Isaiah WEEK 4 - The Sign of Immanuel

Texts: Isaiah 7: 10-16 and Matt 1: 18-25
Meet and Greet: however you usually do it!
Opening prayer.
The history.
(I know this is the boring bit, but without it the passage doesn’t make much sense)
  • The Kingdom of God’s People in the Old Testament had a chequered history. After the first 3 kings, -Saul, David and Solomon, -there was civil war. That’s why throughout the books of Kings and Chronicles there are two parallel sets of kings described: the Kings of Israel, in the north, and of Judah, in the south.
  • Today’s passage is set in the 8th century BC., (or BCE, as it is usually written these days, -Before the Common Era). The young Ahaz is the King of Judah and is under threat of attack from the Northern king and his allies. They are in mortal fear. We learn from other books in the Bible, (2 Kings 16.7-9; 2 Chronicles 28. 16-21), that Ahaz has already appealed for help from the King of Assyria, the wonderfully named Tiglath-Pileser! Ahaz is playing with fire! He bribes T-P with precious metals stolen from the Temple; he then sees an altar in Damascus and copies it for the Temple in Jerusalem and also modifies the Temple and its worship to suit T-P. Ahaz is into idolatry and child sacrifice, -an altogether Bad Lot! But in return Ahaz will get trouble instead of help, (2 Chron.28 v20).
  • Back to our passage from Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah is sent by God to a specific place to meet a specific person, and deliver a specific message: be careful; keep calm; don’t be afraid. Why? Because despite all, God wants to rescue them and knows what the future holds both in this alliance with T-P, and in the future destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. He wants Ahaz and Judah to turn to him for help, not to T-P. But for this to happen they needed to stand firm in faith, or they would not stand at all. (v9)
The passage.
  • God spoke a second message to Ahaz via Isaiah: “Ask me for a sign”. Ahaz relpies that he won’t put God to the test. This sounds very pious, especially as we can all remember Jesus using the same quote, when he was tempted in the wilderness, (Matt. 4.7). However, Jesus was quoting from Deut.6.16, about not comparing God with other ‘Powers’; not pushing God to see what you can get out of him, or what you can get away with.  But God’s offer, here, is to do with the passage in Deut. 4 34, in which the writer asks whether there is any comparison between the God of Abraham, who rescues wonderfully, and other gods who cannot?
  • God’s actions are always about rescue and healing, -these are the signs of who He is and what He is like. He knows that Ahaz has asked for help from a corrupt source and the consequences will play out to a bitter end. To show him this, Isaiah refers to, -and maybe even points to someone present, -the young woman/virgin is with child and shall bear a child and name him Immanuel, (God with us). Before the child is fully weaned and knows right from wrong, (ie. about 2 or 3 years), the enemies you dread will be destroyed, by T-P no less, -then he’s coming for you.
  • This prophecy is about timing and about consequences, not about biology! This sign sounds like rescue from the enemy, but ends as a warning of destruction if they abandon God’s ways. But God always has his heart open to those who turn back to him, Isaiah 1.18-20.
  • Now look at Matt.1.18-25:
  • Matthew makes a direct connection with this passage from Isaiah. The sign is the same: a virgin/young woman conceives a child, who is called Immanuel, Again, this is primarily about timing and consequences, not biology. The timing is about God’s timing to bring about the ultimate in rescues. It is about the specific time and place when God came to be with us. And the consequences for us?..............................Let’s turn to our discussion.
Suggested discussion questions. 
  • Have you ever asked God to give you a sign in connection with a problem/desire you had?
  • Have you ever reached a crisis point when your behaviour could have had dire consequences if you had gone one way rather then another? 
  • Do you feel that this first ‘child call Immanuel’ sign, in Isaiah was a good one to receive? 
  • How do you relate to Matthew’s ‘child called Immanuel’ sign? 
  • What are you doing with this second sign, which is still there for us? 
  • What is He is sign of
  • What does Immanuel mean to you? 
  • On a personal level, Isaiah is an outstanding example of a man of faith in God. In the crisis that confronted Judah his faith did not waver. When we are faced with crises in our lives do we display a similar level of faith and trust in God? 
suggestions include
  • prayer for ourselves and others a times of fear/decision-making
  • singing together ‘O Come, O Come Immanuel’.
  • Re-dedication of ourselves to be faithful in worship.

Christine Bailey, 06/12/2010