December 26: Isaiah 7:15-17

Isaiah 7:15-17

Many Christians who are familiar with the famous prophecy in Isa 7:14, doubtless are not so familiar with the verses of the prophecy that follow (15-17), nor of the historical context of the oracle (vv. 10-17) as a whole. We have examined this context in the previous notes, along with a careful critical study of verse 14 (cf. the two Christmas day notes [1, 2], along with the supplemental note on the Christian application of the verse). In the remainder of the oracle, we gain a clearer sense of the importance of this child (given the name ±Imm¹nû °E~l) as a prophetic symbol (and sign):

“Butter-milk and syrup he will eat before his knowing to refuse the evil and to choose the good. (So it is) that in (the time) before the young (child) shall know to refuse the evil and to choose the good, the land shall be abandoned, which you abhor, from (the) faces of her two kings.” (vv. 15-16)

In addition to the child’s name (v. 14), the time-frame of his early development serves as a prophetic time-indicator of when the judgment against Aram-Damascus and the kingdom of Israel will occur. The foods mentioned in v. 15 are choice items that presumably would be offered to a newly-weaned child. The noun ha*m=j# refers to a liquid milk/butter product (perhaps similar to Indian ghee), while vb^D= most likely refers to date-syrup (or honey). The basic point of reference is about three years, the same age (3-4) at which the child will begin to understand (“know,” vb ud^y`) enough to refuse (vb sa^m*) what is evil and choose (vb rj^B*) what is good.

Thus the meaning of the prophetic sign is that, within about 3 (or four) years after the child’s birth, the land of Aram-Damascus and the Northern Kingdom will be left behind and abandoned (vb bz~u*). This is very much akin to the prophecy in vv. 8-9 (cf. the discussion in the prior note), referring to the defeat and conquest of the two kingdoms—Aram-Damascus and “Ephraim,” led by the two kings Rezin and Pekah (“son of Remalyah”)—which had joined in an (anti-Assyrian) alliance. This alliance was initially directed against the southern kingdom of Judah (vv. 2, 5-6), and the threat it posed toward Judah is the main reason why the royal court would have come to loathe and abhor (vb JWq) those northern lands; the verb can also connote a sense of fear/dread, which is probably intended here.

The oracle concludes with the dramatic statement in verse 17:

“YHWH shall bring upon you, and upon your people, and upon (the) house of your father, days (the like) of which have not (yet) come, from (the) day (that) Ephrayim turned (away) from (being) upon [i.e. next to] Yehudah…(the) king of Aššûr {Assyria}!”

Without the final words, mentioning the king of Assyria, this verse seems to close the prophecy on a positive note for Judah. That is to say, the days will be days of blessing, alluded to by the rich food that the child will eat, mentioned in v. 15. However, the reference to the king of Assyria creates, instead, an ominous warning, implying that the coming days will be days of danger and judgment.

For this reason, some commentators would view the final words as a later addition, from the time when 6:1-9:6 (and spec. 7:1-17) was incorporated into chapters 2-39 as a whole, with their emphasis on Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah at the end of the 8th century. While this does, in fact, fit the wider prophetic perspective of the book, I tend to think that the original oracle may also have contained this aspect of warning of a possible coming judgment against Judah. If king and people do not trust and remain faithful to YHWH, they may suffer the same fate as the Northern Kingdom.

The oracle would thus have a dual orientation—offering the hope and promise of deliverance, but also containing a warning of coming judgment. Certainly, the editors of chapters 2-39 would have brought out this dual-aspect, relating the events of 735-732 to the later Assyrian invasion of Judah (and siege of Jerusalem), as well as to the Babylonian threat against Judah a century later. In this regard, the name “God-with-Us” (±Imm¹nû °E~l) contains a qualified promise, and does not guarantee that Judah will avoid entirely a destructive judgment at the hands of Assyria.


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