THE BOOK OF THE PSALMS TEACHES MAN TRUE WORSHIP

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The Book of Psalms is an inspired collection of Hebrew poems intended for use in worship. Inspired compilers put them in their present order for several reasons, including authorship and affinity of ideas. The compilers did not organize them in the order in which the psalmists (hagiographers) wrote them. Each psalm is the expression of an inspired writer who responded to God in the light of his circumstances when he wrote. Consequently, there is no argument or logical progression of thought as the reader makes his or her way through the book. There are connecting or contrasting ideas, and words and phrases that sometimes link two or more psalms together, however.

The subject of the Book of Psalms is WORSHIP. Worship is the act of offering to God what is due to Him because of who He is. The Hebrew word translated “worship” (shachah) means to bow oneself down, or to do obeisance. The psalmists used it to describe prostration before God, or some angel, or another human being. It pictures an attitude of submission to a superior person. This word occurs only 15 times in Psalms with God as the object, but the idea of worshipping God is present in every psalm.

In Psalms, the object of worship is God. Its practitioners are people. Its center is Jerusalem: the place of God’s manifest presence. Its primary method is song. The psalmists referred to God as Yahweh, Elohim, or Adonai primarily, though many other titles appear in the book. Those worshipping Him are individuals, kings, nations, and all the earth. His temple (Israel’s central sanctuary) and His holy hill (Mt. Zion) were the central places of worship. Fear, awe, and joy are the primary attitudes prominent in this worship.

God’s people throughout history have loved the Psalter (The Book of Psalms). There are several reasons for its popularity. First, it is a collection of songs that arise out of experiences with which we can all identify. It is very difficult to find any circumstance in life that does not find expression in some psalm or another. Some arose out of prosperity, others out of adversity. Some psalms deal with holiness, and others with sinfulness. Some are laments that bewail the worst of situations, whereas others are triumphant hymns of joy and thanksgiving. Some look back to the past while others look forward to the future.

The psalms are great because their writers composed them out of their most profound experiences. Great poetry arises out of great living. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). They are also great because the writers brought these profound experiences into God’s presence. They show how people behave when they are conscious of God—the only truly realistic way to live. Therefore, the permanent value of the psalms lies in their revelation of worship.

There are three great revelations regarding worship in the Book of Psalms: the object of worship, the attitudes of worship, and the activities of worship.

First, the Psalter reveals the person of God, who is the object of worship. The primary revelation of God’s character in the psalms is His names. The writers employed dozens of titles and figures of speech to describe God, but the three names of God that they used most are Yahweh, Elohim, and Adonai. Simply from understanding these names, we will want to worship God.

 The name “Yahweh” captures the essential being of God. He is who He is (Exod. 3:14). This name occurs more often than any other in the psalms. Essentially it means that God is the eternally self-existent Person who becomes all that His people need. God’s being is never the subject of debate in the psalms; the writers assumed His existence. As Yahweh, God is always an adequate resource for whatever His people need, whenever they have needs. That is because the Name Yahweh describes God in covenant relationship with His people. Translators normally render it LORD in English translations. Psalm 139 is perhaps the greatest exposition of the essential being of God, and Psalm 23 the chief revelation of His becoming all that His people need.

The second great name of God in the Psalter is “Elohim.” Normally this Hebrew word translates as “God” in our English Bibles. It is a plural word in the Hebrew, which does not necessarily signify plurality of number but immensity. God, as He reveals Himself, is so infinite that no singular word can express Him adequately. “Elohim” suggests God’s essential might and the fact that He is extremely powerful. God’s strength is not just potential, but kinetic (i.e., in motion). It is latent, but also active. Such power elicited the awe of the psalmists. Psalm 68 is perhaps the greatest revelation of God’s essential might in the Psalter, and Psalm 46 sets forth His great power at work most impressively.

The title “Adonai” (Lord in the sense of Master) does not occur frequently in the psalms, but the idea it expresses is constantly present. This title expresses the sovereignty of God, the fact that there is no one higher in authority than He. He is the King over the whole universe and the ultimate ruler over Israel. Perhaps Psalm 86 sets forth the sovereignty of God more magnificently than any other psalm. Whenever a person, king, nation, or race conceives of God as Yahweh, Elohim, or Adonai, the result is worship. We can do nothing else but prostrate ourselves before such a One. That is what the writers of these psalms did as they reflected on their experiences in the light of who God is.

The second great revelation of the Psalter is people’s attitudes in worship. Briefly, we see people responding to the revelation of God joyfully, trustfully, and submissively (but occasionally angrily, disappointedly, or quizzically). When we understand that God Himself is an adequate resource for us, regardless of our needs, we should worship by rejoicing. When we appreciate God’s mighty power, we should worship Him by trusting Him. When we learn that God is sovereign, we should respond in worship by submitting to Him. When we appreciate God’s grace in providing all we need, we should rejoice.

In the psalms, we see joy manifesting itself in love and gratitude. Love and gratitude manifest joy in the following way. We have God’s promises of forgiveness if we confess when we sin. Forgiveness for sin is one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind. It is not something that we can earn or deserve. It is a gift of God based ultimately on a work that God has done for us through His Son. The penitential root attitude blossoms into adoration for God’s grace. The sweetest music comes out of hearts broken by sin, hearts aware of their total bankruptcy before God. The most glorious praises spring from the lips of those who most sense the great gifts God has given to them. This is the reason some of the most radiant Christians are those who suffer the most.

