Isaiah 7
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chapters Isaiah 7:1 to Isaiah 9:7A collection of prophecies belonging to the reign of Ahaz. Two important events in Isaiah’s career are here chronicled. (1) The first is his début as a practical statesman, seeking to shape the destinies of his country by a definite policy urged on the king and his advisers. (2) The second is the formation of a band of disciples, accompanied apparently by the prophet’s temporary withdrawal from public life (Isaiah 8:16-18). Hence we obtain an obvious division of the section into two parts, which may have been separated by a considerable interval of time, although there is no great reason to doubt that the whole was written before the death of Ahaz. (1) Ch. Isaiah 7:1 to Isaiah 8:15 is a summary of Isaiah’s activity during the crisis of the Syro-Ephraimitish invasion; (2) Isaiah 8:19 to Isaiah 9:7 probably represents the instruction communicated by the prophet to the inner circle of his believing adherents. In both parts the chapters exhibit the working out in history of the principles revealed in the latter part of ch. 6. The “great refusal” of Ahaz (Isaiah 7:12), approved as it seems to have been by public opinion, was a signal illustration of the judicial hardening produced by the overwhelming clearness of the divine revelation; and the gathering of a small religious fellowship round the person and family of the prophet shews how the doctrine of the remnant or the “holy seed” became from this time a practical ideal in his ministry.

In order to understand Isaiah’s words and actions at this period it is necessary to realise as clearly as possible the salient features of the political situation created in Judah by the Syro-Ephraimitish invasion. Hostilities on the part of both Syria and Ephraim against Judah are recorded as having commenced before the death of Jotham (2 Kings 15:37), though there is no mention at that time of a formal alliance between the two powers. It was only after the accession of Ahaz that the crisis became acute; and the words of Isaiah 7:2 seem to point to the sudden development of a new and formidable danger. This consisted in the avowed object of the league to destroy the independence of Judah by the removal of the native dynasty and the establishment of a creature of the allies on the throne of David (Isaiah 7:6). It is generally supposed that the ultimate motive of the attack was to coerce Judah into a coalition to oppose the westward progress of the Assyrian arms. To allay what he perceived to be a groundless alarm on the part of the king and court was one purpose of Isaiah’s memorable interview with Ahaz. But this of itself does not explain the extraordinary vehemence and urgency of the prophet’s appeal. It becomes fully intelligible only when we understand that he wished to warn the king against the fatal step, which he afterwards took, of calling in the aid of Assyria against his two petty foes. It is only reasonable to suppose that this obvious and tempting expedient had already been discussed in the royal council and was favourably entertained by Ahaz. Isaiah was no doubt alive to the grave political dangers which would result from placing the country in a position of servitude to the Assyrian Empire. He also perceived how unnecessary it was for Judah to make any advances in that direction at this time, since it was quite certain that the ambitious schemes of Rezin and Pekah would speedily be crushed by Tiglath-pileser, whether Ahaz applied to him or not. All this must have been evident to any sagacious observer who kept his head amidst the general panic caused by the approach of the allied armies. But the prophet perceived that higher interests than the political future of the nation were at stake. He was opposed, on religious grounds, to all compacts with heathen powers as involving disloyalty to Jehovah and distrust of His power. The crisis presented itself to him as a test of the religious mind of the people, of its capacity for exercising that fearless trust in Jehovah’s word which alone could guide it safely through the complications of the immediate future to the felicity that lay beyond. Hence the great object of this encounter with Ahaz is to bring round the king to Isaiah’s own attitude of calm reliance on the help of God, and above all things to dissuade him from compromising his position by entering into direct relations with Assyria.

Chap. 7. Isaiah’s interview with Ahaz and its consequences

The chapter is divided into two well-marked sections:

i. Isaiah 7:1-17. The prophet meets Ahaz at a critical juncture of the war and holds out a promise of deliverance on the condition of faith in Jehovah. The king’s unbelief is answered by the threat of an Assyrian invasion.

(1) The historical introduction (Isaiah 7:1-3).

(2) The divine message of assurance and encouragement, ending with a warning against unbelief (Isaiah 7:4-9). (We must suppose that something in the king’s demeanour had betrayed his impatience of the prophet’s exhortation.)

(3) If any sign in heaven or earth will overcome the king’s incredulity, he has but to name it and it shall come to pass (Isaiah 7:10-11). Ahaz still remains obdurate (Isaiah 7:12).

(4) Isaiah announces the God-given sign of Immanuel, as a token (a) of deliverance from the immediate danger, and (b) of the coming Assyrian invasion (Isaiah 7:13-17).

ii. Isaiah 7:18-25. An expansion of the threat of Isaiah 7:17, but probably not spoken to Ahaz at the time. It is a picture of the desolation of the land, ravaged by Egyptian and Assyrian troops, and left destitute of all but the scantiest means of human subsistence.

