When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he learned that his fiancé Mary was "with child through the Holy Spirit" and would give birth to a son named "Immanuel" (Matt 1:18,23). "Immanuel" is a Hebrew word meaning "God with us" and expresses the wonder of the incarnation, that God "became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14). In the Old Testament God's presence with his people Israel was particularly evident in the tabernacle (Exod 25:8), but the glory that filled the tabernacle was surpassed by the personal presence of God the Son as he revealed the Father during his ministry on earth. Christ's glory was revealed through the miracles he performed (John 2:11).
The birth of Immanuel to the virgin Mary fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, the sign given to Ahaz about seven hundred years earlier. At that time the wicked Ahaz ignored Isaiah's advice and appealed to the king of Assyria for help in a political crisis. Both the context of Isaiah 7 and the use of "Immanuel" two more times in chapter 8 (vv. 8, 10) raise the distinct possibility that the sign had a near fulfillment that affected Ahaz directly. Such a possibility is supported by the two verses immediately after 7:14 that tell us that the boy will still be young when Ahaz's enemiesthe kings of Samaria and Damascuswill lose their power (a prediction fulfilled in 732 b.c.). The birth of a boy who would serve as a sign to Ahaz appears to be closely linked to the birth of Isaiah's son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz in 8:1-4. Both Immanuel in 7:15-16 and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz in 8:4 are young children when Damascus and Samaria collapse. And in 8:8 the two boys may be identified as Isaiah addresses Immanuel as if he were already present in Jerusalem. Verse 10 contains another occurrence of "Immanuel" in the words "God is with us." The prophet was challenging Ahaz to trust God, who was "with" his people just as he had promised to be with them constantly. In Numbers 14:9 Joshua and Caleb had urged the Israelites to acknowledge that the Lord was with them and to begin the conquest of Canaan, but just like Ahaz the people chose the path of unbelief with its tragic consequences. An earlier king of Judah, Abijah, believed that God was with his people as they faced the numerically superior army of Jeroboam. Abijah's faith was honored as the Lord gave him a resounding victory (2 Chron 13:12-15).
If "Immanuel" was another name for Isaiah's son, the use of "virgin" for Isaiah's wife refers to the time when she was his fiancé. The sign of Isaiah 7:14 constitutes a blessing on an upcoming marriage, predicting that a virgin who was engaged to be married would be able to have a child early in the marriage. Unlike Mary she was not a virgin after she became pregnant. It is likely that Isaiah's marriage to a prophetess is in fact briefly described in 8:1-3. Matthew's use of this verse was extraordinarily appropriate in light of Mary's unique virginity and the incarnation of Jesus, who was God in the flesh. Matthew ends his Gospel with Jesus' own assurance to his disciples that he was Immanuel: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (28:20).
Herbert M. Wolf
See also Virgin Birth
Bibliography. J. Lindblom, A Study of the Immanuel Section in Isaiah; J. Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39; H. M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.