Born of a virgin | Isaiah 9

Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

The Messiah that is revealed in both the Tenach and the New Testament differs to the concept of the Messiah advanced by modern rabbinical Judaism. The area of sharpest disagreement is that the rabbis teach that Messiah is a mere man, conceived in the ordinary way, whereas we maintain that the Messiah that is revealed in Scripture is Immanuel – God with us. The idea that the Messiah would be born of a virgin has been vigorously contested by modern Judaism, but the crux of the matter is not so much that the rabbis reject the virgin birth, but that they reject the divinity of the Messiah. Modern rabbinical Judaism has evolved into a humanistic religion based upon man’s effort to redeem himself rather than faith in God’s intervention to save mankind.

The modern ideas of the Messiah were influenced by rationalism, a system of philosophy that denies the supernatural. Victor Buksbazen, a Hebrew-Christian scholar, wrote: “In the final analysis, the question of the virgin birth of Messiah resolves itself in the question whether we believe in God, what kind of God we believe in, and whether we believe God.”1 The verse in question goes much further than merely stating that a virgin will conceive. It heralds the incarnation – God with us in human form! The real miracle is not that the Messiah should be born of a virgin, but that the pre-existent Messiah would clothe himself in humanity and dwell among us. What I would like to demonstrate from the Scriptures is that the Messiah is more than just an ordinary man and that the miraculous nature of his birth anticipated the miraculous nature of his ministry.

Often those whom God had called for a special purpose were conceived in extraordinary circumstances and these should be seen as portents of the miraculous birth of the Messiah himself. Isaac, the son of promise, was born to Abraham and Sarah long after Sarah’s age of childbearing was past to show that it was God’s hand that would accomplish the promise, not their human effort. The LORD rebuked Sarah’s scepticism by saying, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Abraham had been given the promise that all nations would be blessed through his seed – a forecast of the Messiah who would come through the nation of Israel.

It was fitting therefore that the birth of Isaac should be wrought through a miracle from God, a portent of the even greater miracle of the conception of the Messiah in the womb of a virgin. The angel who announced to Mary that she was to be honoured by giving birth to the Messiah recalled the words that the LORD had spoken to Sarah – “For nothing is impossible with God.” Other important biblical characters such as Joseph, Samson and the prophet Samuel were all born to mothers who were barren, to show that it was God who enabled them to conceive. How much more miraculous should the birth of the Messiah be?

Let us first examine the specific text to establish whether the Scripture is a prophecy of the virgin birth. The argument is that Isaiah was speaking only of ‘a young woman’ and not of ‘a virgin’ who would give birth to a son, and that this prophecy was fulfilled either in the birth of Isaiah’s own son or in the birth of King Ahaz’s son.

In the strictest sense the Hebrew word “almah” means simply a young woman of marriageable age, but to determine its meaning in this scripture we must look at how it is used in other scriptures and to its context. Walter Riggans wrote: “The feminine noun which Isaiah uses here (almah) is found nine times in the Hebrew Bible, but never, significantly, in any clear context of a woman who is not a virgin. It certainly seems impossible to establish that any of the uses of the word could involve a non-virgin. The term is one which presupposes virginity in any young woman who is described by it, reflecting the assumption of the culture which used the term. The assumption would certainly be that any unmarried, sexually mature woman would be a virgin.”2 Others have amply demonstrated why the word “almah” was understood by the ancient authorities to refer to a ‘virgin’ rather than merely a ‘young married woman’ and I have taken the following extract from a leaflet by Leopold Cohn to illustrate the point.

“How do I know that “almah” means a virgin? Does it not mean the wife of Isaiah? To find out the exact meaning of “almah,” we must consult other passages in the Bible where it is used:

  1. In Genesis 24:43 we read, “and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin (almah) cometh forth to draw water…” These words spoken by Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, who was sent to find a wife for Isaac, and he certainly could not have meant a married woman.
  2. We find the word “almah” also in Exodus 2:8, “And the maid (almah) went.” This was Moses’ sister. Nobody will deny that she was an unmarried woman.
  3. The word is next used in Psalm 68:25, “damsels playing with timbrels.”
  4. The word is used again, in two places, in the Song of Solomon; “therefore do the virgins love thee.” (1:3). This cannot mean married women.
  5. The second place in the Song of Solomon is in 6:8, “virgins without number.”
  6. Finally, we find it in Proverbs 30:19, “the way of a man with a maid (almah).”

When we examine all of the above passages, we cannot find a single one where the word “almah” definitely means a married woman, or a widow. Therefore, the meaning of the prophet Isaiah admits of no uncertainty when he says, “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son…” For this reason he calls it a “sign” – a miracle. It was indeed a miracle – a woman without a husband having a child through the power of God, who, speaks and it is done, who commands and it stands fast. Now you will say, “But certain modern Hebrew scholars contend that ‘almah’ in its strictest etymological sense does not necessarily mean virgin, and that it may mean any young woman who has reached maturity.”

