Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Matthew 1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
This study is aimed at finding the true meaning of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14. Often this messianic prophecy is used as proof texts for the deity of Jesus Christ because of the words, “Immanuel,” (God with us). Contrary to popular belief, this passage does NOT affirm Jesus as God. In fact, once interpreted in context with the historical setting THE verse emphasize Jesus as a man.
Isaiah 7:14 is set in a context of prophetic words uttered during Old Testament days when the kingdom was divided and at war against each other. At this time the probable date was 735 BC and the ten northern tribes were called Ephraim or Israel, while the southern tribes were known as Judah or the House of David, since the bloodline of their patriarch David was from Judah. The king of Israel was Pekah and the king of Judah was Ahaz. Both of these kings acted wicked and both had forsaken the way of Yahweh.
· Isaiah 7:1-2 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2 And it was told the house of David, saying, “Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.” KJV
Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel had formed an alliance against the menace of a revived Assyrian empire, and were determined to bring Judah into their alliance, overthrow Ahaz, share the spoils of defeating Jerusalem and substitute a Syrian puppet king there, the son of Tabeel. Gathering together their armies for the invasions (2 Chronicles 28), Syria leagued with Israel sent a shudder of fear through the outnumbered forces of Judah. The first attack was unsuccessful but it was all but certain they would not fail a second time.
· Isaiah 7:3 Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, “Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field.” KJV
God's promise of deliverance came to Judah via the prophet in Isaiah 7:3-9.
To prepare for the attack on Jerusalem Ahaz inspected the city's water supply. God revealed to the prophet the precise thoughts running through the king Ahaz’s mind, and told him go to meet Ahaz, taking along his son Shear-jashub, presumably because of the gracious promise contained in his name, “a remnant shall return from captivity.”
· Isaiah 7:4-9 And say unto him, “Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against you, saying, 6 ‘Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeel.’ 7 Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, and neither shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. 9 And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.” KJV
Even though Ahaz was an unrepentant and wicked king, God uses Isaiah to assure Ahaz of His deliverance, treating him with kindness altogether undeserved. Within sixty-five years Ephraim (Israel) shall be broken in pieces; by 669 BC. (Ezra 4:10) a large-scale immigration of Samarian (Israel) residents as the Northern Kingdom was truly, "broken in pieces," and scattered by Asnapper the king of Assyria.
Pekah king of Israel would be assassinated by his own kingly court as God’s judgment for the evil he plotted against Judah and Jerusalem. By the year 721 BC Damascus was forsaken (having been captured by Assyria in 732) and likewise Samaria, (which fell in 722 BC).
· Isaiah 7:10-12 Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask for a sign of the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.” KJV
In Isaiah 7:12 God's offer of a sign of His deliverance is ridiculed by the arrogance and unbelief of Ahaz. The Lord offered a positive miracle to bolster Ahaz' faith, inviting him to name whatever sign he desired. It could be anything from heaven above to earth beneath. But Ahaz, having made up his mind to put his trust in Assyria, put Isaiah off with a hypocritically pious pretext by misquoting and distorting the meaning of the commandment in the Law of Moses not to tempt the LORD (Deuteronomy 6:16). Later Ahaz would pay tribute to the king of Assyria with the sacred Vessels of the Temple in exchange for his help in defeating Israel and Syria. For this he would pay with his life and hasten judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem.
· Isaiah 7:13-16 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 Butter and honey shall he 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 abhor shall be forsaken by both her kings. KJV
In Isaiah 7:14 the phrase, “a virgin shall conceive,” is most likely mistranslated; the Hebrew word for virgin is `alma and does not necessarily signify an untouched virgin (or maiden); rather `alma is used in the Hebrew Scriptures for a very young woman that has never been married, and therefore the assumption is that she is also a virgin.
The man child born was to eat butter (curds) and honey as the standard diet, the result of the coming Assyrian destruction of the crops, as well as those of the neighboring nations (cf. 2 Chronicles 28). This diet would continue as the result of God’s judgment also upon Judah until the time stated in verse 16, “before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.” This was considered by the Jews as the age of legal accountability (doubtless twelve years of age) and would come about in the year 721 BC after the destructive campaigns of Shalmaneser V and Sargon.
At this point we can begin to form conclusions as to the meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and the use of the word for the promised child’s name as Immanuel. The literal meaning of the text must first be applied. Within a short time after this prophecy was spoken Isaiah's wife, a virgin at the time this prophetic promise was given, gave birth to a son as the “sign” God promised (Isaiah 8:1-4). Judah’s deliverance from Syria and Israel was the birth of her son, whom she later named Maher-shalal-hash-baz as God commanded her husband Isaiah in Isaiah 8:1.
The boy’s name Maher-shalal-hash-baz means, "hasten to the booty, rush to the spoil," and was to be the fulfillment of the “sign” God gave to Judah as a token of the successful Assyrian assault upon Damascus and Samaria. This assault would crush both those kingdoms before the infant boy shall have knowledge to cry, “My father, and my mother,” and the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria were taken away by the king of Assyria (Isaiah 8:4) within three years. This prophecy was completely fulfilled in the capture of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria in 732 by Tiglath-Pilesser III.
