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Go to Bible: Isaiah 7
|Isa 7:1||- (top)|
“his heart trembled.” This is referring to the king of Judah, Ahaz. There is good reason Ahaz’s heart—and also the hearts of the people of Israel—trembled when he heard that Syria was allied with “Ephraim” (Israel). At this point in history, Israel and Syria were both larger nations than Ahaz’s country of Judah, and the fact that they had allied themselves against him ostensibly mean his doom and the end of Judah. In fact, Syria and Israel were so confident of victory in a war that they had already picked a person to be the new king of Judah, the son of Tabeel (or “Ben-Tabeel”).
“Ephraim” was the most prominent and powerful tribe in the nation of “Israel,” and so in this context “Ephraim” stands for the whole country of Israel. Technically, this is the figure of speech synecdoche of the part, when a part is put for the whole. Ephraim was often put for the country of Israel although at other times Ephraim had more of the connotation of Samaria, the capital of Israel because that was where the king lived and thus it was the center of corruption and idolatry (cp. Isa. 7:2, 5, 8; 11:13; 17:3; Jer. 7:15; 31:9; Hos. 6:4; Zech. 9:10). Also, although technically the city of Samaria was in the tribal area of Manasseh, the fact that Ephraim and Manasseh were both “the tribe of Joseph” (Deut. 33:13; Josh. 17:14-18; 18:5; Judg. 1:22), the fact that the exact boundaries between the tribes were often ignored, and the prominence of Ephraim such that often all Israel was called “Ephraim,” led to the city of Samaria being referred to as being part of Ephraim (cp. Isa. 7:9).(top)
“upper pool.” As the population of Jerusalem grew and expanded north from its only natural water source, the Gihon Spring, aqueducts and huge cisterns were needed to provide water for the population. Today there are huge pools outside of Jerusalem that used to supply water to the city, but although they are called “Solomon’s pools,” Solomon did not build them.(top)
|Isa 7:4||- (top)|
“Because Syria.” This starts a three-verse sentence that ends in Isaiah 7:7. The Syrians and Israel made assertions (Isa. 7:6), but Yahweh made His assertion (Isa. 7:7), which is what mattered in the end.(top)
“even the son of Tabeel.” In their arrogance and confidence of their victory, Syria and Israel had already chosen the king they would appoint over Judah. But their plan failed and God’s plan succeeded.(top)
|Isa 7:7||- (top)|
“the head of Syria is Damascus.” The “head,” the capital city, of Syria, was Damascus, and the king of Damascus was Rezin.(top)
“the head of Ephraim is Samaria.” The capital city of “Ephraim” (Israel), is Samaria (see commentary on Isa. 7:2). And the king in Samaria was Pekah, the son of Remaliah.(top)
|Isa 7:10||- (top)|
|Isa 7:11||- (top)|
“I will not ask.” This sounds very holy, but actually Ahaz was hoping to deceive Isaiah. Ahaz did not think he needed a sign from Yahweh that Syria and Israel would be defeated in a war because he had already taken the gold and silver from the Temple and hired Tiglath Pileser, the king of Assyria, to attack Syria and Israel. Tiglath Pileser attacked and conquered Syria in 732 BC, during the reign of Pekah of Israel and Ahaz of Judah. Later, after the reign of Pekah and during the reign of Hoshea, the Assyrian king Shalmanezzar, who succeeded Tiglath Peleser, conquered Israel and deported the people about 722 BC.
But God knew of Ahaz’s attempted deception and his plot to hire the Assyrians, as we see in Isaiah 7:13, and God gave Ahaz a sign of victory anyway (Isa. 7:14-16).(top)
“And he said.” That is, Isaiah the prophet said.(top)
“the young woman.” Isaiah 7:14 has much in it is that is unclear, which make sense when we realize that it is a prophecy with two separate fulfillments separated by over 700 years. It was a prophecy about a young woman in the time of Isaiah and Ahaz, and it was a prophecy about the birth of Jesus Christ.
