Deliverance and judgment intermingled continue to characterize our Isaiah text. While Jerusalem is under siege, God tells Isaiah to write on a large clay tablet, “The spoil speeds, the prey hastens” (Hebrew: maher-shalal-hash-baz) as a witness to the coming deliverance. Then, somewhat later, but before the siege is lifted, Isaiah’s wife (the prophetess) bears a child who is to be named Maher-shalal-hash-baz, the same peculiar words as on the tablet (v.3). Like Immanuel, this name is a sign of hope, clearly specifying the doom of Judah’s enemies. And as with Immanuel, a time-frame is given. Before the child says its first words (“Daddy” or “Mommy”), the wealth of Syria (Aram) and Ephraim will be carried off as spoil by the Assyrian king (v.4).
Yet Judah is spared one enemy only to be almost drowned by another. Since the people are opposed to Ahaz’s policy of submission to Assyria (characterized as the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, v.6), God is bringing the mighty flood waters of the River, symbolizing the Assyrian king (v.7). The river of Assyria will not just flood Ephraim and Syria, it will overflow into Judah and reach up to the neck (v.8). Isaiah hints that only Jerusalem, which is the Head of Judah (see7.8), will be spared a thought that leads him to challenge Jerusalem’s enemies to do their worst since it will be thwarted by the gracious presence of “God with us” (vv.9-10).
Isaiah then received a stern warning from God (perhaps in response to his outburst of confidence) not to be fooled by the false bravado of the people (v.11). Rather than being carried away by the general panic of the times, Isaiah is to be in holy awe of the Lord of hosts who is the real actor in the momentous political drama being played out here (v.13). Although this God will be a sanctuary of refuge for those who trust in his historical purposes (difficult thought they are to accept), for the majority who want to resist the Assyrian empire (as was appropriate in the past) God will become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (v.14).
Just try telling Jews in the eighth century B.C. (or modern Christians in the twentieth A.D.) that the good old days of glory and triumph are over and that God now wills judgment and suffering for the nation’s massive sins, a suffering which can still be minimized, but not averted, if only they follow a policy of non-resistance. Changed times require a changed discernment, and Isaiah has been trying to prepare Judah for its drastically transformed role in the world. But to no avail. Even Jerusalem will resist (v.14), God grimly predicts, and many will stumble and fall, be snared and captured (v.15).
In our own period of chaos and panic over free trade agreements, factory closings, and government budget cuts, how do we find our orientation? It is easy to be swept away—almost drowned—by the wave of fear that sustains public reaction to events beyond our control, especially when that fear fuels a holy impatience born of biblical sensitivities. Yet if Isaiah’s discernment applies at all to our turbulent, recessionary times, so does his challenge to a quiet, persevering trust in God. Such trust, explains Peter (quoting Isaiah 8.12-13), is a fundamental prerequisite for our witness to the gospel—even if it leads to our suffering (1 Pet 3.14-17). In this we will simply be following our Lord, whose Advent in likewise turbulent times was, after all the beginning of his journey to the cross.
Dr. J. Richard Middleton serves as professor of biblical worldview and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary.
From The Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.