I wasn’t sure where the camp was supposed to be, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t at the end of someone’s driveway. I managed to turn the car around at the end of the narrow street and made my way back down the steep hill. I saw what I had missed at the bottom: a cross street with a sign. I hadn’t recognized the place I was supposed to turn.
Sometimes life is like that. We come to the crossroads of decision. If we aren’t careful–if we aren’t attentive–we don’t recognize the moment for what it is and it passes us by.
That’s what happened to King Ahaz.
Judah was in turmoil. The great empire of Assyria had woken from slumber and was stretching her claws west toward Judah and her surrounding nations. They could read the writing on the wall. Assyria was coming, and the only choices were to fight, surrender, or die.
Israel and Syria chose to fight. But they knew their small coalition wouldn’t be enough to withstand the Assyrian onslaught. In an attempt to bolster their numbers, Israel and Syria threatened to attack Judah unless Ahaz joined the rebellion. It was too much. Caught between Assyria and his neighbors, Ahaz and all his people trembled like leaves shaken by the wind.
That’s when Isaiah showed up.
Isaiah met Ahaz as the king was inspecting Jerusalem’s water supply in preparation for the coming siege. The prophet had a word for the king. It was time to choose: would Ahaz trust the Lord? But the word also came with a warning: “If you do not stand firm in your faith,you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9).
If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. It should have brought Ahaz up short. Judah’s security didn’t rest in Ahaz’s plotting but in the hand of the sovereign Lord. God had not abandoned Judah in her distress. Israel, Syria, and even Assyria were only clay in the Lord’s hands–smoldering stumps that could do no harm. Making a treaty with Assyria might seem logical, but from God’s point of view it was a sinful lack of faith. It was not a mere political alliance. Requesting Assyrian protection would make Judah an Assyrian vassal. Ahaz–and his people–would be required to acknowledge and serve Assyrian gods. It sent the message that Yahweh was not strong enough to protect his people.
It seems that was exactly what Ahaz believed.
Though God offered Ahaz the chance to ask for a sign, Ahaz refused. He couched it in pious sounding words, but unbelief was at the root of it. Perhaps he had already made up his mind. Maybe he just feared looking foolish if God didn’t come through. Either way, it seems Ahaz had already decided that God was not strong enough to keep his promises. Ahaz chose Assyria.
This is the problem with unbelief. When we start to doubt God’s goodness and power we begin to believe that we’re in this on our own. Refusing to trust in God’s good and gracious intentions for us, we cast about for our own solutions. Decisions that are foolish from God’s point of view start to look good in our own eyes. Loss of conviction leads to compromise.
If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.
Ahaz refused a sign, but in his grace God gave him one anyway. A young woman would have a child. His name would be Immanuel, God with us. And before the child was old enough to know good from evil, the threat Ahaz feared would be washed away. As the Lord had spoken, so it came to be.
It was a sign for Ahaz’s time, but also for our own. The child Isaiah promised to Ahaz foreshadowed another child born in Bethlehem some 300 years later. This child, born of a virgin and laid in a manger, was truly Immanuel. God with us. Jesus was the full expression of the Father’s heart toward us, the full revelation of God’s gracious love that doesn’t give up on his people. In Jesus, God was at work drawing us to himself. I AM here. You are not alone. I have good plans for you. Trust. Me.
When you stand at the crossroads, what will you choose?
Q: When are you most tempted to doubt God’s goodness and love?
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