Theology Themes of Isaiah

Isaiah’s ministry spanned fifty years as he prophesied and addressed the sins of the people during the reign of four different kings. As a messenger of God’s covenant, one of Isaiah’s primary roles was to remind the people what God expected of them. The book has a coherent structure, which can be divided into two parts, but written by one author. The first half, chapters 1-39, focuses on God’s judgment of His people, while the second half, chapters 40-66, focuses on the salvation of God’s people. Another key difference is the first half deals more with the Assyrian crisis while the second half deals with the Babylonian crisis and resulting exile. Despite these calamities, an overarching theme throughout the book of Isaiah is God’s special relationship with the nation of Israel and the unfortunate need of judgment and exile to bring about the future restoration of God’s people.

GOD’S JUDGMENT AND SALVATION OF HIS PEOPLE

Michael Wilkins explains, “The people of Israel understood that God was using them as a people to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah; however, the problem was Israel, as a nation, had failed in its mission and as a result had become a blind and deaf servant”[1] (Isaiah 42:18-25). God can use anyone and anything to accomplish His plan and during the first part of Isaiah, He uses the Assyrian army to confront the people’s sinfulness and bring about judgment and salvation. “Assyria was the rod of Yahweh’s anger and the staff in their hands was His fury” (Isaiah 10:5). In the second half of Isaiah, it would be the Babylon Empire that the Lord would use to pronounce judgment on Israel, but even before the exile took place in 586 B.C., the Lord planned to use Cyrus, the Persian king to allow the people to return home. As J. J. M. Roberts asserts, “Israel’s current predicament was due to the sins of her people (Isaiah 42:24-25). Their plight was well deserved, their coming salvation was due simply to Yahweh’s graciousness, and the appropriate response was to return to Yahweh in trust and confidence”[2] (Isaiah 43:22-44:2). Ultimately, the hope and salvation of Israel would only come through their suffering, judgment, and exile.

RESTORATION AND TRANSFORMATION OF THE CITY OF JERUSALEM

Barry Webb explains, “The transformation of Zion is both the literary link and formal key that helps us understand the message of Isaiah.”[3] In chapter one, Zion, the unfaithful prostitute is reduced, but in chapter two, Zion, Yahweh’s bride is exalted and taken back, following the divorce/exile. This dichotomy is a powerful reminder of God’s grace and the comparison being made is how old Jerusalem was equated with God’s judgment while the New Jerusalem was going to be a place of God’s blessing and a place where God establishes His kingdom forever. Roberts explains, “Isaiah’s transformation of the royal ideology and the Zion tradition became the wellspring from which the later messianic expectations and the hopes for a New Jerusalem [and] the conception of a heavenly Jerusalem and a transhistorical view of salvation that includes even the ultimate victory over death [arose].”[4]

After the purge, John Watts shows, “The important thing about Zion is her reputation as Yahweh’s dwelling. It is Yahweh’s house, the temple, which stands out, because He is present and active there.”[5] This is reminiscent of Isaiah’s vision again, as the glory of the Lord filled the temple. His holiness is overwhelming, as the seraphim are depicted covering their face and feet, calling out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Watts adds, “Yahweh’s presence in the temple lifts its importance to supremacy and this has nothing to do with Israel or Judah, their kings or leaders. Purely because Yahweh is there, Zion attracts the other nations.”[6] Then the imagery of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is profound. Here, Geoffrey Grogan explains, “The issues that set nations against one another do not disappear automatically but are settled by the supreme Judge, whose decisions are accepted. Thus there is no uneasy calm but peace based on righteousness.”[7]

The coming kingdom of God and the future restoration of Israel are dominant themes. Gary Yates states, “God is going to bring the people back to their homeland; there is going to be the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty, through the Messiah; the temple will be rebuilt; and as the nations see how God blesses Israel, they will come to the Promise Land to worship God.”[8] Sin still had consequences, so as the children of Israel return home from the Babylonian exile, they find themselves impoverished and living under foreign oppression. It is here, Yates asserts, “If the return from exile is all there is, then Isaiah’s prophecies and promises are a disappointment at best and they are an outright failure at worst.”[9] Ultimately, the full restoration will not occur until they have fully returned to the Lord (Isaiah 56:1-7). The new heavens and new earth referenced in Isaiah 65 and the New Testament, (Hebrews 12:22-24) says the blessings and presence of God are being enjoyed now, but in the future there will come a time where God completely reverses the effects of the fall. This means death, violence, and wickedness will be replaced with life, love, and harmony and Isaiah recognized, as he looked to the future kingdom, some of these promises and blessings are being enjoyed now, but some are still yet to come.

LORD AS KING AND HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL

Roberts states, “If there is any one concept central to the whole book of Isaiah, it is the vision of Yahweh as the Holy One of Israel [and] Isaiah’s vision… left a lasting impression on the prophet’s ministry.”[10] Isaiah’s vision in chapter six is profound as the glory of the Lord filled the temple and this encounter would shape his entire ministry and message. Isaiah desperately wanted the nation of Israel to have a similar experience and encounter, so that they too would find themselves undone by their sinful lives.

Unfortunately, Israel had to learn the hard way, despite God’s sincere desire to enter into a relationship with His people. Instead of pouring out blessings, as a result of righteous behavior, the Lord would use the exile to purge all the unholy traits from the people. God is the one the people should have put their trust in exclusively, but the people, instead, chose to rely on political and military alliances for protection. The main issue throughout Isaiah was Israel’s failure to deal with its own spiritual apostasy and no alliance made with any other nation could protect them from the Lord’s wrath. The holiness of the Lord demanded a proper response from His children, but as Roberts explains, “If Israel refused to look to Yahweh, to trust in the quiet waters of Shiloah, God would send the raging waters of Assyria against them to reveal the vanity of their trust in human power”[11] (Isaiah 8:5-8).

LORD OVER ALL NATIONS

Roberts further illustrates how, “Before Yahweh would fight for Zion; He would fight against her (Isaiah 31:4-5). Jerusalem would be humbled and humiliated, but in the hour of her desperation, when Yahweh had cleansed her in the fiery judgment, God would intervene to save her from her arrogant enemies (Isaiah 31:4-5). Then Jerusalem would be exalted and glorified.”[12] While God used Assyria and Babylon as tools to purge Judah and Israel of sin, the very nations used by God would face judgment themselves because they failed to recognize Yahweh as Lord over all. When reading Isaiah 45, part of which focused on the fact that God is the one who “Forms light and creates darkness, the one who makes peace and creates calamity. I am the One who does these things.” This portion of Scripture is amazing, especially considering most people do not normally think that God has anything to do with the darkness. In fact, most people define darkness as the absence of light, so Isaiah is making a profound assertion here that God declares that He is even in the dark chaos of the world, and for this reason, followers can have peace, even in the darkness, because He is Lord over all. John Oswalt explains, “What Isaiah asserts is that God, as creator, is ultimately responsible for everything in nature, from light to dark, and for everything in history, from good fortune to misfortune. No other beings or forces are responsible for anything.”[13] Even in darkness and chaos, God is with every true follower, and the darkness will eventually give way to the light of day. “For the light has shone already into the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5).

