A Virgin Shall Conceive

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:20-23)

The apostle Matthew and his fellow historian Luke both record that Jesus was conceived and born of a virgin (see also Luke 1:26-35).  Both records teach that God supernaturally inseminated His divine seed into the womb of Mary in order to conceive His Son.  Their testimony is one of the key components of Christ’s identity.  Of particular relevance to this series of blogs on Messianic prophecy is verse 23’s claim:  that the conception and birth of Jesus fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah 7:14.

The Messianic prophecy in question occurs in a rather unusual passage given the nature of the prediction.  During the reign of King Ahaz, the northern kingdom of Israel allied itself with the Syrians of Damascus.  Their alliance proved disastrous for Judah, whose unfaithfulness during Ahaz’s reign left them vulnerable to defeat.  God dispatched Isaiah to speak with the stunned King Ahaz.  The Lord’s message was simple:  don’t be troubled by the alliance.  While they plotted the downfall of Judah, the Lord had other things in mind for the conspirators.  God planned to conquer the alliance of Israelis and Syrians with the Assyrians.  To bolster the fainthearted, God offers a sign to the house of David, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Some believe the prophecy was fulfilled in chapter 8 when Isaiah conceived a son with a virgin prophetess.  In 8:4, God seemingly reiterates the promise He offered in chapter 7, “Before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.”  On the surface, it appears Isaiah fulfilled the prophecy himself.

However, notice to whom the prophecy is addressed:  “Hear now, you house of David” Isaiah proclaims in verse 13.  What makes the address thought-provoking is how Isaiah uses it in two other passages:

Isaiah 16:5  “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it– one from the house of David– one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”

Isaiah 22:22  “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”

Isaiah chapters 7, 16, and 22 are the only instances when Isaiah uses the phrase “house of David.”  Remarkably, the two quotations above are Messianic in tone (compare Isaiah 16:5 with 9:6-7 and 11:1-5; compare Isaiah 22:22 with Matthew 16:18-19 and Revelation 3:7).  Since Isaiah addresses the “house of David” in chapter 7, this sign must be relevant to a broader audience, not just King Ahaz.  We know from other passages that the Messiah would descend from the house of David (see Isaiah 9:7, Matthew 22:41-42).  Furthermore, since Isaiah uses the phrase “house of David” in two Messianic passages, it seems logical to conclude this sign was Messianic in nature.

The broader context of Isaiah 7 supports this conclusion.  Chapter 7 begins a series of oracles that end at 13:1.   Two major Messianic prophecies (9:1-7 and chapter 11) are interspersed with warnings contemporary to Isaiah’s time as well as near-future prophecies.  Finding a Messianic prophecy embedded in chapter 7 is certainly in keeping with the broader context of the series of oracles.

One aspect we should not overlook is the name of the prophesied child:  Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”  Michael L. Brown observed that Immanuel is “a name found nowhere in else in the Bible or the Ancient Near East” (Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3, p. 25).  Immanuel is both a unique and deeply meaningful name.  Jesus claimed He was the Son of God in more than a metaphorical or spiritual sense.  The apostles of Jesus testified that He is the Word incarnate, eternal and divine in substance and yet distinct from God.  “The Word,” John says, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). They apostles ascribed to Jesus honor and glory equal to God.  Both John and Paul describe Jesus as the course through which God created all things that are in heaven and that are earth (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16).  To put it bluntly, who else is could accurately wear the name “God is with us” other than Jesus Christ?  No other Biblical personality or anyone thereafter fits the bill.  Jesus is Immanuel.

Moved by the Holy Spirit, Matthew discerned that Isaiah 7:14 was a prophecy of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a woman of unimpeachable virginity who remained a virgin until His birth (Matthew 1:25).  He is a direct descendent of David and the sign God promised to the house of David.  Situated in the broad context of significant Messianic prophecies, God forecast a day when a young woman would give birth to a child who was both human and divine in substance.  He is Immanuel, God with us.