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. This passage is obscure; but the blame lies partly on the Jews, who, by much cavilling, have laboured, as far as lay in their power, to pervert the true exposition. They are hard pressed by this passage; for it contains an illustrious prediction concerning the Messiah, who is here called Immanuel; and therefore they 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.
Those who apply this passage to Hezekiah are excessively impudent; for he must have been a full-grown man when Jerusalem was besieged. Thus they show that they are grossly ignorant of history. But it is a just reward of their malice, that God hath blinded them in such a manner as to be deprived of all judgment. This happens in the present day to the papists, who often expose themselves to ridicule by their mad eagerness to pervert the Scriptures.
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.
Others think, or, at least, (being unwilling to contend with the Jews more than was necessary,) admit that the Prophet spoke of some child who was born at that time, by whom, as by an obscure picture, Christ was foreshadowed. But they produce no strong arguments, and do not show who that child was, or bring forward any proofs. Now, it is certain, as we have already said, that this name Immanuel could not be literally applied to a mere man; and, therefore, there can be no doubt that the Prophet referred to Christ.
But all writers, both Greek and Latin, are too much at their ease in handling this passage; for, as if there were no difficulty in it, they merely assert that Christ is here promised from the Virgin Mary. Now, there is no small difficulty in the objection which the Jews bring against us, that Christ is here mentioned without any sufficient reason; for thus 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. And then they boast as if they had gained the day, chiefly because scarcely any one replies to them. That is the reason why I said that commentators have been too much at their ease in this matter; for it is of no small importance to show why the Redeemer is here mentioned.
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.”
To make these things more plain, we must attend to the custom of the Prophets, who, in establishing special promises, lay down this as the foundation, that God will send a Redeemer. On this general foundation God everywhere builds all the special promises which he makes to his people; and certainly every one who expects aid and assistance from him must be convinced of his fatherly love. And how could he be reconciled to us but through Christ, in whom he has freely adopted the elect, and continues to pardon them to the end? Hence comes that saying of Paul, that all the promises of God in Christ are Yea and Amen. (2 Cor. 1:20.) Whenever, therefore, God assisted his ancient people, he at the same time reconciled them to himself through Christ; and accordingly, whenever famine, pestilence, and war are mentioned, in order to hold out a hope of deliverance, he places the Messiah before their eyes. This being exceedingly clear, the Jews have no right to make a noise, as if the Prophet made an unseasonable transition to a very remote subject. For on what did the deliverance of Jerusalem depend, but on the manifestation of Christ? This was, indeed, the only foundation on which the salvation of the Church always rested.
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. This is plainly enough intimated by the particle לכן, (lāchēn,) therefore; that is, because thou disdainest that particular sign which God offered to thee, הוא, (hū,) He, that is, God himself, who was so gracious as to offer it freely to thee, he whom thou weariest will not fail to hold out a sign. When I say that the coming of Christ is promised to Ahaz, I do not mean that God includes him among the chosen people, to whom he had appointed his Son to be the Author of salvation; but because the discourse is directed to the whole body of the people.
Will give you a sign. The word לכם, (lāchĕm,) to you, is interpreted by some as meaning to your children; but this is forced. So far as relates to the persons addressed, the Prophet leaves the wicked king and looks to the nation, so far as it had been adopted by God. He will therefore give, not to thee a wicked king, and to those who are like thee, but to you whom he has adopted; for the covenant which he made with Abraham continues to be firm and inviolable. And the Lord always has some remnant to whom the advantage of the covenant belongs; though the rulers and governors of his people may be hypocrites.
Behold, a virgin shall conceive. The word Behold is used emphatically, to denote the greatness of the event; for this is the manner in which the Spirit usually speaks of great and remarkable events, in order to elevate the minds of men. The Prophet, therefore, enjoins his hearers to be attentive, and to consider this extraordinary work of God; as if he had said, “Be not slothful, but consider this singular grace of God, which ought of itself to have drawn your attention, but is concealed from you on account of your stupidity.”
Although the word עלמה, (gnălmāh,) a virgin, is derived from עלם, (gnālăm,) which signifies to hide, because the shame and modesty of virgins does not allow them to appear in public; yet as the Jews dispute much about that word, and assert that it does not signify virgin, because Solomon used it to denote a young woman who was betrothed, it is unnecessary to contend about the word. Though we should admit what they say, that עלמה (gnălmāh) sometimes denotes a young woman, and that the name refers, as they would have it, to the age, (yet it is frequently used in Scripture when the subject relates to a virgin,) the nature of the case sufficiently refutes all their slanders. For what wonderful thing did the Prophet say, if he spoke of a young woman who conceived through intercourse with a man? It would certainly have been absurd to hold out this as a sign or a miracle. Let us suppose that it denotes a young woman who should become pregnant in the ordinary course of nature; everybody sees that it would have been silly and contemptible for the Prophet, after having said that he was about to speak of something strange and uncommon, to add, A young woman shall conceive. It is, therefore, plain enough that he speaks of a virgin who should conceive, not by the ordinary course of nature, but by the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. And this is the mystery which Paul extolls in lofty terms, that God was manifested in the flesh. (1 Tim. 3:16.)
