The Virgin-born Messiah
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Over the past couple of weeks we have learned that all men are sinners and without Godís help they have no means of redemption and deliverance. We discovered that not only is God wanting to help mankind be delivered, but to assist in this process He sends us messengers with Godís message of redemption. In this current "age" we call this message the Gospel. While the message was not as fully revealed in the Old Testament times, the Gospel is still present and Isaiah is the perfect picture of Godís messenger.
When God called Isaiah to service, the prophet responded without hesitation. He did not ask what or where or why or how. He simply responded "Here am I! Send me." (Isa 6:8). Are you this willing to serve God? Or, when God calls do you provide a long list of questions about both the mission and your short-comings for service? [Teachers: if you want to pursue this line of questioning with your class, Exod 3 & 4 provides a fertile field for investigation as Moses provides one excuse after another as to why he is unfit for Godís service.]
This week we move into the Gospel message itself. We have learned that Godís directions to Isaiah were, essentially, to go forth and deliver the Words of God in a faithful manner without worrying about the results. In fact, God told Isaiah the Words of the message would be offensive to those who hear them and most would turn away from both God and Isaiah. Most people harden their hearts when faced with the truth of the Gospel. This is a sad, but true, fact. God did not want Isaiah to be discouraged from continuing to deliver the messages of Messiah, so God made this fact clear to Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry.
Most of us know the key passage in todayís chapter. What most will not understand is the context of the setting. To better understand the complete impact of the prophecy concerning the Virgin Birth of Messiah, we need to fully investigate the entire chapter, both the events leading up to the prophecy and the impact of Isaiahís prediction.
Isaiah 7:1-9 (NKJV)
1 Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2 And it was told to the house of David, saying, "Syriaís forces are deployed in Ephraim." So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. 3 Then the Lord said to Isaiah, "Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fullerís Field, 4 and say to him: ĎTake heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, 6 "Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel"ó 7 thus says the Lord God: "It shall not stand, Nor shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, And the head of Damascus is Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, So that it will not be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, And the head of Samaria is Remaliahís son. If you will not believe, Surely you shall not be established." í "
We are dealing with four kings and nations. Three of the kings are named Ė Ahaz of Judah, Rezin of Syria, and Pekah of Israel, the kingdom of the ten Northern Tribes, here called Ephraim. Assyria is the key play, the fourth country. Assyria is about to invade Syria and Israel. Rezin and Pekah are looking to defend themselves and seek an alliance with Ahaz to further strengthen their defenses. This come as political treachery abounds, for Ahaz has already formed an alliance with Assyria (2 Kings 16:5Ė9)!
Notice, first, that none of the "chosen people" were trusting God in this process. Pekah and Rezin did not want an alliance with Ahaz Ė they were planning on over throwing him and setting up a puppet government ruled by "the son of Tabeel" (v5-6) Ahaz, on the other hand, is alsoout of step with God. Instead of trusting in God for his peace he has made the alliance with Assyria.
Even though no one is calling upon the Lord in this matter, God chooses to step into the situation. He commands Isaiah to take his only son and meet Ahaz as the king was inspecting the cityís water system. It appears that Ahaz may be having second thoughts about this entire situation (v2). Ahazís inspection of the city water system probably was part of his defensive efforts to make certain the city could withstand a siege by the enemy Ė whoever that turned out to be.
It is interesting that Isaiah is commanded to take his son Ė yet this is the only mention of the boy in the entire chapter. Shear-jashub means Ďa remnant shall return." Ahaz would know this meaning and as Isaiah delivers his message of hope and peace to the king of Judah, the king would observe Shear-jashub silently standing there, bearing witness to Godís promise of people in the land.
Isaiahís message is simple Ė "Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted" (v4). Ahaz should not fear. The Lord God is going to deliver Judah from this threat. Neither the alliance of Ephraim and Syria nor Assyria will remove the peace God is going to impose upon Judah. Ahaz will find peace the same way you and I find it Ė by trusting in God!
