Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentISAIAH 7
One glorious chapter after another successively appears in this marvelous prophecy; and not even the Holy Scriptures contain anything exceeding the wonder and beauty of Isaiah's remarkable writings. The chapter before us details the prophecies that were delivered during the reign of Ahaz, the weak and unbelieving grandson of Uzziah. The occasion was apparently during the Syrian-Ephraimite war which developed somewhat early in Ahaz' reign. The monarchs of those two countries, through fear of Assyria, wanted to form a coalition against the power of that rapidly developing nation; and they believed that Ahaz could not be depended upon as a panner; therefore, their scheme was to attack Judah, the Southern Israel, depose Ahaz, and force the enthronement of a king of their own choice in Jerusalem and thus end the Davidic dynasty altogether.
What made the situation even more frightening from the standpoint of Ahaz was the fact that both Syria and Ephraim had already defeated Ahaz in battles that had inflicted heavy losses, resulting in the great fear and trembling that fell upon Ahaz when he learned of the coalition against him. Isa. 7:1-9 record the prophetic instructions given by God through Isaiah to Ahaz, whose unbelief caused him to reject the instructions. He favored, instead, his own scheme of forming an alliance with Assyria, which of course would be, at last, the total and complete ruin, not only of the Northern Israel, but of Judah also. Isa. 7:10-17 record the fantastically wonderful prophecy of The Virgin who would conceive a child who would bear a significant name with the meaning of "God with us!" Isa. 7:18-25 are a prophetic revelation of just what the "hired razor," Assyria, would eventually do to the land and the people of Israel.
Verses 1, 2
And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart trembled, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind.
Pekah the son of Remaliah
Both here and in Isa. 7:4,5,9, below, this mention of Pekah's father suggests that he was thus designated in contempt, Remaliah having been a man of no distinction (2 Kings 15:25).F1
His heart trembled, and the heart of his people
Each of the hostile powers mentioned here had already defeated Ahaz (See 2 Chr. 28:5,6); and now both together were attacking Israel with the consequence that both Ahaz and his people were terrified. The date of this threatened disaster was placed at approximately 735 B.C. by Kidner.F2
Then said Jehovah unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fuller's field; and say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither let thy heart be faint, because of these two tails of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have purposed evil against thee, saying, Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set up a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeel; thus saith the Lord Jehovah, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken in pieces, so that is shall not be a people: and the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.
Isa. 7:3 gave God's instructions for Isaiah to take his son Shear-Jashub with him when he went to meet Ahaz; and the very presence of this son was a stern warning to Ahaz that troubled times lay ahead for Judah. The name Shear-Jashub was in all probability prophetically given by God Himself and had the meaning, "a remnant shall return."F3 The prophecy implied by this indicated not merely that "a remnant shall return," but also that Judah would also go into captivity. This conviction regarding "a remnant shall return" was a frequently reiterated doctrine in Isaiah's great prophecy.
The very place where Isaiah would meet Ahaz was significant. As many have surmised, the king was engaged at that very moment in carrying out his own schemes for the defense of his city, probably securing the water system, or devising to make it unusable for the enemy, or perhaps both.
This actually means burnt-out firebrands, thus no threat that should have concerned Judah as long as they believed and trusted God.
It shall not stand; neither shall it come to pass
God here vetoed the evil purposes of Judah's enemies; then in Isa. 7:8 God gave through Isaiah the reason why such evil purposes of Judah's enemies were doomed to failure and frustration, that reason being that whereas Syria and Ephraim had merely human heads and leadership, Judah belonged to God, their true king, whose purposes would inevitably prevail.
The heavenly promise that Ephraim would be broken in pieces and stand no longer as a separate and distinct people (Isa. 7:8b) is believed to have been given in 735 or 733 B.C.; and if this date is correct the sixty-five years allowed for the fulfillment of this prophecy would have fallen somewhere in the reign of Ashurbanipal over Assyria. A much earlier indication of the prophecy's accuracy came only about 11 years later (722 B.C.) when Samaria fell to Assyria and thousands of citizens of the Northern kingdom were led away to Assyria in long lines held together with ropes or chains through the ears of the victims who later were either worked or starved to death in Assyria.
