Isaiah 7:10-14: The Virgin Shall Be With Child

An era of maddening war when everything contends this world can only be cruel. The year is 734 BC. The Northern Kingdom of Israel and Syria allied together, shaped by a shared purpose, to overthrow Judah in the South.

An unfathomable force—an army of soldiers with weapons blazing and banners flying—assemble for battle. These forces combine into a single entity and march toward their common enemy, their ferocity shaking the earth’s foundations. Yea, the heavens likewise lament the looming conflict, soon to wrack the land as if grieving for a lost love.

Of course, Judah’s king, Ahaz, and Jerusalem quake in fear as they receive the news, “We’re under threat of an impending invasion.” Instead of trusting the Lord, he resolves to turn to Assyria. A mighty nation, he concludes that they’ll be his savior as he seeks refuge in their numbers.

The prophet Isaiah counsels against relying on earthly powers. The more pressing peril posed is their deficiency of faith in God, who is more than capable of providing protection. “Remember,” Isaiah cautions, “no human force can endure against Yahweh in His power and plans.” Once more, we learn God’s ways aren’t the same as ours.

In today’s Gospel reading, Joseph discovers how God’s miraculous plan complicates and disrupts his life. In a dream, an angel commands him to trust and obey God. At odds with current-day Judean customs, he’s told to stay with a pregnant woman whose offspring is not his.

Betrothed, Joseph must act in faith, confident in God’s plans, more significant than himself. Through the angel’s message, God fulfills the ancient prophecy of Immanuel to come and His virgin mother. Does he believe this?

A looming threat approaches Judah, warning them of what will betide the disobedient. Around seven centuries before Christ, God signals His judgment on Judah’s unyielding monarch, calling for repentance. A foreign alliance threatens, but Isaiah speaks with a message from God, bidding Ahaz to believe in the Lord. “Despite how dire your plight, your hope and rescue are in Him.”

The most extraordinary war stories aren’t from the battlefield but from the heart. The king ponders upon the state of his nation. Two potential paths emerge where he wrestles, torn between these courses of action. One leads to repentance, admitting his wrongdoings, relying on God’s mercy and redemption. The other might be a treacherous route, requesting aid from Assyria. Likewise, an oppressive power, he hopes he doesn’t barter away Judah’s freedom.

“Two smoldering stubs of wood,” Isaiah exudes, confident and assuring Ahaz. Triumph in the Lord’s divine protection, whose Word is as sure as an unquenchable fire against which no strength can stand. Your adversary’s plan to conquer Judah is nothing more than smoke and ashes and won’t succeed. The sparks of spent firewood wither and die, so shall God extinguish their evil efforts and enterprise.

Far too consumed by what his eyes perceive (the approaching enemy army), Ahaz yearns for Assyria’s might. Forever the realist, he uses available resources, ransacking the Temple treasury to call on a foreign kingdom for his country’s deliverance. In his search for safety and security, he mistakes strength for proper protection. Oh, how this enemy’s power pales compared to the God of Abraham and David.

Royalty and loyalty don’t always concern whom you oppose, but support. Exclusive to Himself, God will share His glory with no one until our salvation is complete, lest we die. So, when we follow Him, we should do so with our whole heart, not wavering or second-guessing. No other force can rival His infinite power or surpass His might and majesty.

Prompted by his lack of faith, Ahaz constructs a catch basin. Why? To hold precious water during a siege. So, Isaiah’s words blast as a trumpet, reminding him to rely on God, not on his strength. “Inside Jerusalem’s two walls, you made a reservoir for the waters from the old pool [of Siloam]. After everything, you refused to respect him who created [water], nor consider him who planned this long ago” (Isaiah 22:11).

Drawn to tangible things, King Ahaz craves what he can glimpse and regard, touch and sense, here and now. So he opts for immediate gains, not divine promises of an abstract future. Unbelief descends as a heavy cloak on his soul, rendering him unrepentant in his ways.

