One of the most familiar-unfamiliar stretches of Scripture in all the Bible is Isaiah 7-12. We are all familiar with Isaiah 7:14, which reads, “A virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son and shall call his name Immanuel.” Matthew cites this verse at the beginning of his Gospel account, attributes it to the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus, and then promptly moves on. As do we. After all, its an open and shut case, isn’t it? What other virgin has given birth to a son? What other virgin has given birth to a son who merits the name, or title, Immanuel (God-with-us)? And, of course, there is that pesky reality that the Bible clearly says that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy (Matthew 1:22-23).
And yet, any careful reader of Scripture can attest to the puzzlement that arises when we keep reading:
He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (Isaiah 7:15-16)
One. The “He” who shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good is the sign-child, Immanuel.
Two. Before Immanuel is weaned and morally accountable, the political problems of King Ahaz, namely the threat of invasion from Syria and Israel, will be decively dealt with. That is, Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the king of Israel, will no longer pose a military threat to Ahaz, the king of Judah. All of this is happening in the 8th century B.C.E.
Three. We cannot, therefore, wait more than 700 years for Jesus to be born before this prophecy is fulfilled. Even while we acknowledge that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment to this prophecy (Matthew 1:22-23), we must also affirm that there is an additional initial fulfillment.
So then, if Jesus is the ultimate Immanuel, who is the initial Immanuel?
To answer this riddle, we need go no further than Isaiah 8:18: “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.” Quite bluntly, Isaiah tells us that his sons are the sign-children.
Sign-child number one: Maher-halal-hash-baz, which means “Quick-to-the-plunder-fast-to-the-spoil.” Immediately following Isaiah’s rendezvous with King Ahaz, God instructs Isaiah to write “Belonging to Quick-to-the-plunder-fast-to-the-spoil” on a tablet and to verify this act with witnesses. He then “visits” his wife, she conceives, and a son is born. He is promptly named Quick-to-the-plunder-fast-to-the-spoil. Then the LORD announces that before this child can say, “Momma,” or, “Dadda,” Syria and Israel will fall to Assyria (Isaiah 8:1-4). Moreover, on account of the faithlessness of King Ahaz and the sin of the people of Judah, God will send Assyria into Judah, destroying everything except for Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:5-8). When this destruction takes place, just as it was announced ahead of time, the people of Israel and Judah will learn the hard way thatImmanuel, God-is-with-us.
So Maher-halal-hash-baz is Immanuel 1.0. And yet, Isaiah said that he and his children, plural, are signs and portents in Israel. Who is the second child?
Sign-child number two: Shear-Jashub, which means “A-remnant-shall-return.” When God commissioned Isaiah to meet with Ahaz and to deliver words of comfort to the king, He also instructed the prophet to take his son with him (Isaiah 7:3). Why? Was this just another take-your-kid-to-work day? Or, did God have something else in mind? A sign perhaps? May I suggest that Shear-jashub was Isaiah’s infant son, that he had not yet been weaned and he could not yet tell the difference between good and evil. Therefore, as the prophet gives King Ahaz a sign, in his very arms is that sign-child. Before “this” child is weaned and is morally accountable, says Isaiah, Syria and Israel will be defeated by Assyria. A-remnant-shall-return was the sign of comfort and hope that would reassure Ahaz that Immanuel, God-is-with-us.
Of course, Ahaz lacked faith, and therefore, a second sign-child was needed to complement the first. And, since the king refused to repent and rely on the LORD, the second sign-child, Quick-to-the-plunder-fast-to-the-spoil, had to become the first, preceding the message of hope intended by the first sign-child, who had now become the second, namely, A-remnant-shall-return.
So, how is this about Jesus? There are two answers to this question.
First, the total destruction of Syria, Israel, and Judah – save Jerusalem – is a very unsatisfying expression of Immanuel, God-with-us. Therefore, on the heals of Maher-halal-hash-baz and Shear-jashub, Isaiah prophesies of a future Davidic king who will more fully embody the hope of Immanuel (Isaiah 9:1-7). He will be filled with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-3), His reign will be characterized by perfect righteousness (Isaiah 11:4-5), and His kingdom will be glorious (Isaiah 11:6-9). Just as the short-term prophecy came to pass, so too shall this long-range prophecy shall come to pass.
Second, the historical realities of the 8th century B.C.E. provide us with a perfect picture of the Gospel. The invading Assyrian army is the sure to come final judgment of God, which no one can escape. Ahaz, the idol-worshipping, child-sacrificing, faithless, man-fearing, God-ignoring king of Judah, is a perfect representative for unsaved sinful humanity. Finally, Isaiah’s two sons capture the two-fold mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus will be Maher-halal-hash-baz, destroying all who continue in sinful rebellion against God. But, Jesus will also be Shear-jashub, saving a faithful remnant of humanity from all nations for eternal life by the blood of His Cross.
Indeed, Isaiah has solved the riddle for us: “I and the children the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel.” Incidentally, Isaiah means “The LORD is salvation.” What a Gospel!