on Isaiah 7
David H. Linden
University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM USA
call to be a prophet of God, the setting in Isaiah 7 is an historical event. It
was a meeting of Isaiah and King Ahaz. In chapters 7-11, Christ as Immanuel or
Son of David appears in chapters 7, 8, 9 & 11. Chapter 8 speaks of Immanuel
and has a statement of the LORD (Jehovah or Yahweh) applied to the Lord Jesus
by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:15. These are rich Scriptures foretelling Christ. The
prophecy of the virgin birth is unique to the entire Old Testament. In chapter 7, King Ahaz rejected one of the
most unusual appeals God has ever made to any human being. It was the Lord’s
call to trust Him, the God of his fathers, and the One Who had guaranteed the
permanency of David’s succession. The chapter ends with the severe consequences
of Ahaz’s vile rejection of the Lord. God would bring the army of the Assyrian
King right up to the walls of Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 28 and 2 Kings 16
Ahaz king of Judah had already suffered defeat by Israel. (In one
day Israel killed 120,000 of
soldiers.) Ahaz’s strategy to deal with the threat of a combined attack by Israel and Aram
was to turn to Assyria for help. His plan
would be thwarted (8:10). In this setting Isaiah approaches Ahaz to tell him
that Israel and Aram will neither
succeed nor survive. Ahaz must have faith in the word of the Lord (v.9). The
choice for Ahaz was faith in the Lord or in the king of Assyria.
He chose the king of Assyria (2 Chronicles
28:16) but received trouble instead. He
even said to the Assyrian king, “I
am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me …” (2 Kings
16:7). He should have said that to the Lord his God.
The call of
Isaiah in chapter 6 to be a prophet and the Psalm of Praise in chapter 12 begin
and end this section. Within that we have the bad king of chapter 7 who feared
men, and the King Whose delight
is in the fear of the Lord (11:3).
7:1-3 The reports of
danger to Jerusalem
were true. Previous encounters proved to be much trouble for Judah. There
was reason for their fear. With an attack very likely, Ahaz was out to look at
the aqueduct. Jerusalem’s
water came from outside the city walls and so it could be cut off by an enemy.
22:1-14 deals with a time a little later; by then, Jerusalem had done more to protect its water
supply. In Isaiah 22 their sin included trust in a more protected water supply.
This location was an ideal place for Isaiah to meet Ahaz. Imminent danger was
on his mind. He would trust Assyria rather
than the Lord. As a result, at that same spot the Assyrian officer, with an
army behind him, stood to threaten Jerusalem
in 36:2. In a few years, the same nation Ahaz had trusted came to destroy them.
7:4-9 Isaiah was sent by
the Lord to give Ahaz counsel. Isaiah 6:9,10 predicted that dull hearts would
not believe any word from God. Here by the aqueduct it happened. The message to
Ahaz was to cease the kind of fretful preparations they were doing, a message
of “be quiet and do nothing”. 30:15 gives the same message; with the Lord to
protect them the proper response would be quiet confidence. God’s salvation comes
by ceasing from our works to rest in Christ (Hebrews 4:9,10). Instead with a
powerful army already gathering against him, Ahaz resorted to worldly
pragmatism, political expediency, and covenantal betrayal.
The Lord’s assurance
was that whatever those two kings would attempt against Jerusalem would fail. “… It will not happen.” This word came in the context of multiple “sons
of…”. Isaiah took his son Shear-Jashub, whose name was also a word from the
Lord that there would be a returning remnant. Ahaz, son of Jotham, was a son of
David. Pekah was not of the line of David. He was an opportunist who murdered
the previous king and seized the throne of Israel. He lasted twenty years
before the next man murdered him and took the throne (2 Kings 15). The Lord God
had made no commitment to those other kings. They lived and died by their
swords. Pekah was merely the son of Remaliah. They wanted to install someone
whose name we do not know. He is referred to only as “the son of Tabeel”. There
was no covenant of the Lord with him or his ancestors. In contrast to this,
Ahaz of the House of David could have rested in God’s promise, “… I will establish the throne of his kingdom
The danger Ahaz feared
were two kings at the end of their power. They were better described as
smoldering stubs, where the fire had died and all that was left was the smoke
before it went out altogether. When God gives such an appraisal, it should be a
matter of great comfort. Those kings had threatening words (v.6), but the
Sovereign Lord had reliable words. God was unimpressed with Damascus
and Samaria. To
God the nations are like dust on a scale (40:15-17). Note that it was not Ahaz
who described the plot against him (vv.5,6), but the Lord reported it to Ahaz! The
Lord knew his trouble. The call was to stand firm in faith. This faith was not
a leap into the dark; it was the covenant of God who had already preserved the
line of David all the way to Ahaz. (Note Psalm 89:3,4,35-37 & Psalm
132:11.) This was a crisis point. Not to stand in faith in this situation would
mean the downfall of the nation. Ahaz’s unfaithfulness to God meant that God
sent Assyria to overrun all of Judah.
