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Go to Bible: Isaiah 7
“went up to Jerusalem to war against it.” The date of the attack is not exactly known, but it would have had to have been between the time Ahaz became king (c. 742 BC) and the beginning of Assyria’s attack on Damascus, the capital of Syria (c. 734 BC). Assyria had been expanding its empire, and Syria and Israel no doubt felt threatened. It is not clear how attacking Judah would help that situation, but perhaps they did not want an enemy at their back while they were fighting Assyria, or perhaps they thought if they could depose Ahaz that the person they appointed king would then help them fight Assyria.(top)
“the house of David.” Ahaz was of the line of David. The Davidic dynasty and the “throne of David” continued from David until Jehoiachin died in the Babylonian Captivity. It is not clear why the text uses “the house of David” here; it may be because God promised David that his house (dynasty) would continue forever, and had Ahaz repented and turned to God and caused Judah to do the same that God would have protected Judah like He did during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:35-37).
“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”). Furthermore, besides having Syria and Israel as enemies, Judah was also being attacked by the Edomites from the south and the Philistines from the west (2 Chron. 28:17-18). The Book of 2 Chronicles gives the real reason for Judah’s troubles at this time, and it was Ahaz’s rejection of Yahweh and His laws (2 Chron. 28:19).
“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)
“Shear-jashub.” The meaning of Shear-jashub is “a remnant will return.” The reason that Isaiah was told to bring his son is not stated. It is possible that God wanted there to be two witnesses to what Isaiah told the king, although the king would certainly not have been alone with Isaiah. But it is also possible that the prophetic meaning of Shear-jashub was important, even if ambiguous. The meaning could be taken in a negative sense, that the devastation of Judah would be so great that only a remnant would be left to return, or it could be taken positively, that no matter how great the destruction was, there would be a remnant left to return to work and even return to God. There is no indication in the text that Ahaz paid any attention to Shear-jashub, and as we learn in the text, Ahaz had already hired the Assyrians to attack Syria and Israel, so he likely did not think much at all about what Isaiah said.
“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)
“Make sure you stay calm.” The Hebrew is more literally, “Guard yourself; stay calm.”
“two stubs of smoldering firewood.” The Hebrew word translated “firewood” is ud (#0181 אוּד), and it can refer to a stick that was used to poke and stir the fire, which often caught fire itself, or to a log or piece of wood in the fire. It is hard to tell in this case which of the two meanings applies, but the likely meaning is simply a piece of firewood. The English word “firebrand,” which is used in many English versions, is unclear because “firebrand” is not used of a stick one stirs the fire with and although “firebrand” can refer to a piece of burning wood, that is a very uncommon use of the word. Versions that read “firewood” include the BBE, CJB, NIV, and NJB.
In Isaiah 7:4, the prophet Isaiah is telling King Ahaz that the kings of Syria and Israel are just smoldering pieces of wood. Their fire has gone out and soon they will be gone too; Rezin was killed by the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III, and Pekah was assassinated by his successor, Hoshea (2 Kings 15:27-30).
“the son of Remaliah.” This refers to King Pekah, who was the son of Remaliah (2 Kings 15:25, 27). Pekah became king of Israel by killing King Azariah (2 Kings 15:25), and he himself was killed by Hoshea who became king in his place (2 Kings 15:30). Hoshea was the last king of Israel before it was conquered by Assyria.(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)
“break it open.” This is a quite literal rendering of the Hebrew. It clearly means to break into the city and conquer it, but the phrase carries the emotional power of a ruthless attack. The phrase has been translated in many different ways in the different English versions, including: “capture it,” “divide it,” “conquer it,” “make a breach in it,” and “make it our own by force.” Given the history of the conquest of a walled city, the phrase summarized the idea of breaching the city and then conquering it.
“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. The name Tabeel seems to be Syrian, so the man the kings picked to be the ruler of Judah and Jerusalem would most likely be a Syrian (see John Oswalt, NICOT: The Book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39).(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.
“and within 65 years Ephraim will be broken in pieces so that it will not be a people.” This phrase has been considered problematic because Israel was conquered by Assyria and the people of Israel carried out of their land in 723/722 BC, which was only 12 or 13 years after Isaiah gave this prophecy to Ahaz. However, the process of replacing the people of Israel with pagan people continued long after any initial conquest and exiling of captives to Assyria. The people who wanted to build the Temple with Ezra (Ezra 4:1-5, esp. v. 2) were brought to Israel during the reign of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (c. 681-669), and that would have been within the 65-year period of time mentioned here in Isaiah 7:8. It is quite possible that Israel was not considered completely broken up and no longer a cohesive “people” until that time when the people of Israel would have been very settled in the places to which they were taken and the area of Samaria was so settled by pagans that even by New Testament times the people there were not integrated into the major Jewish population.(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.
“If you are not firm in your trust, you will not be firm in life.” The Hebrew text uses a word-play. The verb “firm” is repeated twice, the first time in the hiphel tense and thus having an active sense, the second time in the niphel tense and thus having a passive sense. The actual Hebrew text is short and would be literally translated as something like, “If you are not firm you will not be firm.” The NET gets the idea using the word “remain”: “If your faith does not remain firm, then you will not remain secure.” The NIV uses the word “stand”: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Many versions ignore the word-play and try to get the sense differently. Thus, the NASB has, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.”
This sentence is short but powerful. The great key to success in this life and in the next is trust in God and obedience to Him. Even with all the evil Ahaz had done, his kingdom would be spared and would be prosperous if he would trust and obey God. As it was, his kingdom escaped total destruction but suffered attacks in which his people suffered.(top)
“Yahweh spoke again to Ahaz.” This is a wonderful example of the Jewish understanding of agency; Author and Agent. Yahweh spoke, but He spoke through the mouth of Isaiah.(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 (2 Kings 16:8-9). 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 is quoted in Matthew 1:23. 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. The Hebrew text has many words that can have two meanings, which is one reason there are so many different English translations of the verse. Of course that makes sense when we realize that God is trying to give both a present-tense prophecy of what is happening at the time, and a future prophecy of what will happen in another 700 years. The Hebrew is grammatically like “Therefore the Lord himself will give [future tense verb] you all [plural; you all] a sign. Behold, the young woman is pregnant [the verb is present tense, but can be taken as a future in some circumstances] and about to bear [a participle; more literally, “bearing”] a son, and you [feminine singular], young woman, will call his name Immanuel.”
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.
“is pregnant.” 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). Young’s Literal Translation reads, “Lo, the Virgin is conceiving, And is bringing forth a son.”
“and you, young woman.” The “you” is feminine singular, referring to the woman who will bear the child, she will name the child.
“about to bear a son.” The Hebrew is a participle, “bearing,” likely meaning “about to bear.”
“will call.” The Hebrew verb is feminine, and thus means, “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 and Aramaic 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)|