To Whom Was Immanuel a Sign?

Annunciation by Botticelli, 1490, one of the m...
Annunciation by Botticelli, 1490

At the rate that I’m going, the Second Coming will occur before I finish the series on Egypt’s prophetic dossier.  Well, hopefully this will get us a bit closer.

As I mentioned in part 7 of that series, to really explain the rest of Ezekiel 29, we have to fully understand that there really are multiple fulfillments of prophecy in Scripture.  I promised at the end of that post to provide a concrete example of one.  Well, here we go:

Isa 7:10-16 – The LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.”

He said, “Listen now, house of David. Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the almah will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat butter and honey when he knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings you abhor shall be forsaken.

Now the anti-missionaries love to attack Matthew’s quotation of this verse in regards to the Virgin Birth of the Messiah. To their credit, there are several points in their favor:

First, the Hebrew word almah does not unambiguously mean “virgin.” It literally means simply “young woman,” i.e. a teenager. Virginity is implied (of the seven times almah is used in the Tanakh, not once is it used of a non-virgin), but not requred.  For the record, betulah didn’t originally mean “virgin” either, as evidenced by its use in Joel 1:8.

Second, this was to be a sign specifically to Ahaz, and so had to take place while he was still alive. Likewise, the child was supposed to be old enough for solid food but below the age of accountability when the deliverance came, not seven hundred years away from being born, as Yeshua was.

And third, the apparent fulfillment is given in the very next chapter:

Isa 8:1-4, 7 – The LORD said to me, “Take a large tablet, and write on it with a man’s pen, ‘For Maher Shalal Hash Baz; and I will take for myself faithful witnesses to testify: Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.”

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.’ For before the child knows how to say, ‘My father,’ and, ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria. . . . now therefore, behold, the Lord brings upon them the mighty flood waters of the River: the king of Assyria and all his glory.”

However, while all of the above is true, there are specific details in the prophecy that demonstrate that it also must have a future fulfillment:

First, Isaiah had a child old enough to go before the king, Shear-Yashuv (7:3), so his wife must have been in her twenties at the least, which would not be young enough to be the almah spoken of in this prophecy.

Secondly, Hashem tells Isaiah to name his son something other than Immanuel—in effect, God Himself deliberately messes up the prophecy.  Why?  Why not tell Isaiah to name his son Immanuel?  The only answer that comes to mind is that the Holy One wanted to make it clear that while Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was indeed to be a sign in that deliverance would come while he was still a very young child, he was not the final sign to the House of David of the Holy One’s fidelity to His covenant.

And third, the prophecy does not end in chapter 8, but continues through chapter 9-11, which everyone acknowledges to be Messianic prophecy:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be on his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, God (or Judge), Mighty One, Father, Everlasting, Prince, and Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.  The zeal of Hashem Tzeva’ot will accomplish this.  (9:6-7)

Some anti-missionaries try to dispute that the above is a Messianic prophecy, but they dispute our own honored sages in the process.  For example, the Targum (late 1st Century translation of the Tanakh into Aramaic) translates Isa. 9:6 as,

. . . and his name will be called from before the One who is wonderful in counsel, the mighty God who exists forever, Messiah, because there will be abundant peace in his days.

The Numbers Midrash Rabbah (11:6-20) states,

Rabbi Jose the Galilean says:  The name of the Messiah too is “peace”; as it is written: “God the mighty, the everlasting Father, the ruler of peace.”

There’s an excellent article on the Heart of Israel website that provides more rabbinic witness to the Messianic importance of Isaiah 9.

Now if the Almah’s Son spoken of in chapter 7 saw its complete fulfillment in chapter 8, we have an obvious problem:  Isaiah’s son never reigned on David’s throne.  This has led the Talmudic sages to interpret Isaiah 9 to refer at least in part to Hezekiah’s reign.  In b.Sanhedrin 94a, we read:

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” (Isa. 9: 6): R. Tanhum said, “In Sepphoris, Bar Qappara expounded this verse as follows: On what account is every Mim in the middle of a word open, but the one in the word “increase” is closed?

The Holy One, blessed be he, proposed to make Hezekiah Messiah, and Sennacherib into Gog and Magog. The attribute of justice said before the Holy One, blessed be he, “Lord of the world, Now if David, king of Israel, who recited how many songs and praises before you, you did not make Messiah, Hezekiah, for whom you have done all these miracles, and who did not recite a song before you, surely should not be made Messiah.”

