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The verse reads: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Matthew quotes it in Matthew 1:23, with it's fulfillment in Jesus' birth.

But when we read the context in Isaiah 7:1-17, we find that the sign is in reference to God telling King Ahaz that the Assyrians will come against Israel, and the 7:14 sign is to indicate something about when it will happen. 7:8-9 tells us that Ephraim will be broken in 65 years; 7:15-16 tells us that something will happen while the child of 7:14 is still young.

In what way can this passage of scripture be likened to Jesus' situation so that it reasonably applies to him? Since Matthew believes Jesus is the Christ, and this passage refers to Jesus, I am asking for answers from likeminded writers as to how this passage can apply. Perhaps Matthew had a similar point of view in mind.

Here are the verses:

Isa 7:1-9

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

And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.

Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field;

And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.

Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying,

Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal:

Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.

For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people.

And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.

Isa 7:10-17

Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying,

Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.

But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.

And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?

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.

The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.

0

Your consternation may stem from not considering that time has no meaning in the realm where God resides. As with most Old Testament Prophesy it may span a period of days, years or even centuries, as we see in the book of Daniel (as an example ) and in the New Testament book of the Revelation. All of the time of the Earth will not even be a blip in Eternity.

It also must be remembered that Jesus told them:

John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

It also must be remembered that they were still waiting after centuries for the Messiah, prophesied in the prophets. That they were used to not having Prophesy fulfilled quickly is explained by David Guzik in his commentary of the entire Bible, concerning the Passage you asked about, which I have included for your perusal.

(13-16) The LORD's sign to Ahaz: the sign of Immanuel. Then he said, "Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will 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. Curds and honey He shall 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 you dread will be forsaken by both her kings."

a. Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? The rulers of Judah treated other people poorly, but they treated the LORD even more poorly. If many of us expressed the same distrust we have towards the LORD towards other people, we might get a punch in the nose!

i. "How heartily angry is the prophet, how blessedly blown up in this case to so great dishonor done to God! We should be so too." (Trapp)

ii. Spurgeon speaks well to this point: "Did I not hear some one say, 'Ah, sir, I have been trying to believe for years.' Terrible words! They make the case still worse. Imagine that after I had made a statement, a man should declare that he did not believe me, in fact, he could not believe me though he would like to do so. I should feel aggrieved certainly; but it would make matters worse if he added, 'In fact I have been for years trying to believe you, and I cannot do it.' What does he mean by that? What can he mean but that I am so incorrigibly false, and such a confirmed liar, that though he would like to give me some credit, he really cannot do it? With all the effort he can make in my favour, he finds it quite beyond his power to believe me? Now, a man who says, 'I have been trying to believe in God,' in reality says just that with regard to the Most High."

b. Therefore the Lord Himself will give you as sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. This is one of the most famous prophecies regarding the birth of Jesus the Messiah in the Bible. It also illustrates a principle of prophecy, that prophecy may have both a near fulfillment and a far fulfillment.

i. Spurgeon said of this passage, that it is said to be "One of the most difficult in all the Word of God. It may be so; I certainly did not think it was until I saw what the commentators had to say about it, and I rose up from reading them perfectly confused."

ii. "It is characteristic of predictive prophecy that it often mingles different times together in one composite picture" (Martin)

c. The near fulfillment of this prophecy centered around Ahaz, Jerusalem, and the attack from Israel and Syria. For Ahaz, the sign centered around a time span (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). Simply put, God would give Ahaz a sign that within a few years, both Israel and Syria would be crushed. This was a sign of deliverance to Ahaz.

i. Many commentators think that this was immediately fulfilled when a young woman in the royal household shortly married, conceived a son, and unknowingly naming him "Immanuel." Before this boy came to eat solid food, Israel and Syria were be defeated. It is also possible that God is just referring in a figurative way to a year or two period of time.

ii. "The name 'Immanuel' was a rebuke to Ahaz. If 'God is with us,' then why should he have feared the enemy?" (Wolf)

iii. "The 'sign' of the child, therefore, constitutes an indication that the all-sovereign and all-knowing God has the situation completely in hand, and it rebukes the king's lack of faith in him." (Grogan)

d. The far or ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy goes far beyond Ahaz, to announce the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

i. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the Holy Spirit says so through Matthew: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." (Mat. 1:23)

ii. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the prophecy is addressed not only to Ahaz, but also to David's entire house (O house of David!).

