This is the second of the oracles in 7:1-8:10, and needs to be understood in connection with the earlier oracle of vv. 3-9 (discussed in the previous note), and in the context of the larger section 6:1-9:6 (cf. the prior notes on 6:1-13).
Indeed, verses 10-17, are presented in the narrative as a continuation of the oracle in vv. 3-9. This is clear from the narrative introduction in verses 10-12:
“And YHWH continued to speak to Aµaz, saying: “‘Ask for you(rself) a sign from YHWH your God—made deep (as) Sheol or made high (as) from above [i.e. the sky]’. And Aµaz said, ‘I will not ask and will not test YHWH.'”
The apparent expression of trust by Ahaz (v. 12) relates back to the exhortation (and warning) that frames the prior oracle (vv. 4, 9b). However, even though Ahaz will not ask for a sign (toa) from God, the prophet proceeds to give him a sign anyway. It is, of course, possible to read Ahaz’ response as a display of false humility, as a pious front to cover what is really a lack of trust. Isaiah’s harsh response in v. 13 would seem to confirm this view of Ahaz:
“And he said, ‘Hear, now, O house of David: Is it a small (matter) for you to weary men, that you would weary also my Mighty (One)?'”
As in verse 2, Ahaz is referred to as the “house of David,” since he represents the royal court as a whole. Yet, the designation is also important because the oracle relates specifically to the “house of David” (that is, the kings of Judah), and the line of kingship that goes back to David. Eventually, this Judean royal tradition would play a central role in the development of Messianic thought and expectation. The sign given to Ahaz (and the Judean kingdom) follows in verse 14:
“Thus (the) Lord himself will give for you a sign—See! the hm*l=u^ [±almâ] (becoming) pregnant will bear a son and (she) will call his name ‘God-with-us.'”
Note that I have translated the name la@ WnM*u! (±immanû °¢l), and have temporarily left untranslated the word hm*l=u^ (±almâ). This latter word has been variously translated “virgin” or “young girl”, etc.—a point of longstanding dispute and controversy, which I shall discuss in more detail in the next note.
Given the famous Christian use of this passage (esp. verse 14), it is worth nothing that, apart from the overall historical context, a number of details in the passage speak clearly against the child as a (messianic) figure coming only in the (distant) future:
- It is meant to be a sign for the “house of David” (that is, the kings of Judah) which they, and presumably Ahaz in particular, would be able to recognize (in their lifetime)—v. 11, 13-14.
- The use of the definite article (hm*l=u^h*, the ±almâ), would seem to indicate a woman already known to Isaiah and/or Ahaz—v. 14
- The interjection hN@h! (“see/behold!”), as well as the construction td#l#)yw+ hr*h* (verbal adjective + Qal participle) seem to imply an immediacy (i.e. “see! the ±almâ, being pregnant, is about to bear…”)
- The key temporal detail of the prophecy vv. 15-16, would seem to specify that within 2-3 years of the child’s birth, the main event will take place. This will be discussed further in the next note, but cf. also the discussion on the time indicator in vv. 8-9 of the previous oracle.
- The event so indicated has a two-fold reference:
a) The land of the ‘two kings’, which (currently) causes you dread, will be forsaken (“the land” primarily in reference to Aram-Damascus)—v. 16
b) YHWH will bring the king of Assyria (with special reference to judgment on the Northern Kingdom [“Ephraim”])—v. 17
This prediction was fulfilled, to large degree, in 732 B.C. (that is, within 2-3 years), with the fall of Damascus and the effective loss of much of the Northern kingdom (conquest of territory, deportations, installment of a puppet king, etc.)