FUTURE MESSIAH AND SUFFERING SERVANT

Instead of leading the people of other nations to Yahweh, the people of Israel often did the exact opposite by worshipping the false gods of other nations. In the midst of this apostasy, Isaiah promises that God would provide a solution to the problem, which was the raising up of an individual Servant who would restore the national servant, the nation of Israel. Richard Averbeck explains, “The Lord’s concern for the nations, not just Israel, is declared in the larger context in Isaiah 49:6-7; 56:6-7 and now the same sacrificial redemption and restoration applies to them as well.”[14] This means the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 brought redemption and restoration, as Averbeck says, “To the Jew first, but also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Roberts further explains, “The plan of salvation, centered in the vicarious death of Jesus Christ is dependent on [Second] Isaiah’s portrayal of the Suffering Servant, and the NT emphasis on the receptions of that salvation through faith picks up and continues the Isaianic demand for faith.”[15]

In light of the entire canon of Scripture, God still has a plan for the nation of Israel and while they were spiritually blind to the Suffering Servant’s arrival, Isaiah 61:1-3 indicates the first coming of Jesus began the restoration of Israel and the second coming will finish it. Jesus quoted these words in Luke 4:18-19 and as He read to the people in the synagogue, He stopped in the middle of 61:2 after the words, “The time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Rolling up the scroll, He said, “The Scripture you have just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21). While the world is now under God’s favor; His wrath is yet to come.[16] Robert Hughes and J. Carl Laney explain how Isaiah 61:1, “Revealed that the Messiah, who ministered salvation at His first coming, will also minister comfort for redeemed Israel at His second coming.”[17] By His death and resurrection, Jesus instituted and inaugurated a new phase of God’s kingdom, some of which is now, and some of which is still to come, when Christ returns.

CONCLUSION

While this student does not agree with Roger’s conclusion on the matter of multiple authors of Isaiah, nonetheless, Rogers does offer considerable insight on the overarching themes in the book that bears his name. Upon reading Isaiah, there is no denying the special relationship God had and still has with His children, but while they were supposed to be a light and witness for God, they fell victim to greed and apostasy. God wanted the best for them, yet the nations of Judah and Israel chose to find their own versions of “God’s best” outside of God’s will. As a parent punishes a child, Yahweh too is forced to pronounce judgment before He is able to provide salvation. This salvation ultimately finds its initial fulfillment in the arrival of the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, but even then, as Isaiah prophesied, “He would be despised and rejected by man” (Isaiah 53:3). The words written by the eighth century prophet are just as relevant today and much can be applied to nations, like America, by heeding what was revealed in the woe oracles against foreign nations. These declarations can directly be traced back to the Abrahamic Covenant, which God made with man and are unconditional promises by God. Christ is coming back, a future kingdom will be established forever, and the Lord will rule over all, as every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10). In addition to Isaiah having multiple dominant themes, it also is the only Old Testament book to predict the virgin birth of Christ (7:14), the ministry of John the Baptist (40:3-5), and contains one the Old Testament’s clearest statements on the Trinity (48:16). Next to Deuteronomy, Isaiah presents the most detailed information on the person and work of God and also the Messiah’s role as both sacrificial lamb and ruling lion. Christ was obedient and empowered by the Father and He will return one day as the anointed one of the Lord and victorious warrior (63:1-6). 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Isaiah, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

LaSor, William S., David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988.

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

________. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Roberts, J. J. M. “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology.” Interpretation 36, no. 2 (April 1982): 130-143. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 18, 2017).

Watts, John D. W. Isaiah 1-33. Word Biblical Commentary, Old Testament. Volume 24 “Act I: Like a Booth in the Vineyard, Chapters 1-6, Scene 1: In the Hall of the King of Heaven and Earth (Isaiah 1:2-2:4), Episode C: The Mountain of Yahweh’s House,” Edited by David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “Isaiah and the Future Kingdom.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Eight Video Presentation, 12:49, (accessed August 22, 2017).

[1] Michael J. Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 109-110.

[2] J. J. M. Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” Interpretation 36, no. 2 (April 1982): 135-136. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 18, 2017).

[3] Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 42-46.

[4] Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” 143.

[5] John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33, Word Biblical Commentary, Old Testament, Volume 24 “Act I: Like a Booth in the Vineyard, Chapters 1-6, Scene 1: In the Hall of the King of Heaven and Earth (Isaiah 1:2-2:4), Episode C: The Mountain of Yahweh’s House,” eds. David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 27.

[6] Watts, Isaiah 1-33, 27.

[7] Geoffrey W. Grogan, Isaiah, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 35.

[8] Gary Yates, “Isaiah and the Future Kingdom,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Eight Video Presentation, 12:49, (accessed August 22, 2017).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” 131.

[11] Ibid., 133.

[12] Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” 137.

[13] John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 203.

[14] Richard E. Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 60.

[15] Roberts, “Isaiah in Old Testament Theology,” 143.

[16] Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 1187.

[17] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 268.

 

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Hezekiah’s Response to Death & Threat of Assyrian Siege Warfare: Isaiah 38:1-22

God is faithful

It is amazing the vast difference that exists between two people, when one of them puts their hope, faith, and trust in God and the other one wants nothing to do with the Lord. This was the scenario played out in the book of Isaiah as King Ahaz did not have a relationship with the Lord, therefore, he did not trust Him. As a result, when Israel formed an alliance with Syria to attack Judah, king Ahaz decided to place his trust in man (the king of Assyria) and military alliances and while it may have spared Judah from the immediate threat of attack, it would ultimately invite disaster upon Judah in the future. However, his son, king Hezekiah did have a good relationship with the Lord and he was used mightily by God to bring protection and blessing on the kingdom of Judah. In Isaiah 38:1-22, we find ourselves in the middle of Hezekiah’s narrative. Prior to this chapter, the nation of Assyria who had made an alliance with king Ahaz was now attacking Judah, the very nation they vowed to protect, so it seems the sins of the father were attempting to visit the son, but king Hezekiah did not do what his father would have done. Instead of turning to man or alliances in the presence of danger, he turned to God in faith and prayer, despite the immense fear he and his people were experiencing, especially at the prospect of siege warfare, which could last for months or even years. In a letter, the Assyrians demanded the complete and unconditional surrender of the city of Jerusalem, so Hezekiah takes this letter before God and asks the Lord to deliver them. As a result of this faith and prayer, the Lord instructs Isaiah to go before Hezekiah to deliver a “fear not” message and that God would give Hezekiah a sign that his message was received loud and clear and that the Lord had the situation under control. That evening, the angel of the Lord swept throughout Sennacherib’s encampment killing 180,000 soldiers without a single arrow being fired into the city of Jerusalem.

