Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #727 ------- August 3, 2017
It is our choice of good or evil
that determines our character, not
our opinion about good or evil.

Aristotle [384-322 B.C.]

Honey, Curds and Choice
Reflective Analysis of Isaiah 7:14-16

The British historian and philosopher Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) observed, "A human being may be defined as a personality with a will of its own capable of making moral choices between good and evil" [A Study of History]. Toynbee's definition of "a human being" raises the following questions: (1) At what point in one's development does an individual become capable of making such moral choices between good and evil? (2) Is that individual something less than a "human being" prior to that point in their personal development? Men have long pondered the question as to when a child becomes accountable for his/her actions. More specifically: at what point does a child develop the capacity to discern right from wrong, good from evil, and to act upon that discernment? I dealt with this question in some depth in Reflections #159 ("The Age of Accountability: Discerning the Moment of Discernment"). Although we tend to generalize here, arbitrarily setting a certain age as the "standard," the reality is that each person develops at their own pace, and there is no universal point in time when a person suddenly becomes discerning. Some do it very early in their development, some much later, some not at all.

Physical, spiritual, moral, intellectual and emotional maturation is a goal for which all, who have the capacity to do so, strive; yet each one does so at their own pace. Also, there is a reality many seem reluctant to face: none of us ever achieve absolute perfection (maturity) in any of these areas. We are all works in progress, and no one person's rate of progress is in any way the norm or standard for everyone else. Yes, there is a point at which those with the cognitive capacity to do so perceive the distinction between good and evil, make a conscious choice between the two, and thereafter willfully manifest that choice in their attitudes and actions. This stage in our development is alluded to several times in Scripture, but perhaps one of the best known is found early in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 7 we find the nation of Judah (the southern kingdom), and specifically its chief city Jerusalem, during the reign of King Ahaz, coming under attack by the combined forces of King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel (the northern kingdom). This siege of Jerusalem by the Arameans and the Israelites (referred to disparagingly in the text as "two stubs of smoldering firebrands" because of their collective rage against Judah) struck fear in the heart of King Ahaz, as well as the people of Judah. The Lord told Isaiah to go meet Ahaz and inform him that this warfare against Judah would not be successful. God also ordered Isaiah to take along his son Shear-jashub (Isaiah 7:3). In an effort to reassure the king that this word from God would come true, Ahaz was allowed by God to ask for a confirming sign (vs. 11), but, to his credit, Ahaz replied, "I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord" (vs. 12). It is at this point that Isaiah makes this well-known statement to the king: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken" (vs. 14-16, NASB).

It is very possible that many of you were unaware of the historical context of this famous passage from Isaiah, for it is typically used as a prophecy of the coming Messiah. He will be "born of a virgin," and this child will be "Immanuel." There is certainly nothing wrong with this application of this prophecy, for we find Matthew using it for that very purpose in his gospel account: "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which means, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:22-23, ESV). It is a beautiful prophecy, and we can easily see how it "fits" with the birth of Jesus. However, this prophecy is also somewhat problematic, for when one looks at the immediate context of this passage in Isaiah, it clearly has reference to something and someone else entirely! Those who initially heard this prophecy (i.e., King Ahaz of Judah) would likely never have perceived it to be Messianic in nature, although from a much later perspective it can certainly be seen that way. "This great passage is both important and difficult. ... it appears to relate to historical events that actually took place in the comparatively near future. ... so, how can the child be simply equated with the Messiah?" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 62]. "Though so much has been written on this important passage, there is an obscurity and inconsequence which still attends it" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 4, p. 53]. Part of the problem here is that it speaks of "a virgin" being pregnant, which directs our thoughts immediately to Mary, the mother of Jesus. I have dealt extensively with this in Reflections #266 ("The Virgin Shall Conceive: Reflective Analysis of Isaiah 7:14"), which I would urge the reader to carefully examine before continuing with this present study, as it will help clear up some of the questions that might arise from the following analysis of the historical context of this prophecy.

