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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

IMMANUEL ( Ἐμμανουήλ) occurs once only in the NT ( Matthew 1:23, in the quotation from  Isaiah 7:14 where the name is given in the form עִמָנואל). It is necessary, first of all, to examine the original prophecy before discussing the Evangelist’s application of it to Jesus.

1 . The circumstances which led to the prediction were as follows. Probably under the influence of a wish to force Judah into a coalition against Assyria, an attack was made on the southern kingdom by Syria and Ephraim about 735–734 ( Isaiah 7:1 ff.). The attack was specially directed against the Davidic dynasty, and it was the object of the allies to dethrone Ahaz and set the son of Tabeel in his place ( Isaiah 7:6). The invasion filled Ahaz with panic, and he resolved to call in the aid of Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria ( 2 Kings 16:7 ff.). Between the great Empire of Assyria and the petty State of Judah there could be no talk of equal alliance, Judah must forfeit its independence and become a vassal of Assyria. This involved heavy taxation and the loss of all power of independent action. Taxation would only aggravate the social misery and ruthless oppression from which the poor were suffering, and make it more difficult than ever to carry through those social reforms which the prophets regarded as most necessary. Accordingly, Isaiah vehemently opposed the king’s project. He made light of the danger from Syria and Ephraim, and stigmatized the allies as fag-ends of smoking firebrands, which might cause considerable annoyance, but had lost all power for serious mischief. He bade Ahaz be quiet and fearless, assuring him that God would frustrate the designs of his foes ( Isaiah 7:4 ff.), but warning him that his stability depended on his faith ( Isaiah 7:9). Possibly our present text is somewhat abbreviated, but at any rate Isaiah, either on that or possibly another occasion, offered him a sign in confirmation of his assurance, placing the universe from Sheol to Heaven at his disposal. Ahaz refused, since he had already made up his mind, but pretended that his unwillingness was prompted by reluctance to tempt God. The prophet passionately cries out against the conduct which, not content with wearying men, goes on to weary God. Then he proceeds to give the king a sign from God Himself, namely, the sign of Immanuel ( Isaiah 7:10 ff.).

The translation of the Hebrew is itself somewhat uncertain. It may now be taken for granted that the word עַלִמָה translated ‘virgin’ in the Authorized and Revised Versions should be more correctly rendered ‘young woman.’ The proper Heb. term for ‘virgin’ is בִּתוּלָה, though even this is used in  Joel 1:8 for ‘young widow.’ All that can with certainty be said of the word used by Isaiah is that it indicates a young woman of marriageable age, but says nothing as to whether she is married or not. Accordingly the terms of the prophecy do not warrant us in interpreting the sign as the prodigy of a virgin conception. The natural interpretation to put on the prophecy is that a young woman, either married at the time or soon to be married, would give birth to a son and call him by this name. It is also uncertain whether we should translate with Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘shall conceive’ or with (Revised Version margin) ‘is with child.’ The former is, however, perhaps the more probable. The third question is whether we should translate ‘a virgin’ or ‘the virgin.’ The Hebrew has the article, which is correctly rendered ‘the virgin,’ in which case some definite person is in the prophet’s mind. But Hebrew idiom often uses the definite article where in English we should translate indefinitely, so that ‘a virgin’ is equally correct as a rendering of the Hebrew.

These uncertainties as to the precise meaning of the words themselves naturally leave much room for difference of opinion, and this is largely increased by other uncertainties. It is therefore desirable to narrow the range of possible interpretation as much as possible. It is clear, in the first place, that the prophet is referring to something in the near future, otherwise the sign could have conveyed no message to the king, all the more that his difficulty was urgent. In the next place, we must beware of supposing that anything extraordinary is necessarily intended by the sign. Isaiah walked in captive’s dress for a sign and a wonder upon Egypt and Ethiopia ( Isaiah 20:3), certainly not because of any miraculous character attached to his conduct (cf. also  Isaiah 8:18). With these considerations in mind we may approach the question, What message was the sign intended to convey? When Ahaz had been bidden ask a sign, the object was to convince him that his enemies would be overthrown and their alliance against him come to nought. We naturally expect that the sign volunteered by the prophet will have the same significance. Yet there are objections to this view. It may be argued that Ahaz’ refusal to ask a sign introduced a new element into the situation, especially after the warning in  Isaiah 7:9; and if he rejected a sign assuring him of deliverance, it would not be strange if he received one that was ominous of disaster. And such a sign, according to our present text, we seem to possess. For the prediction in  Isaiah 7:15, that Immanuel should eat curdled milk and honey, implies that Judah would have reverted from the agricultural to the pastoral state, in other words, would have suffered a devastation at the hands of an enemy. And this is confirmed by  Isaiah 7:17, wherein a terrible invasion bringing a disaster unprecedented since the days of Rehoboam is predicted. On the other hand, this is difficult to harmonize with  Isaiah 7:16, at any rate in its present form, for that gives as the meaning of the sign that before the child knows to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings Ahaz abhors will be forsaken. In other words,  Isaiah 7:16 interprets the sign as the desolation of Syria and Ephraim. It is therefore a sign, not of disaster to Judah, but of deliverance. We are accordingly confronted with the problem whether the original text is here preserved. It would suffice to bring  Isaiah 7:16 into harmony with  Isaiah 7:15;  Isaiah 7:17 if the former were to read simply ‘for before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, thy land shall be forsaken’; and several scholars have adopted this expedient. In that case the sign is simply one of disaster for Judah. Nevertheless there are serious difficulties in the way of accepting this solution, and the question is forced upon us whether more radical measures are not necessary. Even with the suggested abbreviation of  Isaiah 7:16 it does not connect so well with  Isaiah 7:15 as with  Isaiah 7:14. But apart from that, there are other arguments for treating the sign as favourable. The name Immanuel itself, expressing the conviction that God was with His people, might, of course, be harmonized with either verse, it gains significance only on account of the distress in which the name was given, the mother’s faith is a sign only when experience seems to contradict it. The name might therefore be given in the midst of the trouble caused by the Syrian invasion or in the greater distress that was to follow from Assyria. But Isaiah certainly anticipated the overthrow of Syria and Ephraim. Not only so, but a little later, in the public exhibition on a tablet of the word Maher-shalal-hash-baz , and nearly a year later in the giving of this name to his newborn son, he expressed his faith in the overthrow of the coalition. It is indeed urged that the sign of Immanuel would thus be only a duplication of the sign of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, but there seems to be no reason why such a duplication should be objectionable. Moreover, there is a significant parallelism between the two which points to such an identification of meaning. The time limit in both cases is very similar. In the one case it is before the child shall know to say ‘my father and my mother’; in other words, the events described are to happen before the infant who has just been born has learnt to utter the first things that a child says. The other time limit is precisely similar, ‘before the child knows to refuse the evil and choose the good.’ By this the prophet need not mean before he comes to years of moral discretion, but before he learns to distinguish between good and harmful food. And the very fact that a year later Isaiah was still concerned mainly with the invasion of the allies and in asserting his conviction of their overthrow, surely makes it probable that the same question preoccupies his attention here. Nor is there any reason to suppose that the obstinacy of Ahaz would make any difference to the character of the sign. Unless we are explicitly warned to the contrary, it is natural to assume that the sign given possessed the same significance as the sign offered. The present writer accordingly takes the view that the sign is of a favourable character. This involves, it is true, the elimination of  Isaiah 7:15 (and perhaps of  Isaiah 7:17, though this may belong to another prophecy), but in any case something has to be struck out of the passage to secure consistency. It might, of course, seem easier to eliminate a few words in  Isaiah 7:16 than to strike out a whole verse. Nevertheless, when we look at  Isaiah 7:16 we see that it is practically compounded of part of  Isaiah 7:22 and part of  Isaiah 7:16, whereas the words ‘whose two kings thou abhorrest’ make a much greater impression of originality.

