RPM, Volume 15, Number 50, December 8 to December 14, 2013

Immanuel the Sign

Isaiah 7:13-25

By D. Marion Clark


It looks like Isaiah has lost his patience. But then, Ahaz would have needed a lot of patience if he had had to wait as long as you have to hear Isaiah's response! It has been eight weeks since we broke off from this conversation between Ahaz and Isaiah. Let's review for a moment what is going on.

The time is 733-32 B.C. Ahaz rules Judah. His father, Jotham, is still alive though soon to die. Judah is being threatened by Israel and Damascus; the specific intention of those kings are to get rid of Ahaz. He has good reason to be nervous, because they've already attacked once and soundly defeated Ahaz' forces. He has a plan, though, which essentially is to sell him and his country out to Assyria. Isaiah has come to encourage Ahaz with the promise of God's protection, provided he trusts in the Lord. In a gracious gesture and to bolster Ahaz' faith, Isaiah tells him he may ask for any sign for God, whatever it takes to shore up his confidence in Yahweh. Here is Ahaz' opportunity to leave his past history of idolatry and rebellion, and enter into the protection and favor of God. His response: No thanks. What follows is Isaiah's response.


13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign…

Ahaz has crossed the line, so to speak. He has gone too far in his hypocritical rebellious ways. All along he has been an idolatrous king who has strayed from the righteous paths of his fathers, especially David. Remember that Judah was a theocracy. It was a nation formed in covenant with God to follow his ways and be his people. Ahaz, as king, should, of course, have led his people to be good followers.

In spite of that, God shows him grace by promising to save him and his country and even by giving him a sign to prove his faithfulness. The sign would serve not only to give Ahaz assurance, but to reconcile him with God. Here is the chance to get right with God. And he rejects it. Truly he is trying the patience of God.

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign… It is evident that Isaiah is not telling Ahaz that God will overlook this slight and grant him a sign anyhow. He knows Ahaz is embarrassed to ask and so he takes the initiative. The sign serves not as a blessing to Ahaz but as a rebuke.

But note, too, that he addresses Ahaz as "house of David." Furthermore, the "you" in Hebrew is in the plural. Isaiah is not simply speaking to Ahaz as Ahaz, but as the representative of the line of David with whom God had made a covenant. Remember, God had made a covenant specifically with David that his line would remain on the throne of the covenant nation forever. Not only was Israel to be a nation unto God; the house of David was to be the royal family for God. And (this is essential), out of that line was to come the Messiah. Each time a first-born son is born, it was possible that he was the one; each king understood that his son might be the one.

But Ahaz basically says, "I'm not interested. I want out." In that context Isaiah says, "You are going to receive a sign that testifies against you. You are not, even in your rebellion, going to break the covenant relationship with God and block his promises. Here is the sign. The Messiah will be born. You will know it when he is born to the virgin." The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Matthew, despite the protests of his critics, is right in declaring that this verse was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus. First, "virgin" is the correct translation. Critics say that the word, "alma," should be translated "young maiden," because there was another word for "virgin," "bethulah." But alma normally means an unmarried woman, which in that culture would have been understood as a virgin, unless specifically noted that she was immoral. The term identified the woman as an unmarried virgin who was eligible for marriage, which, by the way, was the case for Mary when she conceived.

Second, he is named Immanuel — God with us — a term used for no one else, and which points to the child's divinity. God would be with his people in this child. His presence would come in a way never known before.

Critics may say all this is fine, but it is clear that this sign was to occur in Ahaz' time for him to see. He was given the sign; what good is a sign that comes about 500 years later? Plus the next two verses indicate a short timeframe. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. Israel and Damascus were laid waste by Assyria within a few years. Assuming that a virgin did give birth to a child shortly, the destruction of those countries came right on schedule.

Some say that Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled by two births: one that involved a virgin in Isaiah's day and the one that involved Mary. That is possible. Elsewhere in Isaiah and other prophets, we will find prophecies that have a two and three-stage fulfillment. This could have been one. The problem is that none of the suggestions for who the unnamed virgin may be fits — from Ahaz's wife to Isaiah's wife. The reference to the virgin rather than a virgin suggests someone known, particularly if it is to be a sign to be known.

That the prophecy does refer to a fulfillment at a later time is evident for these reasons. One, the prophecy goes on to cover more than Assyria's destruction of Judah's enemy nations. Immanuel is the subject in chapter 8 and the child in chapter 9. Indeed, it really continues on through chapter 11, speaking of the Branch from Jesse. Just as in the previous chapters where the judgment evolved into a greater judgment than a temporal one for the nation, so this prophecy becomes one far-reaching into the future of a Messiah who saves the world.

Second, Ahaz may be the recipient of the sign, but, again, it is no longer a sign given to him to encourage him. It is a rebuke. The sign may be for him to hear, but it is not for him to see and take hope in. It is a sign for the house of David, to be sure. It is a promise to that royal line that Ahaz did not blow it for them and the Messiah will come through the sign of the virgin.

Third, we can understand verses 15,16 as referring to the length of time for Assyria's siege to take place, i.e. in the space of a few years. Here is what I mean. If you asked me how long it would take for you to drive to Melrose and I replied, "The time it takes for me to preach Sunday's sermon at the 11:00 service next Sunday." You would understand that I don't mean that if you leave now, you will take a week to get there. You know I meant it takes 30 minutes.

But this prophecy of doom is not just for Israel and Damascus. It also applies to Judah. 17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria."

Comment on what happened:

18 In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. 19 They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes. 20 In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and the hair of your legs, and to take off your beards also. 21 In that day, a man will keep alive a young cow and two goats. 22 And because of the abundance of the milk they give, he will have curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey. 23 In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns. 24 Men will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns. 25 As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run.


1. The danger of rejecting the grace and promises of the Lord.

2. The promises of the Lord will be kept.

3. God is with us in Christ.

Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.