Then Isaiah and the prophetess, his wife, had a son and God delivered more details about what was to come.

And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz, or before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.”

Isaiah 8:4 (NRSV)

This was further confirmation of what was going to happen just a year down the road. As the people of Judah saw this prophecy come to pass, they would be able to put their hope in the long-term promise of Immanuel.

Then God gave Isaiah three vivid contrasts to illustrate what would come and why.

The first contrast had to do with God’s peace personified as the gentle water of Shiloah, and Assyria’s temporary and ultimately treacherous reprieve seen as a raging river.


Second Contrast, Sanctuary Versus Snare

The Lord spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 

Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears or be in dread.

“But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

“[The Lord] will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against;

“for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over, a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken;

“they shall be snared and taken.”

Isaiah 8:11-15 (NRSV)

Example of a cornerstone, Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C. | By APK – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=116941512

At first read, the sanctuary of God does not seem like a sanctuary at all, but rather more of a tripping place. God described both Israel’s and Judah’s encounter with God. God would be like a stone to them, a stone they trip over, and when they trip they will fall right into a trap, even those who live in the holiest place on earth, Jerusalem. The city that should be the safest sanctuary will instead become the snare.

How?

All a matter of perspective.

Evidently, it was not just King Ahaz who thought an alliance with Assyria would be beneficial for Judah. The citizens of Judah felt the same. Everyone, apparently, knew what was going on.

Everyone knew the armies of Aram and Israel were encamped just miles away.

Everyone knew many towns had already been looted, and the people taken captive—perhaps even family members and friends.

Everyone knew Jerusalem would soon be under siege.

Idolatry was rife throughout Judah, there were many high places and Asherah poles. It seems, it was not the people’s instinct to cry out to God.

Example of Asherah, The Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum is a museum located on the grounds of the University of Haifa, Israel. Figurine from the exhibition in the museum depicting goddess Tanit. צלמיות מהעת העתיקה מתקופות שונות, חלק מהתצוגה של מוזיאון הכט שנמצא באוניברסיטת חיפה צלמית בדמות האלה “עשתורת-תנית”, אלת הפיריון הפניקית. יד ימין מורמת בתנועת ברכה. By Hanay – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15403974

So God told Isaiah, do not follow the majority on this. Do not support the popular pro-Assyrian platform. Do not fear what the others are fearing.

King Ahaz, and the people with him, weighed his options on the earthly plane. What was politically judicious? What would be diplomatically canny? What would be militarily and financially feasible, given his options?

God told Isaiah, on the other hand, to consider what was right before the Lord.

the Lord of hosts, God you shall regard as holy; let God be your fear, and let God be your dread.

Proverbs on Fear of the Lord

Perhaps the proverbs about fear and wisdom came to Isaiah’s mind.

To Isaiah, the Lord was saying,

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, so that one may avoid the snares of death.

The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honor.

The fear of the Lord is life indeed; filled with it one rests secure and suffers no harm.

Proverbs 9:10, 14:27, 15:33, 19:23 (NRSV)

Here was the contrast between sanctuary and snare. The difference lay between reverence for the Lord and the wisdom that brings, or esteem for earthly, worldly wisdom.

God warned Isaiah that for most of the rest of Judah, beginning with King Ahaz,

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,

would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,

Proverbs 1:7, 28-30 (NRSV)

God alone is deserving of reverence and awe.

God will be the place of true refuge, the safe place, a secure place.

When you and I fear the Lord—which is to say, reverence God and hold God in highest esteem—we really do not need to fear people or circumstances.

Tel Rehov exhibition at the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. Rectangular altar designed in the form of a gate. A tree incised on the facade and flanked by two female figures is thought to represent Asherah. From the collection of the Israel museum. The ritual chalice on the left was found next to it. | By Oren Rozen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47593442

Jesus Our Refuge

The apostle Peter referred back to this chapter in his first letter, echoing Isaiah’s thoughts.

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 

But even if you do suffer for doing what is right,[ you are blessed.

Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect. Maintain a good conscience so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

1 Peter 3:13-17 (NRSV)

Do you see how Peter took the prophet Isaiah’s words and brought them into the context of Christ, but also acknowledged that the theophany God granted to Isaiah in the temple was actually a Christophany?

Even if you or I should suffer for what is right, we are blessed because in our hearts we have set apart Jesus as Lord, just as when Isaiah would suffer for speaking God’s words, and doing right in God’s eyes, he too would be blessed. Because Isaiah sanctified the Lord God in his heart.

It was certainly not lost on the Apostle Peter Who the stone that causes some to stumble would be, either. Just as God revealed God’s own Person to be sanctuary to those who reverenced the Lord, but a tripping stone to a snare for those who did not, so Peter described Jesus as the living stone, precious to God, the corner stone upon which believers are built up, but the stumbling stone that brings the downfall of those who reject Him.

Third Contrast, Light and Darkness

Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples.

I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.

See, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

Now if people say to you, “Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living, for teaching and for instruction?”

surely those who speak like this will have no dawn! . . . they will see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, and they will be thrust into thick darkness.

Isaiah 8:16-19, 22 (NRSV)

Instead of God’s light illuminating the land, God would hide God’s face from the people.

Tel Rehov exhibition at the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. “Model Shrine” found in 9th century BC destruction layer in building CF. Lion figure on top may be related to worship of Asherah. From the collection of the Israel museum. | By Oren Rozen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47593446

The nation had rejected God’s message.

Therefore, Isaiah was to bind up God’s testimony, which is to say, teach it so well all of those who heard it would know it well.

Reverence for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

Inevitably God’s people are going to face crises and choices. So the question is, how willing are we to take a deep breath, be careful, be quiet, reverence God rather than fear people and circumstances, and take courage? 

For Immanuel, God is with us.


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