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Read Isaiah 8:11-22

Background: It is the 8th century BC. The nations of Israel and Aram are afraid of the wolf at their door – Assyria. If they can invade Judah and set up a leader who shares their national interests, then they just might have a chance at withstanding Assyria.

There’s a lot of fear in Judah. The people are eager to consult the experts and intelligencia to come up with a plan that will secure their future ...

Entering into this political mess is a preacher. A man whose sermons are not heard. The preacher’s name is Isaiah. His two young boys are with him – he has given them such strange names: Shear-Jashub and Maher-shallal-hash-baz. Their names mean “A Remnant Will Return” and "Quick to the Spoils, Hurry to the Plunder." These boys have been given names that preach. Names that proclaim the imminent dawn of bad times but also a hope that some will be spared.

Isaiah preaches in Judah; his nation is very afraid right now. Their enemies are planning an attack and intend to set up a puppet-ruler to replace the current king, Ahaz. The people want the king to get help from another country ... and soon. Ahaz feels the same way, and even more so. Ahaz intends on becoming the closest of friends with the king of Assyria. Ahaz’s fear has motivated him to get an altar just like Assyria’s and to worship Assyria’s gods, just like Assyria.

But there are some who disagree with Ahaz and the people. Isaiah is the leader of the dissenters. The rest of the nation talks about Isaiah and his kooky cult. They call them trouble-makers, and unpatriotic. They sneer because Isaiah and his followers claim to speak on behalf of the Lord God, but what they say isn’t anything like the word from the temple priests.

(Isaiah 7) During the midst of the Israel and Aram’s attacks against Judah, Isaiah approached the king. Ahaz was out inspecting the city’s water supply in the event of a siege. Isaiah was waiting to give him a message:

“Be careful, keep calm, and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of those two smoldering stubs of firewood--because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim, and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin saying, ‘Let’s invade Judah; let’s tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make Ben-Tabeel king over it.’ Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘It will not take place. It will not happen. Because, the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is just Rezin. Within 65 years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is just Remaliah’s son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:4-9)

God even authorized Isaiah to give Ahaz a sign to bolster his confidence. He would give Ahaz’s son a name that preached – “Immanu-El” meaning "God Is With Us." But Ahaz believed that signs were in bad taste. He decided to go ahead with the Assyrian treaty, he was even confident that it was God’s will to do so. Nothing, not even a sign freely given, could change Ahaz’s mind.

Isaiah’s sermons were wasted words. So, he returned to his little school to preach to those who would listen. Along the way, he thought about the treaty that will inevitably be signed; the suffering that it will cause Judah in the near future; and the stubbornness of the king and the rejection of the people. He has no more sermons to give now. Only this parting testimony to prepare his followers for the days to come:

“The Lord God spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said:
‘Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; Do not fear what they fear and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary. But, for both the houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble, they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.’
Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him. [So] here I am. I and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion. When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? [Go] to the law and the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” (Isaiah 8:11-22)

What are we worried about? What are we afraid of?

All of these things might truly happen. They could be very real occurrences. Isaiah told Ahaz not to be afraid, but Assyria was a reality that would cause Judah to suffer.
All the things that people worry about today might really happen ...

But whose way do we follow? Whose hand is upon us?

Do we watch the signs of the spiritualists and mediums of our day an age with their glowing electronic wisdom? Do we wring our hands and wipe our brows in fear of the gloom and doom that they forecast?

Or do we go to the words of the living God and fold our hands and bow our heads in prayer?

Do we follow the way of the people around us in this nation who are filled to the brim with worry and anxiety or do we listen to the voice of God and feel his strong hand upon us?

So many of us dread and fear about our nations borders, our 401K’s, our potential president, and the fate of the USA. So many of us dread and fear the state of health and healthcare.

Why don’t we dread and fear the Lord? Why don’t we hold God to be as holy as our political pride? Why don’t we regard God as a more secure rock and fortress than our investments?

Why? Because we have followed the way of the people. We have made the mistake of Ahaz and put our trust in powerful alliances. We have looked to the wrong signs and consulted the wrong media.

None of the rulers, nations, empires of the 8th century remain. But the sermon of the preacher is preached again today. The names of those children still preach ...

God is with us! A remnant will survive! Watch out because they are quick to the spoils and hurry to plunder!

We stand in the place of Ahaz. God offers us a future, a sanctuary. He has given us the sign of a son. We can stand with Isaiah and his sons. We can go the testimony of Scripture, or we can make a deal with the devil and invest in the comforts and securities that will not last.

We have to make the choice that Ahaz had to make. God is willing to do his work right here and right now. God is with us. He can do that in this generation. But if we refuse, then he will bind up the promise for a future generation. And he can do that. He can raise up a generation of kids whose names will preach. I would rather see that now than later – wouldn’t you?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 26 October 2008

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