Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz: “Ask for a sign from the Lord your God – from the depths of Â Sheol to the heights of heaven.” But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.” Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. By the time he learns to reject what is bad and choose what is good, he will be eating butter and honey. For before the boy knows to reject what is bad and choose what is good, the land of the two kings you dread will be abandoned. The Lord will bring on you, your people, and the house of your father, such a time as has never been since Ephraim separated from Judah – the king of Assyria [is coming]. Isaiah 7:10-17 (HCSB)
In the midst of this passage is the oft referenced verse in the Gospel of Matthew that claims to point to Jesus as the Messiah. Immanuel literally means “God with us.” It would be the name that attested to “the presence of God’s anointed.”
The term translated first by the Septuagint translators as virgin, actually means “young maiden.” In this context, a child would be born to a chaste, innocent girl as a sign to the king of Judah, Ahaz, and his people.
Within 12 years (the age of accountability in the Jewish mind) after this child was born, the enemies of Northern Israel and their ally, Syria (Aram) would be destroyed and people put into exile. Yet God was not done with Judah. The arrogant people of Judah became more arrogant and turned from their love for God. They boasted of their strength, wealth and invincibility. So God declared that he would bring his wrath onto their land as well, and only a faithful remnant would be under his covenant care, even after the land was scorched and never the same again. The pride of the men of Judah was reflected in their beards as their symbol of manhood and virility, but they would sent into exile shaved from head to toe.
Isaiah dared to be the herald of God’s warning: Be careful what you ask for, and do not believe that I did it because of what you have done or what you deserve, because you do not deserve anything better.
In Bethlehem, many centuries later, a child would be born who be likewise identified as Immanuel. The Jews of the first century had long returned from exile and rebuilt their temple but fell under the rule of the Romans. They felt they deserved to be freed from the yoke of their Roman oppressors. However when Jesus revealed he was not what they envisioned as their Messiah, God’s Immanuel – a great and powerful earthly king to orchestrate political change, orchestrated instead a spiritual revolt against the religious oligarchy, they conspired to destroy Jesus out of jealousy and greed. Why didn’t they hear the same message? Be careful what you ask for, and do not believe that I did it because of what you have done or what you deserve, because you do not deserve anything better.
Even today, we need to be careful when we are jealous or afraid of certain conditions in our life and we seek God’s vengeance upon our enemies. God knows our motive? If we ask for selfish reasons, we stand the risk of God making major changes in our own lives to humble us. He will strip away our symbols of pride and arrogance. We should take care what we ask God to do for us, and allow God to reveal the motive in our heart before we ever ask God to turn his wrath on those we perceive as rivals or a threat to our lives. Otherwise, we may find ourselves under the same judgment that we are asking God to pour out upon our enemies.
This is troubling time on our country and there are a myriad of prayers and petitions directed to God about the perceived threats we face. Should we listen to the same warning and be careful what we ask for? We may not relish the response anymore than what history has shown.