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Immanuel, Emmanuel

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. The meaning of the concept to God’s people

a. 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).

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.

6. 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.

a. 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).

b. 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).

c. 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.

Bibliography 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.