The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 7:10-17 and brings to a close the Advent season. However, the selections from Isaiah the prophet continue through Christmas I. Isaiah’s words here are arguably the most well-known and most often repeated. Verse 14 is found in almost all Christmas pageants and services: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Even the Gospel writer, Matthew, quotes this verse (1:23) and tells us Immanuel means, “God with Us,” which is a common theme throughout Scripture: No one else has a God like ours, who is truly with His people. This identifying characteristic of our God is also why the Jews never questioned the “Real Presence” in the Sacrament. God being truly present with us is an expected reality (consequently, it is the drinking of blood which caused difficulties for them due to Levitical Laws).
The historical context of this pericope is quite interesting. The Assyrian forces are moving against the North. Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom) and Aram have joined forces to take them on. Judah and their king, Ahaz, are being pressured to join them in fighting the Assyrians. Through the prophet Isaiah, the LORD has told Ahaz to hold tight on all fronts. Do not join with Ephraim and Aram against Assyria. Do not join with Assyria against Ephraim and Aram. Do not do anything but be careful and be quiet (be still and know I am God). Now, in verse 10, the LORD is telling Ahaz to ask for a sign to show He is indeed the One standing for Judah. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign in what may appear to be, on the surface, a pious and godly manner. The truth is Ahaz does not want to ask for a sign because, if he receives what he asks for, he will be bound to listen to it and follow the LORD’s will and not his own. So, the LORD responds to Ahaz’s faithlessness with a sign of His own: The Messianic promise of His one and only Son born of the Virgin.
Since a “Virgin Birth” would be a great miracle, many scholars have argued this should be translated as “young woman,” which is acceptable in the Hebrew. However, the LXX as well as Matthew 1:23 use the Greek word παρθένος (parthenos) which is used specifically for “virgin.” This tells us how the original audience and the faith community who continued from them understood the word to mean “virgin.” There is also its usage in Genesis 24:43 where Rebekah is called a virgin who has not known a man by using this word עלמה (al-Mah). The argument for a definition of “young woman” in the Genesis account also fails to take into consideration the earlier word from verse 24:16 where Rebekah is called בתולה (be-tu-Lah), which is usually defined as “virgin” in nearly 50 occurrences throughout the Old Testament. So, the clearest sense and best translation of the usage in Isaiah 7:14 is still “virgin.” Theologically, of course, Scripture indicates that original sin is passed on through the male, so for the Christ to be born without sin He must be born of a virgin woman.
Finally, the language in verse 15 of eating “curds and honey” is very common to Isaiah. He uses it to indicate a lower social status. Curds and honey are the food of the poor. This is supported later in the chapter in verse 21-22 where it speaks of how the people devastated by war will survive… by eating curds and honey. Much more could be said about these short verses but this should give us a starting point.
7:10 דַּבֵּר (dab-Ber) Piel, infinitive construct: “to speak”
וַיּוֹסֶף (vai-Yo-sef) Hiphil/Qal: “to continue” With דבר (daw-bar) “he continued to speak” or “again, he spoke”
7:11 שְׁאַל (she-al) Qal, imperative: “to ask”
אוֹת (ot) “sign; omen”
הַעְמֵק (ha-Mek) root: עמק (aw-mak) Hiphil, infinitive absolute/imperative: “to make deep”
שְׁאָלָה. (she-A-lah) “Sheol” Note the paragogic ה (hei) at the end. The LXX leaves this out and reads “Let it be deep or let it be high”.
הַגְבֵּהַּ; (hag-Be-ah) root: גבה (gaw-bah) Hiphil, infinitive absolute: “to make high; to exalt”
לְמָעְלָה. (le-Ma-e-lah) Usually translated “as the heavens” however, it could literally be understood “as from (your) unfaithfulness.” Once again, this is omitted in the LXX.
7:12 אֲנַסֶּה] (a-nas-Seh) root: נַסֶּה (naw-saw) Piel: “to put someone to the test; to tempt; to try”
7:13 שִׁמְעוּ (shim-u) Qal, imperative: “to hear”
הַמְעַט מִכֶּם; (ham-At mik-Kem) “too little for you”
הַלְאוֹת (hal-ot) root: לחה (law-aw) Hiphil, infinitive construct: “to make weary; to try the patience of; to exhaust”
7:14 יִתֵּן (yit-Ten) root: נתן (naw-than) Qal, imperative: “to give”
הָעַלְמָה (ha-al-Mah) “virgin; young woman” Sexually mature female of marriageable age, who may or may not be sexually active. In this context, “virgin” is the proper translation; see further discussion above.
הָרָה (ha-Rah) “to conceive; to be pregnant” Used as an adjective perhaps: “The conceiving/pregnant virgin”
עִמָּנוּ אֵלI (im-Ma-nu El) “Immanuel” “with us, God”
7:15 חֶמְאָה (chem-Ah) “curds; soured milk; cream; curdled milk”
וּדְבַשׁ (u-de-Vash) “honey”
מָאוֹס (ma-os) “to refuse; to reject”
7:16 בְּטֶרֶם (be-Te-rem) from: טֶרֶם, (teh-rem) “before”
קָץ (Katz) root: קוץ (koots) Qal: “to dread”
7:17 יָבִיא (ya-Vi) root: בוא (bo) Hiphil: “to bring; to put in”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 7:10-17.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 7:10-17.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Walter A Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Isaiah 7:10-17.