Through Isaiah, God again invites Ahaz to trust Him and believe—He won’t abandon Jerusalem. So, He extends another chance to Ahaz. “Ask for a sign, deep as death or as high as heaven,” as a token of God’s reliability and faithfulness. Ever the fool, Ahaz refuses, playing the pious son: “No, thanks, I couldn’t tempt Yahweh!” It’s not sinful to make God prove Himself when He is administering the test! Unrepentant piety is hypocrisy.

Well, duplicity often lies inside the guise of false godliness. So, Ahaz feigns saintliness under a religious pretense, refusing to test the Almighty. Don’t assume trying God is evil or immoral when He seeks to do so! Such an irony, for God drops a personal invitation into Ahaz’s lap to enkindle and show his faith.

Hard choices excuse no one’s refusal to trust God, including Ahaz and his pious-sounding rebellion. So sad, Ahaz clung to a shallow and feeble philosophy: “The one who dies with the most toys wins!” Whoever dies owning the most toys is only dead. True victory lies in a life honoring God, cherishing His gifts of grace, mercy, and love.

Despite the fears and doubts of men, God offers a sign. “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel.” The next verse follows, glimmering with comfort. Syria and Israel’s threat will disappear before this child grasps right from wrong, a poetic way to mean two or three years. Except further troubles await that faithless generation—from Assyria, their supposed ally.

The Lord made a solemn promise to His chosen—He is still with them. Earlier than the child learns between right and wrong, Assyria will scatter their foes. Yet from the grounds of Ahaz’s refusal of the predicted Immanuel, Assyria shall rebuke the unbelieving king and his nation, which will be no less crushing.

The people of Judah will suffer the consequences of rejecting the Lord’s offer to come and aid them in their distress. Later, an enemy will sweep them away into exile, deprived of the chance to live in their beloved homeland. No more will they experience their home-spun joys, removed from a place so familiar.

First meant for Ahaz’s time, the promised Immanuel is for ours, too. Part of God’s grand design, His presence will invade our world. Far better than what Ahaz might imagine is God’s sign for our entire human race, coming to earth and taking on flesh. The Christ-child’s arrival marks a historic moment when God becomes man, forever altering our eternity. The miracle of Immanuel stands as His mighty Word—God is with us!

Unlike faithless Ahaz, we learn of a faithful virgin, Mary. To help fulfill God’s saving plan, she offers herself and receives God’s Word, becoming a sacred vessel. On this holiest and most miraculous occasion, the Holy Spirit descends upon her, causing her to conceive. Within her womb now stirs the same divine presence, which hovered over and formed Creation, God Himself, Immanuel. Eternity enters time, and heaven touches earth.

So different from Ahaz is Mary’s man, Joseph, who is faithful to God. After an angel tells him what is happening, he accepts the angel’s proclamation. By faith, he embraces this heavenly intrusion and treats his beloved as holy. This man recognizes Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant, for within her dwells God’s presence for our salvation.

Foretold, many years earlier, God came to grace us in a divine, sacred incursion. Born of a virgin in extraordinary circumstances, He sent His Immanuel Child. No ordinary infant, He is the Son of God come to earth, the Child of promise—God with us. Never again are we alone or forsaken.

So Jesus stepped into our world, silent as a whisper, without pomp or boasting, but His impact is beyond measure. On a mission to defeat death and the Devil, He sets forth to end the scourge of sin, stigma, and damnation. In this glorious invasion, only one casualty will emerge—Himself.

Yes, Jesus will die, but only as a prelude to His ultimate triumph, His resurrection. In the wake of His crucifixion, He conquers the grave, defeats Satan, and takes away our guilt with His grace. So He heals us from our sins and sorrows, paving a path for a future of peace and joy.

The Almighty God granted us the greatest gift—God with us, Jesus, our beacon of hope who manifested Himself in human form. The blessedness of Jesus’ presence on earth is not without its bane (for Him), yet its rewards (for us) are beyond counting. Let His burning light brighten your path, enlivening you in your darkest hour. May His strength gird your soul, so you need not cower as you brave life with its many times of testing.

In the waning days of our mortal age, God gave us a sign—proof of His love and devotion, manifested in Jesus, Mary’s son. So, we stand on our tiptoes to gaze at the horizon, awaiting the day of His eventual return. Through God’s alliance with us in His Son, victory is ours! Amen.