And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.
1. The genealogy of Ahaz seems unnecessary for the contemporaries of Isaiah, although it might be given to connect the passage with ch. Isaiah 6:1. The latter part of the verse closely resembles 2 Kings 16:5; and it is not improbable that the data were supplied by an editor from the historical book, in order to make the circumstances intelligible to later generations of readers. Originally the introduction may have run: “And in the days of Ahaz it was reported to the house of David,” &c.

to war against it, but could not prevail against it] lit. to fight against it but were unable to fight against it. From 2 Kings 16:5 we learn that the city was blockaded. It was the object of the allies to take it by assault, but in this they were baffled, either by reason of the strength of the place, or because they were compelled to raise the siege. “Fight” means “fight at close quarters” as 2 Samuel 11:20 compared with Isaiah 7:1.

And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.
2. the house of David] (Cf. Isaiah 7:13; Isaiah 7:17) either the court (ch. Isaiah 22:22) or the royal family (1 Samuel 20:16, &c.), which must have formed a numerous and powerful caste, and must have exercised a considerable influence on the government under a weak king like Ahaz. This was probably the first time that the Davidic dynasty had been menaced by a serious danger.

Syria is confederate with Ephraim] lit. Syria has alighted upon Ephraim (R.V. marg. “resteth”). The idea seems to be that the Syrian armies already occupy the Ephraimitish territory (settling there like a swarm of locusts, v. Isaiah 19 : 2 Samuel 17:12) preparatory to the joint attack. The fine simile at the end of the verse is enough to prove that Isaiah himself is the narrator.

Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field;
3. The prophet is instructed to meet Ahaz at a certain point outside the city, taking his son with him for a sign to the king.

Shear-jashub] “Remnant-shall-turn,” i.e. “turn to Jehovah,” not “return from exile” (ch. Isaiah 10:22). How much the name meant to Ahaz we cannot tell; nor is it clear whether the boy was present to have the incident impressed on his own memory, or to recall to the king’s mind some earlier prophecy of Isaiah in which the name was explained. The latter seems more probable. In any case the name embodies a fundamental idea of Isaiah’s ministry (see on ch. Isaiah 6:13), and if it conveyed any significance to Ahaz at this time it was a prediction at once of judgment and hope: a remnant shall turn; but only a remnant!

at the end of the conduit … field] On the same spot the Rabshakeh stood 34 years later and delivered Sennacherib’s insulting message to Hezekiah. It seems therefore to have been within earshot of the wall (ch. Isaiah 36:2, cf. Isaiah 7:11; 2 Kings 18:17; 2 Kings 18:26). On what side of the city it is to be sought is as yet a matter of conjecture. (1) The “upper pool” is by many identified with the Birket el-Mamilla (about half a mile to the west of the city), from which a canal leads to reservoirs within the walls. In this case it would be difficult to explain the expression “go out to the end of the conduit,” and besides the distance from the wall is too great. (2) Tradition fixes the site of the Assyrian camp on the north of the city, and here an ancient aqueduct (older than Herod’s temple) has been discovered which pierces the wall to the east of the Damascus gate, and discharges into a large reservoir in the northern quarter of the city. If this reservoir be the “upper pool” the end of its conduit would be the northern extremity of the canal mentioned. (3) A third suggestion is that the “upper pool” like the “lower pool” (ch. Isaiah 22:9) was in the south of the city and inside the wall. It has been identified with a recently-discovered pool near the present pool of Siloam, and a conduit has also been excavated which carried its surplus water outside the wall, to where the “fuller’s field” is thought to have been. Ahaz was at this anxious moment devoting his personal attention to the water supply of his capital. Operations were apparently in progress either for filling the reservoirs and cisterns within the city, or for stopping the sources that would be accessible to the enemy. In the historic sieges of Jerusalem the assailants always suffered more from scarcity of water than the defenders; and it is not impossible that the precautions taken on this occasion were the reason why the allies “were not able to fight against it.”

And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah.
4. The message to Ahaz begins with an exhortation to composure and presence of mind (cf. ch. Isaiah 30:15). The prophet does not deprecate reasonable forethought for the safety of the city, but only the excessive alarm which might drive the court into a false and dangerous policy.

Take heed, and be quiet] The first verb might be subordinate to the second: “See that thou keep calm.” But it is better to take them independently: “ut et exterius contineat sese, et intus pacato sit animo” (Calvin).

the two tails … firebrands] Render, with R.V. these two tails of smoking firebrands. This enterprise is but the last flicker of two expiring torches. Syria and Israel have both suffered severely from the Assyrians and their national independence will speedily be extinguished. Fire is the emblem of war (ch. Isaiah 42:25).

the son of Remaliah] Pekah was a usurper, a novus homo, and Isaiah never condescends to utter his name. Cf. Isaiah 7:5; Isaiah 7:9.

Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying,
5. Change the order with R.V.: Because Syria hath counselled evil against thee, Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, saying, &c.

5–7. The project of Rezin and Pekah is opposed to the purpose of Jehovah and shall come to nought. The verses form a single sentence, 5 and 6 being the protasis and 7 the apodosis.

Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal:
6. and vex it] Rather frighten it (cf. Isaiah 7:16, where the Qal of the same verb means “cower”), unless we adopt a conjecture of Gesenius giving the sense “press it hard.” The idea, however, is probably that the allies trusted greatly to the panic caused by the suddenness of their attack.

make a breach therein] break into it, by forcing the passes; as in 2 Chronicles 21:17, &c.

the son of Tabeal] Another obscure adventurer like the son of Remaliah. The form of the name (Tâb’çl, cf. Tab-rimmon, 1 Kings 15:18) suggests that the protégé of the allies was a Syrian. Their plan is very complete; the successor of Ahaz is already nominated.

Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.
For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people.
8. and within threescore and five years … people] This clause is suspicious on several grounds. (1) Because of its position; Ephraim has not yet been mentioned, and a prophecy of its annihilation would hardly have been followed by an argument (9a) which assumes its continued independence. (2) There is no analogy in the prophets for so exact a specification of time with regard to a distant event. When the prophets fix a term of years they use round numbers (ch. Isaiah 23:17, &c.). (3) Isaiah could not expect to allay the fears of Ahaz by a prediction that was not to be fulfilled for 65 years. In Isaiah 7:16 and ch. Isaiah 8:4 he foretells the overthrow of Pekah and Rezin within a very short period. Even Delitzsch, who defends the verse as a whole, admits the force of the last two objections and proposes to substitute the words “within a little while.” But the great majority of commentators agree in regarding the whole clause as a marginal gloss, intended to be read after the first half of Isaiah 7:9. This view ought probably to be accepted; but Duhm rightly observes that the gloss must be a very old one, since a late annotator would almost certainly have dated the extermination of Ephraim from the destruction of Samaria in 721, about 15 years after Isaiah spoke. What precise event he had in his mind is indeed very uncertain. The most plausible conjecture remains that of Archbishop Ussher, who explained it of the settlement of foreign colonists in Samaria by Esarhaddon or Asshurbanipal (Osnappar, Ezra 4:2; Ezra 4:10). Sixty-five years from the assigned date of the prediction would bring us to about 670 b.c.; and Esarhaddon was succeeded by Asshurbanipal about 668. Of course the chronology need not be strictly accurate.

8, 9. A confirmation of Isaiah 7:7; but the thought is difficult to grasp. The general meaning seems to be that the league is an attempt to obliterate the political distinctions which Jehovah has established between the neighbouring states. (Observe that in Isaiah 7:16 the prophet seems to speak as if Syria and Israel had become one kingdom in virtue of their alliance.) Syria and Ephraim are separate nationalities, each with its own capital and king; Judah belongs to neither of them and is not to be amalgamated with them. In short: “Damascus is the head of Syria and of nothing else, &c.” We may even suppose (with Ewald) that Isaiah intended to add, “but the head of Judah is Jerusalem and the head of Jerusalem is Jehovah of Hosts.”

And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.
9. If ye will not believe (ta’ǎmînû) ye shall not be established (tç’âmçnû, 2 Samuel 7:16). One of Isaiah’s paronomasias; “gläubet ihr nicht, so bleibet ihr nicht” (Luther); “if ye will not have faith, ye shall not have staith” (G. A. Smith). Cf. 2 Chronicles 20:20. The words mark an epoch in the history of revelation; never before probably had the distinctively religious principle of faith been so plainly exhibited as the touchstone of character and of destiny (cf. Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4). Here as throughout Scripture faith means trust in the positive revelation of God, the faith required of Ahaz being whole-hearted acceptance of God’s word through Isaiah. The doctrine is one of the foundation truths of this prophet’s ministry (cf. Isaiah 28:16, Isaiah 30:15; and see Introd. p. lv.).

Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying,
10. Moreover the Lord spake again] Better, And Jehovah spake further. The expression does not of itself imply that this second communication followed immediately on the first, but that is certainly the most natural supposition.

10–12. Isaiah’s last ineffectual effort to bring Ahaz to the attitude of faith. A sign is offered and refused.

Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.
11. Ask thee a sign] The “sign” (’ôth, móphçth, here the former), plays a very large part in O.T. religion and with considerable latitude of meaning. The most important cases are those in which a divine revelation is attested by some striking event within the range of immediate perception through the senses. Such a sign may be a supernatural occurrence conveying an irresistible persuasion of the divine agency (ch. Isaiah 38:7; Isaiah 38:22; Exodus 7:8 ff.; Jdg 6:17; Jdg 6:36 ff.; 1 Kings 13:1 ff.). But it may also be an ordinary event, which acquires significance through its having been foretold, or asked for (Genesis 24:14; 1 Samuel 10:2 ff; 1 Samuel 14:10; Luke 2:12). Thus of two predicted events the nearer may be made a “sign” of the more remote (1 Samuel 2:34; Jeremiah 44:29 f.). Or, in a still more general sense, the “sign” may be merely an incident of the fulfilled prediction, which carries the mind back to the time of the prophecy, when the sign was appointed (Exodus 3:12; Isaiah 37:30). That for which a sign is here offered to Ahaz is the certainty of divine help, or (what is the same thing) the truth that God speaks to him through the prophet. Although Isaiah was undoubtedly prepared to give a miraculous sign (see next clause) it is not to be at once assumed that the sign actually given (Isaiah 7:14 ff.) must be of the same order.

ask it either in the depth … above] Lit.: going deep to Sheol or mounting high above (reading shě’ôlâh for shě’âlâh). It is thought by some that this translation could be obtained from the actual Hebrew vocalisation, but this is doubtful. It is at all events the one that would be most readily suggested by an unpointed text, and it is justified by the antithetic structure of the sentence. The whole realm of creation, from the heavens to the underworld, is as it were put at the disposal of Ahaz for the purpose of this sign. It has been said that Isaiah played a dangerous game in staking his reputation on so unbounded a choice. Undoubtedly he did, if he was not speaking under genuine divine inspiration.

But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.
12. The answer of Ahaz reveals his utter incapacity for the faith which Isaiah demanded. He evidently believes that the sign will happen if he asks it, yet he cannot trust the spiritual fact which lies behind it. He is afraid of being committed to a policy in which he has no confidence, and therefore, under a pretence of reverence, he declines the ordeal. He will not put Jehovah to the proof. To “put Jehovah to the proof” is a mark of unbelief (Exodus 17:7; Deuteronomy 6:16), but to refuse a proof which Jehovah Himself offers is an insult to the divine majesty which exhausts the patience of the Almighty.

And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?
13. Speaking under the deepest excitement, the prophet proceeds to unfold the consequences of such impenetrable hardness of heart.

Is it a small thing for you …] Trans. Is it too little for you to weary men (i.e. the prophet himself) that ye weary, &c. The house of David is addressed, perhaps because Isaiah had already experienced rebuffs from the royal princes, although none was so direct a defiance of God as this of Ahaz. my God] cf. thy God in Isaiah 7:11. Ahaz has practically renounced the religion of Jehovah.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
14–16. The sign of Immanuel. See Additional Note at the end of this chapter. 14. Therefore] because of this act of unbelief. the Lord himself] The word is Adonai, as ch. Isaiah 6:1.

Behold, a virgin] (LXX. ἡ παρθένος, other Greek versions νεᾶνις.) The Hebrew word (‘almâh) means strictly “a young woman of marriageable age.” Both etymology and usage (cf. esp. Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 6:8) are adverse to the opinion, once prevalent among Christian interpreters and maintained by a few in recent times, that virginity is necessarily connoted (see Robertson Smith, Prophets, Revd. Ed. pp. 426 f.). To express that idea a different word (běthûlâh) must have been employed, although even it might not be wholly free from ambiguity (? Joel 1:8). It is, of course, not disputed that ‘almâh may be used of a virgin (as Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8); but even if this usage were more uniform than it is, it would still be far from proving that virginity was an essential of the notion. It would appear, therefore, that the idea of a miraculous conception was not present to Isaiah’s mind at this time, since a prediction of such astounding import must surely have been clothed in unambiguous language. Nor does the def. art., which is used in the original, necessarily denote a particular individual. (Cf. 2 Samuel 17:17, and see Davidson, Synt. § 21 e.) So far as grammar and context go, the expression may mean any young woman, fit to become a mother, whether as yet married or unmarried.

shall conceive, and bear a son] The same phrase in Genesis 16:11; Jdg 13:5. In the passage before us the verbs in the original are both participles, and might refer either to the present or the future. But it is doubtful if we can fairly apply one to the present and the other to the future, translating “is with child and shall bear.” Since the birth is certainly future, it seems natural to take the first verb in a future sense also.

and shall call] An archaic form, easily mistaken for 2nd pers. (so LXX. &c.). The mother names the child, as in Genesis 4:1; Genesis 4:25; Genesis 19:37 f.; Genesis 29:32, &c. An instructive parallel is the naming of the child Ichabod, born to Eli’s daughter-in-law on the dark day when the ark of God was taken and the glory departed from Israel (1 Samuel 4:19-22).

