In our last lesson, we met a new prophet: Isaiah. We learned about a disturbing vision he had the year that King Uzziah died in Israel. In the vision, Yahweh called Isaiah to be His mouthpiece, but He also warned him that He would prevent the people from being able to repent of their sins. It’s a little tough to go firing out of the blocks when you’re told right from the start that your mission is going to fail. After all, what’s the purpose of a prophet? To turn people back to God, right? Wrong. That might be God’s goal, but the human prophet must stay focused solely on obeying God. This principle applies in every area of service. If we’re going to please God, we need to be seeking His satisfaction, not fussing over end results. Good preachers preach because God’s words are burning inside of them. They don’t preach to become popular among the people or to increase the size of their churches. As righteous as it sounds to go out into the world and make a positive impact for God, we can’t make this our primary goal. When we do, we quickly sink down into the muck of carnality.
Why is the Church today so obsessed with numbers and target audiences and relevancy? Because she’s taken her focus off of what really matters. Pleasing God is the only thing that matters. Everything else comes second. This means that if God wants us to go preach to a bunch of deaf people, we do it because He wants it, not because we’re hoping to make an impact. Of course in our flesh, we all want to see tangible results. We want to see them very badly. We crave statistical feedback that confirms to us that we’re really succeeding in life. But as we mature, the Holy Spirit will start weaning us off of this unhealthy obsession and teach us how to keep our focus on God alone. Putting a smile on His face: that’s all that matters. If we accomplish that, then we have totally succeeded. It doesn’t matter how many other people were involved. It doesn’t matter if no one ever noticed us. The reactions of humans will have nothing to do with God’s assessment of you on Judgment Day. The only thing that will matter is how well you pleased Him, and pleasing God is simply a matter of obeying the specific convictions He gives you. It’s not obeying everyone else’s convictions—just yours. You answer to God alone: not your pastor, not your friends, not any other created being—just God. In Isaiah’s case, God is telling him to go preach a bunch of sermons and warnings to people who won’t listen, won’t care, and won’t respond in any positive way. Fine. Isaiah will do it, because Isaiah understands that pleasing God is all that matters.
JOTHAM, King of Israel
We’re told that Isaiah had his vision in the year that leprous King Uzziah dies. By then, Uzziah’s son Jotham has been helping rule the kingdom of Judah for quite a while. As he continues in his reign, we’re told that he’s a decent king. He does right by Yahweh personally, but he doesn’t try to stop the people from worshiping their idols in the public shrines that have been set up all over his kingdom. So we can’t give him points for zealousness. Instead, he seems to be playing it safe. So safe, in fact, that he refuses to ever enter the Temple of Yahweh. Remember that it was inside the Temple that his father had been struck with leprosy. We can understand that Jotham was probably a bit nervous about bringing a similar curse down on himself, but then again, it’s not like Yahweh can’t strike him anywhere he lives. As we learned in Lesson 6, people were supposed to personally bring their sacrifices into God’s sacred House and give them to the priests to be processed. So by refusing to enter the Temple, Jotham is really overdoing it. He’s putting an unnecessary distance between himself and God—and such an attitude isn’t going to make a man thrive spiritually, even if he thinks he’s doing it for good reasons.
Today, many Christians get the erroneous idea that God the Father is a moody, brooding type who wants His people to cower in fear before His awesome Presence. Yet this is not who God is. Yes, He demands reverence from us, and reverence is a fear-based respect. But it’s not a fear of God being an unreasonable, angry sort of Being. It’s a fear that comes from acknowledging that God’s power is infinitely greater than our own, therefore it would be quite foolish to give Him a bunch of snarky attitude. An electric fence is only dangerous once you disregard the sign on it that says “Danger – Do Not Touch”. When we sincerely care about pleasing God, the Holy Spirit gives us similar warnings about when God is upset with us—He doesn’t just silently store up rage against us and then one day make that rage explode in our faces. And because God is so patient and communicative, it is a very simple thing to avoid ever meeting His angry side.
As Christians, God wants us to be confident that He loves us and that He is always listening to us. Back in the Old Testament, Yahweh wanted His followers to know that they were welcome in His holy House. God has never wanted those who sincerely care about Him to think they are unwelcome by Him. Today, He doesn’t want any of His kids to be afraid to approach Him—not even if they’ve done terrible things.
