Dec 27, 2013

Who was Isaiah’s Messiah?: Part II

A number of years ago I watched a TV program the plot of which involved an angel who offered a group of people the opportunity to witness a miracle.  As I recall, this offer was to prove God’s love.  It was memorable, because one by one, each person refused the offer. I remember my sense of incredulity as I thought, “No one would actually refuse such an offer.” But then, I remembered: 1.) this is always the attitude of the God hater (though he may be intrigued by the novelty and may even feign genuine interest); and 2.) there are biblical instances of this, and one instance in particular produced one of the most fantastic prophecies ever given.  

During the reign of King Ahaz, the Arameans were threatening to overthrow Judah with the result that the governing officials were terrified.  At God’s commissioning, Isaiah the prophet approached the King and promised him that the overthrow would not occur and even offered Ahaz the privilege of receiving a miraculous sign of his choice, “as high as heaven or as deep as sheol” as confirmation.  Astonishingly, King Ahaz refused the offer, “resolved to persist in his unbelief…yet he pretends a pious reason: I will not tempt the Lord; as if it would be a tempting of God to do that which God himself invited and directed him to do. Note, A secret disaffection to God is often disguised with the specious colours of respect to him; and those who are resolved that they will not trust God yet pretend that they will not tempt him” (Matthew Henry).  The result—Isaiah issued a prophecy containing a sign astounding in scope.  That prophecy and sign are found in Isa 7:14ff.: 
  לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא לָכֶם אוֹת הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן וְקָרָאת שְׁמוֹ עִמָּנוּ אֵל
 “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give a sign to you, ‘Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call his name, Immanu-el’”

Leningrad Codex Facsimile featuring Isaiah 7:14 (left page, rt. column, begins 9th line up and spans several lines). 
Translation: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name, ‘Immanuel’ [God with us]."

A couple of things to note:
1.)  The sign is given directly by the Lord, i.e. “the Lord Himself.”
2.)  In order for the “sign” to be meaningful, and to connect to the extraordinary proposition made by the prophet, i.e. high as heaven or deep as Sheol, something extraordinary like virginal conception would be required. The Jewish understanding of this is reflected in the LXX rendering of almah (עַלְמָה) as parthenos (παρθένος), the meaning of which is unquestionably that of "virgin."
3.)  The Hebrew term translated “virgin” here (עַלְמָה), is used in the OT to refer to: young, sexually mature girls who are marriageable, but not yet married, i.e. virginal maidens, including: Rebecca (Gen 24:43); Moses’ sister (Ex. 2:8);  to young girls playing tambourines (Ps 68:25); generic reference to young girls enamored with their mistress (Songs 1:3; see also 6:8).  A related form is used to refer to the disgrace of having given up one's virginal purity (Is 54:4); another form is used to refer to “youthful vigor,” capturing the attendant freshness that goes along with this time of life (Cf. Jb. 20:11, 33:25; Ps 89:45).
4.)   The term/title “Immanuel” is constituted/composed of three key terms: The preposition עם, (with), plus pronoun נו (us), and the term for God, אֵל ., e.g. עִמָּנוּ אֵל. 

5.)  It is interesting to note that there is no record of anyone being named or titled this ("Immanuel") anywhere in the Bible.  However, Matt 1:23 presents this as being fulfilled in reference to Mary and Jesus (see below), as well as to others party to the events surrounding His birth.

6.) There is one Hebrew term plus conjunction for the translation, “she will call.”  It is third person feminine singular, וְקָרָאת. The subject of the verb is the virgin who will give birth to this son.  She will know who He is and refer to Him as such.  This seems appropriate for Mary’s actions towards her Son throughout the Gospel narratives and seems to add insight into her wonder at the statement by the shepherds.  The text states that, “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:18,19).  We have insight into Mary’s heart here.  She knew the origin of her Son, and with a level of confidence, that was exclusive to her.  

7.) It is also interesting that my Modern Hebrew New Testament uses the Hebrew term עַלְמָה (almah) as a reference to Mary, and qualifies this by the designation of בְּתוּלָה, (virgin) i.e. a maiden who, specifically, is a virgin.  This is likely a necessity since in our time/culture, maidens are not necessarily virgins!  However, to discover your new wife to not be a virgin in OT times was cause for the rejection of the wife, and a false charge of her having been deflowered prior to the marriage was a serious legal matter (Deut. 22:14ff).
In conclusion, here are a few things to note:  
First, during a time of imminent national annihilation, God promised that the calamity would not immediately end in doom.  Further, within 65 years the threatening lands would be destroyed.  Worse, however, is that the Northern Kingdom of Israel would be defeated by Assyria.  This occurred in 721 BC.  

Second, God promised that: 1.) the nation would not be completely destroyed, and, 2.) at some distant time yet future, there would be a baby supernaturally born who would represent God’s physical presence with His people and would be called Immanuel by His mother.  (Note: there is a OT textual variant here that reads as an infinitive and lacks the pronoun; the NT quote of this v. is from a variant allowing the plural translation, cf. Matt 1:23).  Here is an example of a different form of the verb from the 5th cent. Bezae, which follows the LXX reading:
Codex Bezae variant of "kalew"

Third, this child, Immanuel, would be supernaturally conceived having no human Father, and His birth would be orchestrated by God as stated in Isa 7:14.  This means that He would be a supernatural representative of God’s presence with His people; supernaturally promised, supernaturally conceived, and given to a supernaturally preserved nation which would be ransacked in the intermediate years, (cf. Isa. 8:8), but eventually restored.  There would come a time, though, when something extraordinary would occur in Galilee of the Gentiles (Isa. 9:1; Matt 2:22; 3:13).  The people would “see a great light” (9:2) who would be a source of great joy for His people (9:3). He would ultimately free His captive people (9:4).  Isaiah further says of Immanuel, that “…a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this (Isa 9:6,7 NAS). Thus, this Immanuel is attributed with deity and all the other attributes described above and discussed in my description of Isa 9:6,7. 

      Additional notes: 

1.)   Regarding the sign to the king, in my view, the king never saw the fulfillment of the sign.  The sign was in part a judgment on him.  Messiah was God's view of what a king really should be, which is part of why He is given such grand names/titles--quite a contrast to the failure of the king receiving the msg.  The contrast b/t him and the future Messiah highlighted his failures.  Furthermore, it contained the idea that if you're not going to ask for a sign, I'll give a sign of my choosing--directed not merely to you (i.e. b/c of your refusal, you won’t directly receive it), but to the nation, and it is this...", etc.  The eventual fulfillment of the sign shows the scope of God's redemptive plan--it is an ongoing plan, bigger than any single period of time, or individuals, and reveals His sovereign unfolding of redemptive history.  

     2.) Dual fulfillment of prophecies?  I accept dual fulfillment of prophecy on a case by case basis but only when the text makes it clear that such an interpretation is warranted.  E.g. Hosea 11:1 when clarified by Matt 2:15

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