Understanding how and why the narratives of king Ahaz and king Hezekiah compare and contrast each other is very important to understanding the overall message of the book of Isaiah. On the heels of Judah’s miraculous deliverance in chapter 37, chapter 38 presents Hezekiah with a fatal illness and the Lord instructs Isaiah in v. 1 to go and tell Hezekiah he better get his affairs in order “for you shall die, you shall not recover, thus says the LORD” (Isaiah 38:1).

***I do not know about you, but I would be thinking, “Well dang! I thought we really had something good going here God. Am I missing something or did I do something wrong?”***

EXPLANATION OF PASSAGE

After king Hezekiah receives this word from the Lord, his reaction reveals his true character. See, Hezekiah was an honorable man, he was determined to do good in the eyes of the Lord, he followed, trusted, and obeyed the Lord and because of that, the Lord blessed and honored Him in return. In our trials or dire circumstances, character is developed and God uses these tests to teach us patience, endurance, and faith. In fact, trials not only teach character; they also reveal it. With Ahaz and Hezekiah, their decisions and outcomes either revealed a close relationship with God, or a lack of one. The key difference between Ahaz and Hezekiah was when disaster struck, Ahaz put his faith in man and brought judgment and destruction on Judah, but Hezekiah put his trust in God and brought salvation and deliverance to Judah.

***Question: “How can these two men who were father and son be so different?”***

***Answer: “Their response to the crisis was rooted in the type of person they were before it.***

It is impossible to trust God when you do not have a relationship with Him, but Hezekiah did, so lets look at how he would respond to this sudden diagnosis of impending death. The first thing he does is pray and in this prayer he reminds the Lord of three things: his faithful walk, his loyal heart, and his righteous behavior. Being the son of Ahaz, who was one of the wickedest kings, going as far to even offer his own son, as a sacrifice to false gods seems to demonstrate just how far Hezekiah had fallen from the proverbial tree. Our relationship with God provides us with a stable foundation to believe in His promises, especially during difficult seasons. Barry Webb explains, “This serious illness Hezekiah faced was the crisis behind the crisis, which brings each of us face to face with our own mortality, and can put our trust in God on a razor’s edge.”[1] After praying, Hezekiah wept bitterly, submitting his life to God’s will and the Lord answers his prayer immediately, sending Isaiah with a second message that promised two things: God would heal him and add fifteen years to his life and God would deliver him and Jerusalem from Assyria, for God’s honor and David’s sake. John Oswalt believes Hezekiah’s recovery, “Was not merely because God has changed his mind but because of his willingness to keep faith with those to whom he has committed himself in the past. There is no limit to the effect of a faithful life. Although the sins of a person may affect future generations, the results of a person’s faithfulness will reach to a thousand generations.”[2] It is through our prayers, God says He will deliver us and since God never changes, much can be learned about His nature from Scripture.

It is interesting to note here that the Lord would offer a sign, in much the same way He did for king Ahaz, but Ahaz would refuse the Lord’s sign when one was offered because he did not have a relationship with God. However, to ensure Hezekiah of his healing, the Lord would move the shadow back ten degrees on the sundial (2 Kings 20:8). While there is some debate as to whether Hezekiah’s healing predates the attack of Assyria in chapter 37, what is assured is no king of Assyria would ever capture Jerusalem.

APPLICATION AND THEOLOGICAL ISSUES

Just as Hezekiah and Ahaz both received “fear not” messages, the same promises found in God’s Word applies to the church today. Later in Isaiah, (Isaiah 41:10, 14; 43:1-7) the prophet speaks of a future exile coming, but even in spite of what that would mean, God promised to watch over His children, to rescue them, and to bring them home. As followers of Christ, we need to know how we are going to respond to the “fear not” circumstances and trials of our life. Are we going to put our hope, faith, and trust in man, or will we be like Hezekiah and trust in God’s promises.

***The driving question: “How do we respond when God says ‘Fear not?’”

***Our answer will reveal if the Lord is truly our all-in-all and ever present help in time of need.

John 16:33: “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”

When Hezekiah was on his deathbed, he had become depressed because it felt as though his very life was being robbed from him. Upon this realization, he began to contemplate never again being able to worship the Lord or enjoy fellowship with others. In vv. 10-13, he says he feels like a tent being taken down or a piece of cloth being cut away. He was broken in both body and spirit and in constant pain from what some scholars believe to be an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Despite his condition, he cried out to the Lord in speech and tears and he made a renewed commitment to the Lord (Matthew 23:12; Isaiah 57:15). This renewed commitment pledged to walk humbly before the Lord, to declare His healing power, to acknowledge the love of the Lord, to praise the Lord, to hope in God’s faithfulness, and to worship faithfully in the house of the Lord. These pledges and traits are what God calls each of His children to do. Our humility compels God to give life to His children, our praise and thanksgiving in the midst of trials and circumstances allows us to grow in our suffering, and our strong witness about the Lord, even in the face of death proclaims God’s faithfulness and salvation. One of the best sayings I have heard is, “Complain and you will remain, but praise and you will be raised.” As Hezekiah came to realize the miraculous work God had done in his life, he knew words could never convey his sincerest gratitude for his deliverance and Geoffrey Grogan beautifully explains, “In God, word and deed always perfectly correspond. The king has learned humility from this experience, for through it he has come to recognize that another controls the course of his life and the day of his death.”[3]
As a result of his healing, Hezekiah is moved to worship the Lord in the temple. If this account truly happened before the attack by the Assyrians, it is easy to see how much bolder he was in his prayer and petition before the Lord with the letter from the enemy demanding the complete surrender of Jerusalem. This story is reminiscent of 2 Kings 13:18 where Elisha instructs king Joash to hit the ground with his arrows, but he stops after only hitting the ground three times. Our finite understanding has a tendency to limit our thoughts and actions and this essentially puts God in a box.