As we can see in the following chart, Jotham doesn’t like to reign alone. Shortly after his father dies, he makes his son Ahaz a co-regent with him. Now wait a second—who is this Micah fellow? Another prophet has begun to speak in Judah! By now Amos has finished in the north, but Hosea is still telling Israel that God is fed up with her rebellion. Down in Judah, Micah is now adding his voice to Isaiah’s, and our two prophets are making very similar speeches as they travel about the land.
So what does a real prophet sound like? Today you don’t have to look far to find someone who is attaching the prophet label to their name. The modern Church is stuffed to the gills with prophets and prophetesses who just can’t wait to tell us all about their latest dream, vision, or “word” from God. These people are in love with the sound of their own voices. They blab on and on about how much God is going to bless us and how much Jesus loves us, and how all we have to do is think positively, and the floodgates of Heaven will open and rain down money on our devout little heads. Of course anyone who disagrees with these people is Satan incarnate, and anyone who worships the ground they walk on is clearly filled with the Holy Spirit. What would we do if we didn’t have these prophets to tell us what we want to hear 24/7? What would we do if we didn’t have them among us to constantly tickle our ears with ego-boosting messages and minimize the offense of our willful rebellion? The Church today is stumbling and stagnating so badly—yet how is this possible when she has so many genuine prophets to guide her? Because these people aren’t genuine—they’re just a bunch of windbags who do nothing but use God’s Name to promote themselves. And then we are foolish enough to listen to them. How embarrassing.
We need to realize that the title “prophet” has been used as a synonym for “kiss up” for thousands of years. Who was it back in Lesson 15 that was telling the rebellious Ahab to wage war against Yahweh’s will because Yahweh was certain to bless him? Prophets. And who is it that is currently telling two nations full of rebellious idol worshipers that nothing bad will happen to them? Prophets. Micah and Isaiah aren’t the only ones speaking God’s messages in the kingdom of Judah. There are scores of other voices ringing out loud and clear, and completely countering everything the Holy Spirit has to say. By slapping an authoritative “Thus says the Lord” onto messages that they know everyone wants to hear, false prophets gain great popularity for themselves. People enjoy being schmoozed and being told that God thinks they are oh so wonderful. People like it today and they liked it back in Bible times. Human nature doesn’t change, despite what evolutionists try to tell us. And while the false prophets in Judah and Israel are working hard to increase their number of fans, Yahweh is finding their abuse of His Name and Authority quite irritating.
Thus says Yahweh: “Concerning the prophets who lead My people astray: They proclaim peace as long as they have something good to eat; but they declare a holy war against anyone who refuses to feed them. Therefore it shall be like night to you: you shall have no more visions. Yes, it shall be dark to you–without any divination. The sun will set for the false prophets, and the day will turn black for them. The seers will be ashamed and the diviners will be disgraced. They will all cover their mouths because there is no answer from God.” (Mic. 3:5-7)
The false prophets in these times are just like the ones we’re surrounded by today: they are enormously arrogant, strutting about the city casting their unsolicited “words” from above and expecting everyone to pay homage to them. Sometimes they charge for their services, and if you don’t pay them enough, then their vision of your future starts looking rather dark. Scoff at them and they start calling curses down on you in God’s holy Name. What a bunch of insufferable windbags. Yet the people are listening to them. They are hanging on every word these liars speak while telling Isaiah and Micah to stuff it. But why? Isaiah and Micah are speaking the truth. Yes, and the truth is exactly what these people do not want to hear.
For this is a rebellious people—they are false sons, sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of Yahweh. They say to the seers, “You must not see visions!”; and to the prophets, “Stop prophesying to us what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Get out of the way, get off the path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Isa. 30:9-11)
What is it that we are judged by? Our soul’s response to God. God looks past all of our surface hypocrisy and sees what our true motivations are. When He sees that we sincerely care about pleasing Him in our souls, He is delighted. But when He finds a bunch of snarky defiance and a willful tuning out of His Voice, then He is furious. Notice how God addresses both the reverent and the rebellious in this passage.
“Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness. But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together, and those who forsake Yahweh will come to an end.” (Isa. 1:27-29)
In the Old Testament, Zion is sometimes used as another name for Jerusalem. As we learned in our previous lesson, Yahweh is withholding any further conviction from the rebels in Judah. Though they hear Isaiah preaching, their hearts remain like stone and their souls feel no desire to change. But not everyone in Judah hates God. There is a righteous remnant still struggling to stay faithful in a land where people are wallowing in evil, perversity, and publicly barbecuing their children as a way of worshiping hideous looking statues. It isn’t easy trying to stay true to Yahweh in these times, but some souls are still fighting the good fight. Yahweh knows who those souls are, and He reminds them in this passage that they will be rewarded. But as for the other little jerks—well, they’ve burned up the last of His patience. He’s not giving them anymore chances.
