MODERN RABBIS AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF MESSIAH
"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14 in Christian versions.
"Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14 in Jewish versions.
The Gospels claim that this verse is
a prophecy about Yeshua, i.e. Jesus, and his supernatural birth.
Some modern rabbis respond with three counter-claims:
1) The Hebrew word "almah" does not mean 'virgin,' but 'young woman' or 'young maiden.'
2) If God had wanted to say 'virgin,' He would have used the Hebrew word "betulah."
3) The context has nothing to do with the Messiah. The prophecy is fulfilled in the birth of Isaiah's second son.
We'll look at each point, remembering that the first question before us is, "What does the prophecy mean?" The second part of this inquiry deals with the question, "Should you or I believe the prophecy to be true?"
This first part is somewhat technical since it deals with the meaning of particular Hebrew words. That is necessary, since it is the only way to establish how the prophecy should be understood. The second part is midrashic, the story of how the prophecy, properly understood, is confirmed throughout the Scriptures.
If you find the first part tedious, you may wish to read the second part first.
The first claim of some modern rabbis: The Hebrew word "almah" does not
mean 'virgin,' but 'young woman' or 'young maiden.'
In Gen.24:43, almah is used to describe Rebekah, who is also called betulah. She was a young maiden, a virgin. In Ex.2:8, the word is used to describe the girl Miriam, who watched her baby brother Moses. She also was a young maiden. Ps.68:26 (v.25 in non-Jewish translations), says, "The singers went on, the musicians after them, in the midst of the alamot (plural) beating tambourines." In Prov. 30:19-20, the way of a man with an almah is contrasted with the way of an adulterous woman.
In the other places where almah appears, none of the verses denote a woman who is not a virgin. In fact, the common use of "maid" or "maiden" in translation seems perfectly adequate and appropriate to express the Hebrew, since the English word "maiden," originally, means a woman who is a virgin as in "maiden aunt," "maidenhood," "maidenhead," etc..
People today misunderstand and misuse the word, and it has gained additional cultural meaning through time. In current usage, the "maids" at a hotel are simply those who clean the rooms, but that does not change what the original meaning was. When we talk about almah in the Bible, we are talking about the original meaning and usage.
In general, it is not virginity per se that is the focus of the word, but virginity is an attendant condition of the young girls described. So it would certainly not be inappropriate or inaccurate to use the English word "virgin" for almah.
For example, The Jewish Family Bible1 uses "virgin" for almah in Gen.24:43: "Behold I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin cometh forth to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I pray thee a little water of thy pitcher to drink; and she says to me, 'Both drink thou, and I will also draw for thy camels:' let the same be the woman whom the Lord hath appointed out for my master's son."
The portion is prophetically describing Rebekah, whom God has chosen to be Isaac's wife. We know that she is a virgin. Abraham's servant was not asking God to send "a young woman," whether a virgin or not, for Isaac to marry. He was asking God to send the undefiled woman whom He had chosen.
The Septuagint also translates almah as "virgin" (parthenos) in Gen.24:43, as well as in Is.7:14. When the Septuagint was written, around 250 B.C.E., most Jews lived in the Diaspora and spoke Greek. The Septuagint was the Bible of most Jews. The gospel of Matthew (1:22-25), presented to a first century Jewish audience, also gives "virgin" as the meaning of almah in Is.7:14.
Cyrus Gordon, the renowned Jewish scholar and archaeologist, observed that, "The commonly held view that 'virgin' is Christian, whereas 'young woman' is Jewish is not quite true. The fact is that the Septuagint, which is the Jewish translation made in pre-Christian Alexandria, takes almah to mean 'virgin' here. Accordingly, the New Testament follows Jewish interpretation in Isaiah 7:14.
"Therefore, the New Testament rendering of almah as 'virgin' for Isaiah 7:14 rests on the older Jewish interpretation, which in turn is now borne out for precisely this annunciation formula by a text that is not only pre-Isaianic but is pre-Mosaic in the form that we now have it on a clay tablet."2
The oldest Jewish interpretation of the word would mean one who was a virgin. We do not have any ancient documents that use almah to refer to a woman who is definitely not a virgin.
