ISAIAH 7:14 and the VIRGIN CONCEPTION of Messiah


by Avram Yehoshua

(Endnotes in red. Click on the number to go to the endnote. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to the article)

Many Jewish leaders (as well as some liberal Christians) have maligned the virgin conception and birth of Messiah Yeshua that the prophet Isaiah spoke of. Many laugh and say that, 'It's not only impossible, but that isn't what Isaiah meant at all! The word for virgin,' they tell us, 'doesn't really mean virgin, but a young woman (who could very well be married).' It's easy to understand how they could do this with men like Rabbi Rosenberg supplying the scholarship. He states,

'the translation, 'virgin,' for almah is completely erroneous. The word is used for young woman, regardless of whether she is a virgin or not.' 1
The Talmud tells us that Miryam (Mary), was raped by a Roman soldier, and that's how Jesus came to be. Of course, this is certainly not what is written in the New Covenant. The Rabbis obviously made that up. Why? It was designed to keep Jews from checking out the claims of Yeshua being the Messiah because once a Jew hears that Yeshua was conceived illegitimately, they would know that he couldn't be Messiah. The Law of Moses states that no one of illegitimate birth could enter the Assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:2). How then, could one born like that be Messiah? That's why we know it is a very deliberate falsehood by the Rabbis.2 The prophecy in question states:
'Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the young woman (almah), shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.' (Isaiah 7:14) 3
Most traditional Jews who have studied this prophecy agree with Rabbi Rosenberg and say that the Hebrew means, a young woman, who could be married. Unfortunately for them however, the Hebrew Bible disagrees with their assessment of almah. There is no place in the Tanach (Old Testament; Hebrew Bible), where almah is used (or its plural), that refers to a young woman who is married or has known a man. But this is conveniently left out by Rabbi Rosenberg and others.

One such time that we see this term translated as either 'young maiden' or 'young woman', with it meaning being one that is a virgin, is when Abraham's servant is sent to get a wife for Isaac. He says,
'behold, I am standing by the spring, and may it be that the maiden (almah), who comes out to draw, and to whom I say, 'Please let me drink a little water from your jar,' (Gen. 24:43)
Was Rebecca already married? Had she known a man? We don't think Rabbi Rosenberg would want to have almah translated in this case as a young maiden who was already married or had previously known a man. Rebecca was a young woman who was a virgin and almah perfectly described her state. Risto Santala writes,
'The word alma used by Isaiah does unquestionably also mean 'a young woman'. Isaac's bride Rebecca was an alma (Gen. 24:43), but she was also a betulah, 'a virgin; no man had ever lain with her' (v. 16).'4
Almah is never used of any young women who were married or who had had sexual relations with men (whores, etc.). Santala goes on to tell us that the Zohar, the mystical 'Bible' of Judaism, says that the Messiah would be born 'from a 'closed womb'.'5 Seems like some Jew had an interesting insight here. Closed wombs were notoriously present in the birth of the Jewish nation as seen in Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel. Alfred Edersheim tells us that the miracles of Israel were a picture of what would happen to Messiah and what He would do for Israel:
'perhaps the most valuable element in Rabbinic commentation on Messianic times is that in which, as so frequently, it is explained, that all the miracles and deliverances of Israel's past would be re-enacted, only in a much wider manner, in the days of the Messiah. Thus the whole past was symbolic, and typical of the future'. 'It is in this sense that we would understand the two sayings of the Talmud: 'All the prophets prophesied only the days of the Messiah' (Sanh. 99a), and 'The world was created only for the Messiah' (Sanh. 98b).'6
If the deeds of Israel were to be reflected and amplified in Messiah, why shouldn't we have expected him to have come from a 'closed womb'? More on this below and how it relates to Messiah's birth.

Another instance where almah (singular), is used is the time when baby Moses, about three months old (Ex. 2:2), was floating down the Nile in his hovercraft. When Miryam, the older sister of Moses, suggests to Pharaoh's daughter, that she would get a woman who could nurse the baby, the Scriptures call Miryam an almah (Ex. 2:8). No one would suggest that Miryam had already known a man. She was a virgin. The third and last instance of almah is found in Proverbs 30:18-19:
There are three things that are too amazing for me; four things that I don't understand: The way of the eagle in the sky; the way of the snake on the rock; the way of the ship in the heart of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid' (almah).7
Here too one would be hard pressed to authoritatively state that the woman is anything but a virgin. These are all the four times (including Is. 7:14) that 'almah' in the singular is used in the Hebrew Tanach. The plural of almah (alamot), (relating to women), is used in three places. The understanding also points to 'alamot' as virgins although it's not as definitive as the cases with the singular:
'because of this, the virgins 8 (alamot), love you.' (Song of Songs 1:3).

