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Isaiah 7:14 - the virgin birth

by Bill Wong




Isaiah 7:14 – the virgin birth



Almah vs. Bethulah


In Isaiah 7:14, the Tanakh states that an ‘almah’ will conceive and bear a son whose name is Immanuel – “God is with us”.   English Bibles translate ‘almah’ as virgin:


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.   (NASB)



Many Jews and liberal theologians try to deny that this is referring to Jesus by saying that if virgin was meant to be used in Scripture, the Hebrew word should be ‘bethulah’ and not ‘almah’. They say that ‘bethulah’ means virgin, but ‘almah’ does not. They say that ‘almah’ only means a young woman. Is this true?


Does the Tanakh itself actually define the word ‘bethulah’ as specifically a virgin and nothing else?


No, it does not.



In the following examples, we see that ‘bethulah’ does not mean a virgin as some suggest :



a. Bethulah is used for a woman after her wedding night (marriages are consummated on this night). The charge outlined below is that the man no longer wants to be married to his wife so he wants to divorce her. In verse 19, English Bibles translate ‘bethulah’ as ‘virgin’, but she is clearly not a virgin, because she has already consummated her marriage:


Deuteronomy 22:

13       If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and hates her,

14       and accuses her of shameful things, and brings up an evil name on her, and says, "I took this woman,

        and when I came near to her, I didn't find in her the tokens of virginity;"

15       then shall the father of the young lady, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens

        of the young lady's virginity to the elders of the city in the gate;

16       and the young lady's father shall tell the elders, "I gave my daughter to this man to wife, and he hates her;

17       and behold, he has accused her of shameful things, saying, 'I didn't find in your daughter the tokens of virginity;'

        and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity." They shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.

18       The elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him;

19       and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young lady, because he has brought up an evil name on a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.   (WEB)



b. Bethulah is used to describe nations. But note the nations described: Babylon and Egypt which cannot be said to be pure:


Isaiah 47:

1   Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne,

    O daughter of the Chaldeans: for you shall no more be called tender and delicate.   (AKJV)


Jeremiah 46:

11   Go up into Gilead, and take balm, virgin daughter of Egypt: in vain do you use many medicines;

      there is no healing for you.   (AKJV)



c. Bethulah is used again for a married woman which again means she is not a virgin. Note also the term ‘husband of her youth’ implies they have been married for several years:


Joel 1:

8   Mourn like a virgin dressed in sackcloth for the husband of her youth!   (WEB)




These examples clearly indicate that ‘bethulah’ is not the word in Hebrew that means a virgin as many who try to refute a virgin birth will try to have you believe. Therefore, it is not accurate according to Scripture to say that ‘bethulah’ must be used in Isaiah 7:14 if a miraculous virgin birth is in view.


The word ‘bethulah’ does not refer specifically to virginity at all, but the virility of the girl, which usually means a young woman and can mean a girl who is a virgin or not a virgin.




So what does the Tanakh say about the word ‘almah’? Does the Tanakh define the word ‘almah’ as meaning a virgin? Yes, it does. The Tanakh shows that ‘almah’ does indeed mean virgin. Examples are given below.



a. The way of a man with an ‘almah’/virgin is considered one of four things too wonderful to fully understand:


Proverbs 30:

18       There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Yes, four which I do not understand:

19       The way of an eagle in the air, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the midst of the sea,

        And the way of a man with a virgin.

20       This is the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth, And says, "I have done no wickedness."   (NKJV)



The courting or wooing of a girl in Hebrew culture dictates the young woman should be a virgin before marriage. Virginity may not be prized or common in our present day world, but it is expected, honorable and admired in the past. The courtship is spiritual and fulfilling and is contrasted with the opposite which is an adulterous woman who thinks nothing of her sins, which is carnal and empty.


Yet some argue this makes ‘almah’ not mean virgin since they say “the way of a man with….” implies the woman is not innocent and a virgin. Some even say that ‘almah’ is not contrasted with the adulteress, but is the adulteress. But these conclusions make no sense and go against God’s intent in the Scripture.


For doesn’t God say these things are “too wonderful”? And these four things are the eagle, serpent, ship, and the courtship, so this automatically leaves out anything more than these four and whatever comes after it. Proverbs 30 has a few examples of groupings of four things which share a common theme and then a line comes after it which has nothing to do with the four things just described. This is no different here and the “way of a man with a virgin” cannot be combined or compared to the adulterous woman.