This horrible disaster to Northern Israel (Ephraim) should have been warning enough for Ahaz. A foreign alliance had led only to defeat and extermination for Ephraim; and if Ahaz had been blessed with the ability to think properly he should have been able to see that a foreign alliance for Judah would lead to the same disastrous results. The total fulfillment of this predictive prophecy, however, came within about one lifetime, the sixty-five years of Isa. 7:8b. "In 669 B.C., Esar-Haddon, having made his son Ashurbanipal king of Assyria, moved his own residence to Babylon; and this was probably the same year in which he sent from Babylon and vicinity many colonists to re-populate Samaria."F4 Following these events, "Ephraim was no longer a people."F5 The colonists intermarried with the few remaining Jews; and the mixed racial descendants became the Samaritans who were despised by the Jews of later times.
Some have questioned whether or not this warning to Ahaz would have been effective because of the time it took to be completely fulfilled; but such an objection is completely nullified by the utter destruction of Samaria and the captivity of its people within a mere eleven years from the date of the prophecy, making the ultimate and complete fulfillment of it absolutely certain, even as early as 722 B.C. Cheyne and other scholars have supposed that this prophecy might have been given at some other point chronologically; but as Rawlinson noted "There is no appearance in this chapter of any need for such theories."F6
In the final verse of this paragraph, Isaiah's call to faith is uttered with a slogan-like play on words which is almost impossible of translation into English, although James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible (1929) attempted it as follows: "Hold God in doubt; You'll not hold out," or, "Unsure, Insecure!" Faith in God is always a pre-condition of pleasing God, whether by individuals or nations.
And Jehovah spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken. Jehovah will bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah--[even] the king of Assyria.
The first two verses of this paragraph record God's offer to provide a sign (presumably a miraculous sign) to strengthen the faith of Ahaz, even offering him the choice of what it might be; but hypocritical Ahaz, having already made up his mind to reject God's counsel, refused to ask, pretending that he did not wish to tempt Jehovah. Of course, he referred to such passages in the Law as that found in Deut. 6:6; but it would not have been `tempting God' for him to accept God's offer.
Some believe that, in spite of Ahaz' unbelieving and hypocritical refusal to cooperate with God in the matter of a miraculous sign, God went ahead and gave him the sign of The Virgin anyway; but we shall explore that possibility later in our special notes on The Virgin. Notice the dramatic shift from "thy" God (Isaiah 7:11) to "my" God (Isaiah 7:13). Notice also that the same Isa. 7:13 is the place where the prophet ceased from addressing King Ahaz and addressed, instead, the whole House of David. Notice also that the pronoun "he" in Isa. 7:13 is a reference to Isaiah, not Ahaz.
BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE AND BEAR A SON -- Isa. 7:10.
This extremely important prophecy is one of the most discussed and debated in the entire Old Testament.; and we wish to begin by our confident allegation that here indeed is a true prophecy of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in the only true sense, must be hailed as the unique example of one truly entitled to be called "God with us." We are familiar with all the objections that evil and unbelieving men have made against this view, and these shall be noted later in this discussion. Here are the reasons for our own confidence in the true meaning of the prophecy.
1. Note that the prophecy does not say "a virgin," but "The Virgin" (consult marginal notes on this), a title that could hardly belong to anyone ever born except the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. The silly objection that the ultimate fulfillment of this was too far removed to do Ahaz any good is worthless, because it was not designed to do Ahaz any good. That evil man had already refused to see a sign from God; and the notion that God forced the issue and gave him a sign anyway is ridiculous. This sign was for "the House of David," not for Ahaz.
2. The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ the Son of God is the unique and only authenticated example of such an occurrence in the history of the human race; and it was verified by medical testimony and by the unanimous testimony of the first century of the Christian era, the gospels themselves being just about the most historical documents known to mankind; and the apostle Matthew cited this prophecy as a predictive announcement of Christ's birth. No arrogant and conceited modern seminarian has any right or ability whatever to contradict the testimony of an inspired apostle of Jesus Christ on a subject like this.
3. But, how about the word [~`almah]? Does it not have a possible meaning of "young woman"; and could the allegation of unbelievers such as Peake be true? He wrote that, "The rendering `virgin' here is unjustifiable; the Hebrew word employed here means a young woman of marriageable age, without any suggestion that she is not married."F7
To begin with, this alleged meaning of "[~`almah]" is a disputed matter; but even if the critical rendition of it should be allowed, it could not possibly obscure the true meaning of the word which is "virgin."
