John Calvin Isa 7:1
1.And it came to pass. Here is related a remarkable prophecy about the wonderful deliverance of Jerusalem, when it appeared to have been utterly ruined. Now the Prophet explains all the circumstances, that by means of them the miracle may be more fully displayed, and to make it manifest, that not by the wisdom or power of man, but by the favor of God, the city has been preserved. For so ungrateful were the people, that, at the close of this transaction, they would not have understood that they had been delivered by the hand of the Lord, if all the circumstances had not been expressly brought to their remembrance. And, indeed, there were very few persons who, in the hour of danger, ventured to hope what Isaiah promised; because they judged of themselves and of the state of public affairs from present appearances. In order, therefore, to make known the remarkable kindness of God, he enters into all the details, that they may perceive from what danger and from whose hand they have been delivered. Let us also understand that this kindness was conferred on ungrateful men, that the Church might be preserved, and that Christ might afterwards appear.
Isa 7:1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah king of Judah,…. Here begins a new prophecy under the reign of another king; who, though a wicked king, had religious ancestors; and who are mentioned, not, as the Jewish writers (u) generally say, because it was owing to their worthiness that the enemies of Ahaz could not prevail against him; but because it was under these kings the prophet had prophesied: what is contained in the first five chapters were delivered in the times of Uzziah; and the vision in the sixth was in the times of Jotham, in the beginning of his reign; and what is said here, and in some following chapters, was in the time of Ahaz; so that this is mentioned to fix and carry on the date of the prophecy:
that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah, the son of Remaliah king of Israel, went up towards Jerusalem to war against it; at the latter end of Jotham’s reign, and the beginning of Ahaz’s; these two separately came up against Judah, and greatly distressed and afflicted the kingdom, slew many, and carried others captive, 2Ki_15:37 but afterwards, in the third (w) or fourth (x) year of Ahaz, as it is said, they joined together to besiege Jerusalem, which this refers to, 2Ki_16:5,
but could not prevail against it; or “he could not”; that is, according to Aben Ezra, the king of Israel, Pekah, the son of Remaliah; but, according to Kimchi, it was Rezin king of Syria, who, he says, was the principal in the war, and brought Pekah along with him; but it may very well be understood of them both, since in 2Ki_16:5, the plural number is used; “and they could not”; and so the Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, and Oriental versions here.
(u) Jarchi & Kimchi in loc. & Yalkut Simeoni, ex Bereshit Rabba, sect. 63. fol. 54. 4. (w) Yalkut Simeoni in loc. (x) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 23. p. 85. Jarchi in ver. 14.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Isaiah 7:1-9:7. Prediction of the ill success of the Syro-Israelithish invasion of Judah. Ahaz’ alliance with Assyria, and its fatal results to Judea. Yet the certainty of final representation and of the coming of Messiah.
In the Assyrian inscriptions the name of Rezin, king of Damascus, is found among the tributaries of Tiglath-pileser, of whose reign the annals of seventeen years have been deciphered. For the historical facts in this chapter, compare 2 Kings 15:37-16:9. Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel, as confederates, advanced against Jerusalem. In the first campaign they “smote Ahaz with a great slaughter” (2Ch_28:5). Their object was probably to unite the three kingdoms against Assyria. Egypt seems to have favored the plan, so as to interpose these confederate kingdoms between her own frontier and Assyria (compare Isa_7:18, “Egypt”; and 2Ki_17:4, Hoshea’s league with Egypt). Rezin and Pekah may have perceived Ahaz’ inclination towards Assyria rather than towards their own confederacy; this and the old feud between Israel and Judah (1Ki_12:16) occasioned their invasion of Judah. Ahaz, at the second inroad of his enemies (compare 2Ch_28:1-26 and 2Ki_15:37, with Isa_16:5), smarting under his former defeat, applied to Tiglath-pileser, in spite of Isaiah’s warning in this chapter, that he should rather rely on God; that king accordingly attacked Damascus, and slew Rezin (2Ki_16:9); and probably it was at the same time that he carried away part of Israel captive (2Ki_15:29), unless there were two assaults on Pekah – that in 2Ki_15:29, the earlier, and that in which Tiglath helped Ahaz subsequently [G. V. Smith]. Ahaz was saved at the sacrifice of Judah’s independence and the payment of a large tribute, which continued till the overthrow of Sennacherib under Hezekiah (Isa_37:37; 2Ki_16:8, 2Ki_16:17, 2Ki_16:18; 2Ch_28:20). Ahaz’ reign began about 741 b.c., and Pekah was slain in 738 [Winer].
Ahaz — In the first years of his reign the design of the two kings against Judah was carried out, which was formed in Jotham’s reign (2Ki_15:37).
Syria — Hebrew, Aram (Gen_10:22, Gen_10:23), originally the whole region between the Euphrates and Mediterranean, including Assyria, of which Syria is an abbreviation; here the region round Damascus, and along Mount Libanus.
Jerusalem — An actual siege of it took place, but was foiled (2Ki_16:5).
Is 7:2This passage sets before us a very bright mirror, in which we may behold the thoughtlessness of the ungodly, when they do not feel the hand of God; and, on the other hand, the fearful trembling with which they are suddenly seized, when the Lord presents to them any danger. In the midst of their prosperity they are so much at their ease that they hardly believe that they are subject to the government of God, and undoubtedly imagine that they are placed beyond the reach of all danger. Adversity stuns them in such a manner that they suddenly fall down, and their senses are so entirely overpowered by terror that they lie like people who are lifeless or bereft of their senses. Such is the punishment by which the Lord arouses them from their deep slumber. At first they appear to be firm and immovable, as if nothing could throw them down from their rank; but now, at the slightest noise, they are suddenly seized with trembling. That terror is the righteous vengeance of God, to whom they never do homage until they are compelled.
Let us learn, that if we have any spark of faith, we ought not to distrust God when we are in any danger. It is indeed impossible that we should not be agitated and alarmed when dangers press upon us; but we ought not to tremble so as to be tossed about by our anxiety in every direction, and unable to see a harbour to which we may safely direct our course. There must always be this difference between the fear of the godly and of the ungodly, that the ungodly find no remedy for composing their minds; but the godly immediately betake themselves to God, in whom, knowing that they have a very safe harbour, though they be harassed by uneasiness, still they remain calm.
Isa 7:2 And it was told the house of David,…. Ahaz, and his family, the princes of the blood, his court and counsellors; who had intelligence of the designs and preparations of the Syrians and Israelites against them:
saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim; the ten tribes; or the kingdom and king of Israel. Some render it, “Syria led”; that is, its army “unto Ephraim”; marched it into the land of Israel, and there joined the king of Israel’s army; others, as the Vulgate Latin version, “Syria rests upon Ephraim”; depends upon, trusts in, takes heart and encouragement from Ephraim, or the ten tribes, being his ally. The Septuagint version is, “Syria hath agreed with Ephraim”; entered into a confederacy and alliance with each other; which is the sense of our version; and is confirmed by the Targum, which is,
“the king of Syria is joined with the king of Israel:”
and his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind; the metaphor denotes the strength and force of the confederate armies, comparable to a strong, blustering, boisterous wind; see Isa_32:2 and the weakness of the king and people of Judah, who were like to trees shaken by the wind; and also the fear they were possessed with, partly through consciousness of guilt, and partly through distrust of divine power and Providence; and also on account of what they had suffered already from these powerful enemies, when they attacked them singly; and therefore might much more dread them, as they were combined together against them; see 2Ch_28:5.
Then said the Lord – In regard to the purposes for which Isaiah was sent to meet Ahaz, and the reason why this place was selected, see the Analysis of the chapter.
Thou and Shear-ashub – The meaning of the name “Shear-jashub” is, ‘the remnant shall return.’ The names which Isaiah gave to his sons were significant or emblematic of some important events which were to occur to the Jews. They were for “signs” to the people, and had been given in order to keep before the nation the great truth that God was their protector, and that however much they might suffer or be punished, yet the nation would not be totally destroyed until the great Deliverer should come; see the note at Isa_7:14, and Isa_8:3, note. Why this name was given to this son, or on what occasion, is not certainly known. It is probable, however, that was with reference to the future calamities and captivity of the Jews, denoting that a part of the people would return to the land of their fathers: compare Isa_10:21-22. The name was a remembrancer given by him as a prophet, perhaps, some time before this, that the nation was not to be wholly annihilated – a truth which Isaiah everywhere keeps before them in his prophecies; compare the note at Isa_6:13. “Why” Shear-jashub accompanied Isaiah now is not recorded. It might be as a pledge to Ahaz of the purpose of the Lord, that the people should not be destroyed. Ahaz may have been apprized of the reason why the name was given, and his presence might serve to mitigate his fears.
At the end of the conduit – A “conduit” is a pipe, or other conductor of water. The water flowed from a fountain, but was conducted to different receptacles for the supply of the city.
Of the upper pool – Or the upper receptacle, or pond. Robinson (“Bib. Researches,” i. p. 483) and Pococke (“Descr. of the East,” ii. pp. 25, 26) suppose that the upper and lower pools referred to by Isaiah, were on the west side of the city, the ruins of which now remain. The upper pool is now commonly called by the monks “Gihon,” and by the natives “Birket el Mamilla.” It lies in the basin forming the head of the valley of Hinnom or Gihon, about seven hundred yards west-northwest from the Yafa gate, on the west of Jerusalem. The sides of this pool are built of hewn stones laid in cement, with steps at the corners by which to descend into it. The bottom is level.
There is no water-course, or other visible means, by which water is now brought into this reservoir, but it is probable that it was filled in the rainy seasons by the waters which flowed from the higher ground round about. From this upper pool a part of the water was conveyed into the city to the pool of Hezekiah, lying within the walls, and situated some distance to the northeastward of the Yafa gate. ‘Hezekiah stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David;’ 2Ch_32:30; compare the notes at Isa_22:9. This upper pool had a trench or ‘conduit,’ and a considerable part of the waters were allowed to flow through this to the lower pool. The ‘lower pool’ is mentioned in the Old Testament only once, and that by Isaiah Isa_22:9, and there without any hint of its locality. There is now a large lower pool on the western side of Jerusalem, which is not improbably the one intended, and which stands in contrast with the one mentioned here. This pool is called by the Arabs “Birket es-Sultan.” There is, at present, no other pool in the vicinity of Jerusalem to which the description in Isaiah can be well applied. This reservoir is situated in the valley of Hinnom or Gihon, southward from the Yafa gate. Its northern end is nearly upon a line with the southern wall of the city. The pool was formed by throwing strong walls across the bottom of the valley, between which the earth was wholly removed. A road crosses on the causeway at the southern end.
