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The Hard Way
Lesson #4 for January 23, 2021
Scriptures:Isaiah 7:14-8:22.
1. This lesson will focus on the very sad behavior and its results of one of the kings of Judah, his rebellion against God, and his refusal to cooperate with the prophet Isaiah. How should God deal with people who refuse to listen to His advice? Should He “burn them forever”? Does our story in this lesson teach us anything about following God’s advice?
Isaiah 7:14-16: 14 [The Lord said through Isaiah:] “Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: a young woman who is pregnant will have a son and will name him ‘Immanuel.’ 15By the time he is old enough to make his own decisions, people will be drinking milk and eating honey. 16Even before that time comes, the lands of those two kings who terrify you will be deserted.”—American Bible Society. (1992). The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation* (2nd ed.,Isaiah 7:14–16). New York: American Bible Society.‡
2. These verses were God’s response to King Ahaz’s refusal to be guided by the prophet Isaiah’s messages from the Lord. He was told clearly that the two kings, Rezin and Pekah from Syria and Israel respectively, would not be able to overcome his kingdom or attack Jerusalem. But, as we studied last week, instead of accepting God’s word, Ahaz had a plan of his own.
Isaiah 7:1-9: When King Ahaz, the son of Jotham and grandson of Uzziah, ruled Judah, war broke out. Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel, attacked Jerusalem, but were unable to capture it.
2 When word reached the king of Judah that the armies of Syria were already in the territory of Israel, he and all his people were so terrified that they trembled like trees shaking in the wind.
3 The LORD said to Isaiah, “Take your son Shear Jashub, and go to meet King Ahaz. You will find him on the road where the cloth makers work, at the end of the ditch that brings water from the upper pool. 4Tell him to keep alert, to stay calm, and not to be frightened or disturbed. The anger of King Rezin and his Syrians and of King Pekah is no more dangerous than the smoke from two smouldering sticks. 5Syria, together with Israel and its king, has made a plot. 6They intend to invade Judah, terrify the people into joining their side, and then put Tabeel’s son on the throne.
7  “But I, the LORD, declare that this will never happen. 8Why? Because Syria is no stronger than Damascus, its capital city, and Damascus is no stronger than King Rezin. As for Israel, within 65 years it will be too shattered to survive as a nation. 9Israel is no stronger than Samaria, its capital city, and Samaria is no stronger than King Pekah.
“If your faith is not enduring, you will not endure.”—Good News Bible.*
3. By reading2 Kings 15:29-30; 2 Kings 16:7-9; and1 Chronicles 5:6,26, it is possible to determine very precisely the historical background under which these events took place.
This prophecy of Isaiah was given about 734 b.c. In response to the bribe of Ahaz, Tiglath-pileser III did what he probably would have done anyway: he smashed the northern coalition, conquered the Galilee and Transjordanian regions of northern Israel, deported some of the population, and turned the territories into Assyrian provinces (734-733 b.c.). The remainder of Israel was saved when Hoshea, after murdering King Pekah, surrendered and paid tribute. In 733 and 732 b.c. Tiglath-pileser conquered Damascus, the capital of Syria. Then he made Syria into Assyrian provinces. So, by 732, within about two years of Isaiah’s prediction, Syria and Israel had been conclusively defeated, and it was all over for the two kings who had threatened Ahaz.
Soon after Shalmaneser V replaced Tiglath-pileser III in 727 b.c., King Hoshea of Israel committed political suicide by rebelling against Assyria. The Assyrians took the capital city of Samaria in 722 b.c. and deported thousands of Israelites to Mesopotamia and Media, where they were absorbed into the local populations eventually and lost their identity (seeIsa. 7:8–within 65 years Ephraim would no longer even be a people). God had predicted what would happen to the enemies of Judah, but His point to Ahaz was that this would happen anyway, without any need to rely on Assyria.—Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide* for Sunday, January 17.†§
4. It is hard for us who live in relatively comfortable security in our day to imagine what it would be like to live in a nation where there was constant threat of war and death from one’s enemies living a few miles away. But, there is plenty of evidence from Scripture that God’s faithful people will face terrible events in the future, including the possibility of being killed.
