Truth, Understanding, Insight

Virgin shall conceive: Immanuel, Isaiah 7:14

26th September 2010, hej


1) Virgin shall conceive: Immanuel, Isaiah 7:14

The beauty of the scriptures, especially regarding this prophecy of the virgin who should conceive, is in the detail. When Matthew in speaking of the birth of Jesus (Yeshua) refers to a prophecy in Isaiah it is to be suspected that many look no further than the one verse. But the context to which Matthew is referring, which faithful Jews of the era would have known well, is a powerful prophecy.

It is assumed that the following is a direct Messianic reference.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14).

Taken out of context, it does indeed seem a reference. But the word 'virgin' is the Hebrew word almah and just means 'veiled or young female', and therefore does not refer directly to the unique situation of Mary. In addition, in the context of Isaiah's prophecy it cannot be referring to Jesus, as the 'sign' is fulfilled when Isaiah conceived a son with the virgin prophetess as a political sign to Judah. The following will show the context is quite clear.

The chapter section begins with Judah facing an invasion by Northern Israel and Syria. Isaiah is told to go out to Ahaz who is preparing for invasion by inspecting the city water supply. He then tells Ahaz not to fear as Northern Israel is to be destroyed. Ahaz is told to ask for a sign that this end of his people's enemy will occur. But Ahaz refuses to do this.

Isaiah then gives him the sign anyway,

Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhor (Northern Israel & Syria) shall be forsaken of both her kings. The LORD shall bring upon you, and upon your people, and upon your father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. ..In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria,... And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep; And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land. And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briers and thorns. With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; because all the land shall become briers and thorns. And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come there the fear of briers and thorns: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle. (Isaiah 7:13-25)

The sign of the son called Immanuel, or 'God with us', was to occur before Assyria wiped out Northern Israel and Syria, an event which occurred within 2 years of the invasion of Judah by the 2 kings which Ahaz was facing, about the year 740BCE! In addition this invasion and cleaning up of the Northern kingdom of Israel was to be a good thing as it would clean out the evil leadership and allow those few left in the land to serve God in peace, eating butter and honey, and keeping lesser cattle. Assyria was indeed a hired 'razor' as Ahaz himself paid them (see 2 Kings 15:7-9, 2 Chron. 28:16).

In addition the prophecy of the son called Immanuel, or 'God with us', in the context is fully fulfilled in Isaiah's actions. The section continues and makes it very clear,

Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz. And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria. (Isaiah 8:1-4)

It is clear, Mahershalalhashbaz is the son called Immanuel! Mahershalalhashbaz explains how 'God was with' Judah, as the name says in Hebrew, 'hasting as he [the enemy] to the booty, swift (to the) prey'. El or the Mighty One was with Judah (us) in sending the Assyrian 'hasting to the booty, swift to the prey', to deliver the righteous in Northern Israel from evil rulers and to deliver Judah.

To confirm that the sign to Ahaz and the house of David of the virgin who conceives is Isaiah's son, Isaiah writes,

Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwells in mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:18)

The verse referring to Isaiah's son by the virgin prophetess is often applied to Jesus because Matthew writes

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shall call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:20-23)

Matthew refers to the whole situation, “all this”. 'Behold a virgin shall conceive' is a reference to a whole section of the Isaiah scroll (just as we would refer to a document by a clause number) Matthew notes Joseph was called 'the son of David' and only a few verses before Matthew noted Joseph was descended from Ahaz. We must also note that when quoting the Old Testament the disciples would rarely quote the whole passage as all that was required was the first lines of the section as the reader was expected to know the context. The whole section is one part of the scroll and covers over 3 chapters of Isaiah (and the chapter divisions we have are not in the Hebrew scroll).

The sign of the son, and the deliverance of 'God with us' was to establish the truth of the prophecy of the continuance of the house of David. The key part of the section that begins with the sign of the son Mahershalalhashbaz, called also 'God with us', which is to confirm the key part of the prophecy which is the promise of deliverance of another order entirely, not by war, but with burning and fire! (as John the Baptist said Jesus' ministry was. Mat. 3:12)

For you have broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it has lighted upon Israel. And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, (Isaiah 9:4-9).

To all the Jews who knew the Hebrew scroll of Isaiah, Matthew was calling up the promise of the deliverance of Immanuel (God with us), that after the long 260 years that had elapsed since the sign of the Isaiah's son, THE son is born to the house of David whose name shall be called the Prince of Peace. Immanuel is not a name but title referring to the state of the nation (see Isaiah 8;8 where it refers to the land of Judah). For many years when Matthew wrote there had been no God-appointed king, and no open vision, and God had not been with Judah and Israel. Now, again, Joseph the descendant of Ahaz and Hezekiah, as Matthew points out in his genealogy (Matthew 1:10-16), hears the word of God, and, finally 260 years after the sign was given, “unto us” (the house of David) “a child is born”, the promised child is born, and once again there is the deliverance of 'God with us' (Immanuel) given to the nation.

Superficially Matthew's quote seems to say Isaiah was speaking of Jesus in regards to the virgin who conceived and that Jesus is Immanuel. But those who seek deeper must ponder the meaning of the context of the events in Isaiah's day. If a verse is quoted by the disciples they always quote it in context. When we understand the context, we see the beautiful layers of detail showing the importance of the lineage of Ahaz, to Hezekiah and to Joseph, who was a just and upright son of David. To Joseph also was given a son (that is is not his genetically is irrelevant as it is the son promised to his father David). To a son of David, there was finally given the son whose name shall be called 'wonderful', or, 'Yah shall save' (Yeshua). In Ahaz and Isaiah's day a sign was given of a son called Mahershalalhashbaz and the Assyrian was sent by a miracle by God to break the oppression of false doctrines in Israel and bring deliverance. In Joseph and Matthew's day, finally, the son to the house of David with the name called 'wonderful', or 'Yah shall save', was born, who was to bring deliverance with teaching like fire, and deliver the faithful from sin and death itself.

In summary, Matthew was quoting the whole prophetic section in the Isaiah scroll that began 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive.....'. These words were a sign for the people of 740BCE. The Virgin that conceived was Isaiah's publicly acquired prophetess, and the son of the sign was Mahershalalhashbaz. This name proclaimed how God was with 'us' (Judah) and he, the child Mahershalalhashbaz's public birth, was a sign that pointed to the truth of a promise of a son to the house of David whose name was to be called 'wonderful', which was finally fulfilled in Jesus' birth to the house of Joseph, the descendant of Ahaz, to whom Isaiah's prophecy was given, a point which Matthew knew.

A superficial inconsistency between Matthew and Isaiah, that of the child of the virgin eating butter and honey in the days of the Assyrian, once understood in the whole context which Matthew knew, points to a greater more beautiful and detailed understanding of events from Isaiah's day until the future, when the greater son who came returns and the government is upon his shoulder.

For more The sign of the mighty warrior

Tags: exegesis