One should always keep in mind, when seeking to understand biblical prophecy, that most such prophetic statements tend to have more than a single fulfillment. In other words, prophecy will almost always have a fairly immediate fulfillment historically, one that is meaningful to the ones initially receiving that prophecy, but these prophecies may also have later fulfillments as well (applications that might not even have occurred to those who first heard them). There is quite often found in biblical prophecies what is known as the "Double Sense of Prophecy." It is also characterized as the "Multiple Sense" and/or the "Multiple Fulfillment" nature of some prophecies found in the Scriptures. "A distinctive characteristic of prophecy is that it often looks forward not simply to a single event or person. ... Many prophecies have a manifold number of applications or fulfillments as the means for ensuring that that word is kept alive while we await the climactic fulfillment. ... Therefore, we affirm that there is 'multiple fulfillment.' ... Each fulfillment is thus at once a partial realization of what had been promised and a continuation of the word pointing to the future climactic fulfillment" [Drs. Kaiser & Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning, p. 157-158]. Dr. Grant R. Osborne concurs, characterizing this as "the progressive nature of prophecy." He notes "the 'multiple fulfillment' of passages like Daniel 9:27; 11:31 and 12:11 (the 'abomination which makes desolate'). The prophecy was originally fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes forced the Jews to sacrifice pigs on the altars and entered the Holy of Holies in 167 B.C. However, it was fulfilled again in the destruction of Jerusalem and will be fulfilled a final time in the end-time events (Mark 13:14 and parallels; compare Rev. 13:14)" [The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, p. 213]. There are many such "multiple fulfillment" prophecies in the Bible, and I'm sure most of you are quite familiar with a good many of them.

It is also very important to keep in mind that virtually all biblical prophecies had a primary purpose and fulfillment that would have been specifically relevant to and impactive upon the people who first heard them. This is often completely overlooked by those who seek to understand these prophetic passages of Scripture (both OT and NT). This most certainly does not mean these prophecies may not also have a secondary or parallel fulfillment, but it is vital that the biblical student seek out the primary fulfillment first. For example: Isaiah 7:14 obviously has been used to refer to the Messiah, and rightly so (as Matthew 1:22-23 points out). However, if one views this Messianic fulfillment as the only fulfillment of this prophecy, then one completely overlooks the message that was initially being conveyed to King Ahaz. What was the more immediate fulfillment? Was there some truth being conveyed to the king for that time and situation? Of course there was. Another example is Psalm 16:10. In Acts 2:27 we again see that this refers to Jesus. But, the initial prophecy was for David. What fulfillment did it have for him?! At times the secondary fulfillment is better known to us today than the initial fulfillment, yet both are just as valid. And there may even be further fulfillments of some prophecies yet to come. These are all factors that must be discerned and weighed as we seek to understand biblical prophecy.

Therefore, with the above information in mind, let's return to Isaiah 7:14-16 and examine it more closely in its historical context so that we might discern its more immediate fulfillment. There are countless theories as to the identity of the "virgin" (or "maiden") in this passage, as well as the identity of the son she would bear. Although we can project this into the future and suggest (with the authority of Matthew's inspired usage) that Mary and Jesus are in view, that does not really answer the questions with regard to a more immediate fulfillment. Although no biblical scholar can declare with absolute certainty or dogmatically his/her own view, I nevertheless feel one of the many possibilities presented has merit. I tend to believe the "maiden" may have been the wife of Isaiah, and that the son born to her was the child mentioned in this prophecy. Why, for instance, did the Lord instruct Isaiah to take along his son Shear-jashub when he went to meet King Ahaz (Isaiah 7:3)? This is the only place in the Bible this child is mentioned by name. For what purpose would he be accompanying Isaiah on this meeting? We're not even sure how old this son was, but the speculation is that he may have been "a babe in the arms" of Isaiah, or at least a very young child, and that he was to be taken as a prophetic sign to the king. The great biblical commentator Matthew Henry (1662-1714) wrote, "He was ordered to take his own son, Shear-jashub, with him for a sign" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. A sign of what, though? It would be a sign suggesting to the king that before "this child" reaches the age of discernment, the two kings coming against Judah would be dealt with decisively by God. In other words, in a very short period of time. "For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken" (Isaiah 7:16). Matthew Henry translates the text: "Before this child (so it should be read), this child which I have now in my arms" [ibid]. The English theologian John Wesley (1703-1791) concurs, writing, "Thine enemies' land shall be sorely scourged, and these two kings destroyed within a very little time. This child (Shear-jashub), whom in all probability the prophet pointed at, and who was brought hither by God's special command (Isaiah 7:3) for this very use" [Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Historically, we know that this very thing happened, and the two opposing kings and their land would experience God's judgment within a very brief period of time after this prophecy by Isaiah.

