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IMMANUEL (ĭ-măn'ū-ĕl, Heb. ‘immānû’ēl, God is with us). The name of a child (occurring three times in the Bible—Isa.7.14; Isa.8.8; Matt.1.23) whose birth was foretold by Isaiah and who was to be a sign to Ahaz during the Syro-Ephraimitic war (Isa.7.1-Isa.7.25). At this time, 735 b.c., Judah was threatened by the allied forces of Syria and Israel. They were trying to compel Judah to form an alliance with them against Assyria, whose king, Tiglath-Pileser, was attempting to bring the whole of Western Asia under his sway. The prophet directed Ahaz to remain confident and calm in the Lord and not to seek aid from Tiglath-Pileser. To overcome the king’s incredulity, he offered him a sign of anything in heaven or earth; but when the king evasively refused the offer, Isaiah bitterly chided him for his lack of faith and gave him a sign, the sign of “Immanuel.”

Isaiah’s words have led to much controversy and have been variously interpreted, chiefly because of the indefinite terms of the prediction and the fact that there is no record of their fulfillment in any contemporary event.

1. The traditional Christian interpretation is that the emphasis should be laid on the virgin birth of our Immanuel, Jesus Christ, as Matthew does (Matt.1.22-Matt.1.23). See Virgin Birth.

2. Another explanation is that the event of the birth of the child is intended as a sign to Ahaz and nothing more. At the time of Judah’s deliverance from Syria and Ephraim, some young mothers who give birth to sons will spontaneously name them “Immanuel.” Children bearing this name will be a sign to Ahaz of the truth of Isaiah’s words concerning deliverance and judgment.

3. A third view, somewhat similar to the preceding one, is that Isaiah has a certain child in mind, the almah being his own wife or one of Ahaz’s wives or perhaps someone else. Before the child has emerged from infancy, Syria and Ephraim will be no more (Isa.7.16); and later in his life Judah will be a country fit only for the pastoral life (Isa.7.15).

4. There are semimessianic interpretations that apply the prophecy to a child of Isaiah’s time and also to Jesus Christ.

5. Perhaps the most widely held view among Evangelicals is that Isaiah has in mind Israel’s Messiah. When the prophet learns of the king’s cowardice, God for the first time gives to him a revelation of the true King, who would share the poverty and affliction of his people and whose character and work would entitle him to the great names of Isa.9.6. In this interpretation the essential fact is that in the coming of Immanuel people will recognize the truth of the prophet’s words. He would be Israel’s deliverer, and the government would rest on his shoulders (Isa.9.6). The messianic idea was prevalent in Judah at this time (e.g., 2Sam.7.12; Mic.5.3).——SB

A biblical name (Isa. 7:14, 8:8; Matt. 1:23), meaning “God (is) with us” in Hebrew. (The KJV spelling “Emmanuel” in Matt. 1:23 is due to the Greek form of the name.) The name is unambiguously applied to Christ in Matthew, but its function in Isaiah 7f. has been much debated; Jews traditionally have related it to Hezekiah, the crown prince of Judah, and many modern Christian scholars have similarly argued that some contemporary of the prophet Isaiah was intended. The traditional Christian view that it was a title of the Messiah is still by no means untenable.

The “Immanuel” passages.

The Isaiah passages are set in the context of God’s sign to Israel of hope of deliverance at a time when enemies threatened to take Jerusalem. Thexseventh ch. of Isaiah states that in the days of Ahaz, the kings of Judah, Syria and Ephraim (northern Israel) were in league to capture Judah. Ahaz was frightened and God sent Isaiah to assure the wicked king of God’s deliverance. When God offered a sign, Ahaz refused to ask for one, thus refusing to glorify God. God gave a sign anyway, but not for Ahaz’ benefit. The sign given was for Israel’s benefit (Isa 7:13). The sign was that a virgin would conceive and bear a child whom she would call Immanuel.

In ch. 8 again the name occurs twice. In v. 8 it is used in connection with the warning that Immanuel’s land will be overrun by Assyria. In v. 10 the name occurs as a comfort to God’s people assuring them that the forces of men cannot overcome because of Immanuel.

The name of “Immanuel,” the son born of the virgin, is to be the watchword for God’s people, the word of hope, no matter how desperate conditions become among men. He is the hope because His name means that God is with us. This would indicate that the one born of the virgin is more than man. He is also God. Isaiah 9 would seem to support this, for there the child is called “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6).

That this interpretation is correct from the Biblical standpoint is made quite clear in the Matthew passage which states that the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary, fulfills this prophesy from Isaiah (Matt 1:23). The meaning of Jesus’ birth, we are told, is that now God is truly with us in the person of Jesus the Christ.

