Isaiah 7:10-16 - EXEGESIS
ISA. 7:1-9 CONTEXT: These verses tell the story of Ahaz, king of Judah, who feels threatened by Rezin of Aram, and Pekah of Israel (see 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 for the full story).
• ARAM is located north of Israel in the vicinity of Damascus. Rezin is king of Aram.
• ISRAEL is the Northern Kingdom, occupying land that will be known in Jesus' day as Samaria and Galilee. It is made up of ten tribes that refused to submit to the authority of Solomon's son, Rehoboam, after Solomon's death in 922 B.C. (1 Kings 12). Jeroboam was Israel's first king. Now Pekah is their king.
• JUDAH is the Southern Kingdom, made up of the two remaining tribes, Benjamin and Judah. The capitol is Jerusalem, and the king is Ahaz.
• ASSYRIA is located in Mesopotamia, about 400-500 miles (650-800 km) northeast of Judah. It is the dominant power and threatens all lesser nations such as Aram, Israel, and Judah. Rezin (of Aram) and Pekah (of Israel) are determined to forge alliances that will allow them to resist Assyrian domination. They asked Ahaz to join their alliance, but Ahaz refused because of his fear of Assyria. In response, Rezin and Pekah mounted an attack against Jerusalem that failed (v. 1). Rezin and Pekah succeeded, however, in frightening Ahaz and the people of Israel, whose hearts "trembled... as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind" (v. 2).
• Yahweh called Isaiah to assure Ahaz that he had nothing to fear, because Rezin and Pekah would fail in their attempt to attack Jerusalem (vv. 3-8)-implying that Yahweh will prevent them from defeating Jerusalem. The only thing that Yahweh requires of Ahaz is that he trusts Yahweh's promise. Isaiah further warned Ahaz, " If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established" (v. 9).
• The events of this narrative take place about 733 B.C.
ISAIAH 7:7-13. ASK A SIGN OF YAHWEH
7 this is what the Lord GOD says: "It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken to pieces, so that it is no longer a people), 9 and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you certainly shall not last. 10 Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 "Ask for a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I put the LORD to the test!" 13 Then he said, "Listen now, house of David! Is it too trivial a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?
v. 7: This particular conspiracy against Judah and its king will not be successful. Jerusalem will remain in the same hands for now.
v. 8: "Ephraim be broken". This tribe represented all the northern 10 tribes. The prophet predicted the coming demise because of idolatry (Hos. 4:17). In 65 years they would cease to be a people, first through the captivity of most of them in 722 B.C. and then with the importation of foreign settlers into the land. All of this is just saying that Syria is headed up by a mortal man who is no match for God, who is the head of Judah. The overthrow of Ephraim as a distinct race of people was accomplished in 65 years after this prophecy is spoken. Ephraim is later on spoken of in a spiritual sense.
v. 9: The choice belongs to Ahaz. He could trust the Lord's word or fall into the enemy's hands or, even worse, experience a final heart hardening (6:9-10). The Samaritans had inner-married so much, that they nearly destroyed the entire race of people. This is a call for Ahaz to stand firm in the faith. To doubt would bring destruction, but faith would remove this mountain of problems the evil neighbors had brought. Ahaz (like us), should have faith in God's ability, not his own.
"Yahweh spoke again to Ahaz" (v. 10). It isn't clear whether Yahweh speaks to Ahaz directly or through the prophet Isaiah. It is clear, however, that the message comes from Yahweh and bears Yahweh's authority, however delivered.
"Ask a sign of Yahweh your God" (v. 11a). We think of the Old Testament God as leaning heavily toward judgment and the New Testament God as leaning heavily toward grace. This invitation by Yahweh, however, shows the Old Testament Yahweh as a God of the second chance-a God of grace. Yahweh sees that Ahaz is tempted to trust Assyria, so he offers Ahaz a sign to make it possible for Ahaz to believe in Yahweh.
• Signs are common in both the Old and New Testaments. The rainbow was a sign to Noah of God's promise not to destroy the world by flood again (Gen 9:12-17). The blood of the Passover lamb was a sign to Israel that God would exempt Israel from the death of the firstborn (Ex 12:7-13). The angelic fire was a sign to Gideon that he had found favor with the Lord (Jud 6:17-22). In the New Testament, the miracles of Jesus are often called signs, particularly in the Gospel of John (Jn 2:11, 23; 3:2; 4:54; 6:2, 14; 7:31; 9:16; 11:47; 12:18, 37; 20:30). God/Jesus provided signs to give people assurance and to help them to believe (Jn 20:30-31).