This reservoir was probably filled from the rains, and from the superfluous waters of the upper pool. It is now in ruins. The water from this pool would flow off into the valley of Hinnom, and thence, into the valley of Jehoshaphat or Kedron, or subsequently into the pool of Hezekiah, situated “within” the city; see the notes at Isa_22:9, Isa_22:11. Why Ahaz was at that place, the prophet does not say. It is possible he was examining it, to see whether the fountain could be stopped up, or the water diverted so that it could not be used by the enemy, and so that they could be prevented from maintaining a protracted siege; compare 2Ch_32:4. It is probable that the king had gone to this place attended by many of his counselors, and as this was the main source of the supply of water to the city, a multitude would be there, and Isaiah could have an opportunity not only to deliver his message to Ahaz and his court, but in the presence of a considerable concourse of people, and might thus inspire confidence among the alarmed and dejected inhabitants of the city.
In the highway of the fuller’s field – In the place occupied as a situation on which to spread, or suspend cloth that was bleached, or dyed. This situation would be chosen because much water was needed in bleaching or dyeing cloth. The name ‘highway’ denotes the public path, or road that led to this field. Probably, on one side of this highway was the aqueduct, and on the other the fuller’s field. Of the fuller’s field, Eusebius and Jerome merely say that it was shown in their day in the suburbs of the city. – “Onom.” art. “Ager Fullonis.”
4.And thou shalt say to him(102) The Hebrew word שמר(shamar,) which signifies to keep, is here put in the Hiphil; (103) and the greater part of interpreters take it for beware; but they erroneously apply this to an unnatural and far-fetched meaning, that Ahaz should bewareof carrying on war. A more natural meaning is, that he ought not to waver or wander about in uncertainty, but to remain calm and serene. Accordingly, I have rendered it refrain. The meaning therefore is, that Ahab should be composed, and should not be agitated or harass his mind by uneasiness, as fickle and unsteady persons are wont to do when they are struck with terror.
This interpretation is confirmed by the word which follows, Bequiet; for these two are connected, first, to keep quiet watch, so as not to be distracted by a variety of opinions, or gaze around in all directions; and, secondly, to have a calm and composed mind. Such are the highly delightful fruits which are yielded by faith; for through a variety of attacks unbelievers give way, and wander in uncertainty, and know not to which hand they ought to turn, while believers keep themselves under restraint, and quietly betake themselves to God. Ungodliness is never at rest; but where faith exists, there the mind is composed, and does not tremble to an immoderate degree. These words very fitly express the power of faith.
Fear not. After having pointed out the remedy for allaying the distresses of the mind, he likewise bids them not fear; for faith, which places our salvation in the hand of God, is not more opposite to anything than to fear. It is impossible, I acknowledge, not to fear when dangers threaten, for faith does not deprive us of all feeling. On the contrary, the children of God are undoubtedly moved by two kinds of fear, one of which arises from the feeling of human nature, even though they be endued with perfect faith. The other arises from the weakness of faith; for no man has made such proficiency as not to have any remains of that distrust against which we ought continually to strive. We must not, therefore, understand the exhortation of the Prophet to mean that the Lord forbids every kind of fear, but he enjoins believers to be armed with such firmness as to overcome fear. As if he had said, “Do not suffer yourselves to be discouraged; and if you are assailed by fierce and severe attacks, maintain unshaken resolution, that you may not be overpowered by dangers, but, on the contrary, live to God and overcome all your distresses.” For the same reason he immediately adds, —
And let not thy heart be faint. To be faint means “to melt away,” for not without reason does the Apostle exhort us to strengthen our hearts by faith. (Heb_11:27.) It is the softness of indolence, when we forget God and melt away, as it were, through our unbelief. You would not call that man soft or effeminate who relies on the Spirit of God and steadfastly resists adversity. Hence we infer that the Prophet meant nothing else than that Ahaz should undauntedly await the accomplishment of what the Lord had promised to him.
For the two tails. Isaiah employs an elegant metaphor to lessen the conception which the Jews had formed about those two very powerful kings which had filled their minds with terror. Their rage and cruelty appeared to be a devouring fire, which was sufficient to consume the whole of Judea, and could not be quenched. Isaiah, on the other hand, calls them not firebrands, (for that might have been thought to be something great,) but tails, that is, some fragments or ends of firebrands, and these, too, not burning, but only smoking, as if some firebrand snatched from the fire were going out, and gave out nothing else than a slight smoke. This metaphor yields high consolation, for it warns us to form a very different opinion about the violence of the ungodly from what it appears to be. One would think that they are endued with so great power that they could burn and destroy the whole world. To put down the excess of terror, the Lord declares that what we imagined to be a burning, and a perpetual burning, is but a slight smoke and of short duration.
5.The king of Syria hath taken evil counsel against thee.Though he foretold that empty would be the threats, and vain the attempts of the enemies of the people of God, yet he does not conceal that their devices are cruel, if the Lord do not restrain them. By evil counsel he means destructive counsel, for these two kings had leagued together to destroy Judea. To express it more fully, and to place it as it were before their eyes, he relates their very words.
Isa 7:6 Let us go up against Judah, and vex it,…. By besieging or distressing it; or “stir it up” to war, as Jarchi interprets it:
and let us make a breach therein for us; in the walls of the city of Jerusalem, and enter in at it; the Targum is,
“let us join, and put it to us;”
and so Jarchi, let us level it with us, as this valley, which is even: the sense may be, let us make a breach and division among them, and then part the kingdom between us (c); or if we cannot agree on that, let us set up a king of our own, as follows:
and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal; which Jarchi, by a situation of the alphabet the Jews call “albam”, makes it to be the same with Remala, that is, Remaliah; and so supposes, that the intention was to set Pekah, son of Remaliah, king of Israel, over Judah; but it is not reasonable to think that the king of Syria should join in such a design; and besides, the method of interpretation, Aben Ezra says, is mere vanity; and whose sense of the words is much preferable, taking Tabeal to be the name of some great prince, either of Israel or of Syria; and so Kimchi thinks that he was a man of the children of Ephraim, whom they thought to make king in Jerusalem. The Targum understands not any particular person, but anyone that should be thought proper; and paraphrases it thus,
“let us appoint a king in the midst of it, who is right for us,”
or pleases us; the name seems to be Syriac, see Ezr_4:7. Dr. Lightfoot thinks it is the same with Tabrimmon, the name of some famous family in Syria. One signifies “good God”: and the other “good Rimmon”, which was the name of the idol of the Syrians, 2Ki_5:18.
(c) So Noldius, Elr. Concord. Part. p. 62. renders its “let us divide it among us”.
7.It shall not stand. What he had formerly stated was intended to show more fully that the deliverance was great and uncommon; for when the Lord intends to assist us in our trials, he represents the greatness of the danger, that we may not think that he promises less than the necessity requires. He does not usually give a mitigated view of the evils which press upon us, but rather holds out their full extent, and afterwards makes a promise, and shows that he is able to deliver us, though we may appear to be ruined. Such was the method adopted by the Prophet; for he might have told them in plain terms what would happen, and might have encouraged the king and the nation not to be terrified or discouraged at the sight of those armies. But he opened up the scheme and design of those kings, with which he now contrasts the promise and decree of God, that his wonderful assistance may be more strikingly displayed.
This is the sacred anchor which alone upholds us amidst the billows of temptations; for in adversity we shall never be able to stand if God take away his word from us. Although, therefore, the king was almost overwhelmed with despair, Isaiah shows that there is nothing so dreadful that it may not be despised, provided that he fortify himself by the promise of God, and patiently look for that which is not yet seen, and which even appears to be incredible. He affirms, that whatever men attempt, after the manner of the giants, in rising up against God, it shall not stand. He uses the word תקים, (thakum,) shall arise, in the same sense in which that metaphor is employed in the Latin language, that a work is making progress; and, in a word, he declares that such daring sacrilege shall not stand
Still more emphatic is that which he adds, לא תהיה, (lothihyeh,) it shall not be; that is, it shall be reduced to nothing, as if it had never existed. This mode of expression deserves notice, for it was the bare and naked word of God which was contrasted with the vast army and scheme of the kings.
Isa 7:8 For the head of Syria is Damascus,…. Damascus was the metropolis of Syria, the chief city in it, where the king had his palace, and kept his court; of which See Gill on Gen_15:2, Act_9:2,
and the head of Damascus is Rezin; he was king of it, as of all Syria; the meaning is, that Syria, of which Damascus was the principal city, was the only country that Rezin should govern, his dominion should not be enlarged; and Ahaz, king of Judah, might assure himself that Rezin should never possess his kingdom, or be able to depose him, and set up another; and as for Ephraim or Israel, the ten tribes, they should be so far from succeeding in such a design against him, that it should befall them as follows:
and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people; which is by some reckoned, not from the time of this prophecy, that being in the third or fourth year of Ahaz, who reigned in all but sixteen years; and in the ninth of Hosea king of Israel, and in the sixth of Hezekiah king of Judah, Samaria was taken, and Israel carried captive into Assyria, 2Ki_17:6 which was but about eighteen or nineteen years from this time: some think indeed the time was shortened, because of their sins; but this does not appear, nor is it probable: and others think that it designs any time within that term; but the true meaning undoubtedly is, as the Targum renders it,
“at the end of sixty and five years, the kingdom of the house of Israel shall cease.”
This is commonly reckoned by the Jewish writers (d) from the prophecy of Amos, who prophesied two years before the earthquake in Uzziah’s time, concerning the captivity both of Syria and Israel, Amo_1:1, Amo_7:11 which account may be carried either through the kings of Judah or of Israel; Jarchi goes the former way, reckoning thus,
“the prophecy of Amos was two years before Uzziah was smitten with the leprosy, according to Amo_1:1. Uzziah was a leper twenty five years, lo, twenty seven. Jotham reigned sixteen years, Ahaz sixteen, and Hezekiah six; as it is said, “in the sixth year of Hezekiah (that is, the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel) Samaria was taken”, 2Ki_18:10 lo, sixty five years.”
So Abarbinel; but Kimchi goes another way, which comes to the same, reckoning thus,
“the prophecy of Amos, according to computation, was in the seventeenth year of Jeroboam, son of Joash, king of Israel, how is it? Jeroboam reigned forty one years, Menahem ten, so there are fifty one; Pekahiah the son of Menahem two, so fifty three; and Pekah twenty, so seventy three; and Hoshea the son of Elah nine, and then Israel were carried captive, so there are eighty two: take out of them seventeen (the years of Jeroboam before the prophecy), and there remain sixty five, the number intended; for we do not reckon the six months of Zechariah, and the month of Shallum.”
