The Case for Jesus the Messiah – Incredible Prophecies that Prove God Exists/Part 25

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©{{{copyright}}}
If Jesus Is the Messiah, What Should You Do?

APPENDIX: The Promise of Isaiah 7:14 and the Single-Meaning Hermeneutic [Interpretation]

Editor’s Note: This material was first published in book form in 1989 by the John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association (now known as the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute).

Previous Article

If Jesus Is the Messiah, What Should You Do?

The evidence in the Hebrew Scriptures shows that Jesus is the Messiah. God gave this evidence hundreds of years in advance so you would be certain to identify Him. But Jesus, who is the Messiah, desires for you to know Him personally, not just for you to know facts about Him intellectually. He has told us how that can happen, what He is willing to do, and what we must do.

First, as Isaiah said, “All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). God says we are sinners and we must admit this to Him.

Second, besides admitting to God that we are sinners, we must realize the precarious position we are in. God says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, so that He does not hear” (Isa. 59:2). God told the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4).

We all realize we are sinners and are uncomfortable with the idea of death and standing before God to be judged for our actions. Jesus taught that all judgment was in His hands (Jn. 5:22, 23), and that He alone would decide the eternal destiny of every man, woman and child who ever lived (Mt. 25:31-46; Jn. 5:21-29).

If all of our life we ignore God, keep Him out of our life, and hold onto our sinful ways, at the Judgment the prophet Daniel teaches that the “multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2).

Jesus, the Messiah, said the same thing, “They [unrepentant persons] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [those forgiven of their sins] to eternal life” (Mt. 25:46).

Third, God wants us to recognize His Messiah paid for our sins by His atoning death on the cross. Isaiah explained long ago, “The Lord has laid on him [the Messiah] the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isa. 53:5). “He poured out his life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sins of many” (Isa. 53:12). “For Christ [the Messiah] died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

The primary reason Jesus said He came into the world was to rescue from divine judgment those who were sinners (Jn. 3:16,17). He promised men they could have their sins fully and freely forgiven if they believed on Him (Jn. 3:16, 17; 6:47; cf. Eph. 2:8, 9).

Fourth, God asks us to call to the Messiah and ask Him to forgive us our sins: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isa. 55:6, 7).

The Messiah fulfilled Isaiah 53 by paying the divine penalty for our sins. By trusting in Him personally, we can have forgiveness of our sins and enter into a new relationship with God. He promises to give us life with Him forever.

Jesus the Messiah promises, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment but is passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24). And He promises, “This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (Jn. 17:3).

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Jeremiah prophesied, “Behold the days come, says Jehovah, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch… and this is his name by which he shall be called, Jehovah our righteousness” (Jer. 23:5, 6). This was fulfilled in Jesus. How? The Apostle Paul explains how God imparts a righteous standing (because of Jesus’ death on the cross) to every sinner who will place his faith in Him.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference [between Jew and Gentile], for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [both] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ [Messiah] Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,… (Rom. 3:21-25).

Not only does God provide for us a righteous standing before Him, but God is also adamant that our coming to know Him will not be based on our works, on anything that we do. It is based on what Christ did for us. The way we can accept God’s great gift He offers is by placing our faith—simply trusting—in what God promises. Abraham is an example of one having faith in God’s promise:

If in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work [for salvation] but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:… (Rom. 4:2-6).

So, right now, do you understand that God sees your sin as something very serious? Do you understand He sent His own Son to die on the cross for you? God says He knows all about your sins, and says they separate you from Him. But He loves you. He desires that you would find life in Him, not death because of ignoring His free gift. He has already sent His Messiah to atone for your sins. On the basis of that atonement, He now invites you to turn to Him and accept the gift Jesus provided.

To receive Jesus as your Messiah, your Lord and Savior right now, you may pray a prayer like the following:

Dear God, I ask Jesus, your Messiah, to enter my life and be my Lord and Savior. I recognize that you have dealt with my sins when Jesus died on the cross. I acknowledge my sins and ask you to forgive me. From this moment on I believe Jesus is the Messiah and He died on the cross for me. I believe He rose from the dead and is living now, and I place all of my faith and trust in Him to be my Lord and Savior and to give me His eternal life. Please show me the next steps of how to follow You.

If you have received Jesus as your Messiah and Savior, please write to us here at The John Ankerberg Show (P.O. Box 8977, Chattanooga, TN 37414). Let us know you have made this decision, and ask for some helpful information on how to live your new spiritual life and grow in the grace and knowledge of God (2 Pet. 3:18).