"If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established" (v9). Faith in Godís promises is the only way to find peace in the midst of trouble. Isaiah will later write, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (26:3). This is the message of Scripture. Consider Paulís versions of Isaiahís words:
Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Godís peace will protect you through any situation. In the case of Ahaz, Godís peace would protect the King and the nation of Judah through these pending invasions, surely a time of great stress and fear. Notice Godís views of the two foreign kings Ė they are "two stubs of smoking firebrands" (v4). They are two burning logs in the fireplace, nothing more! History tells us that both kings were dead within about two years of the delivery of this message.
It might be noted that the "you" of verse 9 is plural. Isaiah is not only talking to Ahaz but to the entire house of David, the southern Kingdom of Judah. This anticipates verse 13.
Further, Godís Words are accurate with regard to the fate of Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In verse 8 Godís message is "Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, So that it will not be a people." This prophecy is delivered by Isaiah in 734 BC. Syria will fall to Assyria in 732 BC and the invasion of Israel occurs in 722-721 BC, with Israel (Ephraim) being taken into captivity by Assyria. While some of the poor were left in the land to tend the land, the practice of the Assyrianís was to import other peopleís to form a hodge-podge of inhabitants under the political theory that such a conglomeration of people would not be a military threat to Assyria.
The Bible tells us that the inhabitants of the land became frightened when God continued to send lions to attack them. The people pleaded with the King of Assyria, so he returned priests to the land to teach the people the religion of Israel. As a result, the people continued to practice their own foreign religions while also attempting to follow Judaism. The various religions combined into a new mixed religion and as the people inter-married, the new group became the Samaritans, a group who claimed to follow the true God of Israel, but in their own ways (2 Kings 17:24ff; cf. John 4; Luke 10:29-37.) As a result of this assimilation, by 669 BC, the "sixty-five years" of verse 8, the nation of Israel no longer exists in any form.
This message of peace is not the end of the Godís Words to Ahaz. There is more, part of which is of great importance to the people of today regarding Messiah / Christ.
In reading the Old Testament and its abundant number of prophecies, it is important to keep in mind that the prophecies had to have a practical effect upon those who heard them from the lips of the prophet. While it is obviously important to everyone that the Messiah could be identified because He would be born of virgin, for Ahaz and the nation of Judah, it probably made little practical difference if this prophecy were true or not, especially if it would not be fulfilled for another 700+ years. Such a prophecy would have little practical effect upon the king.
On the other hand, if the prophecy were designed to assist the king or nation make an immediate decision, then there is a clear benefit to the prophecy within its current context. This makes Isaiahís words important to the king, not just for those reading the prophecy 700 years or 2700 years later. This double prophecy concept appears frequently in the Old Testament where there is both an immediate fulfillment for the generation experiencing the message first hand as well as a second fulfillment of the prophecy for the benefit of "all" generations in the Person or Work of Messiah. So, consider the continuing message of Isaiah, as Ahaz would hear it.
Isaiah 7:10-16 (NKJV)
10 Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 "Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!" 13 Then he said, "Hear 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 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.
Ahaz finds himself in a pickle, as we might say, between a rock and a hard place. He has already formed the alliance with Assyria, yet, I am certain at a human level he is very reluctant to explain this to Isaiah. How can Ahaz choose Godís way without a great deal of personal embarrassment?
Donít we all find ourselves in this kind of position? We have made a decision on our own and then when someone shows us Godís way we are too embarrassed to change?
Isaiah tries to make it easy on Ahaz. He, in effect, says, "Here, let me give you a sign from God so that you will know I am speaking the true Words of God" (v10). Ahaz, in an effort to cover his treachery, puts forth a pious, religious face Ė "I will not test God!" Sounds pretty biblical doesnít it? Even Jesus told Satan not to put the Lord to the test (Matt 4:7). The trouble is Ahaz is not being faithful, but attempting to cover up the alliance with Assyria. Ahaz is a hypocrite.