“Say to the righteous that it will go well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. But woe to the wicked! It will go badly with them, For what they deserve will be done to them.” (Isa. 3:10-11)
So if God has already decided to destroy Israel and Judah, why raise up prophets? Because God wants the whole world to understand exactly why He is going to trash these two nations. He could just topple them without any explanation at all—and while that would certainly be satisfying, it wouldn’t be much of a witness to others. Remember, Yahweh loves everyone, not just the Jews. Whenever He raises up a prophet to speak, He makes sure that the word gets around. People in other nations are hearing about the messages of doom that Isaiah and Micah are preaching. And it certainly gets their attention to hear two Jewish men prophesying the downfall of their own nation. Who in their right mind wants their homeland to be destroyed? What could possibly be motivating these two men to talk like this? These are the kinds of curious questions Yahweh is stirring up in countless hearts. And then He makes sure to answer all of their unspoken questions with His very clear explanations of why His people will be destroyed.
“Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their actions are against Yahweh; they rebel against His glorious Presence. The expressions on their faces testify against them for they flaunt their sin like Sodom; they do not even try to conceal it. Woe to them, for they have brought disaster upon themselves!” (Isa. 3:8-9)
Remember that there were no atheists living in Bible times. Every nation worshiped many different gods, and gods were viewed as moody, volatile beings who could very easily turn against their own people if they didn’t feel they were being pampered enough. So it makes logical sense that this Yahweh fellow is mad that His people aren’t paying enough attention to Him. But in the eyes of the world, Israel and Judah worship many different gods—different Baal gods, the goddess Asherah, Chemosh and Molek (who were both big on child sacrifices). Plus those two random gold cow gods that they just invented out of thin air. So even if this Yahweh God was all uptight, could He really overthrow all the other gods of Judah and Israel? Is He really that powerful?
In these times, it was believed that gods were either bound to certain regions of land or they traveled about with their people groups. Yet this Yahweh is saying that He’s going to destroy the whole world. That sounds a bit over the top. No god is that strong.
“Yahweh Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear. People will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from the fearful Presence of Yahweh and the splendor of His majesty, when He rises to shake the earth. In that day people will throw away to the moles and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from the fearful Presence of Yahweh and the splendor of His majesty, when He rises to shake the earth.” (Isa. 2:12-21)
Well, this Yahweh clearly thinks He is hot stuff. He says that one day He’ll take over the globe and stomp out every other god in existence. These are pretty wild claims in the ears of idol worshipers. Sure, gods are supposed to be on the egotistical side, but goodness. Yahweh acts like He’s the only God around.
“I, Yahweh, am the Maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone. I cause the omens of boasters to fail, making fools out of diviners. I overthrow the learning of the wise and turn it into nonsense, I am the One who carries out the words of My servants and fulfills the predictions of My messengers.” (Isa. 44:24-26)
As much as everyone would like to ignore the prattling of these prophets, they can’t get around the fact that Yahweh has pulled off some pretty accurate predictions of future events—very far in advance, too. And He doesn’t just predict the future of His own people, but He seems to know what’s going to happen in the entire world.
“Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, Yahweh? There is no other God besides Me: a righteous God and Savior; there is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and it will not turn back: That to Me every knee will bow, and every tongue will swear allegiance.” (Isa. 45:21-24)
Anyone living in these times who does some honest soul searching has to admit that their gods aren’t all that swift in the prophecy department. There are a lot of sorcerers and diviners running around who are getting high on mind altering drugs and staring at animal entrails to try and get a glimpse into the future. But their success rate is pretty pathetic. Somehow other gods just don’t seem as smart as Yahweh—and He knows it.
“Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.” (Isa. 41:22-24)
The people of these times love their idols. They make big ones and little pocket sized ones that they can carry around on their person. They make fancy ones and plain ones. Life revolves around the worship of idols, and people feel like hot stuff when they show off some new idol they’ve just made. But then they hear the latest gossip about what the prophet Isaiah is saying and suddenly the whole idol thing starts to lose its luster.