5. Isaiah continued his prophecy by telling them exactly what was going to happen.
Isaiah 7:17-25: 17 “The LORD is going to bring on you, on your people, and on the whole royal family, days of trouble worse than any that have come since the kingdom of Israel separated from Judah–he is going to bring the king of Assyria.
18 “When that time comes, the LORD will whistle as a signal for the Egyptians to come like flies from the farthest branches of the Nile, and for the Assyrians to come from their land like bees. 19They will swarm in the rugged valleys and in the caves in the rocks, and they will cover every thorn bush and every pasture.
20 “When that time comes, the Lord will hire a barber from across the Euphrates–the emperor of Assyria!–and he will shave off your beards, and the hair on your heads and your bodies.
21  “When that time comes, even if a farmer has been able to save only one young cow and two goats, 22they will give so much milk that he will have all he needs. Yes, the few survivors left in the land will have milk and honey to eat.
23  “When that time comes, the fine vineyards, each with a thousand vines and each worth a thousand pieces of silver, will be overgrown with thorn bushes and briars. 24People will go hunting there with bows and arrows. Yes, the whole country will be full of briars and thorn bushes. 25All the hills where crops used to grow will be so overgrown with thorns that no one will go there. It will be a place where cattle and sheep graze.”—Good News Bible.*
6. God predicted to Isaiah a time of terrible devastation with almost nothing of value left.
Invitation upon invitation was sent to erring Israel to return to their allegiance to Jehovah. Tender were the pleadings of the prophets; and as they stood before the people, earnestly exhorting to repentance and reformation, their words bore fruit to the glory of God.—Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings* 325.1.
7. A few people from Judah did choose to follow God’s advice. Think of Daniel! But, we see that there was good news and bad news for Ahaz. The good news was that his two immediate enemies, Israel and Syria, would cease to exist; but, the bad news was that the Assyrians, who had conquered both of those countries, were planning to conquer him.
8. Why do you suppose Ahaz thought that by sending some money to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria, he would protect himself and his kingdom?
9. King Ahaz actually traveled to Damascus, the capital of Syria, to meet Emperor Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria after he had captured Damascus. Look at what happened at that time.
2 Kings 16:10-18: 10 When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Emperor Tiglath Pileser, he saw the altar there and sent back to Uriah the priest an exact model of it, down to the smallest details. 11So Uriah built an altar just like it, and finished it before Ahaz returned. 12On his return from Damascus, Ahaz saw that the altar was finished, 13so he burnt animal sacrifices and grain offerings on it, and poured a wine offering and the blood of a fellowship offering on it. 14The bronze altar dedicated to the LORD was between the new altar and the Temple, so Ahaz moved it to the north side of his new altar. 15Then he ordered Uriah: “Use this large altar of mine for the morning burnt offerings and the evening grain offerings, for the burnt offerings and grain offerings of the king and the people, and for the people’s wine offerings. Pour on it the blood of all the animals that are sacrificed. But keep the bronze altar for me to use for divination.” 16Uriah did as the king commanded.
17 King Ahaz took apart the bronze carts used in the Temple and removed the basins that were on them; he also took the bronze tank from the backs of the twelve bronze bulls, and placed it on a stone foundation. 18And in order to please the Assyrian emperor, Ahaz also removed from the Temple the platform for the royal throne and closed up the king’s private entrance to the Temple.—Good News Bible.*
10. Ahaz was completely at Assyria’s whims. Clearly, sending money to Tiglath Pileser did not protect Judah at all! And what did Ahaz do after visiting Emperor Tiglath Pileser?
2 Chronicles 28:20-25: 20The Assyrian emperor, instead of helping Ahaz, opposed him and caused him trouble. 21So Ahaz took the gold from the Temple, the palace, and the homes of the leaders of the people, and gave it to the emperor, but even this did not help.