iii. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says the virgin shall conceive, and that conception would be a sign to David's entire house. Those who deny the virgin birth of Jesus like to point out that the Hebrew word translated virgin (almah) can also be translated as "young woman." The idea is that Isaiah was simply saying that a "young woman" would give birth, not a virgin. While the near fulfillment may have reference to a young woman giving birth, the far or ultimate fulfillment clearly points to a woman miraculously conceiving and giving birth. This is especially clear because the Old Testament never uses the word in a context other than virgin and because the Septuagint translates it categorically virgin (parthenos).

iv. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says He will be known as Immanuel, meaning "God with Us." This was true of Jesus in fact, not only as a title. Immanuel speaks both of the deity of Jesus (God with us) and His identification and nearness to man (God with us).

e. Jesus is truly Immanuel, God with us. "Christ, indeed, was not called by this name Immanuel that we anywhere read of . . . but the import of this name is most truly affirmed and acknowledged to be fully made good in him." (Trapp)

i. "He is, therefore, called God with us, or united to us; which cannot apply to a man who is not God . . . it denotes not only the power of God, such as he usually displays by his servant, but a union of person, by which Christ became God-man." (Calvin)

ii. "In what sense then, is Christ GOD WITH US? Jesus is called Immanuel, or God with us, in his incarnation; God with us, by the influences of his Holy Spirit, in the holy sacrament, in the preaching of his word, in private prayer. And God with us, through every action of our life, that we begin, continue, and end in his name. He is God with us, to comfort, enlighten, protect, and defend us, in every time of temptation and trial, in the hour of death, in the day of judgment; and God with us and in us, and we with and in him, to all eternity." (Clarke)

As with most Old testament Prophesies they span a long time in our world, but almost nothing in eternity. as an example take the prophesy in Daniel chapter 9:

Daniel 9:22through 27 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. 23 At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. 24 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. 25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. 27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

This explanation was given to Daniel by the Angel Gabriel, while in captivity sometime around 600 BC, and covers centuries, and yet Jesus said:

Mat 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

when explaining the end times to his disciples.

This has become quite long otherwise I would give you more examples, but you can search out those for yourself.

In closing remember that there were many teachers of the Jewish faith, (Rabboni) and every Jew was schooled in the Prophets, so when the Holy Spirit taught them, and brought all thins back to their remembrance this surely would have caused them some consideration and the connection of the birth of Jesus to the prophesy of Isaiah was probably discussed among the Apostles.

Hope this helps .

6

Since all scripture is inspired by God1, no one comprehends it except by the Spirit of God2.

There are at least a couple of ways from scripture that may have enabled St. Matthew to present what he was writing as a fulfillment of the Isaiah passage.

  1. Since he was the Gospel writer, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God, who inspires all scripture, and
  2. Since he was an Apostle, when the LORD opened their minds to understand the scriptures3.

Were he not an Apostle, the third way to know would have been from they to whom it had been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God4 as was the case with the Ethiopian Eunuch to whom Philip, beginning with a passage from Isaiah, told of the good news of Jesus5.

1. cf. 2 Tim 3:16 (RSVCE).
2. cf. 1 Cor 2:11 (RSVCE).
3. cf. Luke 24:45 (RSVCE).
4. cf. Luke 8:10 (RSVCE).
5. cf. Acts 8:26-40 (RSVCE).


Please see also bruisedreed's answer. It's an excellent addendum.

  • 1
    If prophecy can be interpreted out of context completely, then how does one understand these words in Deuteronomy? What are the people to test? "You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed." – Gregory Magarshak Dec 28 '14 at 20:43
  • 1
    For example Matthew 2:18 says “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” is from Jeremiah, but there in context the prophecy is that the children will come home, whereas the boys killed by Herod (which has not been corroborated by any historian as far as I know) were never going to return. How does one claim that the prophecy has been fulfilled, if the meaning is exactly the opposite? – Gregory Magarshak Dec 28 '14 at 20:46
  • @GregoryMagarshak Scripture being the word of God, only God can give the meaning and understanding. My answer says God-made-man Jesus Christ explained scripture to his disciples and they obtained even a fuller understanding when he sent His [Holy] Spirit to them. – user13992 Dec 29 '14 at 20:00
3

This is a complex question and you need to do a little investigative work. The underlying questions you need to answer are.