The beginning of the concept of “God with us.”

The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 is not the beginning, but the climax to the concept of God’s being with His covenant people. The development of this concept is a remarkable record of revelation from God. The Bible indicates a growing awareness on the part of His people of both the concept and its meaning.

One day, when Moses was about eighty years old, God confronted him in a burning bush as he wandered on the hills of the Sinai mountains. He gave to Moses a great commission, to lead the Israelite slaves out of Egypt into the land of Canaan. Canaan was then held by various peoples who would have to be driven out.

Understandably Moses felt unequal to such a task and said so. God’s answer was the beginning of God’s revelation of His presence with His people.

First, God said in answer to Moses’ question, “Who am I?” (Exod 3:11), אֶֽהְיֶ֣ה עִמָּ֔כְ (“I will be with you”) which is in essence, “God will be with you” (3:12). Hence, the answer to all Moses’ fears was simply this—“God is with you.”

Moses then asked what he should give as the name of the God who is with us (3:13). To this God answered by the well-known words אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (“I will be—that is—I will be,” 3:14). Nothing more is needed than this context to demonstrate the meaning of the words. The “I will be” is a reminder of the words of v. 12 where God had said, “I will be with you.”

This practice is followed in the NT where passages quoted from the OT which have the personal name of God, יהוה, H3378, are tr. by the Gr., κύριος, G3261, Lord.

The relationship between Yahweh and the concept of “God with His people.”

The clear relationship between the personal name of God, יהוה, H3378, (Yahweh) and the concept of “God with His people,” can be easily and clearly demonstrated by a study of those passages in which the concept of “God with” His people occurs.

The preposition עִם, H6640, (“with”) in the Heb. occurs at least eighty-nine times in the OT in contexts which indicate God’s presence with His people. Either the object of the preposition is named specifically or in conjunction with some pronoun such as: with me, with you, with him, with us, with them. In all but nine of these passages, the personal name of God יהוה, H3378, occurs as the one who is with His people.

In most passages where the name יהוה, H3378, does not occur, there is clearly a good reason. An instance would be when Pharaoh claims that God is with him (2 Chron 35:21). Obviously a pagan would not know יהוה, H3378, and therefore he does not use the name Yahweh. Similarly, one finds Abimelech and Jethro, not of God’s people, declaring God is with Abraham and Moses respectively, but not using the name Yahweh (Gen 21:22; Exod 18:19).

The other passages chiefly concern Jacob, who was before Moses. The revelation of Moses not having yet been given, he spoke quite often of God’s being with him, not using the personal name of God (Gen 28:20; 31:5; 35:3; 48:21). Cf. Exodus 6:3.

In the overwhelming number of passages, then, where God’s people individually or collectively are assured of God’s presence, i.e. “God with &--;——” the personal name of God, יהוה, H3378, is there.

The development of the concept in the OT.

The concept does occur in certain passages in connection with the patriarchs. This constitutes a problem in the light of the above reference to Jacob but one must remember that Moses is the author of these passages. We can see that since he knew God as Yahweh, he would understand that same Yahweh to be the One who dealt with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, though they did not actually know God by that name. (Again see Exod 6:3 where the account states that they did not know God by the name יהוה, H3378, but as אֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י, God Almighty.)

Once Yahweh is used in connection with the concept of “God with” in speaking of Abraham (Gen 24:27). It is used twice in connection with Isaac (Gen 26:3, 28) and three times with Jacob other than those passages mentioned above where the name Yahweh did not occur (Gen 28:15; 31:3; 46:4).

Then after another lapse of time Yahweh is said to be with Asa (2 Chron 15:2, 9); with Jehoshaphat (17:3); and with Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:7), all good kings of Judah.

In a more general sense Yahweh is said to be with “the good” (2 Chron 19:12); the believer when he calls on God (Ps 91:15); and judges who judge righteously (2 Chron 19:6).

From the above passages it is clear that Yahweh is with His people who trust in Him, from the time of the establishing of the covenant with Abraham until the end of the OT. Those who walk closely with Him in life are more frequently reminded of this fact.

The meaning of the concept to God’s people

The covenant and God’s presence.

Clearly, the covenant God made with His people is involved in the concept of Immanuel; i.e. God with His people (Exod 24:8; Deut 5:2). What does this presence of God mean then to the people themselves?

Secondly, it means that they need not fear evil or be dismayed (Deut 31:8; 1 Chron 28:20; 2 Chron 20:17; Ps 23:4; Isa 41:10). They can therefore be strong and of good courage (Deut 31:23).