Finally, we need to consider the root meaning of almah. Cognate languages suggest a root meaning related to female physical maturity. It seems that the word is also related to the Hebrew root alam, meaning "to veil from sight, i.e. conceal."3 This root appears in Lev.20:4; Dt.22:1,3,4; Ps.55:1, 90:8; Is.1:15, 58:7, and other verses.
The Talmud also relates this root meaning to almah in speaking of Miriam, the sister of Moses. "R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: [She is called] almah because she made the words secret (sh'ha'alimah)." (Sot.12b)
For an almah, the implied meaning of being concealed would be that she was physically a virgin, and had not been uncovered. In the Bible, "to uncover the nakedness" generally means 'to engage in sexual relations'. (Cf. Lev.18 & 20) So in contrast, according to this root meaning, an almah would be a woman who has not had sexual relations.
An almah is a virgin.
The second claim of some modern rabbis: If God had wanted to say 'virgin,' He would
have used the Hebrew word "betulah."
What does betulah mean? Here are the relevant Torah verses:
Gen.24:16, "And the girl (Rebekah) was very beautiful, a betulah, and no man had known her..."
Ex.22:15-16 (vv.16-17 in non-Jewish translations), "And if a man seduces a betulah who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for betulot (plural of betulah)."
Dt.22:13-20,23,28 (from v.13), "If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, 'I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find evidence of her virginity (betulim).' Then the girl's father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl's virginity (betulei) to the elders of the city at the gate. And the girl's father shall say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, "I did not find evidence of your daughter's virginity (betulim)." But this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity (betulei).' And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl's father, because he publicly defamed a betulat of Israel and she shall remain his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days. But if this charge is true, that evidence of the girl's virginity (betulim) was not found...
"If there is a girl who is a betulah engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her...
If a man finds a girl who is a betulah, who is not engaged, and seizes her, and lies with her..."
Dt.32:25 is in the middle of the Song of Moses, which declares the judgments that will come upon Israel for her unfaithfulness to God: "Outside the sword shall bereave, and inside terror; It shall destroy both young man and betulah, the nursling with the man of gray hairs."
It seems that in these verses in Torah, betulah means "virgin." In some places, however, the word is often translated as "maid" or "maiden." For example, the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation renders betulah as "maid(s)" in Job 31:1 and Zech.9:17. It renders it as "maiden(s)" in 2 Chr.36:17; Ps.148:12; Jer.2:32; Jer.51:22; Lam.5:11; and Ezek.9:6.
Likewise, the Soncino English translation of the Talmud often translates betulah as "maiden." For example, the first Mishnah of Kethuboth begins, "A maiden (betulah) is married on the fourth day..." The translation of betulah as "maiden" continues throughout the discusssion. The French translation of this same Mishnah, in Le Talmud de Jerusalem of Moise Schwab (1886) renders betulah as "Une vierge...", i.e. a virgin.
For the same Talmudic text, one Jewish translator chose "maiden" for betulah, another chose "virgin." The reasons for this difference will become evident later.
Translators, of course, try to determine the best way of rendering a word in context. Scholars of equal ability differ as to the most preferable renderings in particular cases, even as readers of equal ability in any language differ in their minds as to the proper understanding of a particular text.
To this point, almah and betulah seem to be similar words, either of which could adequately indicate the state of virginity. The question arises: Is there any reason why God would not have used betulah in Is.7:14 to specifically designate "virgin"? The answer is: Yes, there are several reasons.
1. The Talmud itself speaks of betulah in ambiguous terms, distinguishing between a betulah and a betulah shleymah, i.e. a perfect virgin. (cf. Yeb.60b) In other words, betulah shleymah means one who is physically a virgin, but betulah does not, except by inference.
In fact, there is an explicit statement in the Talmud that betulah does not mean virgin, but does mean a young woman. "R. Nahman b. Isaac explained: It is the opinion of the following Tanna. For it was taught: A betulah; the only meaning of betulah is young woman (na'arah); and so it is said in Scripture, And the young woman (na'arah) was fair to look upon, a betulah." The Soncino editor's note says, "na'arah, one between the ages of twelve and twelve and a half years of age." (Yeb. 61b)
The verse R. Nahman b. Isaac referred to is Gen. 24:16: "The girl (Rebekah) was very beautiful, a betulah; and no man had ever lain with her." Rebekah was a betulah, "and no man had ever lain with her."
