Immanuel - Our God is With Us - Part VI - A Biblical Truth, Not Abstract Metaphysics

This is the sixth installment of a series on Isaiah 7:14. 

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 (Cf. Matt 1:23)

With everything already examined in mind, a closer look at name and Immanuel is in order. It is of great importance to note that in the world of the Hebrews, name denotes reputation, what an individual represents. Author, writer and teacher Skip Moen summarized it this way:

“Names have power. Names designate essence. ‘In the name of’ carries the same authority as though the one named spoke the words. In this case, the divine name is a summary of the divine being. Therefore, when John says our sins are forgiven through His name, he does not mean that the phonetic expression of the name is some magical formula. He means that the name implies the full personality behind it. We are forgiven because of whom Yeshua is, not because His name is pronounced in a certain way. This is essentially the same idea that is contained in the use of YHWH as a name in the Tanakh. The divine name is who YHWH is. It is not just a collection of arbitrary consonants.”[1]

God being “with” his people is also an important element to stress. The way that God is with his people varies. When Isaiah spoke to Ahaz,

“Devise a plan, but it will be thwarted; State a proposal, but it will not stand, For God is with us” (Isa. 8:10)

he was quoting a phrase with which the Hebrews were already well acquainted. He was reminding the present generation in their current distress that God was with his people. The statement was an affirmation that God was for his people in the present and provided hope for the future. For example, starting with Abraham:

“God is with you [Abraham] in all that you do” (21:22)

“Sojourn in this land and I will be with you 
[Isaac]...Do not fear, for I am with you, I will bless you” (Gen. 26:3, 24);

“I am with you 
[Jacob] and will keep you wherever you go…return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you” (28:15; 31:3);

“The LORD was with Joseph.... The LORD was with him…God will be with you” 
(39:2, 21, 23; 48:21);

“I will be with you 
[Moses]…God will be with you…My Presence shall go with you” (Exo. 3:12; 18:19; 33:14);

“Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you
[Joshua]” (Jos. 1:5);

“Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him” 
(1 Sam. 3:19);

“I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite…the LORD is with him 
[David]…Saul was afraid of David, for the LORD was with him…David became greater and greater, for the LORD God of hosts was with him” (1 Sam 16:18; 18:12; 2 Sam 5:10).

Even to the whole of Israel God is said to be “with you”:

‘‘These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing’” Deut. 2:7; 

"May the LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers; may he not leave us or forsake us” (1 Kings 8:57, said by Solomon);

"The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold.” 
Psa. 46:7

Even in the pages of the NT we find the reaffirmation of the model portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures:

“Rabbi, we know that ... no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2);

“He who sent me is with me”

“I am not alone because the Father is with me.”

Just because extensive details are not given relating to a child by the name Immanuel, does not mean it didn’t happen (cf. 8:8-10). The obvious must also be pointed out, that Jesus’ name was not Immanuel (in English prose), nor was his name (in English understanding) wonderful, counselor or the above, rather, his name is Yeshua. This does not mean that who he was did not signify the same promise of salvation that the original “Immanuel” sign did. Those things have to do with character and depictions of a certain reality.

It has been traditionally argued that because the Matthean author quotes Isaiah 7 in the infancy narrative, 

“Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us’”

he must intend to hint at the incarnation, meaning this Jesus is God in the flesh. Catholic priest, scholar and theologian Hans Küng raises the question:

“Do Christian theologians do justice to the Hebrew Bible when they heighten the divine inspiration of the Bible and regard it as a book of deep Christian mysteries which they attempt to unveil with the help of the allegorical, symbolic method, so that they even think that they can discover a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit in the ‘Old Testament’”?[2]

In this case (at the time of Isaiah), the reality is that their enemies were closing in, God was there in their trouble, Ahaz rejected it with an appearance of godliness. Can we see any similarities to Jesus’ day?[3]

Names can play a substantial role in perpetuating misunderstanding or enlightening their character. In the scriptures, many names contain the simple ancient Semitic world for God, el. For example: Israel (Yisra-El) means contender with God (El).

Of course Immanuel (Immanu El) means, “with us is our God.”
Elijah’s (El Yah) name literally means “Yahweh is God” but nobody says the prophet was really Yahweh.
Ezekiel (Yehezki El) means “strengthened by God.”
Bithiah means “daughter of Yahweh” but nobody argues that she must be the sister of Jesus (1 Chron. 4:18, KJV).
Eliab’s name means “my God is my Father” no one argues that Eliab is the Messiah.
Joel’s (Yo El) name means “Yahweh God” and Elihu means “my God himself.”
Eli means “my God.”
Ithiel means “God is with me”, and no one is contending on these premises that he is God manifested in the flesh.

That a name contains Yah(weh) or el, does not indicate divinity, rather aspects of God’s character being revealed or working through that individual.

“Israelite prophets could give names to individuals in accord with a specific message that they were trying to communicate. In the same way that Hosea named his three children to correspond with his message, so Isaiah noted, ‘I and the children whom Yahweh has given me are for signs’: Shear-jashub, meaning ‘a remnant will return’; Maher-shalal-hash-baz, meaning ‘swift is the booty, speedy is the prey’; and Immanuel, meaning ‘God is with us.’”[4]

God was with his people in and through the Messiah. Even the last verse in Matthew (the book which begins alluding to God being with his people via a child of promise) verifies this understanding with a literary recapitulation,

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (28:20).

Matthew’s message was, “even as God was with our fathers, so he will be with us.” Isaiah did not make a “virgin birth” the emphasis of any narrative, but rather on the sign of the birth of a child. The sign of Immanuel meant that God was once again with his people to bring salvation.

Reverend Moses Stuart wrote in a letter defending the doctrine of Jesus’ deity:

“To maintain that the name Immanuel proves the doctrine in question [incarnation, deity of Jesus] is a fallacious argument; although many Trinitarians have urged it. Jerusalem is called ‘Jehovah our Righteousness.’ Is Jerusalem therefore divine?”[5]

After Ahaz, Hezekiah (Ahaz’ son, king of Judah), found himself in a similar situation as his father. In 2 Chronicles it states,

“Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God [immanu YHWH eloheinu] to help us and to fight our battles.” (2 Chron. 32:7-8; cf. 1 John 4:4).


End Notes:
[1] Skip Moen, “The First Letter of John in Light of Revelation 13:8,” Hebrew Word Study – Skip Moen, (Dec, 11, 2013), 4.
[2] Hans Küng, Christianity: Essence, History, and Future, (Continuum Publishing Co., 1994), 168.
[3] It is prudent to remember the fact that the Gospel narratives were written long after the fact, and are reflections of an earlier time.
[4] Bruce Metzger, The Oxford Guide to People & Places of the Bible (Oxford University Press, 2001), 107.
[5] Moses Stuart, Letters to the Rev. WM. E. Channing, 3rd ed. (Flag and Gould, 1819), 115.

The next segment will examine the doctrinal developments that gave rise to Orthodox Incarnation Theology.

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