Isaiah recognizes this issue and turns not back to Ahaz, but to the people, the "house of David" (v13). Isaiah warns them all that failing to call upon God and follow His advice is "wearying God." In other words, by failing to obey the messenger, Ahaz is actually tempting God.
It is important to notice the entire prophecy. This is what provides both the near and far meanings of interpretation. Since Ahaz would not ask for a sign, God will choose the sign. The purpose is to demonstrate Godís faithfulness and care for His chosen people. Even if Ahaz will not repent and follow God, perhaps, some of the nation of Judah will recognize the sign and turn to God. This looks back to the silent testimony of the presence of Isaiahís son, Shear- Jashub, a remnant will return!
The prophecy is three verses long, even though most Christians only remember the first portion Ė
Isaiah 7:14-16 (NKJV)
14 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.
A virgin will conceive and bear a Son
The Sonís name will be Immanuel
He will eat curds and honey
He will know to refuse evil and choose good
Before the child knows or understands the choice between good and evil, the land the nation of Judah dreads will be forsaken by both her kings.
Clearly, the first part of the prophecy applies to Messiah (Matt 1:18-25; Luke 1:31-35). In some form both of the Christmas stories apply Isaiahís prophecy to Jesus. This forms an important doctrine of the Christian faith. First, Jesus fulfills this Old Testament prophecy. Second, by His having a human mother, He is human and, thus, related to all of mankind. This allows Him to offer Himself on the Cross as the perfect sacrifice since He relates to each of us. Third, by having the Holy Spirit instead of a human father as the means of conception, Jesus is fully God and, thus, He is the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Matthew 1:23 (NKJV)
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."
Luke 1:31-35 (NKJV)
31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 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. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." 34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" 35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and 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.
Obviously there is much more that could be said about the effect of this doctrine upon the Christian faith. See page 25 of the Leaderís Guide for more reasons of importance concerning the virgin birth if you desire to spend more time on this matter and less time on the chapter of Isaiah.
But, what about the Ahaz and the balance of the prophecy? There must be an immediate effect upon Ahaz and the house of David or there would be little benefit for the delivery of the prophecy. Remember the people of Judah are in a tough situation and looking for an answer. Godís response must help them or else it would signify that God had abandoned His people.
I might note at this point that there are simple and hard methods of interpreting this prophecy from Ahazís perspective. Part of this relates to oneís overall view of Scriptures. For example, the liberal side of Christian has for many years argued that the prophecy is not about a virgin at all. This would allow them to take a different historical perspective of Mary and the birth of Jesus, doing away with any supernatural events. They arrive at this point by claiming the Hebrew word translated as "virgin" really means "young maid." However, while it is possible to translate the word as "young maid," almost all of its uses in the Old Testament require a translation of "virgin" (cf. (Gen. 24:43; Exod 2:8; Ps. 68:25; Prov 30:19; Song of Sol 1:3; 6:8). In addition, unlike the Hebrew, the Greek has a word that means only "virgin." This is the word used in both the New Testament references to Mary and in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint). So, the prophecy is about a virgin conceiving. But, this does not have to mean there are two supernatural conceptions.
In the case of Ahaz, the prophecy may be explained as follows. A woman who was then (at the time Isaiah delivered the prophecy) a virgin would get married, conceive, and bear a son whose name would be "Immanuel." This son would be a reminder that God was with His people and would care for them. Most scholars believe that this virgin was Isaiahís second wife, his first wife having died after Shear-jashub was born; and that Isaiahís second son was named both "Immanuel" and "Maher-shalal-hash-baz ("Speed the Spoil, Hasten the Booty"). [Teachers: read the section on p 24 of the Leaders Guide for a slightly different perspective, one I disagree with, in part. Also see my additional note at the end of this lesson.]
Isaiah 8:1-4 (NKJV)
1 Moreover the Lord said to me, "Take a large scroll, and write on it with a manís 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 ĎMy fatherí and ĎMy mother,í the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria."
