When I was a younger man studying at a Talmudic Academy in Jerusalem, I had the great privilege of studying under a great Rabbi and mentor, Rabbi Tziyyon Nadaf. I remember him vividly explaining to us the meaning and purport of the word "sign," (Heb. אות) and why "signs" are given to Israel. He directed our minds and attention to Jeremiah ch. 28 and an oral tradition regarding the whole episode.

So, too, it is with us in our present discussion; before we can fully understand Isaiah 7:1-16, or what the Christians misinterpret to mean a prophecy about Mary, we must first understand Jeremiah ch. 28 and what transpired there. I will proceed with an introduction into what actually happened there, after which, everything will become clear:

In Jeremiah ch. 28, in conjunction with that oral tradition found written in our Midrash Hagadol (on Deuteronomy 13:3), there was a prophet in Israel by the name of Hananiah the son of Azur. This man had initially been numbered amongst the prophets of Israel. However, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made an incursion into the country and took captive some of the men of Judah, as well as their king, in accordance with the words of the prophet Jeremiah, this man stood up and declared that after two years, king Nebuchadnezzar would return again the captives of Judah to their own country, as well as their king and the vessels of the house of the Lord which had been taken booty. Jeremiah answered him that when a prophet of Israel prophesies about something bad which is to happen, that prophecy does not necessarily have to come to pass, seeing that if the people repent, G-d will also repent from what He thought to bring upon the people. However, if any prophet prophesies about anything good that is supposed to happen, that must, by necessity, come to pass. If not, that prophet has spoken presumptuously.

When Hananiah the son of Azur had prophesied good concerning Israel, Jeremiah asked from him a "sign" in order to prove thereby that his prophecy would, indeed, come to pass. That is to say, he sought from him an immediate sign in order to verify, in short term, that what he had prophesied concerning Judah's return to his own land would also come to pass. This then is the only purpose of our asking for a "sign" from a prophet, viz. to show thereby that just as something foretold in the interim period had happened, so, too, will the other prophecy come to pass.

Hananiah the son of Azur, being a false prophet in this case, refused to show Jeremiah a "sign." Rather, he asked Jeremiah to show him a "sign." Now Jeremiah had previously been sent by G-d to tell Hananiah that, instead of Judah returning to their own land, the yoke of the king of Babylon would only get worse and wax stronger. Jeremiah consented and gave to Hananiah the "sign" that he requested (by way of proving to him that the men of Judah would not return unto their own land in the course of two years' time, contrary to Hananiah's words). Jeremiah gave to Hananiah a "sign" whereby he might know that Jeremiah's prophecy would indeed hold true. The "sign" that he gave was that Hananiah, the false prophet, would himself die within that year. According to our oral tradition, Hananiah, indeed, died within that year, but he had commanded his sons prior to his death that if he should die, they should hide his body and withhold it from burial until after the Jewish New Year (i.e. on the seventh month, known as Tishri). This was done by him in order to make Jeremiah look like a liar. Yet, in fact, Hananiah had died a few days before the Jewish New Year, but was only buried after the New Year.

So far the introduction. Now let us look at Isaiah.

In Isaiah 7:1-16, we find a similar incident, where there is also mention of a "sign."

The king of Syria and the people of Ephraim had conspired together, and made a confederation, in an attempt to overthrow Ahaz the king of Judah. This union brought about no small consternation and worry amongst the men of Judah. The prophet Isaiah was therefore sent to king Ahaz, telling him that there was no reason for concern, seeing that in sixty-five years, Ephraim would be broken, and they would no longer be a united people. The prophet, being anxious to show unto Ahaz that his prophecy was sure to happen, said to him: [vs. 11] "Ask thee a 'sign' of the Lord thy G-d; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above." Meaning, the prophet was willing to show him an intermediate sign, in the meanwhile, so that he and the people might rest assured that the other prophecy concerning Ephraim would also surely come to pass. Yet, Ahaz refused to ask of G-d a "sign."

G-d, therefore, opted to give him a "sign," that he might know thereby that Isaiah's words would hold true. The sign was: [vs. 14] "Behold! A young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel. [vs. 15] Butter and honey shall he eat that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. [vs. 16] 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."

