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It is written:
Isaiah 7:14-16-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 Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.
Matthew 1:120-23-But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which is translated, “God with us.”
The virgin birth of Jesus is one of the most well-known teachings of Christianity. However, many are not aware of the prophecies regarding this great event and how they apply to Jesus.
The Prophet Isaiah lived some seven hundred years before Jesus was born. In chapter seven of his Book, he details the famous prophecy found regarding the virgin birth. Yet a close examination of the passage seems to indicate that the prophecy itself was of another person besides Jesus, one who lived in Isaiah’s day.
In Isaiah 7, the nation of Judah was at war with the combined countries of Israel and Damascus. Samaria was the capital city of the ten northern tribes of Israel, and they had joined forces with Damascus against Judah. To make things worse, the king of Judah was a faithless king named Ahaz.
God therefore sent the Prophet Isaiah to call the people to repentance, and promised Ahaz a sign that He would intervene in their upcoming situation with Israel and Damascus.
Indeed, the Lord would cause a “virgin” to conceive within a short time of Isaiah’s prophecy. The nations who opposed Judah would be defeated before the prophesied child would learn to tell the difference between good and evil. The ungodly kings of these nations (Pekah of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus) would be defeated by the nation of Assyria (who would also oppress Judah).
We find the fulfillment of these events later in Isaiah, when his wife conceived and bore a child:
Isaiah 8:1-4- Moreover the LORD said to me, “Take a large scroll, and write on it with a man’s pen concerning Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 2 And I will take for Myself faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.” 3 Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz; 4 for before the child shall have knowledge to cry ‘My father’ and ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria.”
God fulfilled His promise to the people of Judah, and the sign of the “virgin” bearing a child who would herald the defeat of Samaria and Damascus was fulfilled.
We may wonder how all of these events are a prophecy of Jesus Christ and the virgin birth. There are several things to notice here.
First, the Isaiah 7 prophecy had an immediate fulfillment in Isaiah’s day and age. Notice the similarities between Isaiah 7 and 8 in this regard.
The “virgin” shall conceive (Isaiah 7:14); the “virgin” conceived (Isaiah 8:1-3);
Before the child was old enough to know good from evil, the enemies of Judah (Samaria and Damascus) would be defeated (Isaiah 7:15-16); the enemies of Samaria and Damascus would be defeated shortly after Isaiah’s son was born (Isaiah 8:4);
The name of the child would be Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14); the name of Isaiah’s child was (in part) Immanuel (Isaiah 8:1-3, 8, 10).
There can be no doubt from the context of Isaiah 7:14 that the “Immanuel” of this passage was immediately a reference to Isaiah’s son.
Yet how could this be the case when the prophecy spoke of a “virgin” conceiving and bearing a son? How was Isaiah’s wife a virgin?
When Isaiah was speaking in Isaiah 7:14, he had not yet married the wife of his son from Isaiah 8. As such, she was still a virgin when he spoke these prophetic words in Isaiah 7:14.
“However, there are three factors in the sign itself that raise some question about this apparently straightforward interpretation. (1) God himself urges Ahaz to ask for a remarkable sign. On the surface there seems nothing remarkable about the sign that God actually gives. (2) The second unusual feature is the choice of the word used to identify the mother of the child. The word used is not the normal one for “woman” (ʾiššah) or “girl” (naʿarah), but a relatively unusual one meaning “young woman of marriageable age” (ʿalmah). When we discover that the LXX translates the word with “virgin” (parthenos), the mystery is deepened. (3) Finally, the choice of a name for the child is a bit strange since its immediate relevance to the historic situation is not clear, whereas there is a direct relevance in the names of the other two children mentioned (Shear-Jashub [7: 3]; Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz [8: 3]). The mention of this second child highlights another oddity. The verbs describing the conception, birth, and naming of that child there are the same as those in 7: 14….This is the reason for the use of the ambiguous word ʿalmah. In its first significance the virginity of the mother at the time of the announcement of the sign is all that is being intended. Thus, the typical word for “virgin” (betulah) is not used; it would have called too much attention to itself. Yet for the real significance of the sign to be realized, the virginity of the mother at the time of the birth is critical. Thus, the common words for “woman” or “girl” cannot be used.5 The fact that ʿalmah has the definite article suggests that Isaiah is identifying a particular woman. Some have suggested that this is a wife of Ahaz, who will be the mother of Hezekiah.6 There are two difficulties with this proposal. One is the unlikelihood that Hezekiah could have been born as late as 734 B.C., especially if the 726 date for his accession is accepted. The other is the use of the word ʿalmah itself. There seems to be no reason to use it if the referent is to the queen or a member of the harem. They are already married, and the word does not appear to be used elsewhere of an already-married woman. Another possibility, and one that seems more likely to me in the light of 8:1–3, is that Isaiah is referring to the young woman he is about to marry, who is standing there in the crowd.” (John Oswald, Isaiah (The NIV Application Commentary), 139-141 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)
Second, with this immediate fulfillment in mind, we see several ways that this passage is ultimately a Messianic prophecy.