The question accordingly arises, in what precisely did the sign consist? The stress may lie either on the עַלְמָה, or the son, or the name given to him, or a combination of these. The traditional interpretation has, of course, thrown the stress on the first of these; for it the sign lay in the virgin-conception. But when the true sense of עַלִמָה is understood, this interpretation becomes impossible. If she were one of the king’s wives, then the child would be the king’s son, and the possibility of an identification with the Messiah would have to be considered, it would be possible to accept, with McCurdy, the identification of Immanuel with Hezekiah, the chronological difficulties not being altogether insuperable. A third possible alternative would be to accept the view taken by several scholars, most recently by Whitehouse in the Bible, and identify the עַלִמָה with the community in Zion. We have no evidence, however, that this term was used at that time for the Jewish community, and the identification with one of the king’s wives must also be pronounced improbable, in spite of the fact that the trouble was dynastic even more than national, directed against the Davidic house rather than against Judah as a whole. Nor is there any reason for identifying Immanuel with the Messianic king mentioned in  Isaiah 9:1-7 and  Isaiah 11:1-9. It is true that, according to the present text of  Isaiah 8:8, the land of Judah is represented as Immanuel’s land, but it is probable that the text should be corrected in harmony with  Isaiah 8:10.* [Note: Probably instead of ‘thy land, O Immanuel,’ we should read ‘the land, for God is with us,’ thus getting a refrain at the end of v. 8 to match that at the end of v. 10. In that case the figure of the bird with wings spread over the land is a symbol of God’s protecting care of Judah, shielding her from the combination of all earthly foes. The extreme abruptness of the transition from threat to promise makes it highly probable that  Isaiah 8:8 b–10 is a fragment not connected with the preceding verses. It must even he granted that Marti may be right in regarding it as a later addition; for although the prophecy may be explained as Isaiah’s, on the supposition that he is addressing the forces of Assyria as composed of various nationalities, yet taken by itself the reference to the coalition of the far nations against Judah recurs as a standing feature of the later apocalyptic.] We may then set aside the Messianic identification. With the correction of  Isaiah 8:8 no reason remains for considering that the personality of Immanuel is an important element in the sign; it is in harmony with similar cases that it is the name and not the person who bears it that is important. This is true, for example, of Hosea’s children, and, what is still more to the point, of Isaiah’s children. The prophetic significance both of Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz lies not in the children themselves, but exclusively in their names. We expect the same to be true in this case. Just as the names of Isaiah’s two children express, the one his doctrine of the remnant, the other his certainty that Syria and Ephraim would be overthrown, so the name Immanuel expresses the mother’s conviction that God is with His people. The sign is no prodigy in this case. For against the king’s unbelief and his obstinate refusal to accept a sign there arises the mother’s impressive faith, which confronted danger without dismay, and uttered her conviction of God’s presence with His people in the name she gave her son. The personality of the mother is equally with that of the son of no importance for the sign; that consists in the mother’s faith and the son’s name. Accordingly it is better to translate ‘a young woman’ instead of ‘the young woman.’ Isaiah, however, does not mean precisely that any young woman, who is shortly about to conceive and give birth to a son, may call his name Immanuel. While he has no definite young woman in his mind, he predicts that some young woman will, in the future, conceive and bear a son, to whom she will give the name Immanuel. His language is not that of hypothesis but of prediction.* [Note: The connexion of v. 16 with v. 14 is as follows. A young woman will bear a son and call his name Immanuel. This will be a sign, for it will express a faith which triumphs over the appearance of imminent disaster. And it is truly God-inspired faith, for it will be splendidly vindicated. Ere the child thus born in days of darkness knows how to distinguish between hurtful and proper food, the hostile power will be crushed, and thus God’s presence with His people will be clearly manifested. Immanuel will be a standing rebuke to the king’s scepticism.]

2 . The way is now clear to discuss St. Matthew’s use of the passage. This is not the place to examine the subject either of the Virgin-conception of Christ or of the early Christian interpretation of prophecy. It is quite plain that this interpretation was in general very little controlled by the original sense of the OT passage quoted. It was of a largely polemical character, since it was necessary, against the cavilling of the Jews, to prove the Messiahship of Jesus from the OT. Accordingly the Hebrew Scriptures were ransacked to find parallels with the life of Christ; and it is not unlikely that, at a quite early period, collections of these passages were drawn up for controversial use. The First Gospel is peculiarly rich in Messianic proof-texts, and it is therefore not surprising that for two facts so important to the author as the Virgin-conception and the Incarnation the writer should allege an OT prophecy. But the fact that he has done so creates a very interesting problem, which, however, will be approached differently by those who accept the Virgin-conception as a fact and by those who dispute it. For the former, the fact itself is the starting-point, and the author had to find in the OT a text appropriate to it. The only question that would really arise would be as to the part played by the LXX Septuagint in suggesting  Isaiah 7:14. In this passage the LXX Septuagint renders עַלִמָה by παρθένος,, which suggests virginity much more strongly than the Hebrew word. At the same time, the fact that the LXX Septuagint so translated shows that the author of the First Gospel may independently have taken the word in the same sense. That he did so is rendered not improbable by the fact that his translation differs in some points from that of the LXX Septuagint.† [Note: The LXX of is 7:14 reads in B: διὰ τοῦτο δώσει Κύριος αὐτός ὑμῖν σημεῖον ἰδοὺ η ταρθενος ἑν γαστρὶ λήμψεται καὶ τεξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὀνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουήλ. For λήμψεται, however, אAQ read ἔξει, which is the same rendering as that in Matthew. For καλέσεις we have in אκαλέσει; neither B nor א here coincide with Matthew. The text in  Matthew 1:23 reads ἰδοὺ ἡ ταρθενος ἑν γαστρὶ ἔξει καὶ τεξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὁνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουηλ.] The significance for the doctrine of the Incarnation of the name Immanuel , which might be translated ‘God with us’ as well as ‘God is with us,’ probably first drew his attention to the passage, and then the translation of עַלִמָה by παρθένος would readily be suggested by his belief in the Virgin-conception.

