Category Archives: prophesy

Isaiah 7:14: Is it really about Jesus or someone else?

Matthew 1:22–23 quotes Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy about Jesus’ birth: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). However, many Jewish and non-Jewish authors have challenged Mathew’s claim and Christians for taking Isaiah 7:14 out of context, and applying it to a virgin birth and to a Messiah. They also point out that since Isaiah 7:16 says, “For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken”, this was not fulfilled by the Messiah. This short paper is a verse-by-verse study on Isaiah 7:1-16 to see if this chapter is indeed a prophecy of the Messiah or someone else.

Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin, the king of Aram and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not conquer it. (Isaiah 7:1, NASB, 1995)

Now it came about in the days of Ahaz. Ahaz was a wicked king of Judah, worshipping other gods and even sacrificing his son to Molech (2 Kings 16:1-4). The only good thing Ahaz seemed to do was to father Hezekiah, who became a good king of Judah.

Rezin, the king of Aram [Syria] and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, king of Israel went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it. The alliance between these two nations [Syria and Israel] and their unsuccessful attack on Jerusalem [of the Kingdom of Judah] is described in 2 Kings 16. [In about the 10th century BC, there was a great dispute in Israel, the nation chosen by God, about who was to become king (1 Kings 12:16-19). Two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, did not agree with the proposed king of Israel, Rehoboam. As a result,  the two tribes  decided to forsake their inheritance. They became the southern Kingdom of Judah. The northern 10 tribes remained one people group and kept the name of Israel.  The Kingdom of Israel in the north, contained the cities of Shechem and Samaria; and the Kingdom of Judah in the south, contained the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple]. 

But could not conquer it. How was Ahaz saved from this attack? Because he entered into an ungodly alliance with Tiglath-Pileserking of Assyria, and even gave Tiglath-Pileser silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD as a present to win his favor and protection (2 Kings 16:7-9).

When it was reported to the house of David, saying, “The Arameans have camped in Ephraim,” his heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind. (Isaiah 7:2, NASB, 1995)

When it was reported to the house of David. That is, the royal family; or the king and princes; the government of Judah. Ahaz was the descendant and successor of David.

“The Arameans [Syrians] have camped in Ephraim,” Ephraim is another title for the northern nation of Israel. King Ahaz heard again that Syria and Israel had joined together to make war against Judah.

His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind. King Ahaz and his people reacted with fear instead of with trust in God. They were shaken and unstable in their hearts.

Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller’s field (Isaiah 7:3, NASB, 1995)

Then the Lord said to Isaiah. With this threat looming against Judah [the House of David], the Lord sends Isaiah to give assurance to Ahaz.

Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub. Isaiah is told to go out to meet Ahaz, however, not by himself, but also specifically with his son Shear-jashub. Frequently, commentators overlook this command to bring the boy as if it were an unnecessary detail. There appears to be a purpose for taking his son as we will soon see. 1

At the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller’s field. It was probably a subterranean duct which brought water into the city from the high ground outside the Damascus gate. Ahaz may have visited it in order to see that it was made available for his own use, but not for the enemy’s. These seemingly irrelevant details also make an important point. All this happened to real people at a real time and in real places. 

And say to him, ‘Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be faint hearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands, on account of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. (Isaiah 7:4, NASB, 1995)

Seemingly, Ahaz needed to pay attention (take care) and stop his talking about the problem (be calm). He needed to trust God and take courage in the LORD (do not fear or be fainthearted). God looked at Israel and Syria and saw two stubs of smoking firebrands. To the LORD, they were all smoke and no fire. 2


Because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you, saying, 6 “Let us go up against Judah and terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” 
(Isaiah 7:5-6, NASB, 1995)

Because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah. Not that there were three parties in the confederacy against Judah, only two, the kingdoms of Syria [Aram] and Ephraim, or Israel; the king of the former [Syria] is not mentioned at all, and the latter [Israel] only as if he was the son of a private person, which is purposely done by way of contempt.

“Let us go up against Judah and terrorize it. The words imply an assault on the line of fortresses that defended Judah.