Note: The child whose name would be called "Emmanuel" (God is with us) meant, basically, that G-d was still with His people amidst such concerns, when they felt threatened on all sides by their enemies. For so it is that we still name our children after certain events that happen to us. That is to say, the child that was born in the days of Ahaz, and whose mother was a mere girl, was named "Emmanuel" to signify that G-d was with Judah in the midst of trouble, but not that that child was G-d Himself incarnated.

So now to address a question once posed by Justin:
Justin noted in Isaiah 7:14 that G-d was offering Ahaz a 'sign.' He asks, "Where is the sign in a young girl giving birth to a son, a normal occurrence that happens every day?"

Answer: The sign is not in her giving birth to a son – indeed, which is but an all too common occurrence – but rather, the sign is this: before that child should reach a certain age, to distinguish between good and bad, the king of Syria and the king of Ephraim would have already been deposed! That is, no longer would they pose a threat to King Ahaz and the men of Judah.

This "sign" had only the function of showing to Ahaz that what the prophet foretold about the people of Ephraim being dissolved would also happen. This then is the whole purpose and nature of "signs!"

So, then, to conclude: The question of whether or not עלמה means "virgin" or "young woman," or that it might even refer to some Immaculate Conception, doesn't even begin! The passage refers to an event that happened during the time of king Ahaz. That's the whole truth, no matter how hard it might sound.

David

Tags: Christianity, Immaculate-Conception, Isaiah-chapter-7

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One of Judaism’s most renowned scholars, Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon (882-942 CE), commented upon the "SEVENTY WEEKS" spoken of by Daniel, chapter 9 (vss. 24-ff.) and says that each week represents 7 years; meaning, "seventy weeks" represents 490 years. This timeframe actually begins before the destruction of the 1st Temple, in 422 BCE (according to Jewish calculations), and includes within it that seventy-year period of captivity because of Israel's sins, which seventy-years of captivity ended during the 2nd year of Darius in 356 BCE (according to Jewish calculations found in the 2nd century CE rabbinic book known as “Seder Olam”).

 

These "seventy weeks," or 490 years, end with the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 68 CE. He says, moreover, that these 490 years are broken-down by Daniel into three parts: 1) "seven weeks" = 49 years (at the end of which time, Cyrus "the anointed Prince" will rule); 2) "sixty-two weeks" = 434 years (during which time the tribes of Judah and Benjamin will return to their land and rebuild the destroyed places); 3) "one week" = 7 years (during which time the "covenant" would be reaffirmed to many of the people).

 

Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon explains, moreover, that in these 490 years, seven things will happen to the people, four of which things are good, and three are bad. The bad things are these: No longer would there be any vision; Divine prophecy would cease (including the Urim and Thummim); the high priesthood would not be passed down by way of succession from father to son (meaning, the anointing), but rather persons of ignoble birth will take the high priesthood.

The good things are these: The transgression committed by Israel which led to their captivity, viz. murder, adultery and idolatry, would have then been atoned for by their exile, and Israel would no longer be considered by G-d a sinful nation due to their having already paid the punishment for their sins, and because G-d had atoned fully for those sins by sending them off into exile. Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon cites proof from other Scriptures, showing in effect that where Daniel mentions that this time will be a time of "everlasting righteousness" (ibid. vs. 24), he never meant by it "righteousness that would never end," but rather, "a special generation and an important timeframe wherein was justice and righteousness during the Temple's existence.” Had Daniel meant literally "everlasting righteousness which was never to cease" he would have written in Hebrew צדק עד עולמי עד . Instead, he uses the words, צדק עולמים. The word "olamim" (i.e. everlasting) is used to signify a specific and limited timeframe, just as we find "olamim" in Ecclesiastes 1:10, meaning, a timeframe which had expired, as well as in I Kings 8:13.

This, my friend, is the gist of the matter. As you can see, it doesn't say anything about the Messiah, the son of David.

Oh, I almost forgot… The word “anointed” (Messiah) that is used in the 9th chapter of Daniel (vs. 25) refers to Cyrus who is called “anointed” (Messiah), just as we find stated explicitly in Isaiah 45:1. This is also explained by Rabbi Sa'adia Gaon, although he brings down other examples. He says that “anointed” (Messiah) can also refer to the Jewish High Priest. You see, the acting High Priest at the time was Yehoshua b. Yehozadek. The problem arises when most Christians refuse to recognize the other literal meanings of the word “anointed” (Messiah) as used in the Hebrew language.

 

 

 

 

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