Among those, however, who regard the belief in the Virgin-birth as a piece of primitive Christian mythology, there has been a controversy as to what led the author to quote this passage, and the relation between that belief and the passage in Isaiah. Many think that the former was created by the latter,* [Note: Harnack: ‘Even the belief that Jesus was born of a virgin sprang from  Isaiah 7:14 … The conjecture of Usener, that the idea of the birth from a virgin is a heathen myth which was received by the Christians, contradicts the entire earliest development of Christian tradition, which is free from heathen myths, so far as these had not already been received by wide circles of Jews (above all, certain Babylonian and Persian myths), which in the case of that idea is not demonstrable. Besides, it is in point of method not permissible to stray so far when we have near at hand such a complete explanation as  Isaiah 7:14, (History of Dogma, i. p. 100, n. 1). Harnack, it is true, does not assert that it was the LXX rendering which created the belief, though it may be presumed that this is his view. He is not divided in principle from Gunkel and Cheyne, since he admits that heathen myths had come into Christianity through Judaism, but he considers that the Virgin-birth does not as a matter of fact belong to these, and that an extra-Jewish source should not be sought when a Jewish source is at hand. Lobstein characterizes the method applied to the documents of the Bible by Usener as ‘supremely defective,’ and, after admitting the ‘remarkable likenesses to our Gospel tradition’ in the pagan parallels he has accumulated, says: ‘Yet the conclusions which he draws from them go singularly beyond his premisses: the Jewish and Christian factors suffice to explain the genesis of the myth of the Nativity’ (The Virgin Birth of Christ, pp. 128, 129, cf. pp. 75, 76). He thinks the LXX translation responsible for ‘the religious construction adopted by the Evangelist’ (pp. 74, 75).] and probably in the form given to it by the LXX Septuagint translation. The Hebrew, it is thought, would not naturally have lent itself to this purpose apart from the definite use of παρθένος in the LXX Septuagint. Several recent scholars, on the other hand, consider that the use of παρθένος is quite insufficient to account for St. Matthew’s quotation. They consider that even, before the birth of Jesus there had been formed a doctrine of the Messiah, which included among other things His supernatural birth. This was ultimately derived from the pagan stories of children of the gods, but was not taken over directly from paganism by Jewish Christianity. It had arisen on the soil of Judaism itself, and it is in the Judaeo-pagan syncretism, with its doctrine that the Messiah must be born of a virgin, that the origin of the belief is to be sought. What was said of Christ was subsequently transferred to Jesus, when Jesus and the Christ were identified. A quotation from Gunkel will make this position clear. After saying that the mythological representations did not make their first appearance in the later Gentile Christianity, he proceeds: ‘But this would have been impossible if Judaism itself had not previously possessed this or similar representations. The birth of Christ from the Virgin through the Divine Spirit had, we may assume, already belonged to the Christological dogma before Jesus, just as His birth in Bethlehem and from David’s race, and has been transferred to Jesus only at a later time. What we have to learn then, and what will subsequently be shown again, is that this Judaism which found its way into primitive Christianity must have been strongly inclined to syncretism’ ( Zum religionsgeschichtlichen Verstandnis des NT , p. 69). Similarly, Cheyne, in his Bible Problems , considers that the historical explanation of the statement of the Virgin-birth is that it arose ‘in the story of non-Jewish origin current in Jewish circles and borrowed from them by certain Jewish Christians.’ He interprets ‘virgin’ in a peculiar sense. In its original meaning ‘it expresses the fact that the great mythic mother-goddess was independent of the marriage tie’ (p. 75). For him the passage in Mt. ‘is a Jewish-Christian transformation of a primitive story, derived ultimately, in all probability, from Babylonia, and analogous to the Jewish transformation of the Babylonian cosmogony in the opening section of Genesis’* [Note: also the important remarks on pp. 193–195. He thinks the translation ταρθενος is so far from accounting for the belief in the Virgin-birth that it needs to be explained itself. ‘In  Isaiah 7:14 the translator must have had some special motive, and that motive must have been not philological, but, if I may say so, ideological.’ ‘As for the quotation in  Matthew 1:22 f. it is perfectly well accounted for as one of the subsidiary Biblical proofs which were habitually sought for by the evangelists. The real supports of their statements were traditions of one kind or another, but their belief in the written word of prophecy led them to look for a justification of these traditions in the prophetic scriptions and the prophecies had a common origin.’ The same view is taken by the scholars who regard the doctrine as purely pagan in origin. See, e.g., Pfleiderer, Das Urchristentum2, i. pp. 551, 694, where he affirms that Mt.’s use of  Isaiah 7:14 was possible only for one who had already quite other grounds for ascribing that origin to Jesus.] (p. 93). On the other hand, a good many scholars take the view that the story was created, not simply out of pagan materials, but on pagan soil and among Gentile Christians. This is the view of Usener, Schmiedel, Soltau, Pfleiderer, and others (see references below). It does not fall within the scope of this article to discuss this question further, since it is concerned simply with the bearing of the LXX Septuagint translation of עַלִמָה by παρθένος on the development of the belief in the Virgin-conception of Christ. To rebut the Christian use of  Isaiah 7:14 as a prediction of the supernatural birth of Christ, later Jewish translators substituted νεᾶνις for παρθένος. See Virgin Birth.

Literature.—In addition to commentaries on Isaiah and Matthew, and articles on ‘Immanuel’ in Dictionaries of the Bible, reference may be made to the articles ‘Mary’ and ‘Nativity’ in the Encyc. Bibl .; Giesebrecht, S K [Note: K Studien und Kritiken.] , 1888; Porter, JB L [Note: BL Journal of Biblical Literature.] , 1895; McCurdy, II PM , vol. i. pp. 368–371, 417–420; Soltau, The Birth of Jesus Christ , pp. 50–52; Lobstein, The Virgin Birth of Christ , pp. 73–75, 128–130; Cheyne, Bible Problems , pp. 67–100, 191–195; Pfleiderer, Das Urchristentum 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , i. pp. 551, 694; Harnack, History of Dogma , i. p. 100, n. [Note: note.] 1; Box, ‘The Gospel Narratives of the Nativity and the alleged Influence of Heathen Ideas’ in ZNT W [Note: NTW Zeitschrift für die Neutest. Wissen. schaft.] , 1905, p. 80 ff.