Immanuel] “With us is God.” The battle-cry of Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years War, “Gott mit uns,” was also Isaiah’s watchword for the coming crisis (cf. ch. Isaiah 8:8; Isaiah 8:10); and like other great thoughts of his ministry he as it were gives it personal and concrete actuality by conceiving it as embodied in the name of a child.

Additional Note on Chap. Isaiah 7:14-16Probably no single passage of the Old Testament has been so variously interpreted or has given rise to so much controversy as the prophecy contained in these verses. The difficulties arise mainly from the fact that while the terms of the prediction are so indefinite as to admit a wide range of possibilities, we have no record of its actual fulfilment in any contemporary event. The purpose of this note will be to indicate the chief lines along which a solution has been sought for, and to consider how far they satisfy the conditions of a reasonable historical exegesis. But before entering on this survey, it will be well to enquire what sort of fulfilment the context would lead us to expect, or in other words what kind of sign would serve the immediate objects of the prophet’s mission to Ahaz.

We are not entitled to assume as a matter of course that the sign here given will be in all respects such a sign as Ahaz might have asked at an earlier stage of the interview (Isaiah 7:11). In the first place it need not involve an objective miracle, although a miracle of the most stupendous order was originally put within the option of Ahaz. Any of the senses in which the word “sign” is used (see on Isaiah 7:11) in connexion with a prediction, would satisfy the requirements of Isaiah 7:14. But further there is a presumption that the import of the sign will have been changed by what has taken place in the interval. Isaiah’s first message to Ahaz is an unqualified assurance of deliverance from the designs of Rezin and Pekah, and the sign first offered would be a sign of that and that alone. The prospect of an Assyrian invasion was no doubt in the background of the prophet’s horizon, but his message to Ahaz is complete in itself and takes no account of that final catastrophe. It is manifest, however, that in Isaiah’s mind the whole aspect of affairs is altered by the king’s refusal. The Assyrian invasion is brought into immediate connexion with the attack of the allies, and a new forecast of the future is presented by the prophet in which three great events follow closely on one another: (1) the collapse of the project of the allied princes, (2) the total destruction of Syria and Ephraim by the Assyrians, and (3) the devastation of Judah by the same ruthless conquerors. And the most natural supposition is that the new sign will be an epitome of this new and darker outlook, that is to say it will be a pledge at once of the immediate deliverance and of the judgment that lies behind it. Indeed this view is so obviously implied by Isaiah 7:14-16 that we are shut up to it unless, with some critics, we remove Isaiah 7:15 as an interpolation.

Now there are three features of the prediction in which the import of the sign may be looked for: (i) the birth of the child, (ii) his name, and (iii) his history. And of these three the last is certainly an essential element of the prophecy, as is shewn by Isaiah 7:15-16. With regard to the other two we can only say that it is antecedently improbable that either of them should be without some special significance.

(i) If the import of the sign be sought mainly in the birth of the child it becomes almost necessary to assume that the terms of the prophecy point to something extraordinary and mysterious in the circumstances of the birth. This is the case with the traditional Christian interpretation, which finds in it a direct prediction of the miraculous conception of the Virgin Mother of our Lord. The chief support of this view has always been the authority of the Evangelist Matthew, who cites Isaiah 7:14 in relating the birth of Jesus (Isaiah 1:22-23). But it must be observed that such a citation is not decisive as to the original sense of the passage, any more than Matthew 2:15 determines the original sense of Hosea 11:1. The great difficulty of the interpretation is that such an event could by no means serve the purpose of a sign to Ahaz. It may be freely admitted, in view of Isaiah 7:11, that the expectation of a parthenogenesis is not too bold to be attributed to Isaiah in this moment of ecstatic inspiration. But if this be granted on the one hand it must be conceded on the other that he expected the miracle to be wrought in the immediate future; his language (“a virgin is about to conceive”) implies that the prediction is on the eve of fulfilment, and the assurance in Isaiah 7:16 is nugatory if the promised sign was not to happen for more than 700 years. Moreover, such an idea would require to be unambiguously expressed, and we have seen that the word ‘almâh does not connote virginity in the strict sense. Whatever element of truth, therefore, may underlie this exegesis, it can scarcely be held to afford an adequate solution of the problem presented by the oracle in its primary and historical application.

