“All this took place that it might be fulfilled which the Lord had spoken through the prophet, Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel—which, when translated, means, God with us.”
As I was reading these verses, I felt the Lord say, “Go back.” Go back to when this prophetic word was originally spoken and take note of what kind of climate it was spoken into. This made the reality of “Emmanuel, God with us” even more powerful and meaningful for me and I pray it will for you as well.
First, let me set the stage. The year was 734 B.C. The kingdom of Israel as we had known it had for many years been split into two kingdoms. Each of the kingdoms were ruled by their own kings with their own political and religious views and tensions. And so for many years, the kingdoms warred against each other. Brother against brother basically, tribe against tribe.
At the time this prophecy was given, The southern kingdom (often referred to simply as “Judah”) was being led by King Ahaz. The northern kingdom (often referred to simply as “Israel”) was being led by King Pekah. And then there was Syria, off to the east. King Rezin of Syria had formed a coalition with neighboring Israel and now together, they were going to try and conquer Judah in the south.
Ultimately, they wanted Judah to strengthen their coalition in order to fight against Assyria in the far, far north-east. (Stay with me. I know, by now you’re probably thinking, what the heck does all this have to do with me and what does it have to do with Christmas? I promise. We’re about to get there.)
When the news finally came to King Ahaz in the south that King Pekah and King Rezin had joined together and deployed their armies against him, here’s what the Bible records was his response,
“So the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm.” Isaiah 7:2b
As I read that, I felt the Holy Spirit say, “Now pause.” So, let’s just pause right here for a second, and let me ask you the same questions I felt drawn to focus on for myself today…
What kind of year have you had? Have you experienced anything that rocked you to your core? Have people that you maybe trusted turned on you or betrayed you? Does it seem like your “enemies” have joined forces to try and overwhelm you? Have you had wars, battles, curve balls thrown at you from places you would have least expected? Have you felt scared, vulnerable, weak? Have you come face to face with a fear that you never thought you’d have to confront – one that made your heart tremble “like trees shaking in a storm“?
In other words, take the characters and the kings out of the story for a second, insert yourself, and consider – in what way can you relate with what was going on here. Because right into this space and time, God sends a prophetic message through the prophet Isaiah and his son. And it’s a word that still carries life and power and truth for us today. And as I share with you what that prophetic word said, please know I’m paraphrasing and combining language used from about 5 different translations of the Bible in order to capture the essence of what He said. And here it is:
“I know exactly where you are and I know exactly what you’re going through. Do not fear or be fainthearted. Pay attention and be calm. Stop worrying and quiet yourself. Because these two forces – these two firebrands, burned out embers that they are, these two smoldering logs that are coming against you, trying to enslave you and mark you for their own, yes, they’ve plotted evil against you saying to themselves, ‘let’s go harass, terrify, cause a sickening dread upon [Israel] and make a gap in its wall and then let us establish our own king – our own authority – over them…so we can puppet them and do with them as we please…’ To that? God then said, “What they’re planning against you – it shall not stand, it will not happen, their plans will not come to pass.”
But then He said, (and again I’m paraphrasing) “You seeing the fulfillment of My promise to you all depends on which voice you’re going to believe. If you believe and trust in Me, I’ll establish you. But if you don’t, then you won’t be.”
He then invited King Ahaz to ask for a sign. A sign was a confirmation. It was a miracle either in the sky or on earth. Something only God could do that would ensure Ahaz that He would fulfill His promise. But Ahaz pridefully refused because he didn’t believe in God and therefore neither did he believe that God would rescue them. (Internally, he had already made a decision to align himself with Assyria!)
But even though the king did not believe, and even though he refused to ask for a sign the Lord still gave one. A sign that He was with them…with us:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14b NKJV
Here’s what I believe the Lord wanted to make clear to His people (and to you and I today). Wherever you may find yourself, God is with us. What you think has the power to take you out, He says is nothing but a burned-out ember. What was and is being planned against you and I will not come to pass. But us “being established” all depends on which voice we choose to listen to. In which name we choose to believe.
This Christmas, may the truth of His name be louder than anything else trying to threaten or intimidate you. He is Emmanuel – God with us.