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Isaiah 7:14-17

Context
7:14 For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. 1  Look, this 2  young woman 3  is about to conceive 4  and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him 5  Immanuel. 6  7:15 He will eat sour milk 7  and honey, which will help him know how 8  to reject evil and choose what is right. 7:16 Here is why this will be so: 9  Before the child knows how to reject evil and choose what is right, the land 10  whose two kings you fear will be desolate. 11  7:17 The Lord will bring on you, your people, and your father’s family a time 12  unlike any since Ephraim departed from Judah – the king of Assyria!” 13 

1 tn The Hebrew term אוֹת (’ot, “sign”) can refer to a miraculous event (see v. 11), but it does not carry this sense inherently. Elsewhere in Isaiah the word usually refers to a natural occurrence or an object/person vested with special significance (see 8:18; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 55:13; 66:19). Only in 38:7-8, 22 does it refer to a miraculous deed that involves suspending or overriding natural laws. The sign outlined in vv. 14-17 involves God’s providential control over events and their timing, but not necessarily miraculous intervention.

2 tn Heb “the young woman.” The Hebrew article has been rendered as a demonstrative pronoun (“this”) in the translation to bring out its force. It is very likely that Isaiah pointed to a woman who was present at the scene of the prophet’s interview with Ahaz. Isaiah’s address to the “house of David” and his use of second plural forms suggests other people were present, and his use of the second feminine singular verb form (“you will name”) later in the verse is best explained if addressed to a woman who is present.

3 tn Traditionally, “virgin.” Because this verse from Isaiah is quoted in Matt 1:23 in connection with Jesus’ birth, the Isaiah passage has been regarded since the earliest Christian times as a prophecy of Christ’s virgin birth. Much debate has taken place over the best way to translate this Hebrew term, although ultimately one’s view of the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is unaffected. Though the Hebrew word used here (עַלְמָה, ’almah) can sometimes refer to a woman who is a virgin (Gen 24:43), it does not carry this meaning inherently. The word is simply the feminine form of the corresponding masculine noun עֶלֶם (’elem, “young man”; cf. 1 Sam 17:56; 20:22). The Aramaic and Ugaritic cognate terms are both used of women who are not virgins. The word seems to pertain to age, not sexual experience, and would normally be translated “young woman.” The LXX translator(s) who later translated the Book of Isaiah into Greek sometime between the second and first century b.c., however, rendered the Hebrew term by the more specific Greek word παρθένος (parqenos), which does mean “virgin” in a technical sense. This is the Greek term that also appears in the citation of Isa 7:14 in Matt 1:23. Therefore, regardless of the meaning of the term in the OT context, in the NT Matthew’s usage of the Greek term παρθένος clearly indicates that from his perspective a virgin birth has taken place.

4 tn Elsewhere the adjective הָרָה (harah), when used predicatively, refers to a past pregnancy (from the narrator’s perspective, 1 Sam 4:19), to a present condition (Gen 16:11; 38:24; 2 Sam 11:5), and to a conception that is about to occur in the near future (Judg 13:5, 7). (There is some uncertainty about the interpretation of Judg 13:5, 7, however. See the notes to those verses.) In Isa 7:14 one could translate, “the young woman is pregnant.” In this case the woman is probably a member of the royal family. Another option, the one followed in the present translation, takes the adjective in an imminent future sense, “the young woman is about to conceive.” In this case the woman could be a member of the royal family, or, more likely, the prophetess with whom Isaiah has sexual relations shortly after this (see 8:3).

5 tn Heb “and you will call his name.” The words “young lady” are supplied in the translation to clarify the identity of the addressee. The verb is normally taken as an archaic third feminine singular form here, and translated, “she will call.” However the form (קָרָאת, qarat) is more naturally understood as second feminine singular, in which case the words would be addressed to the young woman mentioned just before this. In the three other occurrences of the third feminine singular perfect of I קָרָא (qara’, “to call”), the form used is קָרְאָה (qarah; see Gen 29:35; 30:6; 1 Chr 4:9). A third feminine singular perfect קָרָאת does appear in Deut 31:29 and Jer 44:23, but the verb here is the homonym II קָרָא (“to meet, encounter”). The form קָרָאת (from I קָרָא, “to call”) appears in three other passages (Gen 16:11; Isa 60:18; Jer 3:4 [Qere]) and in each case is second feminine singular.

6 sn The name Immanuel means “God [is] with us.”

7 tn Or, perhaps “cream,” frequently, “curds” (NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT); KJV, ASV “butter”; CEV “yogurt.”

8 tn Heb “for his knowing.” Traditionally the preposition has been translated in a temporal sense, “when he knows.” However, though the preposition לְ (lamed) can sometimes have a temporal force, it never carries such a nuance in any of the 40 other passages where it is used with the infinitive construct of יָדַע (yada’, “to know”). Most often the construction indicates purpose/result. This sense is preferable here. The following context indicates that sour milk and honey will epitomize the devastation that God’s judgment will bring upon the land. Cultivated crops will be gone and the people will be forced to live off the milk produced by their goats and the honey they find in the thickets. As the child is forced to eat a steady diet of this sour milk and honey, he will be reminded of the consequences of sin and motivated to make correct moral decisions in order to avoid further outbreaks of divine discipline.

9 tn Heb “for, because.” The particle introduces the entire following context (vv. 16-25), which explains why Immanuel will be an appropriate name for the child, why he will eat sour milk and honey, and why experiencing such a diet will contribute to his moral development.

10 sn Since “two kings” are referred to later in the verse, the “land” must here refer to Syria-Israel.

11 tn Heb “the land will be abandoned, which you fear because of its two kings.” After the verb קוּץ (quts, “loathe, dread”) the phrase מִפְּנֵי (mipney, “from before”) introduces the cause of loathing/dread (see Gen 27:46; Exod 1:12; Num 22:3).

12 tn Heb “days” (so KJV, NAB); NASB, NRSV “such days.”

13 sn Initially the prophecy appears to be a message of salvation. Immanuel seems to have a positive ring to it, sour milk and honey elsewhere symbolize prosperity and blessing (see Deut 32:13-14; Job 20:17), verse 16 announces the defeat of Judah’s enemies, and verse 17a could be taken as predicting a return to the glorious days of David and Solomon. However, the message turns sour in verses 17b-25. God will be with his people in judgment, as well as salvation. The curds and honey will be signs of deprivation, not prosperity, the relief announced in verse 16 will be short-lived, and the new era will be characterized by unprecedented humiliation, not a return to glory. Because of Ahaz’s refusal to trust the Lord, potential blessing would be transformed into a curse, just as Isaiah turns an apparent prophecy of salvation into a message of judgment. Because the words “the king of Assyria” are rather awkwardly tacked on to the end of the sentence, some regard them as a later addition. However, the very awkwardness facilitates the prophet’s rhetorical strategy here, as he suddenly turns what sounds like a positive message into a judgment speech. Actually, “the king of Assyria,” stands in apposition to the earlier object “days,” and specifies who the main character of these coming “days” will be.



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