"ask it either in the depth, or in the height above" (v. 11b). Sheol is the abode of the dead, thought to be located in the depths of the earth (Deuteronomy 32:22). Heaven is the dwelling place of God, thought to be located high above the earth. When Yahweh invites Ahaz to ask for a sign as "in the depth, or in the height above," he is offering Ahaz carte blanche-full discretionary power. Ahaz can ask for any sign that he can imagine. He can ask God to hide the sun-or to cause water to spring up from the desert sands-or he can ask for a healing miracle. He can ask for any sign that, when received, will convince him of Yahweh's power and faithfulness.
• However, if Ahaz names a sign and Yahweh performs that sign, then Ahaz will have to acknowledge Yahweh's power and ally himself with Yahweh. This invitation by Yahweh, then, is as much a test as it is an invitation. Will Ahaz accept the invitation? If so, will he give Yahweh his allegiance once Yahweh performs the sign? By inviting Ahaz to name a sign, Yahweh is putting him in a position where he must show his true colors-faithful to Yahweh or not.
"But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, neither will I tempt Yahweh'" (v. 12). Although not faithful to Yahweh, Ahaz is sufficiently familiar with Hebrew scripture to quote Deuteronomy 6:16, which says, "You shall not tempt Yahweh your God, as you tempted him at Massah." This refers to an incident recounted in Exodus 17:1-7 where the people of Israel quarreled with Moses because they had no water to drink. Moses responded, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?" But the people persisted, so God instructed Moses to strike a rock with his staff so that water would come out of the rock. Moses struck the rock as instructed, and God provided water as promised. That account concludes by saying that Moses "called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because the children of Israel quarreled, and because they tested Yahweh, saying, 'Is Yahweh among us, or not?'" (v. 7).
• So Ahaz's response reflects at least a superficial knowledge of the scripture and seems to obey the requirement of Deuteronomy 6:16 not to test God. However, there are two problems: The FIRST problem is that Ahaz fails to take into account the difference between his situation and that of the Israelites at Massah. There the Israelites quarreled with Moses because they had lost faith in Yahweh's providence. They demanded action, not only as a way of obtaining water, but also as a way of reassuring themselves that Yahweh had not abandoned them to die in the wilderness. That is why Moses spoke of their action as testing God, and it is that sort of testing that is prohibited by Deuteronomy 6:16.
• The situation for Ahaz is quite different. The initiative for this test was not his but Yahweh's. Ahaz has not demanded a test, but Yahweh has offered a test. Yahweh would not offer the test if he did not want Ahaz to name a test. Therefore the Deuteronomy 6:16 prohibition is moot-does not apply.
The SECOND problem is that Ahaz is merely using the Deuteronomy 6 prohibition as an excuse for his reluctance to name a sign. The real reason he doesn't want to name a sign is that he has made up his mind to ally himself with Assyria against Rezin and Pekah, so he doesn't want to name a sign that will force him to ally himself with Yahweh. He trusts Assyria instead of Yahweh, and has no intention of changing his mind. It is as simple as that.
• Like the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness, Ahaz is able quote scripture to further his purposes. Like the devil, he has no intention of becoming faithful to the one who is revealed in those scriptures.
"He said, 'Listen now, house of David'" (v. 13a). In verses 10-11, the Lord addressed Ahaz. Now Isaiah addresses "house of David." This is a significant shift, because "house of David" refers to the Davidic dynasty of which Ahaz is a part-and to the covenant that Yahweh established with David much earlier (2 Samuel 7).
"Both Delitzsch and Smith see Ahaz's rejection in v. 12 as the turning point in the fortunes of the house of David. That resolute act of unfaith signaled an abandonment of God by the dynasty and opened the door for its eventual destruction" (Oswalt, 206).
"Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God also?" (v. 13b). It is not just Ahaz, but the house of David, that has wearied both humans and God. The Davidic line has produced kings both good (2 Kings 15:32-34) and bad (1 Kings 16:30; 2 Kings 8:18, 27). Ahaz is simply the current disappointment.
• A faithless ruler does weary mortals-people whose lives are profoundly affected by the ruler's actions and policies. We see that in nation after nation today where tyrants rule oppressively, using their power to destroy people rather than to help them. There is no doubt that Ahaz has wearied Isaiah, who has tried to hard to help Ahaz to discover faith. Ahaz has also wearied Yahweh (see also Micah 2:7).
ISAIAH 7:14-17. THE VIRGIN WILL CONCEIVE, AND BEAR A SON
14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 For before the boy knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be abandoned. 17 The LORD will bring on you, on your people, and on your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah-the days of the king of Assyria."
"Therefore the Lord (adonai) himself will give you a sign" (v. 14a). Since Ahaz has refused to choose a sign, the Lord will give him a sign of the Lord's choosing.
In most cases, the book of Isaiah uses the Hebrew YHWH (Yahweh) to refer to God. This is the "I am who I am" name that God used when Moses asked God's name at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). In this instance, however, the prophet uses adonai, which Israelites use to avoid the risk of profaning God's holy name.
"Behold, the virgin (almah) will conceive, and bear a son" (v. 14b). This verse is quoted in Matthew 1:23, where the Greek word parthenos clearly means virgin.