(ii) Another class of explanations regards the event as a sign to Ahaz and nothing more, and of these we may examine first those which find the chief significance of the sign in the naming of the child. Perhaps the most persuasive presentation of this view is that given by Duhm. According to that expositor, the ‘almâh is any young mother who may give birth to a child in the hour of Judah’s deliverance from Syria and Ephraim. “God (is) with us” will be the spontaneous exclamation of child-bearing women in that time; and to such utterances at the moment of birth a certain oracular significance was attached, which caused them to be perpetuated in the name of the child. The child (or children) bearing the name Immanuel will grow up as a sign to Ahaz, first of the genuineness of Isaiah’s inspiration, who foretold the event, and second of the yet future judgment threatened on the same occasion and his own rejection by Jehovah. To this theory no exception can be taken on grammatical or historical grounds. It is undoubtedly rendered easier by the excision of Isaiah 7:15, which Duhm advocates. If that verse be retained one feels that the sign is rather overloaded by a circumstance which is directly opposed to the meaning of the name. And apart from this there will perhaps remain an impression that justice has not been done to the emphasis with which the birth is announced. Why, on this view, should the mother be an ‘almâh—a young woman?

(iii) A third view (not to be sharply distinguished from ii) lays stress not so much on the birth or the naming as on the history of the child, which becomes a sort of chronological thread on which political events are strung. The meaning is: before the birth of a certain child Judah will have experienced a great deliverance (Isaiah 7:14), before he has emerged from infancy, Syria and Ephraim will have disappeared (Isaiah 7:16) and at a later stage of his development the land of Judah will be reduced to a pastoral wilderness (Isaiah 7:15). An interesting parallel is found in the child Pollio in Vergil’s fourth Eclogue, and another from the life of Mohammed has been lately pointed out by Mr Bevan[33]. And as in these two cases a particular child is the subject of the sign, so here expositors have hazarded several guesses as to the identity of the ‘almâh. She has been supposed to be (a) the wife of Isaiah, either the mother of Shearjashub, or a second wife (some identifying Immanuel with Maher-shalal-hash-baz, ch. Isaiah 8:3), (b) a damsel in the harem of Ahaz (the mother of Hezekiah is excluded by the chronology), or (c) a young woman among the bystanders, indicated by a gesture. None of these conjectures can be pronounced altogether happy. They are all alike discredited by a certain touch of vulgarity implied in the designation of some known individual as “the damsel.”

[33] Jewish Quarterly Review, Oct. 1893, pp. 220 ff. The incident is that of a Jew who was discoursing to an Arab tribe at Medina about the resurrection and the last judgment. “ ‘But,’ said they, ‘what is the sign (âyat, Hebr. אוֹת) of this?’ ‘A prophet,’ he answered, ‘sent from that country yonder,’ pointing with his hand towards Mecca and Yemen. ‘But when,’ they asked, ‘do you think he will come?’ Then he looked at me and said, ‘If this boy reaches the full term of life, he will see him.’ And in fact before another day had passed God sent His Apostle to dwell among us, and we believed on him, &c.”

An ingenious modification of the last two theories recently propounded by an American writer[34], differs from all others in excluding the prospect of deliverance from the import of the sign, whose significance is found in the contrast between the name of the child and his history. The name Immanuel embodies the religious optimism of the king and nation, their false trust in the protection of Jehovah; the hardships through which the child passes symbolise the providential course of events under which this delusive confidence must collapse. This interpretation, however, requires the excision of at least the latter part of Isaiah 7:16, and also the rejection of ch. Isaiah 8:9-10 as spurious.

[34] F. C. Porter, in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. xiv. 1895, pp. 19–36.

(iv) Another line of exegesis which has commended itself to a large number of modern expositors starts from the idea that here for the first time the figure of the personal Messiah is flashed on Isaiah’s mind. On this view the prophecy is invested with profound religious significance, which is not the case with the two last-mentioned theories. Face to face with the craven-hearted monarch who had betrayed his trust as guardian of the liberty and independence of Judah, the prophet receives this revelation of the true King, as one born to his people in the hour of danger, sharing their poverty and affliction in his youth and waiting the time when “the government shall be upon his shoulder” and the perfect kingdom of God shall be established (Isaiah 9:6). The attention is concentrated on the mysterious personality of the child, that of the mother falls into the background. She may be some unknown daughter of the royal house, or a nameless maiden of lowly rank; the essential fact is that in the speedy advent of Immanuel, in his name, in his experience, men will recognise the God-given “sign” of the truth of the prophet’s words. This on the whole seems to be the theory which affords the most adequate solution of the complex difficulties of the passage. It satisfies tie claims of a truly historical interpretation, and at the same time it accounts, as none of the other modern theories do, for the impassioned fervour, the indefinable atmosphere of mystery and emotion with which the words are surrounded. It is no objection to it that the anticipation remained an unrealised ideal long after the opportunity for a sign to Ahaz had passed away; for a similar remark applies to the whole conception of a personal Messiah, whose appearance Isaiah certainly expected to synchronise with the Assyrian invasion. Not the least of its recommendations, indeed, is the fact that it brings this prophecy into line with the other great Messianic prophecies of ch. Isaiah 9:1-7 and Isaiah 11:1 ff.; and if the last words of ch. Isaiah 8:8 are rightly rendered “thy land, O Immanuel” (which however has been disputed, see on the verse below) a link would be supplied which would make the proof almost irresistible, since no ordinary child, born or unborn, could be naturally apostrophised as the owner of the land.