APPENDIX: The Promise of Isaiah 7:14 and the Single-Meaning Hermeneutic (Interpretation)[1]

By Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

“Probably no single passage of the Old Testament has been so variously interpreted or has given rise to so much controversy as the prophecy contained in these verses (surrounding Isaiah 7:14).”[2]

Almost every interpreter of this text echoes a similar conclusion; in fact, so divergent are the views and so intractable are the component parts of the historical events that make up the background for this text that Brevard S. Childs opined, “It seems unlikely that a satisfactory historical solution will be forthcoming without fresh extra-biblical evidence.”[3]

I. The Hermeneutical Issues

But the most severe problem of all revolves around the chronological data pertaining to the birth, reign and the northern Israel and Assyrian synchronisms of the Judean King Hezekiah. H. H. Rowley, that nestor of Old Testament bibliography, exclaimed: “This is one of the most tangled problems of the chronology of the monarchy, and an extraordinary variety of dates for the reign of Hezekiah will be found amongst scholars.”[4]

As if all of this were not enough to exacerbate matters, total pandemonium is introduced when the issue of the dual nature of biblical revelation is introduced, i.e., Scripture is at once a divine and human product. For many, this dual authorship of the text of Scripture would seem to imply that a given passage could have more than one meaning or alternatively, a meaning known only to God and distinct from that known by the author of the text. According to this evangelically popular way of handling predictive passages in the Old Testament, the human author could have a meaning which was restricted to the events proximate to his own day while God, the divine author of the text, could transcend those values with meanings which went far beyond or even dramatically differed from that of the human authors.

Isaiah 7:14 becomes a crux interpretum in this exceedingly important, but difficult, debate. Briefly stated, the issue is this: what meaning did Isaiah and God intend for Ahaz when they gave the declaration of Isaiah 7:14 and how does that meaning relate, if at all, to the meaning Matthew derived from that same text, presumably God’s fuller meaning, when he pointed it towards the Messiah in Matthew 1:23?

The hermeneutical case of Protestant orthodoxy, as I understood it is this:

God’s meaning and revelatory-intention in any passage of Scripture may be accurately and confidently ascertained only by studying the verbal meanings of the divinely delegated and inspired human writers…. That single, original verbal meaning of the human author may be ascertained by heeding the usual literary conventions of history, culture, grammar, syntax, and accumulated theological context.[5]
No definition of interpretation could be more fundamental than this: To interpret we must in every case reproduce the sense the Scriptural writer intended for his own words. The first step in the interpretive process is to link only those ideas with the author’s language that he connected with them.[6]

Very few evangelicals object to these definitions: divine meanings can be expressed in human words. But that agreement quickly dissolves when this question is asked: “Could God see or intend a sense in a particular text (which is) separate and different from that conceived or intended by his human instrument?”[7] The key words here are “separate” and “different,” for this certainly would introduce double or multiple meanings.

No one denies that texts may legitimately have consequent extensions into later times, cultures and settings. Normally we refer to these extensions of the single meaning of the text as applications, or implications of the general principle (or the universal term) that comes from the author’s single meaning. The point where our differences arise comes when we ask if the extension of that meaning, which we obtain from exercising the normal rules of grammar, must be applied by a continuous extension and from an application of something which is in the same sense, or may the implications announced also be different and separate from the grammatico-historical meanings?[8]

When this “consequent sense” is a different and an additional meaning, allegedly intended only by God, but expressed in words of the author without the author’s awareness of their meaning, then we do have an instance of sensus plenior. Raymond Brown[9] modified his earlier definition of sensus plenior by affirming:

Let us apply the term sensus plenior to that meaning of his text which by normal rules of exegesis would not have been within his awareness or intention but which by other criteria we can determine as having been intended by God…. We insist that a vague consciousness of this richer meaning may or may not have been present, and that such vague consciousness has no integral place in the definition of the sensus plenior either as necessary or as inadmissible.

Surely Brown places this meaning on a different level and uses separate criteria from those exercised in “the normal rules of exegesis.” What could these separate criteria be? They turn out to be threefold: 1) the development of God’s further revelation, 2) the New Testament use of the Old Testament tests, and for Catholic exegesis 3) the tradition and magisterium of the Church and the church fathers’ use of Scripture. The only caveat introduced in the application of these three criteria is this: the fuller sense must not distort or contradict the obvious literal sense of the text; there must be a general resemblance between the fuller and the obvious literal sense which can be checked by comparing this fuller sense with the general direction of Scripture as spelled out in its literal sense.

Now we have very little debate with those who like Professor Donald A. Hagner would go just this far: “To be aware of sensus plenior is to realize that there is the possibility of more significance to an Old Testament passage than was consciously apparent to the original author….”[10] But when Hagner continues: “…and more than can be gained by strict grammatic or historical exegesis,” we must demur.

The mistake here becomes clearly stated when Vern Poythress argues on the analogy of the same words being used by two different speakers in separate speeches. He correctly concluded that the same words said by two human authors may yield two separate interpretations.[11] But he appears to stumble when he applies this analogy to Scripture and presses his argument into the mystery of the tri-unity of the Godhead. What the Son says, the Father also says by speaking through him as does the Holy Spirit, explains Poythress. He then applies this truth to the divine/human paradigm of Scripture:

In Christ’s being, there is no pure mathematical identity of divine persons or identity of two natures, but harmony. [This we agree with.] The result is that there is no pure mathematical identity in the interpretative product. That is, we cannot in a pure way analyze simply what the words mean as (for instance) proceeding from the human nature of Christ, and then say that precisely that, no more, no less, is the exhaustive interpretation of his words.[12]

What must we believe, then, about the success of divine revelation in Scripture? Are we not reduced on this view to adopting either: a) a mechanical view of inspiration in which the author is unwittingly used by God to say and record things which surpass any legitimate views of human instrumentality, or b) a new view of biblical authority which consistently attributes divine authorization for what can be garnered from the whole of Scripture, while the parts may only represent the viewpoint of the human author or, at least, a subspecies of divine authority?