In the third place, they learn that if Yahweh is with them, they lack nothing (Deut 2:7). God will purge their evil and perverseness (Num 13:32; 14:36, 37; 32:13), inclining their hearts to go in His way and to keep His commandments (1 Kings 8:58).

The concept then will bring to them peace (1 Sam 20:42; 1 Chron 22:18) both personal and as a nation.

The concept of God with His people is the great distinguishing mark between Israel and the rest of mankind (Exod 33:16).

Other benefits related to the covenant of God with His people.

The OT then is replete with the concept of Yahweh with His people and with all the benefits that accrue to them by this great covenant. The Immanuel passages of Isaiah 7 and 8 point to the ultimate fulfillment of these promises in the person of One born among men who truly will be “God with us” in the flesh.

The concept of “God with us” in the NT.

It is then quite proper to expect that in the NT the coming of Christ is seen as the fulfillment to the utmost of the promise of God to be with His people.

It has been noted already that at His birth, Jesus was shown to be Immanuel (Matt 1:23). He is indeed “God with us” in the flesh. This meaning was fully developed in the NT.

In Jesus’ earthly life.

John, the apostle, develops this concept more exhaustively than any other writer of the NT. Nicodemus, he records, believed that God was with Jesus (John 3:2), and later Jesus assured the disciples that the Father was with Him (8:29; 16:32). From this comes the further assurance that Christ would be with the disciples for a little while in the flesh (7:33; 12:35; 13:33; 17:12). Then before His ascension, He assured them that He would never truly leave or forsake them, but be with them forever (Matt 28:20).

The continuing presence of Christ with His Church.

Jesus, before His ascension, taught His disciples that His leaving them in the flesh would make it possible for His Spirit to be with them forever (John 14:16).

Christ with us forever.

When Jesus was on earth, He prayed that the believers should be with Him forever (John 17:24). In fulfillment of this prayer the Tabernacle of God in heaven will be with the faithful forever (Rev 21:3). Those who have died in Christ will be with Him when He returns to gather the remainder (1 Thess 3:13).

The term “Immanuel” is directly related to the Biblical doctrine of the presence of God with His people, so clearly promised in Exodus 3:12, so eloquently declared in Isaiah 7:14 and so certainly applied to Jesus in Matthew 1:23. The closing wish expressed in Scripture is just this—“the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen” (Rev 22:21). See Names of God.


W. DeBurgh, The Messianic Prophecies of Isaiah (1863), 41-78; W. Arnold, “The Divine Name in Exodus 3:14,” JBL, XXIV (1905), 107-165; W. Albright, “Further Observations on the Name Yahweh and its Modification in Proper Nouns,” JBL, XLIV (1925), 158-162; F. Burkitt, “On the Name Yahweh,” JBL, XLIV (1925), 353-356; E. Kraeling, “The Immanuel Prophecy,” JBL, L (1931), 277-297; W. Albright, “The Names Shaddai and Abram,” JBL, LIX (1935), 173-204; W. Irwin, “The Tetragrammaton, An Overlooked Interpretation,” JNES, III (1944), 257-259; H. Rowley, The Rediscovery of the Old Testament (1946), 293; B. Alfrink, “Le Prononciation ‘Jehova’ du Tetragramm,” Alt Testamentische Studien, V (1948), 45-61; J. Obermann, “The Divine Name YHWH in the Light of Recent Discoveries,” JBL, LXVIII (1949), 301-323; E. Scheld “On Exodus 3:14—I am that I am,” Vet Test, IV (1954), 296-302; J. Hyatt, “Yahweh as ‘The God of My Fathers,’” Vet Test., V (1955), 130-136; S. Goitein, “YHWH the Passionate, the Monitheistic Meaning and Origin of the Name YHWH,” Vet Test., VI (1956), 1-9; D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1957), 98; D. Freedman, “The Name of the God of Moses,” JBL, LXXIX (1960), 151-156; W. McKane, “The Interpretation of Isaiah VII, 14-25,” Vet Test., XVII (1967), 208-219; J. Hyatt, “Was Yahweh Originally a Creator,” JBL, LXXXVI (1967), 369-377.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The name occurs but 3 times, twice in the Old Testament (Isa 7:14; 8:8), and once in the New Testament (Mt 1:23). It is a Hebrew word signifying "God is with us." The form "Emmanuel" appears in Septuagint (Emmanouel).

1. Isaiah Rebukes Ahaz:

2. The Sign of "Immanuel":

He then proceeds to give him a sign from God Himself, the sign of "Immanuel" (Isa 7:14). The interpretation of this sign is not clear, even apart from its New Testament application to Christ. The Hebrew word translated "virgin" in English Versions of the Bible means, more correctly, "bride," in the Old English sense of one who is about to become a wife, or is still a young wife. Ps 68:25 English Versions of the Bible gives "damsels."

