“Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah — the king of Assyria. ” (Isaiah 7:10-17) (ESV)
After what has been spoken by Isaiah in verses 7:1-9, The scripture starts in verse 10, with, “Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz.” My conclusions from that is that:
It is a continuation of the same scene. It must be. We are told where Isaiah met Ahaz in order to confront the king. We are told that immediately before verse 10, Isaiah is telling Ahaz to have faith in God, and that to be faithless toward Yahweh the Almighty will result in a far worst predicament for him than the invading armies of Aram and Israel could ever wreak. Having preached to Ahaz, looking for any fruit of faith in the king, Isaiah continues by giving him something in which to believe.
“Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz,” also means that although what was said previous to verse 10 was Isaiah speaking, the prophet was being absolutely faithful to what God had given him to share with Ahaz. It might have been the voice of Isaiah that Ahaz was listening to, but at the base level, it was Yahweh that was speaking. The voice might have sounded earthly, but it was indeed from a heavenly source – so much so that it was God Himself who had spoken, and was speaking. “Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz,” meant again Isaiah spoke the word of the Lord to Ahaz.
The issue is that although the king was one person, and the kingdom over which he reigned was filled with many people, nevertheless, as king, his character, belief system and heart faith was vital to the spiritual powers that overhung the nation of Judah. Ahaz had a role to play in the salvation of Judah. He needed an active, practical and living faith in Yahweh, in order to ensure the security of his throne and his kingdom. This was the very point of Isaiah addressing the king.
“Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
The gravity of Isaiah’s words are seriously phenomenal. In plain twenty first century street language, Isaiah is saying to Ahaz, “Ask literally anything you want as a sign. Invent one. Think of anything as wild as you want it to be. Anything in the sky, or anything in hell where the dead are. Ask God to give you a sign, and ask it now! He will do anything you desire so that you may know that He hears you, and is in complete support of you.”
This sounds like a childish prank on Isaiah’s part, but, according to everything we understand about who he is and what he is, “Ask a sign,” was seriously a solid business instruction from God Himself. The whole line that Isaiah ran by Ahaz was, “Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, ask a sign of me.”
What was the divine motive for such a statement?
On the basis of having read ahead throughout chapters 7-12, it seems plain to this writer that Ahaz had actually made up his mind to ask Assyria to assist him by sorting out Israel and Aram and getting them both off his back. Here we have a fearful Ahaz, king of Judah, threatened with annihilation, and replacement by a substitute king from Aram. Ahaz, is even more terrified by the minute because Israel and Aram are only three days away. Assyria wouldn’t be able to help him, conceivably, for months, or possibly even a year or two, even though Ahaz had possibly already sent off gold and riches to Assyria as payment for their help. If he hasn’t sent the gold and the submissive, “Dear Assyria, I am your slave. Here is my nation’s gold. Please come and help me, and I will worship your god’s,” letter, he has at the very least decided that he is going to lean on Assyria’s beneficence.
Isaiah’s message to Ahaz is, “Don’t worry about Israel and Aram, and definitely don’t even talk to Assyria, or say anything, good or bad, to them. God is your source for being established, and it is His power that will sustain your reign and your kingdom. I know it is difficult for you to see it as clearly as a prophet sees it, so God has authorized you to ask a sign in whatever dimension you wish, in heaven or in hell.”
Isaiah’s words are crystal clear and cannot be mistaken. There is, as far as I can see and understand, absolutely no reason whatsoever for Ahaz to reject the offer – unless he had already made the decision to ask Assyria for help. Of course, if he asked for a sign, and God granted him the sign, Ahaz would then be unmistakably bound to submit to what Isaiah was saying. But he didn’t want to change his mind. He didn’t want Isaiah to think he was above him. Not that Isaiah would ever have thought that he was above the king. But remember, Isaiah is full of God’s own attitude in this little drama, Ahaz is full of his human kingly godless pride.
Although it doesn’t say it specifically in the scriptures, Ahaz had arrogance, pride, and willfulness dominating his world views, as well as deep dark fear for his own life. It is a personal battle to deal with any of these things in small doses, but when they all fell in Ahaz all at the same time, industrial, “extra large” size, and they tyrannically wanted to dominate his life, Ahaz has to make some sort of excuse that will allow him to escape from the pressure of the, “Ask for a sign.”
