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The refuge set before us

Isaiah series

The refuge set before us
Posted on December 13, 2020  - By Tom Horvat

Text: Isaiah 7

The Bible tells us man is “born to trouble as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Regardless of where we look in the world, we can witness and believe this statement. Even those who act like they have no troubles, or seem to have none, are often found out soon enough — there is incredible turbulence beneath the façade.

An increasing epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, divorce, and suicide characterises modern man, regardless of all the wealth, comfort, and convenience associated with contemporary living. Many youth have given up on having any meaningful future at all and face each day under a black cloud of despair. We live in a time when the teaching of Ecclesiastes is being lived out before our eyes.

Christians are not exempt from trouble. Any presentation of Christ that promises a life free from trouble, sickness, or poverty is a false presentation. We are warned repeatedly in Scripture of ambitious men who will rise up from within the church and speak perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:30, 2 Peter 2:18-19).

Christians are not exempt from trouble

Although Christians pass through this troublesome life with the rest of the world, our comfort is not of this world, but rather comes from the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation (2 Corinthians 1:4-5).

When troubles arise

In Isaiah 7, we find Judah immersed in troubles during the reign of Ahaz. From the correlating history recorded in 2 Kings, we can trace the headwaters of these troubles. For example, we are told in 2 Kings 16:2-4:

“Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.”

When we find ourselves facing difficult times, we must ask whether these difficulties are a result of our own rebellion and sin, or just the result of living in an abnormal and broken world. Each of these options has a different resolution; the first calls for confession and humble repentance, and the latter calls for endurance.

Ahaz broke out in open defiance of God and His word. But don’t be deceived; God is not mocked! For whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. As one commentator put it, “Where a company of God’s people departs from the right ways of the Lord, fruitless and noxious products are sure to develop.” May God deliver us from the attitude that we can sin freely because grace abounds.

A simple outline will guide our thoughts through this passage in Isaiah 7:

I. Times of trouble (vv.1-9)
II. Comfort in times of trouble (vv.4, 7, 9)
III. A comforter in times of trouble (v.14)

I. Times of trouble (vv.1-9)

We find that Israel sought alliance with her enemies and became confederate with Syria — all for the purpose of dividing and overthrowing the southern kingdom. What a horrible event of history when brothers turn on brothers! When the godly mix with the ungodly, the sure result will be corrupted morals. As 1 Corinthians 15:33 says: “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good morals.”

Maybe the sources of many of the difficulties you face are a result of the company you keep. The question we also must face is whether we, as the church of the living God, provide a place where friendships flourish and encouragement is found among us. We should demonstrate in the most profound manner the life Jesus died to give, engaging in good and wholesome activities with abandon!

Notice, two motives drove Israel to follow such a devious and evil course of action.

The first is found in v.1: “to wage war against it”. When this report came to King Ahaz, he and all his realm “shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind” (v. 2). When this happened, God sent Isaiah and his son to meet Ahaz. Why was Isaiah’s son sent with the prophet? Here we find great encouragement — that when fear assails us, God reminds us of His promises.

When fear assails us, God reminds us of His promises

The name of Isaiah’s son, Shear-jashub, means ‘the remnant shall return’. God comforted Ahaz despite his sin and failure to be faithful. Faith is encouraged when facing fear. Faith rests upon the promises of God and depends upon the faithfulness of God to fulfil them, regardless of the obstacles and difficulties facing it.

But there is also a warning that accompanies the encouragement. In v. 9, God gave Ahaz the opportunity to repent and fully trust Him for future blessing: ‘If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.’ An interesting note here is that the Hebrew word for believe and be established are different forms of the same word. W.E. Vine comments to bring out the similarity of the expressions in the two clauses: ‘If you are not firm in faith, you shall not be made firm in fact.’

Dear reader, can’t you and I see that when we fear, we are not grounded in faith? The Word of God must be more to us than just religious quotes and sayings, like the sayings of Buddha or Confucius. It must be what it says it is — living, powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword, creating a life that faces steadfastly that which the natural man considers impossible.

The second motive driving Israel’s attack was to establish ungodly rule in the midst of Judah. In verse 6, we read, “Let us go up against Judah and terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it.” I believe the most dangerous influence in the church is the attacks that come from within.

How many churches have been destroyed theologically by liberalism, by those who have come in with high credentials and unbelieving hearts and created a breach in the hearts of many by undermining the word of God and setting up some other authority in the midst of it? The apostle John gave us this directive that we must not ignore: ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1).

When Isaiah reported this coming storm to Ahaz, he then gave God’s encouragement to him, which is our second main point.

The Word of God must be more to us than just religious quotes… It must create a life that faces steadfastly that which the natural man considers impossible

II. Comfort in times of trouble (vv.4, 7, 9)

The encouragement addresses our two greatest temptations when tried — undirected activity and fear. By undirected activity, I mean that we are prone to act rashly and complicate, rather than appease, the trouble. God said to Ahaz, ‘Take care and be calm…’ (v. 4a). Be careful, but be calm! This is another way of the Lord saying, ‘Wait on me; don’t rush; stop!’ I’d encourage you to meditate on Psalm 37 and notice how many times God says ‘do not fret’, ‘trust’, ‘rest’, and ‘wait’.

Fear is the second battle we face when under duress, and we are specifically told in 2 Timothy 1:7 that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. Observe, for instance, in the book of Nehemiah, where Israel’s enemies tried to use fear to stop the building of the wall around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:7-14, 6:1-14).

As fear has torment, so perfect love casts it out. Jesus told His disciples that, toward the end, men’s hearts would fail them for fear of the things coming upon the earth. As fear continues to rise in the world, may our hearts be emboldened to stand with courage and confidence in the Rock of ages.

This brings us to our final point, contained in one of the greatest prophecies concerning the Messiah, who is our…

III. Comforter in times of trouble (v.14)

The sad condition Ahaz found himself in is evident in his refusal to accept God’s offer to be given a sign to confirm His promise that the harm intended would not come to pass. Ahaz’s response was not from a heart of humility, but rather a stubborn will under the guise of piety (7:11-13).

God Himself chose the sign both from the depth and the heights above, for the sign He would give would be Immanuel, God with us! Jesus descended to the lowest position of a servant to become sin for us — a depth to which no one else could plummet, only then to be raised from the dead and ascend to the highest position possible: the right hand of the Father.

Notice that this prophecy appears in the midst of oppression from enemies. The fulfilment is given also in the midst of oppression from enemies (Matthew 1:21-23) and would become the greatest source of comfort for man’s greatest enemies — sin and death. The full understanding of this prophecy would not be comprehended until after the resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

How thankful we must be to have such a Comforter — under the old covenant in shadow, under the new covenant in substance. The light of nature reveals God above us. The light of the law reveals God against us. The light of the gospel reveals God with us and for us, and if God be for us, who can be against us?

Tom Horvat

About Tom Horvat

Tom Horvat completed his BA in education and theology at Washington Bible College. He pastored a house church for 15 years and served as a volunteer chaplain in a local prison for 20 years. He is employed by the Department of Defense in the US, and works at a military installation in Maryland. He is passionate about ecology, and is a soon-to-be-published author. Tom has seven children and 12 grandchildren with his wife of over 40 years.



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