Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look. The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
In times of great distress, when we are weak, beset, frightened, and overwhelmed, we are told to call on the name of the Lord. The year 733 BC was one of those times for Ahaz, king of Judah. Because of his refusal to enter into a military alliance with the kings of Syria and Israel, they had declared war on him, and now, all around the capitol city of Jerusalem their armies were arrayed against him, so that “his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” It was into this scenario that the the prophet Isaiah was sent to the king whom he commanded to ask for a sign, that God’s power and faithfulness to His people might be put on full display. And yet, Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign from heaven, suggesting that to turn to God in his time of need would be to put Him to the test.
Let us not be deceived into believing Ahaz’s false piety in quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. It is not putting God to the test to rely on Him, to beg Him for mercy, or to call on Him for help. God’s power is limitless and His will is to save and protect His people. When Jesus uses the same verse to refute the Devil in Matthew 4:5-7, the temptation is to throw himself off a building to see if God will keep him from harm in falling. The sin in question is not seeking help from God, but putting oneself in a position to need God’s help for the sake of finding out if He can and will provide.
Ahaz’s refusal to turn to God is therefore not an act of pious submission, but rather a misunderstanding of who God is that belies a deep fearfulness. If, in desperation, we do cry out to God and He does not answer, what then? In fear, we can often refuse, like Ahaz, to pray for what seems impossible. But this refusal betrays a lack of faith either that God hears our prayers or that He can save us, or perhaps even that He exists. If, then, we never ask Him for help, no matter what disaster strikes, we can remain secure in our “belief.”
The temptation to this sort of rejection of God is especially great in times of great fear and uncertainty, such as we are experiencing right now. With every person a possible transmitter of deadly disease, it is easy to feel surrounded by enemies, just as Ahaz did standing atop the ramparts of Jerusalem. But if even Ahaz in his unbelief receives a sign, then we can be well-assured that when we cry out to Him, our God will answer.
Cam Jones ’20 is a senior in Quincy House studying Social Studies.