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Isaiah 9:1-7 Is the child about the Messiah or Hezekiah?

Some (Christian and Jewish scholars) have argued that the child in Isaiah 9:6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peacerefers not to the Messiah, but to Hezekiah.

Influential Jewish commentator Rashi and Abraham Ibn Ezra argues Isaiah 9:6 was a prophecy about Hezekiah. However, other Rabbinic Jewish scholars have associated those verses with the Messiah. For example a passage from the Talmud (Tractate Derekh Eretz Zuta) referred to the child of Isaiah 9 as the Messiah, and so does the famous Jewish medieval scholar, Rambam (Maimonides) in his Epistle to Yemen. Similarly, the Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, an Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible, explicitly identifies this text as speaking of the Messiah.2

This paper is a verse-by-verse study to see if Isaiah 9:1-7 is a reference to the Messiah or to Hezekiah.

To share a little bit of the background of Isaiah 9, in 722 BC, the Assyrians attacked and conquered the northern tribes known as Israel, and it was now only a matter of time until they would cross the border and attack and devastate the southern tribes known as Judah. So, the people are terrified. They know it’s coming. Isaiah is writing somewhere around 700 BC, about twenty years after the takeover of the north, and he writes that there is still hope that things will not always remain gloomy for the people of God. Starting from verse 1:

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1 NASB 1995)

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. The gloom carries over from the previous chapter of Isaiah 8, where Isaiah warned Judah about the coming invasion from Assyria (Isaiah 8:22).The promise is there will come a time where there will be no more gloom for this land, because a child is born (Isaiah 9:6) as we shall soon see.

In earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt. In the past, God humbled Israel when it was overrun and ravaged by the Syrians (1 Kings 15:20), and later He allowed the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III to conquer the northern kingdom, or the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali in 732 BC (2 Kings 15:29;17:24). As peripheral tribes in Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali, were on the edge of the nation. They were the first to be attacked when enemies invaded. And time and time again, they were in anguish and shamed at being unable to repel such oppression.

But later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. “But later on,” we are not told exactly when this would happen, but the promise is that these lands, around the Sea of Galilee will one day have its fortunes changed from gloom to glory someday. [After the northern part of Israel fell to the Assyrians, they imported Gentile peoples to the area of Zebulon and Naphtali, the area of Galilee. Their descendants—the Samaritans—heavily populated Galilee in Christ’s day. Since, foreigners dominated it for centuries, the region was called “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Here, Isaiah prophesied that Galilee would witness a major part of the blessings, owing to a child being born].

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. (Isaiah 9:2)

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. It is not just the land that Isaiah tells us is transformed, but the people are as well. The people who dwelt in anguish and darkness are brought into the light. Who is this great light?

Some Jewish and Christian commentators say it was Hezekiah. What do we know about Hezekiah? Well, he was a son of the wicked King Ahaz. He, unlike his father, “kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Kings 18:6–7). When faced with the Assyrian threat, the Lord, through Isaiah, reassured the king [Hezekiah] that Assyria would never enter Jerusalem. God kept His promise to protect Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35). Given that Isaiah is writing at a time when the Assyrians were coming, one may expect Isaiah to prophesy about deliverance from the Assyrians, and hence the first readers of this prophesy during Hezekiah’s day may have looked for a near-fulfillment and probably understood it to be Hezekiah.

However, though Hezekiah was a good king, he made a serious mistake later in his life. When the Babylonians sent a gift to Hezekiah, for they had heard Hezekiah had been sick. In foolish pride, Hezekiah showed the Babylonians all of his treasures, and everything in his arsenal. There was nothing Hezekiah did not parade in front of them. Isaiah rebuked Hezekiah for this act and prophesied that all king Hezekiah had shown the Babylonians would one day be taken to Babylon—along with Hezekiah’s own descendants. If Hezekiah was that great light, it was very short lived. Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, who ruled afterward, turned out to be the evilest king ever to reign in Judah (2 Kings 18—20; 2 Chronicles 29—32; Isaiah 36—39). Hence, Hezekiah may have partially fulfilled the words of this prophesy then, but attributing all the words of this prophesy to Hezekiah appear to be weak. Is there anyone else who may have begun to fulfill this prophesy? 

