Interpretation of Isaiah 7:14

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Introduction
                  The book of Isaiah is a very tricky book to understand at times, and chapter seven in particular, offers us some very challenging verses to explore. The country is on the brink of war. Isaiah has prophesied to the king on more than one occasion, and there is this talk about Immanuel (God with us). Who is he and what does it all-mean?  It is the hope of this author to shed some light on these topics, and possibly touch on some other things that arise from the text as well. We will also be taking a look at how the author of the Gospel according to Matthew, chose to use verses from Isaiah and several other prominent prophets of old.
Historical Context
            So this story begins with Judah and its king being under the threat of war from the neighboring countries of Syria and Israel. Before they came under attack for both countries, “The Lord sent Pekah and the Israelites against him. The Israelites killed 120,000 Judean soldiers and took 200,000 Judeans into captivity to Samaria, together with a large amount of spoil.”[1]This took place before Isaiah had given his speech to the king. When this took place it is thought to be right around the time of Ahaz assuming command of the throne. Shortly following this, Assyria had began its domination of countries that were near by, and the kings of Israel and Syria were growing ever more scared of the impending doom. According to Webb, “The kings of Israel an Syria have formed an anti-Assyrian pact and are determined to force Judah to join them by deposing Ahaz and in stalling a puppet king in his place (6). It is the year 734 BC.”[2]
            This has king Ahaz scared to death because if he did not submit to what these two men wanted, they were going to kill him and place another man on the throne. That also would be bad because no matter how horrible of a king Ahaz was, he was still part of the Davidic line. However, “the problem of Ahaz and Judah, was fear of Rezin and Pekah. Isaiah’s purpose was to convince Ahaz that there was nothing to fear from these two kings and their armies.”[3]
The Sign
            Now that we have laid a foundation for verses 10-25, let us start by taking a look at the sign of the Lord given to Ahaz. At this point, God sends Isaiah back to king Ahaz with the chance to tell the Lord what kind of sign he would like to see as proof that what the Lord has been telling him all along is true. Most commentators agree Ahaz could have chosen anything in the universe, and the Lord had offered to do it; because of his saying he would go as deep as Sheol and as high as heaven. What exactly is a sign in ancient times?  “Paul Kruger notes that the essence of a “sign” is that it is “a means of transmitting information. The content of this information is determined by the context in which it is used.”’[4]So a sign could be most anything and at times it was used as a form of judgment, but the sign is not always the judgment itself.[5]Wegner goes on to tell us that “the word can also be used merely to signify a banner or standard (Num2:2). Most of the eighty occurrences of the word “sign” signify some type of miraculous event…. But it can also refer to a common, everyday occurrence that has significance because of what it means, foretells or predicts….”[6]
            Instead of taking the Lord’s offer, Ahaz feigns that he does not want to test the Lord, because in actuality he is full of disbelief. Wegner backs this up by saying, “Ahaz feigns trust by stating that he does not need a sign to believe Yahweh and that accepting God’s sign would be testing him; God through Isaiah quickly rebuffs this.”[7]What then is the sign that the Lord chooses for him since he refuses to choose? It will be the birth of a baby boy named Immanuel. The birth would be a sign for the king in the immediate circumstances.[8]From research that has been conducted, there are several views on what exactly this sign is; Walton believes that “all the evidence points to the naming of the child as the sign.”[9]Willis on the other hand states, “not only Immanuel (7:14), but also Shear-jashub and Maher-shalalhash-bazz are specifically said to be “signs” which the Lord gave Isaiah to convey the divine message to Ahaz. (8:18).[10]The sign then is going to be a young male child born of a young woman or is it a virgin? We will take a closer look at that in the next section.  According to most commentators, the sign will be a young boy meant to give hope to Ahaz that God will bring him deliverance from these two countries, and not to get into bed with Assyria for protection.
The Woman (alma)
            There has been a huge debate over the use of the word alma. Does it mean virgin or something else? From what has been gathered it seems that the word generally describes a young woman of marry able age. According to Willis, “the meaning of this Hebrew word has been widely discussed. It now seems absolutely certain that both almah and bethulah both mean “a young woman of marriageable age, irrespective of her marital status. “[11]Another challenge that is presented to us is who is this woman, and does Ahaz know her? It would seem that Ahaz had three different types of women in his order. He had wives, concubines and almah’s.  From the commentators that this author has read, all seem to be in agreement that the young woman would be someone that Ahaz knows personally, it may in fact be one of his children that is going to be born.
            This topic is not easily covered in a manner of a few paragraphs. I recommend you take a look at the bibliography and review for yourselves the articles listed there.
Matthew’s Usage
            There has been some controversy over Matthew’s usage of OT text. Some will argue that the original writers never had in mind the coming of Christ, or anything to do with Christ, when their text was written. It all boils down to inerrancy and infallibility. Wegener believes, “there is little doubt that NT believers read the OT Scriptures in light of Christ coming.”[12]He goes on to say, “I believe that the key to how Matthew reuses OT passages can be found within the text itself. Matthew employs the Greek word … meaning to make full, fill, fill up, complete, to indicate that he believes the OT passage to be filled up by Jesus.”[13]Matthew saw greater meaning in Isaiah’s vocabulary item and in Isaiah’s prophecy as a whole than was seen in the original setting.”[14]
Conclusion
            This essay has covered much ground in a short period of time. It would now seem apparent from studying this portion of text that Ahaz was a coward unwilling to trust God even when God gave him a sign. The sign of a young male named Immanuel that came from a young woman out of his harem. While she was not a virgin, Matthew in his Gospel, saw the implications of this text and translated how he felt appropriate because he had a clearer view of what had come than Isaiah had.


                  [1]John T. Willis, “The meaning of Isaiah 7:14 and its application in Matthew 1:23.” Restoration Quarterly21, no. 1 (January 1, 1978): 1-18. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 19, 2014)2.
                  [2]Barry G.Webb, The Message of Isaiah. (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996)61. 
                [3]Willis, Meaning of Isaiah, 3
                  [4]Paul D.Wegner, “How many virgin births are in the Bible? (Isaiah 7:14): a prophetic pattern approach.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (September 1, 2011): 467-484. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 19, 2014)469.
            [5]John H.Walton, “Isa 7:14 : what’s in a name?.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 30, no. 3 (September 1, 1987): 289-306. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed January 20, 2014)295.
            [6]Wegner, How many virgin, 470.
                  [7]Ibid., 470.
                  [8]Trent C.Butler, Isaiah: Holman Old Testament Commentary.(Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002)61.
                  [9]Walton, Isa 7:14,295.
                  [10]Willis, Meaning of Isa, 6.
                  [11]Ibid., 11.
                  [12]Wegner, How many virgiins., 481.
                  [13]Ibid., 481
            [14]Butler., Isaiah., 72.
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