Ahaz was a bad king, 2 Kings 16:

2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God.

During his reign, Syria was in league with the kingdom of Israel to wage war against Judah (Isaiah 7:1-2) God sent Isaiah to him,

4 And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.

God promised Ahaz that he would take care of the situation.

10 the LORD spoke to Ahaz: 11“Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”

Wasn't Ahaz being good about this?

13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?

But Isaiah didn't respond nicely to Ahaz.

14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

From Ahaz's point of view, how was this sign fulfilled?


4 Answers 4


First, the Hebrew word עַלְמָה (almah) which is translated "virgin" in Isa 7:14 actually only means "damsel/maiden" - a woman of marriageable age who may or may not be a virgin depending on whether she is already married or not. It occurs in only seven places: Gen 24:43, Ex 2:8, Ps 68:25, Prov 30:19, SS 1:3, 6:8, Isa 7:14. [Another Hebrew word, "Bethulah" specifically describes a virgin.]

Isa 7:14 is a prophecy about a child that Isaiah's wife would have as a sign that Assyria would be defeated. It is a local prophecy about a local situation and carries no immediate Messianic overtones. This can be seen in Isa 8 when Abi, the wife of Isaiah conceived (V3) and bore a son. This was declared to be the "sign" in V18.

Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me as signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD of Hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.

Thus, Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled when his wife conceived and gave him a son.

However, the inspired NT writer, Matthew, in ch 1:23 takes this prophecy and re-purposes it to apply to Christ. This could not have been deduced from the original text but by the direction of the Holy Spirit it now has become a Messianic prophecy about Jesus.

Further, in quoting Isa 7:14, Matthew specifically uses the Greek word for "virgin", namely, παρθένος (parthenos), thus making this a significant Messianic, second (dual) prophecy.

The Pulpit commentary observes this:

May not the true account of the matter be that suggested by Bishop Lowth - that the prophecy had a double bearing and a double fulfillment? "The obvious and literal meaning of the prophecy is this," he says: "that within the time that a young woman, now a virgin, should conceive and bring forth a child, and that child should arrive at such an age as to distinguish between good and evil, that is, within a few years, the enemies of Judah should be destroyed." But the prophecy was so worded, he adds, as to have a further meaning, which wan even "the original design and principal intention of the prophet," viz. the Messianic one. All the expressions of the prophecy do not suit both its intentions - some are selected with reference to the first, others with reference to the second fulfillment - but all suit one or the other, and some suit both. The first child may have received the name Immanuel (comp. Ittiel) from a faithful Jewish mother, who believed that God was with his people, whatever dangers threatened, and may have reached years of discretion about the time that Samaria was carried away captive. The second child is the true "Immanuel," "God with us," the king of Isaiah 8:8; it is his mother who is pointed at in the expression, "the virgin," and on his account is the grand preamble; through him the people of God, the true Israel, is delivered from its spiritual enemies, sin and Satan - two kings who continually threaten it.

  • +1 Thanks Dottard. I always appreciate your valuable insights :) What do you think of Gill's objection: 'nor can it be interpreted of Isaiah's wife and son, as Aben Ezra and Jarchi think; since the prophet could never call her a "virgin", who had bore him children, one of which was now with him; nor indeed a "young woman" '
    – user35953
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 23:38
  • 1
    @TonyChan - we do not know the age of Isaiah's wife, but she would have been young, possibly much younger than Isaiah himself (this was commonly the case). She certainly was not a virgin as she has two earlier children. Therefore, the title, "almah" is quite appropriate - she was a damsel, but married.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 2:39
  • What about the possibility of Isaiah having a 2nd wife?
    – user35953
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 3:01
  • @TonyChan - that is possible but very unlikely. Second wives among the commoners (non-nobles) was extremely rare as most could not afford them.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 6:12
  • where do you get that there were two earlier children prior to the child discussed? in Isaiah 7 and 8
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 7:11

Agreeing with Dan Fefferman about the sign, let me draw more attention also to the next verse. You see, the birth of the child was the sign, but it was not the promise (from Ahaz's viewpoint). It was setting the deadline for the arrival of the promise. The point is that the invasion was not being threatened. It was already camped around the city (ch7 v1). That;s why Ahaz and his people are in such despair (vv2-3). The place where Isaiah met Ahaz probably had a good view of the enemy camp.

v14 says the child will be born.v15 says something will happen "before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good" (RSV). A similar promise is made in ch8. Isaiah's child is born from the lady whom I would assume to be his wife (besides being a prophetess in her own right), and the promise is that something will happen "before the child knows how to cry 'My father' or 'my mother'" (ch8 v3) This looks like the same deadline. Within a year or two, at the most.

What was going to happen? The first child "shall eat curds and honey" (ch7 v13). That is a wonderful, glorious promise when given to a besieged and starving city. It means that the child and the rest of the city will have access to food. As a reference back to the old "land of milk and honey" promises (E.g. Exodus ch3 v8), it also suggests a more general revival and restoration.

