(Isa. 7:11-12) Was Isaiah encouraging Ahaz to test God?

CLAIM: God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign to help confirm his faltering faith. However, Ahaz says, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” (Isa. 7:12) In addition to Ahaz’s statement, Deuteronomy 6:16 states, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” However, Ahaz is considered to be a faithless king, and God gives him a sign anyhow (vv.13-14). Was Ahaz right or wrong in rejecting this sign? Is it right or wrong to ask for signs from God?

RESPONSE: In Isaiah 7:12, the Hebrew word for “sign” is owth (pronounced OAT). This word can just mean something simple –like a street sign –or it can refer to a supernatural sign. For instance, when God used the rainbow over creation, he called it a “sign.” This, of course, was not a supernatural sign; it was a natural sign (see comments on Genesis 9:13). On the other hand, this word for sign (owth) is also used of the “signs and wonders” in Exodus 7:3, during the Exodus from Egypt. However, from the context in Isaiah 7, we see that the sign should be clearly supernatural and significant (“deep as Sheol or high as heaven” verse 11).

While most believers are in the sin of unbelief for depending on supernatural signs like this, the opposite was true for Ahaz. Most notably, Ahaz was denying God’s provision for a sign. While demanding a sign would be sinful, denying God’s sign would be even more sinful. Ahaz needed additional signs to help him with his fear of the Syrians, who were mounting an attack. But, instead of accepting God’s provision, he was denying what God was freely offering! Ahaz tried to cloak his unbelief by citing Deuteronomy 6:16, but this was an improper citation: Deuteronomy 6 refers to a specific form of testing God. When read in context, this passage explains that we should not to test God “as you tested him at Massah” (Deut. 6:16). The Jews at Massah were not doubting God; instead, they were openly rebelling against him. God is patient with doubt (Jude 22; Mk. 9:22-24), but he is angry with unbelief (Heb. 3:12; Lk. 1:18-20).

Supernatural signs aren’t antithetical to biblical faith. Instead, they support and compliment biblical faith, when they are viewed in their proper context. For instance, Jesus’ ministry was punctuated by many supernatural signs and wonders (Acts 2:22). While supernatural signs are sometimes in God’s plan, they are not always. For this reason, we should be happy to accept signs as God offers them, but we should never demand that he needs to offer them. For more the subject of testing God, see comments on Judges 6:36-40.