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Isaiah 7:10-16

Isaiah 7:10-16

Background to the Book of Isaiah

Historical: The following table gives an indication when the prophet Isaiah was preaching. It is worth noting that Hosea in the Northern kingdom of Israel and Micah in the Southern kingdom of Judah were in the same period.

Kings Israel

Kings of Judah


Kings of Assyria

Menahem 748 - 737

Uzziah 769 - 736
Jotham 756 - 741

Hosea 745 Israel
Isaiah 742 Judah
Micah 735 Judah

745 - 727

Pekahiah 737 - 736
Pekah 735 - 732
Hoshea 731 - 723

Ahaz 741 - 715

Isaiah 742 - 701

727 - 722

Fall of Samaria

Hezekiah 715 - 687

Isaiah 742 - 701

Sargon 722 - 705

(The above dates are approximate because you will find slight variation among the scholars)

Isaiah, a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah, had four major periods of prophecy between the years 742 -701 BCE. One of these times was when Ahaz was king of Judah and the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser had initiated a campaign from the north into Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel (738 BCE). In order to combat the Assyrian army Israel had formed a coalition with Syria against Assyria. However, Judah refused to join that coalition having the benefit of some distance from the direct challenge of Assyria. The kings of Syria (Rezin) and Israel (Pekah) sought to replace by force the Judean king, Ahaz, in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah, sharing with Ahaz the words he heard from Yahweh, made clear that Ahaz was to trust in God alone and not to go down the path of forming coalitions with other countries whether, Syria, Israel or Assyria.

Isaiah was alive when the Assyrians over ran the Northern kingdom of Israel and deported the majority of the ten tribes of Israel to countries which Assyria had defeated and who were in vassaldom to Assyria. There is some reference to this event, but not as much comment as one would expect for such a devastating occurrence. Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem was safe because the Lord dwelt there in the temple. This was affirmed when the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem and the people were becoming desperate when suddenly the Assyrians departed in a hurry leaving Jerusalem safe for another 114 years. The Book of Isaiah records this as a miracle of the Lord (Isa 37:36-38).

Literary Background to the Book:

The whole book of Isaiah has been divided up into three main sections which appear to reflect preaching from different historical periods. Chapters 1-39 are often referred to as the prophecies from Isaiah of Jerusalem and cover the periods shown in the above table. Chapters 40-55 speak to the exiles, offering forgiveness and a strong encouragement to move back to Jerusalem. It contains some of the most beautiful language and a comprehensive theology of God as creator and redeemer. The remaining chapters 56-66 speak to a later post-exilic situation addressing quite different concerns to those expressed in Isa 40-55.

Isaiah 1-39 has some distinct sections within it. Isa 1 has a collection of oracles which appear to come from different periods of Isaiah's ministry. Isa 2-12 contains a collection of oracles mainly about Judah and Jerusalem, covering the threat from the Israel/Syria Coalition and the section ends with a psalm of deliverance. As each of the major prophets have a section with oracles against foreign nations so Isa 13-23 covers this topic. There are oracles against Babylon, Moab, Damascus, Egypt, Assyrian crisis and Tyre. We then find in Isa 24-27 a collection of oracles which are called the Isaiah Apocalypse and is reminiscent of material from a much later period in Israel's history. The remaining oracles cover further oracles on the Assyrian crisis and this section finishes with narratives about Isaiah. Isa 36-38 are almost identical with 2 Kings 18-19.

