Tag Archives: Christmas

The Messianic Prophecy in Isaiah 7-9

Uzziah, a great king for Judah was dead. He had spent the last years of his life separated from the people he ruled and from the family he loved. In his arrogance, he had entered into the temple, a place only priests could go, in order to burn incense. For his arrogance, God immediately struck him with leprosy, and the beloved king was banished as unclean. Jotham, his son, ruled in his place and did so for sixteen years before he himself would die. He was a chip off the old block as they say, “And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the LORD. But the people still followed corrupt practices,” (2 Chronicles 27:2)[1]. Judah had known two kings who had been good kings, yet even under their guidance and rule, the people continued to creep closer and closer to apostacy. Neither Uzziah nor Jotham had torn down the high places (cf. 2 Kings 15:4, 35), which were unauthorized worship-centers scattered throughout the land. As John Wesley coined, “what one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.” And so it was with Ahaz, Jotham’s son, who took the throne upon Jotham’s death.

Ahaz not only, “made metal images for the Baals,” (2 Chron 28:2b), “sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills under every green tree,” (2 Kings 16:4), but also “burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel,” (2 Kings 16:3b). Ahaz, King of Judah—in the line of King David—had embraced idolatry and even human sacrifice. Thus it ought not surprise one to read that Judah was attacked by their enemies—Syria and Israel (Ephraim). Surely, the Lord would judge Ahaz and his nation for their atrocities and defiance. The Lord’s judgment was devastating as “Pekah the son of Remaliah killed 120,000 from Judah in one day, all of them men of valor, because they had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers,” (2 Chron 28:6). Soon after another 200,000 (men, women, and children) are taken captive (cf. 2 Chron 28:8). Yet it is in the midst of this distress and judgment that Isaiah was sent to Ahaz.

King Ahaz was rightly frightened by the strength and ferociousness of Syria and Israel. Isaiah was sent, not to condemn him but to calm his fears. God’s message was “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,” (Isaiah 7:4-5). God promised to destroy both nations in due time, but only if Ahaz trusted in the Lord. “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” It was at this point that God, through Isaiah, called upon the king to seek a sign. This was rare for God to do. Generally, the rule is not to test God, but in this case this king who trusted in the power of metal images and demonic idols, was told to put God to the test and see how powerful He was. “But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test,” (Isaiah 7:12). This was not said out of humility but out of arrogance. Rather than bow his heart to Yahweh, he bowed it to the Assyrian king. “So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me,’” (2 Kings 16:7). In spite of Ahaz’s defiance, God gave a sign anyway. “Therefore, the LORD himself will give you a sign, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,’” (Isaiah 7:14). As D. G. Firth rightly said, “[T]hough in Isaiah 7:10-17 it is Aha[z]’s failure to understand [he should rule within the context of God’s salvation] that leads to the promise of Immanuel, so that even where the Davidic kings fail, Yahweh continues to provide his people with security symbolized in the child.”[2] Immanuel being a name that means, “God with us,” is thus the literal embodiment of God’s salvation. This would be what is known as an “already-not yet prophecy,” thus have an immediate fulfillment, and a later, more drastic and truer fulfillment. In the immediate context, the timing of the destruction of Syria and Israel was Isaiah’s main argument. As John Oswalt noted,

[T]he virginity of the mother is not the most significant point. Rather, God is saying that before a child conceived at that time would reach age 12 or 13 (v. 16), the two nations of which Ahaz was so terrified would cease to exist. But in the long term, this sign, higher than heaven and deeper than hell. . . referred to the coming of Jesus Christ, the true Immanuel (Matt 1:23), and the virginity of his mother was vitally important.[3]