A. S. Peake.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

IMMANUEL . The name occurs in   Isaiah 7:14;   Isaiah 8:8 ,   Matthew 1:23 , and is a Heb. word meaning ‘God is with us’; the spelling Emmanuel comes from the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] (see   Matthew 1:23 AV [Note: Authorized Version.] , RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). Its interpretation involves a discussion of   Isaiah 7:1-25 , esp.   Isaiah 7:10-17 .

1. Grammatical difficulties . The RV [Note: Revised Version.] should be consulted throughout. The exact implication of the word ‘virgin’ or ‘maiden’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ) is doubtful (see art. Virgin); it is sufficient here to say that it ‘is not the word which would be naturally used for virgin , if that was the point which it was desired to emphasize’ (Kirkpatrick, Doctrine of the Prophets , p. 187). The definite article may either indicate that the prophet has some particular mother in mind, or be generic, referring to the class. In   Isaiah 7:16 the renderings of RV [Note: Revised Version.] and RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] are both admissible, but the former is more probable; in   Isaiah 7:16 RV [Note: Revised Version.] should be followed, AV [Note: Authorized Version.] being quite misleading. In   Isaiah 8:8 there may be no reference to Immanuel at all; a very slight alteration of the vowel points would give the reading ‘… of the land; for God is with us’; the refrain occurs in   Isaiah 8:10 .

2. Historical situation . In b.c. 735 the kings of Syria and Ephraim formed an alliance against Judah, with the object of setting Tabeel, a nominee of their own, on the throne of David, and forcing the Southern Kingdom to join in a confederacy against Assyria. Ahaz had only lately come to the throne, and the kingdom was weak and demoralized (  2 Kings 16:6 ). The purpose of Isaiah was to calm the terror of the people (  Isaiah 7:2 ), and to restore faith in Jehovah (  Isaiah 7:9 ). But the policy of Ahaz was to take the fatal step of Invoking the aid of Assyria itself. Hence, when the prophet offered him a sign from God, he refused to accept it, for fear of committing himself to the prophet’s policy of faith and independence. He cloaked his refusal in words of apparent piety. A sign is, however, given the birth of a child, who shall eat butter and honey ( i.e. poor pastoral fare; cf.   Isaiah 7:22 ) till (?) he comes to years of discretion. Before that time, i.e. before he is four or five years old, Syria and Ephraim shall be ruined (  Isaiah 7:16 ). But Ahaz and his own kingdom shall become the prey of Assyria (  Isaiah 7:17 ); the rest of the chapter consists of pictures of desolation. The interpretation of the sign is by no means clear. Who is the child and what does his name imply? Is the sign a promise or a threat? It should be noticed, as probably an essential element in the problem, that it is the house or dynasty of David which is being attacked, and which is referred to throughout the chapter (  Isaiah 7:2;   Isaiah 7:13;   Isaiah 7:17 ).

3. Who is the child? (see Driver, Isaiah , p. 40 ff.). ( a ) The traditional interpretation sees in the passage a direct prophecy of the Virgin-birth of Christ, and nothing else. In what sense, then, was it a sign to Ahaz? The view runs counter to the modern conception of prophecy, which rightly demands that its primary interpretation shall be brought into relation to the ideas and circumstances of its age. The rest of the chapter does not refer to Christ, but to the troubles of the reign of Ahaz; is it legitimate to tear half a dozen words from their context, and apply them arbitrarily to an event happening generations after? ( b ) It is suggested that the maiden is the wife of Ahaz and that her son is Hezekiah, the king of whom Isaiah rightly had such high hopes; or ( c ) that she is the ‘prophetess,’ the wife of Isaiah himself. In both cases we ask why the language is so needlessly ambiguous. The chronological difficulty would seem to be fatal to ( b ), Hezekiah being almost certainly several years old in 735; and ( c ) makes the sign merely a duplication of that given in   Isaiah 8:3 . It becomes a mere note of time (‘before the child grows up, certain things shall have happened’); it leaves unexplained the solemn way in which the birth is announced, the choice of the name, and its repetition in   Isaiah 8:8 (if the usual reading be retained). It also separates this passage from   Isaiah 9:1-7 ,   Isaiah 11:1-9 , which almost certainly stand in connexion with it. Similar objections may be urged against the view ( d ), which sees in the maiden any Jewish mother of marriageable age, who in spite of all appearances to the contrary may call her child, then about to be born, by a name indicating the Divine favour, in token of the coming deliverance. The point of the sign is then the mother’s faith and the period of time within which the deliverance shall be accomplished. ( e ) A more allegorical version of this interpretation explains the maiden as Zion personified, and her ‘son’ as the coming generation. But the invariable word for Zion and countries in such personifications is bethulah , not ‘almah (see art. Virgin). ( f ) There remains the view which sees in the passage a reference to a Messiah in the wider use of the term, as understood by Isaiah and his contemporaries. There probably already existed in Judah the expectation of an ideal king and deliverer, connected with the house of David (  2 Samuel 7:12-16 ). Now at the moment when that house is attacked and its representative proves himself unworthy, Isaiah announces in oracular language the immediate coming of that king. The reference in   2 Samuel 8:8 , and the passages in chs. 9, 11, will then fall into their place side by side with this. They show that the prophet’s thoughts were at this period dwelling much on the fate and the work of the ‘wondrous child,’ who will, in fact, be a scion of the house of David (  2 Samuel 9:7 ,   2 Samuel 11:1 ). Strong support is given to this view by   Micah 5:3 (‘until the time when she that beareth hath brought forth’); whether the passage belong to Micah himself, a contemporary of Isaiah, or be of later date, it is clearly a reference to   Isaiah 7 , and is of great importance as an indication of the ideas current at the time. With regard to the beliefs of the time, evidence has been lately brought forward (esp. by Jeremias and Gressmann) showing that outside Israel (particularly in Egypt and Babylonia) there existed traditions and expectations of a semi-divine saviour-king, to be born of a divine, perhaps a virgin, mother, and to be wonderfully reared. That is to say, there was an already existing tradition to which the prophet could appeal, and which is presupposed by his words; note esp. ‘ the virgin.’ How much the tradition included, we cannot say; e.g. did it include the name ‘Immanuel’? The ‘butter and honey’ seems to be a pre-existing feature, representing originally the Divine nourishment on which the child is reared; so, according to the Greek legend, the infant Zeus is fed on milk and honey in the cave on Ida. But in the prophecy, as it stands, it seems to be used of the hard fare which alone is left to the inhabitants of an invaded land. We must indeed distinguish throughout between the conceptions of the primitive myth, and the sense in which the prophet applies these conceptions. The value of the supposition that he was working on the lines of popular beliefs ready to his hand, is that it explains how his hearers would be prepared to understand his oracular language, and suggests that much that is obscure to us may have been clear to them. It confirms the view that the prophecy was intended to be Messianic, i.e. to predict the birth of a mysterious saviour.

