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Immanuel, God With Us
by Marvin J. Rosenthal

Legally, he was the right man for the job. He was a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Judah, and of the family of David. He had a right to rule over Israel as King, but that did not mean that He would be a godly king.

Spiritually, he was like an accident looking for a place to happen. He ruled over the southern kingdom of Judah for sixteen years, and the divine commentary on this man is this: He opposed God and God's prophet and caused the children of Israel to sin (2 Ki. 16:1-4). What a tragic commentary!

His name was Ahaz, and he had a problem - a big one. It was coming from the north. Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel (the ten northern tribes), were planning to invade the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Isa. 7:1-2).

The Prophet Isaiah was sent by God to inform King Ahaz that this planned attack against the southern kingdom of Judah would not succeed - that the two invading nations would themselves be defeated by the powerful Assyrians (Isa. 8:1-4). Although Ahaz was a faithless king, he was ruling over the Davidic kingdom, and God was offering help for the kingdom's sake.

To confirm His word of safety and give assurance to Ahaz, God invited the king to ask for a sign (Isa. 7:10-11):

• something miraculous,
• something supernatural,
• something in the heavens above or the earth beneath,
• something that would require the arm of omnipotence.

Ahaz, wicked king that he was, responded with these words: "I will not ask, neither will I tempt [test] the LORD" (Isa. 7:12). He was a faithless king.

As a result, God turned from the unbelieving king to address the whole house of David. He would give them a sign. But this sign did not deal directly with the impending invasion - King Ahaz had, through his unbelief, forfeited that right. Now, the sign that God would give to the whole house of David had as its purpose the identification and authentication of the coming righteous King (in contrast to Ahaz who was a wicked king) when He appeared on the stage of human history. The righteous King would not only be David's son - He would be Immanuel, which by interpretation means "God with us" (Mt. 1:23). Here was a truly staggering prophecy. This righteous King would be both Son of Man and Son of God.

But how could such a thing come to pass? By what means? Through what process? How could deity become humanity? How could God become man? The answer to these questions is what God provides through the promised sign. He said, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14).

Signs, by the very nature of the case, are miraculous and supernatural. They have been placed by God at the great forks in the road of history to say to men and women of faith, "This is the way; walk in it." Signs could not authenticate or substantiate some great truth if they could be duplicated - they need to be miraculous.

God told Moses that with his rod he would do signs. In the court of Egypt, Moses threw down his rod, and it became a serpent. The magicians of Egypt threw down their rods, and they also became serpents, but the rod of Moses-turned-serpent devoured the other serpents. Theirs was counterfeit - his was the real thing - a bona fide sign that God had sent Moses to deliver Israel from slavery (Ex. 4). A virgin birth is miraculous and supernatural. It cannot be duplicated; although, to be sure, heathen religions, Greek mythology, and the occult have wearied themselves in vain, counterfeit attempts.

The Hebrew word for virgin in Isaiah 7:14 is almah. In the singular or plural form, including this reference, it appears a total of seven times in the Old Testament.

· In Genesis 24:16, almah is used to describe Rebekah as a virgin and the future bride of Isaac.
· In Exodus 2:8, almah is used of Miriam, the unmarried sister of Moses, as the "maid" (virgin).
· In Psalm 68:25, almah is used of damsels (virgins) ministering with timbrels.
· In Song of Solomon 1:3 and 6:8, almah is used of the virgins in the royal court.
· In Proverbs 30:19, almah is used in speaking of "the way of a man with a maid" (virgin).
· In Isaiah 7:14, almah is translated correctly in the King James Bible with the familiar "Behold, the virgin shall conceive."

In every instance where the word occurs in the Old Testament, the context strongly favors the translation of almah as virgin.

In the second century before Christ, long years before there was a controversy between Jews and Christians concerning who Christ was - when no one had an ax to grind or a cause to champion -Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament Hebrew Bible into the Greek, calling it the Septuagint. They made their translation for the large number of Jews who lived outside of the land of Israel, whose principle language was Greek and who, therefore, could not read the Hebrew Bible. When these scholars came to Isaiah 7:14, they translated the Hebrew word almah with the Greek word parthenos. Parthenos has only one undisputed meaning - VIRGIN. The Greek Parthenon, the ruins of which still stand in diminished glory, was dedicated to the virgin goddess, Athena. Clearly, the Jewish Hebrew scholars fully understood the word almah in Isaiah 7:14 to mean "virgin."

