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Isaiah 7 – The Virgin Birth, part 1

October 5, 2009

Please Note:  This post is part of a counter-missionary textbook written by Penina Taylor and is copyrighted material.  No part of this passage may be copied or reproduced in any way, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author.

The author of thefaithofabel blog has chosen to engage me in a missionary/counter-missionary discussion/debate.  Since it takes a lot of time to give thoughtful answers, I would usually reject such an invitation.  However, thefaithofabel appears to be asking genuine questions in a respectful way, and I will use this as an opportunity for us to explore Christian claims for Jesus and the Jewish response.  Thefaithofabel has asked that we confront the Isaiah 7 question, but since this is a long and complicated issue, we will address it not all at once, but in a series of blog posts.

Here is the response thefaithofabel has posted:

“Thank you for addressing my comment.

I believe that the word almah in Isaiah 7:14 is correctly translated as “virgin” in the Christian Bible. The word almah is always used to describe a young, unmarried girl. The word almah is never once used in scripture to refer to a married woman!

So was Isaiah prophesying an illegitimate birth as a sign that would be favorable to Ahaz? I think not. I think that he was promising a virgin birth, just as was fulfilled in the gospel of Matthew.

I look forward to your future posts on the subject.”

The first step is to read the chapter in context.  In fact, in addressing probably close to 90% of missionary claims, reading the verse in its context usually answers the question without the need to look further.

So here we go:

Isaiah 7

(1)  Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it.

(2)  And it was told to the house of David, saying, “Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.” So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind.

(3)  Then Hashem (The L-rd)  said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field,

(4)  and say to him: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah.

(5)  Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying,

(6)  “Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel”—

(7)  thus says the Hashem G-d: “It shall not stand, Nor shall it come to pass.

(8)  For the head of Syria is Damascus, And the head of Damascus is Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, So that it will not be a people.

(9)  The head of Ephraim is Samaria, And the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If you will not believe, Surely you shall not be established.” ‘ “

(10)  Moreover Hashem spoke again to Ahaz, saying,

(11)  “Ask a sign for yourself from Hashem your G-d; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”

(12)  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test Hashem!”

(13)  Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my G-d also?

(14)  Therefore Hashem Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the young woman shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

(15)  Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.

(16)  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.

(17)  Hashem will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house—days that have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.”

(18)  And it shall come to pass in that day That Hashem will whistle for the fly That is in the farthest part of the rivers of Egypt, And for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.

(19)  They will come, and all of them will rest In the desolate valleys and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all thorns and in all pastures.

(20)  In the same day Hashem will shave with a hired razor, With those from beyond the River, with the king of Assyria, The head and the hair of the legs, And will also remove the beard.

(21)  It shall be in that day That a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep;

(22)  So it shall be, from the abundance of milk they give, that he will eat curds; For curds and honey everyone will eat who is left in the land.

(23)  It shall happen in that day, That wherever there could be a thousand vines Worth a thousand shekels of silver, It will be for briers and thorns.

(24)  With arrows and bows men will come there, Because all the land will become briers and thorns.

(25)  And to any hill which could be dug with the hoe, You will not go there for fear of briers and thorns; But it will become a range for oxen And a place for sheep to roam.

Isaiah 8

(3)  Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then Hashem said to me, “Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz;

(4)  for before the child shall have knowledge to cry ‘My father’ and ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria.”

So now, let’s evaluate what is going on here.

(1)  Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it.

(2)  And it was told to the house of David, saying, “Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.” So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind.

Verses 1 and 2 tell the story of the King of Judah (Ahaz) who finds out that the King of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) has conspired with the King of Syria to march south and attack and conquer the Southern Kingdom (Judah).  When Ahaz finds out that the Syrian forces have made their way into the heart of Israel, he and the residents of Judah became very scared.

(3)  Then Hashem said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field,

(4)  and say to him: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah.

(5)  Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying,

(6)  “Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel”—

(7)  thus says Hashem G-d: “It shall not stand, Nor shall it come to pass.

In verses 3-7, G-d tells the Prophet Isaiah that he needs to pay a visit to Ahaz, and that he should take his son with him.  It is also possible, depending on the age of the child, that this included his wife, although that is certainly not specified in the passage, but may be relevant later.  Anyway, Isaiah is told that he needs to tell King Ahaz not to fear the two kings, even though they are threatening to invade, because, as it says in verse 7, “It shall not stand, nor shall it come to pass.”  Not gonna happen, Ahaz.

(8)  For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, So that it will not be a people.

(9)  The head of Ephraim is Samaria, And the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If you will not believe, Surely you shall not be established.” ‘ “

In verse 8 we see that G-d says that within 65 years the Northern Kingdom will be destroyed, obliterated – “So that it will not be a people”, but, warns the Prophet, you’re not going to make it if you don’t have faith.  After all, 65 years is a long time to be quaking in your boots waiting for a prophecy to be fulfilled.

(10)  Moreover Hashem spoke again to Ahaz, saying,

(11)  “Ask a sign for yourself from Hashem your G-d; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”

(12)  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test Hashem!”

(13)  Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my G-d also?

(14)  Therefore the LordHashem Himself will give you a sign:

So, Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask G-d for a sign, any sign, the fulfillment of which will give Ahaz the strength to believe for the 65 years it will take to see the fulfillment of the prophecy.  Remember, G-d Himself said that if Ahaz doesn’t believe, he’s not going to make it.  Ahaz, out of a moment of humility, whether pure or feigned, says he’s not going to test G-d, G-d forbid.  When Ahaz says he’s not going to ask for a sign, Isaiah tells Ahaz that G-d’s going to give him a sign anyway. (It must have been very important to G-d that Ahaz have the strength to endure the long period he would have to wait).

