Found in Isaiah 7:13-14, Matthew 1:18-25, and Luke 1:26-35
Dr. Jay A. Quine
Then he said, “Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (NASB)
This passage announces the birth of a wondrous child through a virgin as a sign of deliverance to the whole house of David--the birth of Messiah by the miracle of the virgin birth. This passage, quoted by the angel to Joseph to explain what had happened to his fiancé, is included by Matthew as one of the many fulfill-ment prophe-cies regarding Messiah that was ful-filled in the con-ception of Mary and the birth and life of Jesus.
Isaiah gives both a promise and judgment on the house of David (Isaiah 7:14). It is important to notice that this section is addressed to the whole house of David (vs. 13), and not to just Ahaz or the immediate situation. It becomes both a promise to the house of David and a judgment.
First, through the sign and promise of Isaiah 7:14, God is assuring the house of David that the attempted alliance of Syria and Israel (7:1-2) would not come to pass. No impostor would ever sit on the throne of David.
Second, the promise of the sign and the virgin birth was saying that the line of David which had spiritually degenerated would be replaced by One who was not degenerate, though still in the royal line of David and with all royal rights to the throne. God would set aside the physical line of the merely human and degenerate house of David, which would become even more degenerate during the reigns of the kings to come. This becomes even more evident in the curse of Jeconiah.
Finally, the sign guaranteed the deliverance of God’s people and the final establishment of David’s throne through the birth of this marvelous child designated “Immanuel,” meaning, “God with us.” No impostor would take the right of rule away from David’s line.
Examining the Vocabulary
“Virgin” is the Hebrew, `alma, which means “a mature, young, unmarried, and chaste woman.” `Alma . . . represents a young woman, one of whose characteristics is virginity. This is born out by several facts:
(1) The Septuagint, long before any Christological controversies, used parthenos (the Greek word for virgin) in two of the seven occurrences of `alma, and this includes Isaiah 7:14. This is what the angel quoted to Joseph as a prediction of the virgin birth.
(2) There is no instance where one can prove that `alma designates a young woman who is not also a virgin.
(3) Further, it is the only Hebrew word that unequivocally signifies an unmarried woman. No other Hebrew word would clearly indicate that the one whom it designates was unmarried.
(4) It is sometimes argued that the Hebrew language had a more precise word for “virgin,” bethulah, but this word may also designate a betrothed virgin or one who was actually married (cf. Joel 1:8). In such a case, the birth of the child might be viewed as the result of the normal husband/wife relationship. Had Isaiah used this word, he would or could have left us in confusion or with the wrong idea. But not so with `alma. He is speaking of a young, unmarried virgin who conceives miraculously. `Alma was used be-cause it combines both the ideas of virginity and the condition of being unmarried. “The conclusion to which we are driven is that while the prophet did not want to stress the virginity, neither did he wish to leave it aside. ”
(5) Carson notes, “The LXX renders the word by parthenos, which almost always means ‘virgin...’ (T)he overwhelming majority of the occurrences of parthenos in both biblical and profane Greek require the rendering ‘virgin’; and the unambiguous context of Matthew 1 puts Matthew's intent beyond dispute."
In this way, one would be born, but not by normal conception, but by a miracle work of God so that the one born would not only be true man, but God with us in the sense of being the God-man (cf. Isaiah 9:6a, c). Thus, we are to expect precisely what we find in the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Understanding the Prophecy
There are many options suggested to understand this prophecy. Here are the top contenders, with accompanying major objections.
1. A young woman named her child Immanuel as a tribute to God's presence and deliverance and that the passage applies to Jesus because Immanuel fits his mission. However, why would that be a "sign" as Isaiah says? 7:11 expects something spectacular.
2. A young woman (a virgin at the time of the prophecy) would bear a son and before he reaches the age of discretion Ahaz will be delivered from his enemies. Matthew sees a later, fuller fulfillment (sensus plenior) in Jesus which we must accept on his authority (see W.S. LaSor). However, how would Ahaz recognize this as a "sign" unless he could look ahead to Jesus?
3. Isaiah is referring exclusively to Jesus (see Young). This does justice to the meaning of 'almah and parthenos. However (again), how would Ahaz recognize this as a "sign" unless he could look ahead to Jesus?
4. Isaiah is referring to the righteous remnant when he says, "God with us." Mary and Jesus would be included in this group, so it applies to them. However, would Ahaz have understood these words so metaphorically?
5. "Signs" in the OT may function as a "present persuader" (e.g. Exod 4:8-9) or as "future confirmation" (e.g. Exod 3:12). Isaiah 7:14 is this second one. The sign points to the threat. Ahaz has rejected the Lords offer (vv. 10-12), and Isaiah responds in wrath (v. 13). Isaiah sees a threat, not only to Ahaz, but to the "house of David", so when Immanuel is born it confirms the events come upon Ahaz and the loss of the throne of the Davidic dynasty. Immanuel has come to restore it.
Thus, this last option seems to be best. However, again Ahaz would have to understand the “sign” to be taken this way. He would be expecting then simply a child born (through a virgin), but not necessarily in his time.
The Designation “Immanuel”
A brief comment about the so called name “Immanuel” may be helpful. Those who see a double fulfillment see the first fulfillment in the birth of a contemporary whose birth represented God’s presence, and the ultimate fulfillment referring to the Lord Jesus. While it is true there is a son born to Isaiah in the next chapter who, it may be suggested, becomes a confirmation of the Messiah prophecy of 7:14, his name is not “Immanuel.” It is Maher-shalal-has-baz, (“swift is the booty, speedy is the prey,” Isaiah 8:1). The statement of 8:8, “. . . will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel” is not addressing Isaiah’s son. It addresses Messiah and declares that His land will be invaded by Assyria.
It is to be noted that one of the primary purposes of Isaiah’s prophecy was to show that the sinful, degenerate, and merely human line of Ahaz had become godless, and that it would be replaced by One who was more than man. He would be the God-man, Immanuel, conceived miraculously in the virgin. No child as recorded in Scripture is ever called “Immanuel.” It is helpful to note that no son of Isaiah or Hezekiah or any other contemporary was ever called “Immanuel.” Even when Christ was born He was called “Jesus,” not “Immanuel.”
Therefore “Immanuel” is not a name, but an appellation; it was a designation, a title or a description of who this Child would be--God with us in the flesh, both God and man (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2).