Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

Christ In Type And Prophecy: Volumes 1&2 by Rev. A.J. Maas S.J.

1. HISTORY AND OCCASION OF THE PROPHECY.—We learn from 4 Kings 16:1–4 that Achaz despised the traditions of his fathers, and openly professed idolatry. Hence he was given over by God into the hands of the Syrian king, who carried off immense booty to his royal capital, Damascus. But the king of Israel too afflicted the kingdom of Juda with exceeding bitter afflictions (2 Par. 28:5)—so much so that he slew of Juda a hundred and twenty thousand on a single day. But this war, which was a real chastisement of Achaz on the part of God, had also its special natural causes.

It appears that an alliance had been concluded between Phacee, king of Israel, and Rasin, king of Damascus, for the purpose of opposing a barrier to the Assyrian aggressions. Cherishing Assyrian proclivities as Achaz did, he did not join the coalition; the allies therefore invaded his territories, intending to dethrone Achaz and substitute for him a more subservient ruler, a certain son of Tabeel. The invasion caused great alarm in Jerusalem, though Phacee alone appears at first to have gone against the capital, while Rasin was occupied in reconquering the maritime city, Elath. After this victory he must have joined his ally in his assault on Jerusalem. Achaz meditated casting himself on Assyria for help—a policy of which the prophet Isaias strongly disapproved. He was divinely instructed to assure Achaz that his fears were groundless, and that the two kingdoms were doomed to destruction. To overcome the king’s distrust, the prophet offers to give him a sign; but through the king’s diffidence the sign becomes an omen of ruin for Juda: the land will indeed be saved from the two kings according to God’s promise, but the land of Juda will become the battle-ground in the conflict between the Egyptian and the Assyrian armies.

Achaz, however, sent his messengers to the Assyrian king Theglathphalasar, asking for his help in present distress (2 Par. 28:16; 4 Kings 16:7). The Assyrian monarch complied with Achaz’ request and invaded Damascus; the allied kings had therefore to abandon their warlike designs on Juda and provide for their own safety (4 Kings 16:5, 6). Theglathphalasar transported the inhabitants of Damascus to Cyrene, and killed its king, Rasin (4 Kings 16:9). Then he invaded also the kingdom of Israel, and transported a number of its inhabitants into Assyria (4 Kings 15:29). Phacee, the Israelite king, was slain by conspirators in the seventeenth year of his reign, and in the third year of Achaz’ rule, i.e., in the same year in which the two allied kings had invaded the kingdom of Juda (4 Kings 15:30). But after subduing the Syrian and the Samaritan kings, the Assyrian conqueror invaded also the kingdom of Juda and devastated it without resistance, so that only few inhabitants with their herds and cattle remained (2 Par. 28:20; cf. Is. 8:7, 8).

2. ERRONEOUS EXPLANATIONS OF THE PROPHECY.—a. Several of the ancient Jewish writers maintain that the Emmanuel promised to be born of the virgin is Achaz’ son and successor, Ezechias. But it must be remembered that Ezechias was about eight or nine years old at the time of the prophecy, for he was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, i.e., about 15 or 16 years after the prophecy was given (4 Kings 18:2).

b. Several rationalistic authors and the Catholic writer Isenbiehl regard Emmanuel as the son of a virgin who will lose her virginity in the conception and birth of the boy. The name Emmanuel is nothing but a symbol, just as the names Schear-Iashub and Maher—Shalal—Chash—Baz are symbolic. The sign consists in Isaias’ predicting that the virgin will conceive in her first intercourse, and that she will bring forth a boy. The foreknowledge of both of these circumstances requires a special divine assistance, and is therefore rightly represented as a sign. This opinion will be refuted in the course of our treatment of the prophecy.

c. Delitzsch has a rather curious explanation of the prophecy. According to him God had revealed two future facts to Isaias—the virginal conception of the Messias and the immediate liberation of Juda from its oppressors. The time of the Messias’ coming had, however, not been made known to the prophet. Isaias, therefore, trying to combine the two prophecies, was of the opinion that the birth of the Messias would precede the liberation of the theocratic kingdom. The result is that the prophecy represents the Messias as being about to be born, and describes the land of Juda as about to be freed before the Messias will have attained the use of reason, i.e., before he will have reached the years of discretion. It may be of interest to know that Rosenmüller too gives a similar explanation.