The Isaiah Scroll which was found at Qumran in the caves there (1948) and came from a time (250-68 BCE) before the Masoretes added vowels to the language is almost an exact copy of the Hebrew Text from which we work today. This testifies to the ability of the scribes who copied the Hebrew texts faithfully over the centuries and to the Masoretes who incorporated the vowels correctly (8-10 CE).
In the chapters leading up to the call of Isaiah (Isa 6) we have oracles which consist mainly of judgement and condemnation although Isa 2:1-4 speaks of the future as one of peace. We see in these earlier chapters two "Introductions" in Isa 1:1 and Isa 2:1 and it appears that we have additions and reworking of the Isaiah material. The condemnations are focused on the unjust behaviour of the people towards others in society and their abandonment of following in the ways of Yahweh. For these sins, the judgement is going be particularly harsh and the people will be overrun by a foreign nation.
Context of Isaiah 7:10-16:

In the chapters leading up to the call of Isaiah (Isa 6) we have oracles which consist mainly of judgement and condemnation although Isa 2:1 - 4 speaks of the future as one of peace. We see in these earlier chapters two "Introductions" in Isa 1:1 and Isa 2:1 and it appears that we have additions and reworking of the Isaiah material. The condemnations are focused on the unjust behaviour of the people towards others in society and their abandonment of following in the ways of Yahweh. For these sins, the judgement is going be particularly harsh and the people will be overrun by a foreign nation.

Quite suddenly, we are into Isa 6 with its picture of mystery and awe describing the call of Isaiah. The narratives that follow (Isa 7 - 8) illustrate the prophet's confrontation with Ahaz during the intrigue of the Syro-Ephraimite war. Isaiah offers words of reassurance to Ahaz and the prophecies concentrate on the fall of Israel. We ask the question: is there a particular reason the call of Isaiah is in chapter 6 and not in chapter one? Are we given this picture of the people's disloyalty and appalling treatment of the poor in order to see the necessity for Isaiah's call? We already know that there will be a hard path for the prophet because of the seriousness of the people's waywardness. Indeed, the effect of the hardening of heart spoken of in Isa 6:9 - 10 is demonstrated in Isa 7 - 8. Warnings are given that no one is to consult with the spirits of the dead and those who do will will find only distress and darkness. The contrast will be for those who have suffered who will now be be part of the new dawn of peace and hope (Isa 9:2-7). These words are followed by the description of judgement which fell on the Northern Kingdom, Israel, because they did not turn to Yahweh. A lament follows in Isa 10 because Assyria will come, bring suffering and annihilation for the Northern Kingdom.

Insights/Message Isa 7:10-16:

Literary structure:The opening verses (vv.1-3) of Isa 7 set the historical scene in which the Lord gives a message to Isaiah to pass on to Ahaz. The kings of Israel and Syria have decided to wage war against Judah because Judah won't join them to fight the great empire Assyria. When the King of Judah, Ahaz, heard that the above kings wanted to wage war against him, the people and king were afraid. Isaiah's message to Ahaz addresses this fear and tells the King to trust God, because neither the King of Syria nor the King of Israel will survive in the future. Both kingdoms will be overcome by Assyria (Isa 7:3-9). The lectionary reading begins with the Lord addressing Ahaz directly (Isa 7:10). The narrator invites us into the text with the ensuing dialogue between God and Ahaz. We are not told why God begins with the command for Ahaz to ask a sign of God. It appears to have little relationship to the prophecy immediately before these verses. However, Ahaz is to ask a sign, no matter how difficult. Ahaz refuses, which is quite congruent with other messages in the Old Testament, that is, one does not put the Lord to the test (Exod 17:7, Ps 78:18, 41). God's response to Ahaz's refusal is one of resignation and frustration (v.13) and 'therefore' in v.14 tells us that God is going ahead despite Ahaz's inability to be obedient. The sign will be a young woman, in Hebrew this does not necessarily mean a virgin. The Greeks interpreted and translated it as 'virgin', which is the interpretation that has come down to us. The young woman is probably one of the king's consorts, known at the court and pregnant (Seitz:78). The name given to the child by the mother is, 'God with us'. While he is yet a child, the lands of Syria and Israel will be deserted. It is repeating in another form the prophecy from vv.3-9. The apparatus in the Masoretic text suggests that the words at the end of the verse ('the king of Assyria') are an addition, which immediately turn v.17 from a salvation oracle to oracle of judgement. Furthermore, it allows the four prophecies following, which are concrete examples of how Judah will be affected, to be added. The oracle in vv.21-22 is the only salvation oracle whilst the remaining three are oracles of judgement.