4. Was the sign favourable or not? The text, as it stands, leaves it very obscure whether Isaiah gave Ahaz a promise or a threat. The fact that the king had hardened his heart may have turned the sign which should have been of good omen into something different. The name of the child and   Isaiah 7:16 speak of deliverance;   Isaiah 7:15-17 and the rest of the chapter, of judgment. It is perfectly true that Isaiah’s view of the future was that Ephraim and Syria should be destroyed, that Judah should also suffer from Assyrian invasion, but that salvation should come through the faithful remnant. The difficulty is to extract this sense from the passage. The simplest method is to follow the critics who omit   Isaiah 7:16 , or at least the words ‘whose two kings thou abhorrest’; ‘the land’ will then refer naturally to Judah; if referring, as it is usually understood, to Syria and Ephraim, the singular is very strange. The prophecy is then a consistent announcement of judgment. Immanuel shall be born, but owing to the unbelief of Ahaz, his future is mortgaged and he is born only to a ruined kingdom (cf.   Isaiah 8:8 ); it is not stated in this passage whether the hope implied in his name will ever he realized. Others would omit   Isaiah 8:17 , and even   Isaiah 8:15 , making the sign a promise of the failure of the coalition. Whatever view be adopted, the inconsistencies of the text make it at least possible that it has suffered from interpolation, and that we have not got the prophecy in its original form. The real problem is not to account for the name ‘Immanuel,’ or for the promise of a saviour-king, but to understand what part he plays in the rest of the chapter. Connected with this is the further difficulty of explaining why the figure of the Messianic king disappears almost entirely from Isaiah’s later prophecies.

5. Its application to the Virgin-birth . The full discussion of the quotation in   Matthew 1:23 is part of the larger subjects of Messianic prophecy, the Virgin-birth, and the Incarnation. The following points may be noticed here. ( a ) Though the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] (which has parthenos ‘virgin’) and the Alexandrian Jews apparently interpreted the passage in a Messianic sense and of a virgin-birth, there is no evidence to show that this interpretation was sufficiently prominent and definite to explain the rise of the belief in the miraculous conception. The text was applied to illustrate the fact or the belief in the fact; the fact was not imagined to meet the requirements of the text. The formula used in the quotation suggests that it belongs to a series of OT passages drawn up in the primitive Church to illustrate the life of Christ (see Allen, St. Matthew , p. lxii.). ( b ) The text would not now be used as a proof of the Incarnation. ‘Immanuel’ does not in itself imply that the child was regarded as God, but only that he was to be the pledge of the Divine presence, and endowed in a special sense with the spirit of Jehovah (cf.   Isaiah 11:2 ). The Incarnation ‘fulfils’ such a prophecy, because Christ is the true realization of the vague and half-understood longings of the world, both heathen and Jewish.

C. W. Emmet.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

("God with us".)  Isaiah 7:10-16;  Isaiah 8:8;  Matthew 1:23. "Behold (arresting attention to the extraordinary prophecy) a (Hebrew: the) virgin (primarily the woman (the foreappointed mother of the Messiah is ultimately meant by the Spirit); then a virgin, soon to become the prophet's second wife) shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel .... Before the child (Isaiah's) shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good (i.e. before he reaches the age of discrimination, three years), the land (Syria and Israel then leagued in one) that thou abhorrest," etc. (rather, "the land before the face of whose two kings thou shrinkest shall be forsaken" or "desolate".) Ahaz, king of Judah, received this as a sign given by the Lord Himself, when the king refused to ask one, that Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus, who had already "smitten him with a great slaughter," so that "his and his people's heart was moved as the trees of the wood with the wind" (2 Chronicles 28;  Isaiah 7:1-2), should nevertheless not subdue Jerusalem, but be themselves and their land subdued.

Just two years after Pekah of Israel was slain by Hoshea, and Rezin of Damascus by Tiglath Pileser king of Assyria. Like many typical prophecies, having a primary and an ulterior fulfillment (the one mainly aimed at), this has only a partial realization in the circumstances of Isaiah's age; these are only suggestive of those which form the consummation of all prophecy ( Revelation 19:10), Messiah's advent. Thus "the virgin" has its full meaning only in the virgin mother of whom Jesus was born, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Jeremiah 31:21-22; "O virgin of Israel ... the Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, a woman shall compass a man."  Micah 5:3; Israel's and Judah's deliverance is ensured by the birth of Immanuel, "He will give them up, until ... she which travaileth hath brought forth." The New Testament application is not an "accommodation," for Matthew ( Matthew 1:23) expressly states that Jesus' birth of the virgin "was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold," etc., "and they (no longer she) shall call His name Emmanuel."

When the prophecy received its full and exhaustive accomplishment, no longer is the sense of Immanuel restricted to the prophetess' view of it, in its partial fulfillment in her son; all then call or regard Him as peculiarly and exclusively characterized by the name "Immanuel."  1 Timothy 3:16; "God was manifest in the flesh" ( Colossians 2:9).  Matthew 28:20; "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."  John 1:14;  John 1:18. His full manifestation as "God with us" shal1 be in the "new heavens and new earth."  Revelation 21:3; "behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them . . . and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God." Immanuel cannot in the strict sense apply to Isaiah's son, but only to the "CHILD ... SON ... Wonderful, the mighty God," as Isaiah expressly says  Isaiah 9:6, declaring moreover that his children ( Isaiah 7:3;  Isaiah 7:14, etc.) are types of Him.

 Isaiah 8:18; "behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs ... in Israel from the Lord of hosts," which  Hebrews 2:13 quotes to prove the manhood of Messiah. Isaiah (i.e. Jehovah's salvation) typically represents Messiah as "the mighty (Hero) God," "the everlasting Father"; Isaiah's children represent Him as "Child" and "Son." Local and temporary features (as  Isaiah 7:15-16) are added in every type, otherwise it would be no type, but the Antitype itself. Call His name Immanuel" means not mere appellation, for this was not the designation by which men ordinarily named Him, but His revealed character shall be what Immanuel means. Sin destroyed the faculty of intuitively perceiving, as Adam once did, the characteristics; hence the name is now generally arbitrary, and not expressive of the nature.

