2020 has certainly felt like a year of oppression. The oppression of COVID–19. The oppression of the economic climate it created. The oppressive effects of social distancing and isolation.
And oppression leads to fear.
King Ahaz of Judah faced an entirely different kind of oppression when two kings came up to wage war against him and his people at the capital city of Jerusalem.
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.
— Isaiah 7:1–2
If you’ve ever been to the Rocky Mountains in the summertime, you’ve probably seen the beauty of silver aspen leaves shimmering on a mountain breeze. But what is beautiful to behold in nature is frightening to behold in ourselves. If your heart has ever been shaken, you know what I’m talking about.
But God has a word for us, just as He did for King Ahaz:
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.”
— Isaiah 7:3–7
The two kings believed that they could defeat Judah. And Ahaz and his people believed the same thing. But God had other plans. And He had the authority.
In these verses, God’s sovereignty is clearly on display. Rezin and Pekah may threaten, but God is ultimately in control. But how will Ahaz respond? God exhorts him to choose carefully and warns him against “soft faith”:
If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.
— Isaiah 7:9
The danger of soft faith is our tendency to drift toward “contingency planning” rather than single-minded obedience to God’s word. When the what ifs drown out the God saids, our obedience is in serious jeopardy. And obedience is the only way to rightly experience God’s plan for our lives.
In Ahaz’ case, caught between what threatens to be and what God says will be, he must choose where to put his faith. Belief in the supremacy of Rezin and Pekah’s power will lead to fear – and potentially a rash, disobedient decision – while faith in God’s authority and trust in His word will lead to a careful, quiet lack of fear.
The decision before us is not much different than Ahaz’ choice. We may not be faced with the threat of a marauding army at our doorstep (make that two armies), but we may be facing something that feels equally threatening. What will our response be? Is the God we know and serve the same God who promised Ahaz deliverance out of the kings’ hands? Or has he somehow grown feeble in His old age so that His word no longer holds the same weight it once did? Is His command to Ahaz to “be careful, be quiet, and do not fear” still relevant today?
If we believe the scripture that says, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23), then we have to believe that there is love, mercy, and faithfulness for us even in our darkest times. With this assurance, we can trust God’s word to lead us through them, even when a voice inside us urges us to take matters into our own hands.
What “smoldering stumps of firebrands” are you fearing right now? Chances are they appear more like raging bonfires than smoldering stumps. But God is able to extinguish even the fiercest flames with His word. And while you wait for Him to speak, don’t forget that He has already spoken much. Obey what He has already told you. Not so much to escape the fire you are in, but to emerge from it “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). For this is ultimately God’s desire for you: faith, tested and proved genuine, resulting in praise and glory and honor.
It doesn’t get much better than that. And it certainly beats shaking in the wind.