• The LXX (the Septuagint-the Greek translation of the Old Testament) used the Greek word parthenos to
translate almah in this verse. We should note that there is another Hebrew word, bethulah, that is a more
exact parallel to parthenos (Scott, 218).
• Following the lead of the LXX, the King James Version translated the Hebrew word almah in Isaiah 7:14 as "virgin." The Revised Standard Version (RSV) caused quite a stir in 1952 when it translated almah as "young woman." Many Christians accused RSV translators of denying the virgin birth, even though the RSV translates parthenos as "virgin" in Matthew 1:23.
• The controversy was exacerbated by certain liberal clergy who both (1) preferred the RSV and (2) either denied the virgin birth or said that it wasn't important to their faith. It was further exacerbated by the fact that an early popular edition of the RSV was published with a red cover instead of the traditional black cover that people associated with the Bible. That small indiscretion hardened the suspicion that the RSV was somehow subversive.
• Today, many or most scholars favor translating almah "young woman," but large numbers of conservative Christians strongly defend "virgin." The New International Version (NIV), favored by many conservative Christians, uses "virgin" in this verse. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), favored by most mainline Protestant churches today, uses "young woman."
• Watts does a brief study of the use of almah in several Old Testament verses, and concludes: "This word study suggests that the common meaning of almah is a young woman who is sexually mature.... But it had two different and contrasting semantic implications that provide an invitation to double entendre. The one implies the spotless candidate for marriage. The other implies a type of available sexual partner not condoned by Yahwistic norms or the Law. It is difficult to find a word in English that is capable of the same range of meaning. 'Virgin' is too narrow, while 'young woman' is too broad" (Watts, 136). Young suggests that damsel or maiden might be the best English equivalents to the Hebrew word almah, but then says, "Yet even these words may not be precise equivalents, for whereas they could possibly refer to married women, 'almah does not do so. For these reasons it may be wisest, after all, to render 'almah in English by 'virgin'" (Young, 287).
• However, many or most scholars today would translate almah as "young woman" and would deal with the issue of the virgin birth on other grounds.
• Allow me to state a confession, a conviction, and an observation here:
· First, the CONFESSION. I do not know whether we should translate almah as "virgin" or "young woman." After reading a number of scholars on the subject, I find that some prefer "virgin" and others prefer "young woman." Some insist on "virgin," a conviction that I believe to be based more on their commitment to the doctrine of the virgin birth as on their study of the word almah. I am uncomfortable with that sort of dogma-driven Biblical interpretation.
· Second, the CONVICTION. I believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. My belief is based on the clear statement of the New Testament that Mary was a virgin (Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:26-35) and that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Most High overshadowed her, so that the child born of her was holy-the very Son of God (Luke 1:35). Since my belief is based on these very clear New Testament texts, it is unaffected by the controversy over the use of "virgin" or "young woman" in the Isaiah text. Therefore, I would call for belief in the virgin birth because of the New Testament witness, and I would call for charity between those who favor "virgin" and those who favor "young woman" in the Isaiah text.
· Third, an OBSERVATION. There was no controversy in the New Testament church regarding the virgin birth of Jesus. Early Christians apparently received without question the witness of Matthew 1 and Luke 2 that Mary was a virgin, and John alludes to it (John 1:14; 3:16; 1 John 4:9). Neither Paul nor the other authors of the New Testament ever mentions it. While Paul deals with all sorts of church controversies, he neither corrects churches on this matter-nor feels it necessary to expand their understanding of the virgin birth-nor feels it important to emphasize the virgin birth. In other words, Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:26-35 make it clear that Jesus was born of a virgin, but beyond that the New Testament is essentially silent on the matter. We would do well to recover the posture of the New Testament on this matter.
• We must also deal with another question here. Does this verse predict the birth of a child during the lifetime of Ahaz, or is this a messianic prophecy that points to the birth of Jesus. Scholars are divided on this matter, but it seems unnecessary to choose one or the other. I believe that Isaiah intended to speak of a child who would be born within a very short time. Matthew, however, interprets this verse as a messianic prophecy. I believe both to be true. This is a sign for Ahaz, as this verse says that it is-and it is also a messianic prophecy, as Matthew says it is. Even if Isaiah understood it only in the first sense, God sometimes inspires people to say things that reveal truths beyond their understanding-truths to be fully revealed only later. I believe that to be the case here.
"and shall call his name Immanuel" (v. 14c). The Hebrew immanu means "with us," and el is a word for God, so Immanuel (also spelled Emmanuel) means "God with us." In the Bible, a number of people are given names that have a message from God embedded in them. Isaiah means "Yahweh is salvation." Isaiah named one son Shear-jashub, which means "a remnant shall return" and another son Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means "The spoil speeds, the prey hastes."