Two questions must first be answered before we can properly discuss the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 and the name Immanuel as it applies to the birth of Christ in Matthew 1:23. First, why didn’t Isaiah name his firstborn son Immanuel? Second, some discrepancies are involved in the time sequences given, such as Isaiah 7:3, when Isaiah was commanded by Yahweh to take his “son” named Shear-jashub with him before Isaiah actually spoke the prophecy to Ahaz. Did Isaiah have more than one wife? That is very doubtful. How could he have another son then, especially since God said the sign to Judah would be the birth of a son to a woman that was chaste?
This potential contradiction can easily be resolved by the Hebrew use of the word for, “son,” (Isaiah 7:3) as characterization or as members of a certain group, such as prophets. It is probable that Isaiah’s “son” named Shear-jashub is really one of his disciples, not a birth son.
The only other mention of Immanuel is found in Isaiah 8:8. In Isaiah 8:5-8 God sends the prophet to rebuke Ahaz and Judah for its own wickedness, and their MISUSE of the words, “O Immanuel,” to boast that God’s favor was with them. You see, when God promised the sign that a virgin with child would give birth, He did not specify what HE wanted the child to be named, but instead He warned what the child would be “called.” Yahweh did not specify what He wanted the child to be NAMED until afterward. Compare the two texts below:
· Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. KJV
· Isaiah 8:3 Then said the LORD to me, “Call his NAME Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” KJV
In Hebrew culture the father always named the firstborn son, and so God came to Isaiah, and told him what name he was to give the boy. In Isaiah 7:14 there is an open-ended statement concerning the name of the son to be born, perhaps allowing the House of David (Judah) one last chance to repent and make things right before complete destruction swept over them. Apparently instead of repenting Judah used the name, “O Immanuel,” as a sort of boast that God was “with them” because Assyria had brutally destroyed Samaria (Israel).
Isaiah 8:8 is Yahweh’s burning anger against Ahaz and Judah for abusing the name of the promised sign (Immanuel) and using it as a sort of chant for their piety, when in reality they had bribed the king of Assyria by giving him the gold implements used in the Temple to attack and defeat Samaria. Yahweh brought heavy judgment upon Ahaz and his people. Because they refused to trust Yahweh the king of Assyria assaulted the House of David with unparalleled oppression and the tyranny of the Assyrian Empire.
Immanuel may also have been the thankful cry when both parents (Isaiah & his wife) when they beheld the fulfillment of God's word (i.e. – the birth of their son). But from this time on Judah lost its physical blessing as the heritage of the House of David. The prophecy would find fulfillment in the spiritual land of the promised Redeemer, the Messianic antitype of Maher-shalal-hash-baz.
Scourged by Assyrian invasion Judah (as the House of David) would later realize its physical blessings vicariously thru Joseph, son of David and husband of the virgin Mary. Judah’s genetic ties (as the House of David) remained in place to be fulfilled in the life of Joseph who would be granted the privilege of raising Jesus to prepare him from childhood to one day become the promised Messiah and descendent of the throne of David.
When Joseph was betrothed to Mary she was a virgin and this was especially important in Hebrew culture where virginity is not taken lightly. When he discovered his new wife was pregnant before they’d even had conjugal relations, Joseph was devastated, hurt, broken, angry, worried at the shame it would bring to her, to her family, to him and to his family, and yet he was such a kind and merciful man of God, he decided to put Mary away privately, which involved transporting her far away where no one would recognize her.
God had carefully handpicked this young married couple for a myriad of reasons, all of which cannot be discussed in the short length of this study. Three primary criterions had to be met in order for Yahweh to fulfill his promises to the patriarchs in the OT, especially to the House of David. David was a man after God’s own heart that was so beloved by Yahweh that God gave him a promise that one of his future descendents would one day ascend to his throne and rule over Israel in righteousness from that day forward. Joseph was descended from the line of Judah, from whence David came, so he met this important requirement according to the flesh.
You can read more about the lineage of Joseph as it applies to Judah and the House of David in my study titled The Genealogy of the Messiah
The second primary criterion was the need for a virgin woman to conceive the child. I discuss these reasons in my study titled Jesus, Descendent Of David, Resurrected Seed Of God
The third primary requirement was for God to find a righteous man and wife who would raise the Messiah (or Christ) in such a way that would prepare him for his life’s purpose. Yahweh knew He would have to find someone whose faith was unshakeable and who would listen and obey implicitly. Mary gets the lion’s share of attention because of Christmas and Catholic influences upon Christian thought, but Joseph is deserving of no less recognition and in many ways, deserves more. How many men would embrace a pregnant wife and raise the child as his own on the basis of instructions given him by an angel in a dream?
This is in fact exactly what Joseph did, and this foundational understanding is vital to comprehend the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 in the conception and birth of Jesus. Matthew 1:16-25 chronicles the events surrounding this discussion; also important to this discussion is Luke 1:26-2:52, & Luke 3:23. In Luke 3:23 is the proof that Joseph raised Jesus as his own son in the text that reads, “Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph.” (NKJV)
Before describing how Isaiah 7:14 gets fulfilled and what part Immanuel plays, first it is necessary to explain things from Mary’s perspective. All the Jewish women of her time were anticipating the birth of the Christ to Israel and yet no one realized that his birth would come by any other means than regular conception.