And shall call. The Hebrew verb is in the feminine gender, She shall call; for as to those who read it in the masculine gender, I know not on what they found their opinion. The copies which we use certainly do not differ. If you apply it to the mother, it certainly expresses something different from the ordinary custom. We know that to the father is always assigned the right of giving a name to a child; for it is a sign of the power and authority of fathers over children; and the same authority does not belong to women. But here it is conveyed to the mother; and therefore it follows that he is conceived by the mother in such a manner as not to have a father on earth; otherwise the Prophet would pervert the ordinary custom of Scripture, which ascribes this office to men only. Yet it ought to be observed that the name was not given to Christ at the suggestion of his mother, and in such a case it would have had no weight; but the Prophet means that, in publishing the name, the virgin will occupy the place of a herald, because there will be no earthly father to perform that office.
Immanuel. This name was unquestionably bestowed on Christ on account of the actual fact; for the only-begotten Son of God clothed himself with our flesh, and united himself to us by partaking of our nature. He is, therefore, called God with us, or united to us; which cannot apply to a man who is not God. The Jews in their sophistry tell us that this name was given to Hezekiah; because by the hand of Hezekiah God delivered his people; and they add, “He who is the servant of God represents his person.” But neither Moses nor Joshua, who were deliverers of the nation, were so denominated; and therefore this Immanuel is preferred to Moses and Joshua, and all the others; for by this name he excels all that ever were before, and all that shall come after him; and it is a title expressive of some extraordinary excellence and authority which he possesses above others. It is therefore evident that it denotes not only the power of God, such as he usually displays by his servant, but a union of person, by which Christ became God-man. Hence it is also evident that Isaiah here relates no common event, but points out that unparalleled mystery which the Jews labour in vain to conceal.
14 If Ahaz will not ask for a sign, God in his sovereignty will give one in any case. It is impossible to ascertain whether this is the sign God intended to give had Ahaz asked, or whether it is especially given in view of Ahaz’s refusal to ask. At any rate, it is the one he receives. As noted above, it confirms Isaiah’s earlier promise (vv. 4–9), but it also confirms the foolishness of not trusting that promise. That the positive side would have applied had Ahaz received the sign in faith lends some weight to the idea that this was the intended sign. Had Ahaz received it in faith, Immanuel would have appeared solely as the vindication of the house of David. As it was, he was to appear as a shame to the house of David: they had not believed, and so received the just result of that unbelief. Nevertheless, God, in faithfulness to his own promise, would raise up from the wreckage a true Son of David.
a maiden shall conceive. It is not possible to be dogmatic as to why Isaiah used the ambiguous ʿalmâ here instead of the unambiguous beṯûlâ. Nor is it clear what meaning should be assigned to ʿalmâ. Typically, the meaning given is “a young woman of marriageable age,” with the clear implication that the conception is a natural one. However, conservative scholars have frequently pointed out that the word is never used of a married woman in the OT.21 So they have argued that the word denotes a sexually mature, but unmarried, young woman. It would be axiomatic in Hebrew society that such a woman would be a virgin. While the viginity would not be the main focus, as with beṯûlâ, nonetheless it would still follow. The English “maiden” comes very close to having the same denotations and connotations. Such an understanding has the significant virtue of explaining the origin of the LXX parthénos, “virgin,” something those commentators opting for “a young woman of marriageable age” do not mention. Unless ʿalmâ had overtones of virginity about it, the LXX translation is inexplicable.
But if Isaiah wished to stress the virginity of the mother here, why did he not use beṯûlâ? Young, noting that beṯûlâ is frequently accompanied by some such statement as “she had not known a man,” argues that it was the ambiguous term. However, this is manifestly not so, for beṯûlâ has no implication in addition to virginity, whereas ʿalmâ does. The conclusion to which we are driven is that while the prophet did not want to stress the virginity, neither did he wish to leave it aside (as he could have done by using ʾišŝa or some other term for “woman”). In fact, he may have used this term precisely because of its richness and diversity. The Ugaritic cognate (ǵlmt) is used with reference to a goddess who was understood to be a perpetual virgin. Without conceding that Isaiah has merely adapted a myth,24 one may still think that he adapted well-known linguistic forms which would make it plain that whatever might occur along the way, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy would be no ordinary event.