If, in fact, Isaiah pointed to his son, who may have been quite young, and said that before this child reached the age of discernment, pointing to the child in the presence of King Ahaz, the message would have been clear: before this child knows enough to reject evil and choose good, your enemies will be dealt with! Drs. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown opine: "At about three years of age moral consciousness begins" [Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 515]. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) writes, "A capability to determine, in some degree, between good and evil, or between right and wrong, is usually manifest when the child is two or three years of age. ... Ignorance of good and evil denotes infancy" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "Isaiah evidently intends, by a figure of speech, to indicate two or three years, the time when a child may be regarded as getting out of his infancy of ignorance and innocence" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 10, p. 144]. The previous verse tends to substantiate this view: "He will eat curds and honey at the time he knows enough to refuse evil and choose good" (Isaiah 7:15). Milk curds and honey were, at that time and place, "the normal diet of a recently weaned child" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 62].

Dr. John Gill (1697-1771), an English theologian and Baptist pastor, summed it well, saying, "This may be understood of Isaiah's child, Shear-jashub, who he had along with him, as he was bid to take him with him, and who, therefore, must be supposed to bear some part, or answer some end or other, in this prophecy; which it is very probable may be this: viz, to assure Ahaz and the house of David that the land which was abhorred by them should be forsaken of both its kings before the child that was with him was grown to years of discretion ... even in the space of a few years, this remarkable deliverance should be wrought, and the Jews freed from all fears of being destroyed by these princes" [Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. Again, this prophecy of the downfall of the kings coming against Judah was fulfilled in a very, very brief period of time. Literally, before the child in Isaiah's arms would be weaned and before he would reach the age of discernment. Ahaz, therefore, would have a visual connection to the prophecy he was hearing, and could see that he would not have long to wait for its fulfillment. This is not the only time the prophet Isaiah used one of his children in this manner, by the way. Not long after the above prophecy to Ahaz, we read: "So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then the Lord said to me, 'Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz, for before the boy knows how to cry out "My father" or "My mother," the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.'" (Isaiah 8:3-4). Although we today think of the birth of Jesus when we hear the words of this prophecy, that would not have been the message understood by King Ahaz. As he looked at the child in the arms of Isaiah, he heard the prophecy that before this child, whom he saw in the prophet's arms, was weaned and able to tell right from wrong, he and his people would be divinely delivered from the forces arrayed against them, and this delivery would occur in a very short time. It is easy, therefore, to see how such a prophecy of deliverance, one that is tied to the sign of a baby born to a virgin (young maiden), could be linked with the deliverance of mankind from the evil forces arrayed against us! Thank God for His grace, mercy and love!

Specials for Readers
2017 Book & CD Offers
Click on the link above for a listing of the
books and topical studies and audio sermons
and new Bible classes by Al Maxey, and for
information on how to order these items.

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Alabama:

All the NT examples of the observance of the Lord's Supper are at "supper time" (i.e., in the evening). Where is it ever called the "Lord's Brunch" (as per our tradition today: observed mid-morning)? Can the legalists give "book-chapter-verse," or logic and reason, why when the event is termed "supper" that it is observed today as "brunch"? After all, the legalists say the day must be Sunday, so why not the time of day as per the biblical examples, all of which point to an evening observance? Are the legalists' inconsistencies here due to their cherished traditions? Still trying to figure out the "rules." Thanks for your efforts, brother!

