By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
(Read Part 3)
With a thorough understanding of the background and setting in place, we now move directly toward considering the first of Isaiah’s major Christmas prophecies.
Isaiah 7:10 begins a new section in our text with another astounding demonstration of the grace of God, who again condescends to speak to the wicked King Ahaz through Isaiah.
Not only did God communicate with Ahaz, but he offered him the opportunity do something that most of us have wished for—the opportunity to “ask a sign” (v. 11).
Ahaz’s much more godly son Hezekiah (cf. 2 Chron. 29:2) would surely one day appreciate his opportunity to see “a sign” (cf. 2 Chron. 32:24; Isa. 38:7-8). The Apostle Paul tells us, in fact, that this is inherent in the Jewish thought process (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22).
However, few signs in the history of the world would ultimately compare with the one that Isaiah was about to foretell. Ahaz was first given the ability to “ask it either in the depth or in the height above” (Isa. 7:11).
Imagine it! Ahaz was given the choice to ask for anything he wanted as a sign “from the LORD your God” (Isa. 7:11).
But his fear caused Ahaz to reject this amazing proposal altogether—hiding his unbelief within a pretentious cloak (Isa. 7:12).
Since Ahaz neglected this tremendous opportunity to offer his personal input, Isaiah instead provided a sign to the “house of David” (v. 13).
After giving Ahaz a well-deserved rebuke, Isaiah unleashes one of the greatest prophecies in all of Holy Scripture.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).
A specific “virgin” would have a Son whose name would mean, “God with us” (cf. Isa. 8:8, 10).
Isaiah’s prophecy adds incredible depth to the first prophecy ever given to “the woman” in Genesis 3:15, and it would find its fulfillment in the birth of the Savior according to Matthew 1:18-25.
Two intertwined issues govern our basic understanding of this passage.
The questions before us are these: (1) Is the word “virgin” restricted to its obvious meaning? and (2) Is there one (or more than one) possible fulfillment of this prophecy?
Higher-critical attacks upon the Bible and the doctrine of the virgin birth brought new questions to bear on this text, and the results have yielded a multitude of opinions.
Dr. Ed Hindson gives important background that helps us to understand these issues in context:
Historically, the Christian church has interpreted Isaiah 7:14 as a messianic prediction. Only after a barrage of critical attempts to reject that interpretation did evangelicals switch to the so-called ‘double fulfillment’ view of this passage as an attempted compromise between the two positions. Like most compromise views, it created more problems than it solved… While the question of Immanuel’s identification is still debated, more evangelicals than ever are returning to the single fulfillment view of Isaiah 7:14 as a messianic prediction of the virgin birth of Christ… Isaiah’s Immanuel was not just a sign of his times—he was truly THE SIGN OF THE AGES!
The idea of this prophecy requiring only one fulfillment goes hand-in-hand with taking the meaning of the word “virgin” at face value. Indeed, as Hindson clarifies: “Usage indicates that ‘almah is the most correct term to use to signify an unmarried virgin.”
Two recent study Bibles illustrate the variation in thought to which Hindson referred above.
The NIV Zondervan Study Bible includes both the idea of a double fulfillment of this prophecy and the corresponding need to soften the meaning of the word “virgin” when it states:
The Hebrew word is not the technical term meaning ‘virgin.’ Isaiah uses this more ambiguous term because of the double reference of this sign. In its immediate reference the virginity of the mother is not the most significant point.
The ESV Study Bible, while also allowing for two fulfillments of this prophecy (which it more correctly refers to as “double fulfillment” [rather than double reference]), nevertheless includes a much more helpful discussion of the word for “virgin” when it states:
Although some claim that the word translated virgin (Hb. ‘almah) refers generally to a ‘young woman,’ it actually refers specifically to a ‘maiden’—that is, to a young woman who is unmarried and sexually chaste, and thus has virginity as one of her characteristics (see. Gen. 24:16, 43; Ex. 2:8, ‘girl’). Thus when the Septuagint translators, 200 years before the birth of Christ, rendered ‘almah here with Greek parthenos (a specific term for ‘virgin’) they rightly perceived the meaning of the Hebrew term; and when Matthew applied this prophecy to the virgin birth of Christ (see Matt. 1:23), it was in accord with this well-established understanding of parthenos (‘virgin’) as used in the Septuagint and in other Greek writers.
The MacArthur Study Bible sums up succinctly:
The Hebrew word refers to an unmarried woman and means ‘virgin’ (Gen. 24:43; Prov. 30:19; Song 1:3; 6:8), so the birth of Isaiah’s own son (Isa. 8:3) could not have fully satisfied the prophecy.
In grace, God shortly provided an immediate visual aid (not a fulfillment) of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 through the birth of Isaiah’s son in Isaiah 8:1-4 (8:4; cf 7:16).
He also reminded Judah that her trust must be in the sovereign owner of the “land”—which is “Immanuel” (Isa. 8:8, 10; cf. Gen. 12:7).
The fulfillment of this sign, however, could only take place through the incarnation of Jesus Christ—the second Person of the eternal Godhead, who also became man in order to be our Savior. He was born to a young woman who was still a virgin at the time of that birth. This is the greatest sign that you will ever behold, and it is recorded for you in God’s eternal Word.
May it guide you to the Savior this Christmas.
(Read Part 5)
Copyright © 2015 Dispensational Publishing House, Inc.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Edward E. Hindson, Isaiah’s Immanuel (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), p. ix, x.
 Ibid., 42.
 D.A. Carson, general editor, NIV Zondervan Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), p. 1,333.
 Lane T. Dennis, executive editor, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), p. 1,255.
 Ibid., p. 1,254.
 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible ESV (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), p. 947.
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