Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:22-25)
All of this was done… all of what? All of the events of the engagement of two direct descendants of King David, the pregnancy through the Holy spirit, Joseph’s doubts and the resolution of those doubts by a dream… these events, we are told, were done to fulfill an ancient prophecy in the book of Isaiah 7:14.
The story in Isaiah, is of the double threat posed to Judah in the days of the wicked king Ahaz, by Rezin, King of Syria and by Pekah, King of Israel. These two nations, (usually inveterate enemies of each other) combined in an alliance to attack Judah in a time of extreme weakness. Judah had just come through a war which cost a hundred thousand of her warriors and the abduction of two hundred thousand women and children.
The nation of Judah had never sunk lower. King Ahaz had subjected himself as a vassal king to the King of Assyria, Shalmaneser, and on his way back from a meeting with his new master, he saw an altar in Damascus which he loved, and ordered drawings and plans made to make a replica of it for the temple in Jerusalem! A Pagan altar!
Ahaz remodeled the temple, tearing down the huge bronze sea which rested on the backs of twelve oxen, (representing Israel’s intercession for the Gentiles), an tore down also the private covered entrance from the King’s palace to the temple (representing the unique relationship between the Sons of David and God). Then Ahaz drug in the new pagan altar into the remodeled temple, and worshipped at it, in the face of the only true God!
This was the ‘Son of David”. Now Judah was in trouble from external enemies, Israel and Syria. But still She had Isaiah the Prophet living in Jerusalem.
And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.
2 And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field; And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal: Thus saith the Lord God, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. (Isaiah 7:3-9)
Isaiah was then told to challenge this wicked and unbelieving Son of David, to ask the LORD for a sign, any sign at all, and it would be granted. In spite of his evil and rebellion and wicked course which he followed, God wanted him still to believe in Him, and to Know that God was With Him and the nation regardless… .
But King Ahaz feigned piety, and refused to “tempt the Lord” by asking for a sign.
So the sign would be given to Him of the LORD”s choosing,
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.(Isaiah 7:14-16)
The Prophet Isaiah’s wife would have a child, (‘Virgin’ in the Hebrew text is “Almah” which means young woman). The child’s name would be called “Immanuel” and by the time the child is weaned , both opposing Kings would be defeated and driven out of the Land. In this way, even wicked Judah would know that ‘God was with them’. The child would be a sign of the presence of God even in the darkest times.
How is tat story connected to the nativity?
By the time of Matthew 1, (the fulness of times), Judah was in another low place. The “son of David’ wasn’t even a King, Judah was prostrate under Gentile power,(Rome) and the Son of David was an obscure carpenter in a backwater town, Nazareth. All looked lost, the scepter had departed from Judah and Messiah had not yet come…the promise seemed unfulfilled that a Son of David would remain on the throne and reign forever.
The great tree of the line of David had been a stump for more than five hundred years, and what was left of Israel had languished under Gentile powers all that time.
But the same prophet would predict a shoot out of that stump, who would arise and rule the world in Righteousness.
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.( Isaiah 11:1-4)
Like Ahaz, Joseph the Son of David couldn’t believe what his wife had told him about the virgin birth. Matthew cites the Septuagint which is more precise in Isaiah 7 for it uses the Greek word for literal Virgin. “A Virgin shall bear a Son”, and He shall be the Sign of Immanuel, that God is with us. The seed of the woman had come to bring the presence of God to all of us who will receive.