The question as to whom it was named Immanuel in Isaiah’s day misses the point the prophet was seeking to make. The person in the 8th century is unimportant in this context. What was important was that God was proving Himself to be with Judah: Immanuel, God with us. For God to prove Himself in this manner was to bring security to Ahaz and the nation. One must remember the context of the prophecy: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint. . .” “It is the presence of Yahweh that brings security.”[4] Yet, at the same time, because of Ahaz’s faithlessness, God would bring more judgment upon Judah through Assyria’s king (whom Ahaz trusted to deliver him and his people). “In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and that hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also,” (Isaiah 7:20). Whether Isaiah was speaking euphemistically about the feet or he simply meant that the men would be shaved head to toe, the message was clear that Judah would be humiliated by the king of Assyria. So they were. “The God whom the psalms led the people to believe would fight on their behalf turns out, in his sovereignty, to be the one who is planning their judgment for sin.”[5]

Isaiah at this point, in the midst of their suffering, calls for Judah to repent. He calls on them to remember Yahweh their God and all that He has done. As if speaking on behalf of the remnant who did repent or have been faithful, Isaiah proclaimed: “Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him,” (Isaiah 8:16-17). Yet for whom should they wait? The greater and truest fulfillment of Immanuel; the one who would sit upon David’s throne and reign forever.

     For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this, (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Immanuel, God with us, would sit upon David’s throne and secure His kingdom once and for all. The coming Messiah was still future for Isaiah and the remnant, but Isaiah was assuring them all that though He was still to come, He was sure to come and justice was coming with Him. “The king who brings justice to his people also ensure their security and prosperity (šālȏm), though only because Yahweh ensure it.”[6] The day was coming when all the enemies of God’s people would face God’s wrath. “For the wicked burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts the land is scorched, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no one spares another,” (Isaiah 9:18-19). This was true in Isaiah’s day and will be true when the Messiah returns (cf. Rev. 18-19).


[1] The Holy Bible, The English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2007), shall be cited throughout this text unless otherwise noted.

[2] D. T. Firth, “Messiah” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 542.

[3] John N. Oswalt “7:14 virgin” in The NIV Zondervan Study Bible, ed. D. A. Carson, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2015) 1333.

[4] Firth, “Messiah” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, 542.

[5] H. G. M. Williamson, “Isaiah, Book of” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 373.

[6] Firth, “Messiah” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, 542.

The Story Behind “Joy to the World”

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
    let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

Such are the words of Psalm 98:4-9, ESV. These are the words that inspired Isaac Watts to write the now famous Christmas song, Joy to the World

One could say that this song began to be written back when Watts was a teenager.  It was then that he had a special talk with his dad.  They were on their way home from worship service, when young Isaac flatly stated that he thought the songs in the service were boring and antiquated.  His dad, as many dads would do, challenged him not just to complain, but do something about it. If Isaac thought he could do better, then he should.  Isaac Watts took that challenge and wrote a new hymn every week (initially), mostly based on the Psalms.  In all, Watts wrote northward of 750 hymns.

Incidentally, Charles Spurgeon’s mother challenged him to memorize Watts’ hymns. For every one Charles memorized, she’d give him a dime (10 pence). He put to heart so many of them that his mother had to cut her promise in half, a nickel for each one. This is where Spurgeon most likely got his gift of poetry, which is displayed in nearly every sermon he preached.

Because of this challenge from Watts’ father, Joy to the World eventually came into existence. Isaac was 45 when he wrote this gem (1719).

Interestingly enough, Isaac Watts and Frederic Handel (Handel’s Messiah) were friends. Though they didn’t collaborate on Joy to the World, the version that we typically sing in America comes from Messiah. A musician by the name of Lowell Mason took Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates and rearranged it, calling the tune ANTIOCH, putting a 19th Century spin on both the tune and the words (the repeats at the end of each verse were Mason’s doing, not Watts’).

If one is paying attention, he will notice that the third verse is not found in Psalm 98. That’s true. It actually comes from Genesis 3 and Revelation 21-22. The curse of the fall will be reversed when Christ sets up His eternal reign and there will be a new heaven and earth.  That is what this entire Christmas song is about: the new heaven and earth. For that reason, I would consider this more of an Advent song than a Christmas song, but to each his own.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! 
Let men their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love.

For more “the story behind” Christmas songs, you can click/tap on the links below.

Good Christian Men, Rejoice
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Silent Night, Holy Night