The plethora of names in Isaiah 7.1-9 requires a complete reading if we are to make sense of it.
In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it.When the house of David was told, ‘Syria is in league with Ephraim,’ the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
And the Lord said to Isaiah, ‘Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, ‘Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,’ thus says the Lord God: ‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’”’ (Isaiah 7:1–9 ESV)
The manifest terror of Ahaz and his vulnerable Judahites is captured in the image of hearts shaking ‘as the trees of a forest shake before the wind’. The careful reader might sense in the prophet’s allusion to a wind (רוח) the barest of hints that another ‘wind’ (רוח in Isaiah and elsewhere refers often to YHWH’s ‘spirit’) also blows across Judah amid what can only be experienced as an existential crisis. It is the latter breeze that is capable of effecting the prophet’s bidding to calm down and refuse to panic, even as this divine rustling stands as well behind YHWH’s bold declaration that the machination of Judah’s enemies ‘shall not stand and shall not be’ (v. 7).
Whether such a play on רוח is intended or not, it is worthwhile to listen carefully to YHWH’s defining down of Judah’s conspiring enemies. The detail is one more evidence entered in support of this book’s insistence that things are seldom what they appear to be.
Ephraim and Syria are capable of destroying Judah with their multi-faceted scheme to terrify, to conquer, and set up a puppet king in Jerusalem and Judah. Why else would Judahite hearts shake as leaves before the twin threat of these two neighboring countries’ conspiracy?
Yet from the divine angle of vision—where things are as thunderings seraphim know them to be but as we below seldom do—Ephraim and Syria are merely ‘these two smoldering stumps of firebrands’.
YHWH knows, the prophet would insist, the limits of our enemies as we ourselves cannot. The book’s crisis-saturated insistence that ‘God is with us’ (Emmanuel) makes itself known here via a different grammar: It shall not stand, and it shall not be.
These smoldering stumps, YHWH knows, will soon grow cold, their flame and even their smoke a foggy memory, harmless and pathetic.
Meanwhile Judah, or a remnant of it named after the prophet’s accompanying son, will turn and return. Will live on in YHWH’s presence and by his strength.
The prophet’s summons to a terrified people to ‘be careful, be quiet, do not fear’ is not evasion of awful reality, but rather insight into that which is deeply, genuinely, invisibly real.