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Isaiah 7:14 in Context
Almah and the Virgin Birth

By Shlomo Phillips © July, 1991 (last updated October 13, 2014)
According to standard Nicene Christian belief, Matthew 1:23 explicitly references Isaiah 7:14 and foretells the miraculous conception and birth of Y'shua ben Yosef (better known as Jesus, son of Joseph) to an engaged virgin Judean teenager named Miryam (Mary). This belief is an essential dogma of the Nicene religion. In this study we'll examine whether this verse actually teaches what the Christian religion claims.

To begin with, in the King James Version (KJV) of Matthew's account we read:

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
1:19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
1:20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
1:22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Here is the same section in the modern English Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). This is a Nicene Christian version by David Stern, a Jew who left Judaism for Christianity.
Matthew 1:18 Here is how the birth of Yeshua the Messiah took place. When his mother Miryam was engaged to Yosef, before they were married, she was found to be pregnant from the Ruach HaKodesh.
19 Her husband-to-be, Yosef, was a man who did what was right; so he made plans to break the engagement quietly, rather than put her to public shame.
20 But while he was thinking about this, an angel of HaShem appeared to him in a dream and said, "Yosef, son of David, do not be afraid to take Miryam home with you as your wife; for what has been conceived in her is from the Ruach HaKodesh.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means 'HaShem saves,'] because he will save his people from their sins."
22 All this happened in order to fulfill what HaShem had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him 'Immanu El. (The name means, "God is with us.")
Note that at verse 21 the name Yeshua is translated to mean "HaShem Saves." It actually only means "salvation" in Hebrew and is a common word. The Greek name "Jesus" means something quite different.

When Y'shua and his first century students referred to "the Scriptures" they were in all instances talking about the Tanach (or "Old Testament" as Christians call it). The books of the "New Testament" were written at a later date (between around 20-65 years after Y'shua's execution). When studying the New Testament it is important to do so as they did. First century Jews studied through the lens of the Tanach (Acts 17:11). In other words, for something to be accepted as true it had to be in agreement with the Torah (i.e. the Five of Moses), the Tanach (i.e. the rest of the Hebrew Bible), and the teachings of the Rabbis, our divinely appointed authorities.

Is Isaiah chapter seven a Messianic text? Does it foretell the virgin birth of Jesus/Y'shua from the 8th century BCE? Let's see what Prophet Isaiah is discussing in context. I've added the bracketed comments for clarity:

Isaiah 7:1 During the days of Achaz the son of Yotam, the son of 'Uziyahu [i.e. Ahaz the son of Jotham], king of Y'hudah [i.e. Judah], Retzin the king of Aram and Pekach the son of Remalyah, king of Isra'el, advanced on Yerushalayim [Jerusalem] to attack it but were unable to conquer it.
2 It was told to the house of David that Aram and Efrayim had become allies. Achaz's heart began to tremble, as did the hearts of his people, like forest trees shaken by the wind.
3 Then HaShem said to Yesha'yahu
[Isaiah], "Go out now to meet Achaz [Ahaz], you and your son Sh'ar Yashuv, at the end of the aqueduct from the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderers' Field;
4 and say to him, 'Take care to stay calm and unafraid; don't be demoralized by these two smoldering stumps of firewood, by the blazing anger of Retzin and Aram or the son of Remalyah;
5 or because Aram, Efrayim and the son of Remalyah have been plotting against you, thinking,
6 "We will invade Y'hudah
[Judah], tear it apart, divide it among ourselves and appoint the son of Tav'el as king there."
7 "'This is what HaShem Elohim
[i.e. the LORD God] says: "It won't occur, it won't happen.
The context pertains to literal events taking place at the time. The situation looked hopeless to Ahaz and his people. He encourages them not to become demoralized by what they see.

When Ahaz learned that Aram's alliance with Ephraim had been achieved, the Judaites (i.e. the Jews/Israel) were very worried! They were outnumbered and their enemies were approaching. There seemed to be no hope for them! However when HaShem is on ones side there is always hope!