Trust in God’s almighty power expresses itself in honesty and courage in the psalms. Fear is the internal response to power, and courage should be its external manifestation. The person who really fears God’s power will be open and honest because he or she believes God will exercise His power to defend him. He will be willing to take risks because he is relying on God’s supernatural power to sustain and uphold him. The psalmists expressed themselves, and behaved honestly before God and people, because they believed in His sovereignty. They also faced danger courageously because they believed God could and would provide adequate help for them.

Submission to the sovereignty of God expresses itself in reverence and obedience in the psalms. Reverence is the external evidence of submission to God, and obedience is the core proof of it. The person who really believes that God is the ultimate authority will respect Him. He or she will also yield to God’s superior authority submissively. We see the psalmists expressing their reverence for God and bowing humbly to His will throughout the Psalter. Their commitment to trust often followed their frustration.

The third major revelation concerning worship in the psalms is the activities of worship. As we have observed, one’s conception of God leads to worship, and one’s attitudes shape worship. One’s activities also demonstrate worship.

The psalms reveal that worship grows out of something God has done for man. Man does not worship because there is something intrinsic within him that must come out. Worship is always a response to something that God has done. God elicits worship. Man does not initiate it on his own. Throughout the psalms, the psalmists responded to God’s dealings with them. God is always the initiator and man the responder. This fact helps us see that God is worthy of worship.

Human response in worship involves opening the soul to God. David’s confession in Psalm 32 is a good example of this (cf. 51). He rejoiced in his open relationship with God, especially when he acknowledged his sin. He also received God’s gift of pardon. Then he offered praise to God. These are the essential human activities of worship: confession, praise, and thanksgiving.

After God initiates worship, and man responds by worshipping, God becomes to the worshipper all that he or she needs. God is true and faithful in His dealings with worshippers. He becomes for us everything we need when we worship Him. Thus, the activities of worship begin and end with God. They begin with His initiating situations in life. They end with His drawing us to Himself. In between we bare our souls, receive His gifts, and offer our praise.

The message of the Psalter then is, “Worship God!” Turn every situation into an occasion for worship. If we are sad, we should worship. If we are glad, we should worship. If we are in the dark, we should worship. If we are in the light, we should worship. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way in Philippians 4:4 and 7: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice… And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The Book of Psalms closes with this word of exhortation: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord” (Ps. 150:6).

VU
June 1, 2019

Messiah in Isaiah 7:14

Mesiah in isaiahpics

Introduction

Many ink has been spilled on this single verse. The one important question that occupies studies in this single verse over the centuries has been the messianic character of the text. Is Isaiah 7:14 Messianic? William Most argues thus:

Catholic scholars at one time used to defend the messianic nature of that text.  Then they shifted to divided positions:  some said the child spoken of was the King Hezekiah, the son of King Ahaz, to whom Isaiah spoke.  Others would say it is Christ.  A third position is quite possible if we hold that there can be multiple fulfillment of prophecies. The text could refer to both Hezekiah and Christ.

This is the simple way to summarize and categorize the trends of thought over the centuries on this particular text. It becomes particularly interesting when Matt 1:22–23 refers to this text in the context of the angel´s annunciation to Joseph of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” A text which has been used by the Church over the centuries to defend her teaching on the virginal conception. Given this context therefore, it becomes particularly crystal clear that to defend the messianic character of Isa7:14 tantamount to defending the virginal conception of the Messiah. Scholars who disagree with the messianic character of this text argue on the wrong interpretation of the Hebrew “Almah” meaning “Young woman” as “Parthenos” meaning “virgin” by the Septuagint (LXX). Some others argue from the point of view of the “sign.”

However, when all the terminological problematics are resolved and the historical and literary context of the text is correctly understood, it becomes clear that the text is Messianic. In such a venture according to Montague, the exegete (biblical scholar) therefore, will need the companionship of faith to understand it as such:

In this sense only the interpreter inspired by faith can interpret scripture as the word of God. A theologian without faith is a misnomer; he or she may be a social scientist or a student of world religions, but he is not a theologian. Faith of itself, of course, does not assure competence in the exegetical tools required to come up with plausible insights[1].

In this regard Karl Barth and Benedict XVI agree that there are two moments in the story of Jesus when God intervenes directly in the material world: the virgin birth and the resurrection from the tomb, in which Jesus did not remain, nor see corruption. In these two moments – the virgin birth and the real resurrection from the tomb –  are found the cornerstones of faith. If God does not have power over matter, then he simply is not God. But he does have this power, and through the conception and the resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation. So as the Creator he is also our Redeemer. Hence the conception and the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary is a fundamental element of our faith and a radiant sign of hope.[2]

Any scholar who shares this faith is wont to see in Isa7:14 a prophecy that was fulfilled in the virgin Birth of Jesus according to Matt and those who don’t share this faith no matter the abundance of materials available will not see this prophecy as messianic.

This work shall attempt to assess the available materials and data, from the texts itself in its historical and literary context. Examine the thoughts of early Church Fathers, the magisterium, theologians in order to reinforce the messianic character of this text. Given the wide range of materials on this study, it is virtually an impossible task to claim to exhaustively examine previous thoughts on the work. But the work shall examine the most relevant.