The promise of the next chapter is that "the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria" (ch8 v3). This is essentially the same promise, because the Assyrian threat is what takes the besieging armies away from the city and makes it possible for the inhabitants to go outside and get food. From the viewpoint of Ahaz, the promise in the sign was fulfilled on that morning when the wall sentries of Jerusalem looked out and found that the tents of the besiegers had vanished.

  • Not sure that they actually camped outside of Jerusalem. But they did march in that direction, with regime change their goal.... v. 6 says "Let us go up against Judah and cut off Jerusalem and conquer it for ourselves and make the son of Tabeel king in it." Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 20:44
  • @Dan Fefferman I think the siege is implied in v1; the hostile kings "came up to Jerusalem to wage war agianst it, but they could not conquer it.." Therefore they attempted to conquer it, and that would have been by siege. Another clue is the shortage of food implied by the promise in v15 Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 22:24
  • P.S. The RSV version of v6 is "let us go up against Judah and terrrify it", NIV says "tear it apart" Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 22:48

The key to understanding how the sign of Isaiah was fulfilled does not lie in debates about the virgin conception of Immanuel. From Ahaz' viewpoint this was not a messianic prophecy and a Virgin Birth is definitely not mentioned. Moreover, the term probably should not be understood to mean "virgin" but "young woman." From Ahaz' viewpoint, the more important sign has to do with the timing of the prophecy in the next verses, especially 7:16:

before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

The context of this sign is explained at the beginning of the chapter. Ahaz is fearful that Judah will be invaded by the allied forces of Syria and (northern) Israel. These are led by the "two kings of who you are in dread," namely "King Rezin of Aram [Syria] and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel." (7:1)

The prophecy continues:

The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.

Putting all this together: Isaiah promised Ahaz that a child would soon be born, and that by the time he knew right from wrong, the King of Assyria would arise and conquer both Israel and Syria, thus ending the immediate threat to Judah from those countries. In chapter 8, Isaiah and "the prophetess" (8:3 - probably his young bride) indeed conceived the promised son. The rest of the prophecy was fulfilled in a straight-forward way through military conquest by the Neo-Assyrian Empire. However, as is made clear in chapter 8 and in history, Assyria was actually a greater threat to Judah than the forces of the two kings.

From Ahaz' point of view, the sign of Immanuel was fulfilled by the birth of Isaiah's son, a normal boy, not a savior. Within a few years, the Assyrian Empire emerged to conquer Syria and Israel, removing the threat of the two kings that Ahaz feared. Assyria then turned south and nearly conquered Judah later on.

Note: Christians need not feel challenged by the fact of Immanuel's birth in Isaiah's own day. We simply need to accept that that a single prophecy can be fulfilled both in the prophet's age and a later one. Nor should it surprise us that Isaiah's son was named both Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hash-baz. After all, Jesus too was called both Immanuel and Yeshua, and several other biblical figures had both a symbolic and a common name.

  • +1, thanks for the reasonable explanation. 8:3 - probably his young bride I.e., his 2nd wife?
    – user35953
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 3:05
  • Maybe. I haven't researched this carefully. Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 5:23

No wife .. No child!

To foretell the future of the House of Isreal, the prophets were using the metaphoric stories of the birthing of children and their metaphoric names. Let's see an example of that in Hosea because it is more clear.

To speak about the future of the House of Isreal, God ordered Hosea to know his woman to give birth to a baby girl and to name this baby "Loruhamah" (which means "No mercy"), and God said "as for I will no more have mercy upon the House of Israel, but I will utterly take them away" Hosea 1:6.

So in reality Hosea did not marry or have a girl with the name "No Mercy" .. No girl ever had this name. It is all a symbolic story that uses the name (Loruhamah/No mercy) to indicate the future of the House of Israel.

Immanuel is not an exception.

But unlike the name Loruhamah which indicated near destruction, the baby's name now is Immanuel symbolizing the wonderful near future for the sons of Yaccov. It indicates that God "will be with his people, the Jews", and they will conquer their enemies, God is with us, therefore, there is no reason for Ahaz to fear his enemies because he heard this promise of God.

The whole point then is "God will be with Zion" or as Isaiah metaphorically pictured it: the virgin (he means Zion) will have a son (he means a future), and his name will be Immanuel (he means that future will be wonderful and victorious, the future is "God is with us"). So Ahaz do not worry.

So to answer your question "From King Ahaz's perspective, how was the virgin-Immanuel sign fulfilled?. It is when God destroyed his enemies Ahaz knew that God's mercy and peace (Immanuel) came for the virgin Zion.

We can add that later, the New Testament writers were able to discern some of these Old Testament metaphoric pictures and to see how they are indicating and referring to specific real events that actually took place later in Jesus' life. They could see how an actual virgin will literally bear a son and he will actually represent the presence of God with us. They believed that the Old Testament acted as a shadow of the New Testament. By that, the metaphorical pictures turn to be literal events.

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