when tempting god could have been the right thing to do

Later, the Lord sent this message to King Ahaz: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.”

But the king refused. “No,” he said, “I will not test the Lord like that.”

Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). By the time this child is old enough to choose what is right and reject what is wrong, he will be eating yogurt and honey. For before the child is that old, the lands of the two kings you fear so much will both be deserted.

(Isaiah 7:10-16, NLT)

how many of us have often wanted a sign, any sign, form god, whether it be a proof of his existence, or a confirmation of what we think is the right – or the wrong- choice? and how often have we been granted this mysterious and so rewarding sign?

now, the prophet tells king to ask for a sign. any sign, whatever sign. the question that can be asked here is – why? to what end? what will this sign confirm (and thus deny)?

in the previous verse, the prophet warns the king: ‘If your faith is not strong, you will not have strength enough to last [in the upcoming war].’ to confirm and strengthen this faith – faith in the presence of god in his land, and thus, of victory – does god offer a sign. the contrast between high heaven and the deep of the land of the dead only increases the representation of the overwhelming power of god.

so…here is a sign, for once, in difference from everyone else, yours for the taking – and why the refusal, why that kind answer to the prophet and god?

it is not god king refuses to tempt. it is his own self. ahaz, known to history as one of the most mmm…god-annoying kings of judah, uses the words of moses (deut.6:16), formally acknowledging the omnipotence of god; but underneath these words there is a different message.

it is a message of unbelief and hypocrisy. the king does not think god can change the situation (because the king has renounced god so many times that he thinks god does not exist). the king does not want god to interfere, and therefore he refuses to call on god, lest god appear and change his views on the situation. thus by putting on a god-abiding face the king only confirms his ungodly intentions.

but guess what? god sees through that. the king has failed his final test. a quick series of rhetorical questions from the prophet indicate that god has made a decision to intervene in the human history. a promise is given, not to the king, to his desperate people, that things yet unseen will take place, and that salvation is in the god who comes to live among his people.

last week of advent is the bit in the church-year where the symbolic expectation of the birth of the saviour of the world reaches a certain peak. it is also a moment in advent when discussion of issues as hypocrisy and duplicity becomes more acute.

do we really want god to enter our so-settled petty lives with their little grand fears and cute pretences, and the mess we make of stuff? do we really want that god who is ‘with us’ – at all times, in all places?

or maybe you know there is this army of whatever individual allegorical pagan somethings preparing to attack, and there is this prophetic promise of a sign – the sign of god’s presence offered to us. will you choose the polite emptiness of what is socially, culturally acceptable, but essentially against god? or will you choose the non-conformity to the ‘everyone is like that’ and ‘i don’t care’ – and ask for the sign ‘as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead’, and receiving it, follow the god who walks among us even now?

will you become the true adopted child of god?


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