If it be observed that according to this view there would be an error in the prophecy, both authors deny such an inference on the plea that the time of the Messias’ birth was not revealed to the prophet, but that the erroneous inference must be ascribed to his own private judgment. But if this be admitted as a true solution of the difficulty, it follows that in any prophecy we can hardly know what has been revealed by God to the prophet and what must be ascribed to his own private view on the subject.

3. MESSIANIC NATURE OF THE PROPHECY.—a. The Messianic character of the present prophecy appears first of all from the testimony of St. Matthew, 1:18–25: “… Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child …” There are two exceptions to this argument: 1. It is said that the first two chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel are spurious. But this can hardly be asserted without the greatest temerity, not to say without heresy. For the Tridentine and the Vatican councils (Trid. sess. iv., decret. de can. Script.; Vatic. sess. iii. c. 2) openly declare that the whole Bible, with all its parts, as it is contained in the old Vulgate edition, is sacred, canonical, and divinely inspired (Vat.); on the other hand, there is in our days no critic worthy of the name who rejects the first two chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel without rejecting all the rest.

2. The second exception against our inference that Isaias’ prophecy is Messianic because St. Matthew viewed it as such may be found in Isenbiehl (Neuer Versuch über die Weissagung vom Emmanuel, 1778). The author assures us that the evangelist’s words, “that it might be fulfilled,” may indicate a mere accommodation of the prophecy to Christ’s conception. In support of this he appeals to St. Jerome’s saying (Ep. 103 ad Paulin., c. 7), that Socrates’ words were “fulfilled” in him: “I only know that I do not know.” Again, Isenbiehl endeavors to prove that St. Matthew repeatedly uses the formula “that it might be fulfilled” where he applies an Old Testament prophecy to our Lord by mere accommodation. Thus Matt. 2:15 applies to Christ what Os. 11:1 applies to the people of Israel; Matt. 2:18 applies to the infants slain at Bethlehem what Jer. 31:15 applies to the lamentations over the national misfortune in the Babylonian reverses; Matt. 2:23 applies the words “he shall be called a Nazarite” as if they were prophetic of Jesus Christ, though they are nowhere to be found in the prophets; Matt. 13:13–15 applies to the following of Christ what Is. 6:9, 10 had said of his own contemporaries.

Plausible as this exception may appear at first sight, it does not rest on solid ground. a. First of all, the author who urges it does not distinguish between the typical and the literal meaning of the prophecies, and consequently he does not keep in mind that as the literal meaning of a prophecy is properly and not by mere accommodation applied to the people of Israel or to Old Testament occurrences, so may its typical sense be applied to Christ and to events of the Christian dispensation without on that account becoming a mere accommodation. In this manner St. Matthew (2:15, 18) applies the prophecies of Os. 11:1 and Jer. 31:15 to Christ’s flight into Egypt and to the slaughter of the holy Innocents. β. Again, Isenbiehl is not aware that St. Matthew 2:23 most probably reads “flower,” and thus alludes to Isaias’ prediction, 11:1, where the future Messias is called a flower from the root of Jesse. γ. In the third place, the author disregards the fact that a number of prophecies apply properly, not by mere accommodation, to a series of events rather than to any single fact of history. An instance of such a prediction we find, e.g., in 2 Kings 7:14, where the divine promises regard the whole line of David’s descendants. They are not all fulfilled in every member of the series, but they are fully accomplished in the whole series taken collectively. Hence they may be properly and literally applied to any Davidic king. In the same manner St. Matthew applies Is. 6:9, 10 to the unbelieving Jews in 13:13–15.

b. The second proof for the Messianic character of the prophecy is taken from the unanimous testimony of the Fathers on this point. A list of the patristic testimonies may be seen in Kilber’s Analysis Biblica (editio altera, t. i. pp. 354 f.). There are again two main exceptions to this argument from the Fathers: 1. The Fathers speak on the false supposition that Isaias’ prophecy rests on divine authority; 2. The Fathers express in their opinions on the present passage, not the doctrine of the Church, but their own private conviction. α. As to the first exception, it suffices for our purpose to recall the decree of the Vatican Council (iii. 2), according to which the agreement of the Fathers on a doctrinal point is in itself sufficient to command our assent, or at least to force us not to contradict the patristic testimony. β. As to the second exception, we must insist that the Fathers do not express their interpretation of the prophecy as a private opinion, but they represent it as the doctrine of the Church on a matter of Scripture interpretation, so that according to the council we are bound not to differ from it in substance. For though the Fathers may differ among themselves in details, they surely agree as to the main drift of the prophecy, giving it a Messianic signification.

c. The third argument for the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy may be taken from the general agreement of this prediction with other evidently Messianic prophecies.