In the case of Jesus Christ, and many in Scripture, the Holy Spirit supplies this want. The promised birth of Messiah involved the preservation of Judah and of David's line, from which God said He should be sprung. Others explain  Isaiah 7:14 to refer to the Messiah Immanuel, strictly born of the virgin. "The child" in Isaiah 7:15-16, refers to the child Shear-jashub at Isaiah's side ( Isaiah 7:3). The purpose of the two smoking firebrands ( Isaiah 7:4) shall come to nought, for before this child shall grow up, the two shall be extinguished. But God's purpose concerning the house of David shall stand, for the virgin shall bring forth Immanuel.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [4]

When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he learned that his fianc Mary was "with child through the Holy Spirit" and would give birth to a son named "Immanuel" ( Matthew 1:18,23 ). "Immanuel" is a Hebrew word meaning "God with us" and expresses the wonder of the incarnation, that God "became flesh and made his dwelling among us" ( John 1:14 ). In the Old Testament God's presence with his people Israel was particularly evident in the tabernacle ( Exodus 25:8 ), but the glory that filled the tabernacle was surpassed by the personal presence of God the Son as he revealed the Father during his ministry on earth. Christ's glory was revealed through the miracles he performed ( John 2:11 ).

The birth of Immanuel to the virgin Mary fulfilled the prophecy of  Isaiah 7:14 , the sign given to Ahaz about seven hundred years earlier. At that time the wicked Ahaz ignored Isaiah's advice and appealed to the king of Assyria for help in a political crisis. Both the context of  Isaiah 7 and the use of "Immanuel" two more times in chapter 8 (vv. 8,10) raise the distinct possibility that the sign had a near fulfillment that affected Ahaz directly. Such a possibility is supported by the two verses immediately after 7:14 that tell us that the boy will still be young when Ahaz's enemies—the kings of Samaria and Damascus—will lose their power (a prediction fulfilled in 732 b.c.). The birth of a boy who would serve as a sign to Ahaz appears to be closely linked to the birth of Isaiah's son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz in 8:1-4. Both Immanuel in 7:15-16 and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz in 8:4 are young children when Damascus and Samaria collapse. And in 8:8 the two boys may be identified as Isaiah addresses Immanuel as if he were already present in Jerusalem. Verse 10 contains another occurrence of "Immanuel" in the words "God is with us." The prophet was challenging Ahaz to trust God, who was "with" his people just as he had promised to be with them constantly. In   Numbers 14:9 Joshua and Caleb had urged the Israelites to acknowledge that the Lord was with them and to begin the conquest of Canaan, but just like Ahaz the people chose the path of unbelief with its tragic consequences. An earlier king of Judah, Abijah, believed that God was with his people as they faced the numerically superior army of Jeroboam. Abijah's faith was honored as the Lord gave him a resounding victory (  2 Chronicles 13:12-15 ).

If "Immanuel" was another name for Isaiah's son, the use of "virgin" for Isaiah's wife refers to the time when she was his fianc. The sign of  Isaiah 7:14 constitutes a blessing on an upcoming marriage, predicting that a virgin who was engaged to be married would be able to have a child early in the marriage. Unlike Mary she was not a virgin after she became pregnant. It is likely that Isaiah's marriage to a prophetess is in fact briefly described in 8:1-3. Matthew's use of this verse was extraordinarily appropriate in light of Mary's unique virginity and the incarnation of Jesus, who was God in the flesh. Matthew ends his Gospel with Jesus' own assurance to his disciples that he was Immanuel: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (28:20).

Herbert M. Wolf

See also Virgin Birth

Bibliography . J. Lindblom, A Study of the Immanuel Section in Isaiah  ; J. Oswalt,  Isaiah 1-39  ; H. M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah .

Holman Bible Dictionary [5]

 Isaiah 7:14 Matthew 1:22-23

When King Ahaz refused to show his faith by asking God for a sign ( Isaiah 7:10-12 ), Isaiah gave him a sign of the birth of Immanuel, using the traditional form of a birth announcement ( Isaiah 7:14; compare  Genesis 16:11;  Judges 13:3 ,Judges 13:3, 13:5 ). The Hebrew language apparently indicates that the prophet and king expected an immediate fulfillment. Recent study has pointed to Ahaz's wife as the woman expected to bear the child and show that God was still with the Davidic royal dynasty even in the midst of severe threat from Assyria. Such a sign would give hope to a king who trusted God but would be a constant threat to one who followed his own strategy. The double meaning of the Immanuel sign appears again in  Isaiah 8:8 . The Assyrian army would flood the land until Judah was up to its neck in trouble and could only cry out, “O Immanuel”; a cry confessing that God is with us in His destructive rage but at the same time a prayer, hoping for divine intervention. Isaiah followed this with a call to the nations to lose in battle because of Immanuel, God with us ( Isaiah 8:10 ).

The Bible says nothing else about the effects of the Immanuel prophecy in the days of Isaiah and Ahaz. It does announce the great fulfillment in Jesus Christ ( Matthew 1:22-23 ). Jesus' birth showed all humanity that God is faithful to fulfill His promises in ways far beyond human expectations; for Jesus was not just a sign of God with us. Jesus was God become flesh, God incarnate, God with us in Person.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [6]

Meaning ‘God with us’, the name ‘Immanuel’ was given at first to a child born in the time of Ahaz, king of Judah (735-716 BC). The birth and naming of the child was a sign of assurance to the king and his people that God was with them to protect them during an enemy attack ( Isaiah 7:10-16; see Ahaz ).

The promise given to Ahaz was quoted in the New Testament by Matthew in relation to the birth of Jesus Christ. The virgin Mary also would conceive and give birth to a son named Immanuel, but in this case ‘God with us’ meant much more. In Jesus Christ, God actually came and lived as a man among the inhabitants of earth ( Matthew 1:18-23;  John 1:14). (For fuller discussion see Virgin .)

People's Dictionary of the Bible [7]

Immanuel ( Im-Măn'U-El ), God With Us. The name given to the child whose birth the prophet Isaiah was authorized to announce to Ahaz when the confederacy was formed by Israel and Syria against Judah.  Isaiah 7:1-16. This passage has been cited by Matthew, and specially applied to the birth of Christ,  Matthew 1:22-23, who is rightly regarded as "God with us" and as ever present in his church and with his people through the ages of the world.  Matthew 28:20.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [8]

Imman'uel. That is, God With Us , the title applied by the apostle Matthew, to the Messiah , born of the Virgin,  Matthew 1:23;  Isaiah 7:14, because Jesus was God united with man , and showed that God was dwelling with men .

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

 Isaiah 7:14,8:8 Matthew 1:23

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [10]

See Emmanuel .