Message / Theology. xxxxxOne aspect of this text tells us very clearly that an action at one time in history is not necessarily the answer in every other time in history. So, to test the Lord is wrong at some points, but when asked by God to seek a sign one needs to be obedient. One of our failings is this desire to use a certain message in Scripture and apply it for all time without hearing what God is saying in a new time and situation. A sign in the Old Testament doesn't have to be miraculous, often it is the ordinary which reveals God's will. V.17 in its context is part of the positive proclamation of salvation for Judah. This is the second oracle of salvation within this chapter stating that the Kings of Israel and Syria will not be successful in their campaign. Deliverance will come through divine means (Tucker:112). King Ahaz and the people are frightened by the aggressive advances of the Kings of Syria and Israel and these promises of their defeat would be felt as a great relief. In Christian worship the original purpose of Isaiah's words is rarely acknowledged because they have become associated with the advent of 'God with us', in the incarnation of God's son, Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate shortly. Matthew has quoted parts of these verses as a prophecy of the conception and birth of Jesus (Tucker:113). Tucker asks an interesting question: as Isaiah's message was a highly political one, "is the coming of Jesus related to international politics or not?" (Tucker:113). With the addition of the last three words (the king of Assyria), v.17, becomes a judgement oracle. It is likely that the later circle of Isaianic disciples made the additions (vv.17-25) to the very positive salvation oracle in vv.10-16 to speak to a situation in which Judah had failed to trust God and was following the unfaithful ways of the Northern Kingdom. God had saved Hezekiah from the Assyrians, as the prophecy foretold in v.10-16. Trust in God resulted in defeat of the enemy (2 Kgs 19:35-37).

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 1:18-25, contains several allusions and direct quotations from the Old Testament. There are a number of women in the OT who are barren and have their womb opened by the Lord or a messenger. It is clear that in the OT God is the one who controls fertility and this is the case with Mary who will conceive by the Holy Spirit. A number of the allusions/quotes come from Isa 7:14 which proclaims a sign that will be the birth of a son Immanuel (God is with us). However, it leads into a judgement because before the child has time to develop and choose good over evil, the land will be destroyed. The son born to Mary will save his people from their sins not protect them physically or indeed prophecy judgement. The connection Matthew wants to make is to his use of 'virgin' emphasising the divine conception of Mary. One difficulty in trying to use the OT quote from Isa 7:14 is that 'a young woman' can be someone of marriageable age and not necessarily a virgin. The Latin translation makes it a virgin rather than following the Hebrew meaning which can also refer to a young woman recently married.
Worship/Resources for Isa 7:10-16

Worship: Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Barton, J. Isaiah 1-39. Old Testament Guides. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.
Childs, Brevard. Isaiah. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
Clements,R.E. Isaiah 1 - 39. NCB. Grand Rapids: Wm.Eerdmans, , 1980.
Hayes, J.H. & Isaiah, His Times and His Preaching, Abingdon,
Kaiser,O. Isaiah 1-12 (2nd ed), OTL, transl. J.Bowden, London: SCM Press, 1983.
Oswalt,J.N. The Book of Isaiah 1-39, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986.
Seitz,C.R. Isaiah 1-39, Interpretation, John Knox, Louisville, 1993.
Sweeney,M.A., Isaiah 1-39, FOTL, Wm.Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996.
Tucker, Gene. 'The Book of Isaiah 1-39'. NIB. Vol VI. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.
Watts,J.D.W. Isaiah1-33, Isaiah 34-66, WBC, Word Book, Waco, 1985, 1987.
Wildberger,H. Isaiah 1-12, transl.T.H.Trapp, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1991

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:


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