The Old Testament is constantly battling to dethrone the myth that power is manifest in human might and strength. The book of Isaiah in particular takes up a polemic against this wrong conceptualization of power.
We find this in one of the most famous of messianic prophecies, Isaiah 7:14. We often read this passage of scripture around the season of Advent (which is coming!). “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (ESV). The Christian tradition has caused us to naturally think immediately of the virgin birth of Jesus when reading this verse. This is perfectly correct and normal, however, we cannot forget how this passage functioned as well in its original context.
What is the context of Isaiah 7? In this passage, King Ahaz is scared because he’s being threatened by the Syro-Ephramite collation. The kings of Syria and Ephraim (Israel) are telling him that if he doesn’t join their alliance against Assyria that they will attack Jerusalem and have him killed (and install a king who will do what they want). This, naturally, has Ahaz nervous. This is precisely why Isaiah the prophet finds him checking the city’s water supply (the conduit of the upper pool, Isaiah 7:3). It’s also why we read this message to Ahaz from Yahweh in the same passage: “When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Is 7:2).
In order to calm Ahaz down from his fear and give him courage, God sends Isaiah the prophet with a message for Ahaz. Now, naturally, the message that one would expect that would bring courage and might may be something like this, “God will send to you and army for fortification!”, or, “Do not fear, God is sending a legion of angels who will be your guard!”. But this is not at all what we hear. Rather, this is God’s message to Ahaz:
“Ahaz, don’t be afraid, for I am sending you a baby.”
A baby! Of all the things in the world that are NOT intimidating or useful in battle it is a baby!
What’s the point? The point is this: God has more power through a new-born baby than all the armies of the earth.
This point is reiterated in the story of our Lord’s birth. Herod is after him. Herod musters all his human strength and political power to thwart God’s strategic move to take the throne of the earth through baby Jesus, and he just can’t. Herod, in all his human strength, is unable to thwart God’s plan.
What is Isaiah (and so much of the Old Testament) telling us? Power and might is not found in human strength. Rather, it is found in human weakness.
Lastly, this is the story of the Cross. The great, magnificent and unmatched power of God himself is best manifest through his submission and suffering on a roman cross. This is the power of God. His power is not best manifest in calming a storm, healing paralytics, or even walking on water. No, his power is manifest through giving up his life for others. Love, selfless love.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — John 1:5