Webster's Dictionary [11]

(n.) God with us; - an appellation of the Christ.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [12]

See Emmanuel

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [13]

i - man´ū̇ - el ( עמּנוּ אל , ‛immānū'ēl ): The name occurs but 3 times, twice in the Old Testament (  Isaiah 7:14;  Isaiah 8:8 ), and once in the New Testament ( Matthew 1:23 ). It is a Hebrew word signifying "God is with us." The form "Emmanuel" appears in Septuagint (Ἐμμανουήλ , Emmanouḗl ).

1. Isaiah Rebukes Ahaz

In 735 bc Ahaz was king of Judah. The kingdom of Israel was already tributary to Assyria ( 2 Kings 15:19 ,  2 Kings 15:20 ). Pekah, king of Israel, a bold and ambitious usurper, and Rezin, king of Syria, formed an alliance, the dual object of which was, first, to organize a resistance against Assyria, and second, to force Ahaz to cooperate in their designs against the common tyrant. In the event of Ahaz' refusal, they planned to depose him, and to set the son of Tabeel, a choice of their own, upon the throne of David. To this end they waged war against Judah, advancing as far as Jerusalem itself, but without complete success ( Isaiah 7:1 ). Ahaz, a weak king, and now panic-stricken, determined to invoke the aid of Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria ( 2 Kings 16:7 ). This he actually did at a later stage in the war ( 2 Kings 6:9;  2 Kings 15:29 ). Such a course would involve the loss of national independence and the payment of a heavy tribute. At this period of crisis, Isaiah, gathering his disciples around him ( Isaiah 8:16 ), is told to deliver a message to the king. Ahaz, though making a show of resistance against the coalition, is in reality neither depending upon the help of Yahweh nor upon the courage of his people. Isaiah, in an effort to calm his fears and prevent the fatal alliance with Assyria, offers him a sign. This method is specially characteristic of this prophet. Fearing to commit himself to the policy of Divine dependence, but with a pretense at religious scruples, "Neither will I tempt Yahweh," the king refuses ( Isaiah 7:12 ). The prophet then chides him bitterly for his lack of faith, which, he says, not only wearies men, but God also ( Isaiah 7:13 ).

2. The Sign of "Immanuel"

He then proceeds to give him a sign from God Himself, the sign of "Immanuel" ( Isaiah 7:14 ). The interpretation of this sign is not clear, even apart from its New Testament application to Christ. The Hebrew word translated "virgin" in English Versions of the Bible means, more correctly, "bride," in the Old English sense of one who is about to become a wife, or is still a young wife.  Psalm 68:25 English Versions of the Bible gives "damsels."

Isaiah predicts that a young bride shall conceive and bear a son. The miracle of virgin-conception, therefore, is not implied. The use of the definite article before "virgin" ( - ‛almāh ) does not of itself indicate that the prophet had any particular young woman in his mind, as the Hebrew idiom often uses the definite article indefinitely. The fact that two other children of the prophet, like Hosea's, bore prophetic and mysterious names, invites the conjecture that the bride referred to was his own wife. The hypothesis of some critics that a woman of the harem of Ahaz became the mother of Hezekiah, and that he was the Immanuel of the prophet's thought is not feasible. Hezekiah was at least 9 years of age when the prophecy was given (  2 Kings 16:2 ).

Immanuel, in the prophetic economy, evidently stands on the same level with Shear-jashub ( Isaiah 7:3 ) as the embodiment of a great idea, to which Isaiah again appeals in  Isaiah 8:8 (see Isaiah , VII).

3. Was It a Promise or a Threat?

The question as to whether the sign given to Ahaz was favorable or not presents many difficulties. Was it a promise of good or a threat of judgment? It is evident that the prophet had first intended an omen of deliverance and blessing ( Isaiah 7:4 ,  Isaiah 7:7 ). Did the king's lack of faith alter the nature of the sign?  Isaiah 7:9 , "If ye will not believe," etc., implies that it might have done so. The omission of  Isaiah 7:16 , and especially the words "whose two kings thou abhorrest," greatly simplifies this theory, as "the land," singular, would more naturally refer to Judah than to Syria and Ephraim collectively. The omen would then become an easily interpreted threat, referring to the overthrow of Judah rather than that of her enemies. Immanuel should eat curdled milk and honey ( Isaiah 7:15 ), devastation reducing the land from an agricultural to a pastoral one. The obscure nature of the passage as it stands suggests strongly that it has suffered from interpolation. The contrary theory that the sign was a promise and not a prediction of disaster, has much to commend it, though it necessitates greater freedom with the text. The name "Immanuel" implies the faith of the young mother of the child in the early deliverance of her country, and a rebuke to the lack of that quality in Ahaz. It is certain also that Isaiah looked for the destruction of Syria and Ephraim, and that, subsequent to the Assyrian invasion, salvation should come to Judah through the remnant that had been faithful ( Isaiah 11:11 ). The fact that the prophet later gave the name of Maher-shalal-hash-baz to his new-born son, a name of good omen to his country, further strengthens this position. The omission of  Isaiah 7:15 ,  Isaiah 7:17 would make the sign a prophecy of the failure of the coalition. It is plain, whichever theory be accepted, that something must be eliminated from the passage to insure a consistent reading.

4. Its Relation to the Messianic Hope

The question now presents itself as to what was the relation of Immanuel to the Messianic prophecies. Should the emphasis be laid upon "a virgin," the son, or the name itself? For traditional interpretation the sign lay in the virgin birth, but the uncertainty of implied virginity in the Hebrew noun makes this interpretation improbable. The identification of the young mother as Zion personified, and of the "son" as the future generation, is suggested by Whitehouse and other scholars. But there is no evidence that the term ‛almāh was used at that time for personification. The third alternative makes Immanuel a Messiah in the wider use of the term, as anticipated by Isaiah and his contemporaries. There can be little doubt but that there existed in Judah the Messianic hope of a national saviour (  2 Samuel 7:12 ). Isaiah is expecting the arrival of one whose character and work shall entitle him to the great names of  Isaiah 9:6 . In him should dwell all the fullness of God. He was to be "of the stem of Jesse," the bringer of the Golden Age. The house of David is now beset by enemies, and its reigning representative is weak in faith. The prophet therefore announces the immediate coming of the deliverer. If he had intended the virgin-conception of Christ in the distant future, the sign of "Immanuel" would have possessed no immediate significance, nor would it have been an omen to Ahaz. With regard to the Messianic idea,  Micah 5:3 ("until the time that she who travaileth hath brought forth") is of importance as indicating the prevalent thought of the time. Recent evidence shows that even in Babylonia and Egypt there existed expectations of a divinely born and wonderful saviour. To this popular tradition the prophet probably appealed, his hearers being easily able to appreciate the force of oracular language that is to us obscure. There is much to confirm the view, therefore, that the prophecy is Messianic.

