May 9, 2017 • Life for Leaders
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
When Ahaz was king of Judah, the northern kingdom of Israel allied itself with Syria against Judah. No doubt this deeply troubled Ahaz and his subjects. They would surely be overthrown by the superior power of their enemies. But, through Isaiah, God reassured Ahaz, promising doom upon those who would attack Judah. More importantly, however, the Lord also spoke of a sign of his blessing: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (7:14)
Few passages of Scripture have been the subject of greater scholarly debate than this one. Should the Hebrew word almah be translated as “virgin” or “young woman”? Both are possible in Hebrew. Even if we decide on the language to use, just who is this woman? And who is her son? If this prophecy speaks of the birth of Jesus, how can it be relevant to Ahaz and Judah centuries earlier?
I won’t be able to answer these questions here. But they mustn’t distract us from the main point of this prophecy. God is reassuring the family of David. The center of his encouragement is the truth conveyed in the name of the baby: Immanuel, which means in Hebrew, “God is with us.” Through this name, God was saying to Ahaz and Judah that in the midst of trying and scary times, he was with them.
And so he is with us, no matter what’s going on in our lives. Through Matthew, we know that Jesus is Immanuel, not in that this was his given name, but in that he, more than any other sign, demonstrates God’s presence with us (see Matt 1:23). This presence continues after Jesus’s ascension to heaven through the gift of the Spirit. As he promised at the end of Matthew, Jesus is with us always (Matt 28:20). Of course, Jesus is not with us now in the flesh. He is Immanuel through the abiding and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, the fundamental truth remains. God is with us. God is with us now. God is with us when we go through difficult times. God is with us when we rejoice and when we weep. God is lovingly with us and nothing in all creation can take us away from him and his love (Rom 8:38-39). This is good news, indeed!
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you live as if Jesus were really with you through the Spirit?
If you truly and fully believed that God was with you today, what difference would this make?
What might you dare to do today because of God’s presence and power in your life?
Gracious God, we may never be able to sort out the historical and literary challenges of this verse from Isaiah. But we do know that its basic promise is clear: You are with us. Through Jesus, Immanuel, and through your Spirit, you are with us today. Thank you!
Help me, Lord, really to believe this! And help me to live as if it really were true. Give me faith when I doubt. Give me boldness when I’m afraid. Give me patience when I’m rushed. Give me joy when I’m sorrowful. Give me power to do that which you lead me to do today. May I live today, and every day, in the reality of Immanuel. O God, you are with us. You are with me! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Immanuel
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.