• Achtemeier notes that the word Immanuel is used again in Isaiah 8:8, where Yahweh is pronouncing judgment on Judah. She concludes that, while "God with us" is positive for the faithful, it can be dangerous for the unfaithful. She notes that we usually think of "God with us" as comforting, but suggests that we approach Immanuel with the humility of sinners who have nothing to offer God except our repentance.
"He shall eat butter and honey" (v. 15a). The precise meaning of "curds and honey" is uncertain. It might mean "good food" (Goldingay, 64), or it might mean "the first solid food after mother's milk" (Tucker, NIB, 112). However, verse 22 speaks of eating curds and honey in a context that suggests devastation-a movement backward from an agricultural to a pastoral economy (see vv. 23-25). "In light of the negative use of this same terminology in 7:21-22, it is better to interpret curds and honey in 7:15 as a sign that this son will live in a time of deprivation" (Smith, 214).
"when he knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good" (v. 15b). This phrase gives Ahaz a time-frame within which he can expect these events to happen. The question is how old a child must be to know how to refuse the evil and choose the good. Brueggemann says that it is two years when "reckoned in terms of childhood development" (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching, 29).
• However, there are other measures. A child "was expected to learn the Scriptures at five, the Mishnah at ten, and to fulfill the whole law at thirteen" (Bromiley, 538). Today Jewish boys are obligated to observe the commandments at age thirteen (girls at age twelve) (http://www.jewfaq.org/barmitz.htm). Therefore, the time frame in which Ahaz can expect to see Yahweh's sign could be as little as two years or as much as thirteen years. The point is that Ahaz can expect relief in a relatively short time.
"For before the child knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings you abhor shall be forsaken" (v. 16). The two kings are Rezin and Pekah. As noted above, Ahaz is in dread of them because they have attacked Jerusalem once and can be expected to do so again. Isaiah is reassuring Ahaz that within the next thirteen years, Yahweh will deal with Rezin and Pekah so that they no longer pose a threat. This, in fact, happened. Aram was destroyed three years later, and Assyria defeated Israel and sent its people into exile thirteen years later-in 722/721 B.C. (Motyer, 78).
v. 17: Not only did the Lord use the Assyrians to judge the northern kingdom, He also used them to invade Ahaz's domain of Judah. This coming of the Assyrian king was the beginning of the end for the nation and eventually led to her captivity in Babylon. Since Ahaz will not use God's help, destruction will come. He is comparing the time with the time when the 10 tribes broke away from the twelve, just leaving the two, of which Judah was one. This terrible happening is not just on Ahaz, but all of his people. This is speaking of terrible times to come. This will happen prior to the birth of Jesus. From here to the end of this chapter, the desolation prophesied in this section began in the days of Ahaz and reached its climax when the Babylonians conquered Judah. Its results continue to the time when the Messiah will return to deliver Israel and establish His kingdom on earth.
EW Commentary-Isa. 7:7-17
2. (7:7-9) The word of the LORD to Ahaz through Isaiah.
7 this is what the Lord GOD says: "It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken to pieces, so that it is no longer a people), 9 and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you certainly shall not last."
e. It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass: Certainly, the king of Israel and the king of Syria had their plans - they plotted evil against Judah. They wanted to attack Jerusalem, defeat the capital of Judah (make a gap in its wall), then depose Ahaz and set up their own king. But God was not worried about their plans. They looked like a big, flaming threat to Ahaz, but God looked and saw two stubs of smoking firebrands, and simply said, "It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass."
i. Their plans will not succeed because the nations are led by ungodly men (Rezin and Remaliah's son), and not by the LORD. This is God's promise, and Isaiah calls Ahaz to trust in the LORD and in His promise.
f. If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established: Here is the challenge to Ahaz. God has promised, now the king of Judah must believe. If he will not believe, it will not affect the outcome of the attack against Jerusalem. God has already decreed that their attack would not succeed. But it would affect the course of Ahaz's life and reign as king (surely you shall not be established).
i. As it happened, Ahaz did not believe. He did not put his trust in the LORD. He put his trust in carnal methods and the king of Assyria. Jerusalem was spared, and Ahaz no doubt believed he was successful, and his plan had worked. But if he would have just trusted in the LORD, Jerusalem would have been spared, and Ahaz would have been blessed.
ii. Isaiah brought his son Shear-Jashub (Isaiah 7:3) because his name meant A Remnant Shall Return, and God wanted Ahaz to know that because of the kind of ungodly trust he put in the king of Assyria, Judah would eventually be taken into captivity, and only a remnant would return.
1. (7:10-12) Ahaz will not ask for a sign (The sign of Immanuel).
