December 1, 2019
Have you ever seen something coming, something really big, and been just truly afraid, truly terrified, for what was going to happen to you, to your family and community, to the nation, to the world? In Isaiah 7, Ahaz is truly afraid. In fact, the Scripture says he was quaking in his boots:
- Isaiah 7:2 NRSV: When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz[a] and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
Now, take a walk with me back into 8th Century BC Mediterranean.
Ahaz is the king of the southern kingdom, Judah—remember, God’s people split centuries earlier into the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah. Judah is not the superpower of the ancient Mediterranean world. The top dog right now is Assyria, and Assyria is threatening all the other kingdoms in the area, forcing them to pay tribute, and all the nations are terrified. Israel is terrified, and so the Israeli king, Pekah, has come up with a solution: why not form an alternative alliance with Judah and Damascus, and together they can stand up to the Assyrian bully. Except Judah wants no part in this alliance. So Pekah and the king of Damascus, Rezin, say, OK, let’s go down there and just take over Judah, install a puppet king who will join our alliance, and on the way let’s kill a bunch of people and take their stuff. It’ll be great.
Ahaz and the people of Judah are quaking in their boots at the thought of this invading army. I mean, imagine if North Korea and Russia had teamed up and were mobilizing nuclear warheads at our border; this is the Bay of Pigs times ten, except that, while at that time, the United States was a great superpower, Judah was a relatively weak and undefended kingdom with no hope of surviving the coming invasion. Faced with this situation, Ahaz does just about the stupidest thing he can do. He calls on Assyria, the superpower, the big dog, the kingpin of the ancient Mediterranean, and says, hey, can you help us? Now I’ve told you before, this would be like saying, hmmm, these summer mosquitoes seem to be sucking me dry. I need someone who can help me with this problem. Hey, Count Dracula, can you take a look at this?
- When we operate out of fear, we don’t make good choices.
Into this situation comes Isaiah. And Isaiah’s message is simple:
- Isaiah 7:4 ESV: And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.
Can we just take a moment and say that together?
- “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these smoldering stumps of firebrands.”
Let’s repeat it again: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these smoldering stumps of firebrands.”
Are there smoldering stumps of firebrands around you that you’re treating like a raging fire? Are you letting the invading army win before you’ve even fought the battle? Are you allowing your heart to faint within you because you don’t believe God is at work? Listen to what Isaiah says: “be careful, be quiet, do not fear.” Now how in the world could being quiet help when you’re afraid, when you know change is coming, and you don’t like change? Why be quiet when all you want to do is scream and cry and worry?
Because invading armies like to make a lot of noise, so if we aren’t quiet, those loud voices that say nothing of value will be all we hear.
- The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life coming flowing in.
C. S. Lewis
Are you letting the invading armies get at you before the day’s even started? Be careful, be quiet, do not fear. Be careful, be quiet, do not fear. The enemy is trying to worry, trying to get us to think life is more difficult and complicated than it really is.
I remember when I was pregnant with Diana, I probably spent twenty hours researching strollers. I looked into the weight of each one, the wheel diameter, whether it would fit a car seat, everything. But once she was born, guess what? She never wanted to ride in a stroller at all. She wanted to be held. The stroller she wanted was me. I ended up using sling made out of a plain old piece of fabric and called it a day.
- “Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.”
Don’t overcomplicate things. Be careful, be quiet, do not fear. Listen for the deep and simple things going on behind the noisy army begging to be paid attention to. Sometimes the most important thing is happening in the background.
In film, there’s a trope called the Meaningful Background Event. An example is the opening scene from Batman, “there ain’t no bat”, from 1989
While the two thieves are talking in the background, arguing about whether or not there really is a bat, in the background, Batman is already there. In the same way, while Ahaz is worried about these noisy kings, Pekah and Rezin, only a backwoods shepherd prophet sees what is going on in the background. Isaiah tells the king:
- Isaiah 7:14-16 NIV: Therefore the Lord himself will give you[c] a sign: The virgin[d] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.[f] 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
Isaiah sees God at work in a sign, his own son, named “the Lord is with us,” Immanuel. And I believe Isaiah saw beyond this moment, to a time when a virgin would give birth to a son who would change the world. Does anyone today know the name of King Pekah or King Resin? No. But everyone knows the name of Jesus. In this month, no one will be singing about the ancient kingdom of Assyria, but everyone will be singing the words of Isaiah:
God works in the background; and only when we are careful, and quiet, and do not fear, that we can hear and see God with us all along.
Change is coming, and change can be scary. But do not fear. Be quiet, be careful. Make time and space, every day, to listen for God’s voice. Listen before you speak; make your words few, and keep your ears open. God is at work, and the world is about to awake.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.