The Textual consideration of Isaiah 7:14

 

Hebrew Text (MT) LXX
לָ֠כֵן יִתֵּ֙ן אֲדֹנָ֥י ה֛וּא לָכֶ֖ם א֑וֹת הִנֵּ֣ה הָעַלְמָ֗ה הָרָה֙ וְיֹלֶ֣דֶת בֵּ֔ן וְקָרָ֥את שְׁמ֖וֹ עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל׃

 

διὰ τοῦτο δώσει κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῖν σημεῖον ἰδοὺ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ
Vulgate (Vg) Spanish (Biblia Navarra)
propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium et vocabitis nomen eius Emmanuhel

 

Pues bien, el propio Señor os da un signo. Mirad, la virgen está encinta y dará a luz un hijo, a quien pondrán por nombre Enmanuel.
English KJV English NJB[3]
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel The Lord will give you a sign in any case: It is this: the young woman is with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.

 

Terminological Analysis

הָעַלְמָ֗ה παρθένος

As seen in the table above, The Greek of the crucial verse in Isa7:14 reads thus: διὰ τοῦτο δώσει κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῖν σημεῖον ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ, “for this reason the Lord Himself will give you (Plur. [ =house of David] a sign. Look, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and you (sing) shall call him Immanuel.” Here, three changes from the MT are noteworthy: a) future indicatives (ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει), “shall be with child,” and τέξεται, “shall bear”) replace the present participles of the MT (הרה and ילדת), which thus give a more remote meaning to the sign; b) הָעַלְמָ֗ה, “young girl,” of the MT is given a more specific meaning, ἡ παρθένος, “virgin”;[4] and c) the ambiguous וְקָרָ֥את, which is vocalized in the MT as וְקָרָ֥את, i.e., fem. 3rd person sing., “and she shall call,” can also be read as in Judg 12:1, i.e., masc. 2nd person sing. After making these valuable observations, Fitzmyer, couldn´t draw a good conclusions from these changes but remarked: “In any case, none of these difference changes the meaning of the sign into a more pronounced “messianic” connotation.”[5] He however goes on to underline that “the most important difference is ἡ παρθένος, which affects the woman, whereas the value of the sign is found in the birth and name of the child.”[6] However, given the context of his argument in the entire book “the One who is to come” whereby he tries to diminish the existence of any explicit announcement of the coming messiah before the first two centuries before Christ, then one could understand why even with the evidence clearly before him, he refuses to acknowledge any explicit messianic context of the text. He will certainly say the same regarding Isa9:5-6 “Again, they could refer to an ideal future Davidic king, but he is not called Christos, “Messiah,” though these verses contribute to the proper understanding of the eschatological role of God´s messenger, they say nothing about the messianic figure.”[7]

We must now closely examine both the Hebrew עַלְמָ֗ה and the Septuagint translation, (LXX) παρθένος, given that most of the debates on this text center on these terms. The Hebrew עַלְמָ֗ה does not necessarily mean a virgin.  It means a young girl of marriageable age, who is presumed to be a virgin.

The OT uses the word עַלְמָ֗ה only seven times:  Gen 24:43; Ex 2:8; Prov 30:19; Ps 68:26; Songs 1:3 and 6:8, plus, of course Isa7:14.  Out of these only Genesis 24:43 and Isa7:14 seemed clear enough to the LXX translators that they rendered it by παρθένος which, of course, definitely means virgin. In Gen 24:43 Isaac is on his way to find a bride for himself.  He then proposes to God that he will stand by the well of water, and asks that the עַלְמָ֗ה who comes out to draw water, and who offers water for both him and his camels may be the one he should take as a bride.  Exodus 2:8 tells how the daughter of Pharaoh told the sister of the infant Moses to get a Hebrew woman to nurse him.  We would think likely that the sister was a virgin, since she seems to be still living with her mother.  But the LXX was being quite careful:  it used the broader word “νεάνις” (neanis), young woman.  Proverbs 30:19 says the author cannot understand a few things.  One of them is “the way of a man with an עַלְמָ֗ה It seems to mean his desire for intercourse.  That of course could be true even if she were not a virgin.  Yet a young man in general would want a virgin. Even so, the LXX did not render such as παρθένος in fact, it changed the sense, rendering “en neoteti” _ the writer of Proverbs does not understand the way of a man “in his youth.” Psalm 68:26 speaks of the “alamoth” playing with timbrels in a victory procession, we would say most likely, at least, they are virgins.  But the LXX stayed with the more generic νεάνις again.  Songs 1:3 is not very clear:  “Therefore do the “alamoth” love you.”  O. Kaiser thinks that in Songs 6:8 “virginity . . . is certainly ruled out.”  One may not agree, for the verse says:  “There are 60 queens, 80 concubines, and “alamoth” without number.”  Now if a girl is neither a queen, nor a concubine, it seems likely she is still a virgin.  But the LXX again stayed with νεάνις

Thus, it is gathered that the LXX was extremely careful about translating עַלְמָ֗ה as παρθένος, virgin.  It did it only twice.  One of those two times is in Isa7:14. Hence it seems that the LXX was quite convinced that it really did mean a virgin in Isa7:14

