God with Us
Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18–25
The virgin birth was foretold hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. (Isaiah 7:14)
This prophecy of Immanuel is a beautiful reminder that God’s Word often is much more than it appears at first. Was this a foretelling of the birth of the Messiah? The best answer is “No, it wasn’t, but it is now.”
Isaiah spoke these words to King Ahaz, who was facing a war against two kingdoms he was unlikely to win. Isaiah’s promise to him was that if a young woman conceived a child today, by the time he is born and grows old enough to know the difference between good and evil, the two kingdoms that threatened war would be wiped away.
The Hebrew word for “virgin” also could refer to any young woman of marriageable age. God could have inspired Isaiah to use a word that specifically refers to virgins, but the more ambiguous word (alma) spoke to the needs of Ahaz and Judah at the time.
Of course, God would not let a virgin conceive in Isaiah’s time. That miracle God would reserve.
God fulfilled His promise through Mary’s pregnancy. (Matthew 1:18–19)
Fast forward about 700 years to a young woman of Galilee who also is a virgin. Matthew makes this clear in his circumlocutional phrase, “before they came together.” It is Matthew’s delicate way of saying Mary and Joseph had not had sexual contact before she conceived Jesus.
The importance of this detail may escape the notice of many in a day when cohabitation is common, especially during engagements, and when a white wedding dress has lost meaning for many. But in the first century AD, it was unthinkable for God-fearing couples to engage physically before marriage. As Matthew notes, Joseph was “a righteous man.” If he was willing to grant Mary a face-saving, private divorce, he would not have violated the engagement/betrothal covenant with sexual contact before marriage.
Our faith must be grounded in truth. (20–25)
As Matthew is recording the story, the Holy Spirit reminds him of a passage from Isaiah. Perhaps Matthew had read it in the Greek translation of the time called the Septuagint. The translators chose a Greek word that refers to a virgin (parthenos). Though they probably didn’t see Isaiah’s prophecy to be about the Messiah, God was preparing for Christians to see it that way.
When Isaiah calls the child Immanuel, he makes no mention of the name’s meaning. Surely Ahaz and Old Testament readers would recognize it — God would be with them as they prevailed over their enemies; but outside of Isaiah, no other mention of the name surfaces until Matthew 1.
One can imagine the pieces finally falling into place as Matthew quoted Isaiah. Immanuel! Yes, God was with King Ahaz seven centuries ago. Yes, a child was born in that day as a sign for Ahaz that God was with him. That child was a temporary solution for Ahaz and Judah.
This child, born to an actual virgin named Mary, would be an eternal solution for everyone who believed in Him.
For 700 years the depth of the prophecy had escaped readers, but now Matthew saw it in a way no one would have predicted — God truly came to be with us.
As we celebrate the fact God is still with us through Jesus, let us trust He will accomplish what He intends, even if we don’t recognize it yet.
By Daryl Watts
Watts is a church consultant in Fresno, California.