Is Isaiah 7:14 exclusively a prophecy of Jesus birth?
Published: 20 December 2011(GMT+10)
Dale H. from United States writes:
Regarding the prophecy spoken of by Isaiah, chapter 7, verse 14, I have a question regarding some of the further specifications, mainly verse 16.
Isaiah 7:14–16 (ASV) 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken.
Firstly, I want to acknowledge that I see this prophecy fulfilled as Matthew did, Matt. 1:22, 23. After reading Dr. Sarfati’s article on the translation of Isaiah, and the way “virgin” was used, not as a young woman would be understood before marriage, but a virgin, as a specification, an explicit definition thereof.
So with that in mind, I thought I’d ask you guys this. I am confused as to why God would have Isaiah speak this prophecy in the way it has been interpreted (verse 16) … could this be due to a Hebrew idiom that I would have no way of knowing? Or is this verse 16 just put in such a way, that someone could rightly mistake it to mean: Before the Messiah was of the age of discernment, to refuse evil, and choose the good, the land of the two kingdoms would be forsaken (which literally it was). It just reads as if the time setting is more local.
The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) used the word παρθένος (parthenos)—clearly meaning virgin—about 150 years before Christ, so this indicates that the Jews understood it to predict a virgin birth
I have debated with others that see this specification as a restriction, of when the Syrian and Ephraim kingdoms were to be forsaken … meaning … they had to be forsaken before some virgin born son fulfilled the scripture, during Ahaz’s time frame … I hope I’m making sense, I’m having difficulty illustrating this. But nevertheless, those folks want to say this Isaiah prophecy was not “completely” fulfilled, because the Messiah didn’t come until many years later, ~650 years later. They will say, there was no virgin birth before the 65 years or so, till those kingdoms fell. But this assumption is all based on how verse 16 reads in English. Does it read differently in Hebrew though?
I do not agree that Isaiah was speaking of a child that was to come in their near future. He was mainly letting Ahaz know that God’s will, will be carried out regardless if Ahaz trusted God or not, with him, or without him, God’s promise to David regarding the ruler of Judah being his descendant was going to happen regardless of what King Ahaz had in mind. He needed God, not the other way around. “Ahaz, these two kingdoms that have you scared to death, won’t even be around when the Messiah is born, so trust in God, not in your own means.”
So therefore, if there is some sort of idiom, or some other reason that you guys have considered, that would lead Isaiah to record verse 16 in such a way that looks to be limiting when those two kingdoms would fall in relation to a virgin birth, would you guys give your opinion on the matter? It reads almost like the Messiah was to be born, (two kingdoms are still standing) then before he’s old enough to choose good from evil, those two kingdoms (which plotted to remove Ahaz) would be left forsaken.
King Rezin and King Pekah both died well before Christ was born. So yes, literally, before Christ was born, and by extension, before he knew to choose good from evil, those two kingdoms that plotted against Ahaz, were forsaken, all that was left during Jesus’ time was Judah, and the Davidic line was unbroken all the way to Jesus.
Am I making sense? Verse 16 just reads weird to me, only thing I can think of, is that it might be some idiom that had an abstract meaning, but still can be taken literally, and still be true.
CMI’s Lita Cosner responds:
Thanks for writing in.
The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) used the word παρθένος (parthenos)—clearly meaning virgin—about 150 years before Christ, so this indicates that the Jews understood it to predict a virgin birth (note that we have a modern word based on this meaning, parthenogenesis—as we wrote in Was the Virgin Birth non-miraculous?, naturalistic parthenogenesis is no parallel to the miraculous conception of Jesus). And Matthew applied this prediction to Jesus’ birth. But how does a birth 700 years after Ahaz constitute a sign to Ahaz that the kings who threatened to oppose him would be destroyed?
Some think that verses 14–15 are about Jesus, and verse 16 is about Isaiah’s son Shear-Jashub. This takes care of the immediate sign—Isaiah is saying that before his young son knows enough to choose between good and evil, the two kings will be destroyed.
Some think that Isaiah is prophesying about a child who will be born in the near future. Some propose Hezekiah, but he would have already been born at the time of the prophecy. Some think it’s Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz, who is born in Chapter 8. But the word translated ‘virgin’ would definitely not be used for a woman who has already had children, and Maher-shalal-hash-baz means something quite different from Emmanuel. There is no clear candidate for a contemporary ‘Emmanuel’, so if we go that route, we would have to postulate an unknown fulfillment, and it would be quite unlike Scripture to cite a prophecy and not its fulfillment.
Dr Sarfati writes concerning the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14:
“The context of this verse is that an alliance was threatening the idolatrous king Ahaz. Not only was he in danger, but the house of David was threatened with extinction. Therefore, Isaiah, addressing the house of David (as shown by the plural form of ‘you’ in the original Hebrew of v.13), stated that a sign to them would be a virgin conceiving. To comfort Ahaz, Isaiah prophesied that before a boy (Isaiah’s son, Shear-Jashub who was present, v. 3) would reach the age of knowing right from wrong, the alliance would be destroyed (vv. 15–17). It is important to recognize that the passage contains a double reference, so there is a difference between the prophecies to Ahaz alone (indicated by the singular form of ‘you’ in the Hebrew—atah אתה) and the house of David as a whole (indicated by the plural form—lachem לכם).”
In principle, there wouldn’t be a problem with a contemporary fulfillment, with Matthew using the prophecy typologically to refer to Christ, much as he uses “out of Egypt I called my son” to refer to Christ (Matthew 2:15), even though in its original context it clearly refers to the nation of Israel at the time of the Exodus (Hosea 11:1). But I don’t see any clear contemporary Emmanuel fulfillment, so I prefer the explanation that the virgin birth predicted is specifically Jesus, and that Shear-Jashub is the immediate ‘sign’.
S.T. from Croatia writes:
Well I searched the internet for a while and I don’t get one thing … how can Jesus be descended of David if Mary was a virgin … thus had no intercourse with Joseph which is descendant of David.
CMI’s Dr Jonathan Sarfati replies:
The book Messianic Christology solves this problem too. In fact, the problem is solved twice:
- Joseph was Jesus’ legal father.
- Mary was also a descendant of David through another son, Nathan (Luke 3).