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Isaiah 7:14 in Context

An example of Divine Protection and the importance of Emunah

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman ben Ya'akov © July, 1991 (last updated July 15, 2018)

Recorded Live on Facebook

Let's see what Prophet Isaiah is discussing in context:

Isaiah 7:1 וַיְהִ֡י בִּימֵ֣י אָ֠חָז בֶּן־יוֹתָ֨ם בֶּן־עֻזִּיָּ֜הוּ מֶ֣לֶךְ יְהוּדָ֗ה עָלָ֣ה רְצִ֣ין מֶֽלֶךְ־אֲ֠רָם וּפֶ֨קַח בֶּן־רְמַלְיָ֤הוּ מֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עָלֶ֑יהָ וְלֹ֥א יָכֹ֖ל לְהִלָּחֵ֥ם עָלֶֽיהָ׃
In the reign of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel marched upon Jerusalem to attack it; but they were not able to attack it.

וַיֻּגַּ֗ד לְבֵ֤ית דָּוִד֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר נָ֥חָֽה אֲרָ֖ם עַל־אֶפְרָ֑יִם וַיָּ֤נַע לְבָבוֹ֙ וּלְבַ֣ב עַמּ֔וֹ כְּנ֥וֹעַ עֲצֵי־יַ֖עַר מִפְּנֵי־רֽוּחַ׃
Now, when it was reported to the House of David that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, their hearts and the hearts of their people trembled as trees of the forest sway before a wind.

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָה֮ אֶֽל־יְשַׁעְיָהוּ֒ צֵא־נָא֙ לִקְרַ֣את אָחָ֔ז אַתָּ֕ה וּשְׁאָ֖ר יָשׁ֣וּב בְּנֶ֑ךָ אֶל־קְצֵ֗ה תְּעָלַת֙ הַבְּרֵכָ֣ה הָעֶלְיוֹנָ֔ה אֶל־מְסִלַּ֖ת שְׂדֵ֥ה כוֹבֵֽס׃
But the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out with your son Shear-jashub to meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the Upper Pool, by the road of the Fuller’s Field.

וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵ֠לָיו הִשָּׁמֵ֨ר וְהַשְׁקֵ֜ט אַל־תִּירָ֗א וּלְבָבְךָ֙ אַל־יֵרַ֔ךְ מִשְּׁנֵ֨י זַנְב֧וֹת הָאוּדִ֛ים הָעֲשֵׁנִ֖ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה בָּחֳרִי־אַ֛ף רְצִ֥ין וַאֲרָ֖ם וּבֶן־רְמַלְיָֽהוּ׃
And say to him: Be firm and be calm. Do not be afraid and do not lose heart on account of those two smoking stubs of firebrands, on account of the raging of Rezin and his Arameans and the son of Remaliah.

יַ֗עַן כִּֽי־יָעַ֥ץ עָלֶ֛יךָ אֲרָ֖ם רָעָ֑ה אֶפְרַ֥יִם וּבֶן־רְמַלְיָ֖הוּ לֵאמֹֽר׃
Because the Arameans—with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah—have plotted against you, saying,

נַעֲלֶ֤ה בִֽיהוּדָה֙ וּנְקִיצֶ֔נָּה וְנַבְקִעֶ֖נָּה אֵלֵ֑ינוּ וְנַמְלִ֥יךְ מֶ֙לֶךְ֙ בְּתוֹכָ֔הּ אֵ֖ת בֶּן־טָֽבְאַֽל׃
‘We will march against Judah and invade and conquer it, and we will set up as king in it the son of Tabeel,’

כֹּ֥ה אָמַ֖ר אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֑ה לֹ֥א תָק֖וּם וְלֹ֥א תִֽהְיֶֽה׃
thus said my Lord GOD: It shall not succeed, It shall not come to pass.