Likewise, each young woman in Jabesh Gilead was described in the book of Judges in a similar way. "They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead four hundred young women (na'arot), betulot, who had not known a man by lying with a male, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan." (Judg. 21:12)
In both these cases in Scripture, the information that the woman was physically a virgin is additional to the fact that she was a betulah. By itself, the word betulah was not considered sufficient to indicate virginity.
2. The Talmud also speaks of a young married girl who has consummated her marriage, but not yet had her first menstrual period, as betulah. "Who is regarded as betulah? Any woman, even though she is married, who has never yet observed a flow....Our Rabbis taught: [If a virgin] married and observed a discharge of blood that was due to the marriage, or if when she bore a child she observed a discharge of blood that was due to the birth, she is still called a betulah, because the virgin of whom the Rabbis spoke is one that is so in regards to menstrual blood but not one who is so in regard to the blood of virginity." (Niddah, I,2; 8b; cf 11b)
In this case of Rabbinic law, a young girl who is married and is no longer physically a virgin is still betulah. (In Rabbinic law, as was the case in many cultures, marriage can take place with a girl of a very young age. Cf. Yeb. 57b, 60b) The married girl is still considered betulah, even if she has had sexual intercourse, naturally conceived, and given birth to a child.
3. The Talmud also speaks elsewhere of a betulah conceiving. In a strange passage in Chagigah 14b-15a, the Rabbis accept the possibility of a betulah becoming pregnant in what they considered to be rare biological circumstances. The question is asked there, "May a high priest marry a betulah who has become pregnant?"
4. The first Mishnah of the Talmudic tractate Kethuboth says, "A maiden (betulah) is married on the fourth day...so that if he (the husband) had a claim as to the virginity (betulim) (of the maiden-bride) he could go early (on the morning of the fifth day of the week) to the court of justice."
Notice that what is at issue here is whether a particular betulah is a virgin or not. Sometimes the betulah is physically a virgin, sometimes she is not.
5. In similar languages, though the normal meaning of the equivalent of betulah means "virgin," sometimes that equivalent word is used to refer to a woman who is not a virgin. The Encyclopaedia Judaica article on "Virgin,Virginity" says, "The biblical betulah, usually rendered 'virgin,' is in fact an ambiguous term which in nonlegal contexts may denote an age of life rather than a physical state. Cognate Akkadian batultu (masculine, batulu) and Ugaritic btlt refer to 'an adolescent, nubile, girl.' That the woman who is so called need not necessarily be a virgo intacta is shown by the graphic account in a Ugaritic myth of the sexual relations of Baal with the goddess Anath, who bears the honorific epithet btlt (see Pritchard, Texts, 142). Moreover, in an Aramaic incantation text from Nippur there is a reference to a betulta who is 'pregnant but cannot bear' (Montgomery, in bibl. 13:9, p.178)."
Some modern scholars feel that the Encyclopaedia Judaica article needs to be modified, and that some of the ancient material in related languages needs to be understood differently. That may be, but, nevertheless, the Bible itself uses the word to refer to one whose original virginity is gone.
6. The Bible sometimes uses betulah to refer to a restored state of purity, rather than an original one. In the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, verses 2:20; 3:1, 6, & 8 as well as numerous other places in the prophets the Lord rebukes Israel for her harlotry. Her original purity had been lost. In later places in Jeremiah, however, God refers to Israel as betulah .
For example, in Jer. 31:3 (31:4 in non-Jewish translations), God refers to Israel as a betulah: "Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O betulah of Israel! Again you shall take up your tambourines, and go forth to the dances of the merrymakers." An Israel whom God destroyed for her harlotry will be rebuilt by God as betulah.
