“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Isaiah 7:14). 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not [in an intimate way] till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS (Matthew 1:18-25).
Joseph was alarmed.
He had received some disturbing news that created tremendous turmoil in his heart. The woman he was engaged to was found to be with child. From all outward appearances, it seemed that the love of his life, and the desire of his heart, had been unfaithful to him. Joseph did not know just how to handle this situation.
After prolonged moments of meditation, he finally decided on a course of action. He would put Mary away privately, which meant that under the Jewish law, he would divorce her, in secret.
In Hebrew society, a betrothal, or an engagement, was as binding as the official wedding ceremony. To break the engagement meant to go through a legal divorce procedure.
The Law of Moses allowed for a public divorce trial so that social shame could be induced to discourage divorce.
The people of Israel understood that God never meant for divorce to take place, but if it did, divorce was not to be easy. And the woman was always to be protected.
There was a period in the historical life of Israel when the men were divorcing their wives without reason. It was a national scandal of which the prophet Malachi addressed during his public ministry (c. 445 – 425 BC). Malachi charged Israel with great sin and told the people plainly, “the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dwelt treacherously: yet is she your companion, and the wife of your covenant” Malachi 2:13-14.
While Joseph was not one of those who was dealing treacherously with his young bride, he did not want to be numbered among the wicked.
The Bible says Joseph was a just man. He wanted to be fair to Mary, no matter what she had done.
Joseph loved Mary and did not want to make her a public example. He wanted to protect her privacy and her dignity. If a divorce had to take place, Joseph would divorce Mary in private. With this painful decision made, Joseph finally fell asleep, emotionally exhausted.
While he slept, God began to speak. The Bible says that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel spoke. “Joseph, thou son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as thy wife: for the child conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
And Joseph, Mary shall bring forth a son, and you will call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
The Bible says when Joseph awoke from his sleep, he was a new man. His heavy burden had been divinely lifted. Heaven came down and glory filled his soul. As depressed as Joseph had been just a few hours before, he was now filled with joy.Weeping endured for the night but joy came in the morning. Joseph had heaven’s approval to take Mary as his wife in a formal wedding ceremony.
She had not been unfaithful.
She was to be the mother of the Messiah who was to be virgin born.
The divine commentary is that
“All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son’” (Isaiah 7:14).
The prophet who spoke these words was Isaiah, who ministered in the days of Ahaz, king of Judah.
Ahaz himself was a young king, between 20 – 25 years old when he began to reign.
He was from the distinguished tribe of Benjamin, and of the royal family of King David.
Ahaz was the 12th king of Judah, destined to rule for sixteen sin saturated years (c. 735-715 BC).
Sadly enough, his royal reign would be characterized by bloodshed, and violence.
Ahaz would also promote the worship of idols, thereby manifesting his unbelief and magnifying the darkness of his heart.
The unbelief of Ahaz would have spread across several decades touching countless lives in a negative way if it were not for the fact that God took His unbelief and made something good come out of it.
It happened in this way.
The reign of Ahaz began in a time of great political turmoil in the Middle East.
Some things never change.
Two kings had united to destroy his small kingdom of Judah.
There was Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Northern Israel.
When Ahaz found himself surrounded by these hostile forces, he did not pray and call upon the Lord God for help, as he should have, because Ahaz did not trust Divine deliverance to come from Jehovah.
The foolish king was too enamored with the false gods, Baal and Molech.
As a result, fear and unbelief filled his heart. These dark emotions spread to God’s people in Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel.
A principle is observed.
When leadership is afraid, when leadership loses confidence in the promises and provisions of God, so will many others.
Ahaz was no Franklin Roosevelt, who told the American people in an era of economic depression:
“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!” (March 4, 1933)
He was no Winston Churchill who addressed the Parliament and people of Britain to announce the invasion of England by the Nazis had begun.
“But we shall fight the enemy,” Churchill had vowed.
“We shall fight in the air.
We shall fight on the sea.
We shall fight on land.
We shall fight house to house and man to man until every vestige of the scourge of Nazism is removed from the face of the Earth.” (June 4, 1940)
What a man.