And again, if God says these things are “too wonderful”, why would God be describing a non-virgin, especially an adulterous one, as “too wonderful”? The meaning is that these four things are all awesome to behold, suggesting something amazing, to be admired – and having God’s hand in it. An adulterous woman does not come from God and defies His 7th Commandment to not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14). If it is used, it is used only as contrast.



b. The king’s court has three categories of women: queens (married – not virgins), concubines (not queens, but are mistresses – not virgins) and virgins (‘almah’), which cover the various status of the women:  


Song of Solomon 6:

8   There are sixty queens, eighty concubines, and virgins without number.   (WEB)



c. In Genesis 24:16, Rebecca is described as a young girl (‘naarah’) and a virgin/‘bethulah’, but with the description also that she was a virgin (“neither had any man known her”):


Genesis 24:

16   And the damsel was very fair to look on, a virgin, neither had any man known her: and she went down to the well,

     and filled her pitcher, and came up.   (AKJV)



Like the examples of ‘bethulah’ above, we see again that ‘bethulah’ does not necessarily mean virgin, because we see additional qualification/information is required to expressly tell us Rebecca was a virgin. If ‘bethulah’ is truly the only word for virgin, it is redundant to tell us she was still a virgin – “neither had any man known her”. There simply would be no need to give additional qualification to describe Rebecca if 'bethulah' by itself means virgin.  The fact that additional information is used shows that 'bethulah' is referring to the virility of a girl (child-bearing age) and not her virginity.


However, later in the chapter, when the servant recounts his earlier meeting with Rebecca to her father and brother to request for her to be the bride of his master Abraham’s son Isaac, Rebecca is called an ‘almah’:


Genesis 24:

43   Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin comes forth to draw water,

     and I say to her, Give me, I pray you, a little water of your pitcher to drink;   (AKJV)


There are two things we must take note of:


The first is that ‘almah’ undeniably means a virgin young woman as Genesis 24:16 attests to.


The second is that Rebecca was called ‘almah’ only after Rebecca “passed the test” of Abraham’s servant when she not only gave him water, but also offered to give water to his camels also (it was really God’s sign to him that Rebecca was the “right” woman):


Genesis 24:

14   And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down your pitcher, I pray you, that I may drink;

     and she shall say, Drink, and I will give your camels drink also: let the same be she that you have appointed for

     your servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that you have showed kindness to my master.  (AKJV)



Remember, before this, Rebecca was only called a ‘naarah’ and a ‘bethulah’ with a qualification that she was still a virgin.


So what does the Tanakh actually show us the word ‘almah’ to mean? It clearly does not just mean a young woman as many Jews and liberal theologians say. At the very least, the meaning of ‘almah’ must include being a ‘naarah’ (young girl) and a ‘bethulah’ (virile girl) and being a virgin.


The Tanakh is telling us that an ‘almah’ is a godly and virtuous young woman who is a virgin – she passed God’s test to be the wife of Isaac. And it is this context of marriage to Isaac which tells us the full meaning of ‘almah’ :


An ‘almah’ is a godly and virtuous young woman who is a virgin, and is not yet married but of marriageable age (and in ancient Hebrew culture is still in the protective custody of her father – proven by the very fact of Abraham’s servant’s request to Rebecca’s father Bethuel in his household for her hand in marriage to Isaac).

This truth that the meaning of ‘almah’ includes being a virgin is seen in the Septuagint.  The Septuagint is a translation of the Tanakh from Hebrew to Greek by a group of Jewish scholars in the 3rd century BCE.  These Jewish scholars were objective and had no bias, and translated the Hebrew word ‘almah’ to the Greek word ‘parthenos’ which means virgin. 

The truth that ‘almah’ means this virgin young woman of marriageable age can also be seen in the requirements for the priests of God in finding a wife:


Leviticus 21:

13   And he shall take a wife in her virginity.   (AKJV)


If the priests of God need to find a virgin wife, do we think any less of Isaac, through whom all of the promises to his father Abraham come forth and all nations are blessed:


Genesis 17:

19   And God said, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed; and you shall call his name Isaac:

     and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.   (AKJV)


And therein lies the entire truth of the matter and the Tanakh’s (God’s) meaning of what an ‘almah’ is.