α. First of all, the very context of the prophecy bears witness to its Messianic nature. The child who is to be born, according to the seventh chapter, as a sign unto Achaz must naturally be expected to surpass in its nature any other sign that Achaz himself could have asked of God. Then in the next chapter it is announced in verse 8 that “the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Emmanuel.” If we compare the ninth chapter with this statement, it appears that Emmanuel shall be the Lord of the land of Juda. Since then at the time of the prophet none other than Achaz and Ezechiel were the lords of the land of Juda, to neither of whom the prediction could apply, we must suppose it applies to some one much above either of them—to the Messias himself. Again, in the ninth chapter, the prophet predicts salvation to the land of Juda through the child that is to be born. Now if this be not Emmanuel, of whom there is question in the seventh chapter, it must be Maher-Shalal, of the eighth chapter. But the latter was never king in Juda, nor did he ever perform any act that would be worthy of attention. Hence it is clear that the child who will save Juda is the Emmanuel of chapter seven. But the liberator of Juda is evidently identical with the Messias. Consequently, the Emmanuel of our prophecy is the Messias. In the eleventh chapter the prophet again returns to the rod that is to spring from the root of Jesse, to the most renowned offspring of David, whose reign will cause universal peace, under whose reign the Lord will possess the remnant of his chosen people. Now this one can be no other than the hero described in the ninth chapter, and the Emmanuel promised in the seventh chapter, i.e., the very Messias (cf. 9:2–4, and 10:20–22; Rom. 9:27).

β. The Messianic reference of the present prophecy appears also when we compare it with the well-known prophecy of Micheas (5:2 ff.) The similitude between the two predictions is so striking that we must admit either that Isaias reproduced the prophecy of Micheas, or that the latter repeated the prophetic promise of the former. Micheas says that God will give “them up even till the time wherein she that travaileth shall bring forth and the remnant of his brethren shall be converted to the children of Israel … and this man shall be our peace.” How beautifully all this illustrates the prophecy of Isaias, if we suppose the latter prophet had about the same time uttered the prediction of the virgin’s conception and her virginal child-birth! And, on the other hand, how clear the prophecy concerning the virgin and her son Emmanuel becomes if we suppose that Isaias alludes to the prophecy of Micheas which had recently been uttered (cf. Is. 10:20–22; 11:11; 4:3). But if Isaias speaks about a virgin concerning whom nothing else was known to the people of Israel, all becomes a riddle and an enigma. These five prophecies therefore form, as it were, one single whole; so much so that they have been regarded as constituting a single book—the book of Emmanuel. And if they be considered from this point of view, their Messianic character can hardly be called in question even by the most exacting of critics.

d. Three other arguments for the Messianic nature of Isaias’ prophecy are better omitted, since they are not altogether convincing.

α. For if it be urged that the child which is to be born will be the offspring of a virgin, and that this is a distinctly Messianic note, it must be remembered, on the other hand, that, prescinding from the New Testament, it is not clear from the text of the prophecy whether the promised child will be the offspring of a virgin in any other sense than any first-born child is the offspring of a virgin. The virgin may be said by the prophet to conceive and to bring forth, as the blind are said to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. Nor can it be maintained that the virgin must remain a virgin in her conception and delivery, because otherwise there would be no sign which the prophet had promised to give. For the sign may consist in the wonderful nature of the child, or in several other particulars connected with the prediction, as will be seen in the course of the commentary.

β. Another argument for the Messianic character of the prediction is based on the fact that in the prophecy there is question of “the virgin;” the definite article, it is claimed, indicates that the virgin spoken of is virgin by excellence, and not merely as the mother of any first-born child is a virgin. But this consideration has not much weight, since the definite article in Hebrew has not necessarily that meaning, even when it is used with a noun that does not occur beforehand. For even in that case the noun is at times considered sufficiently known to require or, at least, to admit the definite article. This is seen in Gen. 3:24: “and (he) placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubim (Heb., the Cherubim)”; Ex. 15:20: “So Mary the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel (Heb., the timbrel) in her hand;” Gen. 14:13: “and behold one that had escaped (Heb., the one that had escaped) told Abram the Hebrew.”

