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The Historical Context of Isaiah 7 - 12
by Fred P Miller
The historical material in Isaiah begins in Isaiah 7:1 with the encouragement given to Ahaz king of Judah that God will protect him from the impending attack from Damascus and Samaria, that is, from the alliance between the northern kingdom of Israel and Syria. The political realities that brought on this alliance was the imminent expansion of the Assyrian Empire. The threat presented by Tiglath- pilezer created alliances among all the Palestinian nations so they could present a united front against the advancing Assyrians. But Judah, under this same threat, did not join the alliance and therefore Ahaz was deemed an opponent in the rear of Damascus and Syria. Resin who was then king of Syria and Pekah king of Israel proposed to depose Ahaz and replace him with a king who would follow their policies. Their assault against Judah, although at first successful, did eventually fail (see 2 Chron 28:4-6). God would have protected Ahaz but he chose a political solution instead. He took gold and silver from the temple and sent it as a bribe to Tiglath-pilezer who had already begun his attack on Israel and had probably already deported the tribes east of the Jordan into Assyrian Media.
Isaiah tells Ahaz to trust in God and gives him a sign. The sign includes the prophecy of the virgin birth of the Messiah. This introduces the contrast between two visitations to Galilee that will continue through the pages of Isaiah. The imminent dangers to the nation, first by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians, the successors of the Assyrians, are recorded by Isaiah and it is those dangers that bring forth reassurances that God's will in the nation will be fulfilled in spite of the very real suffering and dangers brought on by the invasions and deportations that are imminent to, first, the kingdom of Israel and later by the Babylonians to the kingdom of Judah. One of the most important messages of the book of Isaiah, to his contemporaries, is the assurance to those "dwelling in Zion" that is, those who trust in the ultimate victory and completion of God's purpose in the nation of Israel, that the imminent doom of physical Israel will not inhibit God's purpose for the nation.
But Ahaz did not trust in God even though Isaiah gave the assurance in Isaiah 8:4 For before the child [Isaiah's son] shall have knowledge to call, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away by the king of Assyria. Ahaz rather asked for help from the king of Assyria. It was at that time that Tiglath-pilezer invaded Syria, put Rezin to death and reduced Israel by two thirds of the tribes it had controlled. Only Samaria and its area round it were still under the control of the king who was now a vassal of the king of Assyria. Galilee was devastated at the same time and other nations were brought by forced immigration to take the place of the Israelites. Soon after, about nine years later, the next king of Assyria would bring an end to the northern kingdom of Israel with the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. This is part of the historical context of Isaiah 7 to 12. The contrast in 9:1 between the first destructive visit to Israel by the Assyrians with the second intrusion of the Messiah into the same area which brings a heavier "affliction" but which ends in glorification is continued throughout the rest of the section.
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