Cocceius reckons from the death of Jeroboam, who died in the forty first year of his reign, and in the fifteenth of Uzziah, so that there remained thirty seven years of Uzziah; in the twentieth of Jotham, that is, in the fourth after his death, Hoshea son of Elah was made king, this was the twelfth of Ahaz, 2Ki_15:30 and in the ninth of Hoshea, Samaria was taken, and Israel carried captive. But Junius and Tremellius are of a different mind from either of these, and think the prophecy wholly respects time to come; they observe, that
“Isaiah in these words first shows, that the kingdom of Syria should be immediately cut off, and the king should die, which at furthest must needs happen four years after; so (say they) we may suppose that these things were said by the prophet in the first year of Ahaz; thence, from the destruction of the Syrians, to the full carrying captive of the Israelites, or from the time of this prophecy, sixty five years must have run out; for although the kingdom of Israel was abolished in the sixth year of Hezekiah, yet Israel did not immediately cease to be a people when only some part of it was carried away; but they entirely ceased to be a people when new colonies were introduced by Esarhaddon, the son of Sennacherib, and all the Israelites were forced into bondage, which the Samaritans explain, Ezr_4:2 wherefore so we fix the series of the times, from the fourth year of Ahaz, in which the kingdom of Syria fell, unto the end, are eleven years, Hezekiah reigned twenty nine years, so the last translation of the Israelites was in the twenty fifth year of Manasseh’s reign; but if you begin from the time of the prophecy; the thing will fall upon the twenty first or twenty second of Manasseh’s reign; at which time perhaps, as some say, Manasseh was carried captive into Babylon.”
And of this mind was the learned Dr. Prideaux (e), who observes, that in the twenty second year of Manasseh, Esarhaddon prepared a great army, and marched into the parts of Syria and Palestine, and again added them to the Assyrian empire; and adds,
“and then was accomplished the prophecy which was spoken by Isaiah in the first year of Ahaz against Samaria, that within threescore and five years Ephraim should be absolutely broken, so as from thenceforth to be no more a people; for this year being exactly sixty five years from the first of Ahaz, Esarhaddon, after he had settled all affairs in Syria, marched into the land of Israel, and there taking captive all those who were the remains of the former captivity (excepting only some few, who escaped his hands, and continued still in the land), carried them away into Babylon and Assyria; and then, to prevent the land becoming desolate, he brought others from Babylon, and from Cutha, and from Havah, and Hamath, and Sephervaim, to dwell in the cities of Samaria in their stead; and so the ten tribes of Israel, which had separated from the house of David, were brought to a full and utter destruction, and never after recovered themselves again.”
And this seems to be the true accomplishment of this prophecy; though the sense of the Jewish writers is followed by many, and preferred by Noldius; so that there is no need with Grotius and Vitringa to suppose a corruption of the text. Gussetius (f) fancies that ששים signifies twice six, that is, twelve; as עשרים twice ten, or twenty; and so five, added to twelve, makes seventeen; and from the fourth of Ahaz, to the taking of Samaria, was about seventeen years.
(d) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 28. p. 85. Aben Ezra in loc. (e) Connection, &c. par, 1. B. 1. p. 30. Bishop Usher, Annal. Vet. Test. A. M. 3327. (f) Comment Ebr. p. 892.
For the head of Syria – The “capital.” The “head” is often used in this sense.
Is Damascus – For an account of this city, see the notes at Isa_17:1; compare the notes at Act_9:2. The sense of this passage is, ‘Do not be alarmed as if Rezin was about to enlarge his kingdom, by taking Judea and making Jerusalem his capital. The revolution which these kings contemplate cannot be accomplished. The kingdoms of Syria and Israel shall not be enlarged by the conquest of Judah. The center of their power shall remain where it is now, and their dominion shall not be extended by conquest. The capital of Syria is, and shall continue to be, Damascus. The king of Syria shall be confined within his present limits, and Jerusalem, therefore, shall be safe.’
The head of Damascus – The “ruler, or king” of Damascus is Rezin.
And within threescore and five years – There has been some inquiry why “Ephraim” is mentioned here, as the prophet in the former part of the verse was speaking of “Syria.” But it should be remembered that he was speaking of Syria and Ephraim as “confederate.” It was natural, therefore, to intimate, in close connection, that no fear was to be apprehended from either of them. There has been much difficulty experienced in establishing the fact of the exact fulfillment of this, and in fixing the precise event to which it refers. One catastrophe happened to the kingdom of Ephraim or Israel within one or two years of this time, when Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, invaded the land and carried no small part of the people to Assyria; 2Ki_15:29. Another occurred in the next reign, the reign of Hoshea, king of Israel, when Shalmaneser king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away captive into Assyria; 2Ki_17:1-6.
This occurred in the twelfth year of Ahaz. But that the Israelites remained in Samaria, and kept up the forms of a civil community, and were not finally carried away until the time of Esarhaddon, is evident; compare 2Ch_34:6-7, 2Ch_34:33; 2Ch_35:18; 2Ki_23:19-20. Manasseh, king of Judah, was taken captive by the king of Assyria’s captains 2Ch_33:2 in the twenty-second year of his reign; that is, sixty-five years from the second year of Ahaz, when this prophecy is supposed to have been delivered. And it is also supposed that at this time Esarhaddon took away the remains of the people in Samaria, and put an end to the kingdom, and put in their place the people who are mentioned in Ezr_4:3. “Dr. Jubb, as quoted by Lowth.” The entire extinction of the people of Israel and the kingdom did not take place until Esarhaddon put new colonists from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim in the cities of Samaria, instead of the children of Israel; 2Ki_17:24; compare Ezr_4:2, Ezr_4:10.
Long before this, indeed, the power of the kingdom had been on the wane; a large portion of the people had been removed 2Ki_17:5-6, 2Ki_17:18; but its entire extinction was not accomplished, and the kingdom utterly destroyed, until this was done. Until this occurred, the land might be still regarded as in the possession somewhat of its former people, and all hopes of their rising again to the dignity of a kingdom was not extinguished. But when foreigners were introduced, and took possession of the land; when all the social organization of the ancient people was dissolved; then it might be said that ‘Ephraim was forever broken,’ and that it was demonstrated that it ‘should be no more a people.’ Its inhabitants were transferred to a distant land, no longer to be organized into a unique community, but to mingle with other people, and finally all traces of their origin as Jews were to be lost. This event, of placing the foreigners in the cities of Samaria, occurred just sixty-five years after it had been predicted by Isaiah. – “Dr. Usher.”
It may be asked here, how the statement of what was to occur at so remote a period as sixty-five years could be any consolation to Ahaz, or any security that the designs of the kings of Syria and Samaria should “then” fail of being accomplished? To this we may reply:
(1) It was the assurance that Jerusalem could not be finally and permanently reduced to submission before these dreaded enemies. “Their” power was to cease, and of course Jerusalem had nothing “ultimately and finally” to dread.
(2) The design was to inspire confidence in Yahweh, and to lead Ahaz to look directly to him. If these formidable powers could not ultimately prevail, and if there was a certain prediction that they should be destroyed, then it was possible for God, if Ahaz would look to him, now to interpose, and save the city. To inspire that confidence in Yahweh was the leading purpose of Isaiah.
(3) This prediction is in accordance with many which occur in Isaiah, that all the enemies of the people of God would be ultimately defeated, and that God, as the head of the theocracy, would defend and deliver his people; see the notes at Isa. 34. A kingdom that was so soon to be destroyed as Ephraim was, could not be an object of great dread and alarm. Rosenmuller conjectures, that Isaiah refers to some unrecorded prophecy made before his time, that in sixty-five years Israel would be destroyed; and that he refers here to that prophecy to encourage the heart of Ahaz, and to remind him that a kingdom could not be very formidable that was so soon to come to an end. At all events, there is no contradiction between the prophecy and the fulfillment, for within the time mentioned here, Ephraim ceased to be a kingdom. The ancient Jewish writers, with one consent, say, that Isaiah referred here to the prophecy of Amos, who prophesied in the days of Uzziah, and whose predictions relate mainly to the kingdom of Israel. But as Amos, does not specify any particular time when the kingdom should be destroyed, it is apparent that Isaiah here could not have referred to any recorded prophecy of his.
Be broken – Its power shall be destroyed; the kingdom, as a kingdom, shall come to an end.
Is 7:9 Threescore and five years – It was sixty-five years from the beginning of the reign of Ahaz, when this prophecy was delivered, to the total depopulation of the kingdom of Israel by Esarhaddon, who carried away the remains of the ten tribes which had been left by Tiglath-pileser, and Shalmaneser, and who planted the country with new inhabitants. That the country was not wholly stripped of its inhabitants by Shalmaneser appears from many passages of the history of Josiah, where Israelites are mentioned as still remaining there, 2Ch_34:6, 2Ch_34:7, 2Ch_34:33; 2Ch_35:18; 2Ki_23:19, 2Ki_23:20. This seems to be the best explanation of the chronological difficulty in this place, which has much embarrassed the commentators: see Usserii Annal. 5. T. ad an. 3327, and Sir 1. Newton, Chronol. p. 283.
“That the last deportation of Israel by Esarhaddon was in the sixty-fifth year after the second of Ahaz, is probable for the following reasons: The Jews, in Seder Olam Rabba, and the Talmudists, in D. Kimchi on Ezekiel iv., say that Manasseh king of Judah was carried to Babylon by the king of Assyria’s captains, 2Ch_33:11, in the twenty-second year of his reign; that is, before Christ 676, according to Dr. Blair’s tables. And they are probably right in this. It could not be much earlier; as the king of Assyria was not king of Babylon till 680, ibid. As Esarhaddon was then in the neighborhood of Samaria, it is highly probable that he did then carry away the last remains of Israel, and brought those strangers thither who mention him as their founder, Ezr_4:2. But this year is just the sixty-fifth from the second of Ahaz, which was 740 before Christ. Now the carrying away the remains of Israel, who, till then, though their kingdom was destroyed forty-five years before, and though small in number, might yet keep up some form of being a people, by living according to their own laws, entirely put an end to the people of Israel, as a people separate from all others: for from this time they never returned to their own country in a body, but were confounded with the people of Judah in the captivity; and the whole people, the ten tribes included, were called Jews.” – Dr. Jubb. Two MSS. have twenty-five instead of sixty-five; and two others omit the word five, reading only sixty.
If ye will not believe “If ye believe not” – “This clause is very much illustrated by considering the captivity of Manasseh as happening at the same time with this predicted final ruin of Ephraim as a people. The near connection of the two facts makes the prediction of the one naturally to cohere with the prediction of the other. And the words are well suited to this event in the history of the people of Judah: ‘If ye believe not, ye shall not be established;’ that is, unless ye believe this prophecy of the destruction of Israel, ye Jews also, as well as the people of Israel, shall not remain established as a kingdom and people; ye also shall be visited with punishment at the same time: as our Savior told the Jews in his time, ‘Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish;’ intimating their destruction by the Romans; to which also, as well as to the captivity of Manasseh, and to the Babylonish captivity, the views of the prophet might here extend. The close connection of this threat to the Jews with the prophecy of the destruction of Israel, is another strong proof that the order of the preceding lines above proposed is right.” – Dr. Jubb.
“If ye believe not in me.” – The exhortation of Jehoshaphat, 2Ch_20:20, to his people, when God had promised to them, by the prophet Jahaziel, victory over the Moabites and Ammonites, is very like this both in sense and expression, and seems to be delivered in verse:
“Hear me, O Judah; and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem;
Believe in Jehovah your God, and ye shall be established:
Believe his prophets, and ye shall prosper.”
