Isaiah 7 virgin birth - single OR double fufillment?

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nwink

Puritan Board Sophomore
Isaiah 7:14 (ESV) "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

In Isaiah chapter 7, my understanding is that the nation of Israel was split in two (northern/southern), and that they were warring (Israel sided with Syria against Judah) [vs 1]. When the Israel and Syria came up to Jerusalem to war against Judah, king Ahaz of Judah was terrified [vs 2]. Isaiah and his son went to the king per God's direction [vs 3] and told the king not to fear because God said that Israel and Syria's plans would not come to pass because God would destroy the northern tribes within 65 years...and that king Ahaz should therefore be strong in faith [vs 4-9].

When God asked Ahaz to ask for a sign that what God has said would happened, Ahaz said he would not put God to the test [vs 10-12]. God then graciously says that he will still give Ahaz a sign: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name will be called Immanuel [vs 13-14]. Before the child would be old enough to know to refuse evil and do good (ie, a young age), the land of the two kings threatening Ahaz would be deserted [vs 15-17].

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I have some questions about this passage in its context and as it refers to Jesus as the Messiah (in terms of the fulfillment of prophecy). In the ESV Study Bible notes on this passage, it says there are (at least) the views of SINGLE fulfillment ("the sign points originally and solely to the birth of Jesus as the ultimate Messiah") and DOUBLE fulfillment ("both an immediate fulfillment in Isaiah's day and a long-term fulfillment in the birth of the Messiah").

What do people on this board think in terms of this being a single fulfillment passage referring only to Jesus OR that it is a double fulfillment passage applying to both Isaiah's day and to the coming Messiah? The reason I ask is because I have questions about both of these interpretive ideas.

If the passage is a SINGLE fulfillment only about Jesus: (1) how would this sign of a coming Messiah (who'd come 700 years later) comfort Ahaz when he was terrified of approaching armies right then? (2) I think we'd all agree it is impossible that this could be a single-fulfillment passage, based on the context, because God is saying that the birth of this child will be a sign to Ahaz because before the child is very old, the lands of the threatening kings would be deserted. Jesus came 700 years after this prophecy...so he was born well after those lands had been deserted.

If the passage is a DOUBLE fulfillment pertaining to both Isaiah's day and to the coming Messiah: (1) are there two virgins who conceived in the Bible? One would've been a sign to Ahaz in his day (direct fulfillment), and the other was the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb (typological fulfillment). The reason I ask is because I've never heard this other virgin-conceiving-in-the-Bible mentioned before. (2) I also wonder, realistically, how king Ahaz would know this women was a virgin when she conceived, since this was supposed to be a clear sign to him from God so he'd not be afraid but strong in faith. Maybe this was a moral, chaste, God-fearing young woman he knew that wasn't married...so he'd expect the best of her, rather than assuming she was sleeping around (just like Joseph, after the angel came to him in a dream, knew the baby in Mary's womb was from God rather than thinking Mary was sleeping around).

Thoughts? Thank you!
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
In support of a "single" fulfillment, I say:

1) Ahaz problem is not his fear of his temporal enemies, but his lack of fear of God. Isaiah promises the king that he has nothing to fear from the present threat; and when Ahaz spurns the Lord's assurance and his offer of "take a sign, any sign," Isaiah responds with appropriate indignation. The promise of the Son of Deliverance is a reference to the fact that God has a much larger plan for the salvation of his elect people (worldwide) than Ahaz' immediate plans for Jerusalem's defense.

Ahaz could be assured that Jehovah would keep his word with regard to deliverance of Judah from the "petty" threats of Pekah and Rezin, because NOTHING can divert the plans of Jehovah to bring his Messiah, the virgin-born seed of the woman, into the world. But Ahaz is incapable of appreciating that promise.

Ahaz is an idiot. Ahaz is cranked over this present military threat that looms so large in his (limited) vision. Here's news for him: these two kings (who will soon be forgotten) are just the "warm-up" for the Assyrian beast. But guess what? The Lord is bigger than even Assyria. Nothing will keep his great Salvation from happening.

So, once Ahaz has rejected the comfort of the Lord's Messianic hope, Isaiah is no longer really speaking straight to him, but to the rest of the audience, the rest of the nation and to believers in after-days. Jerusalem will be delivered, with or without Ahaz' help or hope.


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2) Most interpreters overlook or ignore (quite astonishing, really) the fact that Isaiah is commanded to bring his son along, v3, probably bearing him as an infant in his arms. WHY IS ISAIAH'S SON PRESENT? Does the Lord make any use of his presence? Yes, he does.

Shear-Jashub is a physical sign. The Lord knows Ahaz is going to act and speak as he does, before he does. Isaiah's proclamation that a child will be born is illustrated by his own child in his arms. When Isaiah says, v16, "before the [THIS] child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good," that is before even a few years have passed from this moment in history, "the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings."



