Does Isaiah 7:14 Describe A Virgin Or A Young Woman?

Does Isaiah 7:14 Describe A Virgin Or A Young Woman?

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent 

Brent Pollard

With Christmas on Sunday, thoughts turn to the Christ child, born between 6 and 4 B.C. in Bethlehem. While the baby Jesus is the focus of most of the debate surrounding the innumerable nativity scenes that dot lawns and yards across the United States, His mother, Mary, is a divisive figure in her own right. In his purported “translation” of the Bible, Thomas Jefferson, for instance, left out the story of Jesus’ virgin birth. As with many others, Jefferson disbelieved in miracles. Before IVF, such an unconventional conception would have been unthinkable for the erudite of the Age of Enlightenment. However, some Christian groups today don’t believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. One way that the latter rationalizes their view is to point out that the word translated as “virgin” (almah) can likewise mean a young woman. 

There seems to be no reason it can’t mean both “virgin” and “young woman.” Those preoccupied with the debate over the virgin birth of Christ miss the other point of Isaiah 7.14. Aram and Israel threatened King Ahaz of Judah. Ahaz’s fear was palpable. God instructed Ahaz to request a sign to indicate Judah’s deliverance. God told Ahaz that he could even ask for something extraordinary. Ahaz was not a righteous king, but he pretended to be godly here by saying he would not test God. To this, God replied with the words most commonly associated with Jesus: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel” (NASB). God revealed that this was a sign He would send to Ahaz. Moreover, God would remove the danger posed by Aram and Israel before this child reached adulthood (Isaiah 7.16). 

I’ve seen well-intentioned brothers argue that this prophecy can only refer to Jesus’ virgin birth and that we must not permit others to interpret it as referring to a young woman. However, I wonder what good a sign concerning Christ would have done King Ahaz. Ahaz was a historical figure who existed more than 700 years before the birth of Christ. How could a messianic prophecy promise Ahaz that Judah would not fall? The answer is that it couldn’t. Ahaz required immediate fulfillment. In the following chapter, Isaiah documents the event as having been accomplished. Isaiah and his wife had a son, and his birth foretold that the Assyrians would plunder those who opposed Judah (Isaiah 8.1-4). The prophetess was not a virgin since she and Isaiah were married and had given birth to at least one of Isaiah’s children (Isaiah 7.3). Thus, a young woman was the immediate realization of the sign, but a virgin was the ultimate fulfillment. 

The sign’s demands tested the faith of Joseph and Ahaz, but Joseph succeeded where Ahaz did not. Ahaz needed to trust God and wait for the sign He promised. But Ahaz sought out the Assyrians and allied with them (2 Chronicles 28.16). Joseph was well aware that a virgin could not normally conceive a child. Therefore, he was going to dissolve his relationship with Mary privately. But an angel announced to Joseph that Mary was carrying a child the Holy Spirit conceived. Joseph believed the prophetic sign from God and acted accordingly. Joseph’s response should be ours today. Rather than quibble over the precise definition of “almah,” we should believe that God means what He says. 

Worship That Wearies God

Worship That Wearies God

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

If we are honest, some days it is easier to worship with focus and enthusiasm than others. We’re human and we struggle. With mental preparation and prayer, we can minimize the frequency of such times, but they happen to the best of us.

Have you ever thought about God getting tired of the worship brought by His people? I don’t mean worship done incorrectly and according to the will of men which violates what He commands. Apparently, He rejects such worship (Mat. 15:9). I don’t mean the idea that He gets bored and had rather skip a Sunday here and there. No such picture is ever painted of God.

But through the prophets, He repeatedly talks about being weary of the worship brought by His people. 

“I have had enough…I take no pleasure in…your worthless offerings…an abomination to me…I cannot endure…They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:11-14).

“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps” (Amos 5:21,23).

“Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you” (Malachi 1:10). 

Each prophet is dealing with specific circumstances prompting such a response from God, but it should cause us to take notice that just coming into the “meeting house” and going through the motions does not equal acceptable worship. Neither does simply following the New Testament pattern for the acts of worship. You will find in each of the passages above that the people were at the right place offering the right sacrifices on the right day led by the right people. The problem was either one of attitude, hypocrisy, or outright worldly living. Jeremiah documents how the people lived just like the world for the rest of the week, then filed into the temple to sing, “Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!” (7:4-10). 

