Friday, June 30, 2017

[BTT026] Matt 1:18-23 / Isaiah 7:3-17

Previous: [BTT025] Cut Passages 002

1. Matt 1:18-23 / Isaiah 7:3-17


Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel”— thus says the Lord God:
“It shall not stand,
Nor shall it come to pass.
For the head of Syria is Damascus,
And the head of Damascus is Rezin.
Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken,
So that it will not be a people.
The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
And the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son.
If you will not believe,
Surely you shall not be established.”’”
Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!”
Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings. The Lord will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house—days that have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.”

Right off the bat, we are hit with an extremely difficult prophecy. The relationship between the original prophecy in Isaiah and its fulfillment in Matthew is anything but clear.

Let's get the obvious objection out of the way. Matthew is quoting from the Greek Septuagint instead of the original Hebrew. In the Hebrew original, "virgin is "`almah" (עַלְמָה ), which can mean "young woman" in addition to "unmarried female virgin of marriageable age" - something which opponents of the Virgin Birth love to point out.

However there is no passage in the Old Testament in which 'almah is used in reference to an unmarried non-virgin, or even a married virgin. If anything, taking the Hebrew usage of 'almah into account makes the status of Mary even more appropriate - she was an unmarried female virgin of marriageable age when she conceived, fulfilling every single thing implied by the word 'almah.[1]

The issue is the original context of the Sign. Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but a sign of what? The issue on the table in Isaiah 7 is not the coming of the Messiah, but an alliance between Ephraim and Syria. Ahaz is not worried about salvation from sin, but salvation from a military invasion.

Isaiah's prophecy specifically says that within 65 years, Ephraim will be utterly destroyed, to the points that it will "not be a people." More importantly in terms of the sign, both Ephraim (Israel) and Syria will lose their kings - the kings plotting against Judah - before the promised Child is old enough to "refuse the evil and choose the good."[2]

This makes Matthew's interpretation of the prophecy problematic. If the Child is Jesus, the sign has come a bit late. While "Rezin…and the son of Remaliah" were most definitely off of their thrones before Jesus' birth, Ahaz was also long dead. How could the birth of Christ be a sign of political change in the days of Ahaz?

This seems to point to the idea that Isaiah is talking about two Childs (that's grammatically incorrect, but work with me here). The first Child was born in the time of Ahaz, the second Child was Jesus. The first Child was born as a sign to Ahaz and as a prefigurement of Jesus, who fulfilled the prophecy in its entirety.

But the matter is far from settled. As we have seen, the passage seems to indicate a Virgin Conception. If the passage can be interpreted as also allowing a non-Virgin Conception - i.e., a woman who at the moment of the prophecy was an 'almah got married and conceived in the usual way - then that means that the prophecy did not require a Virgin Birth. That would mean that either there is no Old Testament requirement for a Virgin Birth (making Matthew's citation of the passage incorrect) or that Ahaz could rightly call Isaiah a liar.

Alternatively, we could argue that the first Child was also the product of a Virgin Conception. If anything, this is even more problematic since it would imply the birth of Jesus was not unique. As far as we know from Scripture, only the Holy Spirit can cause a Virgin to conceive apart from the usual way. So was Jesus born twice?

Lastly, Isaiah says that the child's name will be "Immanuel," which, as Matthew reminds us, means "God with us." However, Gabriel instructs Mary to name the child "Jesus," or "savior."

So, looking at Isaiah, we would expect the following things:
1). An 'almah will conceive a child as a sign to Ahaz.
2). The child of the 'almah will be named "Immanuel," "God with us."
3). Before the child is old enough to choose the good instead of evil, Israel and Assyria will both lose their kings, who are plotting an alliance against Judah.
Looking at Matthew, we would expect the following things:
1). An 'almah will conceive a Child while still an 'almah hundreds of years after the death of Ahaz.
2). The Child of the 'almah will be named "Jesus," "Savior."
3). The Child will save His people from their sins.
To reconcile these two passages, we have the following options:
1). There were two Childs (Immanuel and Jesus), who both fulfilled the prophecy.
2). There were two Childs (Immanuel and Jesus), both of which fulfilled part of the prophecy.
3). There was one Child (Jesus), who provided a very poor sign to poor Ahaz.
Option two seems the most likely. For both Childs to fulfill the entirety of the prophecy, both Childs would have to be Virgin-born, both as signs to Ahaz. The more likely scenario is that a child named "Immanuel" was born as a sign to Ahaz, fulfilling that part of the prophecy and a child named "Jesus" was born to an 'almah hundreds of years later.

This is not a perfect explanation, but it provides us with a starting point. There are many themes here we will see repeated through the Plēroō Passages.

Point One: Prophecies may have multiple fulfillments

If not, this pairing of prophecy and fulfillment makes no sense whatsoever.

Next: [BTT026] Matthew 2:14-15 / Hosea 11:1-4

[1]See Gen. 24:23 and Sng. 6:8 for passages where 'almah refers to unmarried virgins.

[2]Of course, this will not prevent Assyria from invading and conquering Judah. Look, it's a complicated passage.

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