Possibly, then, it is the dual focus of the oracle that explains the use of ʿalmâ here. In the short term, the virgin conception does not seem to have had primary importance. Rather, the significance is that a child conceived at that moment would still be immature when the two threatening nations would have been destroyed (vv. 16, 22). Had Isaiah used beṯûlâ here, Ahaz would probably have been so caught up with that thought that he would have missed the specific linkage to his own time.
On the other hand, the very two-sidedness of the sign in Ahaz’s time demanded something more. Yes, the disappearance of Syria and Ephraim could be seen as evidence that God was with them. But what of Assyria, foolishly trusted and soon to turn on its hapless client? Was God still with them in that? And suppose even greater powers than Assyria strode onto the world’s stage, what then? If we can believe that the transcendent One is really immanent, and the immanent One truly transcendent, then there is reason to live courageously and unselfishly. But no child born to a young woman in Ahaz’s day is proof of God’s presence in all times. But if a virgin overshadowed by God’s Spirit should conceive and give birth, it would not only be a sign of God’s presence with us. Better than that, it would be the reality of that experience. So Ahaz’s sign must be rooted in its own time to have significance for that time, but it also must extend beyond that time and into a much more universal mode if its radical truth is to be any more than a vain hope. For such a twofold task ʿalmâ is admirably suited.
she will call his name Immanuel. The custom of the mother’s naming her child is not uncommon in the OT (cf. Gen. 4:1, 25; 29:31–30:13, 17–24; 35:18; Judg. 13:24; 1 Sam. 1:20; 4:21), especially if the mother has reason for a unique emotional investment in the child or if the father cannot perform the task. This emphasis upon the mother and the corresponding de-emphasis of the father’s role cannot help but be suggestive in the shaping of the ultimate understanding of the sign. No man sired by a human father could be the embodiment of “God with us.”
In contrast with Shear-jashub and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, both of whom are treated in a straightforward manner as Isaiah’s sons, there is an aura of mystery about the Immanuel figure. This is so even without the NT quotation of 7:14. His father is not identified at all and his mother only generally. He is touched upon only briefly, but then appears again suddenly in 8:8 as possessor of the land and yet again in 8:10 by means of a wordplay. The enigmatic nature of the references makes it extremely difficult to identify the child of Ahaz’s time. In the context of the house of David and being spoken of as owner of the land, it is tempting to think of a newly conceived crown prince. The recognition that curds and honey represent food of royalty in some Mesopotamian texts lends further credence to the idea, as does the thought that through Hezekiah God was able to demonstrate his faithful presence. However, that Hezekiah was twenty-five years old at his accession in 516 (2 K. 18:2) means that he was born in 741, at least six years before these events. To hold that the child was “the crown prince, as yet unborn,” raises again the question of Hezekiah. Are we to think Isaiah did not know that the crown prince was already born? Furthermore, if Ahaz was to father this child, it seems very odd that the fact should be ignored. Finally, v. 22 makes it very plain that curds and honey are not intended as symbols of royalty but of the generally depopulated nature of the region.
The suggestion that no particular child was intended is even less attractive, in the light of the particularity of Isaiah’s children as well as of 8:8 and of the description here. The facts of a child’s conception and birth are significant to the framework of the sign. The child will be born in a certain time frame, and its specific existence in that time frame is intrinsic to the function of the sign. It would not be necessary that Ahaz know of the birth, only that at some point he become aware that the promised child had been born.
Perhaps the most attractive option is that Immanuel and Maher-shalal-hash-baz were one and the same. If this were so, this passage would form a more poetic statement of the child’s identity, pointing to the ultimate Immanuel, whereas 8:1–4 would constitute a more prosaic account and be limited merely to the person of Maher-shalal-hash-baz. The references to his conception and birth in 8:3 lend support to the connection, as does the reference to Immanuel in 8:10, shortly after the discussion of the birth of Isaiah’s son.
14. himself—since thou wilt not ask a sign, nay, rejectest the offer of one.
you—for the sake of the house of believing “David” (God remembering His everlasting covenant with David), not for unbelieving Ahaz’ sake.
Behold—arresting attention to the extraordinary prophecy.
