FULFILLING ISAIAH IN MATTHEW
The Fulfillment of Isaiah in Matthew
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us”. Matthew 1:22-23 (see also Isaiah 7:14).
What does Matthew mean by his statement that “all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord”? What exactly was spoken by the Lord, through the prophet, and how was it to be fulfilled? Isaiah the prophet had said that a young woman would bear a child whose symbolic name would be Immanuel, which Matthew translates for us as meaning “God with us”. Was Isaiah predicting the virgin birth when he spoke or wrote these words? He most certainly was not. Within the context of Isaiah’s own book, it appears that the young woman in question (the word that is sometimes translated as “virgin” can also simply mean “young woman” and I believe that this is all that was intended by Isaiah) was in fact Isaiah’s own wife. I don’t believe that Isaiah was looking farther down the road than this when he made his prediction. The word of Isaiah was to King Ahaz, who was ruling Israel at the time, and it was a word of assurance that God would give deliverance to His people within a short period of time, “before the boy knows how to cry out “Daddy!” or “Mommy!” (Isaiah 8:3-4. See also Isaiah 7:14-16). The Israelite people were not spending their time looking for a virgin to give birth to a child without the involvement of a human father. That is not what is being “fulfilled” in this narrative. What Israel was looking for at the time of Jesus’ birth was a deliverer or a deliverance, and that is exactly what they were looking for when Isaiah prophesied. To be more accurate, “Judah” was looking for deliverance when Isaiah prophesied. Tragically, the ten northern tribes of Israel were fighting against Judah at the time. But Judah was the one whom the prophets sought to serve first and foremost because the promise to renew of ALL of Israel was made concerning the tribe of Judah. Out of Judah would come the Messiah who would set all things right (Micah 5:2). When Isaiah was carrying out his ministry to Judah, Judah was being threatened by Israel (the ten northern tribes) and Aram (Israel’s neighbors). Isaiah brought a word of comfort to the King of Judah saying, and I will paraphrase, “Do not be afraid of these two has-been kingdoms even though they are on your doorstep. In a couple of years, they will be washed up. I will give you a sign to assure you that this is the case: the wife of the prophet will have a baby and before that baby is old enough to eat solid food, these two kingdoms will be all but forgotten. The birth of this baby and the fulfillment of this prediction will be a sign to you that God is with you and will not abandon His people to whom He has made the most important of promises.” (Isaiah 7:1-16). The “fulfillment” that Matthew is speaking about has to do with God repeating what He has already done in the past. Judah was once again being threatened to the extreme by a dominating foreign power. The people of Judah need deliverance. The birth of Jesus is to be a sign to the people of Judah that God is with them and will still keep His promises.
Before the birth of Jesus, I don’t believe that anyone thought there was more in Isaiah’s prophesy that was still waiting to be fulfilled. Nobody was scanning the population to find a virgin who was pregnant. That was not what Isaiah was predicting, at least nobody knew that was what Isaiah was predicting, including Isaiah! Neither should we imagine that Matthew sees a simple deduction happening here, as though the reasoning went something like this: “A Child is born without a human father, therefore the child must be the son of a supernatural God!” The phrase “son of God” implied various different things, but most prominently, it meant the Messiah or God’s anointed.
More than anything, I believe that Matthew wants to highlight the meaning of all these strange goings-on, which is, “God with us”. Certainly, Matthew would not have translated the meaning of “Immanuel” for his readers unless he wanted to draw out this point. Again, this is not a simple deduction of the virgin birth as though a virgin birth automatically equals a super-natural child. It is my understanding that this would be a kind of heresy anyway. Jesus is not a super-human, He is a human. Matthew’s main point is this: In this strange happenings, we see that Yahweh is returning to dwell with His people. THAT is what the prophets said would happen. And THAT is what was being fulfilled in and through Jesus Himself.