5. The Virgin Birth

The use of the word as it relates to the virgin birth of Christ and the incarnation cannot be dealt with here (see Person Of Christ ). These facts, however, may be noted. The Septuagint (which has parthénos , "virgin") and the Alexandrian Jews interpreted the passage as referring to the virgin birth and the Messianic ministry. This interpretation does not seem to have been sufficiently prominent to explain the rise of the idea of miraculous virgin conception and the large place it has occupied in Christological thought. See Virgin Birth .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [14]

(Heb. Immanuel', עַמָּנוּאֵל , sometimes separately עַמָּנוּ אֵל , God With Us, as it is interpreted  Matthew 1:23, where it is written Εμμανουήλ , as in the Sept.. and Anglicized "Emmanuel;" the Sept. however, in  Isaiah 8:8. translates it Μεθ᾿ Ἡμῶν Θεός; Vulg. Enmmanuel), a figurative name prescribed through the prophet for a child that should be born as a sign to Ahaz of the speedy downfall of Syria (B.C. cir. 739; see  2 Kings 16:9) and violent interregnum of the kingdom of Israel (B.C. 737-728; see  2 Kings 15:30; comp. 17:1), before the infant should become capable of distinguishing between wholesome and improper kinds of food. The name occurs only in the celebrated verse of Isaiah (vii, 14), "Behold, a [rather the] virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel," and in another passage of the same prophet ( Isaiah 8:8), where the ravaging army of the Assyrians is described as ere long to "fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel," i.e. Judaea, with evident allusion to the former declaration. (See Ahaz).

In the name itself there is no difficulty; but the verse, as a whole, has been variously interpreted. From the manner in which the word God, and even Jehovah, is used in the composition of Hebrew names, there is no such peculiarity in that of Immanuel as in itself requires us to understand that he who bore it must be in fact God. Indeed, it is used as a proper name among the Jews at this day. This high sense has, however, been assigned to it in consequence of the application of the whole verse, by the evangelist Matthew ( Matthew 1:23), to our divine Savior. Even if this reference did not exist, the history of the Nativity would irresistibly lead us to the conclusion that the verse-whatever may have been its intermediate signification-had an ultimate reference to Christ. (See Isaiah).

The state of opinion on this point has been thus concisely summed up by Dr. Henderson in his note on the text: "This verse has long been a subject of dispute between Jews and professedly Christian writers, and among the latter mutually. While the former reject its application to the Messiah altogether-the earlier Rabbins explaining it of the queen of Ahaz and the birth of his son Hezekiah, and the later, as Kimchi and Abarbanel, of the prophet's own wife - the great body of Christian interpreters have held it to be directly and exclusively a prophecy of our Savior, and have considered themselves fully borne out by the inspired testimony of the evangelist Matthew. Others, however, have departed from this construction of the passage, and have invented or adopted various hypotheses in support of such dissent. Grotius, Faber, Isenbiehl, Hezel, Bolten, Fritzsche, Pluschke, Gesenius, and Hitzig, suppose either the then present or a future wife of Isaiah to be the, almah [rendered virgin'], referred to. Eichhorn, Paulus, Hensler, and Ammon are of opinion that the prophet had nothing more in view than an ideal virgin, and that both she and her son are merely imaginary personages, introduced for the purpose of prophetic illustration. Bauer, Cube, Steudel, and some others, think that the prophet pointed to a young woman in the presence of-the king and his courtiers. A fourth class, among whom are Richard Simon, Lowth, Koppe, Dathe, Williams, Vou Meyer, Olshausen, and Dr. J. Pye Smith, admit the hypothesis of a double sense (q.v.): one, in which the words apply primarily to some female living in the time of the prophet, and her giving birth to a son according to the ordinary laws of nature; or, as Dathe holds, to some virgin, who at that time should miraculously conceive; and the other, in which they received a secondary and plenary fulfillment in the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus Christ." (See the monographs enumerated by Volbeding, Index, p. 14; and Furst, Bib. Jud. 2, 60; also Hengstenberg, Christol. des A. T. 2, 69, and the commentators in general; compare the Stud. u. Krif. 1830, 3:538.) This last seems to us the only consistent interpretation. That the child to be so designated was one soon to be born and already spoken of is clear from the entire context and drift of the prophecy. It can be no other than the Maher-shalal-hash-baz (q.v.), the offspring of the prophet's own marriage with the virgin prophetess, who thus became an eminent type of the Messiah's mother ( Isaiah 8:18). (See Virgin).

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [15]

Imman´uel, or Emmanuel. This word, meaning 'God with us,' occurs in the celebrated verse of Isaiah , 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.' In the name itself there is no difficulty; but the verse, as a whole, has been variously interpreted. From the manner in which the word God, and even Jehovah, is used in the composition of Hebrew names, there is no such peculiarity in that of Immanuel as in itself requires us to understand that he who bore it should be in fact God. Indeed, it is used as a proper name among the Jews at this day. This high sense has, however, been assigned to it in consequence of the application of the whole verse by the Evangelist Matthew to our Divine Savior. Even if this reference did not exist, the history of the Nativity would irresistibly lead us to the conclusion that the verse—whatever may have been its intermediate signification—had an ultimate reference to Christ.

The state of opinion on this point has been thus neatly summed up by Dr. Henderson, in his note on the text:—'This verse has long been a subject of dispute between Jews and professedly Christian writers, and among the latter mutually. While the former reject its application to the Messiah altogether—the earlier Rabbins explaining it of the queen of Ahaz and the birth of his son Hezekiah; and the later, as Kimchi and Abarbanel, of the prophet's own wife—the great body of Christian interpreters have held it to be directly and exclusively in prophecy of our Savior, and have considered themselves fully borne out by the inspired testimony of the Evangelist Matthew. Others, however, have departed from this construction of the passage, and have invented or adopted various hypotheses in support of such dissent. Grotius and others suppose either the then present or a future wife of Isaiah to be the 'virgin' referred to. A second class are of opinion that the prophet had nothing more in view than an ideal virgin, and that both she and her son are merely imaginary personages, introduced for the purpose of prophetic illustration. A third think that the prophet pointed to a young woman in the presence of the king and his courtiers. A fourth class admit the hypothesis of a double sense: one in which the words apply primarily to some female living in the time of the prophet, and her giving birth to a son according to the ordinary laws of nature; or, as Dathe holds, to some virgin, who at that time should miraculously conceive; and the other, in which they received a secondary and plenary fulfillment in the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus Christ.