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Isaiah 7:17-25

Context
7:17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s family a time 1  unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria!” 2 

7:18 At that time 3  the Lord will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. 4  7:19 All of them will come and make their home 5  in the ravines between the cliffs, and in the crevices of the cliffs, in all the thorn bushes, and in all the watering holes. 6  7:20 At that time 7  the sovereign master will use a razor hired from the banks of the Euphrates River, 8  the king of Assyria, to shave the head and the pubic hair; 9  it will also shave off the beard. 7:21 At that time 10  a man will keep alive a young cow from the herd and a couple of goats. 7:22 From the abundance of milk they produce, 11  he will have sour milk for his meals. Indeed, everyone left in the heart of the land will eat sour milk and honey. 7:23 At that time 12  every place where there had been a thousand vines worth a thousand shekels will be overrun 13  with thorns and briers. 7:24 With bow and arrow 14  men will hunt 15  there, for the whole land will be covered 16  with thorns and briers. 7:25 They will stay away from all the hills that were cultivated, for fear of the thorns and briers. 17  Cattle will graze there and sheep will trample on them. 18 

1 tn Heb “days” (so KJV, NAB); NASB, NRSV “such days.”

2 sn Initially the prophecy appears to be a message of salvation. Immanuel seems to have a positive ring to it, sour milk and honey elsewhere symbolize prosperity and blessing (see Deut 32:13-14; Job 20:17), verse 16 announces the defeat of Judah’s enemies, and verse 17a could be taken as predicting a return to the glorious days of David and Solomon. However, the message turns sour in verses 17b-25. God will be with his people in judgment, as well as salvation. The curds and honey will be signs of deprivation, not prosperity, the relief announced in verse 16 will be short-lived, and the new era will be characterized by unprecedented humiliation, not a return to glory. Because of Ahaz’s refusal to trust the Lord, potential blessing would be transformed into a curse, just as Isaiah turns an apparent prophecy of salvation into a message of judgment. Because the words “the king of Assyria” are rather awkwardly tacked on to the end of the sentence, some regard them as a later addition. However, the very awkwardness facilitates the prophet’s rhetorical strategy here, as he suddenly turns what sounds like a positive message into a judgment speech. Actually, “the king of Assyria,” stands in apposition to the earlier object “days,” and specifies who the main character of these coming “days” will be.

3 tn Heb “in that day” (so KJV). The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2.

4 sn Swarming flies are irritating; bees are irritating and especially dangerous because of the pain they inflict with their sting (see Deut 1:44; Ps 118:12). The metaphors are well chosen, for the Assyrians (symbolized by the bees) were much more powerful and dangerous than the Egyptians (symbolized by the flies). Nevertheless both would put pressure on Judah, for Egypt wanted Judah as a buffer state against Assyrian aggression, while Assyrian wanted it as a base for operations against Egypt. Following the reference to sour milk and honey, the metaphor is especially apt, for flies are attracted to dairy products and bees can be found in the vicinity of honey.

5 tn Heb “and shall rest” (so KJV, ASV); NASB, NIV, NRSV “and settle.”

6 tn The meaning of this word (נַהֲלֹל, nahalol) is uncertain; some understand this as referring to another type of thorn bush. For bibliography, see HALOT 676 s.v. I *נַהֲלֹל.

7 tn Heb “in that day” (so ASV, NASB); KJV “In the same day.”

8 tn Heb “the river” (so KJV); NASB “the Euphrates.” The name of the river has been supplied in the present translation for clarity.

9 tn Heb “the hair of the feet.” The translation assumes that the word “feet” is used here as a euphemism for the genitals. See BDB 920 s.v. רֶגֶל.

10 tn Heb “in that day.” The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2.

11 tn The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated, see note on 2:2.

12 tn Heb “in that day.” The verb that introduces this verse serves as a discourse particle and is untranslated; see note on “in the future” in 2:2.

13 tn Heb “will become” (so NASB); NAB “shall be turned to.”

14 tn Heb “with arrows and a bow.” The more common English idiom is “bow[s] and arrow[s].”

15 tn Heb “go” (so NAB, NIV, NRSV); TEV “go hunting.”

16 tn Heb “will be” (so NASB, NRSV).

17 tn Heb “and all the hills which were hoed with a hoe, you will not go there [for] fear of the thorns and briers.”

18 tn Heb “and it will become a pasture for cattle and a trampling place for sheep.”

sn At this point one is able to summarize the content of the “sign” (vv. 14-15) as follows: A young woman known to be present when Isaiah delivered this message to Ahaz (perhaps a member of the royal family or the prophetess mentioned in 8:3) would soon give birth to a boy whom the mother would name Immanuel, “God is with us.” Eventually Immanuel would be forced to eat sour milk and honey, which would enable him to make correct moral decisions. How would this situation come about and how would it constitute a sign? Before this situation developed, the Israelites and Syrians would be defeated. But then the Lord would usher in a period of time unlike any since the division of the kingdom almost 200 years before. The Assyrians would overrun the land, destroy the crops, and force the people to subsist on goats’ milk and honey. At that time, as the people saw Immanuel eating his sour milk and honey, the Davidic family would be forced to acknowledge that God was indeed with them. He was present with them in the Syrian-Israelite crisis, fully capable of rescuing them; but he was also present with them in judgment, disciplining them for their lack of trust. The moral of the story is quite clear: Failure to appropriate God’s promises by faith can turn potential blessing into disciplinary judgment.



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