What a leader.
Winston Churchill was not afraid. He was born for battle.
In contrast, Ahaz was afraid, and his fear would not be diminished because Ahaz had already given his heart to idolatry.
Before he was 30 years of age, Ahaz had given his heart to the devil.
Before he was 30 years old, Ahaz had forfeited his immortal soul.
Nevertheless, it was to this sin soaked, fear filled king of a besieged city, the word of God came.
“Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out …to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field” (Isaiah 7:3, NIV)
Another principle is established.
God knows just where every person is, and what they are doing at any given moment. God always knows where you are, and what you are doing.
God knew that Ahaz had gone out to inspect the water supply in the western part of Jerusalem because word had been received.
The allied armies of Syria and Northern Israel would soon reach Jerusalem.
The king wanted to see if an adequate water supply could still reach the Holy City.
While Ahaz evaluated the growing desperate situation, the prophet Isaiah, accompanied by his son, found the king.
Isaiah had an encouraging message which was to be conveyed by the presence of his son, Shear-Jashub (Shear-YA-shub), and a visible sign.
Concerning the son, the name of Isaiah’s child means literally, “a remnant will return.”
With this name, the Lord was telling Ahaz there was no need to be afraid of the invading armies.
No matter what happened, God would keep for Himself a remnant according to the election of grace. The gates of hell, and the armies of men, will never prevail against God’s called out people.
By way of present application, you and I are not alone. God has a people for Himself all over the world from every tongue, nation, and tribe whom He will protect.
Concerning the sign Ahaz was to be given, it was extraordinary.
However, before the sign could be given, Isaiah had to get the attention of the king (Isaiah 7:4).
A person’s attention is necessary in order to communicate the Word of God.
Therefore, Isaiah spoke sharply to Ahaz saying, “Take heed!” which means, listen. Listen to the man who speaks for God, if he is really sent by God.
Next, Isaiah told the king to “be quiet!” Ahaz, stop talking. Stop talking negatively to yourself, and to others (Philippians 4:8).
The prophet commanded the king saying, “Fear not Ahaz!” Let faith in God replace all your fears.
“Do not be faint of heart.” “Do not be afraid of King Rezin of Syria, and do not be afraid of Pekah, king of Northern Israel.”
The reason Ahaz was not to be afraid was because Syria and Ephraim (another name for the Northern Kingdom of Israel), were nothing more than smoking firebrands in the sight of God (Isaiah 7:4). Their stated objectives, “Shall not come to pass!” (Isaiah 7:7) That was, and is, the wonderful promise of God.
Evil shall not ultimately triumph. The moral arch of the universe bends towards righteousness (Martin Luther King, Jr.).
According to Isaiah 7:6, the alliance against Ahaz had four main objectives.
They were to march on Jerusalem.
They were to terrorize the people (“vex it”).
They were to conquer the city by pouring through a breach made in its wall.
Once inside the citadel, the main strongholds were to be demolished, but not the infrastructure of the city.
Some of these objectives had already been achieved.
The allied army was on the march.
Terror had been spread throughout Judah to the point the heart of king Ahaz, and the hearts of the people shook “as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind” (Isaiah 7:2).
Still, Jerusalem had not fallen, nor would it fall because God is still the Ruler of nations.
The Lord can, and will, protect His people.
The spiritual applications of this passage are very relevant today.
First, in stressful situations God does not want His people to be afraid. The Lord has not given us the spirit of fear, but faith, courage, and a sound mind. When the world is most afraid, the Church should be the most fearless.
Second, God sees the true nature of things. In Isaiah 7:5, the Lord calls the military and political plans of Pekah and Rezin “evil counsel”. Such counsel “Shall not stand” (Isaiah 7:6) Stupidity is not sustainable.
Third, God looks to the future. The Lord knows how to destroy the forces allied against Judah. They are but “fire-brands” or sticks to stir fire. The enemies of Judah shall not blaze any more, but only smoke.
Here is Divine imagery, and a spiritual lesson is set forth. God’s people are to reimagine the situations of life, not as they are to human sight, but what they shall be by the grace of God.