***The question we must each ask ourselves is if we are going to allow our circumstances to define us, as we tell God how big our problems are, or are we going to begin telling our problems just how big our God is and that our ultimate prayer is that His will be done?***

ILLUSTRATIONS

Five years ago, I was involved in a very serious accident that nearly took my life. I was on a long-distance cycle ride and a pickup truck hit me from behind going 65mph. I broke five discs in my neck and four in my lower back. The impact separated my shoulder and rendered me unconscious. That moment in time would shape the rest of my life and it is no coincidence that was the very day I became a pastor. It was almost as if the devil was trying to take me out before I could begin my ministry. It would take over five reconstructive surgeries to put me back together again, but throughout the journey to where I find myself today, I remained faithful to the Lord, I witnessed to countless doctors, nurses, techs, and anyone else who would listen to the miracle God was doing in my life. Sure, I had to deal with constant intense pain and depression tried to overtake me as my plans to enter the military were robbed, but God had something better in store for me because I stayed humble and submitted my life to His complete will. In less than a month, I will graduate with my M.Div. and will be going into the Army as a chaplain, which is beyond what I could ever dream of. Through my suffering, God used me to touch countless lives and through my restoration, He has provided hope for many people walking a similar road to recovery. Last year, I ran over 1,300 miles, which is something the doctors said I would never be able to do again. God’s omnipotence and omniscience allows Him to heal us and know everything we need and are feeling. In some cases, God will choose to miraculously heal us, while in cases like mine; He gave me the strength to endure all the medical procedures. In the end, He receives the glory either way and even my suffering has brought me closer to the Lord and a day never goes by that I do not praise Him for the work He has done and is continuing to do in my life.

CONCLUSION

The power of prayer has no limits because there is no limit to God’s power. When we are at our weakest, the Lord is at His strongest and He is close to the brokenhearted. He calls each of us to cast our cares on Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. In all of our petitions, we must remain humble, faithful, and maintain an attitude of praise. God will always provide exactly what we need when we need it. In the bad, we must learn to praise and in the good, we must not forget to praise. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and because of his faithful walk, his loyal heart, and his righteous and humble behavior, God was compelled to act. In our deepest depths of despair, Webb explains, “Such lessons are priceless, but often it is only by looking back, as Hezekiah does in the end of this chapter, that we can see how suffering has been the means God has used to teach them to us (Hebrews 12:11; Romans 8:28).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “Trusting Man vs. Trusting God: Ahaz and Hezekiah.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Five Video Presentation, 10:44, (accessed August 4, 2017).

[1] Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 154.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 677.

[3] Geoffrey W. Grogan, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 237.

 

Isaiah’s Everlasting Covenant, Babylon & Jerusalem, & the Leviathan

Leviathan

PART I: EVERLASTING COVENANT

The everlasting covenant mentioned in Isaiah 24:5 is not a covenant the Lord specifically made with Israel, like the Noachic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, or Davidic covenants. Instead, this everlasting covenant appears to be a covenant that God has made with all the nations, which will hold them accountable for their violence, bloodshed, and iniquities. John Oswalt believes, “While the eternal covenant may have specific reference to the Noachic covenant, with its prohibition of bloodshed, its broader reference is to the implicit covenant between Creator and creature, in which the Creator promises abundant life in return for the creature’s living according to the norms laid down at Creation.”[1] The larger context of Isaiah twenty-four through twenty-seven looks to the final judgment of the wicked and the ultimate salvation of the righteous. Often referred to as the little apocalypse, this passage of Scripture is believed by some scholars to have been written long after the time of Isaiah, but as Gary Yates asserts, “Thematically, it fits very well with what precedes it in chapters thirteen through twenty-three, where we have the judgment of the nations in history and then in twenty-four through twenty-seven, we have the judgment of nations in the last days.”[2] The major takeaway from this portion of Scripture is God’s judgment in history is representative of how and why He will judge the nations in the future. In a similar fashion to how Isaiah speaks to these spiritual and physical laws, Paul in Romans chapters one through three speaks to the fundamental principles of human behavior and as Oswalt emphasizes, “Whether or not persons recognize these principles, living in any other way than in accord with them must ultimately destroy us, as the history of numberless fallen civilizations ought to teach us.”[3] The decline and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman Empire were largely attributed to the violations of these laws and the same argument can be made for any nation in the past or future that violates God’s everlasting covenant.

In the immediate context, it is apparent God was going to judge all the earth and all of its inhabitants because they had violated the everlasting covenant. Even nations used by God, like the Assyrians and Egyptians, to pronounce judgment against Israel and Judah would still have to answer for their actions, which had violated the everlasting covenant. Isaiah 26:21 reveals, “For behold, the LORD is coming out from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.” Oswalt explains this punishment is the “Result of that intervention and is here expressed especially in terms of those unjustly killed. The earth, which had received their blood, now gives a full accounting, and all the murdered are brought to life. This is in keeping with 26:14. The tables are now fully turned: the killers and the killed are alive forevermore.”[4] This same pronouncement can be found throughout Scripture and the contemporary context for believers today is profound. In Amos 2:1 the king of Moab burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. Here, Matthew Henry explains, “The evil passions of the heart break out in various forms; but the Lord looks to our motives, as well as our conduct. Those that deal cruelly shall be cruelly dealt with. Other nations were reckoned with for injuries done to men; Judah is reckoned with for dishonor done to God.”[5] This sounds very similar to the language used in the Abrahamic Covenant to bless those who blessed Israel and to curse those who cursed God’s chosen people. Other atrocities such as the Ammonites ripping open the pregnant women in Gilead (Amos 1:13) would be classified as a crime against humanity and would require divine judgment, much like the Babylonians would face because their empire was built upon the blood of their conquered nations. While the United States is not mentioned directly in Scripture, the same standards God has held all previous nations to, by the everlasting covenant, still exists today. God has been in conflict with the powers and forces of evil from the time of creation until the very end of days, but His sovereignty and His righteousness ultimately demand justice and make salvation possible and deliverance available.

