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Isaiah 7:17-18

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 

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.



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