on Matthew 1 :23
Behold, a virgin shall be with child - We have already seen, from the preceding verse, that this prophecy is taken from Isaiah 7:14; but it may be necessary to consider the circumstances of the original promise more particularly. At the time referred to, the kingdom of Judah, under the government of Ahaz, was reduced very low. Pekah, king of Israel, had slain in Judea 120,000 persons in one day, and carried away captives 200,000, including women and children, together with much spoil. To add to their distress, Rezin, king of Syria, being confederate with Pekah, had taken Elath, a fortified city of Judah, and carried the inhabitants away captive to Damascus. In this critical conjuncture, need we wonder that Ahaz was afraid that the enemies who were now united against him must prevail, destroy Jerusalem, and the kingdom of Judah, and annihilate the family of David! To meet and remove this fear, apparently well grounded, Isaiah is sent from the Lord to Ahaz, swallowed up now both by sorrow and by unbelief, in order to assure him that the counsels of his enemies should not stand; and that they should be utterly discomfited. To encourage Ahaz, he commands him to ask a sign or miracle, which should be a pledge in hand, that God should, in due time, fulfill the predictions of his servant, as related in the context. On Ahaz humbly refusing to ask any sign, it is immediately added, Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son; and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, etc. Both the Divine and human nature of our Lord, as well as the miraculous conception, appear to be pointed out in the prophecy quoted here by the evangelist: - He shall be called עמנו־אל IM-MENU-EL; literally, The Strong God with Us: similar to those words in the New Testament: - The Word which was God - was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth: John 1:1, John 1:14. And, God was manifested in the flesh: 1 Timothy 3:16. So that we are to understand, God with us, to imply God incarnated - God in human nature. This seems farther evident from the words of the prophet, Isaiah 7:15. Butter and honey shall he eat - he shall be truly man, grow up and be nourished in a human, natural way; which refers to his being With Us, i.e. incarnated. To which the prophet adds, That he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good: - or rather, According to his knowledge, לדעתו le-daato, reprobating the evil, and choosing the good. This refers to him as God; and is the same idea given by this prophet, Isaiah 53:11 : By (or in) his knowledge (the knowledge of Christ crucified, בדעתו be-daato) shall my righteous servant sanctify many; for he shall bear their offenses. Now this union of the Divine and human nature is termed a sign or miracle, אות oth, i.e. something which exceeds the power of nature to produce. And this miraculous union was to be brought about in a miraculous way: Behold a Virgin shall conceive: the word is very emphatic, העלמה ha-almah, The virgin; the only one that ever was, or ever shall be, a mother in this way. But the Jews, and some called Christians, who have espoused their desperate cause, assert, that "the word עלמה almah does not signify a Virgin only; for it is applied, Proverbs 30:19, to signify a young married woman." I answer, that this latter text is no proof of the contrary doctrine: the words דרך גבר בעלמה derec geber be-almah, the way of a man with a maid, cannot be proved to mean that for which it is produced: beside, one of De Rossi's MSS. reads בעלמיו be-almaiu, the way of a strong, or stout, man (גבר geber) In His Youth; and in this reading the Syriac, Septuagint, Vulgate, and Arabic agree, which are followed by the first version in the English language, as it stands in a MS. in my own possession - the weie of a man in his waring youthe; so that this place, the only one that can with any probability of success be produced, were the interpretation contended for correct, which I am by no means disposed to admit, proves nothing. Beside, the consent of so many versions in the opposite meaning deprives it of much of its influence in this question.
The word עלמה almah, comes from עלם alam, to lie hid, be concealed; and we are told that "virgins were so called, because they were concealed or closely kept up in their fathers' houses, till the time of their marriage." This is not correct: see the case of Rebecca, Genesis 24:43 (note), and my note there: that of Rachel, Genesis 29:6, Genesis 29:9, and the note there also: and see the case of Miriam, the sister of Moses, Exodus 2:8, and also the Chaldee paraphrase on Lamentations 1:4, where the virgins are represented as going out in the dance. And see also the whole history of Ruth. This being concealed, or kept at home, on which so much stress is laid, is purely fanciful; for we find that young unmarried women drew water, kept sheep, gleaned publicly in the fields, etc., etc., and the same works they perform among the Turcomans to the present day. This reason, therefore, does not account for the radical meaning of the word; and we must seek it elsewhere. Another well known and often used root in the Hebrew tongue will cast light on this subject. This is גלה galah, which signifies to reveal, make manifest, or uncover, and is often applied to matrimonial connections, in different parts of the Mosaic law: עלם alam, therefore, may be considered as implying the concealment of the virgin, as such, till lawful marriage had taken place. A virgin was not called עלמה almah, because she was concealed by being kept at home in her father's house, which is not true, but literally and physically, because, as a woman, she had not been uncovered - she had not known man. This fully applies to the blessed virgin: see Luke 1:34. "How can this be, seeing I know no man?" and this text throws much light on the subject before us. This also is in perfect agreement with the ancient prophecy, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent," Genesis 3:15; for the person who was to destroy the work of the devil was to be the progeny of the woman, without any concurrence of the man. And, hence, the text in Genesis speaks as fully of the virgin state of the person, from whom Christ, according to the flesh, should come, as that in the prophet, or this in the evangelist. According to the original promise, there was to be a seed, a human being, who should destroy sin; but this seed or human being must come from the woman Alone; and no woman Alone, could produce such a human being, without being a virgin. Hence, A virgin shall bear a son, is the very spirit and meaning of the original text, independently of the illustration given by the prophet; and the fact recorded by the evangelist is the proof of the whole. But how could that be a sign to Ahaz, which was to take place so many hundreds of years after? I answer, the meaning of the prophet is plain: not only Rezin and Pekah should be unsuccessful against Jerusalem at that time, which was the fact; but Jerusalem, Judea, and the house of David, should be both preserved, notwithstanding their depressed state, and the multitude of their adversaries, till the time should come when a Virgin should bear a son. This is a most remarkable circumstance - the house of David could never fail, till a virgin should conceive and bear a son - nor did it: but when that incredible and miraculous fact did take place, the kingdom and house of David became extinct! This is an irrefragable confutation of every argument a Jew can offer in vindication of his opposition to the Gospel of Christ. Either the prophecy in Isaiah has been fulfilled, or the kingdom and house of David are yet standing. But the kingdom of David, we know, is destroyed: and where is the man, Jew or Gentile, that can show us a single descendant of David on the face of the earth? The prophecy could not fail - the kingdom and house of David have failed; the virgin, therefore, must have brought forth her son - and this son is Jesus, the Christ. Thus Moses, Isaiah, and Matthew concur; and facts, the most unequivocal, have confirmed the whole! Behold the wisdom and providence of God!