Matthew 4:13-16 quotes part of this passage of Isaiah 9:1-2, as fulfilled in the Galilean ministry of Jesus while he was on earth.

Matthew states: “Leaving Nazareth, he [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light..”.

Interestingly, Capernaum, which was in Naphtali, and Nazareth, which was in Zebulun were the two cities associated with Jesus’ upbringing and early ministry. The northern tribes were the first to suffer from the Assyrian invasions, so in God’s mercy, they were the first to see the light of the Messiah. However, it is true that Messiah’s earthly ministry did not end gloom for the land of Israel (interestingly, Matthew does not quote that part of the prophesy as fulfilled at that time). Many enemies including the Roman Empire continued to oppress the people of God even from the time of Jesus. But the Messiah made it clear that His Galilean ministry was just the beginning – and if this is the case, we could expect Messiah to fulfill the rest of the prophesy in the future (which the New Testament says Messiah Jesus will do). See our chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, commentaries on the book of DanielRevelation.


You shall multiply the nation, you shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. (Isaiah 9:3)

You shall multiply the nation. God will cause Israel to grow. Instead of enemies coming against this nation, the surrounding nations will come into it. And the nation would not only increase in number, but in joy. This is in line with the promise to Abraham, concerning the multiplication of his seed, which probably will include the gathering in the Gentiles to the remnant of the Jews, and making them both one people in Christ, under a New Covenant. Under Hezekiah’s rule, Israel as a nation may have grown for a short while, but nothing may be compared to how both Jews and Gentiles have joined and become part of Messiah’s followers.

You shall increase their gladness. They will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. The ministry of the Messiah would bring joy and gladness to Israel. They will rejoice with a joy likened to the joy shared by those who have just brought in a great harvest. The kind of joy that one has when dividing the spoil after a battle. The reason for this joy is explained in the following verse.


For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. (Isaiah 9:4)

The Jews had been under the yoke (oppression) repeatedly, to one hostile people or another, and had been sorely oppressed by them. If you know the story in Judges 7, you will remember that Gideon leads an army of 300 Israelites, many of which came from Zebulun and Naphtali, to an astonishing victory over an army of Midianites that was beyond number. Against all expectations, God delivers a victory through Gideon and 300 men. Isaiah tells us that the liberation this child brings on God’s people involves an Egypt-like slavery broken by a Gideon-like victory.

As a son of David, Hezekiah partially fulfilled this prophecy (leading Israel to temporary deliverance from Assyria and its oppression). However, Hezekiah is dead and gone. But ministry of the Messiah Jesus is not yet over, though it began in Galilee, and offered us spiritual healing from sin and oppression, the promise of eternal peace is yet future when He returns again for His people – every one who believes (Jew and Gentile).

For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. (Isaiah 9:5)

The boots used in the battle, the garments of the warriors that are covered in blood, they will all be burnt. This victory will be so decisive, so absolute, that there will be no more battles, no more war. This liberation will last. Hezekiah achieved no such liberation. But the Messiah promises to achieve such in the “new heavens and new earth”. Who is the ultimate source of this liberation?


For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

For a child will be born to us. Here, Isaiah traces all these promises of liberation back to the birth of a child. This Messiah would appear as “child”, fully human so that He identifies with humanity. This child is born “to us” for our benefit.

