The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
Then he said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. [Isaiah 7: 10-14]
I just love this first reading for this Sunday’s mass. It is the story of Ahaz, King of Judea, whose Kingdom is about to be attacked by Syria and Israel. Isaiah tells the king to ask Yahweh for a sign to show His faithfulness to Israel. What we do not know is that Ahaz was about to make an alliance with Assyria; and so when Isaiah visits him to ask for a sign, he’s really asking Ahaz to trust Yahweh and not human alliances like the one with Assyria.
Ahaz, the astute politician that he is, utters the now famous line: “I will not ask! I will not tempt God!” covering up his unbelief, and keeping himself open to the alliance with Assyria. He dare not ask for the sign because if Yahweh proves himself, then Ahaz will have to put the nation’s security in God’s hands.
We can pause here and ask ourselves how often we are like Ahaz, afraid to tempt God, because we are that: simply afraid to put ourselves totally in His hands.
But that is not the point of this post. The point is the next line. This is the sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. And that’s why I love this reading. Judea was about to be attacked by really strong enemies. But what does Yahweh promise? Not an alliance. Not additional weapons. Not a military leader like Moses (not yet anyway) who will defeat their enemies. Not even hail like the ones experienced in Egypt. His promise is the birth of a child!
If you were Ahaz, how would you react? You would probably laugh out loud, and I wouldn’t fault you for laughing. You could hear Ahaz’s thought bubble running through his mind: “I am about to be attacked, my kingdom about to be annihilated, my life in danger, we are about to die here! Why are you talking to me about a child?! And how can a child come from a virgin?! But anyway, that’s beside the point! When will he come? We need help NOW!”
What Ahaz–and we who are in the middle of facing terrible enemies: poverty, cancer, broken relationships, loss of jobs, debt, fire, natural disasters, etc.–do not know is that Yahweh, in promising the birth of Emmanuel, has prepared His greatest counteroffensive of all time. We are so caught up in the here and NOW that we lose focus on the greater plan, which is almost always, the better plan.
So you have a choice (and either way, I will respect you): (1) help NOW, to defeat your present enemies, the Syrias and Israels of your life; or (2) God’s greatest counteroffensive of all time– the continuing promise that He is with us?