But perhaps we should seperate the two passages and understand them as two completely unrelated prophecies, some would object.   That would deny not only the whole principle of Davar Hilmad Me’anino (Explanation obtained from context) that Jewish hermeneutics relies on, but also ignores G’zerah Shavah (Equivalence of Expresions):  “What applies to a word, root, or phrase in one passage applies equally to it in another, even when they are not thematically or contextually linked.”

Some may argue that Hillels’ Principles are fundamentally legal principles for the derivation of halakha (legal rulings) and should not be used in the interpretation of prophecy.  I would answer that even a cursory examination of the discussions among the rabbis in the Talmud, particularly b.Sanhedrin 94a-98b, readily dismisses that particular bit of special pleading.

But could we understand, as some rabbis evidentially did, that the entire passage (chapters 7-11) refers to Hezekiah, with no special reference to the Messiah?  Again, no.  Ahaz ruled for sixteen years (2Ki. 16:18) and Hezekiah ascended the throne when he was twenty-five (18:2), which means that he would have already been an ‘elam (a young man, the male equivalent of an almah) himself at the time the prophecy was given.  A sign given ten or twenty years before wouldn’t be much of a sign, would it?  For that matter, Hezekiah was most likely already at the age of accountability, which would falsify Isa. 7:16.

What we have here is a perfect example of a dual or near-far prophecy.  The overall theme of the prophecy–that as a show of His faithfulness to the line of David, Hashem would cause a child to be conceived and would bring about the rescue of Judah before the child reached a certain age–was fulfilled in the near term.  However, there are at least three specific details of the prophecy that had yet to be fulfilled: 1) Isaiah’s wife was no longer an almah, 2) Hashem specifically told him not to name the child Immanuel, and 3) Isaiah’s child never ascended the throne of David.  All three of these details have been or will be fulfilled in Yeshua the Messiah, the Scion of the House of David who stands as the ultimate proof of the Holy One’s fidelity to His covenant with David.

Matthew’s eye wasn’t drawn to this prophecy because he was looking for Messianic prophecies that could be written into the life of Yeshua.  Rather, he was starting with the knowledge that the Messiah had already been conceived in the womb of a virgin and was trying to understand that miracle in the light of the already-existing Scriptures.  He could well have pointed to the miraculous conceptions of many of the Patriarchs and other leaders of Israel–the opening of barren wombs–but instead he found here in Isaiah the answer to his real question:  Who is Yeshua?  Answer:  Emmanu’el, God With Us, and the king who will reign forever from Jerusalem.

As a final note, let us look at Isaiah 8:14-18:

He will be a sanctuary, but for both houses of Israel, he will be
a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Many will stumble over it,
fall, be broken, be snared, and be captured.”

Wrap up the testimony.
Seal the law among my disciples.

I will wait for the LORD, who hides his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.  Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of Hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion.

The fact that the Messiah would actually be a stumbling block to Israel is found in Isa. 28:16 and Psa. 118:22 as well.  But did you realize that He would result in the confusion of His followers as well?

Look again at v. 16 with a different translation:  “Bind the tradition, seal the Torah among my disciples.”  To bind (Heb. tzor) is to bind, distress, and vex.  To seal (Heb. chatom) is to seal up a writing so that it cannot be understood, as in Dan. 12:4 and 9.  Here the Holy One warned us in advance that there would be a time in which the disciples of this Sanctuary would frustrate the tradition (cf. Ruth 4:7 for the use of this word) and would not understand the Torah, which is exactly what has happened in the Ekklesia, which lost its Jewish roots, for two thousand years.

Baruch Hashem that He is turning us back, and by His Spirit is opening our eyes once again to that which was lost.

Shalom

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One Reply to “To Whom Was Immanuel a Sign?”

  1. The two signs are for the house of David the tribe of Judah. This prophecy is not unsealed. Those two signs given by God are Isaiah’s two non biological sons. The two signs are two servants of God and represent the two olive trees on Zechariah’s vision. The birth of the child is actually a coronation/blessing as a result of the two sings. This prophecy must remain sealed due to the information it contains for the end of age.

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