I'm looking forward to reading from the Scriptures at the Christmas Eve service. This year, I'm reading from the scroll of Isaiah. Er, the book of Isaiah, chapter 7 :) I spent some time yesterday reading Isaiah 7-8 to get a better idea of the setting of the prophecy.
It takes place at a time when the king of Judah is relatively new, he may have only been in power for a year or two and he's in his early 20's. The neighboring countries of Israel (Samaria) and Syria (Damascus) are preparing to wage war against him and he's afraid. God sends the prophet to command king Ahaz not to be afraid because these two rulers will soon no longer have any power at all. Ahaz doesn't seem convinced and won't accept God's offer to provide a sign. But God is patient and gives him a sign anyway. It points to the birth of the Messiah and also foretells the fall of Israel and Syria at the hand of the Assyrians around the 720's BC. It's really humbling to consider this in light of what Syria is in the midst of right now. We need the Savior to return and reign in righteousness and peace and healing.
I had a few questions when I read these chapters.
The prophecy says this, "Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, so that it will not be a people" (Isaiah 7:8-9). It seems that this event took place about 10 years after Ahaz began to rule, so why does it speak of 65 years? Is it because that would be the duration of a new generation since their exile? Is it because that takes us to about 670 BC when the last poweful Neo-Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, was beginning his rule? Or is there another reason?
I also went looking for primary sources. I found a seal that scholars believed belonged to king Ahaz. (Love that Paleo-Hebrew script.)
I also found some references to Samaria in the Assyrian and Babylonian records. Wasn't able to see the original cuniform tablets, though, since that reference book isn't here at the library or online. I may have to invest in a copy...
I did notice something else interesting in the passage. The name Emmanuel appears three times:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel." (7:14)
"[Assyria] will pass through Judah...the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel." (8:8)
"Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; for God is with us." (8:10)