PART II: TWO CITIES IN ISAIAH CHAPTERS 24 – 27

When looking at Isaiah chapters twenty-four through twenty-seven, the context is built around comparing and contrasting two different cities. First, there is a condemned and ruined city that is well built and fortified, until the judgment time comes, when the Lord will destroy it. Isaiah 27:10-11 vividly details how “The fortified city is solitary, a habitation deserted and forsaken, like the wilderness; there the calf grazes; there it lies down and strips its branches.” In contrast to this desolate city, there is a secure, blessed, and joyful city portrayed in Isaiah 26:1-2, so the question naturally becomes, “Do these cities represent the actual cites of Babylon and Jerusalem, or are they symbolic?” When looking at the city in Isaiah 27:10-11, Oswalt asserts, “If it is correct to take the city here as the symbol of Judah’s oppressors, then the thought continues the idea of redemption. When Israel’s idols are broken down, then God’s hand will be revealed against her enemies, who are in fact more idolatrous than she. The result will be complete desolation, as that once mighty city becomes a pasture field.”[6] Some scholars argue for a literal representation of this passage, which Frank Gaebelein explains could be interpreted as, “The fortified city of v.10 could certainly be Samaria, and the exile of v.8 would then follow its fall. A reference to Judah is not, of course, impossible, especially if we treat the passage as predictive and the past tenses as prophetic perfects. In this case the city would be Jerusalem and the exile in Babylon.”[7] Because so many of the references to these cities are general and not specific, it appears the immediate context points to the whole people of God, meaning both Israel and Judah, as well as their impending exile. Gaebelein further explains how Isaiah 26:1-2 reveals, “The theme of the two cities links this passage with chapters 24 and 25. In 25:4, God Himself is the refuge of his people, while here (v.1) He gives strength to the city by making salvation its walls and ramparts. The second is not really inferior to the first, for the prophet always thought of such gifts of God as manifestations of what He is in Himself.”[8] In this approach, Gaebelein demonstrates how the visible gifts of God may be distinguishable from Himself, but not those that are invisible and spiritual. Salvation as walls and bulwarks is interesting language, which Oswalt believes expresses, “That access to God’s city is free for those to whom righteousness and faithfulness are paramount.”[9] True deliverance can only come from God, so it seems unlikely that God has set the walls of the city for salvation. Verse two then indicates that only those who keep the faithful covenant may enter in, but as Oswalt explains, “We need think neither that the city is not yet inhabited, nor that the gatekeepers are angels. The point is simply that none can live in this city for whom God’s character is not the passion of their lives, and this entry formula is a way of expressing this truth. The prophet envisions a day when the adulterous spirit of His people will be changed to faithfulness and loyalty.”[10] Isaiah’s imagery of the last days is built around the contrast of these two cities and as John Walton explains, “People in the ancient Near East understood deities having special interest in different towns and cities. Yahweh rules in Zion just as Marduk does in Babylon. Divine ties to specific locations are physically demonstrated by the dedication of temples to them, which serve the gods in a way similar to the function of a palace for a king.”[11] In this writer’s opinion, the immediate context of Isaiah’s judgment of nations points to these cities being Babylon and Jerusalem, during the time of writing. However, in a modern-day context, these texts can easily be applied to nations that choose to honor the everlasting covenant or those that disregard it, and each will have to answer for their choices in the last days. Ultimately, God’s judgment in history is representative of how He will judge all the earth and its inhabitants. Those who trust and put their faith in God will enter through the gates, but those who violate the everlasting covenant will be punished and held accountable for their violence and bloodshed.

PART III: LEVIATHAN IMAGERY

The imagery of the Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1 is intense as the Lord with His great and strong sword punishes and slays the twisting serpent or dragon in the sea. When looking at this passage through the lens of Psalm 74:12-17, the Lord similarly defeats the sea, controls the water of chaos, and crushes the head of Leviathan at the time of creation. Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain, “This section uses the creation myth of the invaders to declare the God of Israel as the one and only legitimate king over the gods and the people. This is clearly theological chutzpah that claims in the midst of a ruined temple that it is the Lord of Israel who stands in the place of Marduk, thus announcing God’s kingship and defeat of all the other gods.”[12] Water is the strongest and most destructive force on the earth and it is also vital for survival, so any god that claimed could control water would surely be worshipped. There is no denying the mythological similarities in this text to the discovery of Ugaritic texts and Hittite literature, so the proper conclusion is Isaiah used similar imagery to proclaim God’s victory over sin and death. Isaiah’s choice of words is also interesting as he uses: ‏לִוְיָתָן or‎ liwyātān ‏to mean Leviathan, נָחָשׁ or nāḥāš‏ to mean serpent, and תַּנִּין‎ or tannîn to mean dragon monster. As Oswalt explains, “Initially, it was believed that they referred to Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. However, the way in which Leviathan is identified in the Ugaritic texts now makes it appear that this threefold form was simply a poetic convention in the Canaanite area. Note the similarities: ‘If you smite Lotan the serpent slant/ Destroy the serpent tortuous/Shalyat of the seven heads…’”[13]

Another point of interest is how Psalm 74 and Exodus 15 display God using the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. However, in Isaiah, this passage’s larger context represents the Lord’s defeat over the enemy nations, while the original myth had this event and the defeat happening at the time of creation. This further demonstrates how God is in a continuous conflict with the powers and forces of evil from the time of creation until the very end, but also how He brought chaos and evil under His control at creation. The important distinction is that theology and mythology were not borrowed by Isaiah, but the use of Canaanite mythic imagery was, in order for the Hebrews to establish Yahweh as being superior to: Baal, Marduk, Lotan, Tiamat, Leviathan, or any other false gods. John Day expresses the Leviathan’s defeat shows, “Yahweh’s victory over the power of Chaos at Creation, Yahweh’s victory over the power of Egypt at the Exodus and over the power of Babylon at the ‘exodus’ from the Exile, and ultimately, as Isaiah 27:1 illustrates, to portray Yahweh’s victory over the power of Satan at the eschaton on the analogy that ‘as the beginning, so also the end.’”[14] The use of old creation’s imagery here to describe the new creation is profound. Then, immediately following this verse is the picture and final message of hope to Israel as the fruitful vineyard, which is a complete reversal of the judgment pronounced by Isaiah in chapter five. Oswalt further shows how God “Is the sole Sovereign of the universe, and while evil and destruction now seem to threaten the principles of justice upon which His order is founded, they will not prevail. God will triumph and those who have kept faith with Him will triumph with Him. But the true monster that must be destroyed is the monster of moral evil and His people may await that day with joy.”[15] The use of Canaanite imagery is present throughout Scripture, especially as it pertains to the future defeat of Satan. In Revelation 12:3, John uses δράκων or drakōn to identify the monster that is no doubt the devil, but the imagery he uses is closely connected to Isaiah’s description. Robert Mounce states, “Ancient mythology is replete with references to dragons. In Canaanitish lore the great monster of the deep was known as Leviathan. Closely associated was Rahab, the female monster of chaos. More often than not, allusions to these dragons in the OT refer metaphorically to Israel’s enemies. In Ps 74:14 Leviathan is Egypt. In Isaiah 27:1 he is Assyria and Babylon.”[16] Similar imagery can also be found in Daniel 7:7 and 8:10 to illustrate Satan’s plan. Mounce says,