Ahaz goes all religious about Isaiah’s words. I don’t mean he turns spiritual – that would be positive. I mean he quotes the back end of an important Bible verse in order to get out of the scenario of having to ask for this sign Isaiah is offering him. Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” The point is: If Ahaz asked for and was given a sign he would feel he had to go Isaiah’s way, and THAT is the very thing that he did not want to do. I think that his fear made him cry for vengeance on these two kings that were on their way from the north to destroy him at that very moment .
Imagine the picture. Ahaz says to Isaiah: “I want to see a sign in the heavens. I want the sun to stop, or even go back for a couple of hours, and I also want to see the angels of God all hovering over Jerusalem.” Isaiah then replies, “Good! God will give you what you ask!” The sun goes backwards for two hours, and then the angels appear over Jerusalem. Everybody in the whole world, especially in Jerusalem and Judah are astonished and amazed by it all. And then Ahaz says to Isaiah, “Thank you prophet of God. But I have already made my mind up, I am asking Assyria for help.” It may have been, as I suggested above, that Ahaz would have been in the position to say, “I am sorry, Isaiah!” I have just sent half the wealth of the temple and my palace to Tiglath Pileser, King of Assyria with a groveling letter asking him for his help.” It is a stupid image I ask you to negotiate for a few moments. It could not occur. The sign would have been too astonishing. Ahaz would have been solidly converted in a moment.
But Ahaz did not want to be converted. This son of David did not want to do what God wanted him to do. This king of Judah did not want to concede that God is right, and he was wrong. This Moloch worshipping, child sacrificing monarch wanted all things under his will and control. And so, he justified his evil, demonic unbelief, by quoting the bible. “I will not tempt the Lord.” It was the first we know of, of the fulfillment of what God had told the prophet in Isaiah 6.
Oh dear! Ahaz’s answer did not please the prophet. Isaiah was pushed over the edge. King Ahaz had crossed a line. I see Isaiah stamping his foot, or at least clenching his fist. He looks into the whites of the eyes of the king. “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.”
There is a finality to the issues of the moment that is about to break over the ears of Ahaz. The prophet speaks to the king, as the representative of the royal line. “Is it too little for you to weary men?” This suggests that the general populace were tired of the sad attitude of this Ahaz character that was supposed to be ruling and reigning on the very throne of Great King David. “
Isaiah goes further. “Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?” “Ahaz! You foolish man! The nation is made tired of you. I am tired of you. And now, God Himself is tired of you.” The king is about to be shocked. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.” In other words, “God wants you to know that He is God, He is in charge, and what He is doing on your behalf is in spite of you, not because of you. You show irreverence and unbelief in your attitude to God and refuse to ask for a sign because you want to keep in control of the situation. But God is taking the issue out of your hands and will show you a sign anyhow, whether you like it or not.”
So here we are at the very moment when Isaiah delivered one of the most significant prophecies of the entire body of scripture we call the Bible. The following prophecy of Isaiah has been argued and harangued about for the last 2,700 years. The writers and commentators, both Jewish and Christian have debated and discussed these words, their significance and meaning, until most people take it for granted that unless you are argueing about it, you obviously do not know what you are talking about. The academics do not seem to think there is a final answer.
It is my desire to make my statement about Isaiah 7:14 so clear that my readers will never have to ask questions about this verse ever again.
Firstly a look at a few English versions of Isaiah 7: 14-16.
The Authorised Version states: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he 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 thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.”
To this writers knowledge every single translation of the Bible in English, translated by Christians has the word, “Almah” in the Hebrew translated as, “virgin.” That is all that I can find, bar three. What are the three?
The Expanded Bible has the best of two worlds. “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The ·virgin [or young woman] will be pregnant [conceive] and will have a son, and she will name him Immanuel [“God is with us”]. He will be eating milk curds and honey [ probably because the crops have been destroyed in the invasion] when he learns [by the time he learns; or so that he will learn] to reject what is evil and to choose what is good [ probably ages twelve or thirteen, when he would be accountable to the law; the destruction of Israel would occur in twelve or thirteen years: 722 bc]. But [or For] before the child ·learns[knows] to choose good and reject evil, the lands of the two kings you fear Israel and Aram/Syria]will be ·empty [desolate; laid waste].