Such a differentiation between the levels of authority has already appeared in the evangelical essay by Raju D. Kunjummen. Using the ideal of “intrinsic genre” found in E. D. Hirsch,[13] (“that sense of the whole by means of which an interpreter can correctly understand any part of its determinacy”), Kunjummen also appears to argue for more on the basis of this concept than he should. Indeed, we ourselves have also affirmed, “No meaning of a text is complete until the interpreter has heard the total single intention of the author.”[14]

But we cannot agree with Kunjummen, who is even bolder than Poythress. Said he:

The idea of confluence in authorial intention is not a biblical one, though it may be a Thomistic one. Coppens has stated that some object of sensus plenior because it “is contrary to the Thomistic notion of the inspiration whereby Scripture and all its meanings are the result of the joint operation of God and His instrument….” Thus it seems that some evangelicals [apparently this writer] begin with a construct of scholastic philosophy and then attempt to accommodate the phenomena of biblical revelation to it.[15]

This search for normativeness and authority which in some way is at least partially free and autonomous from the human author who stood in the council of God and originally received that revelation from God is illustrated in the Jesuit Scholar Norbert Lohfink. As we have recorded elsewhere,[16] Lohfink rested his case for biblical authority on what the Bible as a whole taught. (Previously he had restricted it to what the final redactor of the text taught.[17] Thus for him, in addition to the original sense of the biblical statement there was something above, behind, and beyond what the individual contexts of the Bible had to say.

But what could the whole or unity of Scripture teach which could not be found in its parts and individual authors? Lohfink, trapped by his own logic, fled to a “fuller sense” intended by God; yes, a sensus plenior. However, Bruce Vawter brilliantly slammed the door shut on sensus plenior:

If this fuller or deeper meaning was reserved by God to Himself and did not enter the writer’s purview at all, do we not postulate a Biblical word effected outside the control of the human author’s will and judgment… and therefore not produced through a truly human instrumentality?… does not the acceptance of a sensus plenior deprive this alleged scriptural sense of one of its essential elements, (and) to that extent… it cannot be called scriptural at all?[18]

Kunjummen opposes Vawter’s contention that “whatever has been produced apart from the will and judgment… of the human author… has not been brought about precisely through human instrumentality.”[19] Instead Kunjummen found that “Scriptural evidence seems to militate against an emphasis which inseparably links human will and judgment to prophetic instrumentality or the human authorship of Scripture.”[20] Second Peter 1:21, in his view, spoke against the active function of the writer’s will in the production of the Scripture. Kunjummen focused on the prophet’s pheromenoi, “being borne along” by the Holy Spirit, and therefore he stressed the passivity of the writer’s involvement.

This makes Peter’s point somewhat lopsided. He had said in 2 Peter 1:19-21:

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is [a matter] of one’s own loosing [my translation of epiluseos]. For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but Holy men of God spoke as they were moved [borne along] by the Holy Spirit.

Peter’s point is not that the prophets were passive or that their “more sure word of prophecy” was a case of their speaking better than they knew. As we have already argued elsewhere:

Had Peter’s logic been, “Give heed to the light shining in a dark place because no prophet understood or could even explain what he had said [i.e. making epiluseos mean ‘explanation’ or ‘interpretation’ since that meaning does occur in Mark 4:34] but he wrote as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit,” then that “light” would have been darkness. How could any, including the prophet, then, have given heed to such an enigmatic word?… Had that communicating ability (of the prophets) not been the case, we would have been forced to ask for a second miracle—the inspiration of the interpreter.[21]

The substantive epilusis in its classical usage means a “freeing, loosing” and only secondarily did it come to mean “to explain, unfold, interpret,” as in Mark 4:34. Even if this secondary meaning were intended by Peter here, would not even the advocates who claim that the prophets were passive or that they at times “wrote better than they knew” hesitate to say this about all prophetic writings? However, that appears to be the scope of this Petrine word, for the Church is called upon to give heed to this “more sure word of prophecy” as a “light shining in a dark place.” The “light” offered to the modern readers of the prophecies that came in “old time” was possible because God had spoken by these “holy men of God.”

What Peter denies is that the product of Scripture may be attributed solely “to the will of man.” The initiative, the source, and content of what was revealed to the prophets belonged distinctively to God. But to then argue with Kunjummen that “Human instrumentality in delivering the word of God is frequently depicted in such a way that it does not demand the full participation of the speaker’s will and judgement”[22] clearly exceeds the biblical data.