Where both the sense and construction render very probable a conjecture of Archbishop Secker on this place; that instead of כי ki, we should read בי bi. “If ye will not believe in me, ye shall not be established.” So likewise Dr. Durell. The Chaldee has, “If ye will not believe in the words of the prophet;” which seems to be a paraphrase of the reading here proposed. In favor of which it may be farther observed that in one MS. כי ki is upon a rasure; and another for the last לא lo reads ולא velo, which would properly follow בי bi, but could not follow כי ki.
Some translate thus, and paraphrase thus: If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. Or, If ye do not give credit, it is because ye are unfaithful. Ye have not been faithful to the grace already given: therefore ye are now incapable of crediting my promises.
And the head of Ephraim – The capital city of Ephraim, or of Israel.
Is Samaria – This was long the capital of the kingdom of Israel. For a description of this city, see the notes at Isa_28:1. The meaning of the prophet is, that Samaria should continue to be the head of Ephraim; that is, Jerusalem should not be made its capital.
If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established – There is considerable variety in the interpretation of these words, though the general sense is evident. The Chaldee renders them, ‘If ye will not believe the words of the prophet, ye shall not remain.’ It is probable that Ahaz, who was greatly alarmed, and who trembled at the formidable power of Syria and Israel united, received the annunciation of the prophet with much distrust. He was anxious about the means of defense, but did not trust in the promise of God by the prophet. Isaiah, therefore, assures him, that if he did not believe him; if he did not put confidence in God, and his promises, he should not be protected from Syria and Ephraim. They would come and destroy his kingdom. ‘You have no occasion,’ is the language of the prophet, ‘to fear. God has resolved to protect you, and no portion of your land shall be taken by your enemies. Nevertheless, in order that you may obtain deliverance, you must believe his promise, and put your confidence in him, and not in the aid of the Assyrians. If you do this, your mind shall be calm, peaceful, and happy. But if you do “not” do this; if you rely on the aid of Assyria, you shall be troubled, alarmed, unsuccessful, and bring ruin upon yourself and nation.’ This, therefore, is an exhortation to confide solely in the promises of God, and is one of the instances constantly occurring in the Old Testament and the New, showing, that by faith or confidence in God only, can the mind he preserved calm when in the midst of dangers.
10.And Jehovah added to speak to Ahaz As the Lord knew that King Ahaz was so wicked as not to believe the promise, so he enjoins Isaiah to confirm him by adding a sign; for when God sees that his promises do not satisfy us, he makes additions to them suitable to our weakness; so that we not only hear him speak, but likewise behold his hand displayed, and thus are confirmed by an evident proof of the fact. Here we ought carefully to observe the use of signs, that is, the reason why God performs miracles, namely, to confirm us in the belief of his word; for when we see his power, if we have any hesitation about what he says to us, our doubt is removed by beholding the thing itself; for miracles added to the word are seals.
11.Either in the deep.I understand it simply to mean Either above or below. He allows him an unrestricted choice of a miracle, to demand either what belongs to earth or what belongs to heaven. But perhaps in the word deepthere is something still more emphatic; as if he had said, “It belongs to you to choose. God will immediately show that his dominion is higher than this world, and that it likewise extends to all depths, so that at his pleasure he can raise the dead from their graves.” It was undoubtedly astonishing forbearance towards this wicked king and people of God, that not only did he patiently bear their distrust for a time, but so graciously condescended to them that he was willing to give them any pledge of his power which they chose. Yet he had in his eye not unbelievers only, but he intended likewise to provide for the benefit of the weak, in whom there was a seed of godliness; that they might be fully convinced that Isaiah did not speak at random, for he could easily give a proof of the power of God in confirmation of what he had said.
The same goodness of God is now also displayed towards men, to whom he exercises such forbearance, when he might justly have been offended at them; for how shockingly do they insult God, when they doubt his truth? What do you leave to God, if you take that from him? And whatever may be our doubts, not only does he pardon us, but even aids our distrust, and not only by his word, but by adding miracles; and he exhibits them not only to believers, but also to the ungodly, which we may behold in this king. And if he was at that time so kind to strangers, what ought not his own people to expect from him?
Ask thee – Ask for “thyself;” ask a sign that shall be convincing to “thyself,” since thou dost not fully credit the words of the prophet. It is evident that the words of the prophet had made no impression on the mind of Ahaz. God, therefore, proposes to him to ask any “proof or demonstration” which he might select; anything that would be an indication of divine power that should put what the prophet had said beyond doubt. Had Ahaz put confidence in God, he would have believed what the prophet said without miraculous proof. But he had no such confidence. ‘The prophet, therefore, proposes that he should ask any miraculous demonstration that what he said would come to pass. This proposition was made, probably, not so much from respect to Ahaz as to leave him without excuse, and in order that “the people” might have the assurance that the city and kingdom were safe.
A sign – A demonstration that shall confirm the promise now made, and that shall be an evidence that Jerusalem shall be safe. The word used here, and translated “sign” – ‘owt – אות ‘ôth – means “a flag,” or “a standard,” Num_2:2; “a memorial or pledge” of a covenant, Gen_17:11; any “pledge, token, or proof” of a divine mission, Jdg_6:17; or a miracle performed in attestation of a divine promise or message. This is its sense here. That which Isaiah had spoken seemed highly improbable to Ahaz, and he asked him to seek a proof of it, if he doubted, by any prodigy or miracle. It was customary for miracles or prodigies to be exhibited on similar occasions; see Isa_38:7, where the shadow on the dial of this same Ahaz was carried backward ten degrees, in proof of what the prophet Isaiah had spoken; compare 1Sa_2:27-34; 1Ki_13:1-3; Exo_3:12; Jdg_6:36-40. That the word here refers to some event which could be brought about only by divine power, is evident from the whole connection. No mere natural occurrence could have satisfied Ahaz, or convey to the people a demonstration of the truth of what the prophet was saying. And if the prophet had been unable or unwilling to give a miraculous sign, where is the fitness of the answer of Ahaz? How could he be regarded as in any way tempting God by asking it, unless it was something which God only could do? And how could the prophet bring the charge Isa_7:13, that he had not merely offended men, but God also? It is clear, therefore, that Isaiah was conscious that he was invested by God with the power of working a miracle, and that he proposed to perform any miracle which Ahaz should suggest that would serve to remove his doubts, and lead him to put confidence in God.
Ask it either in the depth … – He gave him his choice of a miracle – any sign or wonder in heaven, or on earth – above or below; a miracle in the sky, or from beneath the earth. Many of the versions understand the expression ‘the depth,’ as referring to “the grave,” or to the region of departed souls – “hades.” So the Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus. The Chaldee reads it, ‘Seek that there may be a miracle to thee upon the earth, or a sign in the heavens.’ The literal meaning of the Hebrew is, ‘make low, ask for;’ that is, ask for a sign below; obtain, by asking for thyself; a miracle that shall take place below. It may refer to the earth, or to the region under the earth, since it stands in contrast with that which is above. If it refers to the region under the earth, it means that Isaiah would raise the dead to life if Ahaz desired it; if to the earth, that any wonder or miracle that should take place in the elements – as a tempest, or earthquake – should be performed.
The height above – The heaven, or the sky. So the Pharisees desired to see a sign from heaven, Mat_16:1.
Isa 7:12 Lord. He was afraid of being forced to relinquish his evil ways. (St. Jerome)
Isa 7:12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask,…. That is, a sign or miracle to be wrought; being unwilling to take the advice to be still and quiet, and make no preparation for war, or seek out for help from the Assyrians, and to rely upon the promise and power of God, and therefore chose not to have it confirmed by a sign; adding as an excuse,
neither will I tempt the Lord, by asking a sign; suggesting that this was contrary to the command of God, Deu_6:16 so pretending religion and reverence of God; whereas, to ask a sign of God, when it was offered, could not be reckoned a tempting him; but, on the contrary, to refuse one; when offered, argued great stubbornness and ingratitude, as Calvin well observes.
12.And Ahaz said.By a plausible excuse he refuses the sign which the Lord offered to him. That excuse is, that he is unwilling to tempt the LORD; for he pretends to believe the words of the Prophet, and to ask nothing more from God than his word. Ungodliness is certainly detestable in the sight of God, and in like manner God unquestionably sets a high value on faith. Accordingly, if a man rely on his word alone, and disregard everything else, it might be thought that he deserves the highest praise; for there can be no greater perfection than to yield full submission and obedience to God.
But a question arises. Do we tempt God, when we accept what he offers to us? Certainly not. Ahaz therefore speaks falsehood, when he pretends that he refuses the sign, because he is unwilling to tempt God; for there can be nothing fitter or more excellent than to obey God, and indeed it is the highest virtue to ask nothing beyond the word of God; and yet if God choose to add anything to his word, it ought not to be regarded as a virtue to reject this addition as superfluous. It is no small insult offered to God, when his goodness is despised in such a manner as if his proceedings towards us were of no advantage, and as if he did not know what it is that we chiefly need. We know that faith is chiefly commended on this ground, that it maintains obedience to him; but when we wish to be too wise, and despise anything that belongs to God, we are undoubtedly abominable before God, whatever excuse we may plead before men. While we believe the word of God, we ought not to despise the aids which he has been pleased to add for the purpose of strengthening our faith.
For instance, the Lord offers to us in the gospel everything necessary for salvation; for when he brings us into a state of fellowship with Christ, the sum of all blessings is truly contained in him. What then is the use of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Must they be regarded as superfluous? Not at all; for any one who shall actually, and without flattery, acknowledge his weakness, of which all from the least to the greatest are conscious, will gladly avail himself of those aids for his support. We ought indeed to grieve and lament, that the sacred truth of God needs assistance on account of the defect of our flesh; but since we cannot all at once remove this defect, any one who, according to his capacity shall believe the word, will immediately render full obedience to God. Let us therefore learn to embrace the signs along with the word, since it is not in the power of man to separate them.
When Ahaz refuses the sign offered to him, by doing so he displays both his obstinacy and his ingratitude; for he despises what God had offered for the highest advantage. Hence also it is evident how far we ought to ask signs, namely, when God offers them to us; and therefore he who shall reject them when offered, must also reject the grace of God. In like manner fanatics of the present day disregard Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and consider them to be childish elements. They cannot do this without at the same time rejecting the whole gospel; for we must not separate those things which the Lord has commanded us to join.
But a question may be asked, Is it not sometimes lawful to ask signs from the Lord? For we have an instance of this in Gideon, who wished to have his calling confirmed by some sign. (Jud_6:17.) The Lord granted his prayer, and did not disapprove of such a desire. I answer, though Gideon was not commanded by God to ask a sign, yet he did so, not at his own suggestion, but by an operation of the Holy Spirit. We must not abuse his example, therefore, so that each of us may freely allow himself that liberty; for so great is the forwardness of men that they do not hesitate to ask innumerable signs from God without any proper reason. Such effrontery ought therefore to be restrained, that we may be satisfied with those signs which the Lord offers to us.