22 When his troubles were at their worst, that man Ahaz sinned against the LORD more than ever. 23He offered sacrifices to the gods of the Syrians, who had defeated him. He said, “The Syrian gods helped the kings of Syria, so if I sacrifice to them, they may help me too.” This brought disaster on him and on his nation. 24In addition, he took all the temple equipment and broke it in pieces. He closed the Temple and set up altars in every part of Jerusalem. 25In every city and town in Judah, he built pagan places of worship, where incense was to be burnt to foreign gods. In this way he brought on himself the anger of the LORD, the God of his ancestors.—Good News Bible.*†
11. Considering what the Assyrians were doing at that time in history, it should not be hard for us to realize that Ahaz was scared to death. But, instead of trusting himself and his nation in the hands of the God of his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he tried to convince Tiglath Pileser to leave him alone by sending a lot of money. It did not work.
Isaiah 8:1-10: The LORD said to me, “Take a large piece of writing material and write on it in large letters: ‘Quick Loot, Fast Plunder’. 2Get two reliable men, the priest Uriah and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah, to serve as witnesses.”
3 Some time later my wife became pregnant. When our son was born, the LORD said to me, “Name him ‘Quick-Loot-Fast-Plunder’. 4Before the boy is old enough to say ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’, all the wealth of Damascus and all the loot of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”
5 The LORD spoke to me again. 6He said, “Because these people have rejected the quiet waters from the brook of Shiloah, and tremble before King Rezin and King Pekah, 7I, the Lord, will bring the emperor of Assyria and all his forces to attack Judah. They will advance like the flood waters of the River Euphrates, overflowing all its banks. 8They will sweep through Judah in a flood, rising shoulder high and covering everything.”
God is with us! His outspread wings protect the land.
9 Gather together in fear, you nations! Listen, you distant parts of the earth. Get ready to fight, but be afraid! Yes, get ready, but be afraid! 10Make your plans! But they will never succeed. Talk as much as you like! But it is all useless, because God is with us.—Good News Bible.*
12. In our last lesson, we suggested that this baby, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, was actually the one who was supposed to be called Immanuel. But, because of the king’s refusal to accept God’s guidance, the power of God could not work for him; the poor baby boy ended up with a name meaning quick–loot–fast–plunder! In some translations, it is translated as “swift is booty, speedy is prey”; but, it is important to notice that even in these verses lived out by Isaiah and his family, there was a promise that “a remnant shall return,” the older son’s name.
13. At the beginning of our studies on Isaiah, we suggested that Isaiah is sometimes known as the gospel prophet. This theme that God would eventually come through a future descendent of David and rule God’s people forever is a central theme in the book of Isaiah.
14. What was the point of announcing widely to the population that his wife was going to have a son with that strange name? Did any of the people know that the boy’s name was supposed to have been Immanuel? Were there any faithful people in Judah trying to appeal to Ahaz to change his ways? Anyone other than Isaiah? It is clear throughout Scripture that God is always willing to take us back if we are willing to come back.
Isaiah 8:11-15: 11 With his great power the LORD warned me not to follow the path which the people were following. He said, 12 “Do not join in the schemes of the people and do not be afraid of the things that they fear. 13Remember that I, the LORD Almighty, am holy; I am the one you must fear. 14Because of my awesome holiness I am like a stone that people stumble over; I am like a trap that will catch the people of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel and the people of Jerusalem. 15Many will stumble; they will fall and be crushed. They will be caught in a trap.”—Good News Bible.*
15. In these verses, it seems that God found it necessary to encourage even Isaiah not to give up. Certainly, there was reason from a human standpoint to be afraid. Try to imagine trying to sleep at night, realizing that at any time an enemy might come in and destroy you and your family and your entire nation!
16. But, fear itself can be a disabling force.
In his first inaugural address, on March 4, 1933, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt told a nation disheartened by the Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Isaiah’s message to his depressed people was: we have nothing to fear when we fear God Himself.—Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide* for Wednesday, January 20.