10 Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 "Ask for a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I put the LORD to the test!"
a. Ask a sign for yourself: Through the prophet Isaiah, God invites Ahaz to ask for a sign. God has just challenged Ahaz to believe and be blessed, and now God offers to give Ahaz a basis for belief - a sign for yourself.
b. But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD": This sounds very spiritual from Ahaz. He almost seems to say what Jesus said in Matthew 4:7: "You shall not tempt the LORD your God." Though the words are similar, the hearts are far apart. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, because when God fulfilled the sign, he would be "obligated" to believe.
i. This was not tempting or testing God in a wrong way. It is never testing God to do as He says, and if the LORD invites us to test Him, we should. For example, in Malachi 3:10, the LORD invited Israel to give as He commanded, and thereby to try Me now in this.
ii. Again, perhaps Ahaz was bitter against the LORD, because of all the disaster Judah had already been through at the hands of Israel and Syria. Perhaps his mind is, "I want nothing to do with the God who allowed it to get this bad."
iii. Haven't we, in some way, to some degree, been in the same state of mind as Ahaz? Haven't we
rejected the gracious, free gifts of God for silly and strange reasons? "Here let us each descend and dive into his own conscience, to see whether we also have not matched Ahaz in his madness, or at leastwise coasted too near upon his unkind usage of the Lord, by rejecting his sweet offers of grace and motions of mercy, by slighting his holy sacraments, those signs and seals of the righteousness that is by faith." (Trapp)
2. (7:13-16) The LORD's sign to Ahaz: the sign of Immanuel.
13 Then he said, "Listen now, house of David! Is it too trivial a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. 16 For before the boy knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be abandoned.
a. Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? The rulers of Judah treated other people poorly, but they treated the LORD even more poorly. If many of us expressed the same distrust we have towards the LORD towards other people, we might get a punch in the nose.
i. "How heartily angry is the prophet, how blessedly blown up in this case to so great dishonour done to God! We should be so too." (Trapp)
ii. Spurgeon spoke well to this point: "Did I not hear some one say, 'Ah, sir, I have been trying to believe for years.' Terrible words! They make the case still worse. Imagine that after I had made a statement, a man should declare that he did not believe me, in fact, he could not believe me though he would like to do so. I should feel aggrieved certainly; but it would make matters worse if he added, 'In fact I have been for years trying to believe you, and I cannot do it.' What does he mean by that? What can he mean but that I am so incorrigibly false, and such a confirmed liar, that though he would like to give me some credit, he really cannot do it? With all the effort he can make in my favour, he finds it quite beyond his power to believe me? Now, a man who says, 'I have been trying to believe in God,' in reality says just that with regard to the Most High."
b. Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. This is one of the most famous prophecies regarding the birth of Jesus the Messiah in the Bible. It also illustrates a principle of prophecy, that prophecy may have both a near fulfillment and a far fulfillment.
i. Spurgeon said of this passage, that it is said to be "One of the most difficult in all the Word of God. It may be so; I certainly did not think it was until I saw what the commentators had to say about it, and I rose up from reading them perfectly confused."
ii. "It is characteristic of predictive prophecy that it often mingles different times together in one composite picture" (Martin)
c. 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: The near fulfillment of this prophecy centered around Ahaz, Jerusalem, and the attack from Israel and Syria. For Ahaz, the sign centered on this time span. Simply put, God would give Ahaz a sign that within a few years, both Israel and Syria would be crushed. This was a sign of deliverance to Ahaz.
i. Many commentators think that this was immediately fulfilled when a young woman in the royal household shortly married, conceived a son, and unknowingly naming him "Immanuel." Before this boy came to eat solid food, Israel and Syria would be defeated. It is also possible that God is just referring in a figurative way to a year or two period of time.
ii. "The name 'Immanuel' was a rebuke to Ahaz. If 'God is with us,' then why should he have feared the enemy?" (Wolf)
iii. "The 'sign' of the child, therefore, constitutes an indication that the all-sovereign and all-knowing God has the situation completely in hand, and it rebukes the king's lack of faith in him." (Grogan)
d. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son: The far or ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy goes far beyond Ahaz, to announce the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
i. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the Holy Spirit says so through Matthew: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23)
ii. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the prophecy is addressed not only to Ahaz, but also to David's entire house (O house of David!).
iii. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says the virgin shall conceive, and that conception would be a sign to David's entire house. Those who deny the virgin birth of Jesus like to point out that the Hebrew word translated virgin (almah) can also be translated as "young woman." The idea is that Isaiah was simply saying that a "young woman" would give birth, not a virgin. While the near fulfillment may have reference to a young woman giving birth, the far or ultimate fulfillment clearly points to a woman miraculously conceiving and giving birth. This is especially clear because the Old Testament never uses the word in a context other than virgin and because the Septuagint translates it categorically virgin (parthenos).
iv. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says He will be known as Immanuel, meaning "God with Us." This was true of Jesus in fact, not only as a title. Immanuel speaks both of the deity of Jesus (God with us) and His identification and nearness to man (God with us).
