Isaiah: Who is Immanuel?

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that 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 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!” (Isaiah 7:10-17)

Each and every Christmas season we either read, or hear these familiar words.

18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:18-23).

 Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Immanuel, God with us. This conveys God’s promise to save, bless and protect His children. The identity of the virgin and the child have been the subject of considerable discussion and major interpretations exist.”

What are those different interpretations of which Dr. Sproul mentioned? The following perspectives are given for your consideration.

First, some find the prophecy exclusively fulfilled in Isaiah’s own lifetime. Some of these interpreters, especially the Jews of the second century A.D., understood the prophecy to mean Ahaz’s wife and her child, King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1-2). But as Saint Jerome (c. A.D. 400) indicated, Hezekiah was already born.

Others identify the woman’s child as Isaiah’s son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:1-3). However, the Hebrew term translated “virgin” would not be normally used for a woman who was already a mother (of Shear-jashub, 7:1-3). If it means someone engaged to the prophet, then one must assume that Isaiah’s first wife had died prior to this prophecy. Further, this interpretation means that the child would have two different names (“God with Us” and “The Spoil Seeds.” the “Prey Hastens”). In this case, the immediate fulfillment would be of God’s presence with His people that not only brings judgment but also salvation.

Still others, in light of the New Testament interpretation and the traditional Christian perspective, identify the child directly and exclusively as the Messiah, a divine person whose birth is miraculous. This would refer us to the “sign” of Isaiah 7:11 and 7:14. This interpretation also identifies the child “Immanuel” with the child possessing the titles for God from Isaiah 9:6 along with being the “branch” of Isaiah 11. According to Matthew, the virgin is Mary and the child is Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:22-23). However, Isaiah 7:16 seems to indicate the birth of Immanuel would be imminent.

Another interpretation is to consider the prophecy to be typological. It would, therefore, have a two-fold fulfillment. There would be an immediate but partial fulfillment in Isaiah’s day and a later definitive fulfillment in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who would secure the throne of God forever. The difficulty remains as to the identities of the virgin, and the son, in the immediate and partial fulfillment in Isaiah’s day.

Whoever Immanuel was in the immediate context of Isaiah’s day, he would eat curds and honey. Curds can either be milk, butter or cream. Honey could either be the sweet product from bee collected pollen, or a sweet, thick liquid processed from grape juice. This diet seems to point to unworked fields. If so, the child would be associate with the remnant who survive the LORD’s judgment upon Judah.

However, the prophet went on to conclude that before the prophesied boy reached the age of twelve, the Jewish age of adult and moral accountability, the rulers King Ahaz feared would be defeated. But there would also be judgment upon Judah due to King Ahaz’s trust in Assyria and lack of trust, commitment, dependence and worship of Yahweh.

This passage gives us every indication that whatever occurs in history, our present life, or the future, everything is within the sovereign control of God.

Soli deo Gloria!





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