HaShem provided His people hope by issuing a promise through His prophet Isaiah! HaShem ordered the prophet to meet with King Ahaz and assure him that he and his people -- the House of David -- would survive this latest challenge as they had many others. "Just have emuna (i.e. active faith)!" Isaiah told Ahaz that the thing he feared "will not take place." Period! THIS is the central point of the chapter. Have emuna!

But still Ahaz and his people doubted.

In order to reestablish Ahaz's faith as the leader of HaShem's people in the next few verses HaShem explains how He will deliver the people of Judah and how things will go with the various peoples involved:

Isaiah 7:8 For the head of Aram is Dammesek, and the head of Dammesek Retzin. In sixty-five years Efrayim will be broken and will cease to be a people.
9 The head of Efrayim is Shomron
[Samaria], and the head of Shomron is the son of Remalyah. Without firm faith, you will not be firmly established."
So the prophet explained that it was vital that Ahaz and his followers reestablish and maintain their emuna in HaShem. Without faith it not possible to please HaShem! It was in the Mind of HaShem to save His people and to preserve the line of King David among them, however they needed to have emuna. It was imperative that they relied on HaShem's deliverance.

Likewise, we have free will. HaShem ensures this. In order to receive His blessings we often must choose to be a suitable place/consciousness to receive from Him. That was the case here. Yet both Ahaz and his people continued to doubt and so HaShem offered Ahaz a most remarkable boon:

Isaiah 7:10 HaShem spoke again to Achaz; he said,
11 "Ask HaShem your God to give you a sign. Ask it anywhere, from the depths of Sh'ol
[i.e. Sheol: the grave/the depths of the earth] to the heights above."
Notice the reason Ahaz was offered a such a rare boon. He could ask HaShem for any sign that would bolster his faith in God's deliverance, for both himself and his people. The purpose of the offered sign was to rally the morale of the people experiencing this threat, to rectify their doubts and to reestablish their faith in HaShem's protection. HaShem wanted to act through His people and yet His people had to be willing!

Despite this unprecedented offer to abate their doubts, for reasons not made clear in the text, Ahaz refused to even ask for a sign when prompted by HaShem's representative! His rationale sounds good at first, very pious, but Ahaz was not being honest! If HaShem gave Ahaz proof then Ahaz knew he would have to act on it! One cannot trick the HaShem!

Isaiah 7:12 But Achaz [Ahaz] answered, "I won't ask, I won't test HaShem."
13 Then
[the prophet] said, "Listen here, house of David! Is trying people's patience such a small thing for you that you must try the patience of my God as well?
14 Therefore HaShem himself will give you people a sign: the young woman will become pregnant, bear a son and name him 'Immanu El
[God is here with us].
15 By the time he knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, he will [have to] eat curdled milk and [wild] honey.
16 Yes, before the child knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be left abandoned.
17 HaShem will bring the king of Ashur on you, your people and your father's house. These will be days worse than any you've known since Efrayim broke loose from Y'hudah."
[Judah]

"You have no faith!" Isaiah charges not only Ahaz but all those with him. "Not only do you try my patience, but HaShem's as well!"

Using the faithless Ten Tribes (i.e. Ephraim) as an example, Navi (Prophet) Isaiah chastens Ahaz, king of Judah (King of the anointed ruling house of Judah). "Didn't HaShem stand with you and choose you even as Ephraim was divorced by Him due to their lack of faith" (Jeremiah 3:8)? And now, Navi Isaiah excoriates them, "Will you still refuse to believe Him!"

"OK then," the prophet says, "HaShem's Will IS going to happen! Since you refuse, He will choose the sign so that you will stand firm before your enemies in faith!"

This is what is happening here. HaShem is giving them a sign that will force them to do His Will!