The dragon stands in readiness before the woman with child so that when the child is born he can devour it. It began with the determination of King Herod to murder the Christ-child (Matthew 2), continued throughout the dangers and temptations of His earthly life, and culminated in the crucifixion. As Nebuchadnezzar devoured Israel, ‘he has swallowed us and filled his stomach with our delicacies,’ (Jeremiah 51:34), so Satan has determined to devour the child. He has taken his position and now awaits his victim.[17]

Isaiah’s use of the Leviathan imagery to depict the Lord’s defeat over Israel’s enemies is impressive, but what is even more remarkable is how it also refers to the eschatological defeat of the Lord’s enemies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Day, John N. “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1.” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 620 (October 1998): 423-436. (accessed July 23, 2017).

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary: Isaiah (New York, NY: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Sandy, D. Brent. Plowshares & Pruning Hook: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Walton, John H., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. USA: Zondervan, 2009.

Webb, Barry G. The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. Edited by J. A. Motyer. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “Highlights from the Little Apocalypse.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 18:18, (accessed July 25, 2017).

[1] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 446.

[2] Gary Yates, “Highlights from the Little Apocalypse,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 18:18, (accessed July 25, 2017).

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 446.

[4] Ibid., 489.

[5] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary: Isaiah (New York, NY: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), Chapter 2.

[6] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 499.

[7] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 171.

[8] Ibid., 163.

[9] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 471.

[10] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 471.

[11] John H. Walton, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel (USA: Zondervan, 2009), 100.

[12] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 599.

[13] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 491.

[14] John N. Day, “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 620 (October 1998): 436. (accessed July 23, 2017).

[15] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 491.

[16] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 232.

[17] Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 233.

Identity of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23

immanuel

While the issue of Immanuel’s identity in Isaiah 7:14 and its reuse in Matthew 1:23 continues to be a highly debated topic, the interpretation of “עַלְמָה” or “ʿalmāh” also presents an additional layer of exegesis needed to fully understand what this passage meant to the original audience and what implication it possibly makes towards a future fulfillment. Most scholars do not recognize a single fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 in Jesus, so the key question that must be answered is how the birth of Jesus could have fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah. This interpretive essay will assert Isaiah 7:14 contains a double fulfillment, involving sensus plenior, as Matthew expands the meaning of Isaiah’s words to include a reference to Jesus’ conception and birth.[1]

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

When attempting to decipher what the prophet Isaiah is saying, the interpreter must first have a clear understanding of the historical setting and background. During the 8th century, Assyria had become the dominant kingdom and God ultimately uses the Assyrian army to confront the people’s sinfulness and bring about judgment and salvation. “Assyria was the rod of Yahweh’s anger and the staff in their hands was His fury” (Isaiah 10:5). In chapter six, Isaiah takes up his role as prophet, after he witnesses the holiness of the Lord in his vision. During this encounter, he is compelled by the experience, and he confesses his sin, which leads to him being cleansed by a hot coal from the altar. However, the people of Israel and Judah would have a different reaction to the Lord’s holiness, as they would come to experience His divine judgment. Thus, the main purpose of Isaiah’s preaching is to confront the people’s sinfulness and to compel them to repent. The power of God’s grace is a common thread throughout the book, but the people refused to acknowledge God as their king; instead, relying on military prowess, alliances, and politics, while what they should have focused on was their spiritual apathy and apostasy.

In 734 – 732 B.C., Israel and her neighbor Syria made an alliance to stand against Assyria. However, Judah and king Ahaz, one of the most ungodly kings, wanted no part of this alliance, so Israel and Syria planned to invade Judah, in an attempt to replace king Ahaz with a king who would support their alliance. Upon learning Syria was in league with Ephraim, and that the Davidic king and ultimately the Davidic line was faced with imminent demise, Isaiah goes to meet king Ahaz with a message of hope. However, king Ahaz was so terrified of invasion that he called upon the king of Assyria to render aid, who was more than glad to help crush the Syro-Ephraimite coalition. Despite Isaiah’s promise of protection from the Lord, king Ahaz did not trust God because he did not have a relationship with Him. With the aid of Assyria, Israel was reduced to a small area surrounding Samaria and Judah was delivered, but the problem was now king Ahaz and the nation of Judah had come under the control of Assyria, which meant they had to pay monetary tribute for protection. To make matters even worse, following the example of king Ahaz, many would even adopt the pagan religious practices of Assyria. As Edward Young shows, “Ahaz’ wickedness is seen in the fact that by his stubbornness he was in fact rejecting the very foundation of the covenant. God had promised to be a God and a Deliverer to His people. Syria and Israel, therefore, will not overthrow the Davidic dynasty, for if they could, the promises of God would be void and the Messiah would not ultimately accomplish salvation.”[2]

MEANING OF IMMANUEL & ALMAH IN ISAIAH 7:14 & MATTHEW 1:23

Isaiah 7:14 says, “A virgin will conceive and you will call his name Immanuel” and Matthew 1:23 says, “The virgin shall conceive and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’” Isaiah 7 shows the Immanuel child was to be a sign to king Ahaz, but Ahaz declines a sign, which God provides anyway. John Walton proposes, “Perhaps his hesitancy is due to a pagan understanding, that a sign once given inevitably leads to the next event, which Ahaz does not want to encounter, whatever it might be.”[3] Either way, the nature of the sign was to serve as a reminder of his mistake in not trusting God, but since Jesus was born seven hundred years later, it seems difficult to say this was referring exclusively to the birth of Christ. Some scholars believe there is also a connection with king Ahaz and Isaiah in 8:1-4, regarding the Immanuel prophecy, with the birth of Isaiah’s own son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. They contend there seems to be a correlation between the child prophesied about in chapter seven with the one born in chapter eight, because the prophecy said the two enemies king Ahaz feared would no longer be around. However, if this were referring to Christ’s birth it would not make sense. Because of what both Matthew and Isaiah say, Gary Yates demonstrates how, “Some commentators interpret the Immanuel prophecy: as an exclusive reference to the virgin birth of Jesus, as exclusively referring to a child or group of children born in the days of Isaiah, or as a double fulfillment prophecy with a near fulfillment in the days of Isaiah and a far fulfillment with the virgin birth of Jesus, while others use typology to explain the prophecy.”[4] Bruce Compton explains proponents of a double fulfillment either explain that Matthew basically “Expands the meaning of Isaiah’s words in their original setting to include a reference to Jesus’s conception and birth, [or] they understand the relationship to involve typology, where Matthew takes Isaiah’s words as foreshadowing something beyond their immediate context and applies them to Jesus in a type-antitype relationship.”[5] Each approach used to harmonize what appears in both Isaiah and Matthew is met with hermeneutical obstacles. While this writer holds to the double fulfillment view, it is impossible to argue that sensus plenior does not violate the principle the univocal language. That being said, context is key and determining the author’s intended meaning must be accomplished before proposing a passage of Scripture could mean something in the future that it did not fully fulfill in the time of the original audience. Even typology fails to fully address the issue as Compton reveals, “Ultimately, the difficultly in identifying the Immanuel prophecy with an eighth century fulfillment as the type is that this interpretation fails to link the prophecy with what Isaiah says elsewhere about the child”[6] e.g. when Isaiah 8:8 references Immanuel having control over all the land. This passage raises the same question again: “Is Maher-shalal-hash-baz the initial fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy?” To this question, Oswalt asserts:

Immanuel is the owner of the land, the one against whom Assyria’s threats are ultimately lodged, the one upon whom deliverance depends. That cannot be Isaiah’s son, or even some unknown son of Ahaz. It can only be the Messiah, in whom all hope resides. It is as if Isaiah, plunging deeper and deeper into the dark implications of his sign, is suddenly brought up short by the deepest implication: God is with us, and best of all, will be with us, not merely in the impersonal developments of history, but somehow as a person.[7]

Compton disagrees and sees Isaiah’s message of hope as a single prophecy with two parts, the first part relating to the threat of the Davidic line and the second part pertaining to the threat to king Ahaz. Isaiah says by the time the child would be old enough to know right from wrong the two nations and their kings who threatened Judah and king Ahaz would be overthrown.

As William Klein et al. assert, “We suggest there are instances where NT authors found meaning in an OT text that the OT author did not intend.”[8] Upon this assumption, Paul Wegner determines, “If they are correct, then at least three questions need to be addressed: (1) How is Isaiah 7:14–17 related to its context? (2) How is Isaiah 7:14–17 fulfilled in Christ? and (3) Is there more than one virgin birth in the Bible?”[9] With context already established, looking at how Isaiah 7:14-17 is fulfilled in Christ must now be quantified. Wegner highlights the dilemma with this passage, “First, it is important to remember this is not a prophecy, but a sign, [which Matthew says is fulfilled in Christ and] second, scholars offer a variety of explanations as to how NT writers could use OT passages and apply them to different situations.”[10] Each of these methods walks a hermeneutical tightrope and claims either:

The author intends one meaning, but it can have many applications or significances; an author intends to convey multiple meanings or levels of meaning; a later author invents or reads into a biblical text a meaning not intended by the author; there is a literal sense intended by the human author, but alongside this literal meaning is a hidden meaning embedded by the Holy Spirit that was unknown to the human author; or the biblical author intended the text to have a single meaning, but a later biblical author may have discovered an additional meaning in that text.[11]

Of these approaches, the fundamental key to determining how to use Old Testament passages in a modern-day context is first, understanding that God uses patterns throughout the Bible, and second, the New Testament writers read the Old Testament through the lens of Christ’s arrival. This writer agrees with Wegner’s conclusion that, “Matthew employs the Greek word πληρóω meaning ‘to make full, fill, fill up, complete,’ to indicate that he believes the OT passage is being “filled up” by Jesus. Matthew thus understands the OT passage as a pattern that is being filled up with more meaning.”[12]

The interpretation of virgin in Isaiah 7:14 is the next issue that must be addressed. The main issue revolves around whether Isaiah meant to use “עַלְמָה” or “ʿalmāh” to mean virgin or whether he meant to use “בְּתוּלָה” or “bĕtûlâ” to describe a physically mature woman of marriageable age. As Compton demonstrates, an examination of Old Testament uses of both words reveals ʿalmāh is the less ambiguous term for a virgin, while bĕtûlâ is the term commonly used to describe a young mature and unmarried virgin. Therefore, Compton illustrates, “Assuming then that ʿalmāh is the less ambiguous term for virgin, the prophet selected ʿalmāh over bĕtûlâ to communicate more precisely the meaning intended in the prophecy.”[13] But if Isaiah wished to stress the virginity of the mother here, why did he not use bĕtûlâ? Young, noting some such statement frequently accompanies bĕtûlâ, as ‘she had not known a man,’ argues that it was the ambiguous term. However, Oswalt demonstrates, “This is clearly not so, because, bĕtûlâ has no implication in addition to virginity, whereas ʿalmāh does. The conclusion to which we are driven is that while the prophet did not want to stress the virginity, neither did he wish to leave it aside[14] and he may have used this term because of its richness and diversity.”[15]

With the variety of words available to the authors and the multiple uses each represents throughout Scripture, the real question of Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 7:14 is, “Are there more than one virgin birth in the Bible?” The answer is no and Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 is meant to refer to Mary, who as a virgin, conceived a child through the power of the Holy Spirit, and gave birth to Jesus, the far and ultimate fulfillment of Immanuel, “God with us.” While Matthew uses the text to refer to Mary and Jesus, the issue of whom Isaiah was referring to in chapter seven still remains. Some scholars believe the woman was the wife of king Ahaz, making the child the king’s son. This sign and constant reminder of failing to trust God would be unavoidable had the Immanuel been the king’s own son. Hezekiah has been named by some as a likely candidate, but this does not seem likely due to chronological evidence. Other scholars contend the ʿalmāh spoken of is Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess mentioned in Isaiah 8:3. Herbert Wolf contends, “The birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz is the immediate fulfillment of the prophecy and the designation of Isaiah’s sons as ‘signs’ in Isaiah 8:18 implies that Immanuel was one of those signs.”[16] The problem with this solution is Immanuel was meant to express the promise aspect of the sign that God is with us, whereas Maher-shalal-hash-baz conveys the more judgmental side of God. Wolf rightly shows, “Immanuel denoted the promise that God would be there to defeat Samaria and Damascus, and ‘Maher-shalal-hash-baz’ meant that Assyria would soon carry off the wealth of those two nations, before turning to devastate Judah. The references to the child knowing the difference between good and evil explain each other and refer to the same period of time.”[17] Regarding this proposed solution, it seems most evident the woman referenced as the virgin was a harem in king Ahaz’ court and that she would bear a child named Immanuel. John Walton rightly shows, “Ahaz’ stubborn disbelief brings the response of a sign that is connected with the prophecy of judgment that has been pronounced against Pekah and Rezin. That sign is that by the time the pregnant ʿalmāh from Ahaz’ harem gives birth to her son the political climate will be such that she will give him a name of hope.” This explanation fits contextually and exegetically and Matthew could have easily drawn from this sign in his writings.