The greatness and special nature of who Rebecca is and to whom she is to be married to, means she will be the mother of millions:


Genesis 24:

58   And they called Rebekah, and said to her, Will you go with this man? And she said, I will go.

59   And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men.

60   And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, You are our sister, be you the mother of thousands of millions,

     and let your seed possess the gate of those which hate them.   (AKJV)



The Tanakh is telling us that Rebecca herself defines the meaning of the word ‘almah’ and she is the prime example of and the prototypical ‘almah’. It is very fitting and appropriate that Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, provides the definition.


If Rebecca is this prototypical ‘almah’, then should not the mother of King Messiah also be an ‘almah’ – a virtuous unmarried young virgin? And should she actually be even more than a normal ‘almah’, since we know her seed, the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14, is no mere man and is the King Messiah?


If Rebecca is the mother of millions through this covenant with Isaac and is an ‘almah’, then should not the circumstance of the birth of the King Messiah be awesome and exceptional – miraculous, because He is the ultimate goal of this covenant?


So we see it is more Scripturally accurate to use the word ‘almah’ instead of ‘bethulah’ to indicate a virgin.




Not already fulfilled in Isaiah’s time


Many who do not acknowledge Isaiah 7:14 as a Messianic prophecy also say that the sign was fulfilled in Isaiah’s time (by Isaiah’s son, King Ahaz’s son Hezekiah, etc. and sometimes cite it being written in the present tense as evidence).  However, the tenses used do not prevent the prophecies from being fulfilled by Jesus/Yeshua’ Messiah; not just because there were current decisions and events involved at that time as we will see, but also because the Almighty uses past and present conditions, and duality to declare what will happen in the far future.  For example, the coming of Messiah and the end-time dictator patterned after Antiochus Epiphanes IV as prophesied in Daniel 9-11; and the second Exodus as prophesied in Isaiah 11 and 27.

This is the giving of the sign in fuller context:


Isaiah 7:

5     Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against you, saying,

6     Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the middle of it,

     even the son of Tabeal:

7     Thus said the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.

8     For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin;

     and within three score and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people.

9     And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If you will not believe,

     surely you shall not be established.

10   Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying,

11   Ask you a sign of the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.

12   But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.

13   And he said, Hear you now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?

14   Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,

     and shall call his name Immanuel.   (AKJV)



However, there are a few things we should take note of:



1) The word ‘sign’ indicates something truly awesome and supernatural to come. This, when combined with the words ‘behold’ and ‘almah’, magnifies the miraculous nature of God’s act – especially when God Himself gives the sign after the prophet Isaiah said Ahaz can request any sign from the deepest depths to the highest heights, but Ahaz refused to ask for a sign. A virgin birth would satisfy this supernatural sign that God Himself gives and therefore will be much greater than the deepest depths and highest heights of human imagination or ability. But any young woman’s normal pregnancy would not be such a sign.



2) In verse 9, God said if King Ahaz does not believe, he will not be established. Ahaz was one of the most wicked kings and he did not believe; Ahaz refused to ask for a sign and ultimately made an alliance with Assyria to fend off these enemies and used the Temple’s gold as tribute for this alliance (2 Kings 16). God is extremely displeased with Ahaz and so God instead directs the prophecy/sign to the House of David/Judah and not to Ahaz.  


The sign God gave in Isaiah 7:14 is an example of Him being all-knowing and is for the House of David and goes beyond Ahaz and far beyond his time. This is seen when we see Isaiah directs his words to all of the House of David. Note the word ‘you’ in English in Isaiah 7:14 does not reveal the Hebrew plural (underlined below) when it should; the antecedent of this ‘you’ is the House of David in verse 13:


            Isaiah 7:

13       He said, "Listen now, house of David. Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men,

        that you will try the patience of my God also?

14       Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son,

        and shall call his name Immanuel.   (WEB)



Not only Ahaz will not be established, but the entire House of David which naturally descends from him will not be established – until this sign is fulfilled.


This means this prophecy is not fulfilled by Ahaz’s son Hezekiah as many Jews believe. The Tanakh also reveals that it cannot be Hezekiah, because he was at least 9 years old already when Ahaz began to reign. Ahaz was 20 years old when he started to rule for 16 years (2 Kings 16:2) and Hezekiah was 25 years old when he succeeded his father (2 Kings 18:2). This means Ahaz is 11 years older than Hezekiah: 36yrs (Ahaz died) – 25yrs (Hezekiah reigned) = 11yrs. Since Ahaz started to rule at 20, then Hezekiah was 9 years old already.


