We have already learned in the previous article concerning the verse, “…behold the virgin conceived and bore a son and called His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). This prophecy was given in order to confirm the victory of the house of David over their enemy. Isaiah prophesied to the house of David that Ratzin, King of Aram, and Pekeach, son of Remaliah, King of Israel, would not be able to fulfill their plans to make war against Judah because before they could come, the kingdom of Assyria would take control of the north and in a short period of time Sennacheriv King of Assyria, would attack Judah. However G-d would deliver Judah in a miraculous manner.
And Hezekiah the king, and Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz, prayed because of this, and cried to heaven. And the L-RD sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty men of valor, and the leaders and captains, in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he came into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels killed him there with the sword. Thus the L-RD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacheriv the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all, and guided them on every side. II Chronicles 32:20-22
This victory happened during the time of King Hezekiah. There are those who say that King Hezekiah is the child that Isaiah 7:14 speaks of; for instance, the famous commentator Radak. Others, like Rashi, do not agree with this interpretation. They say that it is the son of the prophet Isaiah that this verse alludes to. They cite the following verse to prove this,
“And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bore a son. Then said the L-RD unto me: ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz.” Isa. 8:3
In chapter 8 of Isaiah, when the child of the prophet Isaiah is mentioned, the name Immanuel also appears twice within this section.
And he shall sweep through Judah overflowing as he passes through, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.
Make an uproar, O peoples, and you shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all you of far countries; gird yourselves, and you shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and you shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall be brought to naught; speak the word, and it shall not stand; O Immanuel (for God is with us). Isa. 8:8-10
For what purpose does the name “Immanuel” appear in these verses? Some commentators agree that the primary purpose is to show that the child born to Isaiah is the fulfillment of the prophecy in chapter 7. There is a problem with this interpretation. In the previous article, it was stated that Isaiah 7:14 is a prophecy that the L-rd gave in order to be a “sign“. It was discussed that the word for “sign” in Hebrew relates a miraculous event. It was for this reason that although the word “alma” simply means “a very righteous woman of the highest moral character” that one should understand this word in this context as a virgin.
Isaiah 7:3 clearly teaches that before Isaiah’s wife conceived the child that Rashi and other commentators say fulfill Isaiah 7:14, his wife had already delivered at least one child called Shear-Yashuv,
Then said the L-RD unto Isaiah: ‘Go forth now to meet Ahaz, you, and Shear-Yashuv your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fullers’ field; Isa. 7:3
Since Isaiah’s wife had already delivered one child, where is the supernatural aspect of her conceiving another son? Simply stated, there is none. There is another problem with this interpretation. If the prophecy is fulfilled in the birth of Isaiah’s second son then where is the second child that Isaiah 8:18 speaks of?
“Behold, I and the children whom the L-RD hath given me shall be for signs and for wonders in Israel from the L-RD of Hosts, Who dwells in mount Zion.” Isa. 8:18
Before dealing with this verse, the rabbinical objection for “alma” being translated “virgin” shall be discussed. Rabbinical scholars point out that in Proverbs 30:18-20, the word “alma” appears and the context, according to their view, is not a virgin. As previously stated, the technical meaning of “alma” is not “virgin”. It is only the textual clues within Isaiah 7:13-14 that causes one to conclude that Isaiah is indeed speaking of a virgin. Nevertheless, careful consideration to the Proverbs passage does not eliminate “virgin” as a possible and likely translation for “alma”.
Proverbs 30:18-20 speaks about four situations,
“There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock;
the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with an alma.
So is the way of an adulterous woman; she eats, and wipes her mouth, and says: ‘I have done no wickedness.“
These verses describe three wonderful images and a fourth which words cannot express. The first is an eagle flying in the sky; what a beautiful thing to see eagles soar. They are able to fly for long periods of time without any evidence of effort or movement. The second is the way a snake slithers with grace and agility, defying explanation. The third is a boat sailing upon the sea. All would agree that these are three beautiful spectacles taking place in the sky, upon land and upon the sea. The fourth, however, is superior to these three. Agur, the writer of this section of Proverbs, is speaking in regard to the way of a man with an alma as an inexpressible act. Where the first three are of a physical nature, the fourth has a spiritual dimension. The rabbis emphasize that there is no trail for an eagle flying in the sky or a snake slithering on the ground or a boat sailing upon the sea. In the same way, an alma, a woman of high modesty, conceals her sexuality from all public expressions. Notice that this is in sharp contrast to the adulterous woman whose sinful sexual behavior is as public as one eating a meal, wiping one’s mouth with a napkin and brazenly saying “this behavior is not wicked”.