OTHER FULFILLMENT PASSAGES

In the same way a child born in Isaiah’s day would announce, “God is with us,” during a time of crisis; a second child referred to in Isaiah 9:6 would be a reference to a child born in the future who would be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This is clearly a reference to the future Messiah because many of these characteristics would have been completely foreign during Isaiah’s time. The future Messiah would be empowered by God Himself and would rule and reign forever. The king was also representative as the people’s father because of the protection he guaranteed. The prophesied Messiah could only have ushered this peaceful rule and reign spoken of. Another interesting passage is Isaiah 11:7-12, which references the root of Jesse being the seed of the Messianic hope in the Old Testament. God keeps His covenant promises despite humanity’s failures and as John Oswalt illustrates, “Not only will he keep His promises to his people, He will also keep His promises to Jesse’s son. Though the hand of God may destroy, it will ultimately be used to redeem. This truth is underlined when we look at the full revelation of the Messiah in Jesus Christ.”[18]

Wolf further illustrates, “Matthew’s use of this passage in the NT is consistent with his references to other OT verses. On occasion he employs a secondary interpretation that differed considerably from the primary message.”[19] For example, in Matthew 2:15 Jesus’ stay in Egypt fulfilled Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:18, cites Jeremiah 31:15, which describes the agony over Herod’s murder of young boys in Bethlehem, where Wolf demonstrates, “Rachel wept over her children in Ramah and this mourning is related to the captivity of Israel and is illustrative of the intense suffering brought on by Herod’s act. Jeremiahs prophecy also received a ‘new fulfillment’ through Herod’s atrocity.”[20] R. T. France explains how Matthew’s use of Old Testament prophecy, which were generally a single specific fulfillment of a prophet’s prediction, take on a typological pattern that will recur repeatedly throughout God’s dealings with His people. France explains, “In this case, he has good warrant for taking the prophecy concerning Immanuel as having a relevance beyond its undoubted immediate aim, for the name Immanuel will occur again in Isaiah 8:8 as that of the one to whom the land of Judah belongs, and its meaning will be developed in 8:10, ‘for God is with us.’”[21] Further, the prophecy/sign in Isaiah 7:14 of the birth of Immanuel leads to the description in Isaiah 9:6-7 of a child who is to be born for us: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. France demonstrates this theme will be taken up again in Isaiah 11:1-5 with the prophecy of the spiritually endowed shoot from the stump of Jesse. Ultimately, “These last two passages would have been recognized then, as they still are today, as Messianic prophecies, and it seems likely that Isaiah’s thought has moved progressively from the virgin’s child, ‘God with us,’ and it points beyond the immediate political crisis of the eighth century B.C., not only in Matthew’s typological scheme but also in Isaiah’s intention.”[22] Barry Webb agrees and emphasizes Matthew was right to see the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel saying in Jesus Christ.[23] [24]

CONCLUSION

It is this writer’s view the virgin referenced in Isaiah 7:14 is one of king Ahaz’ harem and that she would conceive a child called Immanuel. The true identity remains a mystery, but if this child were Hezekiah, this would mean the mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah. While New Testament authors were certainly able to view the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ and were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there still must be considerable care given when trying to determine what the original author intended. As Wegner illustrates, “God’s coming to earth through the birth of a Son to a virgin once again reminds us that God does things we might never comprehend unless He revealed them to us.”[25] When trying to answer the question of whether Matthew used acceptable hermeneutical methods, Walton correctly explains, “Authority is attributed to Matthew’s statements not because of their objectivity but because he is inspired. We believe his subjective conclusions because of his endowment, [and] that does not give us the right to make subjective conclusions and force them on others.”[26] Sound exegesis then reveals a partial fulfillment during the time of Isaiah, and the full fulfillment upon the birth of Jesus Christ.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, ed. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Compton, R. Bruce. “The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-16 and Its Use in Matthew 1:23: Harmonizing Historical Context and Single Meaning.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 12 (2007): 3-15.

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. Dallas, TX: Word, 2004.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Sandy, D. Brent. Plowshares & Pruning Hook: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Walton, John H. “Isa 7:14: what’s in a name?” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 30, no. 3 (September 1987): 289-306. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).

_________., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel. USA: Zondervan, 2009.

Webb, Barry G. The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. Edited by J. A. Motyer. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Wegner, Paul D. “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible? (ISAIAH 7:14): A Prophetic Pattern Approach.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (September 2011): 467-84. (accessed July 13, 2017).

Wolf, Herbert M. “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22.” Journal of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 449-56.

_________. Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 89-92.

_________. “Solution to the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 449-456. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).

Yates, Gary. “Prophetic Genres: Part One.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 12:55, (accessed July 5, 2017).

_________. “The Message of Isaiah 7-12.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 11:32, (accessed July 11, 2017).

Young, E. J. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-18, vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965.

[1] Herbert M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 89-92.

[2] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-18, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 5.

[3] John H. Walton, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (USA: Zondervan, 2009), 41.

[4] Gary Yates, “The Message of Isaiah 7-12,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 11:32, (accessed July 11, 2017).

[5] Bruce R. Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-16 and Its Use in Matthew 1:23: Harmonizing Historical Context and Single Meaning,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 12 (2007): 6.

[6] Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy,” 11.

[7] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 227.

[8] William W. Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word, 2004), 121.

[9] Paul D. Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible? (ISAIAH 7:14): A Prophetic Pattern Approach,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (September 2011): 467. (accessed July 13, 2017).

[10] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 478.

[11] Ibid., 478-480.

[12] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 481.

[13] Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy,” 8.

[14] He could have done so by using ʾišŝa or some other term for “woman.”

[15] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 210.

[16] Herbert M. Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 450.

[17] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 455.

[18] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 287.

[19] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 456.

[20] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 456.

[21] R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 56.

[22] France, TNICNT– The Gospel of Matthew, 57.

[23] Barry G. Webb, The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. ed., J. A. Motyer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 63.

[24] In applying this verse to Christ, Matthew quotes from the LXX, which uses the more specific term parthenos, ‘virgin’ (Matthew 1:23).

[25] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 484.

[26] John H. Walton, “Isa 7:14: what’s in a name?” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 30, no. 3 (September 1987): 301. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).