Isaiah 7.14-16 “A Virgin shall Conceive”

A curious reading of Esay. 7:14-16 was found upon considering the perpetuity of a Davidic line with Britain. As we might recall, the Rt. Rev. Jon Titcomb essentially rejected this view as too conjectural, requiring more belief in Legend than Scripture. So no Messiah is mistaken other than Jesus, Dr. Adam Clarke dislikes a secondary rendering. However, Mr. Joseph Benson is less restrictive, admitting with other 18th-century commentators a verse which speaks of two figures– the Christ-child, born of Mary, but also the son of Isaiah, leaving his infancy during Ahaz’s reign. Other commentators like Thomas Scott invite a double-meaning but leave more mystery. In so far as Clarke’s estimates David’s progeny extinct by reason of their diffusion among late-Jewry applicable, we may dismiss Clarke’s more rigid reckoning.

Nonetheless, regarding the continuation of the Ahaz and the Kingdom of Judah, Isaiah 7:14-16 reads,

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  (15) Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. (16) For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be foresaken.”

Respecting the immediate context of verse 14, Dr. Adam Clarke reports:

“I answer, the meaning of the prophet is plain: not only Rezin and Pekah should be unsuccessful at that time, which was the fact; but Jerusalem, Judea, and the house of David should be both preserved, notwithstanding their depressed state, and the multitude of their adversaries, till the time should come when a VIRGIN should bear a son. This is a most remarkable circumstance– the house of David could never fail, till a virgin should conceive and bear a son– nor did it: but when that credible and miraculous fact did take place, the kingdom and house of David became extinct!

Though Clarke later explains ‘extinct’ in a sense which is not absolute but– like the Ten Tribes– diffused in a way that a precise lineage is elusive or nearly impossible to extract (their characteristics being so mixed together there is no single lineage although a variety by degree might exist). As we recall, Clarke said,

“The posterity of David are long since extinct, or so blended with the remaining Jews as to be utterly indiscernible; but Jesus ever liveth, and his seed (Christians) are spread, and are spreading over all nations; and his throne is eternal”

Yet, for our consideration Dr. Clarke says the prophecy was essentially fulfilled at Christ’s ascension, leaving us with something of an exclusive-middle, “Either the prophecy in Isaiah has been fulfilled, or the Kingdom and House of David are yet standing”. Again, the force of Clarke’s argument is to close off the vanity of Rabins.

“This is an irrefragable confutation of every argument  a Jew can offer in vindication of his opposition to the Gospel of Christ. Either the prophecy in Isaiah has been fulfilled, or the kingdom and house of David are yet standing. But the Kingdom of David, we know, is destroyed: and where is the man, Jew or Gentile, that can show us a single descendant of David on the face of the earth? The prophecy could not fail: the Kingdom and House of David have failed; the virgin, therefore, must have brought forth her son, and this son is Jesus, the Christ. Thus Moses, Isaiah, and Matthew concur; and facts the most unequivocal have confirmed the whole! Behold the wisdom and providence of God!”

It certainly is true Jewish polity ended in 70AD with Jerusalem’s destruction. Likewise, the House of David thereafter [eventually] ceased to exist, at least, in any absolute or particular sense. It seems Clarke’s concern, along with the Virginity of Christ’s birth, is that unbelieving Jews [and others] should be left with no excuse or alternative lineage besides the living Christ as true Messiah. So, for Clarke, the genealogy and exaltation of Christ is the only truth worth reckoning, and he is jealous for our Savior’s uniqueness.

But, there’s often a two-fold rendering by which OT prophecy is understood. For example, Joseph Benson (upon whom Mr. Clarke’s commentary is substantially based) says Isaiah’s prophecy addresses at least two parties. The first part speaks to the House of David (v. 14-15) while the latter section (v. 16) speaks to King Ahaz’s eventual deliverance.

“These prophecies are manifestly distinguished by being addressed to different persons. The first was addressed to the house of David, for the consolation of the pious in general; as it assured them, not only of the preservation of that house, but of God’s fidelity to his great promise; whereas the second promise is addressed to the king in particular, as it foretold the speedy destruction of the two kings, his enemies.”

