Continued from Chapter 17

(Isaiah 7:14-16)

Isaiah 7:14-16: Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Curd and honey shall he eat, when he knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good. Yes, before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings you have a terror of shall be forsaken.

Conceiving the myth

The sign of Isaiah 7:14 occupies a prominent place in Christian theology. Christians claim this verse found fulfillment in the manner of conception and birth of Jesus. However, verse 14 shows that the prophet does not emphasize the circumstances of the child’s conception but, rather, the state of political affairs a few years later when he has reached the age of moral development. The birth of Jesus took place some seven hundred and fifty years after Isaiah enunciated these words.

We learn from chapter seven that an attack was aimed at Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:2-6). In Isaiah 7:3, the prophet’s son Shear-yeshuv, on God’s command, accompanies his father in his encounter with King Ahaz. Isaiah now offers to provide a sign from God to show He is always with His people, but Ahaz refuses. Nevertheless, Isaiah delivers God’s message that the enemies’ plan would fail. God gives Ahaz a divine sign that all would surely come to pass as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 7:3-16). This sign revolves around the formative years of a child named Immanuel. The name given to the child to be born, Immanu’el,literally means, “With us is God.”1 The words ’immanu’el also appear in Isaiah 8:10, but do not refer to the child so named.

In verse 14 the prophet speaks of a sign being given. Isaiah’s words, in general, and the word ’ot, “sign,” specifically indicate his prophecy had relevance for his contemporaries. The ’ot, the “sign,” of Isaiah 7:14 could not refer to an event in the distant future. The sign was not the manner of conception, but the imminent birth of a child, naturally conceived, whose very name would illustrate God’s concern for His people and that God is still “with us.” The child to be born was not the Messiah and Isaiah 7:14 was never considered a messianic reference by the Jewish people. Christianity incorrectly claims that the Jewish Scriptures foretell a virgin conception of an individual who was to be both a god and a man.

Isaiah’s words, in general, and the word ’ot, “sign,” specifically indicate his prophecy had relevance for his contemporaries. The word ’ot is used in the Bible in reference to an event that is to take place in the near future. This understanding is reinforced by the manner in which the word hinnei (“behold”) is used by the prophet to introduce the passage. In the seventy-eight times it is used in Isaiah it is used of future events. Its use in combination with ’ot provides a compelling argument that the passage is announcing an imminent birth. There had to be a fulfillment in Isaiah’s time or his words, which were directed toward his contemporaries, would have had absolutely no meaning for his generation. On word usage alone, the ’ot, the “sign,” of Isaiah 7:14 could not refer to an event in the distant future. All indications are that the sign was not the manner of conception, but the imminent birth of a child, naturally conceived, whose very name would illustrate God’s concern for His people and that God is still “with us.” The birth of Immanuel was a sign of the continuity of the people of Judah in this period of crisis and was foremost a sign of God’s concern for His people.

1 The technical term for a compound name with a divine element is a “theophoris” or “theophorous” name. It is derived from a Greek word meaning “bearing [derived from] a god.” Theophoric names are common in the Bible (For example, Samuel, “His name is El,” Ishmael, “God hears [requests],” Daniel, “God is my judge”).

© Gerald Sigal