virgin—from a root, “to lie hid,” virgins being closely kept from men’s gaze in their parents’ custody in the East. The Hebrew, and the Septuagint here, and Greek (Mt 1:23), have the article, the virgin, some definite one known to the speaker and his hearers; primarily, the woman, then a virgin, about immediately to become the second wife, and bear a child, whose attainment of the age of discrimination (about three years) should be preceded by the deliverance of Judah from its two invaders; its fullest significancy is realized in “the woman” (Ge 3:15), whose seed should bruise the serpent’s head and deliver captive man (Je 31:22; Mic 5:3). Language is selected such as, while partially applicable to the immediate event, receives its fullest, most appropriate, and exhaustive accomplishment in Messianic events. The New Testament application of such prophecies is not a strained “accommodation”; rather the temporary fulfilment of an adaptation of the far-reaching prophecy to the present passing event, which foreshadows typically the great central end of prophecy, Jesus Christ (Rev 19:10). Evidently the wording is such as to apply more fully to Jesus Christ than to the prophet’s son; “virgin” applies, in its simplest sense, to the Virgin Mary, rather than to the prophetess who ceased to be a virgin when she “conceived”; “Immanuel,” God with us (Jn 1:14; Rev 21:3), cannot in a strict sense apply to Isaiah’s son, but only to Him who is presently called expressly (Is 9:6), “the Child, the Son, Wonderful (compare Is 8:18), the mighty God.” Local and temporary features (as in Is 7:15, 16) are added in every type; otherwise it would be no type, but the thing itself. There are resemblances to the great Antitype sufficient to be recognized by those who seek them; dissimilarities enough to confound those who do not desire to discover them.
call—that is, “she shall,” or as Margin, “thou, O Virgin, shalt call;” mothers often named their children (Ge 4:1, 25; 19:37; 29:32). In Mt 1:23 the expression is strikingly changed into, “They shall call”; when the prophecy received its full accomplishment, no longer is the name Immanuel restricted to the prophetess’ view of His character, as in its partial fulfilment in her son; all shall then call (that is, not literally), or regard Him as peculiarly and most fitly characterized by the descriptive name, “Immanuel” (1 Ti 3:16; Col 2:9).
name—not mere appellation, which neither Isaiah’s son nor Jesus Christ bore literally; but what describes His manifested attributes; His character (so Is 9:6). The name in its proper destination was not arbitrary, but characteristic of the individual; sin destroyed the faculty of perceiving the internal being; hence the severance now between the name and the character; in the case of Jesus Christ and many in Scripture, the Holy Ghost has supplied this want [Olshausen].
Ver. 14.—Therefore. To show that your perversity cannot change God’s designs, which will be accomplished, whether you hear or whether you forbear. The Lord himself; i. e. “the Lord himself, of his own free will, unasked.” Will give you a sign. “Signs” were of various kinds. They might be actual miracles performed to attest a Divine commission (Exod. 4:3–9); or judgments of God, significative of his power and justice (Exod. 10:2); or memorials of something in the past (Exod. 13:9, 16); or pledges of something still future. Signs of this last-mentioned kind might be miracles (Judg. 6:36–40; 2 Kings 20:8–11), or prophetic announcements (Exod. 3:12; 1 Sam. 2:34; 2 Kings 19:29). These last would only have the effect of signs on those who witnessed their accomplishment. Behold. “A forewarning of a great event” (Cheyne). A virgin shall conceive. It is questioned whether the word translated “virgin,” viz. ’almah, has necessarily that meaning; but it is admitted that the meaning is borne out by every other place in which the word occurs in the Old Testament (Gen. 24:43; Exod. 2:8; Ps. 68:25; Prov. 30:19; Cant. 1:3; 6:8). The LXX., writing two centuries before the birth of Christ, translate by παρθένος. The rendering “virgin” has the support of the best modern Hebraists, as Lowth, Gesenius, Ewald, Delitzsch, Kay. It is observed with reason that unless ’almah is translated “virgin,” there is no announcement made worthy of the grand prelude: “The Lord himself shall give you a sign—Behold!” The Hebrew, however, has not “a virgin,” but “the virgin” (and so the Septuagint, ἡ παρθένος), which points to some special virgin, preeminent above all others. And shall call; better than the marginal rendering, thou shalt call. It was regarded as the privilege of a mother to determine her child’s name (Gen. 4:25; 16:11; 29:32–35; 30:6–13, 18–21, 24; 35:18, etc.), although formally the father gave it (Gen. 16:15; 2 Sam. 12:24; Luke 1:62, 63) Immanuel. Translated for us by St. Matthew (1:23) as “God with us” (μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν ὁ Θεός). (Comp. ch. 8:8, 10.)
7:14 Like many prophecies, this one seems to have had an early fulfillment (in the days of Ahaz) and later, complete fulfillment (in the First Advent of Christ). Verse 14 points irresistibly to Christ—the Son of the virgin whose name indicates that He is Immanuel, God-with-us. Again we quote Vine:
“Behold”, in Isaiah, always introduces something relating to future circumstances. The choice of the word almah is significant, as distinct from bethulah (a maiden living with her parents and whose marriage was not impending); it denotes one who is mature and ready for marriage.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Vol. 1, pp. 244–249). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Oswalt, J. N. (1986). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39 (pp. 209–213). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 437). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1910). Isaiah (Vol. 1, pp. 127–128). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 945–946). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.