In fact, that nexus of the divine source and the human instrument is so close that Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 as a sharing of “the deep things of God,” which “things were freely given to [the apostles and prophets] by God.” These “deep things of God” were so intimately united with the human authors that there was a veritable living assimilation of the truth “taught” by the Holy Spirit (v. 13). Since Paul chose to use the word “taught” (didaktos), all mechanical or totally passive ideas of revelation are certainly excluded. Moreover, by “combining spiritual things with spiritual,” the apostle teaches us that his Spirit-revealed truths were also clothed in Spirit-taught language, thereby combining what was spiritual in substance with what was spiritual in verbal form.[23]

We conclude, therefore, that it is improper to erect a dual meaning or a multi-tiered level of “readings” to a prophetic text like Isaiah 7:14. We are, however, willing to grant that in addition to what is “in” a text, many texts will sustain “relations”[24] to earlier and, yes, even to later texts. However, recognition of the fact that the subject to which a text contributes is almost always larger than any particular contribution to that subject is not tantamount to saying that “things partially equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” This would be to turn exegesis into the systematic theology: a confusion all too frequently evident in many evangelical methodologies.

II. Isaiah 7:14 and the Single-Meaning Hermeneutic

It is impossible to raise each of the numerous questions that this text has occasioned. Our purpose is much more restricted; we propose to focus on the problem of Isaiah’s awareness of the meaning of this text and the legitimacy of relating it simultaneously to Ahaz’s day and to the first advent of Messiah. Succinctly stated, our problem is this: if Isaiah intended to predict the advent of Messiah (and this must first be demonstrated that he did), how can this event which occurred seven centuries later be depicted in Isaiah 7 as proximately and inseparably linked with a definite historical event in the immediate future of these eighth century recipients?

What, then, is the central issue which will help us to keep perspective in the midst of the welter of baffling questions? We believe that it is the assurance Isaiah gives in this passage of the permanence of “the house of David” (Isa. 7:2).

In fact, the six chapters of Isaiah 7-12 might be entitled, “The Discourse of the Three Children” with the pivotal verses coming in Isaiah 8:17-18:

I will wait for Yahweh, Who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in Him. Behold I and the children whom Yahweh has given me are signs and symbols in Israel from the Yahweh of hosts The One dwelling in Mount Zion.[25]

Each of these three children are “signs” and each child is born in fulfillment of the promise made to David that his seed should be eternal and that he would have an eternal dominion wielding a peaceful scepter. The three children are:

1. Shear-Jashub = “Remnant-will-return” (7:3) (Compare Isa. 10:20, 21, 22; 11:11, 16)
2. Immanuel = God-with-us” (7:14) (Compare Isa. 8:8, 10)
3. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz = “Hasten-spoil-Hurry-prey” (8:1, 3, 4) (Compare Isa. 10:2, 6)

Consequently, each of the three children is the subject of one introductory prophecy and each is featured later in the argument. In this fact, and in the statement that each of the three children are “signs,” the children are on the same footing.

But the second child, Immanuel, emerges with a distinctive bearing, separate from the other two children. For one thing, the phraseology used in Isaiah 7:14 would have been reminiscent to Isaiah himself, as well as to his listeners in the eighth century, of previous theophanic appearances of Yahweh. Note these similarities found in the births of Ishmael, Samson and Isaac:

(a) Isaiah 7:14 “Behold (you) the virgin are pregnant,”
(b) Genesis 16:11 “Behold thou are pregnant,”
(c) Judges 13:5, 7 “Behold thou are pregnant,”
(d) Genesis 17:19 “But Sarah your wife”
(a1) “and bearing a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
(b1) “and bearing a son, and shall call his name Ishmael.”
(c1) “and bearing a son.” (=Samson.)
(d1) “is bearing to thee a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.”

No doubt Isaiah’s words were deliberately cast in this familiar phraseology so that the prophet’s original hearers would associate this new “sign” of God with those earlier and well-known promises to his people.[26]

But even more impressive is the mention of Immanuel twice in the fourth[27] of these introductory prophecies: Isaiah 8:5-10. Even though he prophesies the fact that the Assyrians will be successful (as exhibited in the fact that Ahaz found more delight in the gods to which he sacrificed in Damascus [Isa. 8:6; 2 Chron. 28:23; 2 Kgs. 16:10-16] when he later on went to meet their Assyrian conqueror, Tiglath-Pileser) that land—Immanuel’s land—will survive. The reason it will survive is simply stated: because of Immanuel himself—”God is with us” (Isa. 8:10). Therefore, “Do your worst, you nations…. Devise your strategy…. Propose your plan, but it will not stand, because (I am) Immanuel” (Isa. 8:9-10 NIV and NIV footnote)!