Modern Hebrew scholars who make such a contention ignore two important principles of interpretation where the translation of a dead language such as Biblical Hebrew is concerned, namely, (1) that some words like “almah”, do not have the same meaning in modern Hebrew as they have in Biblical Hebrew; and (2) no matter what the etymological analysis of a word may show, it is usage that determines its final meaning.

We have shown that in every case where the word “almah” is used in the Hebrew Bible, it invariably means a virgin and nothing else – The claim that “b’toolah” should have been used in the Isaiah 7:14 passage, if a virgin had been the meaning, is shown to be false when a text containing this word is examined, such as Joel 1:8, “Lament like a virgin (b’toolah) girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.”

Even Rashi admits that there were some Jewish scholars who believed that the word “almah” used in Isaiah 7:14 meant a virgin. (Warsaw Edition 1902.p.27)3 ” [Rashi was inconsistent or perhaps biased in his translation of the term ‘almah’ which he translated as ‘young woman’ in Isa 7:14 but as virgin in the Song of Songs].”

To establish how the ancient synagogue understood the meaning of “almah” we can look at how it was translated into other languages even before the New Testament was written. The seventy Hebrew scholars who translated the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Old Testament – translated it into the Greek word “parthenos” which unambiguously means virgin. As this is a wholly unbiased witness, predating the birth of Christ by more than two hundred years, it is highly significant. The bias is on the side of the Rabbis who came after Christ, who, having rejected the Messiah, elected to undermine God’s word that testifies about Him.

If we consider the context – that it was meant to be a sign from the Almighty Himself, not just for Ahaz, but for all Israel – there is no sense in the word sign if the word Almah meant a young married woman. There is nothing significant about a young married woman conceiving. It is the most natural thing in the world. God spoke through the prophet to King Ahaz, saying, ‘The LORD Himself will give you a sign, behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.’ (Leopold Cohn goes into much more detail on the background and meaning of the ‘sign’ given to Ahaz and Israel in his leaflet, “Behold the virgin”). Neither Isaiah’s nor Ahaz’s son were ever called Immanuel. Some may argue that Jesus wasn’t called Immanuel either, but in fact throughout the New Testament Scriptures Jesus is regularly referred to as God with us ie. Immanuel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. — The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:1 2,14).

Let us now look at some other prophecies concerning the Messiah to see whether they can be applied to a mere man.

1) The seed of the woman:

The very first prophecy concerning the coming Redeemer was given immediately after Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and had become conscious of their nakedness before God. God said that the promised Redeemer would be born of the seed of the woman: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers, he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) [This also refers to the suffering of Messiah]. The conception of ordinary men is not spoken of as through the seed of the woman. This is used uniquely of the Messiah, alluding to the virgin birth.

2) The Pre-existence of the Messiah:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times [from days of eternity]” (Micah 5:2).

This tells us plainly that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, but that his existence is actually from days of eternity. How could the Messiah, if he were conceived by the seed of mortal man, be spoken of as having his origins from days of eternity? Now consider the testimony of Jesus who was born in Bethlehem of the house of David:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I AM!”
At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds (John 8:56 59).

Jesus claimed to have existed before Abraham was born and the words he used to make such a bold claim were the very same words used by the LORD himself when Moses asked whom he should say had sent him. “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14). It is apparent from the reaction of the Jews that they understood precisely what he was saying by this as they were ready to stone him for blasphemy.

3) The Titles of the Messiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6 7)

This description of the Messiah, coming as it does just a couple of chapters after the prophet has spoken of the sign of the virgin birth, is clearly elaborating on the child who is to be called “Immanuel” emphasizing the fact that the Messiah is indeed God with us in human form. In some well-known English translations of Isaiah 9:6 by Jewish scholars the part of the verse which refers to what he will be called is not translated, but merely transliterated as follows, “…and his name is called Pele-yo’ez-el-gibbor-abi-ad-sar-shalom…”4

In others the text is manipulated to diminish the impact of the words, but a literal translation from the original Hebrew reads: “For a child is born to us; a son is given to us; and the government is on His shoulder; and his name will be called Wonderful-Counsellor, God of Might, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.”

4) The Divinity of the Messiah:

In Jeremiah (23:5-6), which is an undisputed reference to the Messiah, He is called by the name Jehovah — Our Righteousness: Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

In this passage the term rendered LORD is the Tetragrammaton (YHWH). The prophet Isaiah (ch.11) gives further insight into the Messiah who is called the Branch out of Jesse.