Although many English versions of the Bible have “virgin” instead of “young woman,” the Hebrew word is `almah (#05959 עַלְמָה), and it refers to a young woman, either of marriageable age but not yet married (and therefore presumably a virgin), or a young woman who is married. Whether an `almah is a virgin or not gets determined from the context, but the immediate context of Isaiah 7:14 is not completely clear. The text note in the NET states: “Though the Hebrew word used here עַלְמָה), 'almah( can sometimes refer to a woman who is a virgin (Gen 24:43), it does not carry this meaning inherently. The word is simply the feminine form of the corresponding masculine noun ) עֶלֶם'elem, ‘young man’; cf. 1 Sam 17:56; 20:22(. The Aramaic and Ugaritic cognate terms are both used of women who are not virgins. The word seems to pertain to age, not sexual experience, and would normally be translated ‘young woman.’” Also, there is a Hebrew word that more clearly means “virgin,” bethulah (#01330 בְּתוּלָה; although even bethulah does not always mean “virgin” (cp. Gary Smith; The New American Commentary)) so if God had wanted to more clearly say “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, He could have. There are no examples in the Old Testament, however, that use 'almah of a married woman, which is probably why the Septuagint used parthenos, usually understood as “virgin,” in their translation of Isaiah (for more on the use of “virgin,” see commentary on Matt. 1:23).
There is good evidence that in Isaiah 7:14, 'almah should be translated “young woman” and not “virgin.” One is that the “sign” of the young woman was specifically given to Ahaz that Israel and Syria would be shortly defeated in war. Isaiah said, “…the Lord himself will give you [king Ahaz] a sign. Behold, the young woman will conceive and bear a son, and will call his name Immanuel...before the child knows to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you abhor [Israel and Syria] will be forsaken” (Isa. 7:14, 16). That event took place around 730 BC, long before Christ was born. This is also supported by the fact that Isaiah said to Ahaz, “the young woman,” not “a young woman,” indicating a young woman that they were aware of.
Some of the best evidence that Isaiah 7:14 does not specifically refer to a virgin birth is in the text of the Bible itself. We have just seen that the “sign” was for Ahaz in his time, about 730 BC, and so the birth that occurred at that time was not a virgin birth. Also, Ahaz was not surprised when Isaiah spoke of the “young woman,” but he well might have been if Isaiah had said “virgin.” Even better evidence that Isaiah 7:14 refers to a “young woman” and not a “virgin” comes from the fact that no one in the New Testament times was expecting a virgin birth. Mary and Joseph were both God-fearing people, and neither of them were (Matt. 1:18-21; Luke 1:34). The experts in the Old Testament were not either, and so accused Jesus of having been born out of wedlock as a bastard child (John 8:41). If the Old Testament had clearly foretold a virgin birth, then people, especially a godly woman from the line of David like Mary, would have been expecting to be able to get pregnant without a husband involved.
We should note, however, that translating Isaiah 7:14 as “young woman” does not forbid a virgin birth, it just does not clearly foretell one. Thus, the “young woman” who gave birth to the Messiah, Mary, turned out to be a virgin, as we see in the New Testament. A growing number of English versions have “young woman” and not “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 (cp. BBE; CEB; CJB; JPS; Moffatt Bible; NAB; NEB; NET; NJB; NRSV; RSV; TNK).
To add to the ambiguity in Isaiah 7:14, the Hebrew text can be translated as a future tense verb, “the young woman will become pregnant” (CJB; cp. HCSB; JPS; NASAB; NET; NIV), or as a present tense verb, “the young woman is pregnant” (CEB; cp. BBE; NAB; NJB; NRSV). Just as with the word “young woman,” this double possibility of translating the verb opens the door for the double fulfillment of the prophecy. In Isaiah’s time, the woman was most likely already pregnant, although her getting pregnant may still have been in the very near future, and in any case her getting pregnant soon would have been a sign to Ahaz, whereas when used as a prophecy of the birth of the Messiah, the pregnancy was in the future.
Messianic prophecies sometimes involve a double fulfillment, just as we see here in Isaiah, and require an understanding of the history of Israel and the complexity of the text to see and appreciate. It is amazing that God could give king Ahaz a prophecy that his kingdom, and thus the line of David, would be rescued from his enemies, and at that same time give a much more hidden prophecy about the Greater David, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“will conceive.” The Hebrew text is unclear because it can be translated either “is pregnant,” or “will conceive.” The whole temporality of the verse is in question because the verse can be translated “the young woman, pregnant, is bearing a son,” or, “the young woman, pregnant, is about to bear a son” (cp. NAB).
“will call.” The Hebrew verb is feminine, and thus could be translated, “she will call.”