Some (Jewish and Christians authors) have translated these words as “For a child has been born to us” in the past tense.  It is true that the Hebrew is in the past tense, however, it is not uncommon for prophets to speak of the future as already happened. There are multiple examples such as Isaiah 5:13 (where Isaiah speaks of the future captivity of Judah as though it had already transpired); See also: Isaiah 10:28-32; Isaiah 53:2-11; and Amos 5:2. Jewish commentator Radak (David Kimchi) confirms this:

“And in the greater part of prophecy this is found, that the speaker uses a past tense in place of a future; for it is as though the thing had already happened when it has been spoken in the Holy Spirit” (Radak on the Psalms, Psalm 3:5).

A son will be given to us. This Messiah will not only appear as a “child” pointing to his Humanity, but He is a “Son given” to us, pointing to his Divinity.

And the government will rest on His shoulders.  He will bear the responsibility of governing the people. The Judeans believed they were in immediate need of a physical savior. The kings they were afraid of were knocking on their door. They probably thought this prophecy was about Hezekiah. But as we see later on in the book (chapters 38 and 39), Hezekiah died as a grown man, while the Israelites were still in captivity. However, the New Testament presents Christ as King, who has established His Spiritual Kingdom on earth since is resurrection and ascension and is reigning from the heavens. “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25)

And His name will be called. Not that He will be literally called by the following titles, but “His name”, meaning these are aspects of His character. While these titles may be applied to a mere human, in context, they appear to describe a greater King.

Wonderful Counselor. This Messiah is a Wonder (pele’ in Hebrew), meaning “Extraordinary”. Hezekiah though, performed no wonders. Jesus on the other hand is recorded as having performed many wonders: He healed the wounded, revived the dead, and brought good news to the poor. 

Messiah also possesses the spirit of Counsel (yoetz in Hebrew) and wisdom for the people of God. Hezekiah was not a counsellor but Jesus was. Jesus constantly gave wisdom and counsel: to rich young ruler (Matthew 16:16-23); Nicodemus (John 3:1-15), and his followers as recorded in the New Testament.

Mighty God. Messiah possesses the ability to do all things that only God can do. Jesus said, “Whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in the same way” (John 5:19). Jesus “created all things” (Colossian 1:16), He forgave sins. He commanded nature to obey him. He gave new commandments. The writers of the New Testament apply directly to Jesus verses from the Old Testament that referred only to Almighty God.

The Hebrew word for “Mighty God” is El Gibbor or literally, “God the Mighty One”. When el (God) appears together with a descriptor like Gibbor (Mighty) in the Hebrew Bible, it is always a description of God (Isaiah 10:21), and not a mere man.So, there is little precedent for translating this phrase as god-like or chief. It is sometimes alleged that the name Hezekiah means “mighty God.” However, this is quite the stretch, as the name literally means “God gives strength.” Hence, to apply this title or description to Hezekiah is weak given his shortcomings.

Eternal Father. The Hebrew word is Abi ad, and it can also be translated as “father of eternity”, meaning He is the father or author of eternity. The title “Father” also can mean the Messiah is fatherly, father-like, in his treatment of us, and does not mean Messiah is God the Father. In either case, “eternal” is a term characteristic of only God, and this description indicates the Messiah is also fully divine, just like God the Father.

Prince of Peace. The word Prince is a Hebrew word that can mean Lord, or Master. The word Peace is the Hebrew word, shalom. This Messiah is the Master of shalom. Shalom is about mutual flourishing. It’s about a kingdom where God will gather people from every tribe and tongue and nation, and they will flourish together under the Master of shalom. He is the One who makes peace, especially between God and man (Romans 5:1). However, the promise of eternal peace would have to wait for the Messiah to come in the future.


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 the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7)

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace. He would be the final king whose reign would result in increasing peace forever. How can this prophecy apply to Hezekiah? On the other hand, believers have peace in their hearts already because of the Messiah Jesus (Romans 5:1), though the eternal peace is yet future waiting to be fulfilled upon the return of the Prince of Peace.