'Sixty are the queens; eighty are the concubines; and virgins 9 (alamot) without number.' (Song of Songs 6:8)

'among maidens (alamot), playing tambourines' (Ps. 68:26 Heb.; v. 25 Eng.).
The argument can be made that alamot can't explicitly be seen to be a reference to virgins. But it cannot authoritatively be proven that they have known men either. These are all the times where either almah or its plural, alamot, is used in relation to women. From the Hebrew word itself, and the Hebrew texts, almah is always used to refer to a young maiden who is obviously a virgin, and this is the way Is. 7:14 should be understood (unless we have a compelling reason to see it otherwise, but none exists).

Benjamin Davidson writes that almah is, 'a maiden, virgin, marriageable but not married' 'so in the seven passages of its occurrences' in the Old Testament.10 This is not the only point of reference we have in determining that almah in Is. 7:14 means, 'virgin'.

The Septuagint

The Septuagint, the Hebrew Bible (Tanach) translated into Greek by Jewish Sages 200 years before Jesus came (200 BCE), is a valuable tool for helping us to understand how the ancient Jewish people of that time understood the Hebrew Scriptures. For almah in Isaiah 7:14, the Jewish translators used the specific Greek word for virgin 11 (par-thay-nos)12. Therefore, before any controversy about Jesus being born of a virgin came into Jewish and Christian understanding, the authoritative Jewish version of the Greek Old Testament declared that the virgin would conceive and bear a son, and that he would be God with us. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament tells us that,
'Since betula is used many times in the OT as a specific word for 'virgin,' it seems reasonable to consider that the feminine form of this word is not a technical word for a virgin but represents a young woman, one of whose characteristics is virginity. This is borne out by the fact that the LXX' (Septuagint), 'translates it as parthenos in two of its seven occurrences, and that its use in Isa 7:14 was quoted to Joseph by the angel as a prediction of the virgin birth.'

'Some translators interpret Mt 1:22-23 as being simply a comment by Matthew, but it is more reasonable to consider that the argument that convinced Joseph was the fact, pointed out to him by the angel, that such an event had already been predicted by Isaiah. There is no instance where it can be proved that 'alma' designates a young woman who is not a virgin. The fact of virginity is obvious in Gen 24:43 where alma is used of one who was being sought as a bride for Isaac. Also obvious is Ex 3:8. Song 6:8 refers to three types of women, two of whom are called queens and concubines. It could be only reasonable to understand the name of the third group, for which the plural of 'alma' is used, as meaning 'virgins.' In Ugaritic the word is used in poetic parallel with the cognate of betula.'13
Isaiah's prophecy is cognizant of the impossibility of a virgin conceiving, but offsets it with the understanding that it will be a miracle. Perhaps this is what many 'miss' or don't want to believe:
'Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: (oat); behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son'. (Is. 7:14)
The Hebrew word for 'sign' means a 'miracle'.14 Now, it's no miracle for a 'young maiden' to conceive. Young women who are married (and tragically unmarried today!, conceive all the time. But it is a miracle (sign), for a virgin to conceive. Is it coincidence, deliberate fraud, or divine inspiration, that the New Covenant proclaims Miryam to be a virgin?
'The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Miryam, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Yeshua. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. And the Lord God will give Him the Throne of His Father David and He will reign over the House of Jacob forever, and His Kingdom will have no end.' Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?' 15 The angel answered and said to her, 'The Spirit of the Holy One will come upon you, and the Power of the Most High God will overshadow you. For that reason, the Holy Child shall be called the Son of God.' (Lk. 1:30-35)
Some commentators would have us believe that the only 'miracle' being spoken of by Isaiah is that of the threatening armies devastating Judah. We believe this to be part of the 'immediate' fulfillment of the prophecy but that its fulfillment doesn't exhaust God's Word to Isaiah. Note well that the word for miracle is directly in front of the almah conceiving, and not the relief of Jerusalem (v. 16):
Is. 7:14: 'Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign! Behold! The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son'. (Is. 7:14; our italics and exclamation points)

Is. 7:16: 'For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.'
With 'oat' found directly in front of 'the virgin' conceiving in v. 14, it should alert us to the understanding that the miracle speaks of the virgin, and not what will happen two verses later. That the prophecy also relates to Isaiah's time is part of the beauty of prophecy being able to speak to more than one event.