“Immanuel.” Some people believe that because Jesus was to be called Immanuel (meaning “God with us”) that he must therefore be God incarnate. That is not the case. The name “Immanuel” means “God with us,” and it was symbolic of the fact that God would be with His people to support and deliver them. The name “Immanuel” fits the double prophecy well both at the time of Isaiah and at the time of Jesus.
In the time of Ahaz and Isaiah, things looked bad for Judah. Syria and Israel were both larger nations than Judah, and Judah would not stand much of a chance in a war against them. But Isaiah foretold Judah’s deliverance, bolstered by the fact that God would be with them to deliver them, symbolized by the birth of a child who would be named “Immanuel,” and indeed God was with Judah and they were delivered from the enemy. Then, more than 700 years later, at the birth of Christ, the name Immanuel was again symbolic and appropriate because God was working powerfully in Christ to support and deliver His people and make salvation available to everyone, which Jesus did.
[For more information on this verse, which is quoted in Matthew, including more on the name “Immanuel,” see the commentary on Matthew 1:23. For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?”].(top)
|Isa 7:15||- (top)|
|Isa 7:16||- (top)|
“Ephraim separated from Judah.” The United Kingdom of Israel that was established and ruled by Saul, then David, then Solomon, split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah after the death of Solomon (c. 940 BC; 1 Kings 12). Since Isaiah gave this prophecy to king Ahaz, it was during his reign and thus between 740 and 726 BC.(top)
|Isa 7:18||- (top)|
“the water holes.” The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain, which explains the huge diversity of translations. The REV translation is taken from the primary meaning in the HALOT Hebrew-English Lexicon.(top)
“razor.” Israel had sinned against God for centuires, and Isaiah foretold that they would be “shaved” by the Assyrians in many ways. As it turned out, the Assyrians burned their cities and took the people and valuables captive to Assyria. Isaiah foretold that the extent of the destruction and disgrace would be almost unimaginable, and God personalized it by a picture of a person’s humiliation and defeat if an enemy captured a man (or woman) and shaved off the hair of the head and the genitals, and for a man, also the beard, all of which would be horribly disgraceful in that culture.
“feet.” Here “feet” it is an idiom, and used euphemistically for the genital organs. Isaiah 7:20 is a prophecy that when the Assyrians conquer Israel and take the people captive they will “shave the hair of the feet.” It is unfortunate that many versions say “shave the hair of the legs,” which misses the point entirely. Why would people shave the legs of their captives? The captives were led away “naked and barefoot” and “with buttocks bared” (Isa. 20:4). Isaiah was saying that not only will these captives be carried away naked with their buttocks exposed, but they would suffer the humiliation of having their pubic hair shaved by their Assyrian enemies. In Isaiah 47:2, which is a prophecy of when the Persians will carry the Babylonian women away captive, they will be stripped naked and their “thigh” will be uncovered, “thigh” being another sexual euphemism for the genitalia (see commentary on Isa. 47:2).
It was quite common that captives were stripped naked to humiliate them, and very common that the women were raped. The Hebrew word gala, which is used as “uncover” in a sexual sense (see Lev. 18 and 20 where “uncover” is used many times), is also used for “to be led captive” (2 Kings 17:11,28; 24:14; 25:11, etc.), perhaps because of the strong cultural connection between being taken captive and being stripped naked.
The “feet” are used idiomatically for the genital area in other verses as well. Ezekiel 16:25 says the woman “opened her feet” to everyone, referring to sexual intercourse. Another connection between the genital area and the feet can be seen in 2 Kings 18:27 and Isaiah 36:12 where the Hebrew phrase for urine is, “the water of the feet.”
Captives were also humiliated by shaving their beard or their hair. In 2 Samuel 10:4-5, the king of Ammon took the emissaries that had come from David and shaved off half their beards, and the men were so embarrassed that David had them stay away from Jerusalem until their beards had grown back. Isaiah 7:20 says that the Assyrians will be a razor that will shave the people of Judah; shave their heads, their beards, and their pubic hair. Jeremiah 2:16 personifies Israel and says that Egypt will shave his head.(top)
|Isa 7:21||- (top)|
|Isa 7:22||- (top)|
|Isa 7:23||- (top)|
“all the land will be briers and thorns.” The land will not be good for farming at that point, but will be good for hunting.(top)
|Isa 7:25||- (top)|