When I was growing up in a small, Pentecostal church in Atlanta, I was amazed at the number of folks in American Christianity really preoccupied with the “signs of the times.” It seemed that each event in politics or world events “signaled” the “end times.” Fortunately, my pastor was one of the few Pentecostal ministers who simply refused to jump on this bandwagon. He taught us not to be preoccupied with this “sign-seeking” foolishness.
But, there are true signals of significant events that the scripture talks about and they, indeed, did point to history-changing moments that would radically touch all of human history. Today’s lesson from Isaiah is one of those moments.
Look at our lesson today in Isaiah 7:1-14:
In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but they could not conquer it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go forth to meet Ahaz, you and Shearjashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him, ‘Take heed, 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. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” thus says the Lord GOD: It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. (Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken to pieces so that it will no longer be a people.) And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.'”
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Here St. Isaiah confronts the king of Judah, Ahaz, for his foolish attempts to protect Judah from an attack by Syria and the Northern kingdom based in Samaria. King Ahaz thought that a subservient alliance with another king named Pul of Ninevah. Instead of trusting God to protect Judah, Ahaz sought help from an earthly king.
Isiah confronted Ahaz in his unbelief and told him he should put his trust in God. King Pul of Ninevah was already going to destroy the alliance of Damascus and Samaria already. But Ahaz made a fool of himself by submitting to be a vassal state of Ninevah for protection and so he wasted resources paying tribute to Ninevah when he should have turned in faith to the God of Israel to save him.
But notice how God confronts Ahaz and his lack of faith. The Lord commands Ahaz to ask Him for a sign. He tells the faithless king “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” God confronts the little faith of the king by extending him the offer to ask for a sign that God would protect Israel, and the king feigns humility and refuses. God sees right through Ahaz’s false piety and offers a withering indictment of the king’s lack of faith by asking if the king was thinking he could “weary God” also as he has wearied men. What a powerful confrontation. What a crushing example of faithless impiety and a short-sighted leader!
But the Lord goes even further and promises the king a sign anyway. He says a virgin will conceive and bear a son and his name will be Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” The passage goes on to say that before the boy knows right from wrong (about the age of 12 in Jewish Law), both Syria and Samaria will be defeated. In fact, The Northern kingdom centered in Samaria will be utterly destroyed, never to be constituted again, even to this day!. The sign of a virgin giving birth to a son and his growing shouts out Ahaz’s lack of faith in God to protect His people.
And there is “another” moment in human history when this Sign spoken of by God reveals the ultimate defeat of the kingdom of darkness and the ultimate victory of the Kingdom of God when another Virgin conceives and bears a Son and His name and His very Person is, in fact, God with us! This Final Sign invites us all to decide if we will put our trust in human hands or refuse to follow the fearful faithless king Ahaz and put our trust in our God Who has already won the victory!
We remember St. Kodratos and his Companion martyrs today. They contested for the Lord and His Church in Corinth during the reign of Emperor Valerian from 253 AD to 260 AD.
Today, are you willing to see the signs God leaves for us to strengthen your faith and trust in Him to lead and protect you? Or will you waste your time and treasure trying to build security around yourself and your family with all your human strength? A Normal Orthodox life has the eyes to see the promised protection and leadership of God in His scriptures, His Church, and His moral wisdom to protect us from the chaos of a world gone mad with indulging their passions.
P.S. Your Martyrs, O Lord, in their courageous contest for You received as the prize the crowns of incorruption and life from You, our immortal God. For since they possessed Your strength, they cast down the tyrants and wholly destroyed the demons’ strengthless presumption. O Christ God, by their prayers, save our souls, since You are merciful.
The endless search for signs always bothered me as a protestant. For many, disagreement on these matters were almost a heresy. But the heresy was really focusing on trying to divine that which God had not revealed at the expense of working out one’s salvation. There are just some things we will never understand unless God determines to reveal them.