“Isaiah 7: 14 promises that “the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [i.e., ‘God with us’].” Who is this sign to be? In what sense will he be “God with us”? From the references that follow, it is quite apparent that there is to be a type of Immanuel who will be born in the near future as proof that God is with His people to deliver them. Yet also an antitype will be born in the more remote future who will be both God and man, and He will deliver His people not only from human oppressors but also from sin and guilt. Furthermore, He will reign as David’s descendant and successor forever and ever. Thus the twofold need will be met both by the typical Immanuel and by the antitypical divine Redeemer. Isaiah 7: 16 clearly refers to a child who is to be born within a very few years: “For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good [i.e., before he reaches the age of full moral responsibility], the land whose two kings you dread [i.e., Pekah of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus] will be forsaken” (NASB). Normally at the age of twelve or thirteen, the Jewish lad was considered old enough to assume full responsibility for his own sins; then he would learn to read and expound the Pentateuch as a barmitsvah (a “son of the commandment”). Now if this promise was given in 735 B.C., and if the time-indicator child was born within a year or so thereafter, then he would have been twelve by 722 B.C., when Samaria fell to the Assyrian besiegers and was permanently destroyed as a nation. Damascus had already been stormed and pillaged by the troops of Tiglath-pileser III in 732. This earlier date was also predicted, for in Isaiah 8: 4 we read of the son who is to be born to Isaiah by the prophetess: “Before the boy knows how to cry out ‘my father’ or ‘my mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria” (NASB). By 732 the boy who served as the type of Immanuel would be two years of age, and therefore old enough to say “Daddy” and “Mommy.” Quite clearly this little son of the prophet who bore the God-given name of Maher-shalal-hash-baz (see Isa. 8: 3) was to be the time-indicator for the fulfillment of this prediction of Judah’s deliverance from the current crisis. At the time Isaiah 7: 14 was given, the “prophetess” mentioned in 8: 3 would have been a virgin and would have been known to King Ahaz and his court as the woman to whom Isaiah (presumably a widower by this time, having lost through death the mother of Shear-jashub mentioned in 7: 3) was engaged. Before they married, the Lord revealed to Isaiah that the first child he would have by this godly young woman would be a boy: and the Lord told him what name to call him: “Hasten to the booty, the spoil is running away!” (which is the meaning of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, intended as an encouragement to the Assyrian invaders against the Damascus-Samaria coalition). By the time this boy reached the age of twelve the invaded regions of Israel would be so utterly laid waste by the Assyrians that much of it would revert to pastureland; and the erstwhile cultivator of orchards and wheatfields would find his property reduced to a mere “heifer and a pair of sheep” (Isa. 7: 21), and he would be living on a diet of curds and wild honey (vv. 15,22). Clearly, then, Isaiah’s second son was to serve as the type of the coming Immanuel. Yet it is also apparent from what follows that there is a far greater person in view, who will come as the divine-human antitype and will in His own person be Immanuel, God Incarnate. It is significant that Palestine is from that time on to be known as the land of Immanuel (see Isa. 8: 8: “your land, O Immanuel”). This is something far more meaningful than the land of Maher-shalal-hash-baz. It is because of Immanuel that the people and land of Israel are guaranteed a key role in God’s program of redemption. There will come that mighty Redeemer of whom it is promised in 9: 6; “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity [as the Hebrew ’a îC-’ a should properly be rendered], Prince of Peace.” Verse 7 continues to speak of His messianic rule. Plainly, this refers to God Incarnate, the divine-human King, Jesus Christ, whose sovereign rule will eternally endure, because He Himself will never pass away. In confirmation of this Christ reference of Isaiah 7: 14, the New Testament says in Matthew 1: 22–23: “Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us’” (NASB). Perhaps a brief comment should be made concerning the word for “virgin” used in Isaiah 7: 14. The root meaning of ’almāh is “maiden” or “young woman.” It is therefore not as precise a word for virgin as the Hebrew , which is defined in Genesis 24: 16 (in reference to Rebekah) as a young woman who has never had sexual relations. Yet it is also true that in the seven occurrences of ’almāh in the singular throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the word never refers to a maiden who has lost her virginity but only to one who is in fact unmarried and chaste—as in Genesis 24: 43, where Rebekah the virgin (be ûClāh) is also referred to as an ’almāh, By Hebrew usage, then, this word is about equivalent to the idea of “virgin,” even though it is less precise than be ulah. It should be observed that ’almāh was an ideal term for the twofold aspect of the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7: 14. The future mother of the antitype, Isaiah’s wife-to-be, was a virgin up until the night of her wedding. But the Virgin Mary was a virgo intacta at the time the angel announced to her that she would become the mother of Jesus. Joseph had no carnal knowledge of her until after her firstborn Son was delivered, according to Matthew 1: 24–25.” (Gleason Leonard Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 494-497 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)
Third, the claim that Matthew was taking this passage in Isaiah out of context when referring to the birth of the Messiah is shown to be fallacious when we consider the overall context of Matthew’s Gospel and the Messianic prophecies he refers to from the Book of Isaiah.