17. It is important to understand that the word fear in the Bible, both in Hebrew and in Greek, can refer to a full range of emotions from absolute terror all the way to respect and honor. The context must determine what the biblical word means in a given situation. A clear example of this isRevelation 14:6-7, the first angel’s message. Look at it in several different translations, and notice how differently the word fear has been translated.
18. But, in that context. How do we understand fear in1 John 4:18?
1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment.—Good News Bible.*
19. CompareProverbs 9:10 in these two different translations.
Proverbs 9:10: To be wise you must first have reverence for the LORD. If you know the Holy One, you have understanding.—Good News Bible.*
Proverbs 9:10: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.—The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version.* (1989). (Proverbs 9:10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
20. Notice what Isaiah said next.
Isaiah 8:16-22: 16 You, my disciples are to guard and preserve the messages that God has given me. 17The LORD has hidden himself from his people, but I trust him and place my hope in him.
18 Here I am with the children the LORD has given me. The LORD Almighty, whose throne is on Mount Zion, has sent us as living messages to the people of Israel.
19 But people will tell you to ask for messages from fortune tellers and mediums, who chirp and mutter. They will say, “After all, people should ask for messages from the spirits and consult the dead on behalf of the living.”
20 You are to answer them, “Listen to what the LORD is teaching you! Don’t listen to mediums—what they tell you cannot keep trouble away.”
21 The people will wander through the land, discouraged and hungry. In their hunger and their anger they will curse their king and their God. They may look up to the sky 22or stare at the ground, but they will see nothing but trouble and darkness, terrifying darkness into which they are being driven.—Good News Bible.*
21. One of the important factors leading to Ahaz’s deadly decisions was his connection with the occult practices which he had adopted from the nations around him. It became so serious that he sacrificed his own son(s) as a burnt offering to idols.
22. Why would someone do that? It is obviously true that Isaiah’s description of the despair and the evils that Ahaz did fits him well. And when Ahaz finally died, they did not even bury him in the area reserved for kings. (2 Chronicles 28:27) But, isn’t the occult something from long ago that does not involve us in our day? Notice God’s instructions about dealing with the occult all the way back in the days of Moses.
Leviticus 20:27: [The Lord said:] “Any man or woman who consults the spirits of the dead shall be stoned to death; any person who does this is responsible for his own death.”—Good News Bible.*‡
Deuteronomy 18:9-14: [Moses said:] 9 “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, don’t follow the disgusting practices of the nations that are there. 10Don’t sacrifice your children in the fires on your altars; and don’t let your people practice divination or look for omens or use spells 11or charms, and don’t let them consult the spirits of the dead. 12The LORD your God hates people who do these disgusting things, and that is why he is driving those nations out of the land as you advance. 13Be completely faithful to the LORD.”—Good News Bible.*‡
23. One very sad example of a king who got involved with the occult is the story of King Saul.
1 Chronicles 10:1-14: The Philistines fought a battle against the Israelites on Mount Gilboa. Many Israelites were killed there, and the rest of them, including King Saul and his sons, fled. 2But the Philistines caught up with them and killed three of Saul’s sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua. 3The fighting was heavy round Saul, and he was hit by enemy arrows and badly wounded. 4He said to the young man carrying his weapons, “Draw your sword and kill me, to keep these godless Philistines from gloating over me.” But the young man was too terrified to do it. So Saul took his own sword and threw himself on it. 5The young man saw that Saul was dead, so he too threw himself on his sword and died. 6So Saul and his three sons all died together and none of his descendants ever ruled. 7When the Israelites who lived in the Valley of Jezreel heard that the army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and ran off. Then the Philistines came and occupied them.
8 The day after the battle, the Philistines went to plunder the corpses, and they found the bodies of Saul and his sons lying on Mount Gilboa. 9They cut off Saul’s head, stripped off his armour, and sent messengers with them throughout Philistia to tell the good news to their idols and to their people. 10They put his weapons in one of their temples and hung his head in the temple of their god Dagon. 11When the people of Jabesh in Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12the bravest men went and fetched the bodies of Saul and his sons and took them to Jabesh. They buried them there under an oak and fasted for seven days.
13Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD. He disobeyed the LORD’s commands; he tried to find guidance by consulting the spirits of the dead 14instead of consulting the LORD. So the LORD killed him and gave control of the kingdom to David son of Jesse.—Good News Bible.*†
24. How do you put these two versions of Saul’s death together? He was wounded and then killed himself, and “he died because he was unfaithful to the LORD”?
25. It is clear that Saul committed suicide. (1 Samuel 31:3-4; 1 Chronicles 10:3-4) How could the Bible writer say, “So the LORD killed him”? (1 Chronicles 10:13-14, GNB*) Do you think this same writer if he were to describe the death of Judas Iscariot would say, “So the LORD killed him”? Could this statement throw any light on all the other statements about God killing people–for example, Er and Onan; (Genesis 38:6-10; 1 Chronicles 2:3) Nadab and Abihu; (Leviticus 10:1-11) or Korah, Dathan, and Abiram? (Numbers 16:23-35)
26. What were the factors that led to the death of Saul? At the very end of his life, he fell on his sword and died. But, considering what the young Amalekite man in2 Samuel 1:1-10 said, it is possible that even after falling on his sword, he was not completely dead, and that young man finished the job! But, what led to this end? Saul had been mortally wounded by the Philistines. So, it would be correct also to say that he was killed by the Philistines. But, we know more. If Saul had been faithful to the Lord all of his life and had been following the guidance of God in all that he did, no Philistine could have touched him or his sons. (See1 Samuel 13:13-14.) Saul himself stated that God (Yahweh) had abandoned him and would not answer him! (1 Samuel 28:6,15; 14:31-46) Saul had won many battles against the Philistines in the past. If God had been on his side, he could have won this battle without even fighting. So, it is ultimately true that Saul died because God abandoned him. Of course, God only abandoned Saul because Saul abandoned God. So, Saul was responsible for his own death. Nowhere does the Bible say that Satan killed Saul; but again, we know that Saul was led away into all of his problems by the temptations of Satan. Often, it is true that more than one factor is involved in causing something to happen. It is like a three-legged stool. Which leg holds up the stool? They all do. So, it is true that God killed Saul; but, Saul was the primary one responsible, and Satan certainly played his part.
27. Do we have any occasions to be affected by the occult in our day? The occult is everywhere around us–in social media, in the movies, and in books. How can we protect ourselves from it? We need to stay away from anything that has to do with the occult!
28. There are many people who feel like their involvement with the occult is nothing serious, only entertainment.
It is a law both of the intellectual and the spiritual nature that by beholding we become changed. The mind gradually adapts itself to the subjects upon which it is allowed to dwell. It becomes assimilated to that which it is accustomed to love and reverence. Man will never rise higher than his standard of purity or goodness or truth. If self is his loftiest ideal, he will never attain to anything more exalted. Rather, he will constantly sink lower and lower. The grace of God alone has power to exalt man. Left to himself, his course must inevitably be downward.—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy* 555.1.† [This statement was made in a chapter on the occult!]‡
In the days of the Hebrews there was a class of people who claimed, as do the spiritualists of today, to hold communication with the dead. But the “familiar spirits,” as these visitants from other worlds were called, are declared by the Bible to be “the spirits of devils.” (CompareNumbers 25:1-3; Psalm 106:28; 1 Corinthians 10:20; Revelation 16:14.) The work of dealing with familiar spirits was pronounced an abomination to the Lord, and was solemnly forbidden under penalty of death.Leviticus 19:31; [Leviticus] 20:27. The very name of witchcraft is now held in contempt. The claim that men can hold intercourse with evil spirits is regarded as a fable of the Dark Ages. But spiritualism, which numbers its converts by hundreds of thousands, yea, by millions, which has made its way into scientific circles, which has invaded churches, and has found favor in legislative bodies, and even in the courts of kings–this mammoth deception is but a revival, in a new disguise, of the witchcraft condemned and prohibited of old.—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy* 556.2.†‡
29. One of the verses that is covered in this lesson which we often quote to support our belief in the Scriptures isIsaiah 8:20. Notice how differently this verse gets translated in several newer versions.
