The Book of Immanuel
April 20th, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
THE BOOK OF IMMANUEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Isaiah 7, 8, 9
4-20-75 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are listening with us on the radio to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor expounding The Book of Immanuel, which is chapter 7, 8, and 9 embedded in the heart of the prophecy of Isaiah.
Now the exposition of the book; as I said a moment ago, here in the prophecy of Isaiah there is a section that is called The Book of Immanuel. It has to do especially with the incomparable prophecy and description of the coming King. It happened like this: "And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went to war against Jerusalem" [Isaiah 7:1]. That’s called, in the study of biblical history, the Syro-Ephraimite War. The king at that time, as the seventh chapter opens, was named Ahaz the son of Jotham, the grandson of Uzziah. His father was an able and gifted man. His grandfather Uzziah was an even abler and more gifted man. But Ahaz himself was a sorry son of the great, noble house of David. How a glorious grandfather and noble father could have a son like Ahaz is inexplicable to me – Ahaz, weak, without moral fiber, without spiritual conviction. When he came to the throne his first and continuing acts were idolatrous. He filled the Holy City with graven images. He revived the worship of Molech in the Valley of Hinnom, and there did he burn his own sons in the fire [2 Kings 16:3-4]. At a time of terrible trouble in Judah and in Jerusalem, this weak and morally inept king is guiding the destiny of the people. And what he did secretly, he made appeal to Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria, to be confederate with him against Samaria and Syria [2 Kings 16:7-9; Isaiah 7:3-9].
It was at that moment that Isaiah the prophet confronted Ahaz the first time. Isaiah seems to have been the only man in Jerusalem who was unafraid. He had illimitable trust in Jehovah God. And he sought to dissuade the king from delivering Judah to Assyria, and to trust in God for deliverance. So in the third verse it says that the Lord sent Isaiah to stand before Ahaz, and he met him at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway that goes down to the Fuller’s Field [Isaiah 7:3]. What Ahaz was doing was, in preparation for war he was inspecting the water supply of the city; for Jerusalem is in a semi-desert land, and paucity of water has ever been its greatest problem. And while he was inspecting the water supply, Isaiah stood before him and said to him, "Do not be afraid, these two tails of these smoking firebrands, almost burnt out, Pekah king of Samaria and Rezin king of Syria, do not be afraid; for the Lord God is with us, and He will deliver us" [Isaiah 7:4-7]. But the appeal of Isaiah fell upon deaf ears and a hard heart. For we learn from 2 Kings and from 2 Chronicles that Ahaz had already made up his mind that there was greater deliverance in Assyria than there was in Jehovah, and it was far better to trust in the might of Assyria than it was to trust in the strength of God. We learn from 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles that he had already delivered Judah to the iron heel of Assyria. He had already sent an ambassador to Tiglath-pileser saying, "I am your slave." And he had already plundered the holy temple in Jerusalem, which he shut up, of its gold and its silver, and sent it in tribute to Tiglath-pileser [2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 28:16-21].
It is hard to believe that a man would deliver his own people and his own country to a cruel and merciless nation like Assyria. Its great capital of Nineveh had in it a palace of Oriental splendor, in which Tiglath-pileser reigned as, quoting him, "the king of kings." He numbered his hosts by the myriads. His horses and his chariots filled the land like a plague of locusts. And when they came over a nation, it was like the overflowing tides of an ocean. And it was to Tiglath-pileser that Ahaz secretly had delivered his kingdom and his people. And Isaiah, standing before him, pled for trust and deliverance in God [Isaiah 7:3-9].
Beginning at the tenth verse, we have the second confrontation of Isaiah before Ahaz. Having failed in his first attempt, the Lord sent Isaiah to Ahaz again to make appeal that he turn aside from the bitter and merciless and cruel Assyrian and look to God for help [Isaiah 7:10]. This time, in verse 11, God sent Isaiah with a superlative proposition: "Ask a sign of the Lord, Ahaz, ask anything, in all of the heavens above, and in all of the depths beneath, ask anything, as a sign that God will deliver this people; ask it" [Isaiah 7:11]. And Ahaz, having already committed his people and his kingdom to the iron hand and under the iron heel of Assyria [2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 28:16-21], piously answers, "I will not ask, I will not tempt the Lord" [Isaiah 7:12-13]; a supercilious, pious, hypocritical cover-up of what he had actually already done. It was then that Isaiah said, and this is one of the great, great prophecies of the Bible,
God Himself then will choose and give the sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall He eat, until He know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse evil and choose good, the land that thou abhorrest, that you are afraid of, terrified by, shall be forsaken of both her king – these smoking ends of firebrands that fill you with such terror, that send you to Tiglath-pileser –
Let me read a little paraphrase, if I could, of my own, of the Hebrew of this passage. "Before the Child is old enough to eat butter and honey, and before the Child is old enough to refuse evil and choose good, the two kings that you are afraid of will be dead" [Isaiah 7:15-16]. What Isaiah is saying is that within two or three years, Rezin will not be any longer king of Syria, and Pekah will no longer be king of Samaria. And it came to pass exactly as Isaiah had said. Tiglath-pileser slew Rezin [2 Kings 16:9], and Hoshea, the last king of Israel, slew Pekah [2 Kings 15:30]. And these two that Ahaz quelled before were at the last days of their kingdom; and yet, refusing to trust the Lord, Ahaz delivered his kingdom and his people to Tiglath-pileser [2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 28:16-21].
Now, what is the meaning of this sign that he says? "Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" [Isaiah 7:14]. I can understand easily the second part of that sign: there will be in Judah a woman who will bear a Child, and before the Child is say, two years of age or three at the most, these kings you’re afraid of will be dead. I can understand the second part of that sign easily. But what is the meaning of the first part of the sign? "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and call His name Immanuel" [Isaiah 7:14]; how was that a sign to Ahaz? For the Child was not born until a good seven hundred fifty years later. How was that a sign? Well, we must look at it closely. When he says in verse 11, "Ask thee a sign of the Lord," the pronoun is singular, "Ask thee a sign, ask it in the depth or in the height above" [Isaiah 7:11]. And Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord" [Isaiah 7:12]. Then Isaiah turns aside and he addresses all posterity: "Ahaz, the house of David, Judah, and the people of God of all time," for the pronoun now is plural, "Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you," plural, "a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and call His name God is With Us" [Isaiah 7:14]. And what Isaiah is saying is this: God has not forgotten His promise that He made to David in 2 Samuel 7:13, "Even though you, Ahaz, an unworthy son of the great king, God has not forgotten His promise to David, that he should have a son who should sit upon his throne forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end" [2 Samuel 7:16]. Then he adds to that glorious promise another sign: God is remembering the promise in Genesis 3:15, "The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head"; and God is remembering the prophecy that He made to Judah through Jacob, through Israel, in Genesis :10, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come." And Isaiah is saying, "These two kings that you fear will not destroy the house of David, nor shall any providence ever destroy the line of David, until He shall come; and He at His coming shall be the virgin-born Son of God" [Matthew 1:0-25]. He looks beyond the weak and vacillating king and sees the glory of the promised Son that would be seated and would reign on the throne of David forever and forever [2 Samuel 7:16].
Then the remarkable thing that followed the delivery of that prophecy: it seems as if having spoken it, by inspiration of heaven, that Isaiah was filled with the Spirit of prophecy. Beginning at verse 17 through chapter 8, verse 22 [Isaiah 7:17-18:22], the prophecy is dark and foreboding. "The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, the king of Assyria. And all the land shall become briers and thorns [Isaiah 7:24]. And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish, and a plunging, a driving into darkness" [Isaiah 8:22]. Did that come to pass? Even in the lifetime of Isaiah, four different times did Assyria overrun Judah. That’s what Ahaz did when he delivered his kingdom into the hands of Tiglath-pileser [2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 28:16-21]. And even in the lifetime of Isaiah did the Assyrian come down and destroy Samaria and carry the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom away into everlasting dispersion and captivity [2 Kings 17:6]. The first part of the prophecy is dark and foreboding; and had it not been for the intervention of God when Assyria came under Sennacherib and shut up Jerusalem like a vise, even Jerusalem would have been destroyed [2 Kings 19:34-36]. From the seventeenth verse of the seventh chapter, through the last verse of the eighth chapter is this dark and tragic prophecy of the coming of the merciless and ruthless Assyrian [Isaiah 7:17-8:22].
Then, at the ninth chapter he bursts forth into the glory of a prophecy that is incomparable! May I read it to you? "But the dimness and darkness," now remember the tragic dark prophecy of 8:22 closes like this, "They shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and a driving into darkness" [Isaiah 8:22]. Now, and I’m going to read out of the Hebrew a paraphrase that will be a little more understandable to us today, beginning at chapter 9, verse 1:
The dimness and darkness will not continue forever, though the land of Zebulun and Naphtali has been under the judgment of God; yet these very lands, Galilee of the Galilees, Galilee of the nations, Galilee of the Gentiles, and beyond Jordan, shall be filled with glory. For the people that walked in darkness shall see a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death upon them light will shine . . . For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given: and the government shall rest upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it.
Do you believe that? "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name God is With Us" [Isaiah 7:14]. Do you believe that? Do you believe this?
To us a Child is born, a Son is given: and He shall be the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6]. And to these who sit in the valley of the shadow of death, facing an open and everlasting grave, upon them does the light of the glory of God shine in resurrection beauty and power [Isaiah 9:2].
Do you believe that? Do you?
"Absolutely not," says the infidel, and the atheist, and the skeptic, and the critic, "It is preposterous. Absolutely not," says the liberal and the higher critic, those who speak of the Bible as though it were a matter of Oriental hyperbole and poetic imagery. "Absolutely not, impossible," says the humanist and the materialist and the secularist. "He may be a wonderful man, but He is not the Wonderful God. He may be a marvelous teacher, but He is not the Everlasting Father. He may be a glorious leader, lifted high among men who are made of flesh and blood; but He is certainly not the God of heaven and the Prince of Peace." That’s what they say. And they say that universally. There is no liberal in the land, there’s no theologian of liberal persuasion who lives that believes in the virgin birth and that Christ is God in the flesh. Do you believe it?"
One of those men said, "If some girl came to you, say she’s seventeen years old, if a seventeen year old girl came to you and said, ‘I am pregnant, and my Child has no earthly father. My Child is conceived by God in heaven.’ And she came to you and said, ‘Look at me, I’m pregnant, and God is the Father of my Child.’ Would you believe it?" That’s what one of the caustic, supercilious critics said: "Would you believe that?"
Just wait, just for a moment. I think I might. In fact, I’m sure that I would if the birth of that Child had been predicted since the dawn of creation [Isaiah 53:1-12]; if the coming of that Child had been prophesied for thousands of years; if when the Child was born, God opened the glories of heaven and we saw angelic choirs announce His glorious birth [Luke 2:10-13]; if when He was slain, the third day He was raised from the dead [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]; and if having ascended to heaven [Acts 1:9-10], there are millions and millions and millions of people who have laid down their life in His name. I think I would if the Child were like that. For did you ever hear or read or imagine a child wonderful like that?
Why, my brother, I don’t exaggerate when I say that the whole story of our Lord is of one piece. It’s all harmoniously, symphonically alike; the virgin birth at the beginning of it [Matthew 1:20-25] fits the glorious resurrection at the end of it [Matthew 28:1-9]. And it’s somehow all the same. You see this is the prophecy of the great intrusion of God in human life [Isaiah 7:14, 9:6], in human story, when He came down to be a man with us [Hebrews 10:5-14; John 1:14]. This is the beginning of the marvelous story of God’s redemptive purpose to save us from our sins [Matthew 1:21-23]. And all the stars in heaven and all the governments in the earth, and all the providences and events in history were preparing the day of His coming. The whole earth was filled with the expectancy of a glorious Deliverer and Messiah out of the marvelous Jewish race in the East [Romans 11:26]. God was speaking. God was moving. God was present. And even the stars in the heavens were lowered like golden lamps when that Child was born [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. And even the hosts of glory sang in anticipation of the coming kingdom, when the earth would be filled with peace and salvation [Luke 2:13-14]. Do you believe this? Humbly, gratefully, prayerfully, I do.
I have a little theological word to say in conclusion. If that’s not true, and if Jesus born in the earth is a man like us, born a sinner, born with all of the weaknesses that you and I have, then He died a sinner for His own sin, for His own guilt, and He is not my Savior. He couldn’t be, for He was dying for His own guilt; just as I am sentenced to die for my own guilt. But if the Lord is the God of glory, if He is deity in the flesh, and if He came to be my Savior and my Deliverer [Luke 19:10], if that’s why He came, that He be born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23], conceived of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:20], living a life that is perfect and above sin [Hebrews 4:15], then He could die for me, that I might be saved [1 Corinthians 15:3]. So whether it be the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25], or His glorious resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7], or His ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], or His coming again in power and great glory [Revelation 19:11-16], I believe Lord, I believe. And the Book says that, "If thou shalt trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, thou shalt be saved" [Acts 16:30-31]. This is our entrance into heaven, this is our door into glory: accepting what God has given for us; namely, our Savior, our incomparable, indescribable, glorious promise of life in His dear and blessed name [Romans 10:9-10] – the sign of the virgin birth [Isaiah 7:14].
We’re going to sing now in just a moment, and while we stand and sing the hymn, to give your heart in faith to the blessed Jesus, to come into the fellowship of the church, as the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, would you answer now with your life? "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." If you’re on the back row of the highest balcony, there’s time and to spare, come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, come, "Today I give my heart to God; I take Jesus as my Savior. I believe the witness of the Holy Scriptures to Him, and I’m coming." Or, "God has put it in our hearts to belong to this dear church, and here I am, pastor. This is my wife, and these are our children, all of us are coming today." As we sing, make it now, do it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
SIGN OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. An exposition of the passage (Isaiah 7, 8, 9)
A. Ahaz, son of Jotham, assumes throne
1. First and continuing acts idolatrous
B. Under threat of Syria and Samaria, Ahaz turns to Tiglath Pileser (2 Kings 16:7)
C. The appeals of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:3-4, 7:10-16)
D. Two prophecies
1. Bitter, dark (Isaiah 7:17 – 8:22)
2. Light and life (Isaiah 9:1-7)
II. What shall we say of this prophecy?
A. Take it literally
B. Confirmation in history
1. Entrance of Christ into the world miraculous
2. All history a preparation for His coming
3. Earth filled with expectancy of coming Lord