e. Call His name Immanuel: Jesus is truly Immanuel, God with us. "Christ, indeed, was not called by this name Immanuel that we anywhere read of...but the import of this name is most truly affirmed and acknowledged to be fully made good in him." (Trapp)
i. "He is, therefore, called God with us, or united to us; which cannot apply to a man who is not God...it denotes not only the power of God, such as he usually displays by his servant, but a union of person, by which Christ became God-man." (Calvin)
ii. "In what sense then, is Christ GOD WITH US? Jesus is called Immanuel, or God with us, in his incarnation; God with us, by the influences of his Holy Spirit, in the holy sacrament, in the preaching of his word, in private prayer. And God with us, through every action of our life, that we begin, continue, and end in his name. He is God with us, to comfort, enlighten, protect, and defend us, in every time of temptation and trial, in the hour of death, in the day of judgment; and God with us and in us, and we with and in him, to all eternity." (Clarke)
3. (7:17) Assyria, the nation Ahaz trusted, will also bring ruin to Judah.
17 The LORD will bring on you, on your people, and on your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah-the days of the king of Assyria."
a. The LORD will bring the king of Assyria upon you: This was bad news to Ahaz, who had been foolishly trusting in Assyria instead of the LORD. It is as if the LORD is saying, "It will seem to you like trusting in Assyria is a clever move, because the armies of Syria and Israel will be defeated. But the Assyrians will end up defeating you also."
ii. If Ahaz understood and believed what the LORD said, it would have terrified him. The Assyrians were well known for their sheer cruelty, especially over the nations they conquered. They delighted in torture and humiliation (shave with a hired razor...the head and the hair of the legs). iii. "To shave off the beard of an Oriental was an unbearable shame to him and was a sign of great sadness and mourning as well as despicable slavery." (Bultema) We see this principle illustrated by the actions of David in 2 Samuel 10:4-5.
Isa. 7:7-17 -PULPIT COMMENTARY
Isaiah 7:7: Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.
Verse 7. - Thus saith the Lord God; literally, the Lord Jehovah, as in Isaiah 28:10; Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 48:16, etc. It shall not stand; i.e. "the design shall not hold good, it shall not be accomplished." Rezin and Pekah have planned to set aside the issue of David, to which God had promised his throne (2 Samuel 7:11-16; Psalm 89:27-37), and to act up a new line of kings unconnected with David. They think to frustrate the everlasting counsel of God. Such an attempt was of necessity futile.
Isaiah 7:8: 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.
Verse 8. - For the head of Syria is Damascus, etc. Syria and Ephraim have merely human heads - the one Rezin, the other (ver. 9) Pekah; but Judah, it is implied, has a Divine Head, even Jehovah. How, then, should mere mortals think to oppose their will and their designs to God's? Of course, their designs must come to naught. Within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, etc. If this prophecy was delivered, as we have supposed, in B.C. 733 (see note on ver. 1), sixty-five years later would bring us to B.C. 669. This was the year in which Esar-haddon, having made his son, Asshur-bani-pal, King of Assyria, transferred his own residence to Babylon, and probably the year in which he sent from Babylonia and the adjacent countries a number of colonists who occupied Samaria, and entirely destroyed the nationality, which, fifty-three years earlier, had received a rude blow from Sargon (comp. Ezra 4:2, 9, 10, with 2 Kings 17:6-24 and 2 Chronicles 33:11). It is questioned whether, under the circumstances, the prophet can have comforted Ahaz with this distant prospect, and suggested that in the present chapter prophecies pronounced at widely distant periods have been mixed up (Cheyne); but there is no such appearance of dislocation in Isaiah 7, in its present form, as necessitates any such theory; and, while it may be granted that the comfort of the promise given in ver. 8 would be slight, it cannot be said that it would be nil; it may, therefore, have been (as it seems to us) without impropriety added to the main promise, which is that of ver. 7. The entire clause, from "and within" to "not a people," must be regarded as parenthetic.
Isaiah 7:9: And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.
Verse 9. - If ye will not believe, etc. Translate, If ye will not hold this faith fast, surely ye will not stand fast. Full faith in the promise of ver. 7 would have enabled Ahaz to dispense with all plans of earthly policy, and to "stand fast in the Lord," without calling in the aid of any "arm of flesh." Distrust of the promise would lead him to take steps which would not tend to "establish" him, but would make his position more insecure (see 2 Kings 16:7-18; 2 Chronicles 28:16, 20).
