There is a word play at the end of the Old Testament lectionary reading today from Isaiah 7. In verse 9, the lectionary reads “unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm.” The two uses of the word firm indicate here that the same word is used twice. This is the Hebrew word from which we get the English equivalent amen.
In other words, in the original language the verse reads something like “If you do not (form of them Hebrew word amen), you will not (form of the Hebrew word amen).” The translation used for the lectionary captures the wordplay, but the meaning of the verse may seem somewhat obscure. The meaning would be something akin to “If you do not believe, you will not endure.”
We know from verses 1-6 of Isaiah 7 that the Kingdom of Judah is about to face an attack. The only way that Isaiah says they will endure the attack is to believe. But, what does that mean in this case?
It helps a bit to know why Judah is under attack. Judah is under attack from Aram and the Nothern Kingdom of Israel. Aram and Israel are trying to make an alliance against Assyria. If they can conquer King Ahaz and perhaps place someone who is sympathetic with them on the throne of Judah, they will be able to add Judah to their alliance against Assyria.
So, how could Ahaz have averted this attack? Well, he simply could have joined the alliance. He could have told the King of Aram and the King Israel, “If you promise not to attack us, we will join your alliance and fight with you against Assyria.” However, Isaiah had preached the message that joining this alliance would be unwise. Isaiah had preached that the nation of Judah should remain neutral and side with neither the Assyrians nor the alliance against the Assyrians.
So, for Ahaz to believe in this case it means not to cave under the threat of attack. If Ahaz caves under the threat of this alliance, the nation of Judah will not endure. Thus, for Ahaz belief is not something in the abstract.
As for Ahaz, so also for us. We are often offered sentiments like “you just need to trust God.” But, what does that mean? Trust can seem like a very abstract concept. Yet trust is demonstrated in real life situations. And, often it is demonstrated in real life situations by not taking the easy road, by not trying to avert something unpleasant simply because others are pressuring us.
So, let us stand firm today, lest we also incur the displeasure of God. Averting something unpleasant in the short term may not work out well in the end. Indeed, Assyria eventually put an end to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, perhaps a little more than a decade after the events of this text in Isaiah 7. Had Judah joined with them, they could have met their end much earlier than they did.