Notwithstanding what has been said above, it may be asked, In what sense could this name Immanuel be applied to Jesus Christ, if he be not truly and properly God? Could the Spirit of truth ever design that Christians should receive him as an angel or a mere man, and yet, in the very beginning of the Gospel history, apply a character to him which belongs only to the most high God? Surely no. In what sense, then, is Christ God With Us? Jesus is called Immanuel, or God with us, in his incarnation. - God united to our nature - God with man - God in man. - God with us, by his continual protection. - God with us, by the influences of his Holy Spirit - in the holy sacrament - in the preaching of his word - in private prayer. And God with us, through every action of our life, that we begin, continue, and end in his name. He is God with us, to comfort, enlighten, protect, and defend us in every time of temptation and trial, in the hour of death, in the day of judgment; and God with us, and in us, and we with and in him, to all eternity.
on Matthew 1 :23
Behold, a virgin shall be with child - Matthew clearly understands this as applying literally to a virgin. Compare Luke 1:34. It thus implies that the conception of Christ was miraculous, or that the body of the Messiah was created directly by the power of God, agreeably to the declaration in Hebrews 10:5; "Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me."
And they shall call his name Emmanuel - That is, his name shall be so called. See the notes at Isaiah 7:14. The word "Immanuel" is a Hebrew word, צמנוּאל ‛immânû'êl; cf. Ἐμμανουήλ Emmanouēl, and literally means "God with us." Matthew doubtless understands it as denoting that the Messiah was really "God with us," or that the divine nature was united with the human. He does not affirm that this was its meaning when used in reference to the child to whom it was first applied, but this is its signification as applicable to the Messiah. It was suitably expressive of his character; and in this sense it was fulfilled. When first used by Isaiah, it denoted simply that the birth of the child was a sign that God was with the Jews to deliver them. The Hebrews often incorporated the name of Yahweh, or God, into their proper names. Thus, Isaiah means "the salvation of Yah;" Eleazer, "help of God:" Eli, "my God," etc. But Matthew evidently intends more than was denoted by the simple use of such names. He had just given an account of the miraculous conception of Jesus: of his being begotten by the Holy Spirit. God was therefore his Father. He was divine as well as human. His appropriate name, therefore, was "God with us." And though the mere use of such a name would not prove that he had a divine nature, yet as Matthew uses it, and meant evidently to apply it, it does prove that Jesus was more than a man; that he was God as well as man. And it is this which gives glory to the plan of redemption. It is this which is the wonder of angels. It is this which makes the plan so vast, so grand, so full of instruction and comfort to Christians. See Philippians 2:6-8. It is this which sheds such peace and joy into the sinner's heart; which gives him such security of salvation, and which renders the condescension of God in the work of redemption so great and his character so lovely.
"Till God in human flesh Isee,
My thoughts no comfort find,
The holy, just, and sacred Three
Are terror to my mind.
But if immanuel's face appears,
My hope, my joy, begins.
His grace removes my slavish fears.
His blood removes my sins."
For a full examination of the passage, see Barnes' notes at Isaiah 7:14.
on Matthew 1 :23
1:23 They shall call his name Emmanuel - To be called, only means, according to the Hebrew manner of speaking, that the person spoken of shall really and effectually be what he is called, and actually fulfil that title. Thus, Unto us a child is born - and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace - That is, he shall be all these, though not so much nominally, as really, and in effect. And thus was he called Emmanuel; which was no common name of Christ, but points out his nature and office; as he is God incarnate, and dwells by his Spirit in the hearts of his people. It is observable, the words in Isaiah are, Thou (namely, his mother) shalt call; but here, They - that is, all his people, shall call - shall acknowledge him to be Emmanuel, God with us. Which being interpreted - This is a clear proof that St. Matthew wrote his Gospel in Greek, and not in Hebrew. Isaiah 7:14.