Historical Context

Clearly this text is a pre-exilic prophecy. “The lively scenes in Isa7ff take place in the time of the Syro-Ephraimite War, around 733 B.C., in which attempt was made to force Judah to join the anti-Assyrian coalition.”[8] The Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III had quashed the beginnings of an uprising by the Syro-Palestinian states by means of a surprise campaign. King Rezin of Damascus/Syria and King Pekah of Israel then formed a coalition against the great Assyrian power. Since they could not persuade King Ahaz of Judah to enter their alliance, they decided to take to the field against the Jerusalem king, in order to force him into their alliance.[9] In doing this, they intended to overthrow him, depose the house of David, and set up “the son of Tabeel” (Isa 7:6) in place of the former Davidic line. All this is in retaliation for Judah´s refusal to join their alliance against the Assyrian menace.[10] Ahaz and his people were afraid in the face of the enemy alliance. However, Ahaz, evidently a clever and calculating politician maintained his stand. He will not enter into an anti-Assyrian alliance because for him, that had no chance of success given the superior power of Assyria at the moment. Instead of joining such an alliance, he concluded a protection treaty with Assyria. For him, this was the wisest course of action in the present circumstance: it will guarantee him security and saved him from destruction. This however, will not come without a price: the worship of the national gods of Assyria.

In the midst of this national crisis, God directs Isaiah to go with his son Shear-Jashub (meaning “a remnant will return”), to meet the Judean King Ahaz as the king inspects the water reserves to determine how long he can last in what certainly will be a siege of Jerusalem. God´s words to Ahaz is, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Is7:9b). Furthermore, the prophet invites Ahaz to ask God for a “sign”[11] i.e., a “miracle”, either from heaven or earth (v.11). But Ahaz, depending more on his alleged savvy as an international politician, protests that such a request will “put [God] to the test” and tempt him (v.12) – a deed he claims the Bible forbids him to exercise (presumably Dt 6:6). Probably Ahaz has already sent off messengers to the king of Assyria with tribute and a request to put pressure on the two kings allied against him.

In spite of that reluctance, Isaiah proceeds with the sign the Lord himself has given, which indicates that the Lord will deliver Ahaz in spite of the fact that the present house of David does not merit any consideration, much less a divine prophecy or a miracle

Literary Context

Isa7:14 is one of the authentic Isaian sayings according to the testimony of biblical studies.[12] It is located within the context of the so-called book of Emmanuel found in Isa7-12. It is in the Proto-Isaiah, and the prophecy is addressed to Ahaz.

The Prelude to the prophecy is Isaiah 7:1-10

Judah is faced with invasion by its northern neighbours, the Kingdom of Israel (also called Ephraim) and Aram-Damascus (Syria), but God instructs the prophet Isaiah to tell king Ahaz that God will destroy Judah’s enemies (Isaiah 7:1-10):

When Ahaz … was king of Judah, Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah … king of Israel, marched on Jerusalem, they were unable to prevail against it. When the House of David was told that Syria had allied itself with Ephraim, their hearts and the hearts of their people trembled … But the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shearjashub your son, … and say to him, ‘Be firm and keep calm, …

The prophecy is properly in Isaiah 7:11-16

Isaiah delivers God’s message to Ahaz and tells him to ask for a sign to confirm that this is a true prophecy (v7:11). Ahaz refuses, saying he will not test God (7:12). Isaiah replies that Ahaz will have a sign whether he asks for it or not, and the sign will be the birth of a child, and the child’s mother will call it Immanuel, meaning “God-with-us” (7:13-14); by the time the infant “learns to reject the bad and choose the good” (i.e., is old enough to know right from wrong) he will be eating curds and honey, and Ephraim and Syria will be destroyed (7:15-16):

Aftermath of the Prophecy is Isaiah 7:17-25

Isaiah 7:17 follows, with a further prophecy that at some unspecified future date God will call up Assyria against Judah: “The Lord will cause to come upon you and your people and your ancestral house such days as have not been seen since Ephraim broke away from Judah – the king of Assyria” (v7:17). Vv18-25 describe the devastation that will result: “In that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines … will be turned over to thorns and briars” (v 23). The “curds and honey” reappear, but this time the image is no longer associated with Immanuel: “In that day a man will save alive a young cow and two sheep, and there will be such an abundance of milk, he will eat curds and honey” (v21-22).

It is therefore clear without dispute that the text has all the characteristics of the literary genre of prophecy.

Messianic Character of the text

Matthew’s Interpretation

It must be noted first and foremost that the use of this text in the NT by Matt confirms its Messianic character.

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which means, “GOD WITH US” (Matt 1:22– 23).

Matt’s application of the prophecy to Mary and Jesus and his use of the fulfillment formula leave little doubt how he interprets Isaiah’s words. Mary is the virgin prophesied by Isaiah, and Jesus is the child. In addition, Matt clearly understands virgin in the technical sense. He follows the LXX in using the unambiguous Greek expression for virgin (παρθένος). He carefully identifies the Holy Spirit as the source of Mary’s conception (1:18–20).

Rabbinic Literature

In his 1996’s “The problem of Isaiah 7:14” William Most invoked the witnesses of Rabbinic Literature especially in the Targums to sustain a sound theological argument for the Messianic character of Isaiah 7,14.[13] His arguments are summarized thus:

1.) According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a), Hillel, the great teacher of the time of Christ, said

“There will be no Messiah for Israel, because they already had him in the days of Hezekiah.”[14]

Also, Johanan B. Zakkai, according to Talmus, Berakoth 28b, said:

“Prepare a throne for Hezekiah, king of Judah, who is coming.”

