10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!” (Isaiah 7:10-17)
Have you ever asked the LORD for a sign? Perhaps it was to affirm a particular decision which you faced or a particular path you should follow. The LORD told King Ahaz to “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
A sign is defined as a visible event intended to communicate a meaning beyond that which is normally understood in the outward appearance of the particular event. In a few examples in the Old Testament, “sign” refers to the observances of heavenly bodies in an astrological sense (Genesis 1:14; Jeremiah 10:1-2), or to the “signs and wonders” as indications of God’s miraculous work within the history of the world (Deuteronomy 4:34; 6:22; Nehemiah 9:10; Psalm 105:27; Jeremiah 32:20). On other occasions, the word sign is used as an insignia of the Mosaic Covenant. Thus, the wearing of the law on the wrist and forehead and the keeping of the Sabbath are considered signs of the relationship between Israel and God (Deuteronomy 6:1-8; 11:18; Ezekiel 20:12, 20).
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary explains that, “The most numerous and significant usages of “sign” appear in relation to the OT prophetic ministry. Beginning with Moses, signs are used to confirm that God has spoken to the prophet. Thus, when Moses received the message of deliverance that he was to bring to the children of Israel in Egypt and the pharaoh, he was given two signs: his staff was changed into a serpent and his hand was afflicted with leprosy (Ex 4:1–8). Signs and wonders were also used by false prophets. After a sign had been given and had come to pass, the leaders of Israel were to examine the message of the prophet to see if it led the people away from the true worship of God. If it did, the prophet who had given the sign was to be put to death (Deuteronomy 13:1–5).”
Within the Old Testament, the character of the sign varies and often is miraculous. For example, some of the great miracles of the OT are prophetic signs. These would include the moving of the shadow back up the steps of Hezekiah’s palace to confirm Isaiah’s prediction that the king would recover from his mortal illness (2 Kings 20:8–9; Isaiah 38:21–22).
A sign could also be predictive so the people could know whether the prophet had spoken the truth by whether or not the event came to pass. This would include the prophet’s foretelling the death of both of Eli’s sons on the same day (1 Samuel 2:34; I Samuel 14:10; 2 Kings 19:29; Isaiah 37:30).
Sometimes the sign was carefully timed, and the recipient was told that the appearance of the sign would show when to act to fulfill the prophetic message (1 Samuel 10:7–9). At other times, the events predicted were acted out in the life of the prophet. These symbolic actions demonstrated the truth of the prophet’s message. Take for example the Prophet Isaiah’s nakedness for three years to demonstrate the fate of those who preached trust in Egypt’s power (Isaiah 20:3; see also Ezekiel 4:1-3).
Signs in the NT occurrences were much like those in the Old Testament. There are references to heavenly signs that will occur as indications of the end times, and those with special knowledge will understand that the end is drawing near (Matthew 24:3, 30; Mark 13:4, 22; Luke 21:11, 25–26). These apocalyptic signs have no astrological correlations as in the OT.
Arguably, the most significant meaning of a sign from God, both in the OT and the NT, was to confirm the message given by God. This message would come through the prophetic and apostolic ministry to, respectively, Israel and the church.
The LORD told King Ahaz to ask Him for a sign. It could be as deep as the depths of the earth or as high as heaven itself. What was Ahaz’s response and what would be the sign God would give to the king? That is what we will study when next we meet.
Soli deo Gloria!