  1. Who was Matthew? What did he believe? Who was his audience?
  2. Is Matthew 1 accepted as authentic by the majority of biblical scholars?
  3. Does the answer change your underlying faith in the accuracy of the bible.

Who was Matthew? What did he believe? Who was his audience? Multiple sources for this one. Read just about any introduction to Matthew and you'll find more detail. Basically, Matthew was a Jew writing to a Jewish audience. But we need to go deeper. During the time of Jesus, Jews did not all believe in the same thing. There are multiple sources for this too, but go to jewishvirtuallibrary.org for more detail. During The time of Jesus, the three main sects were Sadducees, Pharisees, and a smaller sect called Essenes. The Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife and the Essenes were a small sect. It is likely that he was a Pharisee as they believed in the coming of the Messiah, the temple rituals and the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah. So... Matthew was probably looking for Isaiah 7:14 to be filled. It was something on his mind, and Jesus life appeared to meet what he considered to be the criteria for the Messiah.

Is Matthew 1 accepted as authentic by the majority of biblical scholars? Another complex question, and it depends on who you listen to. You should read what the Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman have to say, but these are more critical of the traditional views of the bible. For a more traditional view, follow this link to bible.org and a paper by Daniel Wallace. Basically, many scholars think Matthew is authentic and that you can take it as having been written by Matthew or at least that it was authored by him.

Does the answer change your underlying faith in the accuracy of the bible?

As you do more research into the bible, you are going to find that there are some things in the bible which can be disputed as not being 100% authentic. If you think that "inspired by God" means that the bible is 100% accurate, your faith will be challenged. If you think that the bible is a vehicle for God to express himself to us, through the hands of men, you will be ok. Be careful of taking Timothy 3:16-17 out of context. There Timothy was talking about the Old Testament, not the New, as it hadn't been written yet.

Hope this helps.

  • This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? – David Stratton Sep 21 '14 at 19:26
  • I have no problems with anything you wrote, but this does not answer the question. – Steve Oct 8 '17 at 23:21
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I'm not sure this adds substantively to FMS's excellent answer, but this is the sort of criticism that could be levelled at a lot of the Messianic prophecies (eg Matthew 2:23), and I think further clarity as to why we should look beyond the context in which the original 'prophecy' (completely de-contextualised reference in scripture would seem to be a more accurate characterisation of the preceding example) is given, is highly desirable. If you place a high value on the teaching of scripture, then the main biblical reason to discount such criticism is given in:

20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. - 2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV

This indicates (cf also 1 Corinthians 2:6-16) that is somewhat useless to apply a naturalistic understanding (ie human reasoning alone) to the interpretation of prophecy - the only way to correctly interpret prophecy is according to the Spirit's revelation (note particularly the 'hidden' nature of 'the deep things of God' referred to in the Corinthian passage). This particular scripture may have been one of the ones that Jesus expounded to the disciples post-resurrection (cf. Luke 24:45), but whether it was by listening to Jesus or a post-ascension revelation of the Holy Spirit, Matthew* required the Spirit's guidance to receive that revelation and then to authoritatively link the prophecy and fulfillment in the scripture he then transcribed.

*In alignment with the ground of your question, I assume also the traditional authorship of the Gospel in question.

  • I will accept this answer. I understand that there are many, many ways to explain the scriptures with reason to skeptics, and wondered if there was a way with this passage as well. – Steve Sep 21 '14 at 21:28
2

The answer is simple. Jesus told him:

Luk 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Wehn you have a chance, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is not a comment on the quality of your answer, but rather a standard welcome message. (We do generally expect longer answers, but here a short answer seems fine.) – ThaddeusB Oct 1 '15 at 14:24
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St. Matthew, as with the other Evangelists, often engage with what is called typology (related to prophecy having 'near' and 'far' or 'initial' and 'ultimate' fulfillments).

Overlooking this, one would conclude that the Evangelists were taking passages out of context. For example, Matthew could read the first half of the passage in Hosea just as well as his readers could (Matthew 2:15; cf. Hosea 11:1). He was engaging in typology. he doesn't say "this was a prophecy." He says, "this fulfils..."

Imagine if St. Matthew or another Evangelist said (when John the Baptist said "Behold thy Lamb of God who takest away the sin of the world"), "This fulfilled what was written by Moses, 'God Himself will provide the lamb.'" It would be a case of typology.