A fine Jewish scholar, Samson Levey[15] comments:

“Johanan’s statement is especially significant, for it was he who salvaged what little he could in 70 C.E.” 

That was after the destruction of the Temple, a traumatic event for all Jews.  Levey also observes, in his comment on the Targum Jonathan to Isa9:5, that the use of tenses in the targum as compared with the Hebrew makes us suspect that the writer of the targum had Hezekiah in mind as the Messiah which incidentally is an indication of a rather early date for the targum, since the view that Hezekiah had been the Messiah was dropped later on.  The Jews later dropped the idea that Hezekiah was the Messiah:  the Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a cites Rabbi Joseph as pointing out it could not be Hezekiah, since Zechariah 9:9, which dates after the time of Hezekiah, still foretold a Messiah as to come in the future.

Jacob Neusner, an eminent Jewish scholar in his “Messiah in Context”, made the remarkable admission that since Christians began to say that the Messiah had already come, and the Jews had no Messiah to look forward to, Jews began to say that Hezekiah had not been the Messiah:  “It was important to reject the claim that Hezekiah had been the Messiah.”

The implication is of great importance:  The Jews at one time, as we saw from the words of the great Hillel, had considered Hezekiah as the Messiah, which meant that they did see Isa7:14 as messianic but later, to keep Christians from claiming that prophecy, began to deny it was messianic, saying it did not mean Hezekiah.  Christians, of course would agree Hezekiah was not the Messiah, but would still insist that Isa7:14 was messianic. This is a valid, sound and logical argument.

2) The Targum Jonathan states that Isa9:5-6 is messianic, scholars commonly agree that the child in 9:5-6 is the same as the child in 7:14. Therefore, Isa7:14 must be messianic too, and the early Jewish view that it was messianic, as we saw in Hillel, must be correct.[16]

Church´s use and tradition: Patristics and Magisterium

The Fathers understood this prophecy as the key text pointing to Christ as the Messiah. However, they encountered much opposition from the Jews who disagreed with the early Christians interpretation of the word “almah” as “virgin.” In their denial of Jesus as the Messiah, the Jews argued that almah meant nothing other than “young woman” and thus was not proof of Jesus’ birth from Mary as a virgin. Matt pointed out clearly that Christ’s birth is a direct fulfillment of Is7:14. The Church Fathers put all their effort in defense of the Messianic character of this text. St Justin, the Martyr, St. Augustine, St. Maximus of Turin, Proclus of Constantinople, St. Jerome, St. Basil, St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. John Chrysostom are among the Church Fathers whose contributions were indeed significant in the growing understanding of the text. The contributions revolved around the concept of “the sign” and “virgin.” For want of space few of their arguments will be highlighted.

St. Justin Martyr explains why the virgin birth was foretold by Isaiah:

He said, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they will call his name, God with us.” Through the prophetic spirit God announced beforehand that things which are unimaginable and believed to be impossible for human beings would take place, in order that when it occurred it would be believed and received by faith because it had been promised. In order to ensure that someone does not accuse us of saying the same things as the poets, who say that Zeus came to women for sexual pleasure, we will explain the words of this prophecy clearly. The phrase “behold, the virgin shall conceive” means that the virgin would conceive without intercourse. If she had in fact had intercourse with someone, she would not have been a virgin. God’s power came on the virgin, overshadowed her and caused her to conceive while she remained a virgin.

St. Augustine also reminds us that the person being born was God Himself! And that with God all things are possible.

St. Maximus of Turin, in a beautiful Christmas sermon using Isa7:14, expresses the fittingness of the mystery of Mary’s virginity before, during, and after the birth of Christ:

Christ, the salvation of all things, then, is born—He who the prophets testified is the king of the nations. He is born of a virgin, as Isaiah declares …. The manner of His birth proves the truth about the Lord: a virgin conceived without knowing a man…

Next, we will listen to the wisdom of St. Jerome:

Isaiah tells of the mystery of our faith and hope: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” I know that the Jews are accustomed to meet us with the objection that in Hebrew the word almah does not mean a virgin but a “young woman.” And to speak truth, a virgin is properly called bethulah, but a young woman, or a girl, is not almah but naarah! What then is the meaning of almah? A hidden virgin, that is, not merely virgin, but a virgin and something more, because not every virgin is hidden, shut off from the occasional sight of men.

Notice how easily and masterfully he refutes the Jews! They probably felt sorry for ever allowing Jerome to study Hebrew from them. For he didn’t let any of the Jews put forth purposeful mistranslations in hopes of discrediting Christianity. St. Jerome learned the language for this very reason; to truly know and master every aspect of Scripture!

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 387) goes on to tell us what constitutes a sign and that the sign of Isaiah cannot possibly refer to Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, as the Jews claimed:

Now then, a sign has to be something extraordinary. For the water from the rock was a sign, and the parting of the sea, and the turning back of the sun, and things of that sort. But what I am about to say has greater argumentative force against the Jews: … the prophecy happened within the sixteen years (of Ahaz’s reign), Hezekiah was born at least nine years earlier. What need was there to make a prophecy about someone who had already been born before his father became king? Indeed, he does not say: “she conceived,” but: “the virgin shall conceive,” in the style of a prediction.

St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom have exactly the same view thus:

A young woman giving birth is no sign at all! But a virgin giving birth surely is, since a sign has to be something out of the ordinary and beyond the laws of nature, something that makes an impression on those who see it and hear of it. That is why it is called a sign, because it stands out.