Isaiah 8:8 (NKJV)
8 He will pass through Judah, He will overflow and pass over, He will reach up to the neck; And the stretching out of his wings Will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel.
Isaiah 8:10 (NKJV)
10 Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; Speak the word, but it will not stand, For God is with us."
Isaiah 8:18 (NKJV)
18 Here am I and the children whom the Lord has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel From the Lord of hosts, Who dwells in Mount Zion.
Orthodox Jewish boys become "sons of the Law" at the age of twelve and are bar mitzvoth at the age of thirteen. Isaiahís special second son was a reminder that Syria and Ephraim would be out of the picture within the next twelve years. As noted above, Isaiah delivered this prophecy in 734 BC. In 732 BC, Assyria defeated Syria; and in 722 BC, Assyria invaded the Northern Kingdom, with the kingdom going into captivity in 721 BC. The prophecy was fulfilled. If this explanation is accepted, notice that the dual names of Isaiahís son fulfills both the concepts of judgment and salvation, the two sides of the coin of believing in God. Those who believe in God are saved, while those who do not believe in God are judged eternally.
The sign was to help Judah understand God was on their side and to turn to Him so as to be saved. At the same time, we have seen that Ahaz was trapped in a cycle of deceit having entered into an alliance with Assyria. God recognized this and through Isaiah delivers not only words of peace and their accompanying sign, but also delivered words of warning to the king. God makes every effort possible to help people change their ways and turn to Him.
Isaiah 7:17-25 (NKJV)
17 The Lord will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your fatherís houseódays that have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah." 18 And it shall come to pass in that day That the Lord will whistle for the fly That is in the farthest part of the rivers of Egypt, And for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. 19 They will come, and all of them will rest In the desolate valleys and in the clefts of the rocks, And on all thorns and in all pastures. 20 In the same day the Lord will shave with a hired razor, With those from beyond the River, with the king of Assyria, The head and the hair of the legs, And will also remove the beard. 21 It shall be in that day That a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep; 22 So it shall be, from the abundance of milk they give, That he will eat curds; For curds and honey everyone will eat who is left in the land. 23 It shall happen in that day, That wherever there could be a thousand vines Worth a thousand shekels of silver, It will be for briers and thorns. 24 With arrows and bows men will come there, Because all the land will become briers and thorns. 25 And to any hill which could be dug with the hoe, You will not go there for fear of briers and thorns; But it will become a range for oxen And a place for sheep to roam.
The balance of this chapter provides a simple warning to Ahaz. If he does not change his ways, God will send the Assyrians. Godís peace and protection will cease and the Assyrians will become the enemies of Judah. The land will be so ravaged that the rich farmland would become wasteland and agriculture would cease. The people would have only dairy products to eat (vv. 15, 21Ė23). "Curds and honey" become a contrast to "bread and wine." The first is the equivalent of living off the land, roughing it as it were. The idea of "bread and wine" signifies abundance and the ability to go to the grocery and purchase your meals at a leisurely pace from a vast abundance. Not an option during times of war. The people would be forced to hunt wild beasts in order to get food. It would be a time of great humiliation (v20; 2 Sam. 10:4Ė5). All of this suffering could have been avoided if the leaders had trusted in the Lord.
How much suffering have you gone through because you did not trust in the Lord?
A side note for the teachers.
With regard to the question of the immediate or near interpretation of the prophecy of the virgin, some see this as applying to a wife of Ahaz, namely the mother of Hezekiah.
The wife would be a virgin, perhaps not even a wife, at the time of the prophecy. The child would be Hezekiah, Ahazís successor. Hezekiah would be a sign to Ahaz that God was in control. The Lord was with Ahaz. He would save Judah from the enemies that surrounded Ahaz, enabling his son to inherit the throne (7:1Ė3). Yet the reference to the child eating "curds and honey" was a prediction of Assyriaís eventual domination of Judah.
This explanation is entirely possible, but since Isaiah himself in 8:18 says that he and his children are signs to the nation, I believe this points to Isaiah and his children as being the near fulfillment.