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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 8:1-10

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, November 30, 2007

Assyria, the Lord’s Instrument

Chapter 7 introduced the child who would be born of a virgin. He would be the Christ. At that time, the Lord used one of Isaiah’s own children to illustrate the fact that although Christ would be brought into the world in a miraculous way, it would nevertheless be ordinary: he would be born of a woman. Christ was truly and fully human. Now in chapter 8, another prophecy, again using a child born to Isaiah as an illustration, foretells that Christ would also be truly and fully God.

8 The LORD said to me, “Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 2 And I will call in Uriah the priest and Zechariah son of Jeberekiah as reliable witnesses for me.”

Perhaps by this time Isaiah was almost getting used to the idea of God speaking directly to him: “Speak…Write…Tell…Proclaim…” were all things God told him to do. Now it was a phrase of four words: “Quick! Plunder. Hurry! Booty.” The calling of two witnesses would insure its truth (Deuteronomy 19:15).

3 Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said to me, “Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 4 Before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”

The prophecy of the four words unexpectedly entered again into Isaiah’s life. His wife gave birth to a son. There are other women who are called prophetess in the Bible because they proclaimed the word of God to God’s people: Moses’ sister (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14 and 2 Chronicles 34:22), and Anna in Luke 2:36. Isaiah’s wife may also have been a prophet, but is also possible that in this case, unlike the others, when Isaiah calls his wife the prophetess, he means “Mrs. Prophet.”

And now God explained that four-word phrase: It was to be the name of the child. And before a year or two had passed (enough time for ‘Maher’ to learn to talk), the nations bothering Judah (Aram and Israel) would be gone.

This is how God explained the boy’s strange name:

5 The LORD spoke to me again:
6 “Because this people has rejected
the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin
and the son of Remaliah,
7 therefore the Lord is about to bring against them
the mighty floodwaters of the River—
the king of Assyria with all his pomp.
It will overflow all its channels,
run over all its banks
8 and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,
passing through it and reaching up to the neck.
Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,
O Immanuel!”

The two rivers that form the boundaries of Mesopotamia are the Tigris and the Euphrates. They are well-named. The Tigris, fast-moving and untamable, was the ideal boundary between Assyria (and later, Babylon) and the steppe lands to the east except at a few well-known fords. The “Good Phrat” (Greek: Euphrates) is wide, more easily navigable, and floods often so that it can be used for irrigation. The rivers and canals spoken about by the prophets during the Babylonian exile1 were all man-made canals connected to the Euphrates used for irrigation throughout the land between the rivers.

God was now going to call for the ‘flood’ of Assyria to wash over Aram and Israel to destroy Judah’s enemies. The tide from the east would come because they had rejected the “gently flowing waters of Shiloah.” This is a reference to Siloam, the pool near the King’s Garden in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:15)2 where Jesus would sometimes preach (John 9:6, 11) and where Jesus proclaimed, “I am the Light of the World” (John 9:5). Israel and Aram had rejected the promised Christ, whom Isaiah now calls Immanuel (“God with us”).

9 Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered!
Listen, all you distant lands.
Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted;
propose your plan, but it will not stand,
for God is with us. (NIV)

When a command is given twice like this one (Prepare for battle, and be shattered!) it emphasizes the inevitability of the outcome. It can’t be stopped. Why is this? Because the people have rejected “God with us,” Immanuel.

God with us! The Christ child would not only be truly and completely human, born of a human mother, but he would also be truly and completely God! Who would have imagined it? Who would have dreamed it? But this is what God did, so that our sins could be forgiven. He was human, because the payment for sin is death, and only a living, breathing, fleshly being can die. And yet the death of a single man would mean nothing for the sins of the world—except that the one who was born and who died was also Divine. That is how his spilled blood has come like a flooding and overflowing river to cover us all, and it is how we commune with his body and blood whenever we take the Sacrament.

He is not an unreachable, unknowable God. He is God With Us, Immanuel. And that means he has forgiven us!

1The Ahava canal in Ezra 8:15-31, the Kebar river that was Ezekiel’s home (Ezekiel 1:1 etc.) and the Ulai canal in Daniel 8:2-6.

2About “Siloam”—This doesn’t seem to be the Silla mentioned as the site of King Joash’s murder in 2 Kings 12:20. That Silla was associated with the ramp made by King Solomon to connect the temple mount with the lower city of David.


In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.