From a Reader in Maine:

Al, I appreciate your efforts for balance, and I share your frustration with people like Hugh Fulford and others who won't change their minds and won't change the subject either (which someone has said is the definition of a fanatic). Also, I would like to order your CD (with bonus material) on "Jesus and the Synagogue: Contemplation of Innovation." My check is enclosed. I feel guilty taking up your time. You must be the busiest man I know, and I'm sure that your many readers (myself included) would love to know how you schedule it all in: preparing sermons, classes, your Reflections, answering your correspondence, serving as an elder, community involvement, etc. Blessings, Al, and keep on keeping on.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Al, Thank you for your Reflections ministry! I have a couple of questions, if I may. I've been studying the flood (Genesis 6-9) and preparing some lessons on this event. I have read two conflicting books: one was on flood geology by Whittcom and Morris, and the other, which was recommended by John Clayton, is "The Grand Canyon: A Testament to an Ancient Earth." What say you, Al? Was the flood local or global?

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I want to thank you for the scholarship, study and loving heart you shared with us in your article "Thoughts for the Thoughtful: Considering Current Critical Concepts" (Reflections #726). I am always challenged to think by your excellent articles! I don't always agree completely with some of your nuances, but I love you so much as my brother that it seems utterly unimportant. Like you, I feel great pity for those who proudly choose to wear the chains of legalism and would gladly tie these burdensome chains onto all of their brothers and sisters. Jesus called that type of person a "viper, white-washed tomb ... and when they make a convert they make him twice as much the son of hell as they are." When Jesus gave His final instructions to His disciples, He stated, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." In Jesus' final and most important instructions for His body of disciples, He totally left out how to do "corporate church worship services." If "how we do church assemblies" is critical and utterly important to our eternal destiny, then why is Jesus totally silent about it in His commands to His disciples?! I would never argue that our corporate worship assemblies are not important, but I will also teach bluntly that if the "order and style" are what we are hung up on, then we have totally missed the point of these assemblies, and we have thereby missed the blessings God wants us to receive from them. The Lord is silent on all the peripheral "church stuff" the traditional, conservative Church of Christ teaches is so eternally important. Why draw lines of brotherhood and fellowship on "issues" so vague and open to varying interpretation that for almost 2000 years intelligent and godly theologians cannot agree or come to a unified conclusion as to how to "do church"? In the final analysis, all we can ever really fully agree upon is that Jesus is Lord, He loves us unconditionally, He died for our sins, He rose from the grave, and He is coming again! We follow the Man, not the plan, because we feeble humans can't seem to ever agree on exactly what that "plan" even is! It seems the only thing Jesus left us, so that we can identify others as His disciples, is: "Love one another." By THIS, declares Jesus, all will see that we are His disciples! May God abundantly bless you and your ministry, Brother Al.

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Brother Maxey, I hope today finds you well, and may God continue to use you and your writings to bring grace to the Churches of Christ. I truly believe that faith-communities like the Churches of Christ, communities that call us back to God's Word in our faith and practice, are needed in the universal Body of Christ. However, these text-focused communities must be tempered by God's grace and mercy, otherwise they fall into graceless and merciless legalism! I am concerned that many Churches of Christ have fallen into this trap. Thankfully, within the universal Church, there has always been a strong pull back to grace and mercy, and I am so thankful for writers such as you who are part of that pulling ministry.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Just read "Thoughts for the Thoughtful." Well said! It is sad to see that there is still a vocal remnant of the denominational Church of Christ group (you know: the "one true church" denomination). "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?!" Well, God surely loves them too. Yet, that sect is dwindling, perhaps in part because the light of day (or the "light of Maxey") has shown forth into the darkness! The Internet, and various church discussion groups (such as are on Facebook, Yahoo!, etc.), have provided a place and forum for those who were previously censored from questioning the tenets and practices of their sects to now pull back the veil and take a good look at the reasoning of others (those outside their own group). I can't tell you the number of private emails I have received from longtime members of the "Church of Christ" group who have said that they have come to a new understanding from reading some of the "back and forth" discussions and debates that have occurred on these web sites.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

I enjoy your Reflections articles. My wife also receives them. Lately, I've been wondering about a specific passage: 1 Peter 3:21. Most quote the first few words: "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us." Those who quote those eleven words often stretch them completely out of context, thus making baptism our savior. However, there is another phrase used in that passage: "the filth of the flesh," and I was wondering if you have done a study on that expression. This seems to leave the impression, at least in the thinking of some, that Peter is saying baptism is not for the purpose of taking a bath to wash away "dirt" on the body. However, "filth" is from a Greek word that means "moral depravity." If that is what Peter is saying, then baptism is also not for the purpose of removing one's sins! The sprinkling of the blood of Jesus does that! With most translations rendering this word as "dirt" (instead of "filth"), it would almost be impossible, however, for someone to understand that phrase as meaning "moral depravity."