γ. Other authors, again, have urged the following argument in favor of the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy: according to the Hebrew text it is the mother who will name the child Emmanuel; for we must either render “thou shalt call his name” (the phrase being a direct address to the mother), or “she shall call his name.” Therefore, they say, Emmanuel has no human father who can perform this duty. But, on the other hand, we see in the Old Testament that the mother in several instances named her child, although its father was actually present (cf. Gen. 4:1, 25; 19:37; 21:32; 30:18 f.; 30:24; 1 Kings 1:20, etc., exemplifying this statement).

e. But there is another proof for the Messianic reference of Isaias’ prediction which cannot be omitted here; Jewish tradition considered the passage as referring to the promised Messias. In the first place, we may draw attention to the fact that St. Matthew applied the prophecy to Jesus Christ without any one contradicting him. And this is the more remarkable, since the Evangelist wrote his gospel for the Jews, proving to them the Messiasship of Jesus from the fulfilment of all the prophecies in his sacred person. Besides, we have the implicit avowal of the LXX. translators, who rendered the Hebrew word “virgin” in this prophecy, though in four other passages they had translated it by “woman.” Then again the Hebrew as well as the other national traditions, according to which virginity is worthy of special honor, and which make their divine heroes sons of virgins, without the intercourse of man, show that Isaias’ prophecy must have been understood by the ancients as referring to the birth of the future Redeemer.

Is. 7:1–17

And it came to pass in the days of Achaz the son of Joathan, the son of Ozias king of Juda, that Rasin king of Syria, and Phacee the son of Romelia king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem, to fight against it; but they could not prevail over it. And they told the house of David, saying: “Syria hath rested upon Ephraim;” and his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. And the Lord said to Isaias: “Go forth to meet Achaz, thou and Jasub thy son that is left, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the way of the fuller’s field.” And thou shalt say to him: “See thou be quiet; fear not, and let not thy heart be afraid of the two tails of these firebrands, smoking with the wrath of the fury of Rasin king of Syria and of the son of Romelia. Because Syria with the son of Romelia hath taken counsel against thee, unto the evil of Ephraim, saying: Let us go up to Juda, and rouse it up, and draw it away to us and make the son of Tabeel king in the midst thereof:” thus saith the Lord God: “It shall not stand, and this shall not be! But the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rasin, and within threescore and five years Ephraim shall cease to be a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria the son of Romelia. If you will not believe, you shall not continue.”

And the Lord spoke again to Achaz, saying: “Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God, either unto the depth of hell or unto the height above.” And Achaz said: “I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord.” And he said: “Hear ye therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good. For before the child know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good, the land which thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of the face of her two kings. The Lord shall bring upon thee and upon thy people, and upon the house of thy father, days that have not come since the time of the separation of Ephraim from Juda, with the king of the Assyrians.”

1. The prophet’s prediction that the Messias will be conceived and born of a virgin who has not known man, that his name will be Emmanuel, and that he will be the Redeemer of his people, is for Christians certain from the text of St. Matthew.

2. Against Rationalists the Messianic character of the prophecy may be proved from the connection of chapters 7, 8, 9, 11, and Mich. 5. The unanimous Jewish tradition regarding Is. 8:8 and Mich. 5:5, and the fact that St. Matthew used the prophecy against the Jews in a Messianic sense without finding any contradiction on the part of his opponents, are as many confirmations of the first argument for the Messianic reference of Is. 7.

The virginal conception and birth of the Emmanuel can be rendered probable to a Rationalist even from Isaias’ prophecy: a. Because the LXX. rendered the word “ ‘almah” by “παρθένοζ;” b. because St. Matthew found no difficulty when he saw a fulfilment of this prophecy in Christ’s virginal conception; c. because it has been the universal tradition among the nations that many of their divine heroes and many of their extraordinary men were born of virgin-mothers.

3. As to the Jews, they could infer the Messianic character of Isaias’ prophecy by comparing it with other clearly Messianic predictions. From the latter they knew that the Messias would free the house of David from its enemies, though they might not believe him so far distant as he really proved to be. It is hardly probable that they should have understood from the words of the prophecy the virginal conception and birth of the Messias, though they must have perceived that the Messias’ mother would be a most extraordinary virgin, and perhaps even that she must be especially privileged in her conceiving and giving birth to the Messias. The Alexandrian translators seem to have had a further developed doctrine on the virginity of Emmanuel’s mother. And we may reasonably suppose that about the time of Christ’s birth the Messianic expectation had attained such a state of perfection that the Evangelist’s doctrine was for the new converts nothing else than a clear exposition of what they had known implicitly and obscurely.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com