Understanding The Bible
STUDY REFERENCE
Clarence E. Mason's "OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETIC BOOKS"
ISAIAH
Expanded Appendix
The Problem of the Virgin Sign to Ahaz  7:14-16; 8:1-8, and
Ruckert's Chart on Isaiah 40-66

 

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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
1970

OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETIC BOOKS
THE PROBLEM OF THE VIRGIN SIGN TO AHAZ 7:14-16; 8:1-8


1. Four viewpoints on this passage

UNORTHODOX

(1) That the whole passage refers to Isaiah's time alone.

ORTHODOX

(2) That the whole passage refers to the future alone.

(3) That verses 14-15 refer to Christ alone (far view) and that verse 16 refers to someone else and was fulfilled in Isaiah's time, either by (1) Shear-jashub (Kelly, "lad"), or by (2) some other child (Maher-shalal-hash-baz or someone else). A few say verse 14 is entirely future and verses 15-16 are near view only.

(4) That verse 14 refers to Isaiah's time (near view) and to Christ (far view) and thus has a double application, and that verses 15-16 refer to the near view only. This is the view taught in this class.
 

2. Reasons for believing there is a near view application (to Isaiah's time)
Note: This rules out view (2) above (i.e., future alone)

(1) Because the passage is primarily concerned with an event soon to occur.

(2) Because the cowed king could not be calmed in his panic over the immediate disaster impending by a prophecy of value only to the distant future.

(3) Because 8:1-4, 8,10,18 speak of the prophet's child in a way favorable to this view (cp. 7:15-16).
 

3. Reasons for believing there is also a far view application (to a future Messiah = Christ)
Note: This rules out view (1) above (i.e., near view alone)

(1) The familiar "Law of Double Fulfillment" applies here without a doubt. Even George Adam Smith, who cannot be accused of being prejudiced toward conservative views(!), says that there must be a sign of a future Messiah here or the words are diluted of any real meaning.

(2) In Matthew 1:22-23, we find the complete fulfillment. No personality that has ever lived, save the Lord Jesus, has filled out or could fill out the prophecy in the fullest measure.

(3) It is of no inconsiderable value to remember that this has been the mind of the Christian Church from the apostolic age till now. It is also significant to note that until recently only infidels and Jews challenged this view.

(4) This interpretation agrees with the teaching of Isaiah all through this prophecy (cp. 8:4,8; 9:1-7; 11:1; etc.).

(5) There is a prophecy of striking similarity in Micah 5:2-3 and Matthew 2:6 identifies this passage. Micah was contemporaneous with Isaiah.

4. Views (3) and (4) (under 1 on page 48)

[View (1) has been disposed of by 3.]
[View (2) has been disposed of by 2.]

As to view (3)
William Kelly seeks to avoid the problems involved in the passage by pointing out a difference between the word "son" of verse 14 and "child" of verse 16, translating "child" as "lad" (v. 16) and saying it refers to Shear-jashub. Thus the prophet, according to this view, states the sign of verses 14-15 to Ahaz, and then points to Shear-jashub by his side (7:3) as he speaks verse 16 (reverting back to the original prophecy of verses 4-7), closing the interview thus: "For before this lad (Shear-jashub--by my side) grows up (i.e., in a short while) the land thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her  Kings" (as I have just told you, vv.7-10).

Objections

(1) To change so abruptly from "the child" of verses 14-15 to Shear-jashub (v. 16) is most unlikely.

(2) Comparing 7:16 with 8:4, the child would have to be younger than Shear-jashub.

(3) Further, verse 15 cannot be applied legitimately either to Shear-jashub or Christ.

(4) Yet verse 15 is indissolubly linked with verse 16 by the "for" of verse 16.

(5) And language does not mean anything if there is not some connection between verses 14 and 15 (16).

Thus, view (4) is the only view (as witnessed by and in harmony with points 2 and 3) that meets all conditions.

The whole passage of verses 14-16 has a near view application; and yet, arising out of this setting is a far view application ("sign-virgin -Immanuel") which can refer only to Mary and Christ. Verses 15 and 16 are not essential details of the sign in its far view, and thus refer only to the immediate events of the near view, as proof to Ahaz of God's power to speedily perform His word (7:6-7).

