I was doing my morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and this passage appeared:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭7‬:‭14‬-‭16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Now I’m particularly confused about how trinitarians read this passage, as it’s commonly used as a citation for Jesus’ incarnation, but this bit about him coming to know (implied by before he knows) seems to be problematic for an incarnate deity. What is the trinitarian interpretation of this passage?


1 Answer 1


Matthew Poole draws attention to the fact that distinction needs to be made between the prophet's son and the virgin's child

For; or, yea; for so this particle is used by way of amplification or addition, Isaiah 32:13 Jeremiah 14:5,18. So the sense is, Not only this land of thine shall be preserved until the virgin’s Son be born, but thine enemy’s land shall be sorely scourged, and these two kings destroyed, within a very little time.

The child, Heb. this child; not the virgin’s Son, but the prophet’s child, Shear-jashub, whom in all probability the prophet, to prevent mistakes, pointed at, and who was brought hither by God’s special command, Isaiah 7:3, and that for this very use; for otherwise his presence was wholly insignificant.

The land; the lands, to wit, of Syria and Israel, as is evident from the next words. It is an enallage of the singular for the plural.

That thou abhorrest, for its cruel designs and practices against time. Or, which vexeth or molesteth thee, as this word is used, Exodus 1:12 Numbers 22:3, &c.

Shall be forsaken of both her kings; so far shall Pekah and Rezin be from conquering thy land, that they shall lose their own lands, and their lives too; which they did within two years after this time, being both slain by the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 15:29,30 16:9.

Biblehub - Matthew Poole

Benson has this to say :

Isaiah 7:16. For before the child, &c. — “The learned Vitringa,” says Dr. Dodd, “seems to have proved beyond any doubt, that the child spoken of in this verse can be no other than he who is spoken of in the preceding verses. The connecting particle for, and the repetition of the words, refusing the evil and choosing the good, evidently demonstrate,” he thinks, “that the IMMANUEL is here meant, and that, in order to enter into the immediate design of the prophet, we are to consider that, rapt, as it were, into future times, he proposes the Immanuel, as a sign of salvation to the people of God, as if present, Behold a virgin conceives; as if he understood him to be at this time conceived in the womb of the virgin, and shortly to be born: and he says, that more time shall not elapse from his birth to his capability of discerning between good and evil, than from hence to the desertion of the land of the two kings,” or the time specified, Isaiah 8:4. Archbishop Usher, however, Poole, Henry, Dr. Kennicott, and some other celebrated writers, conceive that we have a two-fold prophecy in this passage, the former part, contained in Isaiah 7:14-15, referring to the Messiah, and the latter, contained in this verse, to Shear-jashub, the son of Isaiah. “That the 16th verse,” says Dr. Kennicott, “contains a distinct prophecy, appears from hence: 1st, The words preceding have been proved to be confined to the Messiah, whose birth was then distant above seven hundred years; whereas the words here are confined to some child who was not to arrive at years of discretion before the kings, then advancing against Jerusalem, should be themselves cut off. 2d, Some end was undoubtedly to be answered by the presence of Isaiah’s son, whom God commanded him to take with him when he went to visit Ahaz; and yet no use at all appears to have been made of this son, unless he be referred to in this sentence; and, 3d, These prophecies are manifestly distinguished by being addressed to different persons. The first was addressed to the house of David, for the consolation of the pious in general; as it assured them, not only of the preservation of that house, but of God’s fidelity to his great promise: whereas the second promise is addressed to the king in particular, as it foretold the speedy destruction of the two kings, his enemies.” Dr. Doddridge, who also thinks that this verse refers to Shear-jashub, judging with Dr. Kennicott, that Isaiah “was ordered to take him in his hand for no other imaginable reason, but that something remarkable was to be said of him,” defines the general sense of these verses from the 13th to be this: “You have affronted God by refusing a sign now; yet his transcendent mercy will make your present forfeited deliverance, (by the death of these confederate kings, which shall happen before, הנער, this child in my hand is grown up to the exercise of reason,) a sign of a much nobler deliverance by the Messiah; who shall be born of an immaculate virgin, and shall condescend to pass through the tender scenes of infancy, as other children do.” In the latter part of the verse, the land that thou abhorrest, means the countries of Syria and Israel, which Ahaz abhorred for their cruel designs and practices against him. Shall be forsaken of both her kings — So far shall Rezin and Pekah be from conquering thy land, that they shall lose their own lands, and their lives too: which they did within two years after this time, being both slain by the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 15:29-30; and 2 Kings 16:9.