The other two odd one’s out are:
The Complete Jewish Bible: “Therefore Adonai himself will give you people a sign: the young woman will become pregnant, bear a son and name him ‘Immanu El [God is with us]. By the time he knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, he will [have to] eat curdled milk and [wild] honey. Yes, before the child knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be left abandoned.”
The Orthodox Jewish Bible; “Therefore Hashem Himself shall give you an ot (sign); Hinei, HaAlmah (the unmarried young virgin) shall conceive, and bear Ben, and shall call Shmo Immanu El (G-d is with us) Curds and honey shall he eat at the time that he knows to refuse the rah, and choose the tov. For before the na’ar (boy) shall understand to refuse the rah, and choose the tov, the adamah (land) will be desolate, of whose two melachim thou art afraid.”
So what is the problem everybody makes out of this verse? The problem is raised by the logic of Higher Critics. These are academics that say Isaiah 7:14 definitely does not say “virgin” in the Hebrew. Yet I have consulted something like 35 English translations of the Bible, including the Orthodox Jewish Bible(OJB), the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) and the newly acclaimed Expanded Bible. The latter three are the only ones that raise the issue.
This writer has a take on all this that I have never read anywhere, nor have I been taught it. This is an understanding that I have arrived out by personal prayer, deduction, and extrapolation. This means, I suspect, that my explanation is unique, and my readers can make their choice or to disagree. I bullet point my statements in a very particular order to make my case.
I believe in the virgin birth of Christ. That is, I believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had not experienced sexual intercourse with Joseph her husband, nor anybody else at the time of Christ’s conception, gestation and birth. The gospel of Matthew (1:23) explains it perfectly. Isaiah 7:14 is used as the prophetic statement to let us know that such a conception, gestation and delivery was foreseen by the prophet Isaiah, even though it is probable that Isaiah did not understand the full meaning of his prophetic word. So regardless of where I am to take your thoughts now, that is my backdrop to the whole issue.
The “sign” that Isaiah was talking about was a sign to influence King Ahaz towards an active devout faith in God. He refused to ask for a sign for his own purposes, that is, he wanted Assyria to wreak vengeance on Aram and Israel. His stubbornness had spawned an attempt to escape having a supernatural sign from God, which would openly and publicly illegitimatise his leaning on Assyria. For that reason, the sign God was announcing through the mouth of Isaiah had to be something that was relevant to Ahaz in Isaiah’s “here and now.” A sign that was not to take place for 700 plus years hardly fits the bill. How could Ahaz have been impressed at all by the prediction of a sign that would not be fulfilled even in his own life time. The whole point of the sign was to cause Ahaz to believe God’s word through Isaiah that had just been spoken in 7:1-9, so that he would not be interested in asking Assyria to help, and in the process pay them gold from the palace and the temple, as well as lose his own soul to faithlessness and damnation. So how do we handle this promise of a virgin giving birth to Immanuel, a scripture that many Christians feel to be sacrilege to apply it to anybody else but Mary the mother of Jesus.
The answer is, of course, explained by our previous paper entitled, “The Phenomena of Plural Fulfilment, Meaning and Emphasis for a single Prophecy.” There must have been a fulfilment that was almost immediate to make the point to Ahaz, as well as the fulfilment to Mary as clearly explained and stated in Matthew’s gospel.
The virgin birth of Christ was, of course, a one off. It had not in any way happened previous to Mary’s conceiving of the Holy Spirit, and I assert, will never ever occur again. For this to be true, the Hebrew word, “Almah,” that is translated, “virgin,” in Isaiah 7:14 has to have an alternative possible meaning, for under no circumstances whatsoever could there have been a “virgin birth,” as per Mary with Christ, in Isaiah’s day or in the lifetime of Ahaz. If the words of Isaiah 7:14 have a double fulfilment, and they must do, there needs to be at least one other understanding of the word “Almah.” If Isaiah had used the word, “Bethulah.” Which strictly has the singular and sole meaning of, “virgin,” there could not possibly have been a double fulfilment. But, there had to be a double fulfilment for the prophecy to make sense to Ahaz.
The truth is that all the higher critics use the word, “Almah,” in Isaiah 7:14 in order to abuse the New Testament teaching concerning the virgin birth, and the use of Isaiah 7:14 as Luke’s proof text. But this writer argues that it had to be a slightly weaker word than Bethulah in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled as relevant to the immediate stronghold of the unbelief of King Ahaz.