The context of this chapter references literal events taking place at that time, i.e. the 8th century BCE. The situation looked hopeless to Ahaz and his people. The prophet of HaShem encourages them not to become demoralized by what they see with their eyes. They must rely on their emunah (active faith/trust) knowing that HaShem is with His people.

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 to destroy them. There seemed to be no hope! However when HaShem is on ones side there is always hope!

In this case 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 so many others. "Just have emunah (i.e. active faith/trust)!" Isaiah told Ahaz that the thing he feared "will not take place." Period! THIS is the central point of the chapter. Have emunah! HaShem is with you!

But still Ahaz and his people lacked emunah and doubted.

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

Isaiah 7:8 כִּ֣י רֹ֤אשׁ אֲרָם֙ דַּמֶּ֔שֶׂק וְרֹ֥אשׁ דַּמֶּ֖שֶׂק רְצִ֑ין וּבְע֗וֹד שִׁשִּׁ֤ים וְחָמֵשׁ֙ שָׁנָ֔ה יֵחַ֥ת אֶפְרַ֖יִם מֵעָֽם׃
For the chief city of Aram is Damascus, And the chief of Damascus is Rezin;

וְרֹ֤אשׁ אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙ שֹׁמְר֔וֹן וְרֹ֥אשׁ שֹׁמְר֖וֹן בֶּן־רְמַלְיָ֑הוּ אִ֚ם לֹ֣א תַאֲמִ֔ינוּ כִּ֖י לֹ֥א תֵאָמֵֽנוּ׃ )
The chief city of Ephraim is Samaria, And the chief of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. And in another sixty-five years, Ephraim shall be shattered as a people. If you will not believe, for you cannot be trusted…”

On verse nine Rashi notes:

if you do not believe: My prophecy, you, Ahaz, and his people, for I know that you are wicked.
it is because you cannot be believed: There is no truth in you.

So the prophet explained that it was vital that Ahaz and his followers reestablish and maintain their emunah in HaShem. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches: "The world regards faith [emunah] as something minor, but I consider faith as being of the greatest importance" (Sichot Haran #33). 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 exercise their emunah. It was imperative that they relied on HaShem's deliverance. If we wish to receive His blessings in our lives we too must have emunah as we exercise our free will. Just as with Queen Esther who was told by her uncle Mordecai, 'Salvation will come to the Jews with or without you, but for all you know your current difficulties are precisely what HaShem intends to use to fulfill our deliverance. Now choose!'

We have all been granted free will. This includes both the righteous and unrighteous. HaShem however oversees both and uses both for our eternal benefit according to His Will. In order to receive His blessings we must choose to develop a suitable consciousness to receive from Him. That was the case here. Ahaz and his people continued to doubt, and so HaShem offered Ahaz a most remarkable boon:

Isaiah 7:10 וַיּ֣וֹסֶף יְהוָ֔ה דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל־אָחָ֖ז לֵאמֹֽר׃
The LORD spoke further to Ahaz:

שְׁאַל־לְךָ֣ א֔וֹת מֵעִ֖ם יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ הַעְמֵ֣ק שְׁאָ֔לָה א֖וֹ הַגְבֵּ֥הַּ לְמָֽעְלָה׃
“Ask for a sign from the LORD your God, anywhere down to Sheol or up to the sky.”

Notice the reason Ahaz was offered a such a rare boon. He could ask HaShem for any sign that would bolster his emunah in G-d's deliverance. Can you imagine such an opportunity? He could ask for anythingand it would be granted! The obvious and textual purpose of the offered sign was to rally the morale and emunah of the Jews experiencing this threat at this time. It was to rectify their doubts and to reestablish their faith in HaShem's protection so they would choose the Way of G-d. HaShem wanted to act through His people and yet they had to be willing to receive! Just like we must.

Despite this unprecedented offer to resolve 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 וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אָחָ֑ז לֹא־אֶשְׁאַ֥ל וְלֹֽא־אֲנַסֶּ֖ה אֶת־יְהוָֽה׃
But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask, and I will not test the LORD.”

