While studying these Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi it is important to get a bird’s-eye view of the forest of Isaiah. Reading Isaiah often has us feeling lost in a forest of trees, but if we can get ABOVE the trees we are given a better picture of what’s really down there.
One thing to remember is that chapters 2-15 is a unit which goes together. Then we are given chapter 16, which is an interlude, followed by chapters 17-24 (which is another unit). So let’s back up... get out of the trees so to speak, and look at these chapters as a whole. After doing so, then we can go back into the trees again.
Now Isaiah will use the political situation of his time to teach spiritual truths. The political situation of his time was such that there were three big threats to Judah: 1) the threat from a Syria - Israel (northern kingdom) alliance. 2) from the Assyrians. 3) from the Babylonians. All three will threaten the existence of Judah and the Davidic line.
But that’s not the only problem. During this time Israel is in the midst of civil war. King Solomon has died, and his son, Reheboam (the new king) tells the tribes that he’s not going to be Mr. Nice-guy to them. His father may have put them under heavy taxation, but they haven’t seen nothing yet! He is trying to scare them into towing the line, but the tribes won’t stand for it. They say, “We don’t want you for our king!” and the house of Israel splits into two kingdoms. Ten of the tribes of Israel form the northern kingdom and are called Israel (and sometime Ephraim, because Ephraim was the dominant tribe). Israel is ruled by anyone powerful enough to take control. The southern kingdom (called Judah) consists of the tribes of (surprise!) Judah and Benjamin. The Levites who held the priesthood scatter all over the place, most leave the northern kingdom and heading for the southern. Tiny Judah, which holds the line of David, is in midst of a large group of the aforementioned super- power nations. Assyria is the big kid on the block and is the most cruel. It’s trying to gobble up all little nations nearby. Babylon is under Assyrian power, but it is rising up and eventually, in time, will throw Assyria off its back.
During the next few chapters we will see much that is messianic... beautiful prophecies of the coming of Christ. And what Isaiah will try to tell us is to look at the big picture. Each time one of the nations threatens Judah, fear God. Obey and trust in Him . He will save and deliver you. When Babylon lies in ruins in the dust, and Ninevah and Israel are scattered and lost throughout world,... when they are all gone, out of you, little Judah, is destined to come the King of Kings!
Now on to chapter 17.
Vs. 1 Just a little history. The first threat against Judah is Syria (whose capital is Damascus), who has formed an alliance with Israel (Ephraim) and who wishes to conquer Judah.
Vs. 2 Syria is allied with Israel (Ephraim) and now Judah is scared.
Vs. 3 The Lord tells Isaiah, “Take little Shearjashub, your son, and go meet Ahaz [pronouned Ah-hahz] at the pool of Shalom.” It was tough being a kid of a prophet in those days! The names children were given gave a message to all they met. In this case, “Shearjashub” meant “the remnant shall return.” Wherever the boy went, he was a testimony to others. People would see him and say, “Oh! Here comes little Remnant Shall Return!” LOL!
Vs. 8 “Head” means “capitol.”
vs. 12 He doesn’t care whether or not he is tempting God. He has already planned out what he is going to do. He has it all laid out... he wants to form an alliance with Assyria. He will pay them money to attack Syria and Israel. In essence he is saying, “I don’t need God’s help. I’ve got everything under control.”
Vs. 13 Isaiah says, “It’s bad enough that you’re trying to be hypocritical with ME, but don’t try to pull the wool over GOD’S eyes! He’s not stupid, you know!”
Vs. 14 “I’m going to give you a sign anyway. And this is the sign... From you, the house of David, shall be born the King of Kings...”
Vs. 15 Butter and honey were poor people’s food. Thus, the King of Kings will be poor.
Vs.16 Before the child is old enough to know right from wrong, those nations (Syria and Israel) shall have no power... they’ll be history. Referring back to v14 (above). The word “virgin” in Hebrew means “young woman.” Also, in the ancient world women based their child’s name on events that were going on in their lives or feelings they were having at that time. For instance, Sarah named her child Isaac, which means “laughter and joy.” Leah feared that her husband Jacob favored Rachel, so she named her child Reuben, which means, “Look! A son!”... in the hopes that a son will turn Jacob’s favor from Rachel to herself. So names were chosen based upon events and emotions in the woman’s immediate world. It is an interesting prophecy Isaiah makes when he says that part of the sign would be that the child’s name would be Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us.” In other words, he is saying that the sign is going to be so obvious that God is with them that they (Mary and Joseph) will name the child Emmanuel.
There were LOTS of young women by the name of “Mary” in New Testament times. “Mary” in Hebrew is Marah, which means “bitter.”
Vs.18 This is not speaking literally, but rather figuratively. The flies out of Egypt and bees out of Assyria are armies... Swarms of enemies will come together to fight Judah.
Vs. 19 The soldiers coming are described as being like a plague of flies that are wherever you look.
Vs. 20 In the ancient world beards were a sign of manhood, and a woman’s hair was a sign of womanhood. If an enemy wished to totally shame, dominate and humiliate their captives they would shave off all of their body hair. (Also, the enemies didn’t want their war captives to marry, so they would cut the women’s hair, knowing that the women would have to wait six month in order to marry.) To shave or pluck one’s beard is to utterly shame and defeat them. This is what the Roman soldiers would eventually do to Jesus. So Isaiah is saying, “The very King of Assyria whom you have hired to protect you... HE is going to shave you!... And not only is he going to shave your heads and beards, but he is going to shave you from head to toe!”
Vs. 21-22 And when that shaving is accomplished there will be so few people that the milk of one cow and two sheep will be sufficient! There will hardly be anyone left by the time Assyria is through with them!
Vs. 23 Where there was once a thousand vineyards, now there will be a thousand plants of briers and thorns. Why? Because there nobody’s left to take care of the land.
Vs. 24 Why would men come to a land that is so desolate? To go hunting.
Vs. 25 A mattock is a hoe. Isaiah is saying sarcastically, “But there’s a plus to all of this! You know all the places where there used to be little cultivated gardens? Well, you won’t have to worry about hoeing them anymore! They’re going to be full of weeds and they’ll be pasture lands!”
So there it is. What did you learn?