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Are you entering a season of Christmas celebrations “not with a bang but a whimper”? Many Christians are discouraged, despairing, disheartened and disillusioned.

On one hand, I think they have every right to be. The dark confusion of our society that self-consciously rejects and even attacks anything to do with God’s common and uncommonly revealed truth leaves us grieving. We look on our country and feel like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet.

On the other hand, we may find that glimmers of change, a cultural recovery, or a political statement of sanity, are quickly snuffed out like a smoldering wick on the Christmas scented candle.

At Christmas, the Immanuel prophecy ought to lift our eyes to the Lord, along with our sense of expectancy for what he may do.

Political Context

Now you may be unaware of the politically depressing context in which Isaiah prophesied to Ahaz, the king of embattled Judah. In the seventh chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy, the king Ahaz was told that his geopolitical rivals would be dealt with, if he would simply trust in God. As Isaiah put it, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” (Isa 7:9 NASB).

The tension in the situation was one that all of us have felt. Things can seem so bleak, that we give up our former hope, drop our former loyalties, and break our old covenants. A pastor friend of mine used to say that when a married couple contemplates divorce, they look at everything with “the jaundiced eye”. They can’t seem to see any good in the covenant. All they see is tainted with bitterness, distrust and distaste. That is how Ahaz had come to see Yahweh, the God of Israel.

Of course, God knew this. Even though the Lord God was entitled to worship, glory, honor, and praise, he nevertheless was gratuitously generous.  He offered an incentive to Ahaz that was over and above every fulfilled promise and demonstration of power that he had offered to that date.

A Sign Offered

Yahweh, the LORD who delivered Israel out of Egypt by spectacular miracles, made Ahaz an offer he couldn’t refuse, ““Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” (Isa 7:11).

The possibilities were literally endless. As I’ve thought about what Ahaz could have asked for, the modern equivalent would be inputting a prompt to an AI image generator, “a dog with the face of a man shovelling snow on Mars” or “the Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parade down Yonge Street”. These are fantasies that AI can’t fulfill. Ahaz, on the other hand, had the opportunity of a lifetime. He could ask God for any fantastic thing, and God could fulfill it!

Ahaz looked at his life, his reign, and his nation with the jaundiced eye. This included how he saw God. When he was invited to ask God for something spectacular to confirm the promise God had made, Ahaz did the unthinkable. He didn’t ask. It’s not that he chose to ask for something selfish like making the wealth of Assyria pour into Judah’s state treasury. He didn’t ask for the harems and the pleasures of decadent living which all wealthy elites have sought to this day. What is most shocking, but sadly not surprising, was that Ahaz didn’t ask God for anything at all.

When people are disbelieving, it is not that they are looking to God with mixed motives. Rather they simple don’t look to God at all.

They have no confidence in God. They don’t think that he has any power. He does not even register as a legitimate source of power, change or hope. This is the essence of the secular mindset. It is not that belief in God is insufficiently supported. He is simply irrelevant.

Ahaz replied in verse 12 saying, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” A reader may think that Ahaz is being half-pious by referencing the prohibition against “testing” the Lord (Deut 6:16). But this is the kind of dissimulation you get from the Serpent in Eden.

Ahaz did not think that Yahweh was even worth engaging with. Ahaz’s view of Yahweh’s power was so low that Ahaz would not even hedge his bets with Yahweh. Ahaz had other options to leverage, other appeals to make, other powers to solicit. Yet for all of this, he was ironically testing God’s patience (Isa 7:13), falling into the trap, as Paul pointed out later, “do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4).

The sad tragedy for Ahaz was that his secular rejection of Yahweh could only be filled by welcoming wickedness. He gave himself completely into the hands of the super-culture Assyria, sealing his demonic allegiance when he “made his son pass through the fire” (2 Kings 16:3). His refusal to believe in the true God left him open to believe in the father of lies (Jn 8:44).

A Sign Given

There can be no plot or script that could present the kind of promise which Yahweh made despite Ahaz’s secularist apostasy. The words of the prophecy are familiar, even if the intense political context is not:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14).

The oxymoron of a virgin conceiving is juxtaposed against a human son being “El” (the Hebrew name for God, which gives us Immanuel, ‘God with us’). But such oxymorons are prophetically promised by a God who had the ability to do, “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). Ahaz refused to even ask, but in our sophisticated, nihilistic age are we much different?

Still, the provision of the only true Saviour the world can ever know fulfills the promise only God could make. When we consider God’s promise to Ahaz, we are challenged again with the simple truth of God’s sovereign power: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (Ja 4:2). As Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (Jn 20:27).

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