In other words, Ahaz should know that God's grand plan is not threatened by these petty tyrants. The king of Judah should take heart. Refuse a sign--like a fleece laid out, or sky writing, or whatever--no matter. God supplies his own sign of his grand plan's sure fulfillment: the virgin birth.

"Top that, fool. You wouldn't have thought that big if you had dreamed up a sign. Oh, and this little side-show with the Pekah and Rezin? Before the baby in my arms is past toddling, that problem will be old news. Not that your temporal troubles will all be put to rest now..."



People that refer to the following ch.8 and the birth of another son to Isaiah, and then refer the birth of that child to the previous ch.7's prophecy, generally make no use of the son who is with Isaiah in the previous ch. There's really no reason I can see why folks think "the prophetess" (8:3) is any kind of candidate for "fulfilling" (even typologically) the virgin/maiden of 7:14.

By the way, the standard word for "virgin" in the OT is (oddly enough) used at times for someone obviously not a virgin. But the word used by Isaiah in 7:14, usually translated "maiden" (but not inaptly here as "virgin") is never used other than in a context where the operating assumption is "young, unmarried, virginal woman."
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I think Pastor Bruce's exegesis is sound. A similar view – also supporting "single fulfillment" – is taken from E.J. Young's commentary, The Book of Isaiah, Vol 1. First, Young quotes J.G. Machen (probably from the Virgin Birth of Christ, though I haven't found the source of the citation – no footnote given),

"I see a wonderful child, the prophet on this interpretation would say, a wonderful child whose birth shall bring salvation to his people; and before such a period of time shall elapse as would lie between the conception of the child in his mother's womb and his coming years of discretion, the land of Israel and of Syria shall be forsaken" (p 286).​

Then later Young adds,

"With verse 15 the prophet proceeds to make the infancy of the Messiah a symbolical representation of the fact that the threat which overhung Judah would be
short-lived. This he does in picturing the child in vision eating royal food. The child will eat this royal food, symbol of threat and desolation; yet before He reaches the age where He knows the difference between good and evil, the two kings which Ahaz dreads will forsake the land of Israel, and there will be nothing more for him to fear from them" (pp 293,294).

Looking at the context of Young's remarks it appears he is not being dogmatic about this interpretation. I think either Pastor Bruce's or his is acceptable. But there is no "double fulfillment" here. In studying these prophetic books it is very helpful for the earnest Bible student to
acquire good commentaries, and Young's 3-volume set remains one of the best on Isaiah; his work on Daniel is also excellent. Both are Reformed and amil in their orientation.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
How many children have been born of virgins? There is the answer.

To make a double fulfilment the Hebrew must be interpreted to mean something more generic like "maiden." At that point it ceases to refer to something miraculous and may have occurred numerous times over.
 

psycheives

Puritan Board Freshman
John Calvin's Commentaries helped me to understand that the correct biblical understanding of this passage is a "single fulfillment" not a "double fulfillment":

14. Therefore the LORD himself shall give you a sign. Ahaz had already refused the sign which the Lord offered to him, when the Prophet remonstrated against his rebellion and ingratitude; yet the Prophet declares that this will not prevent God from giving the sign which he had promised and appointed for the Jews. But what sign? "Behold, a virgin shall conceive." ... The Jews... have laboured, by all possible means, to torture the Prophet’s meaning to another sense. Some allege that the person here mentioned is Hezekiah; and others, that it is the son of Isaiah. ... As to those who think that it was Isaiah’s son, it is an utterly frivolous conjecture; for we do not read that a deliverer would be raised up from the seed of Isaiah, who should be called Immanuel; for this title is far too illustrious to admit of being applied to any man. ...they argue, and demand that the scope of the passage be examined: “Jerusalem was besieged. The Prophet was about to give them a sign of deliverance. Why should he promise the Messiah, who was to be born five hundred years afterwards?” By this argument they think that they have gained the victory, because the promise concerning Christ had nothing to do with assuring Ahaz of the deliverance of Jerusalem. ... Now, the matter stands thus. King Ahaz having rejected the sign which God had offered to him, the Prophet reminds him of the foundation of the covenant, which even the ungodly did not venture openly to reject. The Messiah must be born; and this was expected by all, because the salvation of the whole nation depended on it. The Prophet, therefore, after having expressed his indignation against the king, again argues in this manner: “By rejecting the promise, thou wouldest endeavour to overturn the decree of God; but it shall remain inviolable, and thy treachery and ingratitude will not hinder God from being continually the Deliverer of his people; for he will at length raise up his Messiah.” ... Most appropriately, therefore, did Isaiah say, “True, thou dost not believe the promises of God, but yet God will fulfil them; for he will at length send his Christ, for whose sake he determines to preserve this city. Though thou art unworthy, yet God will have regard to his own honour.” King Ahaz is therefore deprived of that sign which he formerly rejected, and loses the benefit of which he proved himself to be unworthy; but still God’s inviolable promise is still held out to him.
 
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