Of course, the two enemies mentioned are princes of Syria and Israel– respectively, Rezin and Pekah. But this renders the ‘secondary sense’ immediate to Ahaz’s reign. And, although it’s not futuristic, as if speaking of a latter day Restoration, it does admit a secondary and lesser meaning. Most commentators appear to understand the narrative of verse 16 in a similar manner, namely, predicting a broken confederacy as recorded in 2 Kings 15.29-30.

Benson’s other comments in 2 Kings shed no more light for a surviving posterity in the House of David beyond Christ, but Benson does reminds us the conquest of the northern Kingdom happened by stages with several relocations:

“It may be proper to observe here,  that the kingdom of the ten tribes was not destroyed at one time. The first invasion of their country, and prelude to their destruction, was made by Pul, who took away an immense booty, and drained them of their wealth; probably also carrying captive some of the people that dwelt on the east of Jordan. The second was by this Tiglath-pileser, who carried away the inhabitants of the northern parts, with the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 1 Chron. 5.26. The third and last was by Shalmaneser, who took Samaria, and carried into captivity the rest of the Israelites, chap. xvii. 1-23.”

So, in the more immediate case, Isaiah’s son, Shear-Jashub, is ‘the child’ spoken, and upon his age of discernment (evidently two-years before Assyria crushed Syria and Israel) the enemies of Judah were dashed. However, in so far as v. 14 speaks of a miraculous birth by a Virgin, this event is obviously not fulfilled by the natural birth of Shear-Jashub. Thus it looks beyond the days of Ahaz toward Christ’s incarnation. The fifteenth verse serves as a transitional device where “refusing evil and choosing good” speaks of both Christ and Isaiah’s son. In the lesser sense it means an ‘age of accountability’ with Jashub while in a greater sense it points to the Son of Man who will rightly judge all nations and works of men.

After acknowledging the possibility of Shear-Jashub, the Rev. Thomas Scott leaves the overall question as to a double-meaning to more mystery than Benson. Scott invites every hint “which might tend to a fuller elucidation”. Hence, he says,

“the Lord seems purposely to cast an obscurity on them, as a trial of our humility; and to prove whether we will receive and profit by what is obvious, though we cannot satisfactorily solve every difficulty; or whether we will proudly reject the whole on that account”

Scott is less sympathetic with the two Kings being Pekah and Rezin. Instead, he tends to think the entire land being ‘abhorred’:

“But some of supposed, that the whole of the promised land was intended, and that the termination of regal authority, both in Israel and Judah, before the time that Immanuel should ‘know to refuse evil and choose the good’, was predicted… Now it is very remarkable, that Herod the great, the last who could be called ‘the king’ either of Judah or Israel, lived till after Immanuel’s birth, but died while he was yet an infant: and then, Shiloh being come, the sceptre departed finally from Judah, as it had long before from Israel” (see Gen. 49.10).”

Thus, Scott gives us almost a third-sense by which we might take the 16th verse, in this example indicative of Herod. But this might build a stronger case, perhaps, for Clarke’s remarks where Scott agrees with a ‘termination in regal authority’. Nonetheless, Scott concludes this section by granting:

“How far the prophecy may be supposed to have received a primary accomplishment, by the deliverance, within two or three years, of Judah from the two kings, which threatened its destruction; and yet, afterwards to have had a far more striking and exact completion, when Immanuel was born, and when he was yet an infant, the former being a confirmation and sure pledge of the latter; I shall leave it to the reader to determine

Of 18th century commentators– which I try to root myself deeply and for whom later Victorian scholars obviously are built upon– a secondary sense may exist. Though ‘forsakenness’ may  belong either to Herod or Pekah, Azah’s preservation is nevertheless declared. There is very little here that deals with the parting of the Sceptre unless the land to be abhored refers to Judah rather than her enemies [Syria and Israel]. However, we ought to stay within bounds of scripture especially since Clarke gives a rather sober reason why the House of David might be eventually obscured or ‘extinguished’– namely– that unbelieving Jews [or others] be cut-off from any further claims for an earthly Messiah. Again, there may be a survival of the House of David, but it’s been providentially Lost or hard to prove, like the Ten Tribes, aside from (support by laudable) Legend or Probable evidence. We will try to examine the prophecy with Shiloh soon.

Isaiah 7.14-16 “A Virgin shall Conceive”

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