I. The Sign of the Virgin
During Christmas and Advent celebrations we focus much on the family of the Messiah or in our language the Christ. But liberal scholarship has been trying to make a point of the plain human and non-divine nature of the Messiah.
Topic: Proper understanding and ability to defend the virgin birth.
Complement: Believers who do not understand Messianic prophesies are missing an important part of their sanctification knowledge.
1A The Controversy
Isaiah 7:13-14 is a prophecy concerning the virgin conception and the birth of the Messiah. This is perhaps the most controversial of the messianic prophecies and therefore requires a closer textual analysis than others. The exact meaning of this passage is disputed by rabbis, liberal theologians, and even by some evangelical theologians.
1B The passage talks of “a sign: The virgin will be with child...” There are two areas of controversy here:
1C. The sign:
Since the context of the chapter requires a short range prophecy – giving a sign to King Ahaz – how can this be applied to the birth of a child some 700 years later, as claimed in Matthew 1:22-23?
2C. The Hebrew word “almah”: Does it really mean a virgin, or simply a young unmarried woman? We will deal with both of these contentious issues before proceeding to discuss the passage itself.
2B Hermeneutics and why does it matter?
Since Isaiah 7:13-14 requires an immediate sign to King Ahaz, many Evangelicals have taken this verse to be an example of “double fulfillment.” This principle states that a prophecy may have more than one fulfillment. This verse may, accordingly, be both a sign for King Ahaz and the sign in Matthew 1:22-23 for the birth of Jesus.
1C This author does not accept the principle of double fulfillment either here or in any other place in the Bible. If this principle were true, there would be no real need for the virgin birth at all.
2C There is another, better principle of biblical interpretation which is “double reference.” This principle states that one block of Scripture dealing with one person, one event, one time, may be followed by another block of Scripture dealing with a different person, place, and time, without making any clear distinction between the two blocks or indicating that there is a gap of time between the two blocks. The act of a gap of time is known only from other Scriptures.
3C There are, therefore, two separate prophecies side by-side each having their own fulfillment, but with only one fulfillment per prophecy. “Double Fulfillment” states that one prophecy can have two fulfillments. “Double Reference” states that the one piece of Scripture actually contains two prophecies, each having its own fulfillment. Isaiah 7:13-17 contains two quite separate prophecies with different purposes, and having different fulfillments at different times.
3B The Hebrew Word Almah
The major debate, of course, is over the exact meaning of the Hebrew word almah, translated here as virgin. In describing a young woman, there are three Hebrew words which Isaiah could have used:
Na’a’rah means “damsel” and can refer to either a virgin (as in I Kings 1:2), or a non-virgin (as in Ruth 2:6).
This is commonly considered to mean a virgin, exclusively. It is argued that if Isaiah had really meant to say a virgin, the he would have used this word. It is true that this word is often used to mean virgin, but not always. For example:
1D In Joel 1:8 it is used in reference to a widow.
2D In Genesis 24:16, because the word does not exclusively mean “virgin” the writer adds the phrase “had never known a man” in order to clarify what he means.
3D Again in Judges the phrase “had not known a man” has to be added to give the precise meaning.
Almah means “a virgin,” “a young virgin,” a “virgin of marriageable age.” This word is used seven times in the Hebrew Scriptures and not once is it used to describe a married woman; this point is not debated.
1D Genesis 24:43. In contrast to 24:16 mentioned above, verse 43 requires no additional qualifying remarks since the one word alone is sufficient to mean “virgin.” Furthermore, it is used of Rebekah who was obviously a virgin at the time of her marriage to Isaac.
2D Exodus 2:8. Used in reference to Moses’ sister Miriam, who was a virgin.
3D Psalm 68:25. Used in reference to the royal procession of virgins. Since the King in this context is God Himself, absolute virginity is required; it is unthinkable that God would allow unchaste, unmarried women in His procession.
4D Song of Songs 1:3. The context here is purity in marriage.
5D Song of Songs 6:8. The word is used here in contrast to wives and concubines who would obviously be non-virgins.
6D Proverbs 30:18-19. The word is used in verse 19 in contrast to an adulteress in verse 20.
7D Isaiah 7:14. Since all of the above six verses mean “a virgin,” what reason is there for making Isaiah 7:14 the only exception?
Since everyone agrees that almah means an unmarried woman, if the woman in Isaiah were a non-virgin, then God would be promising a sign involving fornication and illegitimacy. It is unthinkable that God would sanction sin, and in any case, what would be so unusual about an illegitimate baby that could possibly constitute a sign?
As far as ancient Jewish writers were concerned, there was no argument about Isaiah 7:14 predicting a virgin birth. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures made about 200 B.C., 200 years before the issue of Jesus’ Messiahship ever arose. The Jews who made this translation, living much closer to the times of Isaiah than we do today, translated Isaiah using the Greek word partheno" which very clearly and exclusively means a virgin. There can therefore be no doubt that the unique event which God is promising as a sign, is the miraculous conception of a son by a girl who is still a virgin.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:4
Why the extended treatment of the context surrounding this verse? In preparing to apply this passage we need to understand what God was saying to Ahaz and why it is important to defending the virgin birth.