Isaiah 7:10: Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying,
Verses 10-16. - THE SIGN OF IMMANUEL. The supposition that there was a considerable interval between ver. 9 and ver. 10 (Cheyne) is quite gratuitous. Nothing in the text marks any such interval. God had sent Ahaz one message by his prophet (vers. 4-9). It had apparently been received in silence, at any rate without acknowledgment. The faith had seemed to be lacking which should have embraced with gladness the promise given (see the last clause of ver. 9). God, however, will give the unhappy monarch another chance. And so he scuds him a second message, the offer of a sign which should make belief in the first message easier to him (ver. 11). Ahaz proudly rejects this offer (ver. 12). Then the sign of "Immanuel" is given - not to Ahaz individually, but to the whole "house of David," and through them to the entire Jewish people. "A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, whose name shall be called Immanuel; and before this child shall have grown to the age of moral discernment, God's people will have been delivered, and their enemies made a desolation" (vers. 14-16). The exact bearing of the "sign" will be best discussed in the comment upon ver. 14. Verse 10. - The Lord spake again unto Ahaz. As before (vers. 3, 4) by the mouth of his prophet.
Isaiah 7:11: Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.
Verse 11. - Ask thee a sign. Asking for a sign is right or wrong, praiseworthy or blamable, according to the spirit in which the request is made. The Pharisees in our Lord's time "asked for a sign," but would not have believed any the more had they received the sign for which they asked. Gideon asked for a sign to strengthen his faith (Judges 6:37, 39), and received it, and in the strength of it went forth boldly against the Midianites. When God himself proposed to give a sign, and allowed his creature to choose what the sign should be, there could be no possible wrong-doing in a ready acceptance of the offer, which should have called forth gratitude and thanks. Ask it either in the depth, or in the height above; i.e. "Ask any sign thou wilt, either in hell or in heaven" - nothing shall be refused thee.
Isaiah 7:12: But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.
Verse 12. - I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord. Ahaz, who has no wish for a sign, because he has no wish to believe in any other salvation than flint which will follow from the realization of his own schemes, finds a plausible reason for declining to ask for one in those passages of the Law which forbade men to" tempt God" (Exodus 17:7; Deuteronomy 6:16). But it could not be "tempt-tug God" to comply with a Divine invitation; rather it was tempting him to refuse compliance.
Isaiah 7:13: And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?
Verse 13. - O house of David (comp. ver. 2). It is not Ahaz alone, but the "house of David," which is on its trial. Men are conspiring to remove it (ver. 6). If it will not be saved in God's way, it will have to be removed by God himself. Is it a small thing for you to weary men? i.e. "Are you not content with wearying men; with disregarding all my warnings and so wearying me? Must you go further, and weary God" (or, "wear out his patience") "by rejecting his gracious offers?" My God. In ver. 11 Isaiah had called Jehovah "thy God;" but as Ahaz, by rejecting God's offer, had rejected God, he speaks of him now as "my God."
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.
Verse 14. - Therefore. To show that your perversity cannot change God's designs, which will be accomplished, whether you hear or whether you forbear. The Lord himself; i.e. "the Lord himself, of his own free will, unasked." Will give you a sign. "Signs" were of various kinds. They might be actual miracles performed to attest a Divine commission (Exodus 4:3-9); or judgments of God, significative of his power and justice (Exodus 10:2); or memorials of something in the past (Exodus 13:9, 16); or pledges of something still future. Signs of this last-mentioned kind might be miracles (Judges 6:36-40; 2 Kings 20:8-11), or prophetic announcements (Exodus 3:12; 1 Samuel 2:34; 2 Kings 19:29). These last would only have the effect of signs on those who witnessed their accomplishment. Behold. "A forewarning of a great event" (Cheyne). A virgin shall conceive. It is questioned whether the word translated "virgin," viz. 'almah, has necessarily that meaning; but it is admitted that the meaning is borne out by every other place in which the word occurs m the Old Testament (Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; Song of Solomon 6:8). The LXX., writing two centuries before the birth of Christ, translate by παρθένος. The rendering "virgin" has the support of the best modern Hebraists, as Lowth, Gesenins, Ewald, Delitzsch, Kay. It is observed with reason that unless 'almah is translated "virgin," there is no announcement made worthy of the grand prelude: "The Lord himself shall give you a sign - Behold!" The Hebrew, however, has not "a virgin," but "the virgin" (and so the Septuagint, ἡ παρθένος), which points to some special virgin, pro-eminent above all others. And shall call; better than the marginal rendering, thou shalt call. It was regarded as the privilege of a mother to determine her child's name (Genesis 4:25; Genesis 16:11; Genesis 29:32-35; Genesis 30:6-13, 18-21, 24; Genesis 35:18, etc.), although formally the father gave it (Genesis 16:15; 2 Samuel 12:24; Luke 1:62, 83). Immanuel. Translated for us by St. Matthew (Matthew 1:23) as "God with us" (μεθ ἡμῶν ὁ Θεός). (Comp. Isaiah 8:8, 10.)
Isaiah 7:15: He will eat curds and honey [n]at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good.
Verse 15. - Butter and honey shall he eat. His fare shall be of the simplest kind (comp. ver. 22). That he may know; rather, till he shall know (Rosenmüller); i.e. till he come to years of discretion. (The rendering of the Revisers of 1885, "when he knoweth," is less satisfactory.)