5. The word translated "virgin" in the KJV on Isaiah 7:14

The Hebrew word used here, with the definite article, is ha-almah. With 7:14 included, it is used seven times in the Old Testament with the following KJV renderings for the remaining six:

a young unmarried woman
Gen. 24:43 - virgin
Ex. 2:8 - maid

probably same as preceding
Ps. 68:25 - damsels
Cant. 1:3 - virgins

implication is uncertain, though there is nothing to prove that they were married
Cant. 6:8 - virgins
Prov. 30:18 - maid

In addition, the similar word alamoth is used, untranslated, as a title in Psalm 46 (upon alamoth) and of other musical details in 1 Chronicles 15:20 (upon alamoth), evidently referring to women's voices.

Thus the word almah would naturally suggest the idea of a virgin, or at least permit it, if there were no presuppositions of unbelief. However, it is interesting to observe that the Jewish translators of the LXX did not uniformly use the strict Greek word for virgin (parthenos). They translated almah and its variation (alamoth) as follows:

neanis - young woman, 4x
nestis - youth, Ix
parthenos - virgin, 2x
krupsian - secret things, Ix
alamoth transliterated , Ix

The versions of Symmachus, Aquila, and Theodotian all render 7:14 by neanis, young woman.

The Hebrew word most commonly used for virgin in the strict, technical sense is bithula. Many writers, who do not receive the virgin birth of Christ, contend that if the writer had desired to give the strict, technical idea of a virgin in 7:14, he would have used bithula. But this contention is not warranted, because in Joel 1:8 we read: "Lament like a virgin (bithula) for the husband (underlining mine) of her youth"!

So it is apparent that there would still be room for cavils on the part of the skeptically inclined, regardless of which word was used.

Although many fine conservative scholars (e.g., Edward Young, Allan MacRae) state dogmatically that almah must be rendered virgin in 7:14 or we do violence to the word if we do not, it is nevertheless true that the general consensus of conservative scholarship favors flexibility here, understanding the word to mean "a young woman of marriageable age, whether married or unmarried, though usually used of one unmarried."

Such scholarly men of undoubted conservative integrity as W. H. Griffith Thomas, W. Graham Scroggie, and A. B. Winchester (one of the earlier Bible professors at Dallas), are equally insistent in urging the flexible definition above. They feel that an unwarranted fear of weakening the truth of our Lord's virgin birth has led to the adamancy of the other conservative position, but that such an insistence of seeing only a far view (Christ) in 7:14 does violence both to the context and the hermeneutics of the passage. The important point to make is that there is no concession to unbelief in this alternate viewpoint. They are just as insistent in demanding that the final and complete fulfillment of 7:14 is in Christ" and that the historical narratives of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 and 2 unqualifiedly prove that Jesus was virgin-born. However, they feel that recognizing a near view of almah in 7:14 meets the demands of the context for a sign to Ahaz's generation!

Thus, this alternate interpretation pulls the rug out from under the liberal who tries to use 7:14 against the virgin birth of Christ by our unexpectedly agreeing with him that, to be adequate to the context, there must have been a near view application; we then say, at the same time, that this is only a partial fulfillment and that the ultimate fulfillment must be in Christ. Thus, the gestation of Jesus in the virgin womb of Mary, who had no sexual relation with Joseph until after Jesus was born, is flatly stated and fully established by the New Testament historical accounts of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 and 2.

This then takes the argument out of 7:14, where it does not belong, and places it upon Matthew's and Luke's historical accounts, where it does belong. This, in our judgment, is a far more effective way to deal with unbelievers than to get engrossed in a battle of philology in 7:14, where "tis" and "tain't" could go on forever to no profit and no solution. The alternate view solves the problem.