The truth that God was with them was detailed further in Isaiah 9:1-6 and in Isaiah 11. A child would be born who would sit on the throne of David; a shoot from the stem of Jesse! As Willis J. Beecher concluded:

It may be doubted whether any of them had in mind the idea of just such a person as Jesus, to be born of a virgin, in some future century; but they had in mind some birth in the unending line of David which would render the truth “God with us,” especially significant.[28]

Our argument is that this passage cannot be fairly handled until it is seen as another prediction in the series of promises made with “the house of David.” Once this proposition is grasped, it is possible to proceed to the more difficult question: how is the promise made with the house of David to be linked with a “sign” which functions for Ahaz’s generation and that final “shoot” that will come from the “stump of Jesse,” whose name will be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace?” This is the question that has made interpreters return to this text time and time again.

The historical setting is well known by now to all interpreters, even if it can only be sketched in general terms. Rezin, the reigning monarch in Damascus, Syria and Pekah, the ruler of the Israelite throne in Samaria, plotted together to teach the house of David and its present holder of the throne, Ahaz, a lesson. They proposed to set “the son of Tabeel” (Isa. 7:6) on the throne in Jerusalem in place of a scion of David.

Even before Ahaz became King, Rezin and Pekah had already begun to encroach on Judean territory during the reign of Ahaz’s predecessor, Jothan (2 Kgs. 15:37). Clearly these two northern nemeses wanted Jothan, and then Ahaz, to join their anti-Assyrian coalition, but these Davidites and the population of Jerusalem wanted no part in stirring up the wrath of Nineveh. Miller and Hayes[29] suggest that the cities denounced by the prophet Micah in his first chapter may indeed have been towns in the prophet’s neighborhood who were anti-Assyrian and therefore opposed Ahaz’s pro-Assyrian policy.

It is extremely important to note, therefore, that the attack on Jerusalem in Ahaz’s reign was the climax to a war that had originally broken out in Jothan’s reign and the intervention of the Assyrians was not the cause of it, nor its beginning.

In place of the current Davidic ruler, Pekah and Rezin intended to place “the son of Tabeel.” What were the motives that impelled Pekah and Rez in to challenge Jotham and Ahaz? Was the key to be sought in the military struggle for Transjordania as B. Obed[30] suggests is the case on the basis of 2 Chronicles 27:5 where Jotham defeated the Ammonites and exacted a heavy tribute from them? Obed believes that this “ben-Tobeel” can be traced back through Tobiah the Ammonite servant (Neh. 2:19; 6:17; Zech. 6:10) to a grandson of the Tobiah known from the Lachish letters, up to Ben Tobeel in the time of Ahaz.[31]

Others make the unnamed son of Tabeel a son or relative of King Tubail = Tabeel, the ruling house in Tyre who were strong supporters of the anti-Assyrian coalition.[32] It is impossible to say who he was or from whence he came.

For our purposes, the challenge to the Davidic dynasty, and thereby to the program of redemptive history, is the only point which emerges clearly in this complicated issue. Isaiah assured a worried Ahaz that the two Northern partners opposing him with all their threats would be doomed to failure.

Whether the movements of the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser were motivated by Ahaz’s request for help in 2 Kings 16:7, or by strategies that may even have preceded that, is an open question. What is known is that Tiglath-pileser did undertake a campaign against Syria-Palestine in 738 B.C. In the Annuls of Tiglath-pileser III, paragraph 772,[33] we are told of the number of captives he took from each city along with the fact that he received tribute from a Menihumnu (=Menahem) of Samaria and Hahianu (= Rezin) of Aram (Damascus). Four years later in 734 B.C., again according to the Assyrian annals, Tiglath-pileser invaded Philistia.[34]

What, then, is the chronological relation between the Syro-Ephraimite War and the 738 and 734 campaign of Tiglath-pileser? We know that 732 ended the allies adventure, but as Michael Thompson asks, “How is it possible to conceive of Rezin and Pekah essaying an anti-Assyrian movement when the Assyrian army was already in Syria-Palestine?”[35]

Thompson is forced to conclude, as we are, that “The war must have occurred, there, before Tiglath-pileser’s 734 campaign against Philistia, and it is credible that its associated anti-Assyrian mood should have been strengthened and encouraged in the years following the earlier Assyrian campaign in 738.”[36]

Herbert Donner[37] objects to this reconstruction arguing that there is not enough time between Pekah’s accession to the throne in 735 B.C. and Tiglath-pileser’s intervention in 734. But Pekah’s reign is shrouded in such darkness that none can set any firm date for his accession to the throne. In Edwin Theile’s[38] construction, he began his reign in 752 B.C. and reigned, perhaps at first in the Transjordanean territory just south of Damascus, and then in Samaria for a total of twenty years until his death in 732 B.C.

The advantage of placing the beginnings of the Syro-Ephraimitish War before the Assyrian campaign of 734 B.C. is clear: “…we can perhaps more easily understand why Rezin and Pekah might have thought that their anti-Assyrian plans had some hope of succeeding. For they enjoyed a period of years—perhaps three, or even longer—when they had been free of the Assyrian and had thus had time (due to Tiglath-pileser’s occupation with matters in the north and the south of his empire so that the west was spared any incursions).”[39]

All of this only peaks our curiosity all the more: what was the year that Isaiah delivered his message to Ahaz? It had to be prior to 734 B.C. How much more we cannot say.