(v) An allegorical interpretation of the prophecy has been advanced by a few scholars, the “virgin” being taken as a personification of the Davidic house, or of the religious community, and the child either as the Messiah, or as a figure of the new generation; or else the birth is explained as merely a general symbol of deliverance. But all this is purely fanciful.

A few words may be added in conclusion on the pre-Christian acceptation of the passage. From a very early time it seems to have been recognised that a certain mystery clung to the words, that their significance was not exhausted by the circumstances in which they were originally spoken, but that they had an eschatological reference, pointing forward to the birth of the Messiah, as the wonderful event on which all the hope of the future hung. The first trace of this tendency is found in Micah 5:3 : “therefore will he (Jehovah) give them up until the time when a (certain) travailing woman hath brought forth, &c.” These words can hardly be explained otherwise than as a reference to Isaiah 7:14; and if it were certain that they were written by a contemporary of Isaiah they would go far to determine the sense in which the earlier prophecy should be understood. Since, however, they belong to a part of the book of Micah whose age is disputed, they may possibly represent a secondary application of Isaiah’s prophecy rather than its primary intention. A further advance in the same direction appears to be indicated by the rendering of our passage in the LXX. It is almost incredible that the use of the word παρθένος for ‘almâh in so important a connexion should be due to mere laxity on the part of the translator. More probably it expresses a belief current in Jewish circles that the Messiah was to be born of a virgin. A good deal of evidence has been adduced to shew that such an expectation actually prevailed amongst both Alexandrian and Palestinian Jews [35], and if it existed it could hardly fail to influence the exegesis of this prophecy. It was only when the prophecy was appealed to by the Christians in proof of the Messiahship of Jesus that the Jewish exegetes seem finally to have repudiated the Messianic interpretation. They refused to admit that the word ‘almâh could properly be translated “virgin” and fell back on one or other of the theories mentioned under (iii). The Christian Fathers on the other hand resolutely upheld the correctness of the LXX., although the post-Christian Greek versions of Aquila, Theodotion and Symmachus agree in rendering the word by νεᾶνις. The patristic view maintained an all but unquestioned ascendancy within the Church till the dawn of historical criticism in the eighteenth century, when it began to be recognised that on the philological question the Jews were right.

[35] See Mr F. P. Badham’s letter in the Academy of 8 June, 1895.

Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
15. Butter and honey shall he eat] This has to be explained by Isaiah 7:22, where the eating of butter (lit. “thick milk”) and (wild) honey is a symptom of the primitive simplicity to which human life is reduced by the cessation of agriculture. The meaning is that the youth of Immanuel will be spent amidst the privations of a land laid waste by foreign invaders.

that he may know] This is the rendering of the Vulgate and other ancient versions, and is maintained still by a few scholars. But the idea that eating butter and honey promotes the formation of ethical character is somewhat bizarre. Translate with R.V. when he knoweth (more precisely “towards the time when, &c.”). It must be admitted, however, that exact parallels to this use of the preposition cannot be produced (though cf. Genesis 24:63; Exodus 14:27). But what lapse of time is here indicated? The expression “refuse the evil and choose the good” must bear the same sense as in Isaiah 7:16, and from ch. Isaiah 8:4 we see that the event predicted in Isaiah 7:16 was expected to happen in a very short time,—within two or three years from the date of the interview with Ahaz. It would seem, therefore, that the phrase denotes the age at which a child begins to exercise intelligent choice between the pleasant and the painful (cf. 2 Samuel 19:35). Most commentators, it is true, explain it of the development of moral consciousness, and think of a period of 10 or 12 years or even longer. But this introduces a needless discrepancy between this sign and that of Isaiah 8:4. There is nothing improbable in the supposition that Isaiah expected the Assyrian invasion of Judah (which of course is presupposed by Isaiah 7:15) to happen simultaneously with the destruction of Samaria and Damascus.

For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
16. The “for” seems to go back to Isaiah 7:14 : he shall be called “God with us,” because whilst he is yet in infancy a signal deliverance shall be wrought.

the land that thou abhorrest … kings] Render: the land before whose two kings thou cowerest shall be deserted. The two “tails of smoking firebrands” shall have burned out. Ephraim and Syria are treated as one territory, ruled by the two allied kings.