It is possible to see a multiple fulfillment pattern in 7:14, namely, the prophecy would refer to both Hezekiah and to Christ?  St. Augustine already in his De civitate Dei 17:3 recognized that some OT prophecies refer only to OT persons or events, some to Christ and His Church, and some to both.  He would notice this to be the case by finding the prophecy would fit partly the one, partly the other.  Inasmuch as some things in Is7:14 seem to fit Hezekiah better, some to fit Christ better, this may well be the case here.

Vatican II, in Lumen gentium n. 55, used a similar principle:  “These primeval documents, as they are read in the Church, and are understood under the light of later and full revelation, gradually more clearly bring to light the figure of the woman, the Mother of the Redeemer.  She, under this light, is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise, given to our first parents after their sin, of victory over the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15).  Similarly, she is the Virgin who will conceive and bear a Son whose name will be called Emmanuel (cf. Is 7:14; Mic 5:2-3; Mt 1:22-23).”[17]

Behind this principle of course is the fact that the Principal Author of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit, of course could intend more than the human author might see at the time of writing. So, one gathers two things from this text of Vatican II: (1) The complete sense of Isa7:14 was not clear at the start, probably not even to the human author; (2) it has become clear now, with the passage of time, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  So, one sees that as a matter of fact, the Holy Spirit did intend the messianic sense. So at least in this sense, Vatican II does teach that Mary is the virgin of Isa7:14.

To understand the messianic import of Isa7:14, Pope John Paul II, employs other texts namely Isa9:5-6; Mic5:2-3 and 2Sam7:13-14. In his General Audience of January 3, 1996, speaking on “Isaiah´s Prophecy Fulfilled in Incarnation”, the Holy Father keys into the Church´s traditional interpretation. In its original context, the prophecy was the divine reply to a lack of faith on the part of King Ahaz, who, threatened with an invasion from the armies of the neighbouring kings sought his own salvation and that of his kingdom in Assyria’s protection. In advising him to put his trust solely in God and to reject the dreadful Assyrian intervention, the prophet Isaiah invites him on the Lord’s behalf to make an act of faith in God’s power. The Pope, also reiterated the fact that the prophecy must be understood in the context of God´s promise to David in 2Sam. Here the prophet Nathan promises the king God’s favour towards his descendent: “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (2Sam 7:13-14). While Isa9:5 enumerates the qualities of the messianic child, Mic5:2-3 names the birthplace of the Messianic child.

 

Contemporary Exegesis

  1. a) Rudolf Kilian´s Commentary on Isaiah gives four groups of exegetical interpretation of this text:
  2. “Emmanuel” refers to the Messiah.
  3. “God with us” is a son of King Ahaz, perhaps Hezekiah.
  4. “God with us” refers to one of the sons of the prophet Isaiah
  5. Emmanuel is the new Israel and the “almah” (“virgin”) is the “symbolic figure of Zion.

Taking the first type, the danger is that the idea of messiah only reached its fully developed form at the time of the Exile and thereafter. Here at most one could be dealing with an anticipation of this figure: there is nothing contemporary with Isaiah that might correspond to it. The second thesis does not add up. The third does not either. The context of the prophet in no way points towards such a notion indicated in the fourth, and in any event, such a sign could not be historically contemporary. Thus, Kilian concludes: “As a result of this overview it turns out that no single attempt at interpretation is entirely convincing. The mother and child remain a mystery, at least, but probably also to the contemporary audience, perhaps even to the prophet himself.”[18]

  1. b) R. Bruce Compton[19] gives three major approaches thus;
  2. i) Exclusively historical:

A young woman, who may or may not have been a virgin at the time of the prophecy, marries and gives birth to a son. Some identify the woman as Isaiah’s wife and the son as Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Others opt for the woman to be Ahaz’s wife, Abi, and the son to be Hezekiah.[20] In either case, the prophecy has no direct or explicit reference to Jesus.

  1. ii) Exclusively messianic.

The woman, a virgin, is Mary, and the son is Jesus. Opinion is divided over the meaning of vv15–16. Some take vv15–16 as describing the experience of Jesus in the first century B.C./A.D.14 Others distinguish the reference to Jesus in v14 from the child mentioned in vv15–16 so that vv15–16 describe the experience of a child in eighth century Judah.[21] Regardless, v14 refers to the birth of Jesus and has no direct bearing on Ahaz’s immediate circumstances.

iii) Double fulfillment.

The initial fulfillment takes place with the birth of a child shortly after the prophecy, while the subsequent fulfillment takes place with the birth of Jesus. Proponents explain the relationship between these fulfillments in one of two ways. Some see the relationship as involving a sensus plenior or fuller meaning where Matt expands the meaning of Isaiah’s words in their original setting to include a reference to Jesus’ conception and birth. Others understand the relationship to involve typology, where Matt takes Isaiah’s words as foreshadowing something beyond their immediate context and applies them to Jesus in a type-antitype relationship.[22]

  1. c) Benedict XVI´s double Question approach:

Benedict XVI´s theological contribution to the concerns of Biblical Exegesis in finding a valid interpretation to Isa7:14 is worth noting. He posed two questions thus:

1)“What is the sign promised to Ahaz in this text?”