Man might propose something, but God disposes all things according to the counsel of His own good will.
The Lord controls the history of individuals, and nations.
Because this is true, you and I as the people of God have a holy responsibility to believe the Lord when He speaks in His Word, by His Spirit, and through His prophets.
When Isaiah paused speaking, Ahaz was strangely silent. Isaiah had spoken, God had promised, and Ahaz was silent. His heart was not thrilled at the good news that Syria would be destroyed, along with the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Ahaz was not impressed and remained silent because the king had a secret in his heart.
The secret was that Ahaz had already formed his own political military alliance with the kingdom of Asshur (Assyria).
If his treaty with Assyria proved to be successful, Ahaz would have a far greater control over the northern kingdom of Israel, than Israel had over Judah at that moment.
All Ahaz had to do was to survive for a few more days, until the Assyrian army could come to his defense.
Because of his confidence in his own plans, Ahaz was not impressed with any theocratic policy of Yahweh.
Ahaz was a practical man. He walked by sight, not by faith.
Let Isaiah talk of spiritual realities; what Ahaz wanted was the physical sight of a well-armed, well-trained army camped outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
With the silent scorn of the skeptic, Ahaz let the prophet Isaiah talk until, Isaiah stopped talking.
Isaiah perceived that Ahaz did not believe his message.
Suddenly, the word of the Lord came to the prophet. He was to give a commandment to the king.
“Ask thy God,” said Isaiah, “for a sign.”
“Ask your God to confirm that Judah will not be destroyed.”
“Ask your God to prove the alliance of the hostile kings will fail in their stated objectives.”
But Ahaz would not ask. He did not speak. Ahaz was not about to surrender his unbelief, or put in jeopardy his own humanly designed future. He would keep his trust in Baal and Molech, not Jehovah.
The stubborn unbelief of Ahaz angered God, and exasperated Isaiah, who suddenly said to the king, “Hear you now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 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 7:13-14):
What did this mean?
First, it meant that Ahaz made the Lord angry. Ahaz wearied the long suffering of God, who would not forget.
Second, the words of the prophet Isaiah meant where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.
The Lord would give His own unsolicited sign. The sign was that a child, would soon to be born of a virgin (almah [al-maw’]), meaning a young woman, a damsel. Before the child was old enough to discern right from wrong (age 3), the alliance that Ahaz hated and feared, would be destroyed (Isaiah 7:16). The armies of the two kings, Syria, and Northern Israel, would be demolished.
History records that it happened.
The allied coalition broke up. Then, in time, a general by the name of Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria came and conquered Damascus (Syria), and then a portion of the kingdom of Northern Israel. A large part of the inhabitants of the two countries were led into captivity (2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 16:9).
History also records the judgment of God fell on the house of Ahaz because his unbelief was never abandoned. He would not be allowed to be buried in the Tomb of the Kings.
He who willed to sin found that he had no will not to sin.
The question now comes how this Old Testament prophecy of judgment against the blatant unbelief of a godless king finds ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.
The answer is this.
First, in the Old Testament we find the sovereign God of the universe judging unbelief. There is a facet of God’s character that cannot be dismissed. While God is love, He is also just. The Lord is grieved when His Word is not honored, and His promises are not respected. God will judge every person, but He will do so through His Son, Jesus Christ, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22).
But there is something else.
Matthew associates the prophesy of the virgin’s birth to Jesus.
That is significant because God wants people to know that no matter what the situation might be,
He is still there all the time.
This is tender message of divine mercy.
But how can the mystery of the mercy of God be conveyed?
Love and Wisdom found a way.
It was as a baby Jesus came into the world. And they called Him, Emmanuel.
In a humble, non-threatening manner, Jesus came.
The message is the same in both the Old Testament and the New Testament:
God is with us.
But will we believe it?
Will we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour?
Will we love God and worship Him all the days of our lives?
Do we know, God is with us?
May the Holy Spirit give us grace to see, grace to believe, grace to receive the truth. God is with us for Jesus has come, and prophesy is fulfilled.