- Note on the general purport of the Immanuel prophecy. Few prophecies have been the subject of so much controversy, or called forth such a variety of exegesis, as this prophecy of Immanuel. Rosenmüller gives a list of twenty-eight authors who have written dissertations upon it, and himself adds a twenty-ninth. Yet the subject is far from being exhausted. It is still asked:
(1) Were the mother and son persons belonging to the time of Isaiah himself, and if so, what persons? Or,
(2) Were they the Virgin Mary and her Son Jesus? Or,
(3) Had the prophecy a double fulfillment, first in certain persons who lived in Isaiah's time, and secondly in Jesus and his mother?
I. The first theory is that of the Jewish commentators. Originally, they suggested that the mother was Abi, the wife of Ahaz (2 Kings 18:2), and the son Hezekiah, who delivered Judah from the Assyrian power (see Justin, 'Dial. cum Tryphon.,' p. 262). But this was early disproved by showing that, according to the numbers of Kings (2 Kings 16:2; 2 Kings 18:2), Hezekiah was at least nine years old in the first year of Ahaz, before which this prophecy could not have been delivered (Isaiah 7:1). The second suggestion made identified the mother with Isaiah's wife, the "prophetess" of Isaiah 8:3, and made the son a child of his, called actually Immanuel, or else his son Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:1) under a symbolical designation. But ha-'almah, "the virgin," would be a very strange title for Isaiah to have given his wife, and the rank assigned to Immanuel in Isaiah 8:8 would not suit any son of Isaiah's. It remains to regard the 'almah as "some young woman actually present," name, rank, and position unknown, and Immanuel as her son, also otherwise unknown (Cheyne). But the grand exordium, "The Lord himself shall give you a sign - Behold!" and the rank of Immanuel (Isaiah 8:8), are alike against this.
II. The purely Messianic theory is maintained by Rosenmüller and Dr. Kay, but without any consideration of its difficulties. The birth of Christ was an event more than seven hundred years distant. In what sense and to what persons could it be a "sign" of the coming deliverance of the land from Rezin and Pekah? And, upon the purely Messianic theory, what is the meaning of ver. 16? Syria and Samaria were, in fact, crushed within a few years of the delivery of the prophecy. Why is their desolation put off, apparently, till the coming of the Messiah, and even till he has reached a certain age? Mr. Cheyne meets these difficulties by the startling statement that Isaiah expected the advent of the Messiah to synchronize with the Assyrian invasion, and consequently thought that before Rezin and Pekah were crushed he would have reached the age of discernment. But he does not seem to see that in this case the sigma was altogether disappointing and illusory. Time is an essential element of a prophecy which turns upon the word "before" (ver. 16). If this faith of Isaiah's disciples was aroused and their hopes raised by the announcement that Immanuel was just about to be born (Mr. Cheyne translates, "A virgin is with child"), what would be the revulsion of feeling when no Immanuel appeared?
III. May not the true account of the matter be that suggested by Bishop Lowth - that the prophecy had a double bearing and a double fulfillment? "The obvious and literal meaning of the prophecy is this," he says: "that within the time that a young woman, now a virgin, should conceive and bring forth a child, and that child should arrive at such an age as to distinguish between good and evil, that is, within a few years, the enemies of Judah should be destroyed." But the prophecy was so worded, he adds, as to have a further meaning, which wan even "the original design and principal intention of the prophet," viz. the Messianic one. All the expressions of the prophecy do not suit both its intentions - some are selected with reference to the first, others with reference to the second fulfillment - but all suit one or the other, and some suit both. The first child may have received the name Immanuel (comp. Ittiel) from a faithful Jewish mother, who believed that God was with his people, whatever dangers threatened, and may have reached years of discretion about the time that Samaria was carried away captive. The second child is the true "Immanuel," "God with us," the king of Isaiah 8:8; it is his mother who is pointed at in the expression, "the virgin," and on his account is the grand preamble; through him the people of God, the true Israel, is delivered from its spiritual enemies, sin and Satan - two kings who continually threaten it.
Isaiah 7:15: Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
Isaiah 7:16: For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
Verse 16. - The land, etc. Translate, The land shall be desolate, before whose two kings thou art afraid. The "land" must certainly be that of the two confederate kings, Rezin and Pekah, the Syro-Ephraim-itic land, or Syria and Samaria. "Desolate" may be used physically or politically. A land is "desolate" politically when it loses the last vestige of independence.
Isaiah 7:17: The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.
Verses 17-25. - THE DANGER TO JUDAH FROM ASSYRIA. The perversity of Ahaz, already rebuked in ver. 13, is further punished by a threat, that upon him, and upon his people, and upon his father's house, shall come shortly a dire calamity. The very power whose aid he is himself bent on invoking shall be the scourge to chastise both king and people (vers. 17-20).