An example of the idea is what is taken to be a typological reference to the Fall of Lucifer (Satan before he fell, basically), when in fact it refers in context to the King of Tyre.

Ezekiel 28:11-19

11 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyre: 12 And say to him: Thus saith the Lord God: Thou wast the seal of resemblance, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. 13 Thou wast in the pleasures of the paradise of God: every precious stone was thy covering: the sardius, the topaz, and the jasper, the chrysolite, and the onyx, and the beryl, the sapphire, and the carbuncle, and the emerald: gold the work of thy beauty: and thy pipes were prepared in the day that thou wast created. 14 Thou a cherub stretched out, and protecting, and I set thee in the holy mountain of God, thou hast walked in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day of thy creation, until iniquity was found in thee. 16 By the multitude of thy merchandise, thy inner parts were filled with iniquity, and thou hast sinned: and I cast thee out from the mountain of God, and destroyed thee, O covering cherub, out of the midst of the stones of fire. 17 And thy heart was lifted up with thy beauty: thou hast lost thy wisdom in thy beauty, I have cast thee to the ground: I have set thee before the face of kings, that they might behold thee. 18 Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thy iniquities, and by the iniquity of thy traffic: therefore I will bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, to devour thee, and I will make thee as ashes upon the earth in the sight of all that see thee. 19 All that shall see thee among the nations, shall be astonished at thee: thou art brought to nothing, and thou shalt never be any more.

This reminds one of those situations where someone secretly wants someone to hear what they are saying when talking to someone else, and so you'll find them glancing across at the person they 'secretly' want to hear them, to see if they are listening.

Here, God is pronouncing a judgement on an evil king (the King of Tyre).

However, notice how the language actually only suits him more 'typologically' than literally. And I don't mean God can't use non-literal language—I mean it sounds like the message was actually made for someone else (Satan's downfall), and God is applying it to the similar situation with this king.

For example:

  • "the seal of resemblance, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty." This sounds more as if Satan when he was originally good, was made in the image of God in a special way. It seems odd to speak of a king's former beauty—especially if he remains just as exalted as a king, for example.

  • "Thou a cherub stretched out, and protecting, and I set thee in the holy mountain of God, thou hast walked in the midst of the stones of fire"

  • "Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day of thy creation, until iniquity was found in thee" This is a strange way to refer to a man—this applies to every man in history. Except this sounds like he had "ways" from the day of his creation, unlike men who do not have 'ways' until they grow up. This would fit perfectly the case of the fallen angels. (e.g. Jude 1:6; Revelation 12:8; 2 Peter 2:4).

Etc.


Similarly, "Out of Egypt I have called My Son" refers better to Christ, even though originally applied to Israel in a metaphorical sense, for another example. (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15).

So Matthew 1:23 applies better to Jesus (the Word made flesh, and thus Immanuel literally), than any intial, lesser fulfillment in the time of Ahaz.


  • This is a more modern explanation to this prophesy. The early church fathers seen isaiah's prophesy as a direct prophesy to Christ. Are you saying their wrong? And how can it be a duel fulfillment when the apostle Matthew teaches us it was fulfilled through a virgin birth. Was there 2 virgin births? – diego b Jul 13 '18 at 7:51
  • No, I'm not. The instances are many where something uttered in the Old Testament with perhaps an immediate context in view, actually, typologically, suits Christ even better (e.g. Acts 2:25-32). This is how the OT serves a purpose even in the NT era, when its contents and can applied anew in light of Christ. The Father's don't qualify this view of typology when they refer to it, and often refer to it simply as 'prophecy.' Again, the instances are many. Your comment about dual fulfillment begs the question about Matthew's view of the prophecy, you'll notice. – Sola Gratia Jul 13 '18 at 13:01
  • I understand typology. But Matthew does not only use typology, he alsp uses dirrct prophesy. I see this new modern explanation everywhere nowadays, but this is not how the ancients understood it. If you said this to Justin martyr or ireanus for example, they would of rebuked you. But again, it can't be a dual fulfillment when the fulfillment is a virgin birth. – diego b Jul 13 '18 at 14:31
  • I don't think you understood what I meant. And again, 'Matthew's view of this is exclusive/direct prophecy therefore two fulfillments would necessitate two virgin births' is begging the question we are actually discussing. – Sola Gratia Jul 13 '18 at 15:14

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