F. Delitzsch translates almah as 'virgin'16 for Is. 7:14 and tells us that it is, 'applied to one fully mature, and approaching the time of her marriage.'17 He goes on to say that,
'it is also certain that the child who was to be born was the Messiah,' 'no other than that 'wonderful' heir of the throne of David, whose birth is hailed with joy in ch. 9'. 'It was the Messiah whom the prophet saw here as about to be born, then again in ch. 9 as actually born, and again in ch. 11 as reigning, - an indivisible triad of consolatory images in three distinct states'.18
Something that many would overlook or render superficial is the name or character (inherent in Hebrew names), that the child would be given.19 Immanuel literally means, 'With us (is) God'. Delitzsch relates this, and Messiah's nature, and the miracle involved here saying,
'the incarnation of Deity was unquestionably a secret that was not clearly unveiled in the Old Testament, but the veil was not so thick but that some rays could pass through. Such a ray, directed by the spirit of prophecy into the mind of the prophet, was the prediction of Immanuel. But if the Messiah was to be Immanuel in this sense, that He would Himself by El (God), as the prophet expressly affirms, His birth must also of necessity be a wonderful or miraculous one.'20

Closed Wombs

The Virgin Birth (and conception) of Yeshua was a miracle but it was not without its symbols and types in the Tanach, as the ancient Rabbis spoke of (Edersheim above). Interestingly enough, three of the four Mothers of Israel were utterly barren till God miraculously opened their wombs. Sarah, Abraham's wife, gave birth at 90 years of age (Gen. 17:17, etc.), and Rebecca and Rachel, although not as old as Sarah, nevertheless could not conceive until God intervened (Gen. 25:20-26; 21 30:22-24).

Unquestioningly though, the greatest of these 'visitations' was Sarah. She was far too old to conceive in a natural way. Not only does God show us that He is the One who miraculously opens the womb but He also prefigures what He will do for Miryam and His Son, Yeshua (Ps. 2:2, 6-7), in Sarah. It is this miraculous birth that literally allows the Jewish people to come into existence. If God had not done this, there would not have been a nation called Israel. Why should not the Messiah's birth, which will bring forth an Israel for God made up of Jew and Gentile who love Him and walk in His Ways, also begin similarly?

Isaac is not only seen as a picture of Yeshua in his miraculous birth but also in his character of absolute submission to his father's will, even though it meant dying as a sacrifice (Gen. 22). In this, he, and his father Abraham, present what our Heavenly Father and His Son Yeshua will go through approximately 2,000 years later, in the same vicinity.

Conclusion

Isaiah's use of almah has made it one of the most controversial passages of Scripture. Having looked at all the places where the word is found in Scripture, we saw that it always spoke of a young woman who was a virgin, and never one who had known a man. The Septuagint affirmed Isaiah's meaning as 'virgin' with its use of parthenos, the specific Greek word for virgin. We also saw how 'closed wombs' were not a novelty for Israel but a central reality for the birth of the nation. For Sarah, it was truly impossible for her to conceive. And isn't that what many say about Miryam's conception?

When Jewish leaders tell us in their treatment of the text of Isaiah 7:14, that the word almah doesn't mean 'virgin' but a 'young maiden' implying that the woman could be married or have known a man, they are being both dishonest and deceptive. We don't expect them to know much about the Greek Septuagint but we do expect their knowledge of Hebrew to be fairly adequate. For them to present almah, and say that it doesn't mean virgin, is nothing less than manipulative and untrustworthy. We pity those Jews who have had to rely on this type of 'instruction' concerning the Messiah texts (those places in the Tanach where Yahveh speaks of His Messiah). We have seen all too often how this 'slight of hand' intentionally distorts the Word of God. This is so very unfortunate. If the Rabbis they rely on are lying to them, how can they make a competent decision?

The Rabbis should be trying to come to the Truth, even if it means laying down their prejudices about Yeshua. They should be telling their people what the Hebrew Bible is declaring about Messiah. We know that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah. These Rabbis are actually fighting against God Himself and keeping Jewish people away from the Life that only Messiah can give them. It isn't easy to overcome deep seated prejudices, but what worth is there in holding onto religious ideas that are anti-God?

Would it be too hard for the Holy Spirit to plant a Seed in the virgin womb of Miryam? Isaiah didn't think so and both the Old and the New Covenants confirm that this is the way the Messiah of Israel was conceived.

