Chapter 8 continues and parallels the themes begun in chapter 7. In fact, chapter 8 seems to mirror the central messages of the previous chapter. Chapter 7 begins with God’s message to Ahaz about his need for calm and faith (7:1-9). Next, it moves to the prophecy of a coming child—Immanuel (7:10-15). Then, it reveals that while this child is still quite young, Israel and Syria will be defeated, and Judah overrun by the Assyrians (7:15-25). Chapter 8 begins with the prophecy and birth of a child: Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:1-3). Next, it predicts that while this boy is still quite young, Damascus (Syria) and Samaria (Israel) will be looted by Assyria (8:4). Further, the Assyrian armies will flood into Judah as well (8:6-10). Finally, the Lord has a message for Isaiah, not to fear men but to fear and trust in the Lord (8:11-15). The rest of the chapter unpacks Isaiah’s faith-filled response to God’s predictive, directive Word (8:16-22).
Because of the parallel structure and themes of the two chapters, I would conclude that the two children mentioned (Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hash-baz) refer to the same boy. His mother calls him Immanuel (7:14) and the Lord’s message to Isaiah makes a passing allusion that could be a reference to the child (see 8:8). Formally, this child’s name is Maher-shalal-hash-baz which, as was the case for his brother Shear-jashub, becomes a “sign” and “portent” for the people of Israel (8:18). Isaiah’s sons are reminders that only “a remnant will return” (Shear-jashub) and that the invading enemies from Assyria will be “swift to the spoil and quick to the prey” (Maher-shalal-hash-baz). At the same time, this second son (because his mother calls him Immanuel) reminds Judah that God is still present with His people. As Isaiah reminds himself and his people, the Lord still “dwells on Mount Zion” (8:18).
Once again, the Lord’s promise to Judah is double-edged. The Assyrian River (8:7) will flood into Syria and Israel, taking care of the threat that Rezin and Pekah pose to Ahaz. But the waters of the Assyrian forces will overflow into Judah. Because Judah has rejected “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (6), the Lord will let them be awash with the raging waters of the “River, mighty and many” (7). Rejecting God’s help in favour of Assyria’s assistance ends badly for Judah.
All this has a personal implication for Isaiah; he is part of Judah and will live through the coming decimation of his homeland. So, the Lord has a message for him: “For the LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me” (11). In verses 11-22, the Lord instructs Isaiah how to respond to the dynamics of his situation. He is not to give way to the thinking of the Jews around him; he is not to “call conspiracy all that they call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread” (12). Instead, he is to revere the Lord as holy and fear him (13). In verse 14, Isaiah is told that the Lord will be a “sanctuary” (for Isaiah and those who trust him) as well as a “rock of stumbling” and a “snare” (for those who don’t).
Isaiah’s response is exemplary. He asserts that he will “wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him” (17). Even though the Lord is set to oppose Judah, Isaiah still knows he can personally hope in the Lord.
Isaiah understands that he and his children (Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz) are “signs and portents in Israel for the Lord of hosts” (18). Here is further reason to link Maher-shalal-hash-baz to Immanuel; Immanuel was specifically called a “sign” to the people (7:14).
Isaiah has some final words to speak to the people of Judah at the close of this chapter. He rebukes them for the folly of seeking help from the dead (through mediums and necromancers—19) when they have a living God (19). He calls people back to God’s Word: “To the teaching and to the testimony!” (20). Those who reject God’s Word are only headed for hunger and darkness and further hardening of the heart (21-22; 6:10).
Behold Your God
The Lord directs the flow of human history. Because Judah rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, they will experience the raging River of judgment. God’s judgment will come through the Assyrian armies that will flood the land. History must be read on two levels; behind the events that seem merely human is a divine hand. God works in and through history to accomplish His purposes.
The Lord is both a sanctuary and a snare. For those who reject Him, God becomes a “rock of stumbling”, a “trap” and a “snare” (14). However, for those who wait for Him and hope in Him, He is a sanctuary. Same God; different experiences based on our responses to His revelation.
Here Am I
Faithfulness to the Lord requires a faith-filled world view. Isaiah is instructed not to give way to the thinking and fears of the people around him (though they are ostensibly religious). He is not to get caught up in their conspiracies or frightened by their fears (12). Instead, his outlook on life is to be governed by the glory and grandeur of God. If I am to be a faithful follower, I will need to follow God’s instructions to Isaiah.
The only reliable guide for faith and practice is the Word of the Lord. People who wander from God will seek help in all the wrong places. I must call them back to “the teaching and the testimony” (20). True disciples will hold God’s Word in their hearts and hold to it in their lives.