The issue then is raised; Who is the Almah, maiden that the immediate fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14 refers to? In order for it to be relevant to Ahaz, it needed to be fulfilled almost immediately. Many academics offer ideas like it would have been one of the ladies in the harem of Ahaz. In those days, I am told, when a king had a harem he kept his ladies in two separate halls of residence. One was for the those who were registered as “Alma.” Once the king had slept with a woman she was transferred to the hall of the “concubines.” This sounds like a great settling of the question if only we were assured, and had some biblical assurance that Ahaz had a harem.
This writer believes that any idea of any conception or birth that would result in the fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14 must be recorded somewhere in the book of Isaiah. I might even have accepted the claim of such a fulfilment if there was a child born whose birth was recorded in the books of Kings or Chronicles. To state that “it must have been,” without being noted by the prophet seems to destroy the whole point. If Isaiah made a prophetic statement that demanded, by the very nature of its content, an almost immediate fulfilment, this writer cannot possibly accept that it was fulfilled without Isaiah making a note of it in his writings.
The only almost immediate conception that Isaiah talks about is the male child he had with his wife, “the prophetess,” a child whom he named, “Maher Shalal Hashbaz.” The name meant, literally, “Get the booty quickly.” This was a prophetic word concerning Assyria’s hasty work in wiping Aram and Israel off the face of the map. I personally have no doubt, whatsoever, that the double fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14 consists of Isaiah’s wife being gently and lovingly referred to by Isaiah as the “Alma,” and “Maher Shalal Hashbaz” being the sign to King Ahaz that Israel and Aram were going to be utterly removed. It was to be a sign to Ahaz that before this child could properly eat or speak, Israel and Aram would be history.
The necessity of the double fulfilment is obvious by the full statement of what Isaiah said about the world scene before the child was very old. One translation has it as, “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.” It is our understanding that approximately 14 years at the most after Isaiah had prophesied 7:14 in the face of King Ahaz, Israel was no more, and the entire nation of Aram also had been exiled and transported to a place called Kir.
The glorious truth contained in the Messianic fulfilment of 7:14, therefore, is neither diluted nor rationalised by the fact that the word Alma is used. The meaning of the word Immanuel has literal and plain connotations when referring to Christ. He was God and He was man. Immanuel – God with us – was a perfect statement when referring to the son of Mary. Maher Shalal Hashbaz, was a sign that God was indeed with Judah, for his prophetic name ensured the fact that Assyria was about to take battle action against Israel and Aram and hastily take the booty. It was all going to happen “suddenly.”
Ahaz shamed himself by his unbelief and rebellion against the word from heaven delivered by Isaiah. Yahweh, Almighty God, had brought Israel into being. Ahaz was himself king only because of the will and purpose of the God that he refused to believe. However, God deserves to be believed because of who and what He is by nature. Paul wrote to Titus of, “God that cannot lie.” The immutable truthfulness and veracity of all God’s words, motives and actions is an issue that permeates the entire biblical text from Genesis to Revelation. Yahweh is God. Being God, He cannot lie. His Word always has been true. He has no motive for being untrue. The honour of God is involved in His veracity. This might be new and strange to some ears in the twenty first century, but believe me, it was common place and staple to Jewish culture and their concept of the God of Israel.
Today, we do not ask a sign of God that He will give us the victory in our warfare, and success in our work for Him. He gives it without asking. We believe without a sign. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. ” But if God offered us a sign we would not refuse it. Ahaz did. He said, suddenly posing as a saintly God fearing man, “No, I will not tempt God.” When God offers us a sign it is not reverence to refuse it; in fact, I would say it is gross irreverence. But He has granted us the best sign of all, the sign to which I do not doubt that Isaiah made reference, even though I am almost sure he knew next to nothing of the matter of which he spoke. Christ has come. God has come, for Christ is God. “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. ”
There are those who just will not believe God. That is clear by the rationale expressed in the text: “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. ” Believing is a matter of the will. God’s grace works faith, not upon us, but in us. God works in us to will and to do; and in the willing He leads us up to believing. We voluntarily believe; and certainly, men can also voluntarily disbelieve.
