My father!” and “My mother!” one will carry away the resources of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria before the king of Assyria.’” (Isaiah 8:3, 4) Both the large tablet and the newborn boy will serve as signs that Assyria will soon plunder Judah’s oppressors, Syria and Israel. How soon? Before the boy is able to say the first words that most babies learn—“Father” and “Mother.” Such an exact prediction should build the people’s confidence in Jehovah. Or it could cause some to ridicule Isaiah and his sons. Whatever the case, Isaiah’s prophetic words come true.—2 Kings 17:1-6.
25. What similarities are there between the days of Isaiah and the present time?
25 Christians can learn from Isaiah’s repeated warnings. The apostle Paul revealed to us that in this historic drama, Isaiah portrayed Jesus Christ and Isaiah’s sons foreshadowed Jesus’ anointed disciples. (Hebrews 2:10-13) Jesus, through his anointed followers on earth, has been reminding true Christians of the need to “keep awake” in these critical times. (Luke 21:34-36) At the same time, unrepentant opposers are warned of their coming destruction, although such warnings are often met with ridicule. (2 Peter 3:3, 4) The fulfillment of time-related prophecies in Isaiah’s day is a guarantee that God’s timetable for our day will also “without fail come true. It will not be late.”—Habakkuk 2:3.
26, 27. (a) What events does Isaiah foretell? (b) What do Isaiah’s words indicate for Jehovah’s servants today?
26 Isaiah continues his warnings: “For the reason that this people has rejected the waters of the Shiloah that are going gently, and there is exultation over Rezin and the son of Remaliah; even therefore, look! Jehovah is bringing up against them the mighty and the many waters of the River, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And he will certainly come up over all his streambeds and go over all his banks and move on through Judah. He will actually flood and pass over. Up to the neck he will reach. And the outspreading of his wings must occur to fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel!”—Isaiah 8:5-8.
27 “This people,” the northern kingdom of Israel, reject Jehovah’s covenant with David. (2 Kings 17:16-18) To them, it looks as weak as the trickling waters of Shiloah, Jerusalem’s water supply. They exult in their war against Judah. But this contempt will not go unpunished. Jehovah will allow the Assyrians to “flood,” or overrun, Syria and Israel, much as Jehovah will soon allow the present political part of the world to flood the realm of false religion. (Revelation 17:16; compare Daniel 9:26.) Next, says Isaiah, the swelling “waters” will “move on through Judah,” reaching right “up to the neck,” up to Jerusalem, where Judah’s head (king) rules.b In our time the political executioners of false religion will likewise close in on Jehovah’s servants, surrounding them “up to the neck.” (Ezekiel 38:2, 10-16) What will be the outcome? Well, what happens in Isaiah’s time? Do the Assyrians surge across the city walls and sweep God’s people away? No. God is with them.
Fear Not—“God Is With Us!”
28. Despite the strenuous efforts of their enemies, of what does Jehovah assure Judah?
28 Isaiah warns: “Be injurious, O you peoples [opposed to God’s covenant people], and be shattered to pieces; and give ear, all you in distant parts of the earth! Gird yourselves, and be shattered to pieces! Gird yourselves, and be shattered to pieces! Plan out a scheme, and it will be broken up! Speak any word, and it will not stand, for God is with us!” (Isaiah 8:9, 10) Some years later, during the reign of Ahaz’ faithful son Hezekiah, these words come true. When the Assyrians threaten Jerusalem, Jehovah’s angel strikes down 185,000 of them. Clearly, God is with his people and the royal line of David. (Isaiah 37:33-37) During the coming battle of Armageddon, Jehovah will likewise send the Greater Immanuel not only to dash His enemies to pieces but also to rescue all those who trust in Him.—Psalm 2:2, 9, 12.
29. (a) How do Jews in Ahaz’ day differ from those in the days of Hezekiah? (b) Why do Jehovah’s servants today refrain from making religious and political alliances?
29 Unlike Jews in Hezekiah’s time, Ahaz’ contemporaries lack faith in Jehovah’s protection. They favor a confederacy, or “conspiracy,” with the Assyrians as a bulwark against the Syro-Israelite league. However, Jehovah’s “hand” prods Isaiah to speak against “the way of this people,” or the popular trend. He warns: “The object of their fear you men must not fear, nor must you tremble at it. Jehovah of armies—he is the One whom you should treat as holy, and he should be the object of your fear, and he should be the One causing you to tremble.” (Isaiah 8:11-13) With this in mind, Jehovah’s servants today guard against conspiring with or putting their trust in religious councils and political leagues. Servants of Jehovah have full confidence in God’s protective power. After all, if ‘Jehovah is on our side, what can earthling man do to us?’—Psalm 118:6.
30. What will be the fate of those not trusting in Jehovah?
30 Isaiah goes on to reiterate that Jehovah will prove to be “a sacred place,” a protection, for those trusting in him. In contrast, those rejecting him “will be certain to stumble and to fall and be broken, and to be snared and caught”—five vivid verbs that leave no doubt about the fate of those not trusting in Jehovah. (Isaiah 8:14, 15) In the first century, those rejecting Jesus likewise stumbled and fell. (Luke 20:17, 18) A similar outcome awaits those today who fail to give allegiance to the enthroned heavenly King, Jesus.—Psalm 2:5-9.
31. How can true Christians today follow the example of Isaiah and of those who listen to his teaching?
31 In Isaiah’s day, not all are stumbled. Isaiah says: “Wrap up the attestation, put a seal about the law among my disciples! And I will keep in expectation of Jehovah, who is concealing his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” (Isaiah 8:16, 17) Isaiah and those who heed his teaching will not abandon God’s Law. They keep on trusting in Jehovah, even though their delinquent compatriots refuse to and thus have Jehovah conceal his face from them. May we follow the example of those trusting in Jehovah and have the same determination to cling to pure worship!—Daniel 12:4, 9; Matthew 24:45; compare Hebrews 6:11, 12.
“Signs” and “Miracles”
32. (a) Who today serve “as signs and as miracles”? (b) Why should Christians stand out from the world?
32 Isaiah now proclaims: “Look! I and the children whom Jehovah has given me are as signs and as miracles in Israel from Jehovah of armies, who is residing in Mount Zion.” (Isaiah 8:18) Yes, Isaiah, Shear-jashub, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz are signs of Jehovah’s purposes for Judah. Today, Jesus and his anointed brothers similarly serve as signs. (Hebrews 2:11-13) And they are joined in their work by “a great crowd” of “other sheep.” (Revelation 7:9, 14; John 10:16) Of course, a sign is valuable only if it stands out from its surroundings. Likewise, Christians fulfill their commission as signs only if they stand out as being different from this world, putting their full trust in Jehovah and boldly proclaiming his purposes.
33. (a) What are true Christians determined to do? (b) Why will true Christians be able to stand firm?
33 Let all, then, observe God’s standards, not those of this world. Continue to stand out fearlessly—as signs—carrying forward the commission given to the Greater Isaiah, Jesus Christ: “Proclaim the year of goodwill . . . and the day of vengeance on the part of our God.” (Isaiah 61:1, 2; Luke 4:17-21) Indeed, when the Assyrian flood surges across the earth—even if it reaches up to our necks—true Christians will not be swept away. We will stand firm because “God is with us.”
b Assyria is also compared to a bird whose outspread wings “fill the breadth of your land.” Thus, wherever the land extends, it will be covered by the Assyrian army.
[Picture on page 103]
Isaiah took Shear-jashub along when he conveyed Jehovah’s message to Ahaz
[Picture on page 111]
Why did Isaiah write “Maher-shalal-hash-baz” on a large tablet?