In Jer. 31:21-22, the Lord says, "Set up for yourself roadmarks, place for yourself guide posts; Direct your heart to the highway, the way by which you went. Return, O betulah of Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you go here and there, O faithless daughter? For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth a woman will encompass a man." Israel had been a wayward, "faithless daughter", i.e. an immoral one. cf. Ezek.16 With repentance, she will again become betulah.
7. Joel 1:8 says, "Wail like a betulah girded with sackcloth for the husband (ba'al) of her youth." Some maintain that this means a virgin who was betrothed or married to a man with whom she never consummated that marriage. That would be very different from the normal meaning.
Concerning the relationship of a man to a woman, the normal meaning of ba'al is "master" or "husband." A form of the word is used as a synonym for marrying, as in Dt.24:1: "When a man takes a wife and marries her (b'alah)..." The Talmud uses ba'al for husband. It does not use it for "betrothed/fiancé," which is "arus. "Bridegroom" is chatan, not ba'al.
One of the grave judgments that God promised for disobedience to His covenant was, "You shall betroth a wife (eshah ti'arase), and another will lie will her..." (Dt.28:30) A man who is betrothed to a woman with whom he has not consummated the marriage is arus, not ba'al. In Jewish tradition, the marriage ceremony has two parts; the betrothal/erusin and the marriage/nissu'in itself.
Physical intercourse consummates a marriage, making the betrothed/arus a husband/ba'al. (Cf. Yeb. 20b) In fact, in the Talmud, ba'alti is used as a synonym for having the initial sexual intercourse that consummates a marriage. (cf. Ket.10a-10b) The meaning of ba'alti is, "I have become a husband."
Dt.22:22 says that, "If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband (isha ba'alah ba'al), then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel." The woman (isha) is married (ba'alah) to a husband (ba'al). To have a husband/ba'al is to be married/ba'alah.
The text then continues, "If there is a girl who is a betulah engaged to a man... (betulah m'arusah l'ish)." In this verse, Dt.22:23, ba'al is not used to designate the man, because he is not yet the husband of the betulah. Since ba'al is used in Joel 1:8, the meaning is that the betulah in that verse is a woman who has been married and has consummated that marriage.
In Dt.24:1, we read, "When a man has taken a woman (ki yikakh ish isha) and married her (ba'alah, i.e. become her ba'al/husband)..." In Is.54:1, we read, "...For the sons of the desolate are more than the sons of the married (be'ulah, i.e. the one who has a ba'al/husband). To Zion, the Lord says, "No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Be'ulah/Married; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married (ti'ba'ale, i.e. will have a husband)." (Is. 62:4)
The word ba'al is used to mean "master" or "husband," not "betrothed." The Talmud explicitly uses be'ulah to refer to a woman who has consummated her marriage. (Cf. Yeb. 60b)
If God meant that a woman who was physically a virgin would conceive, as a sign to Israel, betulah would NOT have been the correct word to use.
The third claim of some modern rabbis: "The context has nothing to do with the
At first glance, this seems to be correct, but closer examination shows it not to be the case at all. What is the historical, scriptural context of Is. 7:14?
Isaiah chapter 6 seems to set the stage for chapters 7-12, but it is dated "in the year that King Uzziah died." That was some 15 years before Pekah and Rezin attacked Ahaz the situation in chapter 7. It is therefore not part of the immediate historical, scriptural context.
Is.7 begins: "When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it." (Is. 7:1)
Pekah became king of Israel in Uzziah's fifty-second year, and reigned for 20 years.(cf. 2K15:27). Ahaz became king of Judah in the seventeenth year of Pekah's reign.(cf.2Kgs. 16:1) So this attack must have taken place during the last three years of Pekah's reign, which were the first three years of Ahaz's reign.
To understand the Biblical chronology, it is important to note that there were several co-regencies during this time. For example, when King Uzziah of Judah violated the holiness of the Temple, "The LORD afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died, and he lived in a separate house. Jotham the king's son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land." (2Kgs. 15:5)
Uzziah was still king, even though he was isolated from the Temple, the palace, and the people. Jotham was also king, but it was not solely his reign.