Benedict XVI answers that Matt and the entire Christian tradition, sees in it a prophecy of the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary: even though Jesus is not actually named Emmanuel, nevertheless he is Emmanuel, as the entire history of the Gospels seeks to demonstrate. This man – they tell us – in his very person is God´s being-with-men. He is true man and at the same time God, God´s true son. But the question comes again.

2) Is that how Isaiah understood the prophetic sign? On this, Benedict XVI, agrees that it is rightly objected in the first place, that the sign announced to Ahaz was intended for him, there and then, and was meant to stir him to faith in the God of Israel as the true ruler of the world. This means that the sign would need to be sought and identified within the historical context in which it was announced by the prophet.

In this regard, Benedict XVI, rightly observes that exegesis has searched meticulously, using all the resources of historical scholarship, for a contemporary interpretation – and it has failed.[23] This will mean that there is need to approach the text from a faith-view.

Resolving the points of tension 

From the point of view of contemporary exegesis, it could be noticed that there is a tension between the exclusively messianic view of the text and the exclusively historical view of the text. An evaluation of the various interpretations will show that an exclusively messianic view faces two related problems. If the entire Immanuel prophecy refers to Jesus, then how do vv15–16 apply to Jesus, and, more to the point, how does Jesus’ birth in the first century serve as a precursor for the demise of the Syro-Ephraimite coalition in the eighth century?

The answer to the tension is to see the prophecy as a vision and to understand that vv15–16 include an embedded assumption about the birth of this child. Thus, Isaiah prophesies that he sees in a vision a virgin who is about to become pregnant and bear a son. The precise timing of this event is not revealed. Isaiah’s embedded assumption is that were the child born in the immediate future, the child would certainly experience what vv15–16 describe. Furthermore, were the child born at that time, before he reaches the age of discernment, God would intervene and defeat the coalition threatening Ahaz and Judah. Technically, it does not matter when the promised son is actually born. The focal point with this part of the prophecy is the designated period of time between the birth of a child and the age at which the child is capable of moral discernment. In other words, the designated period of time Isaiah mentions is something of a constant and, therefore, does not depend on the fact that the child in view was not born for several centuries. In the context of this prophecy, Isaiah declares what will take place, were the child born in the immediate future. Assuming that were to happen, v16 identifies that aspect of the prophecy that serves to confirm God’s promise to Ahaz in v7. By the time the child reaches that age, the land whose two kings Ahaz feared will be forsaken.

Conclusion

In 734 B.C., Isaiah brings a message of hope to a Judean king and the nation. Both the Davidic king and, consequently, the Davidic line faced imminent death. The message of hope is composed of a single prophecy with two parts, each having its own promise and fulfillment. The first part addresses the threat to the Davidic line. Isaiah announces that a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call him Immanuel. This promise is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus and serves to confirm the preservation of the Davidic line and the fulfillment of the Davidic promises. The second part of the prophecy addresses the threat specifically to Ahaz as the Davidic king. Supposing this son were born in the near future, Isaiah declares that before he would reach the age of discernment, the two nations and their kings threatening Ahaz will be overthrown. This second promise is fulfilled in the demise of these two kings and the subjugation of their lands by the king of Assyria, all within the time period designated by Isaiah. Furthermore, the near fulfillment of this second promise serves to confirm the fulfillment of the first promise and to underscore the inerrancy and authority of God’s word.

The evidences of the Matt´s usage, Rabbinic Literature, the constant use of the Church especially in the Patristics and the problematics of contemporary exegesis all help to reveal the fact that Isa7:14 is Messianic. If not an exclusively Messianic character given the historical contexts and events surely through the principle of double fulfillment.

Benedict XVI draws from the above to assert not only its Messianic character but also its universality:

“So, what are we to say? The passage about the virgin who gives birth to Emmanuel, like the great Suffering Servant song in Is 53, is a word in waiting. There is nothing in its own historical context to correspond to it. So, it remains an open question: it is addressed not merely to Ahaz. Nor is it addressed merely to Israel. It is addressed to humanity. The sign that God himself announces is given not for a specific political situation, but it concerns the whole history of humanity.” [24]

He adds succinctly and with a personal conviction thus:

Indeed, I believe that in our own day, after all the efforts of critical exegesis, we can share anew this sense of astonishment at the fact that a saying from the year 733BC., incomprehensible for so long, came true at the moment of the conception of Jesus Christ – that God did indeed give us a great sign intended for the whole world.[25]

The Vatican II document, Dei Verbum, n.12, called for two methodologies to be used in the exegetical process. The first is historical criticism and the second is a theological process that includes three aspects. First, the unity of the Bible must be kept in mind. Second, the passage being interpreted must be seen in the context of the living tradition of the Church. Third, the analogy of faith must be observed. The living tradition of the whole Church includes: the teaching office of the Church (the magisterium); the teaching of the fathers of the Church; the use of the Scriptures in the liturgy and in prayer; and the testimony of the saints. Analogy of faith means that the biblical interpretation must be in agreement with the doctrine of the Church. In Verbum Domini (nn29-49), Pope Benedict XVI directly addresses the issue of the proper exegesis of Scripture. Despite its inadequacies, the historical critical method remains necessary for exegesis but must also be supplemented with other interpretive aspects that include the tradition of the Church as found in patristic and medieval thought.

Taking all these into consideration, coming from the background of an historico-literary exegesis as well as a hermeneutic of faith, Isa7:14 is evidently messianic. Jesus is the child prophesied, Mary her mother conceived him as virgin. On the cross, it was revealed that the child is indeed the eternal king (cf John19:19); and the leitmotif of 2Sam7 is also preserved. In this way scripture cannot be annulled (cf John10:35) but fulfilled in Christ.