5) Messiah – the Son of David:

The Messiah is called the ‘son of David’ yet King David himself refers to him as ‘my Lord’. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Psalm 110:1)
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:7 9)

Jesus, in his humanity, inherited the legal right to the throne of David as a direct descendent through his adoptive father, Joseph, although Joseph was not his biological father. In fulfilment of prophecy God gave us His son, whose origins were from eternity, to be born as a child in Bethlehem. His counsel was indeed wonderful for he spoke only what the Father told him to say. He was Immanuel -‘God with us’ inaugurating the New Covenant with Israel which God had promised through the prophets (Jeremiah 31:31).

Those who deny the divinity of the Messiah cannot conceive of God appearing in human form, dwelling among his people and sharing in their humanity. Man was created in the image of God and Adam and Eve had fellowship with God in the garden, but when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil their “self-consciousness,” brought about by their sin, made them feel ashamed and they hid themselves from God.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. The man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:7 10)

No person living within the flesh can look upon God and live, although we are made in the image of God. For the sake of man’s sinful and shameful condition which separates us from the presence of God, God was prepared to send his own Son into the world, setting aside the glory of the eternal God in order to take our humanity upon himself and thus redeem us from the curse of sin. The Hebrew people who encountered the glory of Almighty God were also terrified and wished to hide themselves from him. It was to this that Moses referred when he reminded the Hebrew people that they had asked for a mediator between themselves and God:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die.” The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:15 19).

In fulfilment of God’s word spoken to Moses, Jesus was born as the Son of God, God’s Word manifested in the flesh. Jesus said:

“There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (John 12:48)

Jesus our Messiah, who existed from days of eternity, is that righteous Branch who came as the mediator of the New Covenant, clothed in human flesh. He laid down his life to redeem us to God and when his body was broken upon the cross, “his appearance was disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness…”(Isaiah 52:14). The instant that he died the veil in the temple, which separated men from the presence of God, was torn from top to bottom. As the prophet Isaiah had foreseen,

“he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

King David prophesied that the Messiah would not be abandoned to the grave; “…because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:10). [See also Acts 2:25 36]. God would not leave his Son in the grave and as miraculously as he was conceived in human form, his body was raised from the dead and glorified once again. The following is the testimony of the disciple John, who had lived and walked with Jesus in the flesh, after his encounter with Jesus in his glorified form:

“I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’” (Revelation 1:12 18)

Jesus, by declaring himself to be the First and the Last, was proclaiming his oneness with God:
“This is what the LORD says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me?” (Isaiah 44:6)

Now compare the vision of John with those of the prophet Daniel:

“As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.” . . . . “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:9,13,14)

“I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.” (Daniel 10:5,6)

Daniel’s vision confirms that the Messiah is worthy to receive worship. The Messiah was “like a son of man” in appearance, but he was given honour, glory, dominion and worship that are due to God alone. How could it be possible for the Messiah to be worshipped if he is merely a mortal man? That would be idolatry. How do we reconcile this image of the Messiah, coming with the clouds of heaven into the presence of the Ancient of Days to be given sovereign power and to receive worship from men of every language and nation, with the idea that he is a mere man?

The messianic prophecies are not to be seen in isolation, but as lampposts pointing us to the Messiah. If we ignore the light of God’s word in favour of human commentaries, we will be walking in darkness. God himself came into the world as the light of the world, but some preferred to remain in darkness. This is the testimony of God’s word concerning his Son and we will do well to pay attention to it:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God; children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

Rabbinical Judaism teaches that the Messiah will be an ordinary man, conceived in the ordinary way, but that he will accomplish the most extraordinary feats to redeem Israel and will reign upon the throne of David forever. Our rational minds may rebel against the concept of a virgin birth, but it is harder to reconcile the Scriptures which speak of the eternal existence of the Messiah, who is given titles that can only be applied to God himself and who comes with the clouds of heaven and is led into the presence of the Ancient of Days to be seated at the right hand of the Father, with the idea that he is just an ordinary man. In Jesus both the extraordinary prophecies concerning the eternal existence of the Messiah and the lowly prophecies concerning his birth in Bethlehem, his suffering and rejection, are fulfilled. He came clothed in humility, in human flesh, but because he existed from eternity he triumphed over the grave and was raised again to glory to obtain for us eternal life. He is the son of David who will reign upon David’s throne forever.


1. Miriam -The virgin of Nazareth pg.85
2. Yeshua Ben David pg. 355
3.Behold the virgin! By Leopold Cohn, DD.
4.Jewish Publication Society © 1917 The Jerusalem Bible (Koren Publishers Jerusalem) © 2000