Now, there are two kinds of signs; for some are extraordinary, and may be called supernatural; such as that which the Prophet will immediately add, and that which, we shall afterwards see, was offered to Hezekiah. (Isa_38:7.) Some are ordinary, and in daily use among believers, such as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which contain no miracle, or at least may be perceived by the eye or by some of the senses. What the Lord miraculously performs by his Spirit is unseen, but in those which are extraordinary the miracle itself is seen. Such is also the end and use of all signs; for as Gideon was confirmed by an astonishing miracle, so we are confirmed by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, though our eyes behold no miracle.
13.And he said, Hear now, O house of David.Under the pretense of honor to exclude the power of God, which would maintain the truth of the promise, was intolerable wickedness; and therefore the Prophet kindles into warmer indignation, and more sharply rebukes wicked hypocrites. Though it would have been honorable to them to be reckoned the descendants of David, provided that they imitated his piety, yet it is rather for the sake of reproach that he calls them the posterity or family of David. It was indeed no small aggravation of the baseness, that the grace of God was rejected by that family from which the salvation of the whole world would proceed. Grievous disgrace must have been brought on them, by naming their ancestry, from which they had so basely and shamefully degenerated.
This order ought to be carefully observed; for we ought not to begin with severe reproof, but with doctrine, that men may be gently drawn by it. When plain and simple doctrine is not sufficient, proofs must be added. But if even this method produce no good effect, it then becomes necessary to employ greater vehemence. Such is the manner in which we hear Isaiah thundering on the present occasion. After having exhibited to the king both doctrine and signs, he now resorts to the last remedy, and sharply and severely reproves an obstinate man; and not him only, but the whole royal family which was guilty of the same kind of impiety.
Is it a small thing for you to weary men?He makes a comparison between God and men; not that it is possible to make an actual separation between God and the prophets and holy teachers of whom he speaks, who are nothing else than God’s instruments, and make common cause with him, when they discharge their duty; for of them the Lord testifies,
He who despiseth you despiseth me.
He who heareth you heareth me. (Luk_10:16.)
The Prophet therefore adapts his discourse to the impiety of Ahaz, and of those who resembled him; for they thought that they had to deal with men. Those very words were undoubtedly spoken in ancient times which we hear at the present day from the mouths of the ungodly: “Are they not men that speak to us?” And thus they endeavor to disparage the doctrine which comes from God. As it was customary at that time for irreligious despisers of doctrine to use the same kind of language, the Prophet, by way of admission, says that those who performed the sacred office of teaching the word were men. “Be it so. You tell me that I am a mortal man. That is the light in which you view the prophets of God. But is it a small thing to weary us, if you do not also weary God? Now, you despise God, by rejecting the sign of his astonishing power which he was willing to give to you. In vain therefore do you boast that you do not despise him, and that you have to do with men, and not with God.” This then is the reason why the Prophet was so greatly enraged. Hence we see more clearly what I mentioned a little before, that the proper season for giving reproofs is, when we have attempted everything that God enjoined, and have neglected no part of our duty. We ought then to break out with greater vehemence, and to expose the ungodliness which lurked under those cloaks of hypocrisy.
My God.He formerly said, Ask a sign for thee from the Lord thy God; for at that time his obstinacy and rebellion had not been manifestly proved. But now he claims it as peculiar to himself; for Ahaz, and those who resembled him, had no right to boast of the name of God. He therefore intimates that God is on his side, and is not on the side of those hypocrites: and in this way he testifies his confidence; for he shows how conscientiously he promised deliverance to the king; as if he had said, that he did not come but when God sent him, and that he said nothing but what he was commanded to say. With the same boldness ought all ministers to be endued, not only so as to profess it, but to have it deeply rooted in their hearts. The false prophets also boast of it loudly, but it is empty and unmeaning talk, or a blind confidence arising from rashness.
Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign,…. Whether they would ask one or not; a sign both in heaven and earth, namely, the promised Messiah; who being the Lord from heaven, would take flesh of a virgin on earth; and who as man, being buried in the heart of the earth, would be raised from thence, and ascend up into heaven; and whose birth, though it was to be many years after, was a sign of present deliverance to Judah from the confederacy of the two kings of Syria and Israel; and of future safety, since it was not possible that this kingdom should cease to be one until the Messiah was come, who was to spring from Judah, and be of the house of David; wherefore by how much the longer off was his birth, by so much the longer was their safety.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son; this is not to be understood of Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, by his wife, as some Jewish writers interpret it; which interpretation Jarchi refutes, by observing that Hezekiah was nine years old when his father began to reign, and this being, as he says, the fourth year of his reign, he must be at this time thirteen years of age; in like manner, Aben Ezra and Kimchi object to it; and besides, his mother could not be called a “virgin”: and for the same reason it cannot be understood of any other son of his either by his wife, as Kimchi thinks, or by some young woman; moreover, no other son of his was ever lord of Judea, as this Immanuel is represented to be, in Isa_8:8 nor can it be interpreted of Isaiah’s wife and son, as Aben Ezra and Jarchi think; since the prophet could never call her a “virgin”, who had bore him children, one of which was now with him; nor indeed a “young woman”, but rather “the prophetess”, as in Isa_8:3 nor was any son of his king of Judah, as this appears to be, in the place before cited: but the Messiah is here meant, who was to be born of a pure virgin; as the word here used signifies in all places where it is mentioned, as Gen_24:43 and even in Pro_30:19 which is the instance the Jews give of the word being used of a woman corrupted; since it does not appear that the maid and the adulterous woman are one and the same person; and if they were, she might, though vitiated, be called a maid or virgin, from her own profession of herself, or as she appeared to others who knew her not, or as she was antecedent to her defilement; which is no unusual thing in Scripture, see Deu_22:28 to which may be added, that not only the Evangelist Matthew renders the word by παρθενος, “a virgin”; but the Septuagint interpreters, who were Jews, so rendered the word hundreds of years before him; and best agrees with the Hebrew word, which comes from the root עלם, which signifies to “hide” or “cover”; virgins being covered and unknown to men; and in the eastern country were usually kept recluse, and were shut up from the public company and conversation of men: and now this was the sign that was to be given, and a miraculous one it was, that the Messiah should be born of a pure and incorrupt virgin; and therefore a “behold” is prefixed to it, as a note of admiration; and what else could be this sign or wonder? not surely that a young married woman, either Ahaz’s or Isaiah’s wife, should be with child, which is nothing surprising, and of which there are repeated instances every day; nor was it that the young woman was unfit for conception at the time of the prophecy, which was the fancy of some, as Jarchi reports, since no such intimation is given either in the text or context; nor did it lie in this, that it was a male child, and not a female, which was predicted, as R. Saadiah Gaon, in Aben Ezra, would have it; for the sign or wonder does not lie in the truth of the prophet’s prediction, but in the greatness of the thing predicted; besides, the verification of this would not have given the prophet much credit, nor Ahaz and the house of David much comfort, since this might have been ascribed rather to a happy conjecture than to a spirit of prophecy; much less can the wonder be, that this child should eat butter and honey, as soon as it was born, as Aben Ezra and Kimchi suggest; since nothing is more natural to, and common with young children, than to take down any kind of liquids which are sweet and pleasant.
And shall call his name Immanuel; which is, by interpretation, “God with us”, Mat_1:23 whence it appears that the Messiah is truly God, as well as truly man: the name is expressive of the union of the two natures, human and divine, in him; of his office as Mediator, who, being both God and man, is a middle person between both; of his converse with men on earth, and of his spiritual presence with his people. See Joh_1:14.
Therefore – Since you will not “ask” a pledge that the land shall be safe, Yahweh will furnish one unasked. A sign or proof is desirable in the case, and Yahweh will not withhold it because a proud and contemptuous monarch refuses to seek it. Perhaps there is no prophecy in the Old Testament on which more has been written, and which has produced more perplexity among commentators than this. And after all, it still remains, in many respects, very obscure. Its general original meaning is not difficult. It is, that in a short time – within the time when a young woman, then a virgin, should conceive and bring forth a child, and that child should grow old enough to distinguish between good and evils – the calamity which Ahaz feared would be entirely removed. The confederacy would be broken up, and the land forsaken by both those kings. The conception and birth of a child – which could be known only by him who knows “all” future events – would be the evidence of such a result. His appropriate “name” would be such as would be a “sign,” or an indication that God was the protector of the nation, or was still with them. In the examination of this difficult prophecy, my first object will be to give an explanation of the meaning of the “words and phrases” as they occur in the passage, and then to show, as far as I may be able, what was the design of the passage.
The Lord himself – Hebrew, ‘Adonai;’ see this word explained in the the note at Isa_1:24. He will do it without being asked to do it; he will do it though it is rejected and despised; he will do it because it is important for the welfare of the nation, and for the confirmation of his religion, to furnish a demonstration to the people that he is the only true God. It is clearly implied here, that the sign should be such as Yahweh alone could give. It would be such as would be a demonstration that he presided over the interests of the people. If this refers to the birth of a child, then it means that this was an event which could be known only to God, and which could be accomplished only by his agency. If it refers to the miraculous conception and birth of the Messiah, then it means that that was an event which none but God could accomplish. The true meaning I shall endeavor to state in the notes, at the close of Isa_7:16.
Shall give you – Primarily to the house of David; the king and royal family of Judah. It was especially designed to assure the government that the kingdom would be safe. Doubtless, however, the word ‘you’ is designed to include the nation, or the people of the kingdom of Judah. It would be so public a sign, and so clear a demonstration, as to convince them that their city and land must be ultimately safe.
A sign – A pledge; a token; an evidence of the fulfillment of what is predicted. The word does not, of necessity, denote a miracle, though it is often so applied; see the notes at Isa_7:11. Here it means a proof, a demonstration, a certain indication that what he had said should be fulfilled. As that was to be such a demonstration as to show that he was “able” to deliver the land, the word “here” denotes that which was miraculous, or which could be effected “only” by Yahweh.
Behold – הנה hinnêh. This interjection is a very common one in the Old Testament. It is used to arrest attention; to indicate the importance of what was about to be said. It serves to designate persons and things; places and actions. It is used in lively descriptions, and animated discourse; when anything unusual was said, or occurred; or any thing which especially demanded attention; Gen_12:19; Gen_16:16; Gen_18:9; Gen_1:29; Gen_40:9; Psa_134:1. It means here, that an event was to occur which demanded the attention of the unbelieving monarch, and the regard of the people – an event which would be a full demonstration of what the prophet had said, that God would protect and save the nation.
A virgin – This word properly means a girl, maiden, virgin, a young woman who is unmarried, and who is of marriageable age. The word עלמה ‛almâh, is derived from the verb עלם ‛âlam, “to conceal, to hide, to cover.” The word עלם ‛elem, from the same verb, is applied to a “young man,” in 1Sa_17:56; 1Sa_20:22. The word here translated a virgin, is applied to Rebekah Gen_24:43, and to Miriam, the sister of Moses, Exo_2:8. It occurs in only seven places in the Old Testament. Besides those already mentioned, it is found in Psa_68:25; Son_1:3; Son_6:8; and Pro_30:19. In all these places, except, perhaps, in Proverbs, it is used in its obvious natural sense, to denote a young, unmarried female. In the Syriac, the word alĕm, means to grow up, juvenis factus est; juvenescere fecited. Hence, the derivatives are applied to youth; to young men; to young women – to those who “are growing up,” and becoming youths.