(14)  Therefore Hashem Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the young woman (Christian translation: virgin) shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

(15)  Curds and honey he shall eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.

(16)  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.measure boy

Now, stay with me here, this is where it is really important to read the verse in context.  Reading verses 14-16 as a whole, what do we see is the sign that G-d is giving Ahaz?  Is the sign that a young woman (or virgin – it doesn’t matter for the sake of this part of the discussion, we will address the translation in the next post) is going to conceive? Is the sign that she is going to give birth to a son?  Is the sign that his mother will call him Immanuel?  Is the sign that the child will eat curds and honey, or that he will know good from evil?  NO, NO, NO!!!!!  The sign, as clearly pointed out in verse 16 is that before the child is old enough to know good from evil (3-5 years old), the King of Syria and the King of Israel are going to abandon their countries.  That’s the sign!

Isaiah is telling Ahaz that he doesn’t have to wait 65 years to know that he’s not going to be conquered, he only needs to wait 3-5 years, then, even before the time is up, the land will be abandoned by its kings and he can rest assured for the next 60 years that G-d will fulfill his word.  The child is not the sign – not his birth, not his gender, not his name or his diet – the child is only a marker for the sign.  That is, the King just needs to watch the child grow and develop and he will know that the fulfillment of the sign is at hand.

The rest of the chapter uses the phrase, “in that day” many times, indicating that this is a prophecy concerning what exactly is going to happen when the kings abandon the land.  No, Ahaz, its not going to be pretty – life’s going to get nasty, but don’t worry, as hard as it is, you will not be destroyed.  That’s the reason that G-d told him that he wouldn’t make it if he didn’t have faith – its not going to be a cake walk.

There is no indication, anywhere in the chapter that there is a second, future fulfillment of this prophecy having to do with a virgin conceiving and giving birth to a divine god-man who would save his people from their sins.  Its just not there.  In fact, even if you could read a “miraculous” birth into the story, there is nothing in the text indicating that this child will be a messiah (of ANY sort).  Now, let’s briefly look at chapter 8:

(3)  Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then Hashem said to me, “Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz;

(4)  for before the child shall have knowledge to cry ‘My father’ and ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria.”

In chapter 8, Isaiah himself tells us that the child was the marker for the sign, and not only that, but that the child is HIS child, and the young woman, is HIS wife.

Next post, we’ll go through the translation issues, addressing the following items:

1. The translation of the word “haAlmah” – young woman (translated by Christians as virgin)

2. When the word for virgin, “betulah” is used by Isaiah and its significance

3. The fact that the passage says that the mother of the child will call HIS NAME “Emmanuel” and not that he will simply be known as…

Please Note:  This post is part of a counter-missionary textbook written by Penina Taylor and is copyrighted material.  No part of this passage may be copied or reproduced in any way, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. ML Suriano permalink
    October 5, 2009 2:55 am

    I find your thought provoking question ernest, but I need to ask you the question I had to ask myself years ago…
    “Where in the NT is the name of Jesus seen as ” His name Immanuel” as is stated above in Isa. 7 vs 14.?
    The response is no where!
    So, even if the word “Alma” means young girl, what does it matter?

    This is the greater question then the question of what is Alma.
    We have to also realize that the Middle Eastern understanding of “young girl” has to do with her coming of age from pre-pubic to puberty. Hense any girl as young as 12 can fall under this guidline. And in a way, yes, she would be a virgin because before puberty, there is no way she could get pregnant. In all means of understandings, a girl of that age would have finally been taken to the mikvah for her first apointment.

    Please ponder these points as they are more pertant then just the long time discussion through out history of “what does alma mean”.

    • Penina permalink
      October 5, 2009 12:27 pm

      You raise several points. First of all, it says in the NT, in Matthew 1:22-25
      (22) Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
      (23) “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”
      (24) And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife,
      (25) but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

      So the NT DOES say that he will be called Emmanuel (quoting from Isaiah 7), but with a twist. The NT translators had to use the phrase “They will call him…G-d with us” in order to explain how he could have fulfilled the verse which says in the the Hebrew, “And SHE will call HIS NAME Emmanuel”. By changing the verse, they have tried to make room for the idea that being known as “G-d with us” is fulfillment of the verse, when it clearly is not since the verse says that his mother will call his NAME Emmanuel.

      Secondly, what you point to as the more important issue – that of the word “Almah” which means a young woman. The word Almah may refer to a young woman who is a virgin or it may refer to a young woman who is not a virgin. I will get into examples in my next post about Isaiah 7, but you must understand that it only refers to the age of the person. This is seen in the fact that there is a male form of the word “elem”, which is always referring to the age of the boy and not sexual status. You cannot assume that because a girl is an almah, that she is a virgin, not today, not in biblical times.

      You say that a girl cannot get pregnant before puberty, but that depends on your definition of puberty. Scientifically speaking, there are many young women who have gotten pregnant BEFORE they got their first period!

      Warning: Be careful not to use “proofs” from Judaism when you don’t even understand Judaism. Case in point: a girl does not go to the mikveh when she enters puberty. Her first time to the mikveh is the night before her wedding.

      Please stand by for the second installment of Isaiah 7 which will address this particular issue in detail.

      Penina

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