December 19, 2010
Isaiah 7:10-16

Christians have laid claim to this passage as one of the many Old Testament passages—along with Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2 and others—that seemed to point hundreds of years beyond the time they actually were written to foreshadow the appearance of Jesus Christ. In this instance, the idea that a “virgin will conceive and bear a child” as recorded in Isaiah 7:14 is seen as being fulfilled with the birth of Jesus as described in Matthew 1:18-23.

The Virgin Birth Is a Sign of God’s Power
There are many theological points to be scored by immediately focusing on the virgin birth of Jesus. Being born outside the cycle of natural birth enabled Jesus to be untouched by the problem of human sin. Thus as a sinless Person, Jesus could be the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

Just as important is the demonstration of God’s power that is revealed through the virgin birth. The same God who created the entire universe from nothing (ex nihilo) has done that same thing again by creating a child without the presence of a human father to provide the seed. There is little wonder that most Christians settle on this use of Isaiah 7:10-16 as envisioning the circumstances of the birth of Jesus.

The Virgin Birth Is a Sign of God’s Care
However, much also can be gained if we read this passage in its original eighth century B.C. context. In doing so, we learn Isaiah was offering a word of comfort for the tiny nation of Judah. God was going to give a sign to the people, and a virgin would bear a child. However, the full meaning of the sign was not centered solely on the birth of that child. The sign also had to do with the timing for what God was going to do for His people despite the massive military alliance arrayed against them. Assyria and the northern kingdom of Israel were united in their intent to destroy the nation of Judah or bringing it under the total authority of the Assyrian King Tiglath- pileser.

King Ahaz of Judah was so concerned about the imminent destruction facing his country that rather than turning in prayer to God and seeking God’s aid and assurance, he began consulting with idols and other foreign gods. An imminent threat was approaching, and no one in Judah from the king in the palace to the people on the streets saw much hope of survival. The people complained against the king, and the king was worrying or wearying God about this situation.

It was under these circumstances that the Lord gave them a sign. The promise that a child would be born was a promise about the certainty of Judah’s future. The idea of being born of a virgin was a sign of God’s power. The assurance that the two nations about whom Judah seemed to be so concerned would be destroyed before that child reached the age of knowing right from wrong was a sign of God’s continuing presence.

The name of the child was to be Immanuel (God with us). That was more than a name; that was the promise of God and the hope of Judah: God with us. That is the other angle from which we Christians can consider Isaiah 7:10-16: God is with us. God was with Judah when the people faced the Assyrians, and God is with the church today in the face of all our national and global calamities. As did Ahaz, we might be inclined to put our faith and federal budget into weapons and espionage and military alliances. In the face of this, let every preacher say, “Fear not; God is with us.”

Advent is when Christians look back on the coming of Jesus as the fulfillment of more than 700 years of messianic expectation. However, Advent is also when we look ahead to Christ’s second coming. Until that day comes, let us never forget Immanuel: God is with us. The final words of Jesus involved the promise that is wrapped in His name: “I will be with you always.” With faith in that promise, we also can face the uncertainties of the future. The sign is Immanuel!

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