The Syro-Ephraimite War*
Crisis in Judah. 1In the days of Ahaz,* king of Judah, son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, Rezin, king of Aram, and Pekah, king of Israel, son of Remaliah, went up to attack Jerusalem, but they were not able to conquer it.a 2When word came to the house of David that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of the king and heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind.
3Then the LORD said to Isaiah: Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub,* at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller’s field, 4and say to him: Take care you remain calm and do not fear; do not let your courage fail before these two stumps of smoldering brands,b the blazing anger of Rezin and the Arameans and of the son of Remaliah— 5because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned* evil against you. They say, 6“Let us go up against Judah, tear it apart, make it our own by force, and appoint the son of Tabeel* king there.”
7Thus says the Lord GOD:
It shall not stand, it shall not be!c
8* The head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is Rezin;
9The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
Within sixty-five years,
Ephraim shall be crushed, no longer a nation.
Unless your faith is firm,
you shall not be firm!d
Emmanuel. 10Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: 11Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as Sheol, or high as the sky!* 12But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”* 13Then he said: Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary my God? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign;* the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. 15Curds and honey* he will eat so that he may learn to reject evil and choose good; 16for before the child learns to reject evil and choose good, the land of those two kings whom you dread shall be deserted.
17The LORD shall bring upon you and your people and your father’s house such days as have not come since Ephraim seceded* from Judah (the king of Assyria). 18On that day
The LORD shall whistle
for the fly in the farthest streams of Egypt,
and for the bee in the land of Assyria.e
19All of them shall come and settle
in the steep ravines and in the rocky clefts,
on all thornbushes and in all pastures.
20* On that day the Lord shall shave with the razor hired from across the River (the king of Assyria) the head, and the hair of the feet; it shall also shave off the beard.f
21On that day a man shall keep alive a young cow or a couple of sheep, 22and from their abundant yield of milk he shall eat curds; curds and honey shall be the food of all who are left in the land. 23* On that day every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand pieces of silver shall become briers and thorns. 24One shall have to go there with bow and arrows, for all the country shall be briers and thorns.g 25But as for all the hills which were hoed with a mattock, for fear of briers and thorns you will not go there; they shall become a place for cattle to roam and sheep to trample.h
* [7:1–8:18] These verses (often termed Isaiah’s “Memoirs”) contain a series of oracles and narratives (some in first person), all closely related to the Syro-Ephraimite war of 735–732 B.C. Several passages feature three children whose symbolic names refer to the Lord’s purposes: Shear-jashub (7:3), Emmanuel (7:10–17; 8:8–10), and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:1–4). Judah and its Davidic dynasty should trust God’s promises and not fear the combined armies of Israel and Syria; within a very short time these two enemy states will be destroyed, and David’s dynasty will continue.
* [7:1] Days of Ahaz: who ruled from 735 to 715 B.C. This attack against Jerusalem by the kings of Aram (Syria) and Israel in 735 B.C. was occasioned by the refusal of Ahaz to enter with them into an anti-Assyrian alliance; cf. 2 Kgs 16.
* [7:3] Shear-jashub: this name means “a remnant will return” (cf. 10:20–22).
* [7:5] Planned: the plans of those who plot against Ahaz shall not be accomplished (v. 7). What the Lord plans will unfailingly come to pass, whereas human plans contrary to those of the Lord are doomed to frustration; cf. 8:10; 14:24–27; 19:11–14; 29:15; 30:1. See further the note on 14:24–27.
* [7:6] Son of Tabeel: a puppet of Jerusalem’s enemies. His appointment would interrupt the lawful succession from David.
* [7:8–9] God had chosen and made a commitment to David’s dynasty and his capital city Jerusalem, not to Rezin and his capital Damascus, nor to the son of Remaliah and his capital Samaria (2 Sm 7:12–16; Ps 2:6; 78:68–72; 132:11–18). Within sixty-five years…nation: this text occurs at the end of v. 8 in the Hebrew. Ahaz would not have been reassured by so distant a promise; the phrase is probably a later addition.
* [7:11] Deep…sky: an extraordinary or miraculous sign that would prove God’s firm will to save the royal house of David from its oppressors.
* [7:12] Tempt the LORD: Ahaz prefers to depend upon the might of Assyria rather than the might of God.
* [7:14] Isaiah’s sign seeks to reassure Ahaz that he need not fear the invading armies of Syria and Israel in the light of God’s promise to David (2 Sm 7:12–16). The oracle follows a traditional announcement formula by which the birth and sometimes naming of a child is promised to particular individuals (Gn 16:11; Jgs 13:3). The young woman: Hebrew ‘almah designates a young woman of marriageable age without specific reference to virginity. The Septuagint translated the Hebrew term as parthenos, which normally does mean virgin, and this translation underlies Mt 1:23. Emmanuel: the name means “with us is God.” Since for the Christian the incarnation is the ultimate expression of God’s willingness to “be with us,” it is understandable that this text was interpreted to refer to the birth of Christ.
* [7:15–16] Curds and honey: the only diet available to those who are left after the devastation of the land; cf. vv. 21–25.
* [7:17] Such days as have not come since Ephraim seceded: the days of the kingdom prior to the secession of Ephraim and the other northern tribes (1 Kgs 12). The king of Assyria: the final comment appears to be a later editorial gloss indicating days worse than any since the secession.
* [7:20] God will use the Assyrians from across the River (the Euphrates) as his instrument (“razor”) to inflict disgrace and suffering upon his people. Ahaz paid tribute to the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III, who decimated Syria and Israel in his campaigns of 734–732 B.C. (cf. 2 Kgs 16:7–9). The feet: euphemism for sexual parts; cf. Is 6:2.
* [7:23–25] Cf. note on 5:5–6.
a. [7:1] 2 Kgs 16:5; 2 Chr 28:5–15.
d. [7:9] 2 Chr 20:20.
f. [7:20] Is 3:24; 2 Sm 10:4–6; Ez 5:1.