There is a similar but different interpretation which needs to be offered. This passage may be speaking of the very first time a man is with a woman who is a virgin. According to Jewish law, the most spiritual and highest level of marriage is when a man marries a virgin. The Jewish wedding contract lists whether a woman is a widow, virgin or “other”. This third definition obviously speaks of one who is either divorced or has had sexual activity outside of marriage. It is clear from commentary concerning the reason why a woman’s status is written on a ketubah (marriage contract) that this is an important subject. The simple interpretation of Proverbs 30:18-20 is that Agur offers three beautiful images all of a natural occurrence. The fourth is greater than the previous three. This fourth one is when a man experiences intimacy with a righteous, modest woman for the very first time. Therefore, it is proper to translate this section of Proverbs as follows:
“Three things which are too wonderful for me; and the fourth I do not know: The way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake upon a rock, the way of a boat in the heart of the sea, and the way of a man with a virgin.“
Finally, Agur contrasts the fourth one, which is the primary thing he is speaking of, with an adulterous woman, whose sexual behavior is no more special than eating a meal.
Now let’s return to the significance of Isaiah 8:18. Isaiah states that he and the two children given him are Signs and Symbols for Israel from the L-rd of Hosts, Who dwells on Mount Zion.
The phrase which refers to G-d as the L-rd of Hosts Who dwells on Mount Zion is seen by all commentators with messianic and redemptive qualities. Mount Zion is understood as a term that has millennial kingdom connotations. Hence, one should understand the Isaiah prophecy as eschatological.
Who are the two children that the prophet is speaking of? The first child born to Isaiah is called is “Shear Yashuv”. This child goes with Isaiah when he speaks to King Ahaz when Isaiah receives the prophecy of Israel 7:14. Could this child be one of the two children that Isaiah 8:18 speaks of? Since Shear Yashuv hears this prophecy he cannot be the one who the prophecy refers to. Hence Immanuel is the first child of Isaiah 8:18 and Isaiah’s second son Maher-Shalal-hash- baz is the second. But just who is this “Immanuel”? As previously stated there is a relationship between the two children. This relationship is that both children confirm a victory for the House of David. The first victory is over Sennacheriv and the second will be at the end of the age; a victory which Messiah will bring about. There is an additional reason to believe that this prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 is messianic in nature. The end of Isaiah Chapter 8 and the first part of Chapter 9 contains a passage that speaks of G-d sending His salvation. Isaiah says,
“That the government may be increased, and of peace there be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it through justice and through righteousness from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the L-RD of Hosts does perform this.” Isa. 9:6
There is no doubt that this refers to Messiah. The previous verse refers to Messiah in a most interesting manner,
“For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty G-d, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isa. 9:5
In the same way that Isaiah 7:14 refers to the child born as Immanuel- G-d with us, in a divine manner so too does Isaiah 9:5. Hence Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:5 are referring to the same child- Messiah. There are those (Rashi for example) who say that it is wrong to think that the child himself is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty G-d, or Everlasting Father; rather it is G-d, Who is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty G-d, and Everlasting Father calling the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. Such an interpretation is not grammatically sound and rejected by the Talmud (see Tractate Sanhedrin 94a).
Once again there is evidence to support that Messiah, Who will sit upon the throne of David, is G-d incarnate; Who entered this world being conceived by the Spirit of G-d in the womb of a Virgin. Why a Virgin? In the next article this question will be investigated and additional attention will be given to how Isaiah Chapters 7-9 relate to Isaiah Chapters 10-12.
Author: Dr Baruch Korman