On the throne of David and over his kingdom. He would be a Davidic king, a Son of David, who would sit on the throne promised to David. When Jesus was resurrected, He sat on His throne in heaven.  Peter confirms that, “God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ… God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:30-36). Jesus is already reigning now as King of Kings, “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25). However, His kingdom will be fully consummated when He returns.

To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness. Not with oppression and tyranny, by which other kingdoms are commonly managed, but He would cause it to stand, and make it firm under a rule that is just and right.

From then on and forevermore. From the beginning of it unto all eternity. Messiah Jesus has inaugurated a kingdom that will be managed with justice and righteousness, from then on, and forevermore from His second coming.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. Nothing else but the zeal (passionate desire) of Yahweh would achieve all this. Hence, in Isaiah 9:6-7, we see Messiah’s human birth, divine nature, Davidic throne, the extent of His reign and the peaceful character of his rule explained. [In the entire Hebrew Bible, this phrase appears only two other times, in Isaiah 37:32 and 2 Kings 19:31, both of which refer to God’s miraculous salvation of Hezekiah and his besieged nation from King Sennacherib and his Assyrian army. However, as we have seen in context, Hezekiah does not appear to fulfill all the requirements of this prophesy].

Conclusion: Given that Hezekiah (or anyone else) have failed to fulfil what is spoken of the child in Isaiah 9, this text is either a failed prophecy or a Messianic prophecy. One could, of course, object that Jesus has not fulfilled these predictions either, since global peace has not yet been realized. However, it is plausible to view this prophecy as still awaiting its ultimate completion when Jesus returns again. Given Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the Christian has a justified expectation that the Messiah will indeed return to finish what he has begun. This was the interpretation of Jesus and the apostles (see: Mk 13:26-27; Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 3:13, 4:13-18). 3

See also:

Isaiah 53:1-12: Israel or Messiah?

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

References:

  1. Isaiah 9 – David Guzik: https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/isaiah-9/
  2. Nick Meader, Isaiah 9: https://medium.com/interfaith-now/isaiah-9-what-did-the-prophet-isaiah-say-about-jesus-83f6f002be07
  3. Jonathan McLatchie: Isaiah 9:https://crossexamined.org/does-isaiah-96-affirm-the-deity-of-israels-messiah/

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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?

Your support of this ministry is greatly appreciated and can be made here.

The Rich Man and Lazarus – Parable or not?

Lazarus and the Rich Man is the final parable of five that Jesus told in response to a group of Pharisees and scribes who were unhappy over the fact that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them (Luke 15:1 and 16:14). Just before this parable, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for loving money, exalting themselves in self-justification, and ignoring the Old Testament’s authority, which testified about the Messiah (Luke 16:14–18). All three themes are woven into the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Starting from Luke 16:19, Jesus begins the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. What can we learn from this parable?

Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day (Luke 16:19 NASB 1995)

Now there was a rich man. This is similar to the way Luke introduces the four parables that precede this. Parables are introduced with the generalizing formula such as “there was a man” (Luke 15:3, 15:8, 15:11; 16:1). The rich man is the first character in this story, and he represents the Pharisees and anyone who loves money more than God.

He habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. Purple color was expensive as well as splendid, and was chiefly worn by nobles, and the very wealthy. Fine linen was chiefly produced of the flax that grew on the banks of the Nile and it was also very expensive. So, we are told that this rich man feasted and lived selfishly in a splendid manner not just occasionally, but constantly, ignoring God’s commandments to help the poor. You shall fully open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores (Luke 16:20)

And a poor man named Lazarus. This is the second character in this story, representing a class of people despised by the Pharisees. Jesus named the poor man in this story, and not the rich man, which was countercultural in that society and it would have felt really wrong to the Pharisees. The name Lazarus means “The one whom God helps”. God’s help was much more evident after Lazarus’ death as the parable goes on to show.