But the door is now opened for a new look at the old question: What child born in Ahaz’s day served as a sign to his generation while also embodying the wonderful names of that coming Davidic prince? We believe the best working hypothesis still is the one that says that Ahaz’s son Hezekiah is the best candidate.[40]

However, that suggestion raises the most nettlesome problem of all. To say that the chronology of this period is obscure is to understate the magnitude of the difficulty. The principle areas of difficulty come in harmonizing the chronological data of 2 Kings 15-18. The issues may be listed as follows:

1. If Hezekiah was 25 years old at his accession according to 2 Kings 18:2, and if his accession is placed in 714 B.C. (the latest date anyone proposes), he must have been born in 739 B.C.
2. If Hezekiah’s father was 20 at his own accession to the throne and he reigned for 16 years (2 Kgs. 16:1-2), he would have died when he was 36 (when Hezekiah apparently was 25), making Ahaz only 11 when his son Hezekiah was born!
3. To exacerbate matters still further, the chronological data of 2 Kings 18:1, 9, 10 make the fifth year of Hezekiah’s reign the same year that Samaria fell in 722 (2 Kgs. 18:10); therefore Hezekiah succeeded his father Ahaz in 726-27 B.C., meaning Hezekiah would have been born twenty-five years earlier in 752-51! Very few opt for the 752 B.C. date, for most equate Hezekiah’s fourteenth year of his reign with Sennacherib’s invasion in 701 B. C.[41]

The year 701 B.C. appears to be the pivotal year. For the moment let us not decide whether that is Hezekiah’s fourteenth or twenty-fourth reigning year. Instead, let us skip down in the list two rulers to King Josiah who met his death at 39 years of age in 609 B.C. after ruling for 31 years (2 Kgs. 22:1). This 609 B.C. date is secure because the events associated with Josiah’s death are recorded in Babylonian Chronicle on a year by year basis.[42]

Josiah was preceded by Amon, who reigned for two years (2 Kgs. 21:19) and he in turn was preceded by Manasseh who ruled for 55 years (2 Kgs. 21:1). Now 609 plus 31= 640, plus 2 = 642, plus 55 = 697 B.C.

But there must be a co-regency between Manasseh and Hezekiah since Hezekiah’s 29 years (2 Kgs. 18:2) would last until 686 B.C if his fourteenth year matches Sennacherib’s invasion of 701 B.C. Moreover, 2 Kings 20:1 states: “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death” when Isaiah told him “Put your house in order, because you will die; you will not recover.” What would be more natural than for him to place his son on the throne as a co-regent at such a desperate point in his life?

No doubt when Manasseh had reached the age of twelve (the accepted year of maturity in the Jewish community, cf. Lk. 2:42, 49), he made him a co-regent. And in response to Hezekiah’s prayer, God extended his life fifteen years—eleven of which he ruled with his son as co-regent from 697-686 B.C.

This solution does not help us with the synchronisms given with Hoshea in 2 Kings 18:1, 9, 10. In fact, Edwin Thiele,[43] that great solver of every other synchronism and chronological fact in the chronologies of the Hebrew Kings simply gave up when he came to this one in his doctoral study submitted to the University of Chicago. Thiele argued that the reign of Hoshea was over and the Kingdom of Israel no longer existed when Hezekiah came to the throne. His evidence is this: one of Hezekiah’s first acts was to repair the temple in the first month of his first year (2 Chron. 29:3, 17) and then to proclaim the celebration of the Passover on the fourteenth day of the second month (2 Chron. 30:2, 13, 15). His invitations, however, were not limited to Judah, but he sent to “all Israel and Judah” including Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulun, and Asher (2 Chron. 30:1, 6, 10, 11), areas once securely in the hands of the Northern Kingdom who had issued strict warnings against going to Jerusalem to celebrate anything. Indeed, he sent his decree “throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan” (2 Chron. 30:5). Clearly, argues Thiele, Samaria had fallen.

Now if some emend 2 Kings 18:13 and Isaiah 36:1 to read “twenty-four” instead of “fourteen,” John McHugh suggests that we emend 2 Kings 18:2 instead. He proposes that Hezekiah was only “fifteen” years old, not “twenty-five” when he came to the throne, therefore Hezekiah would have been born in 731/730 B.C.[44] and thus his birth would have coincided with Judah’s deliverance from the Syro-Ephraimite alliance.

However, there is no more textual evidence for this emendation than there was for the one suggested for 2 Kings 18:13 and Isaiah 36:1. in our view, the events that precipitated Isaiah’s warnings may have come as early as 740 or 739 B.C., just prior to Tiglath-pileser’s 738 foray into this territory. One fact remains: this scrap did not begin with Ahaz; it had roots in the last days of Ahaz’s predecessor, King Jotham.

When the data is further massaged and refined by some new discoveries we believe it will locate Hezekiah’s birth and Isaiah’s rebuke to Ahaz at some date early in this decade, perhaps four to six years prior to the fall of Damascus and the deaths of Pekah and Rezin in 732 B.C.