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Matthew Henry has this :

7:10-16 Secret disaffection to God is often disguised with the colour of respect to him; and those who are resolved that they will not trust God, yet pretend they will not tempt him. The prophet reproved Ahaz and his court, for the little value they had for Divine revelation. Nothing is more grievous to God than distrust, but the unbelief of man shall not make the promise of God of no effect; the Lord himself shall give a sign. How great soever your distress and danger, of you the Messiah is to be born, and you cannot be destroyed while that blessing is in you. It shall be brought to pass in a glorious manner; and the strongest consolations in time of trouble are derived from Christ, our relation to him, our interest in him, our expectations of him and from him. He would grow up like other children, by the use of the diet of those countries; but he would, unlike other children, uniformly refuse the evil and choose the good. And although his birth would be by the power of the Holy Ghost, yet he should not be fed with angels' food. Then follows a sign of the speedy destruction of the princes, now a terror to Judah. Before this child, so it may be read; this child which I have now in my arms, (Shear-jashub, the prophet's own son, ver. 3,) shall be three or four years older, these enemies' forces shall be forsaken of both their kings. The prophecy is so solemn, the sign is so marked, as given by God himself after Ahaz rejected the offer, that it must have raised hopes far beyond what the present occasion suggested. And, if the prospect of the coming of the Divine Saviour was a never-failing support to the hopes of ancient believers, what cause have we to be thankful that the Word was made flesh! May we trust in and love Him, and copy his example.

Biblehub - Matthew Henry

Barnes, on the other hand states :

A great variety of opinions have been entertained by interpreters in regard to this passage Isaiah 7:14-16. It may be useful, therefore, to state briefly what those opinions have been, and then what seems to be the true meaning.

(i) The first opinion is that which supposes that by the 'virgin' the wife of Ahaz is referred to, and that by the child which should be born, the prophet refers to Hezekiah. This is the opinion of the modern Jewish commentators generally. This interpretation prevailed among the Jews in the time of Justin. But this was easily shown by Jerome to be false. Ahaz reigned in Jerusalem but sixteen years 2 Kings 17:2, and Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign 2 Kings 18:2, and of course was not less than nine years old when this prophecy was delivered. Kimchi and Abarbanel then resorted to the supposition that Ahaz had a second wife, and that this refers to a child that was to be born of her. This supposition cannot be proved to be false, though it is evidently a mere supposition. It has been adopted by the Jews, because they were pressed by the passage by the early Christians, as constituting an argument for the divinity of Christ. The ancient Jews, it is believed, referred it mainly to the Messiah.

(ii) Others have supposed, that the prophet designated some virgin who was then present when the king and Isaiah held their conference, and that the meaning is, 'as surely as this virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, so surely shall the land be forsaken of its kings.' Thus Isenbiehl, Bauer, Cube, and Steudel held, as quoted by Hengstenberg, "Christol." i. p. 341.

(iii) Others suppose that the 'virgin' was not an actual, but only an ideal virgin. Thus Michaelis expresses it: 'By the time when one who is yet a virgin can bring forth (that is, in nine months), all will be happily changed, and the present impending danger so completely passed away, that if you were yourself to name the child, you would call him Immanuel.' Thus Eichhorn, Paulus, Hensler, and Ammon understand it; see "Hengstenberg."

(iv) Others suppose that the 'virgin' was the prophet's wife. Thus Aben Ezra, Jarchi, Faber, and Gesenius. Against this supposition there is only one objection which has been urged that is of real force, and that is, that the prophet already had a son, and of course his wife could not be spoken of as a virgin. But this objection is entirely removed by the supposition, which is by no means improbable, that the former wife of the prophet was dead, and that he was about to be united in marriage to another who was a virgin.

In regard to the prophecy itself, there have been three opinions:

(i) That it refers "exclusively" to some event in the time of the prophet; to the birth of a child then, either of the wife of Ahaz, or of the prophet, or of some other unmarried female. This would, of course, exclude all reference to the Messiah. This was formerly my opinion; and this opinion I expressed and endeavored to maintain, in the first composition of these notes. But a more careful examination of the passage has convinced me of its error, and satisfied me that the passage has reference to the Messtah. The reasons for this opinion I shall soon state.

Biblehub - Barnes

If more detail is required in regard to specific words and their real meaning, then probably the question is for SE-Biblical Hermeneutics.

The above is merely in regard to interpretations.

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