A man burns part of a tree to roast his meat and to keep himself warm. He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.” Then he takes what’s left and makes his god: a carved idol! He falls down in front of it, worshiping and praying to it. “Rescue me!” he says. “You are my god!”
Such stupidity and ignorance! These people’s eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think. The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, “Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?” The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” (Isa. 44:16-20)
Hm. People never really looked at their idols in quite this way before. Yahweh has a way of turning cool into stupid. But this claim He makes about being the only God in existence—that’s pretty hard to swallow.
“It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands and I ordained all their host.” (Isa. 45:12)
“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” (Isa. 46:9-10)
But then again—what if it’s true? What if Yahweh really is the only real God and all the idols are just powerless blocks of wood and lumps of metal?
It is Yahweh who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers before Him. He stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. It is He who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, when He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. (Isa. 40:22-24)
Wow. If Yahweh really is the only God in existence, then who wants to keep following dumb idols? We didn’t get it before, but now we do. This Isaiah guy has opened our eyes. But we don’t live in Israel or Judah. We’re not part of Yahweh’s chosen people, so will He even accept us?
Let no foreigner who is bound to Yahweh say, “Yahweh will surely exclude me from His people.” And let no eunuch say, “God will not accept me for I am childless—I am like a dry tree.”
For this is what Yahweh says: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose what pleases Me and hold fast to My Covenant—to them I will give within My Temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And foreigners who bind themselves to Yahweh to minister to Him, to love the Name of Yahweh, and to be His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to My Covenant— these I will bring to My holy mountain and give them joy in My House of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My House will be called a House of prayer for all nations.” (Isa. 56:3-7)
How awesome is this? Can you see how Yahweh used His prophets to witness to the entire world? And today we’re still reading those messages and still learning about what a gracious God He is. All are welcome to come. This is the way it has always been.
AHAZ, King of Israel
So while the words of the prophets are being circulated throughout many nations, Jotham dies in Israel and his son Ahaz succeeds him. Right away there is trouble—double trouble. Israel and Aram join forces to attack Judah. What a bunch of bullies! Ahaz is very distressed. Ahaz is also an idolatrous punk who sacrifices his own sons to disgusting idols. Yuck.
Ahaz followed the bad example of the kings of Israel. He cast metal images for the worship of Baal. He offered sacrifices in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, even sacrificing his own sons in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations that Yahweh had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree. (2 Chron. 28:2-4)
Well, how irritating. Once we realize that Ahaz is running around sacrificing to every idol he can get his hands on, we can understand why Yahweh cooks up this little war to give him a hard time. And as the combined armies of Aram and Israel set out to attack the royal city of Jerusalem, Ahaz panics. Is this going to be the end of Judah? Seeing his distress, Yahweh generously sends Isaiah to go and calm him down.
Then Yahweh said to Isaiah, “Take your son Shear-jashub and go out to meet King Ahaz. You will find him at the end of the aqueduct that feeds water into the upper pool, near the road leading to the field where cloth is washed. Tell him to stop worrying. Tell him he doesn’t need to fear the fierce anger of those two burned-out embers, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah. Yes, the kings of Aram and Israel are plotting against him, saying, ‘We will attack Judah and capture it for ourselves. Then we will install the son of Tabeel as Judah’s king.’ But this is what the Sovereign Yahweh says:
“This invasion will never happen; it will never take place; for Aram is no stronger than its capital, Damascus, and Damascus is no stronger than its king, Rezin. As for Israel, within sixty-five years it will be crushed and completely destroyed. Israel is no stronger than its capital, Samaria, and Samaria is no stronger than its king, Pekah son of Remaliah. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isa. 7:3-9)
Here Yahweh assures Ahaz that this is not the end of Judah. Instead, Yahweh is going to make an end of Aram and Israel. This should be comforting news to Ahaz–now if he’d just show a little faith. But unfortunately Ahaz has already invested all of his faith in dumb idols so his confidence in Yahweh is zilch. Peace, courage, confidence—these things are gifts from God that build up in us the more we put our trust in Him. But when we refuse to put our trust in Him, we become fearful and we tremble at every little problem that comes along.
Well, fine. Yahweh is so generous that He is willing to overlook Ahaz’s rebellion for the moment and help the nervous king bolster his faith. A miraculous sign ought to do the trick. Yahweh even lets Ahaz pick what the sign will be.