The etymology of the word requires us to suppose that it means one who is growing up to a marriageable state, or to the age of puberty. The word maiden, or virgin, expresses the correct idea. Hengstenberg contends, that it means one “in the unmarried state;” Gesenius, that it means simply the being of marriageable age, the age of puberty. The Hebrews usually employed the word בתולה bethûlâh, to denote a pure virgin (a word which the Syriac translation uses here); but the word here evidently denotes one who was “then” unmarried; and though its primary idea is that of one who is growing up, or in a marriageable state, yet the whole connection requires us to understand it of one who was “not then married,” and who was, therefore, regarded and designated as a virgin. The Vulgate renders it ‘virgo.’ The Septuagint, ἡ παρθένος hē parthenos, “a virgin” – a word which they use as a translation of the Hebrew בתולה bethûlâh in Exo_22:16-17; Lev_21:3, Lev_21:14; Deu_22:19, Deu_22:23, Deu_22:28; Deu_32:25; Jdg_19:24; Jdg_21:12; and in thirty-three other places (see Trommius’ Concordance); of נערה na‛ărâh, a girl, in Gen_24:14, Gen_24:16, Gen_24:55; Gen_34:3 (twice); 1Ki_1:2; and of עלמה ‛almâh, only in Gen_24:43; and in Isa_7:14.
The word, in the view of the Septuagint translators, therefore conveyed the proper idea of a virgin. The Chaldee uses substantially the same word as the Hebrew. The idea of a “virgin” is, therefore, the most obvious and natural idea in the use of this word. It does not, however, imply that the person spoken of should be a virgin “when the child” should be born; or that she should ever after be a virgin. It means simply that one who was “then” a virgin, but who was of marriageable age, should conceive, and bear a son. Whether she was “to be” a virgin “at the time” when the child was born, or was to remain such afterward, are inquiries which cannot be determined by a philological examination of the word. It is evident also, that the word is not opposed to “either” of these ideas. “Why” the name which is thus given to an unmarried woman was derived from the verb to “hide, to conceal,” is not agreed among lexicographers. The more probable opinion is, that it was because to the time of marriage, the daughter was supposed to be hidden or concealed in the family of the parents; she was kept shut up, as it were, in the paternal dwelling. This idea is given by Jerome, who says, ‘the name is given to a virgin because she is said to be hidden or secret; because she does not expose herself to the gaze of men, but is kept with great care under the custody of parents.’ The sum of the inquiry here, into the meaning of the word translated “virgin,” is, that it does not differ from that word as used by us. The expression means no more than that one who was then a virgin should have a son, and that this should be a sign to Ahaz.
And shall call his name – It was usual for “mothers” to give names to their children; Gen_4:1; Gen_19:37; Gen_29:32; Gen_30:18. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose, as many of the older interpreters did, that the fact that it is said the mother should give the name, was a proof that the child should have no human father. Such arguments are unworthy of notice; and only show to what means people have resorted in defending the doctrines, and in interpreting the pages of the Bible. The phrase, ‘she will name,’ is, moreover, the same as ‘they shall name,’ or he shall be named. ‘We are not, then, to suppose that the child should actually receive the name Immanuel as a proper name, since, according to the usage of the prophet, and especially of Isaiah, that is often ascribed to a person or thing as a name which belongs to him in an eminent degree as an attribute; see Isa_9:5; Isa_61:6; Isa_62:4.’ – “Hengstenberg.” The idea is, that that would be a name that might be “appropriately” given to the child. Another name was also given to this child, expressing substantially the same thing, with a circumstantial difference; see the note at Isa_8:3.
Immanuel – Hebrew ‘God with us’ – עמנואל ‛immânû’êl – from אל ‘ĕl, “God,” and עמנוּ ‛îmmânû, “with us.” The name is designed to denote that God would be with the nation as its protector, and the birth of this child would be a sign or pledge of it. The mere circumstance that this name is given, however, does not imply anything in regard to the nature or rank of the child, for nothing was more common among the Jews than to incorporate the name, or a part of the name, of the Deity with the names which they gave to their children. Thus, “Isaiah” denotes the salvation of Yahweh; “Jeremiah,” the exaltation or grandeur of Yahweh, each compounded of two words, in which the name Yahweh constitutes a part. Thus, also in “Elijah,” the two names of God are combined, and it means literally, “God the Yahweh.” Thus, also “Eliab,” God my faather; “Eliada,” knowledge of God; “Eliakim,” the resurrection of God; “Elihu,” he is my God; “Elisha,” salvation of God. In none of these instances is the fact, that the name of God is incorporated with the proper name of the individual, any argument in respect to his rank or character.
It is true, that Matthew Mat_1:23 uses this name as properly expressing the rank of the Messiah; but all that can be demonstrated from the use of the name by Matthew is, that it properly designated the nature and rank of the Lord Jesus. It was a pledge, then, that God was with his people, and the name designated by the prophet had a complete fulfillment in its use as applied to the Messiah. Whether the Messiah be regarded as himself a pledge and demonstration of the presence and protection of God, or whether the name be regarded as descriptive of his nature and dignity, yet there was an “appropriateness” in applying it to him. It was fully expressive of the event of the incarnation. Jerome supposes that the name, Immanuel, denotes nothing more than divine aid and protection. Others have supposed, however, that the name must denote the assumption of our nature by God in the person of the Messiah, that is, that God became man. So Theodoret, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius, Chrysostom. Calvin, Rosenmuller, and others. The true interpretation is, that no argument to prove that can be derived from the use of the name; but when the fact of the incarnation has been demonstrated from other sources, the “name is appropriately expressive of that event.” So it seems to be used by Matthew.
It may be quite true, that no argument can be founded on the bare name, Immanuel; yet that name, “in its connection here,” may certainly be regarded as a designed prediction of the incarnation of Christ. Such a design our author allows in the prophecy generally. ‘The prophet,’ says he, ‘designedly made use of language which would be appropriate to a future and most glorious event.’ Why, then, does he speak of the most pregnant word in the prophecy as if Matthew had accidentally stumbled on it, and, finding it would appropriately express the nature of Christ, accomodated it for that purpose? Having originally rejected the Messianic reference, and been convinced only by a more careful examination of the passage, that he was in error, something of his old view seems still to cling to this otherwise admirable exposition. ‘The name Immanuel,’ says Professor Alexander, ‘although it might be used to signify God’s providential presence merely Psa_46:8, 12; Psa_89:25; Jos_1:5; Jer_1:8; Isa_43:2, has a latitude and pregnancy of meaning which can scarcely be fortuitous; and which, combined with all the rest, makes the conclusion almost unavoidable, that it was here intended to express a personal, as well as a providential presence … When we read in the Gospel of Matthew, that Jesus Christ was actually born of a virgin, and that all the circumstances of his birth came to pass that this very prophecy might be fulfilled, it has less the appearance of an unexpected application, than of a conclusion rendered necessary by a series of antecedent facts and reasonings, the last link in a long chain of intimations more or less explicit (referring to such prophecies as Gen_3:15; Mic_5:2).
The same considerations seem to show that the prophecy is not merely accommodated, which is, moreover, clear fram the emphatic form of the citation τοῦτο ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ touto holon gegonen hina plēroothē, making it impossible to prove the existence of any quotation in the proper sense, if this be not one.’ But, indeed, the author himself admits all this, though his language is less decided and consistent than could be wished on so important a subject.
Butter and honey – The word rendered “butter” (חמאה chem’âh), denotes not butter, but thick and curdled milk. This was the common mode of using milk as an article of food in the East, and is still. In no passage in the Old Testament does butter seem to be meant by the word. Jarchi says, that this circumstance denotes a state of plenty, meaning that the land should yield its usual increase notwithstanding the threatened invasion. Eustatius on this place says, that it denotes delicate food. The more probable interpretation is, that it was the usual food of children, and that it means that the child should be nourished in the customary manner. That this was the common nourishment of children, is abundantly proved by Bochart; “Hieroz.” P. i. lib. xi. ch. li. p. 630. Barnabas, in his epistle says, ‘The infant is first nourished with honey, and then with milk.’ This was done usually by the prescription of physicians.
Paulus says, ‘It is fit that the first food given to a child be honey, and then milk.’ So Aetius, ‘Give to a child, as its first food, honey;’ see “Bochart.” Some have, indeed, supposed that this refers to the fact that the Messiah should be “man” as well as God, and that his eating honey and butter was expressive of the fact that he had a “human nature!” But against this mode of interpretation, it is hoped, it is scarcely needful now to protest. It is suited to bring the Bible into contempt, and the whole science of exegesis into scorn. The Bible is a book of sense, and it should be interpreted on principles that commend themselves to the sober judgment of mankind. The word rendered “honey” – דבשׁ debash – is the same word – “dibs” – which is now used by the Arabs to denote the syrup or jelly which is made by boiling down wine. This is about the consistence of molasses, and is used as an article of food. Whether it was so employed in the time of Isaiah, cannot now be determined, but the word here may be used to denote honey; compare the note at Isa_7:22.
That he may know – As this translation now stands, it is unintelligible. It would “seem” from this, that his eating butter and honey would “contribute” to his knowing good and evil. But this cannot be the meaning. It evidently denotes ‘until he shall know,’ or, ‘at his knowing;’ Nord. “Heb. Gram.,” Section 1026. 3. He shall be no urished in the usual way, “until” he shall arrive at such a period of life as to know good from evil. The Septuagint renders it, Πρινη γνῶναι αὐτὸν Prinē gnōnai auton – ‘before he knows.’ The Chaldee, ‘Until he shall know.’
To refuse the evil … – Ignorance of good and evil denotes infancy. Thus, in Nineveh, it is said there were ‘more than sixscore thousand perons that cannot discern between their right hand and left hand;’ commonly supposed to denote infants; Jon_4:11; compare Deu_1:39. The meaning is, that he should be nourished in the usual mode in infancy, and before he should be able to discern right from wrong, the land should be forsaken of its kings. At what particular period of life this occurs, it may not be easy to determine. A capability to determine, in some degree, between good and evil, or between right and wrong, is usually manifest when the child is two or three years of age. It is evinced when there is a capability of understanding “law,” and feeling that it is wrong to disobey it. This is certainly shown at a very early period of life; and it is not improper, therefore, to suppose that here a time was designated which was not more than two or three years.