ENDNOTE:

  1. 1 Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, vol. one (New York: The Judaica Press, 1992), p. 67.
  2. There are other tales of how Yeshua was conceived. In the Talmud, Sanhedrin 102a, it maligns Miryam saying that she was a whore. In Shabat 104b, in note 2 (Soncino Edition), it says that she had sex with many men. These lies are designed to show that Yeshua couldn't be the Jewish Messiah.
  3. The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, thirteenth printing, 1982), p. 965. For Immanuel they have in note a, 'That is, God is with us.'
  4. Risto Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament in the Light of Rabbinical Writings (Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1992), p. 195.
  5. Ibid. p. 194. The Zohar on Is. 9:6 and the Midrash on Ruth 'one of the oldest' are the sources for this.
  6. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), p. 114.
  7. Rabbi Rosenberg, The Book of Isaiah, p. 67, would have us believe that this verse is proof that almah relates to a young woman who is not a virgin. His other arguments (e.g. that Isaiah's prophecy can only relate to Isaiah's time, and therefore, cannot speak of the birth of Yeshua 700 years later) are not worth seriously considering. For who is to say that prophecy can't relate to a 'present' time and also to an event in the future?
  8. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary On The Old Testament: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001; originally published by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1866-91), p. 513, translates alamot as 'virgins'.
  9. Ibid. p. 579. Delitzsch translates alamot as 'virgins' here also.
  10. Benjamin Davidson, The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979), p. 601. He lists the seven passages as Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Is. 7:14; Ps. 68:26; Prov. 30:19; Song of Songs 1:3; 6:8.
  11. Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English (USA: Hendrickson Publishers, sixth printing, February, 1997, originally published in London, 1851), p. 842.
  12. Wesley J. Perschbacher, Editor, The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publications, 1990), p. 314. 'a virgin, maid', 'chaste'.
  13. R. L. Harris, Editor; Gleason Archer, Jr. and Bruce Waltke, Associate Editors, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 672. UT 19: no. 1969.
  14. Ibid. p. 18. Most of the 80 occurrences of 'oat' refer to miraculous signs: all the plagues of Egypt; Isaiah 7:11, 14; the shadow advancing on the palace steps for King Hezekiah: 2nd Kings 20:9; Is. 38:7), etc. 'Oat' is used as 'sign' in both a concrete sense, as when it is used as a banner for each Tribe (Num. 2:2ff), and in a conceptual sense, when it is used referring to the sign of Noah, the rainbow (Gen. 9:12-13, 17), circumcision (Gen. 17:11) and the Sabbath (Ex. 31:13, 17; Ezk. 20:12), etc.
  15. Literally, 'But Mary said to the angel, 'How will this be since I do not know a man?' Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort, Translators, J. D. Douglas, Editor, The New Greek-English Interlinear New Testament (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), p. 196, Luke 1:34. The basis for this interlinear is The United Bible Societies' Third Corrected Edition of the Greek New Testament. This is the same text as the 26th edition of Novum Testamentum Graece, by Kurt Aland, M. Black, C. Martini, A. Wikgren and Bruce Metzger.
  16. F. Delitzsch, Commentary On The Old Testament: Isaiah, vol. 7, p. 140.
  17. Ibid. p. 141.
  18. Ibid.
  19. There are only five other times in the Old Testament where God gives a (new name) to someone. Gen. 17: 5 states that God changed Abram (father of a people), to Abraham (father of many people). Gen. 17:15 speaks of God changing Sarai (contentious), to Sarah (princess). Gen. 32:28 tells us that God changed Jacob (conniver, deceiver), to Israel (one who wrestles with God and man and finds favor with both. Num. 13:16 relates how Moses, under what we believe to be divine inspiration, changes Hoshea (Yahveh has saved), to Joshua (Yahveh will save). And 2nd Samuel 12:24-25 relates how God had another name for Solomon (peace). He called him Yedidiyah (Jedidiyah in English, which means, 'Beloved of Yahveh'), which is a picture of Messiah Yeshua. In all these, there is nothing that approaches the uniqueness of Isaiah 7:14's Immanuel (With us is God).
  20. F. Delitzsch, Commentary On The Old Testament: Isaiah, vol. 7, p. 143
  21. Note well that Isaac married Rebecca when he was 40 years old and the boys were born when he was 60. It states that she was so upset at not conceiving that Isaac intervened for her with prayer so she would conceive. Therefore Rebecca was barren for almost 20 years.

Email Avram — avramyeh@gmail.com

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