Q. I always heard that Isaiah 7:14 refers to the prophecy fulfilled by Jesus Christ himself, since He is Immanuel – God with us. But then, the context of the chapter and paragraph gives specific description of something that couldn’t refer to Jesus. The very next verse said: … when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose right… and so on. And then, Isaiah mentions Assyria. How can you explain that? Does he talk about separate events?
A. Reading Isaiah 7 & 8 together helps to understand the context, because this is one of the so-called dual fulfillment prophecies.
When an important prophecy had a long range fulfillment, the Lord would often provide a short term partial fulfillment to confirm the long range complete one.
A good example is Isaiah 9:6
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and the government will be upon His shoulders …” and so on. Of the entire prophecy, only the child was born and the Son given. The rest awaits fulfillment during the Millennium, but the fact that the child was born confirms that He’ll one day rule the world.
So it is with Isaiah 7:14. There would only ever be one virgin birth and it was of critical importance to all mankind, so God provided a partial fulfillment in the birth of a son to Isaiah and his wife (Isaiah 8:3) saying that before the baby was old enough to know right from wrong, the Assyrians would attack. Sure enough when he was about two years old the Assyrians came and conquered Aram and the Northern Kingdom. This confirmed the long range prophecy of a virgin-born Messiah who would be God in the flesh.
It’s Isaiah’s son, by the way, who was most likely named Immanuel. (He was also given a ceremonial name, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.) Scoffers point out that if Isaiah 7:14 had to do with the Lord’s birth then Jesus should have been named Immanuel. They apparently don’t realize that Immanuel means “God with us” and Jesus literally is “God with us”.
They also claim that the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:14 doesn’t require a virgin birth, only that a young woman give birth. The most frequently used Hebrew word for virgin is bethulah, but Isaiah used almah, a word that can also refer to any young woman. This is because there would only ever be one virgin birth and therefore Isaiah’s wife couldn’t be an exact fulfillment of the prophecy. He had to use a word that could describe both her and the future virgin. And remember, Isaiah was offering a sign to Israel. What kind of a sign would it be for a young woman to give birth? It was an everyday occurrence.
Centuries later, when the book of Isaiah was translated into Greek and Isaiah’s family was long dead, the Hebrew scholars agreed to use the Geek word “parthenos” in translating Isaiah 7:14. It’s a word that can only refer to a person who has never had sexual intercourse. They were expecting a virgin birth.