II. Satanic Activity to Destroy the Messiah
2A The Threat to the House of David – 7: 1-2
At this point in history there was an empire arising which was threatening the smaller kingdoms of the
Among these smaller kingdoms was
This, then, is a direct attack upon God’s eternal covenant with David. It is therefore doomed to failure. (The Davidic Covenant is discussed under 1 Chronicles 17:10b-14 in the section on The Writings.)
3A The Message to Ahaz – 7:3-9
Ahaz is not a worshipper of the one true God, but has fallen into idolatry and is very much afraid of the approaching attack (verse 2). In verses 3-9 God gives a message to Ahaz. In verse 3, Isaiah is commissioned to meet with Ahaz, who is inspecting water supplies in preparation for a siege. Isaiah is also to take his son with him. His son is called Shear Jashub, meaning “a remnant will return.” The reason for taking his son is not explained until verses 15-16.
In verses 4-6 the message is given, describing the plot and telling Ahaz not to be afraid. The plot consists of overthrowing Ahaz and replacing him with the son of Tabeel. Isaiah was a master of the Hebrew language and loved playing word games. He does so here in verse 6. Tabeel means “God is good.” By altering the vowel pattern very slightly, Isaiah changes this to mean “good for nothing.” The one that means “God is good” will prove to be “good for nothing.” Because of the Davidic Covenant, no conspiracy against the House of David can ever succeed. God clearly states this in verse 7, and in verses 8-9 God will judge the two kinds involved in the conspiracy.
4A The Signs of Deliverance – -17
1B The offer of a Sign – -11
Ahaz, however, is an idolater who does not trust in God and has made his own arrangements. He has sent letters and gifts to the Assyrian Emperor, asking for assistance in his defense against these two kings. He has greater faith in the Assyrian Empire than in the god of
2B The Rejection of the Offer –
In response, the idolatrous Ahaz suddenly becomes very spiritual. In verse 12 he refuses to “test” God or “tempt” Him. This is a reference to Deuteronomy 6:16, but he misapplies it. Nevertheless, it is evident that even in idolatry; Ahaz was not ignorant of the true God! Deuteronomy warns against asking for a sign, but here God is offering a sign and Ahaz is invited to respond. Ahaz does not want a sign, lest it come to pass, and he be forced to abandon his alliance with
3B The Sign to the House of David – -14
In verse 13, Isaiah turns from addressing Ahaz as an individual and addresses the entire House of David. The English language does not distinguish between “you” addressed to one person and “you” addressed to many people. In Hebrew there is a difference, and there is a clear change between the singular “you” of verses 9,11,16,17 and plural “you” of verses 13-14. The sign therefore is not just for Ahaz, but for the whole House of David. This becomes clearer if we state the passage again with the singular [s] and plural [pl] words indicated.
7:9 …and the head of Ephraim is
1C In verse 14, the Hebrew word for “behold” is a word which draws attention to an event which could be past, present or future. However, grammatically, whenever “behold” is used with the Hebrew present participle, it always refers to a future event. That is the case here. Not only is the birth future, but the very conception is future. This is not referring to a pregnant woman about to give birth.
2C The text specifically says “the virgin” (the NIV and NKJV are correct at this point; the NASB like most translations says “a virgin,” which is quite wrong.) According to the rules of Hebrew grammar, when finding the use of a definite article (the), the reader should look for a reference in the immediate previous context. Having followed the passage from chapter 7:1, there has been no mention of any woman. Having failed with the immediate context, the second rule is the “principle of previous reference,” something which has been dealt with much earlier and is common knowledge among the people. Where in Jewish Scripture or tradition is there any concept of t “the virgin giving birth to a son”? The only possible reference is to Genesis 3:15. Contrary to the biblical norm, the Messiah would be reckoned after the Seed of the Woman. Why? Because He would have no human father; His would be a virgin conception and birth.
3C The key point of this should not be missed. God is promising that the House of David cannot be deposed or lose its identity until the birth of a virgin-born son. Again, the requires that Messiah be born prior to the destruction of the
4B The Sign to Ahaz – -17
Having concluded that Isaiah 7:12-14 is a long range prophecy concerning the birth of Messiah, that still leaves a problem. What about Ahaz? An event 700 years in the future is of little significance to him. There is however a second sign in verses 15-17, and this time it is specifically for Ahaz. The “you” in verse 16 is again singular, meaning Ahaz. Before Isaiah’s son is old enough to make moral distinctions between right and wrong, the kings of
III. Summary and Application of Isaiah 7: 1-17
In Isaiah chapter 7, King Ahaz, the King of Judah, is under threat of attack. This threat is not only to him personally but to the whole House of David. Through the Prophet Isaiah, God tells King Ahaz to be at peace and to be unafraid. Two reasons are given, two signs which guarabtee God’s promise of security. The first sign, in verses 13 and 14, is that no attempt to destroy the House of David will succeed until the birth of a virgin-born son. The term “virgin” is required both by the Hebrew vocabulary and the context. The second sign, in verses 15 and 16, is given to Ahaz personally. God promises that the attack upon him by
Isaiah and the context of this passage teach us that:
1. The Messiah would be born of a girl who is still a virgin; the explanation of Genesis
2. Messiah will be the God-Man
3. Messiah will be a King
4. Messiah must be born prior to the destruction of the
The many Jews missed the coming of the Messiah because they did not know the scriptures. May we continue to look diligently into the Bible to see and be watchful for the coming King who was born in a manger in