6. Who is the almah (virgin) of 7:14?

(1) In the near view: The primary or partial fulfillment

a. Modem Jewish commentators are generally agreed that the wife of Ahaz is referred to here and that the child is Hezekiah. However, this would be impossible with respect to the child, because Ahaz reigned in Jerusalem 16 years (2 Kings16:2), and Hezekiah was 25 years old when he began to reign (2 Kings18:2). Hence, this child was at least 9 years old when this prophecy was uttered.

b. Others have supposed that the prophet pointed the king either to a specific young woman of the king's court, or some other young woman standing nearby, and that he was really saying, "By the time that virgin can conceive and bear a son, the danger you fear will be passed."

c. Still others have supposed that the virgin was not actual but an imaginary one. Macarus paraphrases verse 14 thus: "By the time when one who is yet a virgin can bring forth a son (9 months), the present impending danger will have so completely passed away that if you yourself, Ahaz, were to name the child, you would call him Immanuel.

d. Others suppose that the virgin was the prophet's wife, to the objection that the prophet was already the father of a son (7:3). But this objection is made on the basis that the word almah must be limited to the strict sense of virginity, which would not be necessary if the more flexible meaning of almah were accepted.

CONCLUSION: The first suggestion, that Hezekiah is the child, is impossible.
The second suggestion is possible, but unlikely, as no women of the court, or other women, seem to have been present when Isaiah met Ahaz (7:1,10). This leaves two solutions, c and d, which are not only possible, but are also harmonious with the setting. Of these, however, d seems far more likely to me than c. I say this because:

(a) Deliverance is promised before the child is scarcely more than a babe. Note the striking similarity between 7:16 and what is said of Maher-shalal-hash-baz in 8:4.

(b) The words of 7:15 agree with 7:22, which describes the poverty and desolation which will result from the very invasion of the Assyrians which accomplishes the overthrow of Judah's enemies, Israel and Syria. Also compare 7:16b and 8:4b with the meaning of Maher-shalal-hash-baz's name: "Speed to the spoil; haste to the prey."

(c) The deliverance of Judah from the Assyrian yoke is so plainly accomplished by God that 8:8 and 10 use the word "Immanuel" ("God with us") right in the same context with the mention of Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:1, 4) and the definite statement concerning the symbolical significance of Isaiah and his children (8:18). Is it then true that Maher-shalal-hash-baz is not called Immanuel? No, he is! Anyone will see this if he reads 8:1-18 as a connected paragraph. There can be no objection to a double name. This was common in the Orient, and in the complete fulfillment our Lord was called both "Jesus" and "Immanuel, " Mt. 1:21-23.

(d) The word "sign" (7:14) is indissolubly linked with "sign" of 8:18, which, as we have already said, is spoken in a setting where Maher-shalal-hash-baz and the significance of his name are the subjects of the discussion.

(e) Further, there is no difficulty with the word "virgin, " if it be borne in mind that the word simply means "young woman of marriageable age." Whether she be married or not is to be determined by the context. That, in the near view, she is married, is harmonious with 8:2-3.

(f) But, even if all scholars agreed that almah must be taken in the strict technical sense of "virgin, " there is absolutely nothing in the context to hinder the possibility that Isaiah's first wife died, and that he is here called upon by God to remarry, with a view to emphasizing the significance of the sign upon Ahaz and others (7:14; 8:1-3,18). Certainly the whole circumstance of 8:2 is public enough to permit the idea of a marriage. And the probable time of this incident (between 734 and 726--probably near 727 or 728; hence he is over 40 years old) would be more favorable toward this idea than that Maher-shalal-hash-baz was borne by his first wife, unless, of course, as is entirely possible, he married later in life and married a much younger woman. At any event, Shear-jashub is still but a lad (7:3).

SUMMARY STATEMENT: Therefore, if almah is taken in the general sense of its use, the context would indicate that the almah was probably Isaiah's (first) wife, and the child, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. If, however, someone fearing the weakening of our position insists (unnecessarily, I believe) upon the strict sense of almah, then the woman could be Isaiah's (second) wife, and the child, Maher-shalal-hash-baz; or, as Macarus suggested (under 6, (1), c, above), the almah could have been an imaginary one, anyone of Judah's women who was a virgin at the time of the prophecy and who might have conceived and borne a son by natural processes (having married after the statement was made) by the time of the fulfillment of 7:16.