Again Yahweh spoke to Ahaz, “Ask Yahweh your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put Yahweh to the test.” (Isa. 7:10-12)
What a crock! As if Ahaz gives a care about offending Yahweh! How brazen for this idolatrous little punk to put on such a self-righteous air! Isaiah loses his temper.
Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, Yahweh Himself will choose the sign. Look! A virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt and honey. But before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted.
Then Yahweh will bring things on you, your nation, and your family unlike anything since Israel broke away from Judah. He will bring the king of Assyria upon you!” (Isa. 7:13-17)
Now wait a second—Immanuel? A virgin having a baby? Isn’t this a prophecy about Jesus? Nope, it’s a prophecy about a son that Isaiah is about to have with his prophetess wife. Immanuel is Isaiah’s kid, and this passage has nothing to do with Jesus. But centuries later, Jesus’ disciple Matthew will be writing his gospel book and he will remember this passage along with many other passages in the Old Testament. And he’ll think to himself, “Wow! What a perfect fit!” So, after describing how the virgin Mary came to be with child he will say:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matt. 1:22-23)
Well, not quite. When we read Matthew’s comment, he makes it sound like the Immanuel prophecy was some ancient promise that was still waiting to be fulfilled. It’s not. By the time we finish Isaiah 8, God will have already fulfilled this prophecy of a boy being born of a virgin. You see, the term “virgin” here can also be translated as “a young woman”. It doesn’t have to mean a woman who has never had sex. After leaving the irritating Ahaz, Isaiah finds his wife and has a bit of romance. Like every culture, the ancient Jews have euphemisms that they use to refer to highly personal things. So instead of saying “I had sex with my wife,” Isaiah says:
So I went in to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then Yahweh said to me, “Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry out ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.” (Isa. 8:3-4)
What’s this Maher stuff? Isn’t the kid’s name supposed to be Immanuel? Well, Immanuel is going to be more of a nickname. Maher-shalal-hash-baz rolls smoothly off the tongue and it means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Remember that this boy is a miraculous sign to Ahaz and all of Judah that is supposed to remind them about the predictions Yahweh has made regarding Aram and Israel. Now that he’s been born, he’ll be like a living timer, counting down the days until Israel and Aram are destroyed. Everyone in Judah can ask each other, “Hey, how’s little Maher-shalal-hash-baz doing? How old is he now? Is he talking yet? Remember what Yahweh said? It won’t be long now until our enemies are destroyed.” This is how it’s supposed to work with symbolic children. Up in the north, everyone’s looking at Hosea’s three kids and thinking about how mad Yahweh is at Israel (see Lesson 20). Now in the south, they’re looking at Isaiah’s two sons and remembering various messages that the prophet has spoken.
And just to make it very clear to everyone that this kid is the prophesied Immanuel child, Yahweh says to the boy:
“My care for the people of Judah is like the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, but they have rejected it. They are rejoicing over what will happen to King Rezin and King Pekah. Therefore, Yahweh will overwhelm them with a mighty flood from the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria and all his glory. This flood will overflow all its channels and sweep into Judah until it is chin deep. It will spread its wings, submerging your land from one end to the other, O Immanuel!” (Isa. 8:6-8)
This whole Immanuel package of prophecies contains some very good and some very bad news. It’s very reassuring to hear Yahweh promising to trash Aram and Israel for Judah’s sake. But then it’s quite disturbing to hear Him say that He will then bring Assyria in to beat on Judah as well. Hm. Can’t He skip that second part?
In the meantime, Israel and Aram—those two nations who Yahweh is supposed to be taking care of—are butchering Judah. In one day King Pekah of Israel slaughters 120,000 of Ahaz’s best soldiers, along with the king’s son and his closest advisers. Then he drags off 200,000 Judean citizens as slaves. So…at what point is Yahweh planning to bring in Assyria?
Now Pekah is overdoing it. Yahweh helped him win the battle and gather all the captives in order to give Ahaz a good scare. But Pekah’s heart attitude is foul. He forgets that Israel and Judah used to be one nation—these are his own brothers that he is treating so cruelly. So now Yahweh raises up a prophet named Oded to intercept the army that is leading this long slave march.