Now some say that this story is not a parable, but a real event since it mentions historical figures such as Lazarus, Abraham, Moses—something no parable has. This observation is right, but it’s hard to miss the fact that Luke introduces this story the same way he does the previous parables such as “there was a man”. Further, there are no known rules that prohibit parables to include actual names.

Was laid at his gate, covered with sores. He was laid at the door of the rich man probably by some man in order that he might obtain help. We are told he was afflicted not only with poverty but loathsome and offensive ulcers.

And longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (Luke 16:21)

And longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table. It was common in that day for dogs to eat the food spilled from the table of their masters. Lazarus was so hungry that he longed to be treated as well as the rich man’s dogs.

Even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. The picture is not that the dogs came to befriend Lazarus, but they come to humiliate and irritate his condition more by licking his sores and possibly infecting them even more. The dogs in this culture were considered ceremonially unclean, and to be licked by an unclean creature magnified his humiliation.

Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried (Luke 16:22)

Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The poor man Lazarus died, but Jesus surprises the listeners by saying that “the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” and not the rich man. Pharisees would have expected the rich man to be favored by God, and that people like Lazarus were poor and diseased because they were under God’s judgement; hence, it was people like Lazarus who should have been tormented in Hades when they died. Jews also held to the belief that the spirits of the righteous were carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom or side in heaven at their death. Jesus mentions these facts based on the prevailing view at this time. In The Testament of Abraham, a Jewish apocryphal text, it is written in 20:11-12 about Abraham’ s death as follows: “And they buried him in the promised land at the oak of Mamre, while the angels escorted his precious soul and ascended into heaven singing the thrice-holy hymn to God, the master of all”.

A question arises though. Should this parable of the rich man and Lazarus be used as a definitive statement about the afterlife? Since parables were told to illustrate a point, not to give a systematic account of any doctrine, we must be careful to use it as a definitive statement about after life. However, the Scriptures do teach that, at death, “the dust [body] will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God” (Ecclesiastes 12:7), and the body will “sleep” in the grave till the resurrection of the body at Christ’s second coming. See our study on The state of the dead. While the Bible do not mention angels carrying spirits to heaven elsewhere (besides in this parable), the Bible is clear angels are “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14) doing God’s work, and it may not be surprising for angels to be involved in this work.

“Abraham’s bosom” was a term equivalent to being with Abraham’s side in Paradise or heaven similar to when Jesus says, “Many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven: (Matthew 8:11). Generally, all parables have an earthly setting, but not this one, again, compelling some to interpret this not as a parable, but a real historical event.

And the rich man also died and was buried. Burial was thought to be an honor, and funerals were often expensive. This is said of the rich man to show that he had “every” earthly honor unlike the poor man.

In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke 16:23)

In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment. Jesus completes the surprise by telling them that the rich man also died and was buried, but he is the one who found himself being conscious and tormented in Hades. From this, some conclude that the parable teaches that the poor go to heaven and the rich to hell at death. The problem with such a view, as Augustine noted long ago, is that poor Lazarus is carried to the side of wealthy Abraham. If wealth alone determines our fate, then Abraham, Job, among many others should not be in heaven along with the rich man.2

Further, it is noteworthy that the parable nowhere states that both Lazarus and the rich man were in Hades; Lazarus appears to be placed in Abraham’s Bosom, a place far off (Luke 16:23) from Hades and separated from it by a great chasm. (Luke 16:26). Again, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus should not be used as a definitive statement about the afterlife, or the nature of Hades. Thus, Jesus intended not to fully describe Hades, but to warn His listeners about their hardheartedness, and love of money.

Sheol/Hades: In the Old Testament Scriptures, the Hebrew word generally used to describe the realm of the dead is SHEOL. It simply means “the place of the dead” or “the place of departed souls/spirits” (Genesis 37:35), or sometimes the “grave” (Psalm 141:7), with context determining the meaning. Sometimes the Old Testament present those who go down to sheol as silent, and another time, they are conscious as we find in Isaiah 14:9, which says that Sheol below is excited about you, to meet you when you come; It stirs the spirits of the dead for you” .The New Testament Greek equivalent to SHEOL is HADES, which is also a general reference to “the place of the dead”.