וַיֹּ֕אמֶר שִׁמְעוּ־נָ֖א בֵּ֣ית דָּוִ֑ד הַמְעַ֤ט מִכֶּם֙ הַלְא֣וֹת אֲנָשִׁ֔ים כִּ֥י תַלְא֖וּ גַּ֥ם אֶת־אֱלֹהָֽי׃
“Listen, House of David,” [Isaiah] retorted, “is it not enough for you to treat men as helpless that you also treat my God as helpless?

לָ֠כֵן יִתֵּ֨ן אֲדֹנָ֥י ה֛וּא לָכֶ֖ם א֑וֹת הִנֵּ֣ה הָעַלְמָ֗ה הָרָה֙ וְיֹלֶ֣דֶת בֵּ֔ן וְקָרָ֥את שְׁמ֖וֹ עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל׃
Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.

חֶמְאָ֥ה וּדְבַ֖שׁ יֹאכֵ֑ל לְדַעְתּ֛וֹ מָא֥וֹס בָּרָ֖ע וּבָח֥וֹר בַּטּֽוֹב׃
(By the time he learns to reject the bad and choose the good, people will be feeding on curds and honey.)

כִּ֠י בְּטֶ֨רֶם יֵדַ֥ע הַנַּ֛עַר מָאֹ֥ס בָּרָ֖ע וּבָחֹ֣ר בַּטּ֑וֹב תֵּעָזֵ֤ב הָאֲדָמָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַתָּ֣ה קָ֔ץ מִפְּנֵ֖י שְׁנֵ֥י מְלָכֶֽיהָ׃
For before the lad knows to reject the bad and choose the good, the ground whose two kings you dread shall be abandoned.

יָבִ֨יא יְהוָ֜ה עָלֶ֗יךָ וְעַֽל־עַמְּךָ֮ וְעַל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִיךָ֒ יָמִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹא־בָ֔אוּ לְמִיּ֥וֹם סוּר־אֶפְרַ֖יִם מֵעַ֣ל יְהוּדָ֑ה אֵ֖ת מֶ֥לֶךְ אַשּֽׁוּר׃
The LORD will cause to come upon you and your people and your ancestral house such days as never have come since Ephraim turned away from Judah—that selfsame king of Assyria!

"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!"

Rashi notes on verse 16:

For, when the lad does not yet know to reject bad and choose good: the land shall be abandoned by its inhabitants, [i. e.,] the land of Rezin and the land of Pekah.
you dread: and fear its two kings, Rezin and Pekah, for in that year the king of Assyria marched on Damascus since Ahaz hired him, as it is stated in the Book of II Kings (16:9): "And seized it and exiled its inhabitants to Kir, and he slew Rezin," and in that very year (ibid. 15: 30), "Hoshea the son of Elah revolted against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and he struck him and slew him in the twentieth year of Jotham," which was the fourth year of Ahaz.

Using the faithless Ten Tribes (i.e. Ephraim) as an example, Navi (Prophet) Isaiah chastens Ahaz, king 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 regardless! Since you refuse, He will choose the sign! Then you will stand firm and HaShem will save His people!" This should caution us about the Talmud's warning that if the Jews at the end of the age refuse to make teshuvah (i.e. repentance and return to HaShem) HaShem will empower "the one as cruel as Haman" who will drive us to our knees so that we will repent and embrace our Redemption, and then will come Mashiach ben David! Today most of us are like Ahaz. We are denying the power and purposes of HaShem.

This is clearly what is happening here in the text. There is no reference to the coming of HaMashiach here. HaShem is giving His people a clear sign that will force those present, at that time and place, to make teshuvah and live!

Sanhedrin Folio 97a: ...Thus hath R. Johanan said: in the generation when the son of David [i.e. Messiah] will come, scholars will be few in number, and as for the rest, their eyes will fail through sorrow and grief. Multitudes of trouble and evil decrees will be promulgated anew, each new evil coming with haste before the other has ended.'