But a prophet of Yahweh named Oded was there in Samaria when the army of Israel returned home. He went out to meet them and said, “Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah and let you defeat them. But you have gone too far, killing them without mercy, and all of heaven is disturbed. And now you are planning to make slaves of these people from Judah and Jerusalem. What about your own sins against Yahweh your God? Listen to me and return these prisoners you have taken, for they are your own relatives. Watch out, because now Yahweh’s fierce anger has been turned against you!” (2 Chron. 28:9-11)
Oh. Suddenly everyone decides they don’t need the slaves after all. The leaders of Israel rush to help the army put everything back to right. They give the abused slaves their clothes and shoes back, feed them, supply donkeys for the ones who are weak and injured, and lead them back to Judah. Whew.
Meanwhile, back in Judah, Ahaz is in a terrible panic. The news of his downfall has spread to neighboring nations and now the Edomites and Philistines are attacking as well. Everyone’s nipping off pieces of his territory. This isn’t good. Forget about waiting on Yahweh—Ahaz will go directly to the ruthless King Tiglath-Pileser [TIGG-lath-pill-EE-zer] of Assyria himself and ask for help. Tiglath ought to be good for something because he’s got major manpower and both Israel and Aram are afraid of him. Heck, everyone is afraid of him. But maybe if Ahaz throws enough money at him, Tiglath will agree to come rescue him. But where will he get the money? God’s Temple in Jerusalem has a lot of silver and gold in it. Surely Yahweh won’t mind if Ahaz strips the Temple to buy the favor of an idol worshiping emperor.
Oh good–Tiglath has agreed to help. Now he’s invading Aram…whoops, now he’s conquering Aram and destroying the capital city of Damascus. Yikes, now he’s murdering King Rezin. This wasn’t quite what Ahaz had in mind, for now the Assyrian empire is even bigger and closer than it was before.
Well, one part of the Immanuel prophecy has been fulfilled: Aram is destroyed. Now let’s see: when else have we heard about the Assyrians trashing Damascus and hauling the Arameans off into their land? Ah yes, Yahweh had said something like this would happen through the mouth of the prophet Amos:
“The people of Damascus have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They beat down My people in Gilead as grain is threshed with iron sledges. So I will send down fire on King Hazael’s palace, and the fortresses of King Ben-hadad will be destroyed. I will break down the gates of Damascus and slaughter the people in the valley of Aven. I will destroy the ruler in Beth-eden, and the people of Aram will go as captives to Kir,” says Yahweh. (Amos 1:3-5)
Kir is in Assyria. King Rezin is a descendant of Hazael—that nasty servant of a king who smothered his boss in bed back in Lesson 18. Gilead is a region of Israel’s territory that Aram has a history of brutally attacking. Now Aram has just finished helping the king of Israel attack Judah and Yahweh is done putting up with Aram’s attitude.
Now things would be fine if Tiglath would just go back to Assyria and stay there. But he doesn’t. He comes marching into Judah and starts attacking Ahaz next.
When King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria arrived, he attacked Ahaz instead of helping him. Ahaz took valuable items from Yahweh’s Temple, the royal palace, and from the homes of his officials and gave them to the king of Assyria as tribute. But this did not help him. (2 Chron. 28:20-21)
Suddenly this whole alliance idea has blown up in Ahaz’s face. If only he could find some god who would actually help him the way he wants to be helped. Yahweh is obviously not going to. But maybe the gods of Aram could be useful—after all, Ahaz hasn’t tried worshiping them yet. During a trip to Damascus to try and schmooze Tiglath, Ahaz spots an altar that the Arameans had built to worship their gods. My, isn’t that a handsome design. Ahaz has some plans drawn up for how to duplicate it, then he orders a priest in Jerusalem to build an exact replica and use it to make sacrifices for all of the people.
Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject Yahweh. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him, for he said, “Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them.” But instead, they led to his ruin and the ruin of all Judah.
The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of Yahweh’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of Yahweh, the God of his ancestors.
The rest of the events of Ahaz’s reign and everything he did, from beginning to end, are recorded in The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. When Ahaz died, he was buried in Jerusalem but not in the royal cemetery of the kings of Judah. Then his son Hezekiah became the next king. (2 Chron. 28:22-27)
Wow, what an idiot. Even Ahaz’s idolatrous people can’t stand him, so they refuse to give him a royal burial. Notice how he locked up the Temple so that no one else could come and bring sacrifices to Yahweh. This puts the Levites out of a job. Nice. We’re glad to see Ahaz go and since he was such a jerk to Yahweh, he deserves a double frowny.