– Jehovah’s Witness’ and Seventh-day Adventists, among others interpret SHEOL and HADES, simply to be the grave (nothing more), where both righteous and wicked go at death until the final resurrection and judgement. In their theology, generally the soul/spirit do not exist apart from the body after death. In this view, soul is the whole person, and their view is generally known as “soul sleep”, where the whole person sleeps (or is not conscious) until the resurrection.

– While other Christians see sheol/hades to be more than just the grave. In this view, “bodies” of the dead sleep at death, but the “spirit/soul” is to some degree conscious and go to the following destinations. In this view, some believe that during the Old Testament time period, the “spirits” of the righteous went to a part of Sheol/Hades called “Paradise/Abraham’s Bosom”, not heaven, and the “spirits” of the wicked went to a part of Sheol/Hades where they were tormented, similar to parable of the rich man and Lazarus . After Jesus rose from the dead, it is interpreted (I Peter 3:19; Ephesians 4:8-10) to mean that He cleared out the side called Paradise (where the Old testament righteous saints have gone at death), and took all of them with Him in His ascension to heaven (where all “the spirits” of all post-resurrection saints now go at death). Hades is now exclusively a temporary place of torment for the wicked. And that may or may not be true. Christians do not agree on these specifics. [Others feel that paradise, Abraham’s bosom, and heaven are three different descriptions of the same place, where all the “spirits” of righteous saints (before and after the cross) have gone (Hebrews 11:10,16)].

Not HADES, but the Greek word GEHENNA is used in the New Testament for “hell” or “lake of fire”, the final place of punishment for the wicked after the “bodily” resurrection at the final judgement (Revelation 20:14).

Saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. This appears to aggravate his misery and suffering, to see the poor man that lay at his gate completely happy with Abraham.

And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (Luke 16:24)

And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me’. The Jews believed that departed spirits might know and converse with each other. Jesus speaks in conformity with such opinions. Now, remember that this man is a Jew and his Jewishness has not saved him. He bore no fruit that befits repentance, he shared no food, no clothes, and now he’s condemned. Interestingly, the rich man is not represented as calling on “God.” The Jews considered a proud honor that Abraham was their “father” and they were “descendants” from him, yet having Abraham as father was not enough to escape.

And send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.

The rich man knew Lazarus by name, so he clearly was aware of the impoverished poor man at his gate. The rich man, even in his torment, remained self-centered, viewing Lazarus as a servant. He showed no sense of remorse for how he failed to help Lazarus during their time on earth. A drop of water on the tongue would not stop his agony in the flame yet he was desperate to have even a drop of water. This again shows that we need not take everything in this parable literally.

You received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony (Luke 16:25)

“Your good things” refers to the wealth and riches that the rich man valued most during his life. But they were of no value to him after death.

And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:26)

It was also commonly understood in the teaching of the ancient Jewish writings, that the righteous and the unrighteous were separated after death, and although they can see each other, they cannot cross the unfathomable, uncrossable, unbridgeable chasm that God has fixed in his sovereign judgment.  There is also no indication in the Bible or in this parable that there’s a purgatory because “those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us”.

But the underlying revelation in this story is that, in fact, there is one who crosses chasms for the sake of sinners, that is Jesus. God gave his eternal Son for all sinners, not just for sinners like Lazarus, but for sinners like the rich man, too (John 3:16-17). But the rich man, a symbol of the Pharisees and the scribes, who gathered to condemn Jesus, didn’t want the God who became flesh.

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (Luke 16:27-28)

The rich man continues to be self-absorbed, concerned only about those in his immediate family. He again views Lazarus as a mere servant.