Mary was cousin to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were both descended from Aaron’s line. Therefore Mary was most likely from the priestly line as well. This might have been a problem for the fulfillment of the birth of Messiah who was to come from the House of David, who was from the tribe of Judah. Recall to mind also that Isaiah 7:14 was actually given to the, “House of David,” and therefore “Immanuel” had to somehow descend from this line.
God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary to inform her of what the Lord was going to do in her. Luke 1:27 holds an important key in the aforementioned discussion of the House of David; compare all three relevant scripture verses below:
· Luke 1:26-27 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
· Isaiah 7:13-16 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David
· Matthew 1:20 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. NKJV
The purpose for comparing these three verses is to demonstrate that the LITERAL fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the virgin that shall conceive a child was initially directed at Ahaz, but in a larger sense, all of the House of Judah, of whom he was king. Therefore Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:27 affirm that JOSEPH vicariously serves as the recipient of God’s initial promises on behalf of fleshly bloodline of Judah, aka the House of David. If it were not so, then Gabriel would certainly have mentioned Mary’s genetic bloodline, which is completely omitted from scripture.
God first sent the angel Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1:26-38 to announce to her that she had been chosen to bear the Christ-child, and explaining to her the miraculous form of conception that God would use to generate the new life in her womb. For the purposes of this study, it is important that we look at what Gabriel told her for two main reasons.
First to understand the nature of the child conceived and decide from the text of scripture whether “God” is being born, as purported by Trinitarian theology that uses, “Immanuel,” (meaning God with us), as proof text for the deity of Christ. Or second, to understand if the message Gabriel gave to Mary has ties to the House of Judah and whether or not her understanding of the nature of the child is solely human or divine (Read Luke 1:30-38).
In Luke 1:30b Gabriel told Mary you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus. To “conceive: means to “procreate” according to the definition of the Greek word used to translate this word; this is solely a human being, not divine. Though unique in HOW Jesus was conceived (i.e. – by God) the simple fact he WAS conceived eradicates any notion he is divine.
In Luke 1:32 32 Gabriel told Mary, “He will be great, and will be called the son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” This ties the birth of Jesus from Mary’s perspective to the same instructions concerning David’s line and fulfilling God’s promise to David concerning his descendent.
When Mary asked Gabriel how she could conceive without having had sexual relations with a man, she was told in Luke 1:35-37, “the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that holy one who is to be born will be called the son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible."
By comparing Elizabeth’s conception and her child John to Jesus’ conception and birth (in that both are miraculous in origin) the text clearly aligns Jesus with the human species to de-myth the myth that he is somehow divine. Next is the text of what happened to Joseph when God sent the angel to him in a dream and instruct him what to do.
· Matthew 1:16-17 …and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17 So all the generations from Abraham unto David are fourteen generations; and from David unto the carrying away to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the carrying away to Babylon unto the Christ fourteen generations.
· Matthew 1:18-25 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately. 20 But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she shall bring forth a son; and you shall call his name JESUS for it is he that shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, 23 ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us.” 24 And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife; 25 and knew her not till she had brought forth a son: and he called his name JESUS.”
One glaringly obvious highlight of this passage is the fact God instructed Joseph to name the child, “Jesus,” and NOT,” Immanuel.” This fact is punctuated by verse 25, “…and he called his name JESUS.”
Thus we conclude this study with one last simple explanation with regard to Immanuel. First, in both Old and New Testament accounts, (i.e. – Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23), Immanuel was understood by the parents of both sons both as more of a surname because neither Isaiah the prophet nor Joseph the husband of the virgin Mary named their sons Immanuel. They both recognized this name Immanuel was something that would characterize what OTHERS would say about the child, as opposed to his proper personal name.
In the Isaiah account as described earlier, the tribe of Judah foolishly used Immanuel to boast, “God was with them,” when in reality Yahweh was about to judge them by using the Assyrian army whom Ahaz had allied with to strip Samaria of all they had.
In the NT account of Matthew’s gospel God sent an angel to give Joseph, son of David, the message instructing him to name his son, (that was conceived by the spirit of Almighty God), by the proper personal name of “Jesus,” BECAUSE it was he (Jesus) that would save his people (i.e. – both bloodline & spiritual Judah) from their sins.
To the point, the ONE that was called, “Judah,” or the “House of David,” or the, “son of David,” to whom the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 was LITERALLY fulfilled is in fact the man named Joseph, husband of Mary. Why? Because he is the only one that the angel gave this message to in a dream saying TO Joseph, “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they (Joseph & Mary) shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Wouldn’t you think God was “WITH” you if He did the same thing to you He did for Joseph, son of David and Mary his virgin wife?
When Joseph learned that it was GOD that conceived the child in Mary’s womb, to him (Joseph) it was a “sign” from on High that, “God is with us,” (the “us” referring to Joseph and his pregnant virgin wife Mary).