A fact apparently unknown to critical enemies of God's Word is that the true meaning of any word must finally be determined, not by any etymological data, but by the USAGE of it. Look at the following: hamburgers are not made out of ham; trotlines do not trot; catheads have nothing to do with cats, and a horse-cock reamer has nothing to do with horses! Ask anybody in the oil business!
All right, now let us take a look at the usage of [~`almah]. We are indebted to Homer Hailey for the following summary on the usage of [~`almah] in God's Word:
"This word was never used of a married woman, nor of an immoral woman. This word occurs six times in Biblical passages in addition to the one before us. In every instance, the word refers to an unmarried, chaste woman. (1) In Gen. 24:43, Rebekah is called [~`almah], and also [~bethuwlah], a woman whom no man had known (Genesis 24:16). (2) In Exo. 2:8, Moses' sister, Miriam, in her childhood is called [~`almah]. (3) and (4) Twice in the Song of Solomon it refers to a chorus of young women (Song of Solomon 1:3) distinguished from Solomon's queens and concubines (Song of Solomon 6:8). (5) And in Prov. 30:19 it refers to a maiden in contrast to an adulterous woman. (6) In Ps. 68:25 the word describes the damsels who played timbrels in the sanctuary; and any assumption that those damsels were anything but virgins is impossible."F8
Remember that there are no Biblical examples of where the word [~`almah] ever referred to anyone except a virgin in the usual sense of the word. That accounts for the existence of the next argument we shall cite, that is, No. 4. below.
4. Two hundred fifty years before Christ was born, the Septuagint (LXX) version of the Hebrew Scriptures was translated into the Greek language by seventy of the most renowned scholars on earth, their number being reflected in the symbol for that version. A copy of the LXX is before this writer as this paragraph is written. How did they translate this verse 14? Here it is:
"O house of David ... Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Immanuel."F9
Thus the great scholars who gave us the Hebrew Bible in the Greek language translated the Hebrew [~`almah] with a word that evil men could not possibly misunderstand; and we believe that no group of scholars has yet appeared in human history that outranks the ability and quality of the famed "seventy" who authored the LXX. No Dr. Conceit, or Dr. Smart, or Dr. Anybody else has learned any more about the Hebrew tongue than was most certainly known to the translators of the Septuagint Version of the Bible. In this light we are absolutely certain that the current translators of the Revised Standard Version betrayed the faith when they translated [~`almah] with what is most surely a corrupt rendition, namely, " a young woman." There is no reason whatever to respect such an erroneous translation. The 20th Century A.D. is not the era in which anyone may expect to find any new information about the meaning of Hebrew words used 2,800 years earlier.
5. The introduction to this prophecy makes it impossible of misunderstanding. Look at these words: THEREFORE, THE LORD HIMSELF SHALL GIVE YOU A SIGN; BEHOLD, A VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE! Can it be imagined for a single moment that such a prelude could appropriately introduce such commonplace information as the fact that some young woman would get pregnant! Ridiculous! Preposterous! Impossible! The information that this would be a tremendous sign from God Himself and which is here preceded by the heavenly order to "Behold!" the marvelous event, has no meaning at all, unless it indicates that an event of world-shaking importance would be indicated by the forthcoming announcement, as indeed it proved to be!
WERE THERE TWO FULFILLMENTS?
The erroneous supposition that there was first an immediate fulfillment of this prophecy given as a sign to Ahaz and that the ultimate remote fulfillment was realized in the birth of Christ is attractive, because many of the prophetic promises of that era were indeed fulfilled twice, a number of which are cited in the New Testament, as in "Rachel weeping for her children" (Matthew 2:18); "Out of Egypt did I call my son" (Matthew 2:15).