Isa 7:16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good,…. This may be understood of Isaiah’s child, Shearjashub, he had along with him, he was bid to take with him; and who therefore must be supposed to bear some part, or answer some end or other, in this prophecy; which it is very probable may be this, viz. to assure Ahaz and the house of David that the land which was abhorred by them should be forsaken of both its kings, before the child that was with him was grown to years of discretion; though it may be understood of any child, and so of the Messiah; and the sense be, that before any child, or new born babe, such an one as is promised, Isa_7:14, arrives to years of discretion, even in the space of a few years, this remarkable deliverance should be wrought, and the Jews freed from all fears of being destroyed by these princes:
the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings; meaning not the land of Judea, now distressed by them, which they should leave; for that could not be said to be abhorred by Ahaz, or the house of David; but the land of Israel and Syria, called one land, because of the confederacy between the kings of them, Rezin and Remaliah’s son, which Ahaz and his nobles abhorred, because of their joining together against them; and so it was, that in a very little time both these kings were cut off; Pekah the son of Remaliah was slain by Hoshea the son of Elah, who reigned in his stead, 2Ki_15:30 and Rezin was slain by the king of Assyria, 2Ki_16:9.
The land that thou abhorrest – The land concerning which thou art so much “alarmed or distressed;” that is, the united land of Syria and Ephraim. It is mentioned here as ‘the land,’ or as one land, because they were united then in a firm alliance, so as to constitute, in fact, or for the purposes of invasion and conquest, one people or nation. The phrase, ‘which thou abhorrest,’ means properly, which thou loathest, the primary idea of the word – קוץ qûts – being to feel a nausea, or to vomit. It then means to fear, or to feel alarm; and this, probably, is the meaning here. Abaz, however, evidently looked upon the nations of Syria and Samaria with disgust, as well as with alarm. This is the construction which is given of this passage by the Vulgate, Calvin, Grotius, Junins, Gataker, and Piscator, as well as by our common version. Another construction, however, has been given of the passage by Vitringa, JohnD. Michaelis, Lowth, Gesenius, Rosenmuller, Hengstenberg, and Hendewerk. According to this, the meaning is not that the “land” should be the object of abhorrence, but that the kings themselves were the objects of dislike or dread; and not merely that the two kings should be removed, but that the land itself was threatened with desolation. This construction is free from the objections of an exegetical kind to which the other is open, and agrees better with the idiom of the Hebrew. According to this, the correct translation would be:
For before the child shall learn to refuse the Evil and to choose the good, Desolate shall be the land, before whose two Kings thou art in terror.’
Of both her kings – Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the temple, and sent it as a present to the king of Assyria. Induced by this, the king of Assyria marched against Damascus and killed Rezin, 2Ki_16:9. This occurred but a short time after the threatened invasion of the land by Rezin and Remaliah, in the “third” year of the reign of Ahaz, and, consequently, about one year after this prophecy was delivered. Pekah, the son of Remaliah, was slain by Hoshea, the son of Elah, who conspired against him, killed him, and reigned in his stead. This occurred in the fourth year of the reign of Ahaz, for Pekah reigned twenty years. Ahaz began to reign in the seventeenth year of the reign of Pekah, and as Pekah was slain after he had reigned twenty years, it follows that he was slain in the fourth year of the reign of Ahaz – perhaps not more than two yearn after this prophecy was delivered; see 2Ki_15:27, 2Ki_15:30; 2Ki_16:1. We have thus arrived at a knowledge of the time intended by Isaiah in Isa_7:16. The whole space of time was not, probably, more than two years.
Opinions on the Intrepretation of Isaiah 7:14-16
A great variety of opinions have been entertained by interpreters in regard to this passage Isa_7:14-16. It may be useful, therefore, to state briefly what those opinions have been, and then what seems to be the true meaning.
(i) The first opinion is that which supposes that by the ‘virgin’ the wife of Ahaz is referred to, and that by the child which should be born, the prophet refers to Hezekiah. This is the opinion of the modern Jewish commentators generally. This interpretation prevailed among the Jews in the time of Justin. But this was easily shown by Jerome to be false. Ahaz reigned in Jerusalem but sixteen years 2Ki_17:2, and Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign 2Ki_18:2, and of course was not less than nine years old when this prophecy was delivered. Kimchi and Abarbanel then resorted to the supposition that Ahaz had a second wife, and that this refers to a child that was to be born of her. This supposition cannot be proved to be false, though it is evidently a mere supposition. It has been adopted by the Jews, because they were pressed by the passage by the early Christians, as constituting an argument for the divinity of Christ. The ancient Jews, it is believed, referred it mainly to the Messiah.
(ii) Others have supposed, that the prophet designated some virgin who was then present when the king and Isaiah held their conference, and that the meaning is, ‘as surely as this virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, so surely shall the land be forsaken of its kings.’ Thus Isenbiehl, Bauer, Cube, and Steudel held, as quoted by Hengstenberg, “Christol.” i. p. 341.
(iii) Others suppose that the ‘virgin’ was not an actual, but only an ideal virgin. Thus Michaelis expresses it: ‘By the time when one who is yet a virgin can bring forth (that is, in nine months), all will be happily changed, and the present impending danger so completely passed away, that if you were yourself to name the child, you would call him Immanuel.’ Thus Eichhorn, Paulus, Hensler, and Ammon understand it; see “Hengstenberg.”
(iv) Others suppose that the ‘virgin’ was the prophet’s wife. Thus Aben Ezra, Jarchi, Faber, and Gesenius. Against this supposition there is only one objection which has been urged that is of real force, and that is, that the prophet already had a son, and of course his wife could not be spoken of as a virgin. But this objection is entirely removed by the supposition, which is by no means improbable, that the former wife of the prophet was dead, and that he was about to be united in marriage to another who was a virgin.
In regard to the prophecy itself, there have been three opinions:
(i) That it refers “exclusively” to some event in the time of the prophet; to the birth of a child then, either of the wife of Ahaz, or of the prophet, or of some other unmarried female. This would, of course, exclude all reference to the Messiah. This was formerly my opinion; and this opinion I expressed and endeavored to maintain, in the first composition of these notes. But a more careful examination of the passage has convinced me of its error, and satisfied me that the passage has reference to the Messtah. The reasons for this opinion I shall soon state.
(ii) The second opinion is, that it has “exclusive and immediate” reference to the Messiah; that it does not refer at all to any event which was “then” to occur, and that to Ahaz the future birth of a Messiah from a virgin, was to be regarded as a pledge of the divine protection, and an assurance of the safety of Jerusalem. Some of the objections to this view I shall soon state.
(iii) The third opinion, therefore, is that which “blends” these two, and which regards the prophet as speaking of the birth of a child which would soon take place of someone who was then a virgin – an event which could be known only to God, and which would, therefore, constitute a sign, or demonstration to Ahaz of the truth of what Isaiah said; but that the prophet intentionally so used language which would “also” mark a more important event, and direct the minds of the king and people onward to the future birth of one who should more fully answer to all that is here said of the child that would be born, and to whom the name Immanuel would be more appropriately given. This, I shall endeavor to show, must be the correct interpretation. In exhibiting the reasons for this opinion, we may, first, state the evidence that the prediction refers to some child that would be born “soon” as a pledge that the land would be forsaken of its kings; and secondly, the evidence that it refers also to the Messiah in a higher and fuller sense.
I. Evidence That the Prophecy Refers to Some Event Which Was Soon to Occur – To the Birth of a Child of Some One Who Was Then a Virgin, or Unmarried
(i) It is the “obvious” interpretation. It is that which would strike the great mass of people accustomed to interpret language on the principles of common sense. If the passage stood by itself; if the seventh and eighth chapters were “all” that we had; if there were no allusion to the passage in the New Testament; and if we were to sit down and merely look at the circumstances, and contemplate the narrative, the unhesitating opinion of the great mass of people would be, that it “must” have such a reference. This is a good rule of interpretation. That which strikes the mass of people; which appears to people of sound sense as the meaning of a passage on a simple perusal of it, is likely to be the true meaning of a writing.
(ii) Such an interpretation is demanded by the circumstances of the case. The immediate point of the inquiry was not about the “ultimate and final” safety of the kingdom – which would be demonstrated indeed by the announcement that the Messiah would appear – but it was about a present matter; about impending danger. An alliance was formed between Syria and Samaria. An invasion was threatened. The march of the allied armies had commenced. Jerusalem was in consternation, and Ahaz had gone forth to see if there were any means of defense. In this state of alarm, and at this juncture, Isaiah went to assure him that there was no cause for fear. It was not to assure him that the nation should be ultimately and finally safe – which might be proved by the fact that the Messiah would come, and that, therefore, God would preserve the nation; but the pledge was, that he had no reason to fear “this” invasion, and that within a short space of time the land would ‘be forsaken of both its kings.’ How could the fact that the Messiah would come more than seven hundred years afterward, prove this? Might not Jerusalem be taken and subdued, as it was afterward by the Chaldeans, and yet it be true that the Messiah would come, and that God would manifest himself as the protector of his people? Though, therefore, the assurance that the Messiah would come would be a general proof and pledge that the nation would be preserved and ultimately safe, yet it would not be a pledge of the “specific and immediate” thing which occupied the attention of the prophet, and of Ahaz. It would not, therefore, be a ‘sign’ such as the prophet offered to give, or a proof of the fulfillment of the specific prediction under consideration. This argument I regard as unanswerable. It is so obvious, and so strong, that all the attempts to answer it, by those who suppose there was an immediate and exclusive reference to the Messiah, have been entire failures.
(iii) It is a circumstance of some importance that Isaiah regarded himself and his children as ‘signs’ to the people of his time; see Isa_8:18. In accordance with this view, it seems he had named one child Shear-Jashub, Isa_7:3; and in accordance with the same view, he afterward named another Maher-shalal-hash-baz – both of which names are significant. This would seem to imply that he meant here to refer to a similar fact, and to the birth of a son that should be a sign also to the people of his time.
(iv) An unanswerable reason for thinking that it refers to some event which was soon to occur, and to the birth of a child “before” the land should be forsaken of the two kings, is the record contained in Isa_8:1-4. That record is evidently connected with this account, and is intended to be a public assurance of the fulfillment of what is here predicted respecting the deliverance of the land from the threatened invasion. In that passage, the prophet is directed to take a great roll Isa_7:1, and make a record concerning the son that was to be born; he calls public witnesses, people of character and well-known reputation, in attestation of the transaction Isa_7:2; he approaches the prophetess Isa_7:3; and it is expressly declared Isa_7:4 that before the child should have ‘knowledge to say, My father, and my mother,’ that is, be able to discern between good and evil Isa_7:16, ‘the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria’ should be ‘taken away before the king of Assyria.’ This is so evidently a completion of the prophecy in Isa. vii., and a solemn fulfilling of it in a manner that should be satisfactory to Ahaz and the people, that it is impossible, it seems to me, to regard it any otherwise than as a real transaction. Hengstenberg, and those who suppose the prophecy to refer “immediately and exclusively” to the Messiah, are obliged to maintain that that was a ‘symbolical transaction’ – an opinion which might, with the same propriety, be held of any historical statement in the Bible; since there is nowhere to be found a more simple and unvarnished account of mere matter of historical fact than that. The statement, therefore, in Isa. 8, is conclusive demonstration, I think, that there was a reference in Isa_7:14-16, to a child of the prophet that would be soon born, and that would be a “pledge” of the divine protection, and a “proof or sign” to Ahaz that his land would be safe.