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Yesterday, at our Sunday assembly, was another sermon hard to swallow, for the preacher told us in his lesson that unless one is baptized in water he/she cannot be saved. I guess Jesus and His blood no longer count? I can't help but think that we, in the "Church of Christ" church, ought to start calling the contents of the baptistery "holy water" and be done with it (for that is how it is viewed). Yes, there is a time to speak (as you pointed out in your article), but here nobody listens!!

From a Leader with Eastern European Mission:

My file box labeled "Al Maxey" is full and overflowing! Thank you, Al, for the "good fight on the front lines" that you wage! I continue to scatter your "seeds" to soils that are fertile and searching. I have several email mentoring studies that are progressing nicely; in fact, they are now far enough along that I can bring them to wade in your pool. Once again, Al, thanks for using your exceptional talent with the pen for proclaiming the love of the Kingdom. Your work will live for generations in the hearts of seekers of truth who are genuine Jesus followers. May God continue to use you!

From an Author/Publisher in Nevada:

In the final paragraph of your article "Thoughts for the Thoughtful" you wrote: "Brethren, I am really not trying to be unkind here. I was raised in this religious heritage, and I too was exposed to this thinking for many years (and even preached it for several). Such indoctrination is not easy to overcome; indeed, some never extricate themselves from its grip. This view is wrong, though; it is dangerous; it is deadly. I have no desire to hurt Hugh in any way; I'm sure he is in many ways a very good man, and I don't doubt His genuine love for the Lord. His teaching on this matter, however, is as false as it can be, and it is leading souls astray. It needs to be confronted, and people need to see the inconsistencies of such sectarian arrogance. Thankfully, that is happening, and I thank God for the opportunity to be a small part of that spiritual awakening!" This says it all, Al, and you have stated it succinctly, gracefully and kindly! Hugh Fulford, and many other similar Christians, do not realize that the "Churches of Christ" have every earmark of a sect and a denomination. Our group arose among men less than 250 years ago, and is currently perpetuated by a peculiar herd of spiritual brigands who continually display attitudes of superiority and mule-headedness. The CENI hermeneutic fully originated in the legalistic trenches and continues to be perpetuated by special punctiliar interpretation of out-of-context passages of Scripture such as Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Acts 2:38, and several other legalistically redirected passages. Thus, the mission of grace-faith Christians is clear: to redirect such teaching into greater NT historical, social, cultural and literary contexts, so that apostolic teaching can shine forth once more, directing Christian behavior away from superficiality, dogmatism and self-righteousness. Let us once again strive for openness, forbearance, acceptance, togetherness, consideration of differing brethren, commitment, the devotional life, and servanthood. Sadly, although most assuredly, these latter words are not a part of the legalists' vocabulary.

From a Reader in California:

The Old Paths Advocate is the creed manual for the One Cup Churches of Christ. Don McCord used to be their editor, until the One Cuppers turned on him. After that they wouldn't publish his articles, nor would they attend his meetings. The OPA people are not very loving, nor do they really preach Jesus (I know, I was a member of this group). One of their preachers said from the pulpit, concerning developing a relationship with Christ, "There is no such thing as a relationship with Jesus Christ." Egads!! Can you believe that?! I'm also sending you an email from a guy in this group, in which he said, "Over the years I have heard Bro. Don McCord say that we can 'love too much!' He even wrote an article on that subject once for the OPA. I don't mean to demean Don, but we can't love too much." Bro. Maxey, isn't it pitiful that legalists don't understand, nor do they value, the great importance of LOVE?!

If you would like to be added to or removed from this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: