Feast of the Annunciation 2020
A Weary God & an Angry Prophet
The exchange between the prophet Isaiah and King Ahaz in Isaiah 7:10-17 is intriguing; it is almost baffling. How could a simple refusal to demand a sign return such a strong rebuke from the prophet? The scriptures, ordinarily, proclaim that God is not to be put to the test. The LORD’s ways are higher than human ways and we are to accept that. It would seem Ahaz was acting piously and in conformance with the Law. Yet, Isaiah responds as if speaking to a petulant child. We must first understand the historical situation to get an idea of what is going on.
Judea Under Seige
Judea is under siege. Syria’s and Samaria’s forces are at the gates and it is clear that Judea will fall and become an unwitting pawn in a war against the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians have been, up to this point, an unstoppable force. The surrounding nations are afraid. So Syria and Samaria unite and try to take Judea in by force, in hopes of pushing back the Assyrian expansion. Tiny Judea does not stand a chance in this battle among great powers from a mundane perspective. However, the Jews were not supposed to have a mundane perspective. The LORD was their king and no earthly king was his match. The Jews were supposed to place their faith in him. But time and again, Ahaz and the royal court ignored the prophetic words of Isaiah and continued their human scheming. Now God, through the mouthpiece of Isaiah, reaches out to Ahaz again. The LORD does not want Judea to perish and completely lose it’s access to the Temple rites, as occurred in Israel. He desires to bring the people back to himself thus give them salvation. So God drops all the “king of kings” and “most high God” transcendent distancing and, like a loving father, offers Ahaz anything. The king can choose any sign he wants and God will provide it. The LORD voluntarily allows himself to be put to the test for the sake of his people. Ahaz refuses. This is where we see the “wearying.”
Wearying Humanity & God
The actions of Ahaz, and the whole royal court, wearied the people. Their incompetent rule and refusal to see the dire situation as it truly was made things worse. Their situation should have been predictable and they should have had a plan, but they did not. Israel, their sisters and brothers, had already fallen. Judea was the next logical choice. If they had followed the example of their ancestors — at least in the mind of the Deuteronomist — the Jews would have turned to the prophets for advice and perhaps even put on sackcloth and ashes. The correct response to the crisis for the Jews was faith, not fear. Thus God reached out to them. In allowing Ahaz to choose any sign, the LORD is allowing the king to pick whatever will increase his faith and the faith of the people. He rejects the offer out of a false show of piety. To see the sign would demand ascent of his will. He would no longer have freedom of choice but would be compelled to follow the LORD. In this sense, Ahaz is wearying both humanity and God.
God’s Will Fulfilled
Despite being wearied, God does not concede to Ahaz’s will. Rather, God’s will is done. He offers a mysterious sign, which only achieves the fullness of its expression in the annunciation of the conception of Jesus. God refuses Ahaz’s show of false piety precisely because it is false, i.e. it is not rooted in truth. Ahaz has a false conception of freedom. He believes freedom to be having many options and holding a near indifference to them. Ahaz is not concerned with what is best for himself or his people. This is not freedom; it is slavery. Freedom is empowerment to choose what is best, what is good. The LORD’s offer of a sign was an offer of empowerment. He was giving to the king and people the chance to be free, both psychologically and physically. If they had accepted authentic freedom they could have depended upon God’s intervention in history. They even would have been freed from their fears knowing that God was in control. But they chose their own wills as a greater good and eventually paid the price. But the story did not end there. God came into the world and took to himself the flesh of the Virgin so that he might offer freedom to all peoples. Our choices, even when contrary to the will of God, form no barrier to him. Let us be thankful for this!
Let us pray
O God, in your great mercy you never abandon us. As often as we turn away from you, you bring us back. Let us not be slaves to our own wills, but always know the freedom which you alone can offer. Per dominum…
 Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, vol. 19, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 229.
 J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah: A Commentary, ed. Peter Machinist, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 118.