Editor’s Note: This is a series of interactions with a person who is obviously a Muslim making a typical argument against Isaiah 7:14 as a messianic prophecy. See below for further arguments from this person.
If you say that the Hebrew word in Isaiah 14 means a virgin and that it is a dual prophecy, then who was the virgin that gave birth to a child in King Ahaz’s lifetime? Were there 2 virgins that gave birth to children? It is so clear that the child in verse 14 is the same child in verses 15 and 16 If you say the child in these 3 references also includes jesus. How could Jesus be God even though he did NOT know good from bad? Which 2 kingdoms were forsaken during the lifetime of jesus? For what possible consolation would it have been to Ahaz to know that 700 years after he was dead and the land whose 2 kings he hated Syria and Israel would be forsaken? How could a birth that would happen 700 years later,after King Ahaz was dead and the battles had long since been fought,have been a sign to him that Syrian-Israelite alliance would fail?
First of all, I do not say that the Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 means a virgin. I definitely never said that, so am not sure where you got the idea that I say the Hebrew word means virgin. The word alma does not have an exact Greek or English translation. It means, roughly, young woman, probably a virgin, but almost certainly one who has not yet had a child. The fact is that when the Jews themselves translated alma as a Greek word which unambiguously means virgin. They chose to not use an alternative Greek word which was more ambiguous in terms of virginity. This tells us that the Jews believed that the prophecy referred to a virgin, or at the very least that this was the closest Greek translation of the word. It is not at all surprising that the Jews used a Greek word for virgin for the simple reason that the prophecy is that God will give a miraculous sign. It is not a miracle if a young woman who is having sex gets pregnant! The word alma is ambiguous, but the Jews who created the Septuagint wisely chose to interpret the meaning of the word, in context, to mean virgin.
It is my opinion that Isaiah 7:14f is unambiguously a prophecy about the Messiah. We know that the Jews saw it that way. Besides, the prophecy refers to a child who will be known as “God with us.” I agree with the Jews that this is a messianic prophecy. To me, it is not so much whether it is a messianic prophecy, but whether it is a double prophecy–with implications for Ahaz as well as for Jesus, the son of the virgin Mary. Liberal scholars are convinced that the prophecy is about Ahaz only, but I believe this is because of a strong bias against belief in the miraculous. I am a bit ambiguous about whether it is a “double prophecy,” with reference to current events (for Isaiah) concerning Ahaz, but I lean toward agreeing that it does have a double application.
If the prophecy is both about Jesus and about a woman in the days of Ahaz, this raises some good questions, including the ones you raise. Let me do my best to deal with these questions.
First is who was the alma who gave birth to a male child in a miraculous way during the immediate time Isaiah prophesied. Scholars have speculated about this. Some have proposed that the child in question is Hezekiah, but this is rejected because he was almost certainly already born when the prophecy was given. Other options have been speculated, but the bottom line is that there is no clear cut candidate. We do not know what young woman is referred to. Even if we did, we do not know all the children had by possible candidates. This theory that the prophecy is about a miraculously-born child of a young woman in the days of Ahaz will probably forever remain ambiguous, as we probably cannot know who it is about. You ask if there were two virgins who gave birth. We know that there was one virgin who gave birth to a male child who was “God among us.” Whether there was another virgin in the time of Isaiah who gave birth, literally to a son with the name Emmanuel, I am somewhat doubtful about this. Remember that for the prophecy to be fulfilled in the time if Isaiah, it would not absolutely have to be the son of a virgin, because the Hebrew word is not unambiguously a reference to a virgin.
Is the child in v. 15, 16 the same child as the one in v. 14? My answer is that this is the obvious interpretation, and in lieu of a good reason to interpret it differently, I will go with the natural interpretation that it is a reference to the same miraculously-born son. The miraculously-born son will be called Immanuel. This certainly fits Jesus, probably because it is ABOUT Jesus. If we try to make it fit the context of Ahaz, we might need to split the verses up, but this is speculative and ambiguous.
About the phrase, “did not know good from bad,” this is an idiom. It is an idiom which means, roughly, while he was still very young. It means a person who is still innocent. A five-year-old “does not know good from bad,” and are not, therefore, accountable. Did Jesus “know good from bad” in his human form at the age of six months? I think not. God humbled himself and took on the form of a man. I believe that when Jesus was a tiny baby, he literally “did not know good from bad.” Was Jesus, at the age of three weeks omniscient? I think not.
About the two kingdoms which were laid waste (v. 16), if this is a messianic prophecy, and I believe it is, then the two kingdoms who Ahaz feared were Assyria and Egypt. The prophecy is saying that before the coming of the Messiah, both Assyria and Egypt would be laid waste. This, of course, did indeed happen. Assyria was “laid waste” by Nebuchadnezzar’s father, and never revived. Egypt was partially laid waste by Nebuchadnezzar, but completely conquered by Cambysses, son of Cyrus. Both of these happened before the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, “God with us.” If the prophecy is a double one–it it is also about a miraculously-born child during the lifetime of Ahaz, the identity of the two feared kingdoms which would be destroyed before the child’s birth is problematic. I know no resolution of this problem, but if it is a double-prophecy, then perhaps verse 16 is only about the Messiah.
Next, you ask how it could be a comfort to Ahaz to know that 700 years after he died, his enemies would be overcome. Two things about this. First of all, the message is to “the house of David,” (Isaiah 7:13. Also note that “you” in 7:14 is plural, not singular), not just to Ahaz. Second, the enemies were in fact destroyed within a few generations, not seven hundred years later. Whether this is specifically a prophecy of the fall of the Assyrian/Israelite alliance is a dubious proposition in my opinion. This prophecy of the coming of the Messiah continued to be a great comfort and assurance to Israel and Judah right down to the time that the Messiah came to Jerusalem, so in that sense the comfort to “the house of David” was truly great.
In summary, I believe that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-16 is unambiguously about Jesus, the son of Mary. All the details fit this interpretation, including the miraculous birth, the destruction of the enemies of God, and the fact that the son was to be “God among us”—Emmanuel. I am very confident about this interpretation. The fact that the original Hebrew word alma has an ambiguous meaning does absolutely nothing to minimize the fact that this is a messianic prophecy. The only thing to be cautious about is we should hesitate to teach that it is a clear prophecy of a virgin birth. That it is a prophecy of a virgin birth is a bit ambiguous, but that it is a prophecy about Jesus is very clear. Whether this is a double-prophecy, with reference both to the coming Messiah and also to an event which happened during the life of Isaiah is hard to say for sure. I think that a case can be made that the original recipients of the prophecy might have seen it that way, but there is no way to prove this, so I prefer to say “maybe” to the double-prophecy theory. Bear in mind that many or most of those who push the Ahaz-only theory have a presupposition against the miraculous, so their judgment on this passage will be extremely biased.
Third statement by Muslim critic:
And if I were Isaiah and if I wanted to write a prophecy about Mary I would have written the Hebrew word betulah so I would not make the readers confused. And RSV translated the verse correctly. Look The young woman is with child. Present tense. How could the pregnant be kept pregnant for 700 years? It Never makes any sense.
Neither you nor I are Isaiah and, besides, it is God who gave this prophecy, as you know. Given that he said it was a wondrous sign, the meaning is clear, as the Hebrew/Greek translation proves. I gave you a perfectly rational answer. If you choose not to accept it, that is your own business. I believe the answer I already gave completely answers your objections. The question is whether you are open-minded enough to accept that you might be wrong about this passage. I leave it in your hands.