Thereafter the nation was so weak, it was an easy matter for Babylon to destroy it. God sent Isaiah to call
on Ahaz to believe Him. In every faithful sermon God calls us to faith and
7:10 The text reports
no response from Ahaz. The Lord spoke
again. Note it was Isaiah speaking before, but here it says the Lord spoke
again, therefore when Isaiah was speaking the words of God, it was the Lord
speaking. This is what our Bible is; it is the Word of God channeled through chosen
human instruments. Men wrote and spoke, yet the message came from God even if
all that the hearers heard was the voice of a prophet.
7:11-13 God does not
always use signs or miracles. He has used many throughout the Bible, especially
in times when unbelief was rampant, and God chose to bolster faith by them.
Unbelief was often widespread among people who had witnessed God’s mighty deeds.
(See Psalm 95:7-11). It is extremely rare that God would allow a man to choose
what miracle he wanted performed. This was the amazing offer from God to Ahaz. (The
angels must have been stunned at such a thing.) It was as if God had said, “What
can I do to assure you that I am serious about keeping my promise to you?” Ahaz
could have asked for the shadow to reverse (38:7,8). He could have asked for all
the horses in the armies of Israel
and Aram to run into the Sea of Galilee and drown; the Lord would have done it.
Instead Ahaz was committed to his unbelief.
Ahaz gave a pious reply
to the prophet. It was actually an impious response to God. He provoked God to
His very face. (Note 65:2,3). It really is presumptuous to tell God we will
believe Him if He will do a sign of our choosing. We must not tempt the Lord
(Deuteronomy 6:16). In this case though, it was God making the offer. The King
of Judah turned God down. As was the case here, often God is rejected in the
guise of religious talk. Ahaz tried the patience of God. He was told to “ask
the Lord your God…” Your
God is not repeated; thereafter Isaiah referred to the Lord as “my God” (v.13). Such details in Isaiah
7:14 By the kindness of
God making a promise and delivering it at a location connected to the danger
they were facing, Ahaz’s heart was hardened by the way he heard the Word of
God. Then he could not turn back from his apostasy. He traded the tender
mercies of His faithful Lord for the deceitful treachery of the King of
Assyria. He declined a sign he could have chosen, and so was denied seeing the
fulfillment of it. Then God would give a sign beyond the understanding and time
of Ahaz. Ahaz would never see it. This sign was impossible beyond the deepest
depths and the highest heights (v.10). A virgin would give birth to a male
Isaiah 7:14 really say virgin?
Many years before Christ, Jewish scholars translated Isaiah 7:14, using the
Greek word parthenos. Those men
understood both languages. Parthenos means virgin.
The New Testament uses that same unambiguous word in Matthew 1:23. Jesus’ birth
was to a virgin mother. But many argue that a different Hebrew word would mean
virgin, and since Isaiah did not use it, according to them, he was not saying
in 7:14 that a virgin would have a
son! Such claims not only cast doubt on the New Testament quotation of this
text, the claim falls apart when we look up examples of both words in the Old
Testament. The word Isaiah used never means a married woman, and the other
word need not always mean an unmarried woman. That Rebecca was a virgin is very
clear in Genesis 24:16; then later in v.43 she is described by the same word Isaiah
used in 7:14. Languages often have words without precise counterparts to other
languages. For example, Greek simply uses the word for a male to mean husband.
If a woman says, “He is my man”, we know she meant her husband. The context
decides the meaning. Likewise, Isaiah used a word that more than any other word
in his language indicated that a virgin would have a son. We must never forget that the Holy Spirit was
also guiding Matthew in his choice of words in Matthew 1:23. To say a woman
will have a baby boy is hardly an earth shaking sign. It has happened before.
The male child would be
called Immanuel, meaning God with us, for the simple reason that
the One Who would come is God and would be on earth with His people. Immanuel
is mentioned again in 8:8 & 10. The land which was under the rule of the
House of David was His land, and He is addressed in prayer (8:8) so He must be
the Lord. He is spoken to as One living and able to hear, so the future child
of the virgin was alive long before the virgin was. He is the Lord Who
frustrates the plans of His opponents in 8:10. So, Immanuel, the Name by which
He would be called, is a literal description of Him, not just a name that testifies
about the Lord.
Double Fulfillment? The matter of whether to translate the
Hebrew word as virgin is a debate
that brings some into conflict with the New Testament. There is another
complication which has sincere believers of the inerrancy of Scripture
differing. Some think that since a sign was given to Ahaz, it makes no sense to
give a man a sign he will never see. Therefore, there had to be a fulfillment
in his day, because Isaiah included that before the virgin’s child would be old enough to choose between evil and
good (perhaps not liking the taste of olives?), the two kings Ahaz dreaded would
be a threat no longer. But the text also refers to the birth of Christ. The
suggested resolution is that there are two
fulfillments: a) the birth of Maher
Shalal Hash Baz in 8:1-4 and b) the birth of Jesus seven centuries later. This hypothesis
depends upon (with some danger of conflict with Matthew 1:23) the word for
virgin being broad enough to refer to a natural birth (such as the next son of
Isaiah in 8:1-4), and yet not deny the eminent sign later of the virgin birth
of Christ. In other words, the first fulfillment was the child from Isaiah’s
non-virgin wife; the second fulfillment is the son of the Virgin Mary. This interpretation is a high wire act that
creates more trouble than it solves..
