I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Isaiah and His Sons: Signs for Israel

I. “How did God use Isaiah and his sons as “signs” to Israel?

A. “What is in a name?” Well, Yahweh’s message to king Ahaz and all the people of Judah. The names of both Isaiah and one of his sons carried, in summery form, Yahweh’s message of comfort and encouragement for a frightened, faithless king and his kingdom. If the message were heeded and acted upon by faith (7:9) it also carried Yahweh’s promise of deliverance; however, it was not so acted upon. The names of the prophet and his two sons were to counsel and evoke faith in the Judahite peoples, beginning with their leader. The name of Isaiah’s second son was an invitation for the Assyrian’s invasion of Syria and Israel, and a warning of to Ahaz and the nation. Thus, these three became living, breathing, personal object lessons for a faithless generation.

Isaiah’s name is a particular form, known as theophanic. This is a personal name that includes one form or another of the deity’s name and a predication ascribed to it. Isaiah, in the Hebrew takes this very form: Isaiah = yesh a ‘yâh (lit. “Jah has saved” or “Yahweh is salvation”). Thus, the prophet’s name was to be the controlling presupposition of Ahaz’s attitude in the current national crisis. Had Ahaz laid hold of this message by faith, resting solidly upon Yahweh’s salvific power, it would have produced in him a controlled confidence in the face of national calamity. “Isaiah” then is no mere name; but the foundational Rock upon which all else is to be “established” (7:9).

Corollary to Isaiah’s name is that of his first son and his compound name; Shear-jashub. Shear-jashub literally means: “a remnant shall return.” As part of Isaiah’s first prophecy to Ahaz, this son’s would have been bitter sweet to the faithless ears of Ahaz, as it promised both an invasion and the nation’s survival, at least in part.

Finally, there is the name of Isaiah’s second son. With it came a gloomy second prophecy to Ahaz. Upon rejecting Yahweh’s promised goodness, made available to Ahaz by faith, he then receives a second message from the prophet through the name of another, yet to be born son; Maher-shalal-hash-baz. In 8:1, Isaiah is instructed to create a titilus with the same message inscribed on it; the meaning of the message being: “quick to the plunder—swift to the spoil.” In v.4 there is given further interpretation as to the meaning; before this second child could utter intelligible speech Judah’s enemies would be “spoiled” and taken as “prey.” Moreover, v.8 warned the incredulous king of Judah’s suffering as well.

Therefore, Isaiah, a prophet with “connections” (probably cousin to the king?) and his two sons became a constant living object lesson and message to a nation in dire risk of Yahweh’s forward providence and judgment due to their faithlessness and pagan alliances.

II. “What is the significance of “signs” to/for Israel?

A. In the religio-historical context of the ancient Jewish worldview a “sign” was an interruption of God’s ordinary revelation through providence by means of an inspired occurrence, whether symbolic, actions or words, bearing either judgment or grace or both, all of which is pointing beyond the “sign” itself, to the spiritual reality Yahweh is revealing through it. For example, in the Garden there was the “sign” of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The tree, while not having any mysterious or magical power, was a sign that pointed to the spiritual reality of Adam’s probative obedience and Yahweh’s commanding allegiance in all areas of life, both great and small. Even so, any pious, reflective Jew could have not seen lighting, heard a peal of thunder, or heavy smoke without their mind reverting back to the “signs” of Yahweh’s covenantal presence at Mt Sinai.

Sign’s were attestations to God’s intervention into the flow of redemptive history revealing more of himself to his people and/or their adversaries. This series of signs culminates and climaxes in the Person of Christ and the place of his cross.

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