Isa 7:14: What’s In A Name? -- By: John H. Walton

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 30:3 (Sep 1987)
Article: Isa 7:14: What’s In A Name?
Author: John H. Walton


Isa 7:14: What’s In A Name?

John H. Walton*

*John Walton is assistant professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

Not many would contest the statement that Isa 7:14 is one of the most significant passages in the discussion of the NT use of the OT or of the issue of the hermeneutics of prophecy and fulfillment. It could also be considered a major test case for the question of the extent to which hermeneutics needs to be subordinated to exegesis or exegesis to hermeneutics.

In evangelical commentaries and articles on the passage, exegesis is typically brought into subordination to hermeneutical considerations.1 So, for instance, if the commentator’s hermeneutical stance would oblige him to see Matthew’s use of Isa 7:14 as having a determinative effect on the interpretation of Isaiah, then exegesis is certain to find in the passage a reference to Jesus that was fully intended by Isaiah. I would like to spend my time first subjecting the passage before us to an exegetical analysis. Then we will use the results of exegesis to make some hermeneutical observations.

I. Context

The context of the oracle is clearly the Syro-Ephraimite war. Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Samaria, for undisclosed reasons, are in the process of besieging Jerusalem. Ahaz has been warned by the Lord in the first part of the chapter to trust in him for deliverance rather than to request Assyrian assistance. Should Ahaz fail to follow this advice, the Davidic dynasty’s existence would be threatened (as the use of the plurals in v 9 indicates] Between w 9 and 10 there is a gap of time of unknown length. While it is possible that v 10 is another oracle given at the same time, the way that it is introduced would argue for its being at a later time. I would like to suggest that it comes some weeks later after Ahaz has already made his decision and summoned Assyria, but that is only speculation.2

Whatever the timing, Isaiah’s oracle beginning in v 13 comes after Ahaz has refused to accept the offer of asking for a sign to demonstrate the Lord’s willingness to provide security for Jerusalem. In keeping with our speculation, Ahaz’ reluctance to make such a request would certainly be understandable if he had already sent to Tiglath-Pi...

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