Isaiah 8:20: To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word,
it is because there is no light in them.—The Holy Bible: King James Version.* (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version.,Isaiah 8:20). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Isaiah 8:20: To the law and to the testimony! If not, let them say after this manner, ‘That there is no dawn to it.’—Young, R. (1998). Young’s Literal Translation.* (Isaiah 8:20). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Isaiah 8:20: “For teaching and for instruction?” Surely, those who speak like this will have no dawn!—The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version.* (1989). (Isaiah 8:20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Isaiah 8:20: You are to answer them, “Listen to what the LORD is teaching you! Don’t listen to mediums—what they tell you cannot keep trouble away.” [Footnote: Verse 20 in Hebrew is unclear.]—Good News Bible.*‡
30. In the very difficult times in which Isaiah lived under the control of Ahaz the wicked demon-worshiping king, we find Isaiah giving warning messages of various kinds, including the names of his own children! Last week we discussed the dual application ofIsaiah 7:14; we will not repeat that now.
31. Try to imagine how you would feel as a prophet of God, relying totally upon His messages if you received a message that two other nations in the area where you live were going to be totally destroyed and overrun by a foreign power. In those days, it was Assyria. Isaiah was told that the enemy would come in like a swarm of bees, or even flies!
32. Although we have not mentioned those nations earlier. It seems that Egypt, the Edomites, and the Philistines all had plans to attack Judah.
2 Chronicles 28:16-18: 16–17 The Edomites began to raid Judah again and captured many prisoners, so King Ahaz asked Tiglath Pileser, the emperor of Assyria, to send help. 18At this same time the Philistines were raiding the towns in the western foothills and in southern Judah. They captured the cities of Beth Shemesh, Aijalon, and Gederoth, and the cities of Soco, Timnah, and Gimzo with their villages, and settled there permanently.—Good News Bible.*
33. How would you like to have been the wife of Isaiah who herself was called a prophetess because she gave birth to sons with prophetic names. Were she and her children booed by their associates? Did anyone take their names seriously? Were they scorned?
34. No matter how they were treated, the prophecies given by Isaiah proved to be true to the letter. Before the younger son with that name–which is the longest name of anyone in the Bible–was old enough to say “mommy” or “daddy,” the nations of whom King Ahaz had been so frightened were gone and destroyed.
35. And yet, God said inIsaiah 8:8 that He would still be with the faithful in Judah.
36. So, what did Ahaz do as the conditions got worse? He took money from the temple of God, that famous structure built by Solomon, and collected money from other members of the royal family and other people who had money, and sent it to Tiglath Pileser to try to convince him not to attack Judah. That payoff failed.
37. Did Ahaz just think that Isaiah was lying? How did he feel about Isaiah? Did he try to run away whenever he saw Isaiah coming?
But in Judah there dwelt some who maintained their allegiance to Jehovah, steadfastly refusing to be led into idolatry. It was to these that Isaiah and Micah and their associates looked in hope as they surveyed the ruin wrought during the last years of Ahaz. Their sanctuary was closed, but the faithful ones were assured: “God is with us.” “Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary.”Isaiah 8:10, 13, 14.—Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings* 330.3.
38. If you scan through the records of the kings of Judah and Israel, you will notice that almost always, the people followed the direction taken by the king! Why do you think that was?
39. Are there any parallels in our day?
© 2020, Kenneth Hart, MD, MA, MPH. Permission is hereby granted for any noncommercial use of these materials. Free distribution of all or of a portion of this material such as to a Bible study class is encouraged. *Electronic version. †Bold type is added. ‡Text in brackets is added. §Italic type is in the source. Info@theox.org
Last Modified: December 6, 2020
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