“Many commentators also point out that the wording of the birth announcement in Isaiah 7: 14 follows the pattern of several other major birth announcements in the Hebrew Bible, underscoring the importance of the announcement here: To Hagar, Abram’s concubine: “The angel of the LORD also said to her: ‘You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery’” (Gen. 16: 11). Regarding the birth of Samson: “The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, ‘You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son.’ . . . ‘you will conceive and give birth to a son.’ . . . He said to me, ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son’” (Judg. 13: 3, 5, 7). All three of these birth announcements—concerning Ishmael, Samson, and Immanuel—are of great significance in the Hebrew Bible, and all three are introduced with similar words and phrases. Also relevant is an ancient pagan text from the city of Ugarit (north of Israel, in modern-day Syria), written roughly five hundred years before Isaiah and announcing the birth of a god to a goddess in words very similar to those used in Isaiah 7: 14: “Behold, the maiden [Ugaritic ġalmatu, the equivalent of Hebrew ‘almah] will bear a son.”[ 62] All this points to the fact that a birth of great importance was being announced by the prophet, especially for David’s house. It was God’s answer to the attack on the Davidic dynasty, and it was meant as a demonstration of his power and reality. As Matthew looked back at this prophecy in context, this is what he saw: The birth of Immanuel is highly significant in Isaiah 7–8; there are two major Messianic prophecies found in Isaiah 9 and 11;[ 63] Yeshua’s birth truly was a supernatural sign (part of the sign being that the ‘almah was in fact a virgin, yet she gave birth to a son); and Yeshua was Immanuel—a name found nowhere else in the Bible or the Ancient Near East (see n. 32)—in the literal sense of the name (God is with us!), as seen clearly in Isaiah 9: 5–6[ 6–7] (see below, 4.4).[ 64] Therefore Matthew could say that this prophecy reached its “fulfillment” with the birth of Jesus the Messiah since (1) the meaning of the text in its original historical context is somewhat veiled from our eyes, and not enough is said in the context to interpret the verses in a definite and dogmatic way; and (2) as a prophecy regarding the line of David and the coming Davidic king, and as part of Israel’s ongoing sacred Scriptures, we can see that its full and complete meaning was reached with the birth of the Messiah.[ 65] But this is not only true of Isaiah 7: 14. This is also true of other Messianic prophecies that were originally spoken regarding the birth or reign of Davidic kings who lived at those times—in other words, contemporaries of the prophets who were delivering the messages. It was only decades or even centuries later, when the writings were recognized as Holy Scripture, that these prophecies were understood to be still unfulfilled Messianic prophecies (see principles 2 and 4 in the appendix for further explanation). Put another way, Isaiah 7: 14, when read in the context of Isaiah 7–11—one of the key Messianic sections in the prophetic books—ultimately pointed to Jesus/ Yeshua, our Messiah and King. In Isaiah 7 he is about to be born; in Isaiah 9 he is already born and declared to be the divine king (see below, 4.5, and see also vol. 2, 3.3); in Isaiah 11 he is ruling and reigning (in the supernatural power of the Spirit, at that). As Matthew looked back at these prophecies hundreds of years later, it would have been apparent to him that (1) these chapters were clearly linked together, and (2) the promises of a worldwide, glorious reign of the promised Davidic king were not yet realized. Something must have happened in Isaiah’s day relative to the birth of an Immanuel figure, but its greater promise—elaborated more fully in chapters 9 and 11—did not reach fulfillment in any sense of the word.[ 66] And how do we know that Matthew had these other chapters of Isaiah in mind? He cited them or made reference to them elsewhere in the first four chapters of his book! So, in Matthew 1: 23 he quotes Isaiah 7: 14; in 4: 15–16 he quotes Isaiah 9: 1–2[ 8: 23–9: 1]; and in 2: 23 he makes reference to Isaiah 11: 1 (see vol. 4, 5.3). This means Matthew was not looking at Isaiah 7: 14 in isolation, but rather in the larger context of the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 7–11 (some would also include chapter 12 in this Messianic section).” (Michael Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Volume 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections, 24-26 (Kindle Edition): Baker Books)
Finally, this promise of God in Isaiah 7:14 is a remarkable reminder to us that He is with His people, even in the midst of seemingly overwhelming odds and enemies. God has always proven faithful to be with and to deliver His people during times of hardship and persecution. We see this especially throughout the Book of Isaiah:
Isaiah 26:3-4-You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, For in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength.
Isaiah 32:17-The work of righteousness will be peace, And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.
Isaiah 41:10-Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Let us hold fast to God during our times of trial and adversity.