Set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it. Nothing more is known of this person. He might have been some captain, unrelated to the House of David, who had sought to aid of Rezin [King of Syria] and Pekah [King of Israel]. To set him up on the throne would mean that the entire house of David was endangered, and also the hope of a Messiah from David’s lineage.

Thus says the Lord God: “It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass.  (Isaiah 7:7)

Setting up the Son of Tabeel meant that the entire house of David was endangered. Were Syria and Israel to succeed, the messianic promise of a future son of David who would have an eternal house, kingdom, and throne (2 Samuel 7:16) would be demolished. But such a thing will not come to fulfillment. 3

For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people), and the head of Ephraim is Samaria and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you will not believe, you surely shall not ]last.” (Isaiah 7:8-9)

For the head [capital] of Aram [Syria] is Damascus and the head [ruler] of Damascus is Rezin. Syria and Ephraim have merely human heads – the one Rezin, the other Pekah (the son of Remaliah); but Judah, it is implied, has a Divine Head.

Now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people. Isaiah predicted that within 65 years, the northern kingdom of Israel would no longer be recognized as a people. It was completely fulfilled in 669 BC when Ashurbanipal enacted the final population transfers between Israel and Assyria (Ezr 4:2, 10). Thus in 669 BC, 65 years from the date of the events described in Isaiah’s prophecy, the northern kingdom was indeed “shattered to be a people” (verse 8) and the land was inhabited by Samaritans, a people of mixed ethnicity (Ezra 4:2).

If you will not believe, you surely shall not last. The prophet reads the thoughts that were working in the king Ahaz’s mind. He had no faith in these predictions terminating at a date which he was not likely to live to witness. If he did not put confidence in God, and his promises, he should not be protected from Syria and Ephraim [Israel].

Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” (Isaiah 7:10-11)

Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God”. The Lord Himself has just called upon Ahaz to ask for a sign.

Make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven. “Make it [the sign] deep as Sheol or high as heaven”, it appears that Ahaz was to ask for a miraculous or supernatural sign.

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” (Isaiah 7:12)

Ahaz, with false piety, refuses to test God. The disingenuous nature of his response is plain in that this is a king who had so little regard for the Lord that he practiced idolatry, even offering his own son as a child sacrifice to Molech (2Kg 16:3; 2Ch 28:3). While he might claim biblical justification (Deut 6:16) for his refusal to ask or test the Lord (verse 12), this seems ridiculous because the Lord Himself has just called upon him to do so.

Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? (Isaiah 7:13)

Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Isaiah speaks now but His address shifts away from Ahaz to the whole house of David. This is evident not only from the vocative “house of David” but also from the change of singular pronouns and verbs of command (Isaiah 7:4, 11) to plural. When addressing Ahaz alone, the singular was used. However, in Isaiah 7:13-14, Isaiah used the second-person plural. This is not an obvious change in the English Bible, but in verse 13, the imperative verb “listen” is plural. The reason for the shift is that God was clearly fed up with this wicked and sanctimonious king, so he addressed the royal house he represented.1

Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? The rulers of Judah were not satisfied with wearying people, but they would also fatigue and wear out the patience of God.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 9:14). 

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Isaiah declared that, nonetheless, the Lord would give the House of David a sign. Since the northern alliance was threatening to replace Ahaz with the son of Tabeel, the entire house of David was endangered, and the messianic promise of a future son of David was also threatened. This provides the need for a long-term sign of hope. What is that sign?

Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son.  The sign that the Lord promised the house of David is that of a pregnant almah who would bear a son. This indeed would meet the qualification of the “sign” that is “deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (Isaiah 7:10-11). The use of the article (frequently untranslated in modern English versions) with the word almah indicates that the Lord has a specific woman in mind. In its every use in the Hebrew Bible, the word almah either refers to a virgin or has a neutral sense. While the Hebrew word bethulah could refer to a virgin of any age, almah would refer to a virgin that has just arrived at puberty.1

Moreover, Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:22–23) was probably quoting from the Septuagint — a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek completed around the 2nd century BCE. The Septuagint translated הָעַלְמָה (ha’almah) as parthenos — meaning “virgin”. Since the Septuagint predates Christianity, there’s no reason to think that the translators intentionally changed the meaning. Rashi, one of the most influential Jewish commentators, stated that some Jews understood the verse as prophecy about a virgin birth:

“And some interpret that this is the sign, that she was a young girl and incapable of giving birth.” (The Jewish Bible with a Modern English Translation and Rashi’s Commentary, Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg). 4

Hence, it is not necessary to abandon the traditional interpretation of almah as a “virgin” except for an anti-supernatural or anti-messianic bias. 

