Imagine the young king, having barely been crowned and now he must face this terrifying trial. And the young prophet, courageous and confident, the aura of spiritual power emanating from him. Perhaps Isaiah let his oracle settle for a few quiet moments around the trembling Ahaz.
These are not real firebrands, Ahaz, these are ‘two smoldering stumps of firebrands,’ they have plotted evil against you, but God has taken it personally, for they assault the oath of the Lord to keep the House of David on the throne for all eternity.
In just sixty-five years Ephraim—Israel and its capital of Samaria—will be shattered and they will no longer even be a people.
Be careful, get the right perspective, keep calm, think straight, do not fear them.
A Prophecy Realized
It was a formidable crisis, and a tense hour. But God had now promised the Aram-Israel alliance would not succeed. In fact God had even given a specific date for the demise of Israel: 670 BCE, a mere sixty-five years from where they both stood.
Did it happen?
You can read the full story in 2 Kings 15 and 2 Kings 17. It was not an event that happened all at once. The first wave of exiles happened along Israel’s easter border, on the other side of the Jordan River
First Wave of Exile
So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of King Pul of Assyria, the spirit of King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, and he carried them away, namely,
– the Reubenites,
– the Gadites,
– and the half-tribe of Manasseh,
and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the River Gozan, to this day.1 Chronicles 5:26 (NRSV)
Then, in rapid succession, king after king claimed the throne then was dethroned in this politically turbulent and dangerous final era of Israel’s existence.
- Zechariah son of Jeroboam reigned six months until Shallum killed him.
- Shallum son of Jabesh reigned one month until Menahem killed him.
- Menahem son of Gadi reigned ten years. He managed to survive chiefly because he was able to pay King Pul of Assyria’s heavy tribute by usuriously taxing the people of Israel. King Pul “confirm[ed] [Menahem’s] hold on the royal power.”
- Pekaiah son of Menahem reigned two years until his own captain Pekah killed him.
- Pekah son of Remalia reigned twenty years, but it was a wretched tale of affliction and decline for the people.
Second Wave of Exile
Each of Israel’s king was as wicked as the one before him, doing evil the eyes of God, oppressing the people, indulging in base idolatrous practices, permitting and often promoting the grossest injustices among the people. Assassination and political intrigue were the norm, and it seems the first rather massive loss of territory and people in the first wave of exile had little affect on the nation’s nor their rulers’ practices.
And so, the Lord lifted God’s protection, and a second costly assault was underway.
In the days of King Pekah of Israel,
King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.
Then Hoshea son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah son of Remaliah, attacked him, and killed him; he reigned in place of him2 Kings 15:29-30 (NRSV)
Third and Final Wave of Exile
Hoshea Son of Elah was the last king of Israel, and he clung to power for nine long and bitter years.
King Shalmaneser of Assyria came up against him; Hoshea became his vassal and paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to King So of Egypt and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year;
therefore the king of Assyria confined him and imprisoned him.
Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria; for three years he besieged it.
In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria; he carried the Israelites away to Assyria. He placed them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.2 Kings 17:3-6 (NRSV)
Keep the Faith
In the moment, circumstances seemed dire indeed, his people captured, his towns looted, his capital city nearly under siege. But the prophet Isaiah reassured King Ahaz that God was not in the least perturbed, and the kings of Aram and Israel were mere matchsticks to God. They would not prevail.
Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint . . .
If you do not stand firm in faith,Isaiah, 7:4, 9 (NRSV)
you shall not stand at all.
Isaiah’s word to Ahaz is God’s word to you and me today:
Take heed: When you and I are willing to rein in our panicky thoughts, heed scripture’s counsel about the temptation to take matters into our own hands, or do something foolish in the moment, or take the low road instead of the high road, we are listening to the prophet’s caution. When we are in the thick of it, that is exactly the perfect time to pray, and take heed of God’s discernment, courage, strength, and wisdom.
Be Quiet: In the clamor of fear and dread, being quiet to listen to God seems counterintuitive. But this is exactly when we need to be quiet and listen to God through the Spirit’s inward guidance and God’s voice through the scriptures and wise advisors.
Do Not Fear: It is easy enough to capitulate to runaway emotions. Yet, if we do take heed and be quiet, we give our flooded minds and overrun hearts a moment to settle. God may not remove the crisis (most often, God does not) but God will certainly sustain us through it and redeem the suffering of it.
Do Not Let Your Heart Be Faint: It would take courage for Ahaz to trust God with the outcome, and face these two kings down. It is no different for you and me today. We may not feel courageous, but the Spirit has given us God’s own character to draw from.
An Idolater’s Dilemma
Ahaz was an idolater. He worshiped Ba’al, and even burned his own sons as an offering in the most appalling of Ba’alic practices. Ahaz sacrificed and made offerings in high places all over Judah. He did not really believe in God. But God was offering him a chance to repent, in the hour of his crisis.
God spoke very clearly to Ahaz. Faith in God was his only hope
To not be firm in faith, is to not be firm at all
God’s people are to live by faith in God’s word and character in all circumstances, in crises as well as in times of calm.
Faith is believing God and acting on it. Faith is not just an intellectual assent, it goes deeper than that. It is a belief so strong that our lives are changed by it.
There is no other way than this way.
Faith is an unavoidable issue, since we all have faith in something. The question is, what have we placed our faith in?
Ahaz did not have faith in God, and so he was not going to be able to stand firm at all. He refused God’s promise, protection, and perspective. He turned in fear to what he really had faith in―an alliance with Assyria.
Needless to say, it was not a good decision.