The famous medieval rabbi, Rashi, made this comment concerning Isaiah 7:14: "Behold the almah shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." He went on to say, "This means that our Creator shall be with us. And this is the sign: the one who will conceive is a girl [naarah], who never in her life had intercourse with any man. Upon this one shall the Holy Spirit have power." 1

Thus, one of Israel's all-time greatest teachers and rabbis, commenting on Isaiah 7:14, acknowledged that:

1. A virgin would conceive - "a girl, who never in her life had intercourse."
2. She would give birth to deity - "our Creator shall be with us."
3. Her offspring would be the God-Man - "Upon this one shall the Holy Spirit have power" 1(see Lk. 1:35).

Subsequent Jewish Scholars played down or denied the concept of a virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14, not on legitimate linguistic grounds but in a vain attempt to refute the messianic claims of Christ as the Son of God.

God had promised a sign - "a virgin would conceive, and bear a son" - so that men of faith could recognize the righteous King and eternal God when He made His entrance onto the stage of human history.

From the time the sign was promised, the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, months into years, years into decades, and decades into centuries - seven of them. And through the seemingly endless days and nights, some ignored the promised sign, and others simply forgot the promise of a sign. But the God who is from everlasting to everlasting, the God who is a covenant-keeping God, the God who has placed His Word above His name - He did not forget.

Then, one indescribably glorious night, it happened! But permit Luke, the beloved physician, to tell you about the sign in his own words:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Lk. 2:8-12).

Good tidings - great joy - to all people - this day - a Savior - Christ the Lord - a sign unto you.

Almost universally it has been understood that the sign is, "Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager." But such a sign would not be miraculous. The swaddling clothes and manger were not the sign. They spoke of poverty and were simply for identification purposes - they helped the shepherds identify the child. What then was the sign of which the angel spoke - the sign that would authenticate at last that God, the righteous King, was in their midst?

May it be solemnly and sacredly suggested that when the shepherds found the Child in the stable, they worshipped and then left. They neither inquired as to who the proud father was nor assumed that Joseph, husband of Mary, held that honor. They properly understood what the angelic messenger meant when he said, "And this shall be a sign [literally, "the sign"] unto you." They rightly realized that here was the fulfillment of the promise given by God more than seven hundred years earlier. "Hear ye now, O house of David...the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isa. 7:13-14). They realized that in their midst was One in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily (or, in bodily form) (Col. 2:9).

Perhaps one final word is appropriate. Where was the virgin-born Son of God born? In Bethlehem, to be sure - but where?

The Bible gives more than a hint that Jesus was born at a place called Migdal Edar located on the northern fringe of Bethlehem and about three miles south of Jerusalem. Migdal Edar is the place to which the "first dominion" (that is, the manifestation of the imperial presence of God) would come, according to the Prophet Micah. In a largely neglected prophetic text, Micah wrote: "And thou, O tower of the flock [Heb., Migdal Edar], the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it [He] come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem" (Mic. 4:8).

Micah not only places the birth of Christ in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2), but appears to pinpoint the location within Bethlehem as Migdal Edar.

It would be natural for Joseph, unable to find room in the inn and with Mary ready to give birth, to trace his steps to the stable at Migdal Edar which he had doubtless passed a short while earlier as he was entering Bethlehem. Rachel, wife of Jacob, considered the mother of Israel, gave birth to Benjamin at this same place and then died (Gen. 35:18-19). It would serve for the birthplace of the Son of God.

Migdal Edar literally means the tower of the flock. It may have been the place in ancient Israel where sheep were raised by the priests for ceremonial slaughter at the nearby Temple on Mount Moriah. What more appropriate place for Jesus to be born than at the very spot where lambs were bred and raised for sacrifice? The infinite, eternal, omnipotent God - the sovereign Creator - the One who fashioned man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life - was dwelling in the midst of His creation as one of them. And thirty-three years later, on the fourteenth of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the very day of Passover when the lambs were sacrificed, Jesus, as the Lamb of God, would offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world.

He was born at the right time (Gal. 4:4). He was born in the right place (Mic. 4:8 and 5:2). He was born in the right way (Isa. 7:14) - for the express purpose of dying for our sin.

How wondrously appropriate the angelic announcement - "I bring you good tidings of great joy…to all people" (Lk. 2:10). Immanuel God with us!

1Rashi, Mikraoth Gedoloth on Isaiah 7:14