Isaiah had spoken clearly and gravely to Ahaz. Isaiah was the Watchman of Judah, and especially of the king. Isaiah was the gatekeeper of the access that godless King Ahaz had to his destiny. Of course, it goes without saying that all prophets are watchmen to the greater or lesser degree of their prophetic gift. When Isaiah wrote 21: 8 saying, “And the lookout shouted, “Day after day, my lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post,” even though there is a context to the statement, it defines both the meaning of Watchman, and the task that Isaiah fulfilled. Habakkuk says it more pointedly; ” I will enter upon my watch, and set myself on the watch tower, and will watch carefully so as to see what He will say to me” (Hab. 2:1).
From the highly placed spiritual look out tower of insight and perception, things are given them by a direct act of God because they have an eye for what is going on in the present: ‘Watchmen have I set over you, and warned you: heed the sound of the trumpet” (Jer. 6:17).
As men that were part of history, and truly were making history, they speak in historical settings to men of that history in an attempt to change where their future was going. As members of their contemporary age they address themselves to their generation, starting with their then situation which was evil when looked at from different perspectives. So, they are at once the watchmen of the people and of their time, the exhorters of the nation (Isaiah 3:17). Isaiah was, in a humanly unofficial way, but in a divinely official post, the supervisory overseer, come royal aide of the ruling kings of his time. Isaiah was the “tender hearted conscience” of the community of Judah, Jerusalem and the royal court and the king. Isaiah was, as other prophets claimed to be, a guardian and “shepherd” of God’s people Judah (Zechariah 10:2-3; 11:3,16-17; Ezekiel 34:2).
But as the watching eyes of God, and the speaking voice of God, Isaiah looks out into the future and sees judgment (Isaiah 21:5-12) and the consummation of all things.
Prophets are also men of God. They are bodies, personalities and human souls consecrated to God. Erich Sauer says; “Unsanctified prophets (such as Balaam, Num. 22-24; and Saul, I Sam. 19, 23;. See also Caiaphas, John 11:51, and Phil. 1:15, 18) are exceptions and are never God’s permanent servants. For God desires the heart, not only the mouth; the worker, not only his work.”
But as “men of God” they are also individuals whose humanity, personality and idiosyncrasies are sanctified, used by God and noted by their readers. God will not set aside human nature but He transfigures, sanctifies and resurrects it. He wishes not its elimination but its radicalisation in use in His service.
So we have the strong, poetic expansive language of the choleric Isaiah. His heavenly message often conditioned by contemporaneous affairs. Isaiah’s burden and prophecy is no mere Ivory tower, distant voice removed from reality At many points, there is allusion to events and persons of Isaiah’s present or near future. From a definite situation Isaiah speaks to men in definite situations. Isaiah often draws from his surroundings the shapes and colours for the presentation of his message. Everything is historically conditioned and yet at the same time interpenetrated with eternity. All is at once contemporary, yet future, divine in his humanity, temporary, yet permanent. These Hebrew prophets, and I mean all of them, are men who loved with glory in their souls.
We have here in Isaiah chapters 7-12 the prophet speaking of the Assyrian coming distress and at the same time of Messiah Immanuel (Isa. 7-12; Matt. 1:23). He speaks of the exodus from Egypt and the mourning at Ramah, on the carrying away to Babylon; and at the same time prophesies of the history of the Messiah’s childhood (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2: 15; Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:17, 18). Isaiah speaks of the return from exile and simultaneously promises the gathering of Israel at the still future inauguration of the kingdom of peace (Isaiah 11: 11-16). The evangelical Old Testament prophet speaks of the coming kingdom of God of the End time and simultaneously depicts the glory of the new earth and of the final perfecting of all things (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 54:11, 12.).
So Isaiah prophesies great world changing realities, way in advance of their historical date. Isaiah 7:14 is considered by some as the greatest of all prophetic messages.
- King Ahaz of Judah. War between King Ahaz and Pekah (KJV). 2 Chronicles 28. (bummyla.wordpress.com)
- 36. Hearing the heartbeat and voice of Christ. (thelonghaulwithisaiah.wordpress.com)
- The First Immanuel (924jeremiah.wordpress.com)
- Isaiah Contents Page (thelonghaulwithisaiah.wordpress.com)
- 42. His Royal Unmajestic King Ahaz ben Jotham, a shame to the House of David (thelonghaulwithisaiah.wordpress.com)