Jotham also shared the throne at the end of his reign with his son Ahaz. Sometimes the Scriptures refer to the length of a king's reign including any co-regency (e.g. 2K.15:30); and sometimes excluding any co-regency (e.g. 2K.15:33). This complicates the calculation of the time when specific events took place, but when the co-regencies are taken into account, the figures agree.
The Lord told Isaiah to go with his son, Shear Yashuv which means "a remnant will return" and go to meet Ahaz. (v.3)
Chapter 8 refers to this same military confrontation between Judah and the allied enemies, Aram (Syria) and Israel (with its capital in Samaria). There is also mention of Isaiah's second son Maher Shalal Hash Baz which means"swift is the booty, speedy is the prey" and of Immanuel, whose name means "God with us".
Chapter 9 continues to address this confrontation with Rezin of Syria and with Samaria. It also refers to a special son to be born, one who will be called many impressive names, among them "Mighty God," signifying that God is dwelling with His people in other words, "Immanuel/God with us." He will rule from David's throne over David's kingdom, i.e. Judah and Israel.
Chapter 10 addresses the issue of the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser, whom God is going to use to destroy Syria and Israel (Ephraim) and to stop their war against Judah. It also contains (v.21) the promise of the name of Isaiah's first son, Shear Yashuv, i.e. "a remnant will return." The chapter ends with the promise that the Lord will cut down the forest of Judah's enemies.
Chapter 11 begins with the promise that the Lord will bring forth a new shoot from the cut down royal family of David, son of Jesse. In the days of this "branch," this son of David, God will regather the remnant of Judah and the exiles of Israel from Assyria and the four corners of the earth i.e. a remnant will return. The hostility between Ephraim/Samaria/Israel and Judah will cease.
Chapter 12 describes what it will be like "in that day." All Israel will recognize, "God is my salvation," and not look to Assyria for deliverance.
Chapter 13 is an oracle about Babylon, and clearly belongs to another context. Therefore, the historical, scriptural context of Is. 7:14 is chapters 7-12. (The chapter and verse numbers are not part of the Biblical text. They were added later to help refer to and locate specific texts.)
Some parts of this prophetic portion were fulfilled within three years following the invasion of Judah. Some were fulfilled later, and some have not yet been fulfilled.
Some modern rabbis maintain that Isaiah 7:14 was completely fulfilled in the birth of Isaiah's second son, Maher Shalal Hash Baz. They claim that his mother, "the prophetess" of Is. 8:3 is the almah of Is.7:14. As we will see, that is not the case.
At the time of chapter 7, Isaiah had been a prophet for at least 17 years. He already had one son, Shear Yashuv. The mother of Shear Yashuv could not be indicated by almah in Is.7:14, because she would already have given birth.
So some modern rabbis say that the mother of Shear Yashuv had died, and Isaiah was a widower at the time of the prophecy. At the time of the prophecy of Is.7:14, the prophetess was an almah. Subsequent to the prophecy, Isaiah married her.
In this scenario, the prophetess was designated as ha'almah in 7:14 simply to note that she was then unmarried. She would not have been an almah when she conceived and gave birth. She would then have been be'ulah, i.e. married.
The Scriptures do not provide any supporting evidence for such a scenario, but even if we grant it to be so, problems remain. Would the prophetess conceiving and giving birth to Maher Shalal Hash Baz completely fulfill the promise of the Lord in Is.7:14? No, it would not.
Isaiah said, "Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of Hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion." (Is. 8:18) If Isaiah's wife-to-be, the prophetess, is the almah of 7:14, then she also is a sign to Israel. In that case, Isaiah should have said, "Here am I, the children the LORD has given me, and my second wife. We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion."
The almah of 7:14 is for a sign in Israel. Isaiah does not mention the prophetess, or any wife he ever had, as being a sign to Israel. If she were the fulfillment of the almah of 7:14, he would have.
As for Isaiah himself, what does he signify? His name means "the Lord is salvation." That is the summation of all his prophesying. That is why his prophesying is filled with references to Messiah. What Isaiah signifies is not fulfilled during his lifetime.
What about Isaiah's sons, what do they signify? Shear Yashuv, who is mentioned in 7:3, signifies "the remnant will return." When will what remnant return where? The answers are given in what we have seen to be the context of this portion of Isaiah.