As to just what is the point, according to view 6, (1), c, of all similar language used concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz in chapter 8 is a question too deep for me. So, although admitting the possibility of this view, to connect the prophecy of 7:14-16 with Maher-shalal-hash-baz (chapter 8) seems to me far more logical and natural, and I am satisfied it is the correct view. It certainly presents less difficulties than any other view, while doing something supremely necessary, namely, giving point-and purpose to the Maher-shalal-hash-baz incident.

(2) In the far view: The ultimate fulfillment (cp. 6, (1), above)

Of course, in the far view, Mary is the almah. Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27 absolutely establish this and the Greek word "parthenos" (which is used to translate almah), as well as the carefully worded context, clearly establish that, in the ultimate fulfillment, the word is used in the limited sense of strict virginity. It is important to observe, however, that it is a well established historical fact that the Jews were not expecting their Messiah to be super-naturally born. They were simply expecting a greater than Solomon, by natural generation. We do not prove the virgin birth by Isaiah 7:14. We prove it by Matthew 1 and Luke 1, where the evidence is conclusive. And from these passages we see that God had in mind the virgin birth all the time as the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. (Cp. Resurrection of Christ, Jn. 20:9!)

7. The reasoning of the passage

It seems clear, therefore, that in the near view, the sign is not in the supernatural conception of a child, the language being elastic enough to take care of a perfectly natural event (i.e., 8:3), but the sign in the near view is rather in God's supernatural deliverance from the Assyrians (7:7,16; 8:8-10), of which the child of double name is just a symbol, i.e., "God is with us" (Emmanuel), to help, to deliver, and "spoil" our enemies (Maher-shalal-hash-baz).

Whereas in the far view the sign is (1) a supernatural conception (Mt. 1:18, 22-23, 25; Lk. 1:31,34-35,37) and (2) a supernatural deliverance (Mt. 1:21 with Lk. 4:20-26), both then and in a future day when He shall destroy Israel's enemy, "the Assyrian, " "the king of the north," and all other enemies by His glorious return (Ezk. 38-39; Isa. 14:25; 30:31; 9:1-7; Dan. 8:21-26; 11:15; Zech. 14:1-4).

The reasoning of the passage is "why fear these nations? All these will pass away. They cannot save, only destroy! But here is a sign of deliverance. Immanuel will fulfill all promises and effect Israel's deliverance. Ahaz, Manasseh, Jehoiakim, Zedekiah--all will fail, but David's great Son and Lord, He will save!"

8. Quotation from Dr. W. Graham Scroggie

Dr. Scroggie, in a few lucid sentences, states the matter very helpfully. Evidently Dr. Scroggie either thinks that the almah in the near view is Isaiah's second wife (6, (1), Conclusion, (f) ) or he inclines to Macarus's view (6, (1), c). But, be that as it may, here is the quotation: "Faith secures fixity. Do you believe? Apparently Ahaz did not (v. 10), but the Lord gives him another chance, offering him a sign, which, however, he refuses (v. 12). Generally, to seek a sign is an evidence of weak faith, or of unbelief, but when God offered it, it was sinful presumption to refuse it! No one tempts the Lord who does what the Lord bids him do (v. 12)."

"But the nation must be preserved from the folly of its king, and so a sign is given nevertheless (w. 13-16). Verse 14 has a primary AND an ultimate fulfillment. The primary fulfillment must have been within two or three years, or it would not have been a sign at all (v. 16) (i.e. , to Ahaz). In the near view, when the prophecy ("a virgin shall conceive") was made, the girl was unmarried, but not when it was fulfilled. In the ultimate fulfillment, the girl (Mary) was unmarried at the time of fulfillment ("a virgin shall conceive, " cp. Mt. 1:22-23). Think about this."

9. Also see the commentary of Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown, particularly on 7:14-16.
 


 

NOTE:  RUCKERT'S CHART ON ISAIAH 40-66
(Showing that Messiah's death is the heart of the heart of the prophecy, and that through it alone can God act in grace toward Israel.)
27 (40-66) 9 (40-48) 3 (40-42) Cyrus the Servant PAST
3 (43-45)*
3 (46-48)
 
9 (49-57) 3 (49-51) Messiah the Servant PRESENT
3 (52*-53*-54*)
3 (55-57)
 
9 (58-66) 3 (58-60) Israel the Servant FUTURE
3 (61-63)*
3 (64-66)

 

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