It is no objection to this that Isaiah then had a son Isa_7:3, and that, therefore, the mother of that son could not be a virgin. There is no improbability in the supposition that the mother of that son was deceased, and that Isaiah was about again to be married. Such an event is not so uncommon as to make it a matter of ridicule (see Hengstenberg, p. 342); or to render the supposition wholly incredible.
Nor is it any objection that another name was given to the child that was born to Isaiah; Isa_8:1, Isa_8:3. Nothing was more common than to give two names to children. It might have been true that the name usually given to him was Maher-shalal-hash-baz; and still true that the circumstances of his birth were such an evidence of the divine protection, and such an emblem of the divine guardianship, as to make proper the name Immanuel; see the note at Isa_7:14. It may be observed, also, that on the supposition of the strict and exclusive Messianic interpretation, the same objection might be made, and the same difficulty would lie. It was no more true of Jesus of Nazareth than of the child of Isaiah, that he was commonly called Immanuel. He had another name also, and was called by that other name. Indeed, there is not the slightest evidence that the Lord Jesus was “ever” designated by the name Immanuel as a proper name. All that the passage means is, that such should be the circumstances of the birth of the child as to render the name Immanuel proper; not that it would be applied to him in fact as the usual appellation.
Nor is it any objection to this view, that the mind of the prophet is evidently directed onward “to” the Messiah; and that the prophecy terminates Isa_8:8; Isa_9:1-7 with a reference to him. That this is so, I admit; but nothing is more common in Isaiah than for him to commence a prophecy with reference to some remarkable deliverance which was soon to occur, and to terminate it by a statement of events connected with a higher deliverance under the Messiah. By the laws of “prophetic suggestion,” the mind of the prophet seized upon resemblances and analogies; was carried on to future times, which were suggested by something that he was saying or contemplating as about to occur, until the mind was absorbed, and the primary object forgotten in the contemplation of the more remote and glorious event; see the Introduction to Isaiah, Section 7. III. (3.)
II. Evidence That the Prophecy Refers to the Messiah
(i) The passage in Mat_1:22-23, is an evidence that “he” regarded this as having a reference to the Messiah, and that it had a complete fulfillment in him. This quotation of it also shows that that was the common interpretation of the passage in his time, or he would not thus have introduced it. It cannot be “proved,” indeed, that Matthew means to affirm that this was the primary and original meaning of the prophecy, or that the prophet had a direct and exclusive reference to the Messiah; but it proves that in his apprehension the words had a “fulness” of meaning, and an adaptedness to the actual circumstances of the birth of the Messiah, which would accurately and appropriately express that event; see the notes at the passage in Matthew. The prophecy was not completely “fulfilled, filled up, fully and adequately met,” until applied to the Messiah. That event was so remarkable; the birth of Jesus was so strictly of a virgin, and his nature so exalted, that it might be said to be a “complete and entire” fulfillment of it. The language of Isaiah, indeed, was applicable to the event referred to immediately in the time of Ahaz, and expressed that with clearness; but it more appropriately and fully expressed the event referred to by Matthew, and thus shows that the prophet designedly made use of language which would be appropriate to a future and most glorious event.
(ii) An argument of no slight importance on this subject may be drawn from the fact, that this has been the common interpretation in the Christian church. I know that this argument is not conclusive; nor should it be pressed beyond its due and proper weight. It is of force only because the united and almost uniform impression of mankind, for many generations, in regard to the meaning of a written document, is not to be rejected without great and unanswerable arguments. I know that erroneous interpretations of many passages have prevailed in the church; and that the interpretation of many passages of Scripture which have prevailed from age to age, have been such as have been adapted to bring the whole subject of scriptural exegesis into contempt. But we should be slow to reject that which has had in its favor the suffrages of the unlearned, as well as the learned, in the interpretation of the Bible. The interpretation which refers this passage to the Messiah has been the prevailing one in all ages. It was followed by all the fathers and other Christian expositors until the middle of the eighteenth century (“Hengstenberg”); and is the prevailing interpretation at the present time. Among those who have defended it, it is sufficient to mention the names of Lowth, Koppe, Rosenmuller, and Hengstenberg, in addition to those names which are found in the well-known English commentaries. It has been opposed by the modern Jews, and by German neologists; but has “not” been regarded as false by the great mass of pious and humble Christians. The argument here is simply that which would be applied in the interpretation of a passage in Homer or Virgil; that where the great mass of readers of all classes have concurred in any interpretation, there is “presumptive evidence” that it is correct – evidence, it is true, which may be set aside by argument, but which is to be admitted to be of some account in making up the mind as to the meaning of the passage in question.
(iii) The reference to the Messiah in the prophecy accords with the “general strain and manner” of Isaiah. It is in accordance with his custom, at the mention of some occurrence or deliverance which is soon to take place, to suffer the mind to fix ultimately on the more remote event of the “same general character,” or lying, so to speak, “in the same range of vision” and of thought; see the Introduction, Section 7. It is also the custom of Isaiah to hold up to prominent view the idea that the nation would not be ultimately destroyed until the great Deliverer should come; that it was safe amidst all revolutions; that vitality would remain like that of a tree in the depth of winter, when all the leaves are stripped off Isa_6:13; and that all their enemies would be destroyed, and the true people of God be ultimately secure and safe under their great Deliverer; see the notes at Isa. 34; Isa_35:1-10.
It is true, that this argument will not be “very” striking except to one who has attentively studied this prophecy; but it is believed, that no one can profoundly and carefully examine the manner of Isaiah, without being struck with it as a very important feature of his mode of communicating truth. In accordance with this, the prophecy before us means, that the nation was safe from this invasion. Ahaz feared the extinction of his kingdom, and the “permanent” annexation of Jerusalem to Syria and Samaria. Isaiah told him that that could not occur; and proffered a demonstration, that in “a very few years” the land would be forsaken of both its kings. “On another ground also it could not be.” The people of God were safe. His kingdom could not be permanently destroyed. It must continue until the Messiah should come, and the eye of the prophet, in accordance with his usual custom, glanced to that future event, and he became “totally” absorbed in its contemplation, and the prophecy is finished Isa_9:1-7 by a description of the characteristics of the light that he saw in future times rising in dark Galilee Isa_9:1-2, and of the child that should be born of a virgin then.
In accordance with the same view, we may remark, as Lowth has done, that to a people accustomed to look for a great Deliverer; that had fixed their hopes on one who was to sit on the throne of David, the “language” which Isaiah used here would naturally suggest the idea of a Messiah. It was so animated, so ill adapted to describe his own son, and so suited to convey the idea of a most remarkable and unusual occurrence, that it could scarcely have been otherwise than that they should have thought of the Messiah. This is true in a special manner of the language in Isa_9:1-7.
(iv) An argument for the Messianic interpretation may be derived from the public expectation which was excited by some such prophecy as this. There is a striking similarity between it and one which is uttered by Micah, who was contemporary with Isaiah. Which was penned “first” it would not be easy to show; but they have internal evidence that they both had their origin in an expectation that the Messiah would be born of a virgin; compare the note at Isa_2:2. In Mic_5:2-3, the following prediction occurs: ‘But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler over Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity. Therefore, will he give them up, until the time when she which travaileth hath brought forth.’ That this passage refers to the birth of the Messiah, is demonstrable from Mat_2:6.
Nothing can be clearer than that this is a prediction respecting the place of his birth. The Sanhedrim, when questioned by Herod respecting the place of his birth, answered without the slightest hesitation, and referred to this place in Micah for proof. The expression, ‘she which travaileth,’ or, ‘she that bears shall bear’ – ילדה יולדה yôlēdâh yālâdâh, “she bearing shall bear” – refers evidently to some prediction of such a birth; and the word ‘she that bears’ (יולדה yôlēdâh) seems to have been used somewhat in the sense of a proper name, to designate one who was well known, and of whom there had been a definite prediction. Rosenmuller remarks, ‘She is not indeed expressly called a virgin, but that she is so is self-evident, since she shall bear the hero of divine origin (from everlasting), and consequently not begotten by a mortal. The predictions throw light on each other; Micah discloses the divine origin of the person predicted, Isaiah the wonderful manner of his birth.’ – “Ros.,” as quoted by Hengstenberg. In his first edition, Rosenmuller remarks on Mic_5:2 : ‘The phrase, “she who shall bear shall bear,” denotes the “virgin” from whom, in a miraculous manner, the people of that time hoped that the Messiah would be born.’ If Micah refers to a well-known existing prophecy, it must evidently be this in Isaiah, since no other similar prophecy occurs in the Old Testament; and if he wrote subsequently to Isaiah, the prediction in Micah must be regarded as a proof that this was the prevailing interpretation of his time.
That this was the prevailing interpretation of those times, is confirmed by the traces of the belief which are to be found extensively in ancient nations, that some remarkable person would appear, who should be born in this manner. The idea of a Deliverer, to be born of a “virgin,” is one that somehow had obtained an extensive prevalence in Oriental nations, and traces of it may be found almost everywhere among them. In the Hindoo Mythology it is said, respecting “Budhu,” that be was born of “Maya,” a goddess of the imagination – a virgin. Among the Chinese, there is an image of a beautiful woman with a child in her arms, which child, they say, was born of a virgin. The coincidence of thought is remarkable on any supposition; and there is no improbability in the supposition that the expectation of a great Deliverer to be born of a virgin had prevailed extensively, and that Virgil made it up in this beautiful manner and applied it to a prince in his own time. On the prevalent expectation of such a Deliverer, see the note at Mat_2:2.
(v) But the great and the unanswerable argument for the Messianic interpretation is derived from the conclusion of the prophecy in Isa_8:8, and especially in Isa_9:1-7. The prophecy in Isa_9:1-7 is evidently connected with this; and yet “cannot” be applied to a son of Isaiah, or to any other child that should be then born. If there is any passage in the Old Testament that “must” be applied to the Messiah, that is one; see the notes on the passage. And if so, it proves, that though the prophet at first had his eye on an event which was soon to occur, and which would be to Ahaz full demonstration that the land would be safe from the impending invasion, yet that he employed language which would describe also a future glorious event, and which would be a fuller demonstration that God would protect the people. He became fully absorbed in that event, and his language at last referred to that alone. The child then about to be born would, in most of the circumstances of his birth, be an apt emblem of him who should be born in future times, since both would be a demonstration of the divine power and protection. To both, the name Immanuel, though not the common name by which either would be designated, might be appropriately given. Both would be born of a virgin – the former, of one who was then a virgin, and the birth of whose child could be known only to God – the latter, of one who should be appropriately called “the” virgin, and who should remain so at the time of his birth. This seems to me to be the meaning of this difficult prophecy. The considerations in favor of referring it to the birth of a child in the time of Isaiah, and which should be a pledge to him of the safety of his kingdom “then,” seem to me to be unanswerable. And the considerations in favor of an ultimate reference to the Messiah – a reference which becomes in the issue total and absorbing – are equally unanswerable; and if so, then the twofold reference is clear.