Worship is a special privilege, to come into the presence of our Maker and Savior. At our best, we worship Him with sin and weakness in our lives. He knows that and the cross proves that He knows it. He is not expected sinless perfection, but He is looking for characteristics in our worship just beyond doctrinal accuracy.  He wants:

  • Feeling (Psalm 95:6; John 4:24).
  • Engagement (Matthew 15:8).
  • Effort (Hebrews 13:15).
  • Gratitude (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:16-17).
  • Thoughtfulness and Intentionality (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).
  • Devotion (Acts 2:42).
  • Consideration of one another (Hebrews 10:24). 

It is such a blessing that God communicates with us not only about the “what,” “when,” and “who” of worship, but also the “how” and “why” of it. When we are assembled for worship, He tells us what worship should look like. Between the assemblies, He tells us what a life looks like that partners with that worship.

God speaks of the various sacrifices of His children being a “fragrant aroma” to Him (Philippians 4:20; ). He likens the prayers of His faithful people to incense (Revelation 5:8; 8:1ff).  Jesus assures us that true worshippers offering true worship are highly sought after by God (John 4:23). That’s the aim, isn’t it? The idea of presenting God with both a worshipper and worship which enthuses Him is the pinnacle of excitement! 

Next Sunday, before we come together in worship, we can read Psalm 95, Psalm 96, Isaiah 6, or a similar chapter which reminds us of Who we get to worship. Today and every day, let us strive to build on the most recent worship we have offered by a life of faithful service and sincere devotion. That will set the table for worship God can’t wait to receive! 

Motivation For Attending Church Services

Motivation For Attending Church Services

Neal Pollard

“An Italian newspaper recently carried an interesting story about a young couple in Milan who had a wonderful attendance record at a particular cathedral. The priest assumed they were very devoted to their faith because they regularly spent an hour before one of the statues in the church’s worship area.  He thought they were doing some intense praying.  Only later did he discover the couple simply came to re-charge their cell phone from the electrical outlet behind the statue” (King Duncan, via Waterview, Richardson, TX, 3/16/14).

My first reaction to that was to chuckle, then be a little indignant, and then become introspective.  The thought that someone may come to church services for apparent honorable intentions but be serving some baser motive may be shocking, but it is not unheard of.  Jesus taught, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Mat. 15:9).  Jesus is quoting Isaiah, and it was a problem in that prophet’s day, too.  Think of what another prophet wrote.  Ezekiel said, “They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain” (Ezek. 33:31).

When I come before the Great I Am, not only must I keep from distractions.  Deeper than that, I must examine my overall motivation for being at worship or serving the Lord.  Why am I a Christian?  Self-examination is as important as any spiritual exercise there is (2 Cor. 13:5).  Nobody else may know why we are before the Lord in worship, but He does.  May He see our motivation as transparent and true, honest and sincere!  

Space & Scripture 

Space & Scripture 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

THE WAY UP THERE

Dale Pollard

“If you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm’s length, that is the part of the universe you are seeing — just one little speck of the universe…”

NASA Administrator  Bill Nelson

Isaiah Chapter 40

“Surely you understand who made the earth. It is the Lord who sits above the circle of the earth.” 

V.21b-22a

“He rolled open the skies like a piece of cloth…He stretched out the skies like a tent to sit under.”

V.22b

Lift up your eyes on high and see: 

who created these? Who created all those armies in the sky?

Who knows every star by name?

“He is very strong and powerful,

so not one of these stars is lost.

Surely you know the truth.
Surely you have heard.

The Lord is the God who lives forever!”

V.26-28a

The Invitation Song

The Invitation Song

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

carl-pic

Carl Pollard

Some of the most powerful messages are often delivered through song. If you want to really show someone how much you love them, you write a song. If you want to tell others about yourself or your family, you write a song. Songs are a great way to get across a message in a powerful way. In the church we sing songs for several reasons.
 