I say that interpretation
should be rejected for the following reasons:
1. The statement was not to Ahaz as an
individual, but to the House of David (v.13). The you pronouns in vv. 13,14 are all plurals. Thus the sign was to the
dynasty, not to one individual. The line of David continued long after Ahaz. This
sign from God can stand as a promise extending over many generations.
2. The time of that virgin birth was not indicated,
only that the two kings would fade first. There is no real contradiction here. Before
Jesus was old enough to reject either evil things or food He did not like, those
two kings were gone, long gone.
3. Isaiah does not report any son born in Ahaz’s
day named Immanuel. A birth without that
name could not be a fulfillment of this prophecy. There could be no other
Immanuel than God the Lord who also fits the words about Him in chapter 8. Maher Shalal Hash Baz is eliminated. His name shows that he does not fulfill this
4. Maher Shalal Hash Baz was born on a schedule
that connected tightly to the time of Ahaz. As Isaiah’s son, he was a genuine sign
(8:18). His long name signified the impending defeat of the kings of Israel and Aram. In this way God did provide a sign that marked
the early defeat of the kings who were terrifying Ahaz.
5. The old argument over the meaning of the word
for virgin in 7:14 is back. This argument by evangelicals draws some strength
from the unsuitable argument of liberals, and in return it actually provides it
with a measure of approval. Any
fulfillment less than an unambiguous virgin birth greatly weakens this unique
prophecy, the only one in the OT about the virgin birth. The marvelous
prediction of a virgin birth cannot be of a natural birth and a virgin birth by
using the same words in one statement.
6. Accepting only one fulfillment of 7:14
maintains that this sign is of a truly supernatural kind. It is incongruous
after offering his choice of a sign of cosmic proportions, that it would to be replaced
with a limp prediction of a very ordinary birth.
So the ultimate sign to the
House of David was the singular, supernatural, eventual birth of a virgin’s son
within the line of David. This was a wonderful thing unbelieving Ahaz would
never see, did not deserve to see, and did not benefit from. The virgin birth allowed
Christ to be the true legal Son of David, yet not strictly in the biological
line of Jehoiachin (or Coniah) according to Jeremiah 22:24-30. Note Jechoniah
(i.e., Jehoiachin) in Matthew 1:11. The parallel between the birth promised in
7:14 and the one in 8:3,4 is unmistakable.
Scripture does places them in the same passage. One son is called a
sign, but in the case of Christ, the sign is the conception and birth to a
virgin. One sign was for Ahaz to see, and then centuries later another sign,
distinct from the first, happened in a virgin’s womb.
The Setting of the Birth of Christ
Jesus was born into poverty (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is indicated by curds and honey. Curds come from the
milk of an animal that can forage. The animal can move around and be hidden.
When an occupying army is all around, farmers cannot plant and be sure they
will be the ones to eat their crop. This poverty resulted from Judah being subject to foreign powers: Assyria, Babylonia, Persia,
Greece, and Rome. This was how Ahaz’s sin affected his
people; the nation crumbled. Then into these stark consequences of His people’s
sin, the Son of David would be born to lay claim to a non-existent throne, as
far as the world was concerned. In the time of the Romans, Joseph and Mary, a
poor man and woman, would be given the privilege to raise the newborn Son of
David. There were so poor they could only offer a pair of doves or two young pigeons. (Compare Luke 2:22-24 with Leviticus 12:7,8.)
Though the kings of Aram and Israel
would afflict Judah no more,
would be overwhelmed by the King of Assyria, a flood reaching to the neck
(8:8). Living under Gentile domination would be a tragedy comparable to the
breakup of Israel
when 10 tribes revolted against the House of David to form another nation (1
Kings 12:20). Yet, a stump would survive (6:13).
7:17-25 The Assyrian Invasion Egypt gets brief
mention. Some in the king’s court probably
counseled that they seek Egypt’s
assistance. Later, Judah
would unite in the sinful policy of making Egypt their trust (Isaiah 29-31).
Years later, Egypt
did come but not to help. They removed King Jehoahaz and took him captive to Egypt (2
Chronicles 36:2-4). So the mention of Egypt in Isaiah 7 fits in. However,
at that time, Assyria was the overwhelming
The Lord would bring the king of Assyria, a sovereign decision and act of God. They would come
in overwhelming numbers like a swarm of bees, and they would be everywhere;
there was no place to hide. If one seeks to hide in caves from the fear of the
Lord (2:19), there they would find enemy soldiers in the crevices of the rocks
(7:19)! Like a razor cutting off every
hair before it, the Assyrians would come with no one to stop them till they
surrounded the walls of Jerusalem
in Isaiah 36 & 37. In ancient times shaving off a man’s beard was an act of
humiliation. Much attention is given to the burdens of daily life especially
hardship in the loss of food.
There was a Son Who
would come in the line of David. The House of David would not be replaced by some
unknown son of Tabeel. Instead, a Son called Immanuel would be born to a virgin
(v.14). “He will be great and will be called the
Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father
David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will
never end” (Luke 1:32,33).