How would such an identity relate to Messiah who came seven centuries later? The same way that many of the “generic prophecies” of the Old Testament link the immediate fulfillment with the distant fulfillment. Willis J. Beecher defined a “generic prediction/promise” this way:

A generic prediction is one which regards an event as occurring in a series of parts, separated by intervals, and expresses itself in language that may apply indifferently to the nearest part, or to the remoter parts, or the whole—in other words, a prediction which, in applying to the whole of a complex event, also applies to some of its parts.[45]

This is not to argue for a double sense or multiple meaning; instead, this definition seeks to represent the biblical facts which demand that the near and the distant were, in some real sense, linked in the prophetic revelatory vision from God. Accordingly, Antiochus Epiphanes is the Antichrist in Daniel 11 even though that same chapter, along with 1 John 2:18, looked forward to a final future Antichrist even if “Many antichrists have (already) come” (1 Jn. 2:18b). Likewise, Elijah the prophet must come before that great and dreadful day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5) even if John the Baptist was Elijah (since he came in the spirit and the power” of Elijah—Lk. 1:17). Both aspects of this identity were in Jesus’ own words: “(John the Baptist) is Elijah (Matt. 11:14) and “Elijah is corning and he will restore all things” (Matt. 17:11).

If some protest, “yes but, Hezekiah was not born of a virgin!”, we will point out that neither Antiochus Epiphanes nor John the Baptist mirrored every or even most of the details which their final fulfiller will demonstrate. The only critical point is that both share enough distinctive common elements so that a single sense and meaning links them and thereby the one heeding Scripture will be unerringly pointed towards the final fulfillment. In this case, the most essential common feature shared is that both Hezekiah and Messiah were from “the House of David which God had promised would never perish.”


