IMMANUEL (ĭ-măn'ū-ĕl, Heb. ‘immānû’ēl, God is with us). The name of a child (occurring three times in the Bible—
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,
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 (
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
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 (
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.
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 (
The beginning of the concept of “God with us.”
The prophecy in
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?” (
Moses then asked what he should give as the name of the God who is with us (
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 (
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 (
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
Once Yahweh is used in connection with the concept of “God with” in speaking of Abraham (
Then after another lapse of time Yahweh is said to be with Asa (
In a more general sense Yahweh is said to be with “the good” (2 Chron 19:12); the believer when he calls on God (
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 (
Secondly, it means that they need not fear evil or be dismayed (
In the third place, they learn that if Yahweh is with them, they lack nothing (
The concept then will bring to them peace (
The concept of God with His people is the great distinguishing mark between Israel and the rest of mankind (
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
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 (
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 (
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 (
Christ with us forever.
When Jesus was on earth, He prayed that the believers should be with Him forever (
The term “Immanuel” is directly related to the Biblical doctrine of the presence of God with His people, so clearly promised in
W. DeBurgh, The Messianic Prophecies of Isaiah (1863), 41-78; W. Arnold, “The Divine Name in
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The name occurs but 3 times, twice in the
1. Isaiah Rebukes Ahaz:
2. The Sign of "Immanuel":
He then proceeds to give him a sign from God Himself, the sign of "Immanuel" (
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 (
Immanuel, in the prophetic economy, evidently stands on the same level with Shear-jashub (
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 (
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 (
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.