But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (Luke 16:29)

“Moses and the Prophets,” that’s a way of saying what we call the Old Testament, which was the extent of the Bible at that time, which was sufficient revelation about the necessity of love and the danger of judgment, until Jesus came. Jesus had already told them that the Law and Prophets testify about Him (John 5:39), a testimony they had rejected. How much more so does the entire Bible today, by detailing the fulfillment of the Old Testament messianic prophecies, and in the New Testament, clearly laying out God’s offer of grace through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross?

But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (Luke 16:30)

Once again, the rich man shows his pride and arrogance by arguing with Abraham. But the rich man knows that his brothers do not listen to the Old Testament Scriptures. They may have devotions in the morning for a few minutes and they attend synagogues once a week, but he knows that their whole mindset about money is shaped by the world not God. And so the rich man knows it is not going to do any good for Abraham just to say to them: read Moses, read the prophets! If someone could go from among the dead—something really startling, some miracle—then they would wake up and repent. They would forsake their selfish luxury and start to live for others to the glory of God.

But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31)

Jesus is foretelling the resurrection of his close friend Lazarus (John 11) as well as His own. In both cases, some believed, but many did not. Moreover, in both resurrections, many actively resisted the outcome and plotted against the characters involved. If a person is so in love with money that he is deaf to the commands and warnings and promises of Moses and the prophets, then even a resurrection from the dead will not bring about repentance. Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John 11) and Jesus rose from the dead. Yet the Jews weren’t convinced; the Pharisees, scribes and chief priests who conspired to have Jesus crucified also conspired to have soldiers lie about his resurrection (Matthew 27:62-66) and proceeded to persecute and kill those who became believers.

Additional thoughts:

By the first century two conflicting schools of thought were prevailing, represented by the Saducees and the Pharisees respectively. Whereas the Saduccees dismissed any idea of disembodied spirits/angels or the resurrection of the dead, the Pharisees — as well as the Jewish populace at large (see: Matt 14:26; Luke 24:37–39; John 11:24; Acts 12:15) — embraced both these concepts (Acts 23:8–9). 

  • In Luke 16, Jesus offers the most graphic New Testament depiction of ongoing conscious existence beyond death. Some first-century Jews had ideas about the afterlife that included such concepts as Abraham’s bosom and consciousness in sheol. Jesus used these ideas as the setting for the story, without attempting to correct those ideas. Neither Jesus nor Luke felt any compulsion to correct the popular beliefs about the afterlife. Would Jesus use a pagan error to illustrate his parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Would one use error to illustrate truth? This is a valid question.

  • While the lesson of the parable is very clear, it is difficult to conclude that Jesus’ audience (the Pharisees for instance) were not expected to draw relevant inferences from it regarding life after death. Thus, whilst one should be cautious about pressing all the details in this parable to be literal (e.g., the rich man and Lazarus are both depicted in a corporeal manner, having a finger and tongue respectively, and can communicate with one another, among other things), Jesus appears to be giving at least tacit endorsement to the idea of after death, but pre-resurrection, state of being. Thus, the scenario portrayed in this parable seems to correlate in some measure with the idea of an intermediate state for both the righteous and the unrighteous, before the final resurrection and judgement.  

  • However, this is the only biblical text that lends any support to such an interim conscious punishment for the wicked (perhaps a case could be made in Jude 1:6-7 too). As such, it is also arguably mistaken to build such a doctrine on the basis of such a debatable passage. While there may be little or no definitive biblical support for the conscious intermediate state of the wicked, there is much clearer evidence with respect to the righteous after Christ’s resurrection.1

Adapted & Referenced:

  1. Death and the Afterlife – Paul R. Williamson
  2. Is the Rich Man and Lazarus a Parable? Peter Gurry
  3. Lecture on the Rich man and Lazarus by D. A Carson.

See also our chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, commentaries on the book of DanielRevelation & Genesis for a deeper understanding of the Sabbath. 

And more:

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