"In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return (shear yashuv), a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God/el gibor. Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will return (shear yashuv). Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous." ( Is. 10:20-22)
"In that day the Lord will reach out His hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of His people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea....There will be a highway for the remnant of His people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt." (Is. 11:11,16)
It is Assyria which will destroy Aram/Syria, and take the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity, thus ending the threat to Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah. It is from Assyria that some of the remnant will return.
Shear Yashuv signifies that one day the remnant of Israel will return to the land of Israel and to the Mighty God of Israel. What he signifies could only take place after the Babylonian exile still hundreds of years in the future when Isaiah prophesied.
The complete fulfillment of his name still has not happened even today. The return of the remnant, promised in the name of Isaiah's son Shear Yashuv, will be a return to the Mighty God. The return of the remnant is therefore connected to the child who, according to chapter 9, will bear the name "Mighty God." The return of the remnant is set in a Messianic context in chapter 11.
Isaiah's second son, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, the son of the prophetess, signifies that God is going to spoil and destroy Damascus and Samaria. "Before the boy knows how to say 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria." (Is. 8:4, cf. 7:16) That happened shortly after he was born.
But this prophecy continues: "Therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River - the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, O Immanuel!"
"Raise the war cry, you peoples, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, because Immanuel. (i.e., God is with us)." (Is. 8:7-10)
Was this all fulfilled in the lifetime of Maher Shalal Hash Baz? No.
The promise related to the name of Maher Shalal Hash Baz is that Samaria and Damascus will be quickly destroyed by Assyria. The king of Assyria came, but the many "peoples" from "distant lands" did not. This prophecy therefore refers to a future invasion, an invasion that still has not yet happened.
The promise related to the name of Immanuel is different. It concerns peoples from distant lands who will come against Judah. When those many "peoples" from "distant lands" come against Immanuel's land, the reason they will be shattered is "Immanuel.' Immanuel signifies something different from Maher Shalal Hash Baz. Maher Shalal Hash Baz signifies the destruction of those who destroy Judah. Immanuel signifies a deliverance for Immanuel's land. "Immanuel" is explicitly applied to the Messiah in the Targum.
The phrase "your land, O Immanuel" is very distinctive. The land that is spoken of is either the land of Judah in particular or all the land of Israel. There are only three specific individuals in the Bible of whom it is said that the land of Israel is "your land." They are King David, the Lord God Himself, and Immanuel.
In the first instance, King David's sin of numbering the people brought judgment on the land. "So Gad went to David and said to him, 'Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.'" (2Sam. 24:13)
In the second instance, the grace of the Lord brings restoration, salvation, and forgiveness to the land and the people. "You showed favor to your land, O LORD; you restored the fortunes of Jacob." (Ps. 85:2, 85:1 in non-Jewish translations, cf. the rest of the psalm)
That puts Immanuel in a very special category. Maher Shalal Hash Baz does not qualify to be so distinguished. He is only mentioned in Is. 8, and very briefly at that. We are not told of any distinctive greatness that would put him in the same exclusive company of David and God.
There is, however, another child mentioned in the context of Is.7:14. According to Is.7:13, the promise of the almah and her child in 7:14 is not made just to Ahaz. It is made to "the house of David." Verses 11 and 17 are addressed to Ahaz, in the singular. Verses 13 and 14 are addressed to the house of David, in the plural.
In the same historical scriptural context of Is. 7:14, there are two portions that explicitly refer to a unique child born to the house of David - chapters 9 and 11. Both of these portions were acknowledged by the ancient rabbis to be speaking of Messiah.
It is important to keep in mind what the Talmud itself observes, "All the prophets prophesied not except of the days of the Messiah." (Sanh.99a) And, "The world was not created but only for the Messiah." (Sanh.98b) I.e., the ultimate focus of all prophecy is Messiah and his kingdom. After all, the culmination of this age is the complete deliverance/salvation of Israel which God brings through His Messiah.
The book of Isaiah is filled with prophecies about the Messiah. Some of these are readily identifiable, others are embedded in Isaiah's historical context. That is the way it is with all Messianic prophecy, and with prophecy in general, whether it appears in the Torah, the Writings, or the Prophets.