She will call His name Immanuel. The virgin mother of the child will recognize His special nature. Therefore, she will give Him the title “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” The message to Judah was that God would be with them in a special way through this child. 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).

He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good (Isaiah 9:15). 

The Lord continues His description of the virgin-born Davidic Messiah, giving a clue to the situation into which He would be born. Many mistake the butter and honey He would eat as the food of royalty, ignoring the context in Isaiah 7 itself. Later in the chapter, Isaiah writes of the coming Assyrian oppression, when Assyria would shave the land (Isaiah 7:20). At that time, fields will not be cultivated and will become pastures for oxen and sheep (Isaiah 7:23-25). The effect of this will be an overabundance of dairy (or butter/curds) because of the pasturing of livestock and an excess of honey because bees will be able to pollinate the wild flowers. Therefore, because of “the abundant milk they give,” a man “will eat butter [curd], for every survivor in the land will eat butter and honey” (7:21-22). So, in this passage, butter and honey do not represent the food of royalty but rather the food of oppression. The point then of the description of the future virgin-born, Davidic king eating curd and honey is to accentuate that he would be born during a time of political oppression. In other words, the prophecy of Messiah concludes with a hint that He will be born and grow up (“learning to reject what is bad and choose what is good”) at a time when Judah is oppressed by a foreign power. It also shows that Jesus is not only fully God (He is Immanuel), but He is also fully Human (grow up). 

For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken (Isaiah 7:16).

While many have considered verse 16 to be a continuation of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:13-15, the grammar of the passage suggests otherwise. The opening phrase in Hebrew can reflect an adversative nuance, allowing for a disjunction between the child described in Isaiah 7:13-15 and the one described in Isaiah 7:16. This is also indicated in the shift from plural (verse 13-15) to singular (verse 16). There is a different child in view in this verse. So, who is the child?

In light of Isaiah being directed to bring his own son to the confrontation with the king at the conduit of the upper pool (Isaiah 7:3), it makes most sense to identify this lad as Shear-jashub. Otherwise, there would be no purpose for God directing Isaiah to bring the boy.  Thus, having promised the virgin birth of the Messiah (Isaiah 7:13-15), the prophet then points to the small boy that he has brought along and says, “But before this boy (using the article with a demonstrative force) knows to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken”. In this way, Shear-jashub functioned as a sign to the king. Appropriately, Isaiah could tell Judah in the very next chapter, “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.” (Isaiah 8:18).

Therefore, in Isaiah 7:10-11, Isaiah used the singular to address King Ahaz. Then, when addressing the house of David with the prophecy of Messiah (Isaiah 7:13), he shifted to the plural. But in Isaiah 7:16, he addressed King Ahaz, using the singular pronoun once again and giving him a near prophecy: before Shear-jashub would be able to discern good from evil, the northern confederacy attacking Judah would fail. Within two years, Tiglath-Pileser defeated both Israel and Syria, just as the prophet had predicted. Therefore verse 16 cannot and does not apply to the Messiah child, but Isaiah’s child, and this interpretation is in line with the context and the grammar of the chapter.

References

1. The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecies: Studies and Expositions of the Messiah in the Old Testament, eds. Michael Rydelnik & Edwin Blum, published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 2019, pp. 815-830.

2. David Guzik: Isaiah 7, https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/isaiah-7/

3. Biblehub, commentaries: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/isaiah/7-13.htm

4. Nick Meader: Is Isaiah 7:14 About Jesus or Someone Else? https://medium.com/interfaith-now/is-isaiah-7-14-about-jesus-or-someone-else-84f25d327e0f

See also: Isaiah 53:1-12: Israel or Messiah?

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