Some very respected commentators have accepted this view. For example, Dummelow has this:
"In the first place, the sign must have been intended by Isaiah as a sign of encouragement to Ahaz -- meaning that before a child shortly to be born could arrive at the years of observation, the enemies of Judah would be brought to naught."F10
There are several considerations that are contrary to this interpretation. First, the child to be born who is referred to here was not just "a child," but a very special person named IMMANUEL even before he was born! Moreover, the mother was designated as The Virgin, not in any sense, merely "some young woman." Furthermore, the text indicates that the prophecy was not to Ahaz at all, but to the "House of David." Ahaz had already refused any sign from God. Dummelow himself admitted the essential truth here as follows:
"At the same time, it is evident that the child is no ordinary one, from the way in which the prophet refers to him as Lord of the land (Isaiah 8:8), and from the titles given to him in Isa. 9:6. The child is in fact the Messiah."F11
The notion that this prophecy occurred at this place because of Isaiah's expectation of the advent of the Messiah in the very near future is quite gratuitous, because the text indicates no such thing. Besides that, let it be remembered that God Himself here spoke through Isaiah, and that it is immaterial what Isaiah might have thought.
THE NECESSITY FOR THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Observe the word Immanuel. It means God with us; and right here is the citadel and fortress of the Christian faith. God entered the ranks of humanity, became a man in the person of his son Jesus Christ, and paid the penalty for human sin, laying upon himself in the person of his Son the iniquity of us all. f All of the nonsense one encounters in such studies as "Comparative Religions" runs completely out of "comparisons" in this very event. In all of the ethnic cults, it is man who always pays. The most valiant young man goes out to fight the dragon, or it is the fairest daughter in the tribe that becomes the sacrifice. It is some Prometheus who is forever chained to the rocks where the vultures eat out his liver; but in the Christian religion, God Himself pays the penalty of redemption.
But consider what this entails. God will become a man? How? Would God kill a man and take his body? All of the unbelievers on earth have never come up with a better suggestion as to how God could become a human being than the plan prophesied and executed in the Holy Bible. Human procreation always produces a new person; but Christ was not a new person! He was present even in Creation (John 1:1ff). Here in this word Immanuel we have the prophecy of what took place when Christ was born, the same prophecy repeated by Zacharias at a time much closer to the event itself, namely, The Dayspring from on High shall visit us (Luke 1:78)!
Verses 18, 19
And it shall come to pass in that day, that Jehovah will hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the clefts of the rocks, and upon all thorn-hedges, and upon all pastures.
This is a prophecy of the evil that shall befall Judah at the hands of foreign invaders; and like the prophecy of Immanuel a moment earlier, this is not designed to encourage Ahaz at all; but it is a revelation of what is certain to follow his rejection of the counsel of God. The two metaphors of the flies and the bees stand for "swarms of looting soldiers"F12 lurking everywhere and ravaging the land.
In that day will the Lord shave with a razor that is hired in the parts beyond the River, [even] with the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet; and it shall also consume the beard.
The Lord will shave
This does not mean that God will shave himself, but that he will shave the land of his rebellious people. Shaving the hair of the feet, the head, and the beard simply means that nothing will be left. Judah is to be completely stripped.F13
Verses 21, 22
And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall keep alive a young cow, and two sheep; and it shall come to pass, that because of the abundance of milk which they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the midst of the land.
The scene pictured here is one of utter desolation. There are no agricultural products except a cow and two sheep; and these have been kept through hiding and deception. The milk from those animals and the product of wild honey bees is all the food there is. "These verses mean that there will be curds and wild honey and nothing else."F14
And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, shall be for briers and thorns. With arrows and with bow shall one come thither, because all the land shall be briers and thorns. And all the hills that were digged with the mattock, thou shalt not come thither for fear of briers and thorns; but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of sheep.
These verses sum up the approaching desolation of Judah, all of the verses from Isa. 7:18-25 constituting actually but a single paragraph devoted to the prophecy of Judah's ruin by Assyria. Assyria did indeed ruin the land, destroying all the cities except Jerusalem, and attempting to take it. Only a special providence of God saved it.
Footnotes for Isaiah 7
1: G. Rawlinson, Pulpit Commentary, p. 126.
2: Derek Kidner, The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 595.
3: Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 302.
4: G. Rawlinson, op. cit., p. 126.
5: Derek Kidner, op. cit., p. 596.
6: G. Rawlinson, op. cit., p. 126.
7: Arthur S. Peake, A Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 442.
8: Homer Hailey, A Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p. 84.
9: Sir Launcelot, C. L. Brenton, The Septuagint (LXX) Version: Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), p. 842.
10: J.R. Dummelow, J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 418
12: Derek Kidner. The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 596.
13: G. Rawlinson, The Pulpit Commentary, p. 128.
14: J. R. Dummelow, J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 419.