Better Because of Failure

Failure demands a response. On the one hand, when we or others fail, we can allow the failure to quench our resolve or ignore the failure as if it never happened.

On the other hand, we can learn from the failure and try (with God’s grace) to become better because of the failure.

Isaiah 7 begins with a failure. Although this chapter is only five years or so after Uzziah’s death in chapter 6, much has changed. Uzziah’s grandson, Ahaz, was now king of Judah. To the north of Judah, Syria and Israel were making an alliance to rebel against the terrorist empire of Assyria. Since Ahaz had refused to join this alliance, the two kingdoms were plotting to invade Judah, and they had even chosen a king to replace Ahaz (Isaiah 7:6). The situation had understandably terrified Ahaz and the people of Judah (Isaiah 7:2).

Isaiah confronts Ahaz with a choice: become an ally of no one and trust the Lord alone to take care of the situation (Isaiah 7:4, 9). Although the Lord even encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign in 7:10 — a very rare opportunity in Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:16) — Ahaz failed. He refused the offer and appealed to Assyria, the murderous empire to the far north, for help. In later verses and chapters, Isaiah describes how Assyria would not only erase the threat from the north, but they also would nearly obliterate Judah (Isaiah 7:17, 10:28-34).

The Lord reveals several important truths through Ahaz’s failure. First, the Lord promises the coming of a King the people can trust in. The King will be born of a virgin and bring God to the people (Isaiah 7:14). He will show miraculous counsel, divine power, eternal fatherhood, ultimate peace, and international sovereignty (Isaiah 9:2-7). Lastly, this King will bring in perfect righteousness, justice, and such peace that the wolf will dwell with the lamb (Isaiah 11:1-16). John’s description of the new creation in Revelation 21 fills out what Isaiah is predicting.

What else do we learn from Ahaz’s failure? We see the nature of true faith. Isaiah had named one of his sons “Shear-jashub.” The names of his children were messages from God (Isaiah 8:18). The name Shear-jashub can mean either “a remnant will return” or “a remnant will repent.” The name appears to be a pun. The remnant repents of putting their trust in pagan kings and false sources of wisdom (Isaiah 8:11-22) and trust in the Lord’s Word instead. They will also, however, return from the ultimate exile (Isaiah 11:16-12:6) to give God eternal praise. True faith is one of repentance and hope.

What should we do in light of these chapters? First, resist the temptation to follow Ahaz’s example. He looked primarily to political power to protect God’s people. It’s not that Christians should avoid politics altogether (Isaiah 1:17), but Assyria — like any powerful person or country — was only an instrument (10:5-19). God will throw the instrument away when He’s finished. The remnant trusts in God alone (10:20-27). We demonstrate our trust in and reverence for God by looking to His Word (8:12-21).

Second, if we knew nothing of Jesus from the Gospels, these passages in Isaiah alone demonstrate how He is worthy of our worship, devotion and love. We are Christians before we are any other category. When we look to Christ, we find another lesson from these chapters: hope. No event of the 700s BC — or AD 2010s — can erase the new creation Jesus has promised to bring.

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