Of course, any child of a king must also come from a queen or concubine anyway, and cannot be from an ‘almah’.



3) There are some who believe this prophecy was fulfilled by Isaiah’s wife and second son during the lifetime of Ahaz, because it would not truly be a sign to Ahaz if he did not see it come to pass:


Isaiah 8:

3         And I went to the prophetess; and she conceived, and bore a son. Then said the LORD to me,

        Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz.

4         For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother,

        the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.   (AKJV)



Such a view does not take into account everything that actually happened in context and also ignores the fact that the prophecy is addressed to the nation and not Ahaz.


God states to Ahaz and the nation at that time if they would only believe in God, nothing bad will come to pass from foreign invasion. God told Ahaz that Syria and Ephraim/the northern kingdom of Israel will fail in their attempt to take Jerusalem if he would put his trust in God.


However, Ahaz did not heed God and went ahead and made an alliance with Assyria. Syria and Ephraim were defeated by Assyria and indeed failed to take Jerusalem, but Assyria itself later became the enemy:


Isaiah 8:

5         The LORD spoke also to me again, saying,

6         For as much as this people refuses the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah's son;

7         Now therefore, behold, the Lord brings up on them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria,

        and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks:

8         And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck;

        and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.   (AKJV)



It is very difficult to rationalize how God’s very own sign of the promised ‘almah’ with child can be Isaiah’s wife and son when we see that the defeat of Syria and Ephraim came only by Ahaz defying God and also only replaces these enemies with another, Assyria – where the Temple of God is plundered to pay for this short alliance. Ahaz went against God, so God was not with him.


The name of Isaiah’s son is evidence as well. Mahershalahashbaz means “speed the spoil, hasten the booty”. This name can hardly be said to be representative of “God is with us” (Immanuel). It is rightfully a name of judgment upon all – even Judah, that will be exacted by the king of Assyria. It foretells that the land will be forsaken and we must look further in time. Isaiah 8 ends with judgment and darkness over the nation. This sense of gloom and dread tells us this prophecy was not fulfilled by Isaiah’s wife and second son.



The sign to Ahaz and the nation at that time are the names of Isaiah’s two children (plural):


Isaiah 8:

18   Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts,

     which dwells in mount Zion.   (AKJV)


The second son was Mahershalahashbaz as mentioned before. The name of Isaiah’s first son is Shearjashub which means “a remnant shall return”:


Isaiah 7:

3  Then said the LORD to Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, you, and Shearjashub your son,

    at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field;   (AKJV)



These two children are stated together as signs, so one or the other and both cannot be the same child that God promises in Isaiah 7:14. The promised child (singular) of the ‘almah’ is the sign to the House of David forever – the Messiah who will reign forever.


It also must be noted that God uses the names of the children of His prophets for signs elsewhere in the Book of Hosea (he had three children; see Hosea 1). The prophet Hosea is a contemporary of Isaiah and interestingly, Hosea’s message was to the northern tribes of Israel while Isaiah’s was to the south/Judah.


God’s usage of both sets of children’s names as signs, one for each respective kingdom at approximately the same time, makes the singular prophesied child in Isaiah 7:14 stand out even more as special and unique. It becomes very evident that the names of Isaiah’s and Hosea’s five combined children serve a purpose in the unveiling history of Israel and Judah at that particular time, but the child born of the ‘almah’ stands separately and transcends all this. This prophesied child points forward to a messianic fulfillment far future.



All of these points come together and point to the Messiah.  Please read the next article about Isaiah 9:6 for more information about the truth of the virgin birth, for after these events in Isaiah 7 & 8, we come to the description of the coming Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7 who will FOREVER establish the throne of David. Isaiah 7:14 points to this Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7, who is truly the one who symbolizes “God is with us” in all its glory. He is also the very same Branch of Jesse in Isaiah 11.



Please see next article in this series:

The Messiah is more than a mere man - Isaiah 9:6 - mightly and wonderful Father of Eternity and Prince of Peace



Link to the Prophesied Messiah articles outline

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