[1] MONTAGUE, T., Understanding the Bible. A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, New York, Paulist Press, 2007 p.125

 [2] Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Infancy Narratives, the Infancy Narratives, trans by Philip Whitmore, New York: Bloomsbury, 2012, pp56-57.

[3] NAB reads thus: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.”

[4] Many scholars and exegetes have pointed out clearly that ἡ παρθένος still remains the preferred reading in the critical editions of the LXX of Isaiah, but ἡ νεάνις, “a young girl,” is read in other Greek versions and in some MSS of the LXX.

[5] Fitzmyer, J., The One who is to Come, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2007.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, quoting J. Lust, “Messianism in the Septuagint: Isaiah 8:23B – 9:6 (9:1-7).” This is rather impoverished understanding of the biblical text in the light of the new revelation in Christ. Unfortunately, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J belongs to the category of scholars who accuse others of reading too much messianic meaning into the Isaiah´s text. However, if one holds on to his argument that these texts (Isa7:1-9; 8:23-9:6 and 11:1-10) which clearly forms the context for Isa7:14, is to be understood only as a reassurance of the continuation of the Davidic monarchy (dynasty) in the light of the Nathan prophecy of 2 Samuel 7, then, he will be found guilty of contradicting himself when for instance Matthew´s gospel establishes the place of Jesus as the Son of David.

[8] Schmidt, W., Old Testament Introduction, trans by O´Connel, M., New York: The Crossroad Publishing company, 2008.

[9] The details are described in 2Kings 16:1.20

[10] Obviously, since it is a historical fact, all biblical texts, present the same data. The choice of the text depends largely on the reader. However, I found a better chronology of events with theological interpretations in Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 2012, pp 46 -49 and also in Kaiser, W., The Messiah in the Old Testament, Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1995, pp. 158 -162. So, I chose to adopt same.

[11] It is important to understand the meaning of “a sign.” A sign might be a predictive word about the future or a miracle, as it is in Ex 4:8-9; 7:8-12; Dt 13:2-5; Judges 6:36 – 40; 2Kgs 20:8-11; Isa 38:7-

[12] Op. cit., Kaiser, W., 1995, p.245

[13] William G. Most holds his Ph.D. in Latin and Greek from the Catholic University of America.  He taught theology and classics at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa for more than forty years. I found in his article “The Problem of Isaiah 7:14” Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN, a very convincing argument from Rabbinical Literature on the messianic character of Isa 7:14 and so adopted it here.

[14] Jacob Neusner, Messiah in Context, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984

[15] Samson Levey, “The Messiah, An Aramaic Interpretation,” Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1974, pp. 142, 144.

[16] Cf. for example, Kaiser, Otto, Isaiah 1-12.  2d ed. tr. J. Bowden, Westminster, Philadelphia, 1983.  John H. Hayes and Stuart A. Irvine, Isaiah:  The Eighth-century Prophet, Abingdon, Nashville, 1987, surprisingly insist that a “messianic interpretation must be ruled out, if we are correct in rendering the verse in the past tense.”  But it is a familiar fact that the perfect in Hebrew, even outside of a prophecy, can stand for future.  Cf. Joüon, Grammaire de l’Hebreu Biblique, 2d ed. Institute Biblique Pontifical, Rome, 1947, #112. These documents are cited in William Most´s work: “The problem of Isaiah 7:14”

[17] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Nov 21, 1964, n. 55

[18] Kilian, R., Jesaja 1-12, 1986, p.62 quoted in Benedict XVI pp49-50

[19] Compton, B., “The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14–16 and Its Use in Matthew 1:23: Harmonizing Historical Context and Single Meaning” in DBSJ 12 (2007): 3–15

[20] 2 Kgs 18:2. John D. W. Watts, Isaiah, 2 vols., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1985, 1987), 1:97–104. See also Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12: A Commentary, trans. Thomas H. Trapp (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), pp. 310–12; Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000), pp. 232–34.

[21] Robert G. Gromacki, The Virgin Birth: Doctrine of Deity (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), pp. 141–44.

[22] Herbert M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) J. Ridderbos, Isaiah, trans. John Vriend, Bible Student’s Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), pp. 85–97; Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), pp. 32–34. See also Geoffrey W. Grogan, Isaiah, in vol. 6 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), pp. 63–65.

[23] Pope Benedict XVI here cites the example of Rudolf Kilian, who in his commentary on Isaiah, described the four principal types of interpretation that has so far been advanced.

[24] Benedict XVI, p50.

[25] Benedict XVI, pp50-51.

Selected Bibliography

SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, November 21, 1964

SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, November 18, 1965

KAISER, W., The Messiah in the Old Testament, Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1995

MOST, W., “The Problem of Isaiah 7:14” Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN

MONTAGUE, T., Understanding the Bible. A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, New York, Paulist Press, 2007

FITZMYER, J., The One who is to Come, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2007

SCHMIDT, W., Old Testament Introduction, trans by O’Connell, M., New York: The Crossroad Publishing company, 2008.

BENEDICT XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Infancy Narratives, trans by Philip Whitmore, New York: Bloomsbury, 2012

©Valentine Anthony Umoh 2017

Universidad de Navarra

Facultad de Teología

Teología Bíblica
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