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The Sign of the Virgin Birth

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Isaiah 7–8

The feeble hopes of the desperate people of Isaiah’s day stand in marked contrast to the glorious assurance found in their coming, virgin-born Messiah. The one who entered this world by way of a miraculous work can surely direct and care for all His people in this world.


The Sign of the Virgin Birth

Isaiah 7–8


You may remember that after the death of Solomon, the nation of Israel split in two. The ten tribes of the north called themselves Israel, and Samaria became their capital city. The two tribes in the south, Judah and Benjamin, remained loyal to the house of David and kept Jerusalem as their capital, calling themselves Judah. By the time Isaiah is preaching here in Jerusalem, this split, or division, is now some 200 years old.

As we arrive here at Isaiah 7, the setting is one of panic and terror. The empire of Assyria is growing more and more aggressive—frankly, they want the territory of Israel and Judah. The Assyrians were known for their military power, as well as their cruelty toward captured people. Rumor had it that the king of Assyria sat on a throne he had covered with the skin of conquered kings.

So, the nation of Israel—the ten northern tribes—created a coalition with their neighbor Syria. They now want Judah to join them in the hope that together they can defeat the Assyrian army.

But Ahaz, the king of Judah, knows that is a lost cause, and he will not join this coalition. So, Israel and Syria invade Judah in order to force them into this alliance.

As you can imagine, Ahaz is terrified; he and all of Jerusalem are in panic mode. Chapter 7 opens by telling us in verse 2, “The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”

Well, God tells Isaiah to take his son and go out to meet King Ahaz and reassure him. Isaiah’s son’s name, here in verse 3, is “Shear-jashub,” which means “a remnant shall return.” The presence of Isaiah’s son is a sign that God is not going to erase His covenant promises, no matter what happens.

Isaiah and his son meet King Ahaz and tell him, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint” (verse 4). In other words, God has everything under control. Isaiah is effectively saying to Ahaz, “Listen, God doesn’t make plans—He’s always had plans. His plans go back into eternity past, and His plans are unstoppable, regardless of what coalitions and kings and evil empires try to do.”

Maybe that is exactly the message you need to hear today from the Lord. Maybe you are panicking over something; maybe your back is against the wall, and the pressure is on. The Lord is saying to you, “Be quiet, do not fear, do not let your heart be faint.”

Now what Isaiah does next is deliver one of the greatest prophecies about the Lord Jesus that we find in all the Bible.

Isaiah says to King Ahaz here in verse 14, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel means, “God with us.”

That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? In his Gospel, Matthew cites this text as being fulfilled in the virgin birth of Christ (Matthew 1:22-23). But here in Isaiah 7, it gets a little confusing because if you keep reading about the birth of this boy, you will find this in verse 16: “Before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”

He is declaring that the kings of Israel and Syria, who are threatening the king of Judah, are going to die while this boy is still a little toddler. And that is exactly what happened before two years had passed.

So, is this prophecy talking about Jesus, or not?

One of the key elements to keep in mind as you study the prophets is this: prophecies can have an immediate fulfillment and a future fulfillment. There can be an immediate application and then a later application, and that is what we have here.

First, there is an immediate fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. Isaiah’s first wife has evidently died. We are not given the details, but we are told that Isaiah marries again, and he marries a virgin. They consummate their marriage, and around nine months later, she has this little boy. And God directs them to give two names to their son. One of his names is a sign, and the other name is his signature.

Isaiah and his wife do not need to think through a list of possible names—names that sound good with their names, names that come down the line from Grandpa Henry or Uncle Harry. God says here that the boy’s name shall be Immanuel. That name is a sign—God is reassuring His people that even in these panic-stricken, chaotic times, God is still with them.

Then over in chapter 8 we are given his signature—that is, his formal name, so to speak. Here is what Isaiah writes in verse 3:

And I went to the prophetess [his wife], and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz.”

That’s a long name! I can imagine this kid is going to have a tough time in kindergarten learning how to write his name.

Even though this is his formal name, it also serves as a sign because it means “quick to plunder.” And if there’s any question about who is going to do the plundering, the Lord spells it out in verse 4: Assyria will be quick to plunder the kings of Israel and Syria.

All this, then, is the immediate application of this prophecy.

But the later fulfillment of the prophecy is indeed found in Jesus; and it is the greater fulfillment by far, according to the Gospel accounts of Mary. Mary was not just a virgin when she got married and then later conceived; no, Mary was still a virgin when she became pregnant. Matthew uses this text from Isaiah in its much more miraculous meaning.

Unfortunately, Isaiah’s message and the signs of his son’s names are ignored by Ahaz and the people of Judah. In fact, the people are rushing to hear from occult leaders and sorcerers who supposedly get in touch with the spirit world, all the while ignoring the Word of God.

Isaiah challenges them as he preaches, telling them they are trying to get direction from all the wrong places. He says here in verse 19 of chapter 8 that they “inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter.”

They are going to people who supposedly contact the dead and deliver their little messages to deceive their audiences. The people are going to spiritual advisers and occult practitioners; they are reading the stars.

Beloved, nothing much has changed to this day. Millions of people still check their horoscopes and seek out spiritual guides who have nothing to do with God’s Word.

One author told of a believer being pressed by a fortune-teller, who promised to tell him his future if he would give her some money. He said, “You mean you can tell me what I’ll be doing this time tomorrow?” She said, “Absolutely.” He said, “Listen, I’ll pay you double if you can tell me what I was doing this same time yesterday.” That ended the conversation.[1]

Isaiah goes on in verse 20 to challenge the people to return to God’s Word:

To the teaching and to the testimony! If they [spiritual advisers] will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.

They have no light. Verse 22 adds, “They will be thrust into thick darkness.” And that is what happens when you ignore the dawn, the light of the gospel—you walk in the darkness of unbelief. @end

And with that, Isaiah delivers more amazing prophecies of the Lord Jesus in chapter 9. That is where we will pick up our Wisdom Journey next time.

[1] John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), 18.


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