The House of Judah (now called the Jews) is vital to God's Plan of Redemption! The anointed heir of King David, the Messiah, will come through the line of Judah (through Jesse and David). This heir will one day be crowned the King of the City of David at Yerushalayim, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. What was happening here was therefore very important. The Davidic lineage had to survive! Proof needed to be shown to those involved so they would stand in their faith. THIS was the purpose of the sign.

The question at hand is, "Did this sign directly refer to HaMashiach's birth?

Who was this divine sign for?

This is a very important question and the text itself supplies the answer!

7:14 Therefore HaShem himself will give you people a sign:...
Is it even plausible to believe that this prophetic sign was given to a people facing imminent annihilation to bolster their faith when its fulfillment would not occur for 800 plus years in the future? Imagine this scenario: This prophecy was given for "you people," the people hearing the words of Isaiah at that place and time and under those dire circumstances. Promises of a baby nearly a thousand years in the future would be of no comfort to such people.

The text is clear enough when read in context. Did this promise by Isaiah to the fearful Ahaz have anything at all to do with the coming of the promised Shiloh? No. Clearly it was for Ahaz and his people who were at that time facing imminent destruction without the direct intervention of HaShem.

This sign was clearly intended for those Jews huddled there in fear and indecision waiting for Ahaz to lead them. Nothing in the context even hints at anything other than that. The prophet said in effect:

Some Christians argue that since the text says the sign is for the House of David -- "Hear now, you house of David" -- it is for the House of David for all times. But notice verse 2, "Now the house of David was told..." The House of David HaShem is clearly speaking to -- through His Prophet -- are the followers of Ahaz present at that time and place.

"Therefore..." (i.e. to bolster your faith and martial your courage) the prophet of HaShem says ... because of something ... Because of what? Because these Judaites gathered with Ahaz were afraid to do their duty to HaShem -- and were thereby standing in the way of HaShem's Will (and the protection of the Davidic lineage) -- "Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin [Hebrew: alma] shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

When studying the Scriptures and finding a "therefore" or a "wherefore" always pause to determine what its there for! Without context one will be easily led astray.

Therefore, to establish YOUR faith Ahaz, HaShem has determined to give YOU (Ahaz) and your fellow Judaites a sign that He is with YOU (that He will protect "you people" from these enemies you are all afraid of). This is the crux of this event. The Judaites had lost faith that HaShem was with them. Navi Isaiah assures them that He is still with them and that HaShem is even prepared to prove it! Such an offer!

Almah

Then there is the matter of translating this pivotal word that needlessly complicates matters. While the Vatican had ample opportunity to edit the texts of the New Testament, the Tanach was carefully preserved by devout and meticulous Jewish scribes. It could not be so easily altered to support Nicene beliefs.

Almah, the word translated as "virgin" in the King James and other Nicene translations, is intended to support the dogma of the virgin birth of Jesus. Any Hebrew language dictionary worth its salt will tell you however that this word does not mean "virgin." It is not translated that way except by those seeking to support a dogma that simply is not in the text.

Here's how Judaica Press' Complete Tanakh correctly translates this verse:

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore, the Lord, of His own, shall give you a sign; behold, the young woman is with child, and she shall bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel.
The word almah means a young girl, a "maiden" or "damsel." That's all it means. The text tells us nothing more about this young mother, only that she was pregnant and that she was physically there with the endangered Jews. There is no biblical reason to take this as a messianic prophecy nor as a foretelling of a virgin birth.

Had Isaiah intended to say this girl was a virgin, he would have called her a bethuwlah, a virgin.

JPS: Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

The baby was named Immanu El (Immanuel) as an assurance that God's protection was there with His people at that time and place.

Mary's son was born 800 years later and named Y'shua not Immanuel. As stated above, Y'shua does not mean God with us, but "salvation." The birth of this young woman's child was not a fulfillment of this prophecy on this point either.

Friends, no one wants the Messiah to be here more than the Jews! We pray for his reign every day. But the truth is thus far no one has met the biblical qualifications. For more on these qualifications see my study HERE


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