  1. Dr. Kaiser is one of the leading theologians and biblical scholars on the Hebrew Scriptures in America today. In this appendix, Dr. Kaiser discusses the important Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14—Would the Messiah be “virgin born”? Dr. Walter Kaiser gave this paper at “The Ritter Lecture for 1987.” It was delivered at the Evangelical School of Theology in Myerstown, Pennsylvania.
  2. Skinner, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapter 1-XXXIX, Cambridge Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1905), p. 60.
  3. Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah and the Assyrian Crisis (London: SCM, 1967), p. 120.
  4. H. H. Rowley, “Hezekiah’s Reform and Rebellion,” in Men of God: Studies in Old Testament History and Prophecy (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1963), pp. 111-112.
  5. H. H. Rowley, “Hezekiah’s Reform and Rebellion,” in Men of God: Studies in Old Testament History and Prophecy (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1963), pp. 111-112.
  6. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Legitimate Hermeneutics,” in Norman L. Geisler, ed., Inerrancy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), p. 118.
  7. Walter C. Kaiser. Jr., “A Response to ‘Author’s Intention and Biblical Interpretation’,” in Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus, eds., Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), p. 442 (italics my own).
  8. See our essay “A Response to ‘Author’s Intention and Biblical Interpretation’,” ibid., pp. 441-447. Note also the seminal articles on this topic by C. F. DeVine, “The Consequent Sense,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 2 (1940): 145-155 and Rudolph Bierberg, “Does Sacred Scripture Have A Sensus Plenior?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 10 (1948), pp. 182-195.
  9. Raymond E. Brown, “The Sensus Plenior in the Last Ten Years,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963), pp. 268-269.
  10. Donald A. Hagner, “The Old Testament in the New Testament,” in Samuel Schultz and Morris Inch, eds., Interpreting the Word of God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), p. 72 (Italics ours).
  11. Vern S. Poythress, “Divine Meaning of Scripture,” Westminster Theological Journal 48 (1986), p. 255.
  12. Ibid., p. 263.
  13. Ibid., p. 263.
  14. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Legitimate Hermenuetics,” p. 127.
  15. Raju D. Kunjummen, “The Single Intent of Scripture—Critical Examination of a Theological Construct,” Grace Theological Journal 7 (1986), p. 100. The citation of Joseph Coppens is found in his essay, “The Different Senses of Sacred Scripture,” Theological Digest 1 (1953), p. 18.
  16. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Towards an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), pp. 109-110.
  17. Norbert Lohfink, R. A Wilson, trans., The Christian Meaning of the Old Testament (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1968), pp. 32-49.
  18. Bruce Vawter, Biblical Inspiration, Theological Resources (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), p. 115. Also see Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “The Fallacy of Equating Meaning with the Reader’s Understanding,” Trinity Journal 6 (1977), pp. 190-193.
  19. Bruce Vawter, “The Fuller Sense: Some Considerations,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 26 (1964), p. 93.
  20. Raju D. Kunjummen, “The Single Intent,” p. 99.
  21. Kaiser, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New, pp. 75-76.
  22. Raju Kunjummen, “The Single Intent,” p. 99 (italics ours).
  23. See our extended discussion of this extremely important teaching passage on this doctrine: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “A Neglected Text in Bibliology Discussions: I Corinthians 2:6-16.” Westminster Theological Journal 43 (1981), pp. 301-319: especially pp. 315-318.
  24. A point accurately made by Vern Poythress, “Divine Meaning,” pp. 273-276. Beautifully he declares, “Hence, scholars are correct in taking care to distinguish what comes from the psalm itself and what comes from the psalm seen in the light of the whole Bible.” I would just delete the second “comes from the psalm.” But Vern goes on to spoil this division of labor by affirming, “God does say more, now, through [Psalm 22] than he said to the OT readers. The ‘more’ arises from the stage of fuller revelation, and consequent fuller illumination of the Holy Spirit, in which we live” (p. 275). Apparently we believers have a revelation of interpretation parallel to the revelation of the words which the authors received.
  25. Translation and italics my own.
  26. This point and the whole organization of the argument about the three children has been taken from Willis J. Beecher, “The Prophecy of the Virgin Mother: Isa. vvi. 14,” in Homiletical Review 17 (1889), pp. 354-358. This essay was reprinted in Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., ed., Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), pp. 179-185. Note also the clear eight-scene outline of Louis Brodie, “The Children and the Prince: The Structure, Nature and Date of Isaiah 6-12,” Biblical Theology Bulletin, 9 (1979), pp. 27-31. Said he, “And just as there is a continuity between the children of Isaiah (in scenes 1, 3, 5 and 7) so we expect a continuity between Immanuel (Scenes 2 and 4) and the Davidic prince (Scenes 6 and 8)” p. 29.
  27. The other three are: Isaiah 7:2-9; 7:10-25; 8:1-4.
  28. Beecher, “The Prophecy of the Virgin Mother.” p. 358.
  29. J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986), p. 344. This anti-Assyrian thesis was first proposed by J. Begrich. “Der Syrisch-Ephraimitische Krieg und seine weltpolitischen zusammenhange.” Zeitschrift der Deutsch morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 83 (1929): 213-237.
  30. B. Obed, “The Historical Background of the syro-Ephraimite War Reconsidered,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 34 (1972), p. 155. For a critique of Obed’s views see Michael E. W. Thompson, Situation and Theology: Old Testament Interpretations of the Syro-Ephraimite War (Sheffield, Almond, 1982), pp. 107-109.
  31. Obed, “The Historical Background,” p. 161. He cites B. Mazar, “The Tobiads,” Israel Exploration Journal 7 (1957), pp. 233-234; 236-237.
  32. Miller and Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel, p. 342.
  33. D.D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, Vol. 1 (New York: Greenwood, 1968), p. 276.
  34. More detailed information about the campaign is contained in the inscription ND 400 which was discovered in 1950 in the excavations in Nimrud. See Donald J. Wiseman, “Two Historical Inscriptions from Nimrud,” Iraq 13 (1951), pp. 21-26.
  35. Michael Thompson, Situation and Theology, p. 111.
  36. Ibid. Two other scholars may be cited as agreeing with locating the war prior to 734: John Bright, A History of Israel, 2nd ed. (Phila.: Westminster Press, 1972), p. 272; Norman K. Gottwald, All the Kingdoms of the Earth: Israelite Prophecy and International Relations in the Ancient Near East (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 149.
  37. Herbert Donner, “The Separate States of Israel and Judah,” in John H. Hayes and J. Maxwell Miller, eds., Israelite and Judean History (London: SCM, 1977), p. 429.
  38. Edwin R. Thiele, A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), pp. 52-53.
  39. Thompson, Situation and Theology, pp. 111-112.
  40. This suggestion was previously favored by Jewish interpreters and is currently advocated by scholars such as John Lindblom, A Study on the Immanuel Section in Isaiah: Isa. vii, i-ix, 6 (London: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1958), p. 25; John McHugh, “The Date of Hezekiah’s Birth,” Vetus Testamentum 14 (1964), pp. 446-53; E. Hammershaimb, “The Immanuel Sign,” Studia Theologia cura ordinum theologorum Scandinavicorum edita, 111 (1949), p. 135.
  41. It is true that H. H. Rowley, “Hezekiah’s Reform and Rebellion,” in Men of God, p. 113 proposes to correct the Hebrew text ‘arba’ ‘eseh (“four and ten”—”fourteen”) to ‘arba’ w’ ‘es’rim (“four and twenty”—”twenty-four”). Likewise Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), p. 211, says “We must therefore conclude that the Masoretic text has preserved an ancient textual error (which also appears in Isa. 36:1—where the error probably originated), in which a mistake was made in the decade column. The word ‘fourteen’ was originally ‘twenty-four’.”
  42. Donald J. Wiseman, The Chronicles of the Chaldaean Kings (626-556 B.C.) in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1956), p. 63.
  43. Thiele, A Chronology, pp. 53-4.
  44. McHugh, “The Date of Hezekiah’s Birth,” p. 452.
  45. Beecher, The Prophets and the Promise, p. 130.

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