The ancient rabbis found at least 16 Messianic prophecies in chapters 7 to 12 of the book of Isaiah. Some of these are transparently Messianic, others are embedded in the context. All of these rabbinically acknowledged Messianic references are part of the scriptural context for Is.7:14.
They considered this a very Messianic portion. In fact, the only portion of Scripture in which the ancient Rabbis found more Messianic prophecies is Isaiah chapters 49 to 54.
Is.9:5-6 (9:6-7 in non-Jewish translations) says: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God (el gibor), Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this."
The entire eleventh chapter was recognized as referring to Messiah and his kingdom. Is.11:1-5,10-11 says: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist....
"In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the goyim (the Gentiles) will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. "In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria..."
Did the Gentiles rally to Maher Shalal Hash Baz? No. Did the remnant return in his day? No.
Was Maher Shalal Hash Baz even of the house of David? There is no scriptural evidence that he was. There is a rabbinic tradition that Amoz, the father of Isaiah, was the brother of Amaziah, King of Judah. (Meg.10b) If the tradition is correct, then Isaiah and King Uzziah were first cousins; and Isaiah's son Maher Shalal Hash Baz would have been of the house of David.
The Biblical data, however, shows that there was a difference of about fifty years in age between Uzziah and Isaiah. (cf. 2K.15:2) That would make it very unlikely that they would have been first cousins. The Bible does not indicate that Isaiah was of the house of David, or even of the tribe of Judah. There is nothing in the Bible that would indicate that Isaiah and his sons were of the royal line. If they had been, and if that were in any way significant, the Bible would have mentioned it.
Nevertheless, we can, for the moment, assume the unsupported rabbinic claim to be correct, that Maher Shalal Hash Baz was of the house of David. Could he then have been the fulfillment of these promises to the house of David? No.
In both chapters 9 and 11, it is made clear that this child raised up as David's heir rules on David's throne and over his kingdom. Maher Shalal Hash Baz never ruled on David's throne or anyone else's. The prophecies must therefore be speaking of someone else, some other son of David.
Additionally, there is much more to the transparent context of Is.7:14 than some modern rabbis seem to have noticed. What is taking place?
"Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 'Ask a sign/oht for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.' But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask...' Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign/oht: Behold the almah will conceive and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel ('God with us')." God is here promising to give a sign/oht, a great supernatural indication, of the deliverance of His people.
In Is.38:1-8, God gives Hezekiah a sign that he will recover and not die. It is a supernatural event "So the sun's shadow went back ten steps on the stairway on which it had gone down."
But the sign that God is promising in Is.7:14 is a greater sign than that it is deep as Sheol or high as heaven. Sheol is the realm of the dead. The heavens belong to the Lord. What qualifies as such a tremendous sign/oht? Exactly that which the prophet prophesies: a virgin conceiving and giving birth to a child who is "God with us."
Notice also that the text does not read an almah but the almah. The particular virgin will conceive supernaturally, and her supernatural offspring will be called Immanuel, because that is who he is, "God with us." That certainly qualifies as a sign as "deep as Sheol or high as heaven" language which is appropriate to use in describing Messiah. When Messiah reigns, the earth is transformed into the kingdom of God, as indicated in chapters 11 and 12 of Isaiah.
The prophecy of the supernatural son in Is.7:14 is related to the prophecy of the supernatural son in Is.9:6-7, and to the prophecy of the supernatural son in Is.11. They all point to the Messiah. The context is very Messianic.
The three claims of some modern rabbis are found not to be true. They are in opposition to both the historical and scriptural record.
To this point, we have been examining what the prophecy means, not whether or not it is true. Now we will examine whether or not the prophecy could be true. Is it possible for the God of the Bible, i.e. the God of Israel, to cause a virgin to conceive?
1. Revised by M. Friedlander, Sinai Publishing House, Tel Aviv, 1979
2. Gordon, Cyrus H., Almah in Isaiah 7:14, The Journal of Bible & Religion, Vol.21 (April 1953), p.106
3. "Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary," The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, James Strong, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, P.89
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