Paul tells us in Col. 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
‭We sing to help the word of God dwell in our hearts. We sing to teach each other. We sing admonish and correct. We sing out of thankfulness for God. Since there are so many different reasons we sing, each song has a different message. Some are encouraging, some are reminders, and some are a plea to the sinner. We call some of these “invitation songs. ” And usually these are sung after a lesson as a way to encourage lost souls to respond and return.
 
“Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet” identifies a major problem that has plagued man since the Garden of Eden, our sin. The choices we make, the way we live, has stained us. This song calls to our attention the sin problem of man. This song is based on Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
This invitation song shows us the blessing that Christ has given. Though we’ve been stained by sin, they shall become like snow. Pure, holy, undefiled. If you’ve ever spilled grape juice on a white T-shirt, that’s the imagery.
 
Sin has ruined our hearts, but Christ is the perfect stain remover. He is able to remove every spot and blemish. Rom. 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Do we really think that we could live up to the glory of God himself? Could we have fixed this sin problem on our own? No. And we sing this song to remind us of WHO our solution is.
 
Through the gift of Christ they will be removed. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
 
On an old rugged cross Jesus paid it all, and all to him I owe. I come just as I am, but I surrender all. Will you cherish the old rugged cross? Do you recognize the blessing and the blood that has washed us whiter than snow?
 
 
One of my favorite preachers delivering the invitation in Lexington, KY (2018)
“Charakter”

“Charakter”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Safari 2017

Neal Pollard

Character is defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual and involves a person’s good reputation. The Greek word “charakter” first referred to the die used in minting coins, then came to include the sense of an image, stamp, seal, or copy. The Greeks used the word to speak of the typical features of an individual or nation, from which came the idea of “moral character” and then “the “distinctiveness” of a language, the “style” of a writer, or a “type” of philosophy (Kittel and Bromiley, TDNT, 1308). Arndt tells us the word means something produced as a representation or reproduction, and that human beings are formed by God as a representation of His own identity (1078).

The word is only found in the Bible in Hebrews 1:3. The epistle’s writer is describing Jesus, saying, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” It is an absolutely amazing truth that we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), but the writer of Hebrews is saying something even more powerful about Jesus in Hebrews 1:3. He was not created by God as a reflection of God’s identity. The writer uses this specific word in Hebrews as part of His explanation that the Son is God! The NASB and NIV translate χαρακτήρ (CHARAKTER) as “exact representation.” The ESV has “exact imprint,” the NKJV has “express image,” the NLT says “expresses the very character of God,” and the ASV puts “the very image of His substance.” 

The author of this epistle leads out in his overall theme that Jesus is better by establishing the most important reason why. He is God. The writer uses Old Testament Scripture to prove it, citing Psalm 45 and Isaiah 61 to call Him God (Heb. 1:8-9). He then quotes Psalm 102:25 to say of Jesus, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth….” Then, in Hebrews 1:13, he quotes Psalm 110:1, which begins, “The LORD (Yahweh) said to my Lord (Adonai)….”

Let’s not miss the initial point of the letter driven home by the unknown writer. With a multitude of Old Testament passages, he proves this point about the essential character of Jesus Christ. He is God. He is as much God as Father and Holy Spirit. He is as powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent, perfect, sovereign, transcendent, self-existent, eternal–He is as Divine as Deity can be. 

That makes His willingness to be made a little while lower than the angels to taste death for everyone (Heb. 2:9) and to call us His brethren (2:11ff) all the more incredible. God lowered Himself not only to save us but to make us part of His family. We could spend the rest of the day meditating on that profound truth and still not fully grasp it. 

Here’s the question. God made us, became  one of us, died for us, and then opened the door to us to be His brother. What does that say about His character? As we try to fathom and appreciate that, it should give rise to another question? How should that affect  our character?

Word Studies: “MAJESTY”

Word Studies: “MAJESTY”

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

We will be looking at the word “majesty” by request in today’s article. This series will look at words used in our English translations that aren’t used in modern communication or are otherwise unusual. Today, majesty usually shows up as an adjective for natural phenomena (a majestic sunrise/sunset, majestic scene, etc.). 