Remember how the Philistines took advantage of Judah’s distress and started attacking while Ahaz was too short on manpower to defend himself? Well, pretty soon they get their own back. During the reign of Ahaz’s son Hezekiah, a new king of Assyria attacks Philistia and defeats one of its key cities. It’s at this time that Yahweh gives Isaiah some very strange orders.
“Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” So Isaiah did, going around stripped and barefoot.
Then Yahweh said, “Just as My servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be dismayed and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say, ‘See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?’” (Isa. 20:2-6)
This is one of those moments where a man really has to be confident that he is correctly discerning God’s Voice. How embarrassing is it to go around in your birthday suit for three years? No one wants to see that view. How can you expect people to take you seriously when all you’re wearing is your epidermis? This is one of those assignments that really separates the men from the boys. Isaiah mans up and leaves the tunic at home. We can’t help wondering how his family handled this.
“Gee, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, how come your dad is walking around in the nude?”
“Oh, he’s a sign to Egypt and Cush.”
“Well, when is he going to stop being a sign and put some clothes on?”
“I don’t know.”
“Your dad’s a weirdo.”
It had to be challenging to be Isaiah’s kid. And no doubt his wife fielded her share of crude remarks.
Now the Jews are a very theatrical people who are always broadcasting their emotions in dramatic public ways. When someone dies, extra mourners are brought in to really throw a ruckus: wailing at the top of their lungs, throwing dirt on themselves, tearing their tunics, etc. There was no subtlety in this culture—it simply wasn’t a value.
All of the prophets we meet in the Bible are Jewish, and they often act theatrical to convey not just their own emotions, but Yahweh’s as well. Notice how God told Isaiah to take off the sackcloth he was wearing in the previous passage. Sackcloth is a rough, scratchy material which happy people would never consider wearing. Sackcloth symbolized misery and sadness, so when those are the feelings you want to convey, then out comes the sackcloth tunic. As a prophet who is filled with mournful messages, Isaiah wears sackcloth to draw attention to himself and emphasize the gravity of his messages.
Now while Isaiah is going around in his birthday suit, the prophet Micah is feeling deeply disturbed by the messages he is receiving from God about the coming destruction of Israel and Judah.
“Hear this, all you nations; listen, O earth and all you who live on it. And let the Sovereign Yahweh be a witness against you, Yahweh from His holy Temple. Look! Yahweh is coming from His dwelling place; He comes down and treads on the heights of the earth. The mountains melt beneath Him and the valleys split apart, like wax before a fire, like water rushing down a slope. All this is because of Jacob’s sin, because of the sins of the nation of Israel. What is the place of Jacob’s transgression? Isn’t it Samaria? What is Judah’s place of idol worship? Isn’t it Jerusalem?”
“Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones into the valley and lay bare her foundations. All of her idols will be broken into pieces; all the gifts to her idols will be burned with fire. I will destroy all of her idols, and because Samaria earned her wealth by being unfaithful to Me through her acts of harlotry, it will be spent as wages for prostitutes when it is carried off by others who are not faithful to Me.” (Mic. 1:2-7)
Today we can gloss over these words with wandering minds and not think much of them. But the prophet Micah is feeling the intensity of God’s anger burning in his soul. His mind is flooded with graphic images of the coming devastation and he is extremely upset. He wants to show everyone just how upset he is—to grab their attention and make them realize how serious Yahweh’s words are. Weeping and wailing—that’s standard issue. Micah starts making a ruckus in the streets. People start looking. What’s the prophet so upset about? Micah needs to do something more to show everyone just how intensely he feels. He would tear his tunic but somehow that’s just not strong enough. So he rips the tunic off, kicks off his sandals and shouts out his message with great anguish in his voice.
“Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl. For Samaria’s plague is incurable and it has spread to Judah. It has reached the very gate of my people, even to Jerusalem itself.” (Mic. 1:8-9)
So then, will Ahaz’s son Hezekiah follow his father’s terrible example? Is God finally going to follow through on His threats to destroy Israel? After all, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz is growing up fast and God has already destroyed Aram. Israel should be next. In our next lesson, we’ll learn about the fall of Samaria, Israel’s capital city, and what happened to all the Jews who are living in the northern kingdom. It’s right after the fall of Samaria that certain decisions are made which lead to an intense hatred between the Jews of Judah and a people group in the north who become known as the Samaritans.
Click here to see all the lessons in this series.