Ask the LORD Your God for a Sign

7: 10-12

    DIG: Why did Ahaz have to be spoken to again? Who was speaking to him the second time? What was the purpose of the sign? What were the limitations the LORD put on this sign? Ahaz was known as an evil king, so what do you make of his response here? Is this unbelief or humility? What was his alternative plan (Second Kings 16:7-9)?

    REFLECT: How does God communicate best with you? A still small voice? Art? Worship? Through Scripture? Nature? Or something else? When God the Holy Spirit comes to convict you of your sin, does He have to come back again and again, or do you repent quickly? How do you recognize His voice when He comes to you? Ahaz masked his lack of trust in God with false humility. What examples have you seen of people covering up their sin with a veneer of virtue? How does Ahaz's refusal serve as a warning to you? Read Isaiah 7:12 and Exodus 17:1-7. How could one use Scripture to attempt to justify their own sinful nature?

    Ahaz is now challenged to give God a chance to prove His trustworthiness. He was willing to strengthen the king’s faith through a sign of deliverance. As happens often in the TaNaKh, one time the prophet speaks as if he were the LORD, and another time, as is the case here, the LORD speaks as if He were the prophet. Hezekiah had asked for a sign when Isaiah prophesied of his recovery and fifteen additional years of life. The prophet gave him the sign he asked for by causing the shadow cast by the sun to go backwards ten steps instead of forwards (38:1-8).

    The last time Isaiah met King Ahaz, the prophet brought along his son Shear-Jashub, whose name meant a remnant will return. By bringing his son as an object lesson, it gave Ahaz a chance to believe in God, and not in his political savvy. But if Ahaz ever got the message, he ignored it completely. Here Ahaz is spoken to again, this time by ADONAI. The stakes were being raised; the LORD was going to make Ahaz an offer he couldn’t refuse.

    Therefore, as a means of strengthening his faith, ADONAI spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask the LORD your God for a sign (7:10a). When ADONAI or the LORD is used in a compound word with Elohim or God, it points us to His relationship to mankind or to the Nation. In this case, ADONAI spoke to Ahaz, so this compound name emphasizes His relationship to the king of Judah. If Ahaz would ask for a sign, it's fulfillment would be a demonstrable miracle that would confirm God’s spoken word. The king could choose any miracle his heart desired, whether in the deepest depths of in the highest heights (7:10b-11). This is a figure of speech called a merism, where two extremes are mentioned with the intention to include everything in between. Other examples of merism would be: hook, line and sinker, or lock, stock and barrel. Previously, Isaiah had told Ahaz that the northern invasion that he feared so much would not happen (7:7-9). Here, with any sign of his choosing, he would have visible confirmation that Isaiah’s words were truly from ADONAI.

    The word sign is used a total of 79 times in the Bible; Isaiah uses it 11 of those times. When we look at all 79 passages we see that it is used three different ways. First, it is used in the sense of heavenly bodies; the stars are used for navigation (Genesis 1:14). Secondly, it is used in the sense of positive proof. Not the miraculous, but merely positive proof (Exodus 3:13). Here YHVH speaking to Moshe says: I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain. Now that in and of itself is no miracle, but it did serve as a sense of positive proof. Thirdly, it is also used in the sense of the miraculous (Exodus 4:6-9).

    Every you in 7:10 through 12 is singular and only applies to Ahaz. Isaiah is emphatic: ask the LORD your God. The prophet puts Ahaz to the test. Although he invites Ahaz to test God, it is really the king himself who is being tested. ADONAI said: If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all (7:9B). Will he respond to the words by believing in God and standing firm, or will he reject them? Undoubtedly, as the king of Judah, he had given lip service to the idea of faith, but now he must act upon it or deny it.

    What will it take for Ahaz to believe the prophecy that has just been given? The LORD was offering Ahaz anything he wanted. He could ask for a sign in heaven, a sign on the earth, or whatever it was going to take to convince him that this prophecy was really going to come true and God would make it happen. But unfortunately, there is never enough proof for unbelief.

    Trying to appear religious, in whatever form it takes, is one of the great trappings of human existence. Quite naturally, human pride wants to look good to others, and some people think they know what will appear as being pious. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full (Matthew 6:5). The Bible teaches us: In every town in Judah Ahaz built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods, he set up altars at ever street corner in Jerusalem, even in the Temple itself (Second Chronicles 29:22-27). Therefore, King Ahaz was one of those hypocrites, trying to act religious, while courting the devil.

    Even though ADONAI offered Ahaz a sign to confirm the reliability of His spoken word, it was useless. The king did not want to be convinced because his mind was already made up. The way the word sign is used here, the context of the sign was to produce faith in Ahaz (and from what we know of Ahaz that would take a miracle). But Ahaz did not want such a sign. Why? He was going to trust both his personal future and his nation’s fate to Assyria. Any sign provided by Isaiah would only be an embarrassment to him, so he attempted to avoid the dilemma with an appeal to piety.

    He made a choice, which indicated his skill at diplomacy and quick thinking. The king of Y'hudah said: I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test (7:12). Now doesn’t that sound spiritual! He was actually appealing to a passage in Deuteronomy 6:16 that says: Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah. So to the casual onlooker Ahaz made it appear that he did not have a problem with too little faith, but rather he possessed such a deep faith that he did not want to ask for evidence. The real sin of putting the LORD to the test is refusing to trust Him and His past faithfulness unless He prove Himself trustworthy over and over again. Nevertheless, the whole dynamic of the confrontation between YHVH, His prophet and Ahaz changed when the offer of a sign was made. From ADONAI’s point of view, nothing is more important than that His promises are met with trust.

    Ahaz alluded to Scripture, just as the Adversary did when tempting Messiah (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Bj - Jesus is Tempted in the Wilderness). Similar to others before and after him, the king of Judah took Deuteronomy 6:16 out of context when confronted by Isaiah. Because if the sign God was offering Ahaz really took place, it would require him to change his pro-Assyrian plans. He would have to stop trusting in Assyria and start trusting in ADONAI. For that reason alone he rejected the offer. It is always the same throughout all of history. Evidence cannot create faith; it can only confirm it. Where there is no faith, evidence is merely unwelcome, something to be explained away.

    The Judean king demonstrated the real danger of an outward religious appearance without faith. It is having the form of godliness but denying its power (Second Timothy 3:5), or missing the substance of the relationship with the LORD. Piety is the by-product, not the end product. Is going to church or messianic synagogue good? Is having a daily devotion good? Is avoiding lust, greed and self-indulgence good? Is moderate, inoffensive speech good? Is regular, significant giving to the cause of Messiah good? Is integrity in all one’s dealings good? The answer to all these are “of course.” But do any of them really demonstrate faith in ADONAI? The answer is “no.”

    In fact, these things can be deadly substitutes for faith in the One True God. If I rely on any of these to get to heaven, I am building my house on the sand (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Dy - The Wise and Foolish Builders). Faith in the LORD is surrendering to the love of YHVH demonstrated to us in God with us. The good works in our lives are merely an expression of the relationship with Immanuel, not substitutes for it, as was the case with Ahaz.26

    As pious as his words sounded, King Ahaz was doing the work of the Ancient Serpent by quoting Scripture for his own purposes; consequently, without realizing it, he revealed his unbelief. This was his moment of decision. For him, and for the nation . . . there was no turning back.

 

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