Isaiah predicts that a young bride shall conceive and bear a son. The miracle of virgin-conception, therefore, is not implied. The use of the definite article before "virgin" (ha-`almah) does not of itself indicate that the prophet had any particular young woman in his mind, as the Hebrew idiom often uses the definite article indefinitely. The fact that two other children of the prophet, like Hosea’s, bore prophetic and mysterious names, invites the conjecture that the bride referred to was his own wife. The hypothesis of some critics that a woman of the harem of Ahaz became the mother of Hezekiah, and that he was the Immanuel of the prophet’s thought is not feasible. Hezekiah was at least 9 years of age when the prophecy was given (2Ki 16:2).

Immanuel, in the prophetic economy, evidently stands on the same level with Shear-jashub (Isa 7:3) as the embodiment of a great idea, to which Isaiah again appeals in Isa 8:8 (see ISAIAH, VII).

3. Was It a Promise or a Threat?:

The question as to whether the sign given to Ahaz was favorable or not presents many difficulties. Was it a promise of good or a threat of judgment? It is evident that the prophet had first intended an omen of deliverance and blessing (Isa 7:4,7). Did the king’s lack of faith alter the nature of the sign? Isa 7:9, "If ye will not believe," etc., implies that it might have done so. The omission of 7:16, and especially the words "whose two kings thou abhorrest," greatly simplifies this theory, as "the land," singular, would more naturally refer to Judah than to Syria and Ephraim collectively. The omen would then become an easily interpreted threat, referring to the overthrow of Judah rather than that of her enemies. Immanuel should eat curdled milk and honey (7:15), devastation reducing the land from an agricultural to a pastoral one. The obscure nature of the passage as it stands suggests strongly that it has suffered from interpolation. The contrary theory that the sign was a promise and not a prediction of disaster, has much to commend it, though it necessitates greater freedom with the text. The name "Immanuel" implies the faith of the young mother of the child in the early deliverance of her country, and a rebuke to the lack of that quality in Ahaz. It is certain also that Isaiah looked for the destruction of Syria and Ephraim, and that, subsequent to the Assyrian invasion, salvation should come to Judah through the remnant that had been faithful (11:11). The fact that the prophet later gave the name of Maher-shalal-hash-baz to his new-born son, a name of good omen to his country, further strengthens this position. The omission of 7:15,17 would make the sign a prophecy of the failure of the coalition. It is plain, whichever theory be accepted, that something must be eliminated from the passage to insure a consistent reading.

4. Its Relation to the Messianic Hope:

The question now presents itself as to what was the relation of Immanuel to the Messianic prophecies. Should the emphasis be laid upon "a virgin," the son, or the name itself? For traditional interpretation the sign lay in the virgin birth, but the uncertainty of implied virginity in the Hebrew noun makes this interpretation improbable. The identification of the young mother as Zion personified, and of the "son" as the future generation, is suggested by Whitehouse and other scholars. But there is no evidence that the term `almah was used at that time for personification. The third alternative makes Immanuel a Messiah in the wider use of the term, as anticipated by Isaiah and his contemporaries. There can be little doubt but that there existed in Judah the Messianic hope of a national saviour (2Sa 7:12). Isaiah is expecting the arrival of one whose character and work shall entitle him to the great names of 9:6. In him should dwell all the fullness of God. He was to be "of the stem of Jesse," the bringer of the Golden Age. The house of David is now beset by enemies, and its reigning representative is weak in faith. The prophet therefore announces the immediate coming of the deliverer. If he had intended the virgin-conception of Christ in the distant future, the sign of "Immanuel" would have possessed no immediate significance, nor would it have been an omen to Ahaz. With regard to the Messianic idea, Mic 5:3 ("until the time that she who travaileth hath brought forth") is of importance as indicating the prevalent thought of the time. Recent evidence shows that even in Babylonia and Egypt there existed expectations of a divinely born and wonderful saviour. To this popular tradition the prophet probably appealed, his hearers being easily able to appreciate the force of oracular language that is to us obscure. There is much to confirm the view, therefore, that the prophecy is Messianic.

5. The Virgin Birth:

The use of the word as it relates to the virgin birth of Christ and the incarnation cannot be dealt with here (see Person of Christ). These facts, however, may be noted. The Septuagint (which has parthenos, "virgin") and the Alexandrian Jews interpreted the passage as referring to the virgin birth and the Messianic ministry. This interpretation does not seem to have been sufficiently prominent to explain the rise of the idea of miraculous virgin conception and the large place it has occupied in Christological thought.

See Virgin Birth.