17 gives the other aspect, the threatening aspect, of the sign Immanuel, interpreting Isaiah 7:15. A calamity involving the king, the dynasty, and the nation, is the retribution appointed for the unbelief of Ahaz.

from the day … Judah] The revolt of the ten tribes under Jeroboam was the heaviest disaster that had ever befallen the house of David. The last words, the king of Assyria, may as many think be a gloss, but they are at least a correct gloss.

The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.
18. the Lord shall hiss …] See ch. Isaiah 5:26. The comparison of the Egyptians to flies and the Assyrians to bees is thoroughly appropriate, Egypt being infested with swarms of flies (Isaiah 18:1), while Assyria was pre-eminently a land of bees. Dangerous enemies are compared to bees in Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalm 118:12. the uttermost part] (or “end”) naturally suggests the Ethiopians, who however did not become masters of Egypt till b.c. 728. the rivers (strictly “Nile-arms”) of Egypt] The word used is an Egyptian name for the Nile.

18, 19. Judah, as the theatre of the inevitable duel between Assyria and Egypt for the mastery of Asia, must endure all the horrors of the double invasion.

18–25. Further announcements (not addressed to Ahaz, but probably compiled from fragments of several of Isaiah’s prophecies) of the Assyrian invasion (18–20) and its consequences (21–25).

And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes.
19. The figure is kept up. desolate valleys] rather, precipitous ravines (lit. “valleys of precipices”). upon all thorns … bushes] Render: upon all the thorn-bushes (Isaiah 55:13) and upon all the pastures. These are the places naturally frequented by insects.

In the same day shall the Lord shave with a rasor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard.
20. A new figure for the degradation and impoverishment of Judah at the hands of Assyria. In the same day] In that day.

with a rasor … river] Better: with the razor hired beyond the river (Euphrates). There may possibly be here an allusion to the “hiring” of Assyria by Ahaz (2 Kings 16:7 f.); if so the prophecy is almost certainly later than Isaiah 7:1-17.

the king of Assyria] see on Isaiah 7:17.

and it shall also consume the beard] and even the beard (the symbol of manly dignity) it shall take away.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that a man shall nourish a young cow, and two sheep;
21, 22. The land having gone out of cultivation, the sparse population is reduced to the pastoral life of the desert. Cf. ch. Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 5:17, Isaiah 32:12-14.

And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk that they shall give he shall eat butter: for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land.
22. butter and honey become the staple food of the country; in normal circumstances they were only eaten as delicacies along with bread and flesh (Genesis 18:8; 2 Samuel 17:29). Immanuel is the representative of the young generation nourished on this frugal fare (Isaiah 7:15).

And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briers and thorns.
23. a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings] i.e. “silver shekels.” Schrader reckons the silver shekel as equal to about half-a-crown of our money, which would make the price of the vineyard about £125. But the estimate neglects the important element of variation in the purchasing power of money. The traveller Burckhardt, who found it the custom in Syria to estimate the value of a vineyard according to the number of vines, tells us that good vines are valued at less than three pence each.

23–25. The most costly vineyards, requiring the most sedulous cultivation, are overrun by thorns and thistles, cf. ch. Isaiah 5:6.

With arrows and with bows shall men come thither; because all the land shall become briers and thorns.
24. With arrows and with bows] the weapons of the hunter (Genesis 27:3).

And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers and thorns: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle.
25. a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings] i.e. “silver shekels.” Schrader reckons the silver shekel as equal to about half-a-crown of our money, which would make the price of the vineyard about £125. But the estimate neglects the important element of variation in the purchasing power of money. The traveller Burckhardt, who found it the custom in Syria to estimate the value of a vineyard according to the number of vines, tells us that good vines are valued at less than three pence each.

25. And on all hills … mattock] And as for all the hills that used to be hoed with the mattock. Such hills were the best sites for vineyards (ch. Isaiah 5:2).

there shall not come thither the fear …] This could only mean, in the present connexion, that there would be no more anxiety about thorns, &c., because the place was hopelessly overgrown by them. It is better to render with R.V. thou shalt not come thither for fear of, &c., although the construction is certainly harsh. Or the words might be taken as a continuation of the relative clause, thus: “And as for … mattock, whither no fear of thorns, &c. used to come, it shall be, &c.” This is perhaps preferable.

for the sending forth of oxen] i.e. a place where oxen are sent forth (cf. ch. Isaiah 32:20). the treading (ch. Isaiah 5:5) of lesser cattle (R.V. sheep).

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Isaiah 6
Top of Page
Top of Page