(16) When Syria and Israel attack
Syria are the bad guys, foreigners, followers of foreign gods. Israel are the sometimes good, sometimes bad guys. They don’t quite belong to “our church,” but they’re the kind of people that Judah sometimes loves, sometimes hates. Assyria is a rising force who recently demanded tribute from the king of Israel (Read 2 Kings 15:19-20).
At this point, King Uzziah of Judah has finally died after years as a leper. His son has reigned and died. And now his grandson Ahaz is on the throne. Meanwhile Isaiah has watched the progress of history and grown older.
A Two-pronged Attack and the fate of Judah
1. Read 2 Kings 16:5, Isaiah 7:1-2. Syria, Tyre, the Philistines (Ashkelon and Gaza) and Israel have united to oppose Assyria, but Ahaz hasn’t joined them. Whose advice does Ahaz seek?
2. The obvious solution, from Israel’s point of view, is to conquer Jerusalem and place a puppet ruler on the throne. Read Isaiah 7:3-7. Do you think Isaiah know these things because he keeps up with current events, or because God speaks to him, or both? How important is it to keep up with current events? (Read Isaiah 8:1. Isaiah is well educated. Tubail is the name of a later king of Tyre.)
3. Why would Ahaz listen to Isaiah’s advice? Whose advice do we listen to?
4. Read 2 Kings 16:7-9, Isaiah 7:8-9. What Isiah prophesied came to pass as a result of Ahaz’ response. But was Ahaz right to make an alliance with Assyria? Does a good results only come from good intentions?
5. Read Isaiah 7:10-13. Could Ahaz’ unwillingness to ask for a sign from God be related to his willingness to ask for help from Assyria? Which is easier for us when we need advice?
6. Read Isaiah 7:14-17 What picture do you think Isaiah’s words about the sign conveyed to Ahaz? What sort of people ate curds and honey (as opposed, say, to bread and wine – Read 7:22)? And why is the sign given to a plural you? How do you view the suggestion that prophecy can have more than one meaning?
7. Read Isaiah 7:18-20, 25 Beards were signs of importance. Hills filled with vines were signs of riches. So...is this a hopeful promise or a terrible one? Why might Ahaz not view it as a warning? How easily do we view warnings as applying to someone else, not us?
8. Read Isaiah 8:3-4 How many sons does Isaiah have by now? Do you remember how Hosea was told to name his children? Isaiah 7:3 – this name means “a remnant shall return.” 8:3 – and this means “spoil quickly, plunder speedily.” Isaiah means “God saves.” What do you think these names might have meant to Ahaz, or to Isaiah?
Ahaz does the logical thing and turns to Assyria for help, but ends up paying tribute as a vassal nation, and Judah eventually falls to Babylon.
A wrongly-wrought Alliance
1. Read Isaiah 8:6-8. Israel will fall, but Judah’s fate’s not good either. Who was Immanuel at this point? (7:14)
2. Read Isaiah 8:12-18. Given what we know about what happened to Judah, how might Isaiah’s sons be signs?
3. Read Isaiah 8:19-22. In a world where people claim to be Christian and... believe in reincarnation, read horoscopes, play with Ouija boards, etc... What might this passage tell us?
4. Read Isaiah 9:1. Zebulun and Naphtali, plus parts of Galilee, fell to Assyria almost straight away, prophecy come true. But what else is important about Galilee – prophecy with multiple meanings perhaps?
What happens next, and when is “next”?
1. Did you know there’s such a thing as a “prophetic past tense”?
2. Read Isaiah 9:2. We know what Christians think this means, but what might the first listeners have heard?
3. Read Isaiah 9:6. Looking back at the names given to Hosea’s and Isaiah’s children, what might the name given to the son have meant to Isaiah’s first listeners?
4. Read Isaiah 9:7. What significance would the first listeners have given to the reference to David’s throne?
5. Did you know, the Jewish Bible commentary says this passage refers to the Messiah. Why would this be a perfect place for God to give a Messianic prophecy? (Btw, the Jewish scripture leaves v1 in chapter 8)
The fate of Israel
1. What happened next, in Ahaz’ and Isaiah’s time, is that Israel’s alliance broke down and Assyria conquered the land. Read Isaiah 9:8-12. How can we avoid bad alliances – as a nation, as a church, as individuals?
2. The end of verse 12 is repeated in verse 17, 21 and 10:4. How do you imagine early listeners responding to this passage? Has God ever repeated a message to you? What effect does repetition have?
3. Read Isaiah 9:14-15. What might be our head and tail, as a nation or the Christians within a nation?
4. Read Isaiah 9:21. Could this refer to the war between Israel and Judah? Which historical nations fell to internal violence? Why might that be a theme in our fallen world?
5. Read Isaiah 10:1-4. Why do you think Isaiah reverts to the theme of social injustice? How important is it?
The fate of Syria
1. Read Isaiah 17:1-3. Israel is going to fall to Assyria, but what about its ally and defender, Damascus/Syria?
2. Read Isaiah 17:4-5,7-8. Does disaster make us turn our eyes back to God? Should that make us feel safe?
1. Read Isaiah 17:10-11,14. The god Adonis was worshipped by planting seeds in broken pots so they only flowered overnight, then the women could mourn them and the god who died too young. What might the early listeners have imagined as they heard this passage?
The fate of Assyria
1. Assyria conquered Syria and Israel and demanded tribute and loyalty from Philistia and Judah. Can you summarize 2 Kings 16:10-18 in the light of that loyalty?
2. Read Isaiah 14:24-27. What does this tell us today about God’s power over nations?
The fate of Philistia
1. Read Isaiah 14:29-31. The Philistines were once allied with Syria. They opposed Assyria and probably enjoyed hearing it fall. When have nations rejoiced over the fall of another nation in recent history? How did it turn out?
2. Read Isaiah 14:32. Would this have given hope to the first listeners? Does it for us?