As a disclaimer, Hebrew studies are not my forte. For those of you with a knowledge of Hebrew, I welcome corrections. All material concerning Hebrew usage comes from the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament or Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament: Volume 5. 

In the Old Testament, it is used to describe the beauty or awesomeness of nature. Leviticus 23.40 uses “splendid.” In Isaiah 53.2, and it means “physically attractive.” Being impressive or inspiring awe/wonder is how the word is used in reference to God, although descriptions of kings are also appropriate (Isaiah 35.2). Speaking of royalty, majesty is used to describe their power and accomplishments (see Daniel 4.30, 5.18 for examples). In the Old Testament, majesty can be understood as impressive, having honor, or as the effect left on an observer of a display of power or awesomeness. 

In the New Testament, it means to have high respect or incredible qualities (see II Peter 1.16). In that passage, Peter says that he was a firsthand witness of the majesty of Jesus. This is incredible, considering Isaiah 53 says that His appearance wasn’t special or spectacular. The majesty Jesus had on earth was due to His nature, not His appearance. Majesty is also used in reference to having high respect because of an impressive performance or display of power (Luke 9.43). In that passage, Jesus healed a boy who had a particularly violent demon. After returning him to a normal state, witnesses were blown away at God’s majesty. It was obvious that the power necessary to correct the boy’s issues was preternatural. They observed an incredible event and understood its source to be God’s power. That power is an aspect of God’s majesty. 

We are impressed with God’s majesty when we look at nature. The universe is vast and incredible! There are stars so massive they make the sun look puny. Even single-cell organisms on earth are incredibly complex. As advanced as medical science is today, we still do not understand many of the processes of the body. Count how many times some variant of the phrase, “We’re not sure how this works,” is used in clinical studies on multiple classes of medications or treatments. The complexity of our makeup is awe-inspiring! When we are impressed by nature’s power or beauty, we get a glimpse of God’s majesty. 

The Benefits Of Finding Ourselves In Scripture

The Benefits Of Finding Ourselves In Scripture

Neal Pollard

Given his job, the Ethiopian of Acts 8 was one of that country’s most important people. Yet, he was more than important. He was very religious, apparently a proselyte (convert) to the Jewish faith. He didn’t restrict his religion to the assemblies. He read his Bible even when he was going about his secular tasks (Acts 8:28). Though he could not enter the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1), he made the long and grueling trip from northern Africa to Palestine and was returning home. Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament passage he was reading when Philip joined him in his chariot. Reading Acts 8:32-33, we recognize the place as Isaiah 53:7-8. The Eunuch was trying to find out about who Isaiah wrote about, “of himself or of some other man” (Acts 8:34). Philip preached Jesus to him and he became a Christian (Acts 8:35-39).

Those are essentially the facts. Yet, I wonder how coincidental it was that the Eunuch was reading from that part of Old Testament scripture. This African official likely had a scroll containing the entire prophecy of Isaiah, which was not divided into the individual chapters like they are today. It would seem that the context in which Isaiah 53 occurs would be of particular interest to this man. Flip forward a few chapters to Isaiah 56. Isaiah is telling foreigners and eunuchs not to look down on themselves (3-5).

This official of Candace was very likely not some hopeless non-Jew looking for a crumb from the Jews’ table. He had the great hope and promise of Scripture. Perhaps this portion of Isaiah was of particular motivation and inspiration to him. For Philip to explain that the time of that prophecy had now been fulfilled, that access to this promise was now available, certainly led the Eunuch to urgently respond and enthusiastically react. Jesus was the One referenced in Isaiah 53, but he (the Eunuch) was the one referenced in Isaiah 56. No, not just him, but all like him–one from the “all nations” of Isaiah 56:7 who could reap the benefits brought by the “Sin-bearing Servant” of Isaiah 53 and the one who would “sprinkle many nations” (52:15).

I hope that you read your Bible with the same hunger and expectation. Perhaps there are portions that bring you greater hope and expectation, that speak with greater poignancy to your life’s circumstances. The Bible is a book filled with wonderful, relevant promises. Trust them. Let them bear you along through the rough spots of life. God designed the Bible to be a book of hope and inspiration, but it cannot do us any good unless and until we consult it! Find yourself in the Bible!

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