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Isaiah 7:14 Fulfilled in Christ?

 
 
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(By Mark Fontecchio)

Tucked into the seventh chapter of Isaiah is a section of text that has captured the attention of men. The Bible records, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).[1] The questions that surround this section of Scripture are both numerous and important to arriving at a correct interpretation. Did this prophecy only have significance in the days of Ahaz? Is this a Messianic prophecy? Is it possible that this famous passage has more than one meaning? A careful examination will show that this was indeed a direct and remarkable prophecy of the Messiah.

Examination of Isaiah 7:14

There are a few matters of interpretation that need to be addressed before a careful examination of Isaiah 7:14 can be undertaken. Charles Dyer reminds us:

The only safe approach to determining the fulfillment of prophecy is first to understand the prophecy in its original context. Then one must examine the New Testament to see if the prophecy corresponds to the later events that actually transpired. Biblical fulfillment occurs when the meaning of a specific Old Testament prophecy finds its exact correspondence in a New Testament person, activity, or event.[2]

A consistent hermeneutic plays a vital role in accurately interpreting Isaiah 7.

Even more germane to the issue at hand is the principle that any one given text of Scripture can only have one correct meaning. If it is said that a text can have two meanings, then the question must be asked, “Why not more?” How many meanings can any given prophecy have? Could a prophecy have three meanings or more? It is imperative to remember, “While a text can have only one meaning, it can have many applications. Significance refers to the application of a text’s meaning to various groups of individuals.”[3] These hermeneutical principles eliminate the common understanding that Isaiah 7:14 was primarily fulfilled in the days of Ahaz, but yet has a Messianic meaning in Matthew 1:23. The immediate context and wording of Isaiah 7 will demonstrate that this prophecy was not fulfilled at the time of Isaiah. Therefore, the conclusion must be made that this prophecy was a direct prediction of the Savior Jesus Christ.

There is a crucial feature at work in Isaiah that must be taken into consideration:

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 falls in the latter case because Immanuel’s birth comes too late to be a “present persuader.” The “sign” (v. 11) points primarily to threat and foreboding. Ahaz has rejected the Lord’s gracious offer (vv. 10–12), and Isaiah responds in wrath (v. 13).[4]

This speaks to whether or not a sign was given in that day. It could be argued that interpreting Isaiah 7:14 as a direct Messianic prophecy fails to identify or recognize a sign given for Jews living at the time of Isaiah. This need not be the case. Rather, it should be understood that:

. . . the assurance that Christ was to be born in Judah, of its royal family, might be a sign to Ahaz, that the kingdom should not perish in his day; and so far was the remoteness of the sign in this case from making it absurd or inappropriate, that the further off it was, the stronger the promise of continuance to Judah, which it guaranteed.[5]

The Lord had instructed Ahaz to ask for a sign, but he refused (Isa. 7:10-12). Therefore, the prediction given was not just to Ahaz, but to the house of David (Isa. 7:2, 13). The threat in Isaiah 7 was not only to Ahaz. The house of David had been unfaithful to the Lord and it is to them that this prophetic promise of a sign is given.

A common mistake is to fail to take into consideration the broader context of Isaiah. This has critical ramifications to understanding the intended meaning of Isaiah:

Isaiah 7:1–9:7 must be read as a unit—i.e., 7:14 must not be treated in isolation. The promised Immanuel (7:14) will possess the land (8:8), thwart all opponents (8:10), appear in Galilee of the Gentiles (9:1) as a great light to those in the land of the shadow of death (9:2). He is the Child and Son called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” in 9:6, whose government and peace will never end as he reigns on David’s throne forever (9:7).[6]

This is a further indication that the prediction given in Isaiah 7:14 is a direct prophecy of the Messiah.

Even in the wording of Isaiah, there is additional evidence that subtly suggests a direct Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 7. Before the prediction of the coming Son named Immanuel, Isaiah proclaimed, “Behold” (v. 14). This is the Hebrew Word hinneh. It was used in Scripture to announce a birth of, “unusual importance and significance.”[7] Isaiah was not just announcing the birth of a child. He was proclaiming the coming day of the most significant Child ever born among men.

Key information is gained by looking at some of the details provided by Isaiah. Considerable attention has been given by commentators to the word virgin (ʿalmah). The bottom line is that:

No other available Hebrew word would clearly indicate that the one whom it designates was unmarried. Consequently, no other word would have been suitable for fulfilling the requirements of the sign such as the context demanded. None of these other words would have pointed to an unusual birth. Only ʿalmah makes clear that the mother was unmarried.[8]

As will be seen, this is a vital point that must be understood. Further, it should be noted that the mother would name her child, “Immanuel” (v. 14). The child’s name means, “God (is) with us.”[9] What mother could name her child Immanuel unless there was some specific revelation from God that her child would be the one intended by Isaiah? Together, these details have a direct bearing on an accurate understanding of the text:

In any interpretation of this passage there are three points which need to be stressed. (1) The birth must be a sign. (2) The mother of the Child is one who is both unmarried and a good woman. This fact simply cannot be glossed over, and in itself rules out those interpretations which regard the mother as a married woman. (3) The very presence of the Child brings God to His people. Calvin rightly maintains that the name cannot be applied to anyone who is not God. No one else in the Old Testament bears this name. For these reasons, the prophecy must be interpreted only of that One to whom these conditions apply, namely, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Virgin and the Mighty God.[10]

The details of Isaiah point to a fulfillment in the Messiah.

This interpretation fits perfectly with the text of Matthew 1:23. There can be no doubt from Matthew’s account that the child carried by Mary was a sign. An angel of the Lord directly appeared to Joseph in a dream. Matthew informs us that this was the fulfillment from approximately 700 years before. God the Son dwelling with the people of Israel was truly a fulfillment of God being with them. If Isaiah 7:14 is said to have dual fulfillment, why are the Scriptures silent regarding the first fulfillment? The Word of God is spectacularly clear in Matthew 1:23 regarding the fulfillment in Christ. If a birth of a child named Immanuel to an unmarried woman is said to be a sign in Isaiah’s day, why is nothing listed in Isaiah as to the fulfillment? The contrast between the direct fulfillment in Matthew and the absence of any woman and child listed in Isaiah is utterly remarkable. Thankfully, we have God’s record of the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew.

Conclusion

Many fine teachers hold to a position other than the one presented in this article. The particular view put forth certainly goes against the grain of current scholarship. However, the view presented deserves another look. It starts with analyzing the concept of dual fulfillment of prophecy and our hermeneutical methods.

Ahaz and the house of David stood in disobedience to the Lord. The sign given was prophetic and pointed forward to the day when the Lord Jesus Christ would come into the world. God would truly dwell with His people. The house of Judah could know that God was not done with the nation of Israel.

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Endnotes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: The New King James Version. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

[2] Charles Dyer, “Biblical Meaning of ‘Fulfillment,’” in Issues in Dispensationalism, ed. Wesley Willis and John Master (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994), 70.

[3] Charles Dyer, “Biblical Meaning of ‘Fulfillment,’” in Issues in Dispensationalism, ed. Wesley Willis and John Master (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994), 66.

[4] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 79.

[5] J. A. Alexander, Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, 171.

[6] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 79.

[7] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–18, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 284–285.

[8] Ibid., 288.

[9] John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1048.

[10] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–18, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 291.


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