Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
Over 700 years before Jesus was born, a man called Isaiah gave this prophecy to King Ahaz of Judah, telling Ahaz of a promised sign from God — namely, that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, and that she would call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” The promise God gives Ahaz, who is facing down the threats of a fiercely oppressive Assyrian empire, is that He will send a virgin with a child, as a help to Judah. Doesn’t that seem strange? How is that going to stop an impending Assyrian attack? How will a baby save a threatened kingdom?
God has a rather odd way of thinking, doesn’t He? I mean, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we don’t always get how He thinks, and we often cannot puzzle out the odd things He tells us, whether in the Bible or in our hearts. Why does He speak in such obscure ways?
God points Isaiah and Ahaz to a coming Child to say that a different way of living would come, one that would put an end to violence and death and threatening and domination—all the machinations of empire. A child could stop all of that. That is God’s message. It’s an odd one, but it bears consideration, for in pondering what a child is, and represents, we see the way God intends to give answer to empire.
So we have to ask: what did children mean to Isaiah and his culture? It’s easy to see how we in this day and age romanticize the image of childhood — for we think of children as full of innocence and wonder, loveable and ready to love others. But that isn’t how Isaiah and his culture would’ve seen children. In his day, children were seen as powerless, weak, and were thus looked down upon. So, when God answers Ahaz’s weakened position to withstand Assyria with a child, He is really saying, “Ahaz, you’re in a weak position, but as a sign of My deliverance to you, 700 years from now I will send help in the form of more weakness — a weakness more weak than your own right now. The weakness that a baby represents. Have a good day!”
The way God thinks, so differently from us, does do one thing really well for us: we are led to wonder what He’s up to. And just like I am sure Ahaz puzzled over how a weak child would be an answer to the troubles of the Jews with its neighboring nations, so we are left puzzling how an emblem of weakness can be the answer to our own weakness.
But that weak, easily-dismissed Child is the perfect answer to all the weaknesses we face. He is Immanuel, the God with us in our weaknesses, and His weakness is perfect. And it’s perfectly suited to deliver us from empire and oppression and sin.