Sanhedrin 97b: ... Rab said: All the predestined dates [for redemption] have passed, and the matter [now] depends only on repentance and good deeds... R. Eliezer said: if Israel repent, they will be redeemed; if not, they will not be redeemed. R. Joshua said to him, if they do not repent, will they not be redeemed! [i.e. not so] But the Holy One, blessed be He, will set up a king over them, whose decrees shall be as cruel as Haman's, whereby Israel shall engage in repentance, and he will thus bring them back to the right path.

We today are being given the same warning! Israel has been partially restored. The Redemption is closer than it has ever been. And we are unworthy. Will we live fearful lives, denying who we are, assimilating ever more completely with the other nations, or will we arise as the People of HaShem? The choice is ours. Who knows, perhaps we have been born into such a time as this in order to usher in the Redemption!

The House of Judah (the Jews) is vital to G-d's Plan of Redemption and Restoration! The anointed heir of King David, Mashiach ben David, the Messiah, will come through the line of Judah (through Jesse and King David). This heir will one day be crowned King of the City of David at Yerushalayim, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. We do not know when this will happen but every indication is that it will be sooner rather than later.

What was happening in our text was very important and quite informative to us. The Davidic lineage had to survive! Proof needed to be shown to those present at that place and time so they would choose to stand and exercise emunah. Enhancing THEIR emunah at THAT time and place was the clear purpose of the sign and it was fulfilled in that place and time as prophesied.

Concerning those who misinterpret verse 14 consider:: Who was this divine sign for according to the prophet?

7:14 "Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel. "

Given the clear textual reason for this sign, is it even remotely plausible to believe that this sign was given to a people facing imminent annihilation by their enemies, in order to bolster their faith and calm their fears, when its fulfillment would not occur for more than 800 years in the future? Imagine this scenario:

Armed terrorists are heading towards your neighborhood with the stated objective of beheading you. They've been wreaking havoc everywhere and asking for you by name.
A widely respected prophet knocks on your door. To assure you he says, "Have faith in G-d!"
You are grateful of course, but a bit skeptical. "Do you have any evidence for this assurance?" you ask. "How can I know that what you say is true?"
"Sure, here is your proof: In the year 2818 a very special baby is going to be born!"
Feel safer now?

This prophecy was given for you and your neighbors, not for people who would not even born for 800 years! That would bring you no comfort at all. Likewise, the people hearing the words of Isaiah at that place and time, under those dire circumstances, would not have been comfortable by such a distant promise. Promises of a baby nearly a thousand years in the future would be of no comfort to such people whatsoever. Frankly, it is ridiculous to present it as such.

No, the prophet said in effect:

"Look, I know you are all frightened. I promise you by the Word of HaShem that your deliverance is coming, but you have to hold on for just a bit longer.
See that pregnant girl over there? By the time her baby is born and weened those seeking your deaths will be no more!"

Therefore, Isaiah says, “in order to bolster your emunah and martial your courage;” that was the purpose of the sign of birth of this child. Because those Jews were so afraid of their enemies, and were therefore standing in the way of HaShem's Will and the protection of the future of the Davidic lineage – behold, that young woman [Hebrew: almah: a young woman/teenager] will give birth a son. He will be to you Immanuel, a physical evidence that 'G-d is with you.' As he develops your redemption will draw nearer. By the time he is weened all of these enemies will be dead and you will remain alive. This is the clear meaning of the text.

Had Isaiah intended to say this girl was a virgin, he would have called her a bethuwlah, a virgin (betula). This is not the word used. He referred to her as an almah a young woman (probably a teenager) and she was standing right there among them.

Friends, no one wants the Messiah to arrive more than we Jews! We pray for his reign thrice daily at least. But the truth is, thus far, no one has met the clear biblical qualifications. NO ONE. For information on these qualifications see my study HERE

* Biblical passages are from Sefaria.com

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