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The Birthvirgin by Rabbi Baruch

Part III

In this article, we will investigate the following verse from Isaiah:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:14

Is there a relationship between this verse and Messiah?  The main part of the synagogue service is the prayer “Shemone Esre”.  In the midst of the “Amida” we seek from the L-rd to send the Redeemer of Israel, i.e., the Messiah.  What is the role of Messiah?  His role is to bring the full redemption to the world.  One needs to understand the basic idea of redemption.  The following verse from Leviticus describes what redemption is all about.

And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” ” 
Leviticus 26:12

This passage reveals the purpose of redemption—peace between the L-rd and mankind.  This verse reveals that G-d wants to dwell with man in a manner most similar to the conditions that were in the Garden of Eden.  Therefore, there is a need for mankind to be redeemed.  Rabbis call the Exodus from Egypt the “first redemption,” therefore it is no surprise the next verse speaks about this.

I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.
Leviticus 26:13

Isaiah 7:14 speaks about a child being born and His name being Immanuel.  We have already said that G-d wants to dwell with us; therefore this verse speaks about the way that Messiah will come into this world.  In order to interpret this verse correctly, we need to pay attention to the context.  Isaiah 7:14 is part of a larger portion of scripture that begins in the sixth chapter and concludes with chapter 12.  Chapter Six opens up with a statement given to the reader concerning the time of this prophecy, “In the year that King Uzziah died…”  Isaiah saw a vision of G-d and His holiness.  The prophet also heard the seraphim, which called to one another saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the L-rd G-d of Hosts, the whole world is filled with His glory.”  When Isaiah hears that the world will be filled with the holiness of G-d and His glory, he is terrified.  Why is Isaiah so afraid?

Then said I, Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
Isaiah 6:5

The prophet is afraid because he sees the holiness of G-d and hears this holiness will fill the whole world.  Isaiah knows the sinful condition that man is in and therefore thinks that if the whole world will be filled with His glory, then mankind must be destroyed.  The next two verses reveal that G-d does not want to destroy mankind; on the contrary, He wants to redeem man.

Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 
And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged
.”
Isaiah 6:6-7

The rest of the sixth chapter deals with Isaiah receiving his call to proclaim the message that G-d wants to redeem Israel.  Unfortunately, the people will not respond to this message in a correct manner for a long time.

Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.”
Isaiah 6:10-12

Although the people will not respond correctly for a long time, and the cities will be destroyed and the people will go into exile, the Jewish people will survive.

But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.”
Isaiah 6:13

This verse reveals that even though there will be much hardship for the Jewish people, they (the holy seed) will remain and therefore the promises of Messiah will not be lost.

Chapter seven tells about the Messiah.  The prophet uses King Ahaz and events in his life in order to help the reader to understand the nature of this prophecy.  King Ahaz was a wicked king,

In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign. Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD his God, like David his father.

But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.”
II Kings 16:1-4

King Ahaz and the northern kingdom needed to be redeemed.  But, no one thought about things from a spiritual perspective.  Ahaz and his people feared greatly when they heard Ratzin and Paqach coming up to Jerusalem for war.

And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.”
Isaiah 7:1

Ahaz and the people thought that this war would pose a great problem for them.  But, G-d said, through the prophet Isaiah, that this war would not even take place.

And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.” 
Isaiah 7:4

Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.” ” 
Isaiah 7:7

Ahaz did not believe the Word of G-d.  Therefore, the L-rd permitted Ahaz to ask for a sign in order to confirm the truthfulness of this promise.

Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.
Isaiah 7:11

Ahaz’ response reveals that he did not want to believe the Word of G-d.

But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.” ” 
Isaiah 7:12

This is the problem with many people.  They do not want to know what the Word of G-d reveals.  G-d said that He would nevertheless provide a sign to confirm His Word, but this sign would not be given to King Ahaz.  It is very significant that G-d addressed this prophetic sign to the House of David.

And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?”
Isaiah 7:13

The concept the “House of David” has special significance.  The “House of David” represents those people who will be redeemed and who will enter into the Kingdom of G-d.  This means that the “House of David” are those people who will respond to the Word of G-d in faith, and are not like King Ahaz, who refused to believe and who wouldn’t even ask for a sign of confirmation.  The 14th verse is given in order to help faithful people to recognize the Redeemer of Israel.

Now we are ready to begin interpreting our primary verse.

Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:14

Even though Ahaz has refused to seek a sign, the L-rd has given a sign.  It is important that the verse was written in the special manner that it was.  The verse contains the word “He”, which usually is not even reflected in most English translations.  The significance of this redundancy is that the L-rd Himself will give the sign.  Therefore, this prophecy speaks about an event that a human being could not do.  This fact is also supported with the word “sign.”  This Hebrew word speaks about a sign, which is supernatural in nature.  For example,

And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.”
Genesis 4:15

This verse speaks about a mark that G-d placed upon Cain, which created the situation that no one could kill Cain.  Is it possible for a human being to put a mark such as this on another person?  Each time the word “sign” appears in the scripture, it describes an action that only G-d is able to do.  Therefore, Isaiah 7:14 describes an event that G-d did in order to confirm His promise.

Now that the reader is aware that this verse speaks about a supernatural event, we must now ask, “What is this supernatural event?”

“Behold, the almah, she conceived and bears a Son.”

This verse says that a conception takes place.  Women conceive every day.  Why is this conception placed within a context of a supernatural event? Because the woman who conceived is an almah.  Christianity and Judaism have argued about the significance of the word “almah” for 2,000 years.  Christianity says that the word “almah” means virgin and Judaism says that its significance is just a “young woman.”  The word “almah” appears seven times in the Hebrew Bible.  It is worthwhile to investigate some of these occurrences.

The first occurrence is

Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the almah cometh forth to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher to drink.”
Genesis 24:43

Eliezar called Rebecca an almah in this verse.  In another verse, Rebecca is called a virgin,

And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up.”
Genesis 24:16

This means there is a situation where an almah can also be a virgin.  However, the emphasis on the word almah is not on a woman’s virginity, but rather on her righteousness, for example, Miriam, Moses’ sister.

And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the almah went and called the child’s mother.”
Exodus 2:8

Also, in the book of Psalms, the word almah appears in order to describe young, righteous women engaged in the worship of the G-d of Israel.

The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the almot playing with timbrels.”
Psalms 68:26 (Verse 25 in Christian versions)

Therefore, it is possible to say that the word almah describes a young woman who is characterized by good virtue.  There is no place in the Hebrew Bible where there is a young woman who is called an almah who has already experienced sexual relations.  Young women of good virtue and righteous conduct do not engage in sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant.

In conclusion of this issue, there is no doubt that Isaiah intended that the young woman, whom G-d will use to bear a Child called Immanuel, would be a virgin.  But he chose the word almah in order to stress the good virtues and righteousness of this young virgin woman.  If Isaiah did not intend to convey to the reader that this young woman was a virgin, then the text would lack the proper context necessary for a supernatural event to have occurred.

The rest of this verse reveals that a child is born called Immanuel.  Why is it a son and not a daughter?  What is the significance of the name Immanuel?  How does this name relate to the next few chapters?  The next article, G-d willing, will answer these questions.

Author: Dr Baruch Korman

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