Text: Isaiah 7:1-25, Isaiah 8:1-22, Hebrews 9:24, 1 Peter 1:14-16
I’ll be the first to admit that when I read a book like Isaiah, I immediately want to understand all the history. As a former world history teacher, I really should already have this stuff down pat, but I don’t. So I dug back into my old lesson plans to see what I could rediscover about Assyria.
Historians suspect that the world’s first organized society developed in the “cradle of civilization” between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (modern-day Iraq and Syria). It was fertile land, easy to farm, and smack-dab in the middle of the biggest landmass in the world. If you wanted to be a farmer, a businessman, or a conqueror, you couldn’t find a better jumping-off point. That’s why over the centuries, so many different empires fought to claim that land. None were as strong or ambitious as the Assyrians; their empire was the first to make militarism the central policy of state.
Around the time of Isaiah, Assyrians were on the warpath. They’d already amassed a great amount of land to the north and east, and had their sights on Egypt. God’s people were literally right in the way. In addition to that, the kingdom of Israel had fractured into two pieces: Judah in the south and Israel in the north. At just the time when God’s people needed to be strong and unified against a foreign threat, they were deeply divided. At the beginning of Isaiah chapter 7, we’re told that the king of Judah and all of his people were afraid for their lives. They had two enemies to contend with, Assyria and Israel. In many ways, they felt surrounded, defenseless.
And yet, they were not alone. In the midst of these harrowing geopolitical circumstances, Isaiah told the people of Judah, “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid” (Isaiah 7:4). Isaiah also makes a strange promise: the people would receive a sign that God was still good. A virgin would give birth to a child and His name would be Immanuel—God with us (v.14).
The rest of the prophecy was hardly pretty poetry. Judah saw Assyria as an enemy, and as Isaiah explained, God planned to use that enemy to accomplish His purposes. Egyptians were like flies, Assyrians were like bees—and they were coming to infest the land. Assyria would be a like a razor that arrived to cut off all of God’s people’s hair, leaving them in humiliation (v.20). With that as their future, how could the people of God be careful, keep calm, and remain unafraid? How was God with them?
God is with us, even in calamity. Our fear is not proof that our God is absent.
So often I want an Isaiah in my life. I want someone to come and tell me specifically what’s going to happen this year, next year, and the year after that. I want details. Dates. Times. I want a sign. In reading today’s passages, I realize that even if I got what I wanted—even if someone like Isaiah really did come to tell me what was to come—it might only lead to more confusion. It would likely only lead to fear of my circumstances, rather than fear of my Lord.
Perhaps all I really need to hear are the promises. Perhaps all I need to do is wait.
You are to regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy.
Only He should be feared;
Only He should be held in awe.
He will be your sanctuary.
- Isaiah 8:13-14
Claire Gibson is a freelance writer and editor whose work has been featured both locally and nationally in publications including The Washington Post, and Entrepreneur Magazine. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee. She loves her husband, Patrick, and their dog, Winnie.