First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14

The Sign of Emmanuel

Have the small things ever changed your life? How?

10 YHWH spoke again to King Ahaz, saying, 11 "Ask a sign of YHWH your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above."

12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt YHWH."

13 He said, "Listen now, house of David. Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God also? 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

World English Bible

During the course of Isaiah's ministry, Judea was besieged by the bellicose Assyrians. As a power on the rise, Assyria engulfed the northern kingdom of Israel. Now it turned its sights on Judea. While Judea had allied with Syria and Ephraim against the Assyrians, King Ahaz despaired.

Isaiah came to the king with an open invitation. "Ask for any sign from God!" Isaiah challenged the king. But, so deep was his dark outlook, the king even rejected that offer. [7:10-12]

So, Isaiah countered with his own sign. A young woman will become pregnant and will bear a son. His name will be Emmanuel ("God is with us") and the boy will be righteous even from birth. [7:13-14].

There are some problems with these verses. The Hebrew verb "become pregnant" is not in the future tense, but is in the indefinite present. In other words, the girl was already pregnant or could become so in the future. The identity of the child "Emmanuel" has also been the source of some speculation. Some claim the boy would be the son of King Ahaz. Others hold the boy would be the son of the prophet. A third group insist the boy's identity could not be determined. Nonetheless, Isaiah's prophecy seemed to be pointed to immediate circumstances. Isaiah foresaw the destruction of Syria and Ephraim before the boy could eat semi-solid foods (7:16).

Despite these shortcomings, the verses present an interesting image. God would save his people through the sign of something so common and mundane as a pregnant girl. Isaiah offered the opportunity for a great sign but countered with an image barely worth noting. Rejected by those in power, God would work wonders among the lowly.

Christians from the time of Matthew's gospel have pointed to these verses as Messianic prophecies. Jesus came from humble origins. Yet, he changed the world.

In the same way, God works great miracles in ways unspectacular and unexpected. All we need do is open our eyes to the possibilities.

How is God using life's ordinary experiences to lead you?