Saturday, December 03, 2022

The Isaiah 7 Christmas Controversy?

Typical of my blog posting, I am going to weigh in on a scholarly controversy without scholarly expertise. And though I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Xpress, the mere fact I am writing this lends quite the same weight and logic of that funny ad campaign.

The summary of the controversy is whether the word for 'virgin' in Isaiah 7 is more accurately translated 'young maiden' and does that word choice negate it as a sign, or 700 year old Biblical prophecy. This of course could challenge the text in Matthew (but not really) for those who want to be skeptical at the start.

“Every time you hear the Word of God preached, you come away from that exposure to the truth either a little closer to God or a little further away from Him, either more softened toward God or more hardened toward God…. What you need is more grace. Nothing else can save you from your deadness. Therefore, fear your own hardness of heart more than anything else. Beware of rigidity, ingratitude, a demanding spirit. Beware of an unmelted heart that is never satisfied.” Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Christmas can be a clue to our heart. Are we scrooge or are we childlike?

May we allow grace to melt away our cynical hearts. Laugh and sing, love and give, hope and help this Christmas season. Speak positive words of life!

Do I really want to dive into this? This is blog writing... so... oh well...

I absolutely love the passage in Isaiah 7 where the target text takes place.

Here we have political intrigue, the son's names (here 'remnant' and later 'swift booty fast prey') and the setting of the conduit of the Upper Pool where a 2nd dramatic showdown takes place. (Ironically, the spring that feeds that pool is called "the fountain of the 'virgin' spring of Gihon - Gihon being one of the 4 rivers of Eden and the legend of the fountain of the virgin is that Mary washed the swaddling clothes there-  God does have a sense of wry humor IMO).

The story of the confrontation of Isaiah to Ahaz, his tiny faith in God,  and his stupid reliance on manipulation and payoffs to Assyria adds to the eventual judgement of Judah.

After Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign (using spiritual arguments but heart deceptiveness) Isaiah gives the famous 'sign' that will be referenced 700 years later in Matthew 1.

The 'controversy' centers around the translation of the word 'virgin' in Isaiah 7:14. 

The masoretic texts (and later confirmed by the Dead Sea scrolls) clearly use the word better translated 'young maiden' than virgin.  (However, I did read in my research that the greek septuagint in the time of Christ had the greek work in Matthew as 'parthenos' a virgin, chaste woman).

I also want to say a thank-you to some great teaching from Bryan College videos where I think it is Dr. Judd Davis who expresses a contextual analysis of Isaiah 7gives some strong supports that the promise of a sign demands a more miraculous interpretation of the statement. ( He also gives compelling evidence that "THE" Almah has 9 OT references that suggest pure/chaste virgins.

A great short video on the subject from Ron Cantor:

I also find it interesting that the root of Almah is 'hidden one" and is fascinating to compare that to the apocalyptic nativity scene in Revelation 12.

 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. [2] She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. [3] And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. [4] His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. [5] She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, [6] and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1–6 ESV) 

Jesus was born of the virgin Mary as recorded in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38. The emphasis of this verse and in Matthew is "IMMANUEL" not the woman. The virgin birth of Jesus stands on the account in the gospels where Matthew and Luke testify to this. And then Matthew gives a plausible rendering of 'virgin' to the Isaiah reference. There are other uses of the work Almah that could easily refer to a virgin in context.

Now why is this even important? We have to be careful to understand that there is often in Biblical prophecy DUAL fulfillment (or echo) of the text. In other words, there will be a literal fulfillment in a soon time, but also a larger more expansive fulfillment in the future. If true, Almah would give more flexibility... but the SIGN is more than the virgin, it is also a time reference. Also, the sign is given to he "House of David"... 

An example of dual fulfillment is prophecy regarding Babylon- the literal fulfillment of its destruction, but also the larger prediction of the world's system which will be destroyed in the second coming of Christ.

This passage in Isaiah is an excellent example of this. It was possible- literally fulfilled in Isaiah 8:1-10 but it also points to Christ 700 years later. The Old Testament contains types and shadows of the King. Again, we use Scripture to establish these ideas... that is why I included Matthew 1 where he points back to this verse.

I still believe in miracles.

Now it points out an interesting part of 'Immanuel', which is this: God's presence - His being with us- is not loved or wanted by everyone. The reference in Isaiah is again judgment for God's enemies and comfort for God's people.

It is never easy... Christ is always a battle ground. That is why you see even today, conflict over nativity scenes and over the name of Jesus Christ.

All of us struggle at times- Is God there? Does He care? Yes.... Do not lose heart. Embrace Immanuel. He is with you. Yes that frightens me too. He is so with me that He knows how I think. He knows how poorly I obey. He knows how weak and sinful I am. And He still loves me- WOW!

AND He is FOR me. He is WITH me. When others run, He stands and supports. When Satan accuses, He defends.

This Christmas.... meditate on this truth. God is with us. He is not distant. God is with us, He has not tucked tail and run. God is with us. Allow Him to draw even closer still.

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