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The Virgin Birth

Isaiah 7

In this section of scripture God sends a message to King Ahaz, king of Judah, telling Ahaz to ask for a sign. God indicated that the sign would demonstrate that He alone will protect Judah from the combined threats of Pekah, king of Israel, and King Rezin of Aram.  King Ahaz faithlessly (As described in II Kings 16:1-20; II Chron. 28:1-27) denies that he needs a sign from God, as he was truly depending on his own ability to develop a treaty with Assyria to protect Judah. Since King Ahaz denies that he needs a sign God responds to Ahaz with the following prophecy,

 

“Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and hone He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.” Isa. 7:14-16

 

As interpreted by Matthew 1:18-23 this section of prophecy is attributed to Jesus as being the one who fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 7. One of the questions that arises is that if the prophecy clearly pointed to Jesus as the fulfillment, then what meaning did the word given to Ahaz mean to him? It could mean that the word almah in Hebrew could have a broader meaning in that a young woman in Isaiah’s time would conceive a son naturally and name him Immanuel who would be a sign of hope to Judah. Gleason L. Archer attempts to use this line of interpretation to indicate a duel fulfillment in the son of Isaiah, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isa. 8:1-4). If this is the son born of a virgin, then the issue that arises is that Isaiah has a previous son in (7:3) Shear-Jashub. If Maher-Shlel-Hash-Baz is to be born of a virgin then Isaiah would have to have been widowed, and that the mother of the son would be the prophetess, which scripture says nothing of either Isaiah being widowed, or engaged to a prophetess.

            The word almah in Isaiah 7:14 indicates that she was to be a virgin not only at the time of conception but also at her delivery, and Matthew underscores that point in Matt. 1:25.

The problem of relevance for the word to Ahaz then needs answered.

 

There are four possible explanations as to the meaning of Isaiah 7 for Ahaz.

1) Joseph Addison Alexander argued that the assurance that Christ was to be born in Judah, of its royal family, might be a sign to Ahaz that the kingdom should not perish in his day; and so far was the remoteness of the sign in this case from making it absurd that the further off it was, the stronger the promise of continuance of Judah which it guaranteed. The problem with this response is that it seems to make the relevance of the prophecy turn on the awareness on the part of the original recipients that its fulfillment was to be in the distant future

 

2) J Barton Payne argued that the relevance of the prophecy for the 8th century B.C. was dependent neither upon the immediacy of its fulfillment nor upon Ahaz’s awareness of its distant future fulfillment. He is indicating that, much like the second coming of Jesus, the sign was intended to mean that Ahaz would not know when the fulfillment would occur and is intended to act as a motivating force in his conduct. Payne’s view roots the relevance of the prophecy in the recipients’ lack of awareness of the time of fulfillment. The view seems to cut off 7:14 from the following two verses, as it does not provide an answer to the immediate issue of deliverance.

 

3) A third view finds verses 7:14-15 applicable to Christ, but 7:16 to some other “boy”. Then the other “child” in verse 16 applies to a son born in the time of Isaiah.  Even though there is a article with the word “boy”, hanna’ar, (also in Isa. 8:3-4), would translate verse 16 as “before a boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” This view seems to violate syntactical rules, and would be doubtful to be applied to just any boy in general, and not to the boy just mentioned.

 

4) J. Gresham Machen, among others, argue that sign is not to be restricted to the virgin’s miraculous conception and to the unique character of her Son (7:14) but must include the words of 7:15-16 as well, making the period of the early years the miraculous child’s life the measure of the time of Judah’s dread. In these two verses we are read that the child would “eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.” According to Isaiah 7:21-22, “curds and honey” would be common fare of the remnant who remained in the land after the king of Assyria had assaulted the nation and deported much of its populace. Because of the diminished number of people in the land there would be an abundance of milk, with the result that they will have curds to eat. In other words, this aspect of God’s sign to the House of David warned of a coming period of humiliation that, in light of verse 17, would envelop not only Israel but Judah as well, for a time.  The statement that the marvelous Immanuel Child would eat curds and honey symbolically meant then for Judah that the Immanuel child would identify himself with the remnant people from whom he would eventually come.

            The second part of the prophecy indicated that the time of the humiliation would be short. The time reference from the birth of a child until he knew right from wrong is usually about 12 years in Jewish tradition. So God was saying that within about a 12 year span the humiliation of Judah would come to an end. If 734 B.C. was the approximate date of prophecy then 722 B.C. would have been the date of the end of the humiliation, which by then Samaria and Damascus had been overthrown by the Assyrians.

 

The Implications of the Virgin Birth

-          Was the virgin birth the grounds for Jesus’ sinlessness? (See II Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:15)

-          Since there was no natural union in conception was Jesus not completely human? (See Heb 2:14, 17)

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