Christ and Isaiah 7:15
Did Jesus Have to "Learn the Difference" Between Right and Wrong?

by Tim Haile

14    "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

15    Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.

16    For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings" (Isaiah 7:14-16).

    Some brethren have been using the above passage to prove that Jesus Christ was limited to ordinary human knowledge during the days of His flesh. They appear to have overlooked the fact that the above prophecy is a dual prophecy. This means it had an imminent, literal fulfillment, perceptible to Isaiah's audience, and it also had a future, spiritual fulfillment. This later aspect of the prophecy is discussed in Matthew 1:23.

    In this article we shall see that it is a pathetic misuse and misapplication of this passage to apply all of its components to Jesus. The inspired Matthew certainly did not. He only applied verse 14 of Isaiah 7 to Jesus. What Matthew wrote about the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, he wrote by the inspiration of the Spirit (Matthew 10:19-20). No person on the earth today has the kind of guidance that Matthew had in providing commentary on the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. He was told which part of the Isaiah 7 prophecy was Messianic. Obviously, some brethren are comfortable going beyond what Matthew said, for they assert that verse 15 of Isaiah 7 also applied to Christ. By so doing, they go beyond the doctrine of Christ and become guilty of perverting Christ's gospel by adding their opinions to it (2 John 9; Gal. 1:7-9).

Why Does It Matter Whether or Not Isaiah 7:15 Refers to Christ?

    Some of our own brethren are following in the footsteps of the modernists. They are looking for Bible statements that may be easily construed to teach their unscriptural and repulsive theory that Jesus Christ possessed nothing more than ordinary human intelligence while He occupied a fleshly body. They love to apply Isaiah 7:15 to Jesus because it speaks of a child that had to learn the difference between right and wrong. By disregarding both the context of Isaiah's prophecy, and Matthew's inspired commentary on its fulfillment, these men irresponsibly and erroneously apply every component of the Isaiah prophecy to Jesus. We shall see that no one has any business applying more of the prophecy to Jesus than was applied by the inspired Matthew. This passage certainly should not be used to support the heretical doctrine that Jesus was just like us in His knowledge and abilities.

The Dual Nature of Isaiah 7:14-16

    There is absolutely no question that Isaiah 7:14 is a dual prophecy. A dual prophecy is one that has two fulfillments. The kingdom / House prophecy of 2 Samuel 7:12-13 is considered a classic example of dual prophecy. In the near future it would apply to Solomon, but in the more distant future its ultimate fulfillment would be in Christ. As stated above, Matthew tells us that Isaiah 7:14 had its ultimate fulfillment in Christ, but we must not overlook the original and immediate application of the prophecy.

    Concerning this passage, Albert Barnes says:

    "the prophet is speaking of the birth of a child which would soon take place of someone who was then a virgin - an event which could be known only to God, and which would therefore constitute a sign, or demonstration to Ahaz of the truth of what Isaiah said; but that the prophet intentionally so used language which would also mark a more important event, and direct the minds of the king, and people onward to the future birth of one who should more fully answer to all that is here said of the child that would be born, and to whom the name Immanuel would be more appropriately given. This I shall endeavour to show, must be the correct interpretation."

    Barnes clearly stated that the direct reference was to an event "that would soon take place." We must see the danger of trying to apply more of this prophecy to Jesus than the Holy Spirit intended. There are two dangerous consequences of this attempt: (1) We rob the passage of its contextual and original meaning, (2) In applying Isaiah 7:15-16 to Jesus we rob Him of His earthly omniscience and cause the scripture to be broken (John 16:30; 21:17; 10:35). This is certainly not a time when we would want to break from the ordinary rules and principles of biblical interpretation. Too much is at stake. We need to find out who is speaking, who they are speaking to, and what they are speaking about.

What Were the Immediate Circumstances of this Prophecy?

    Barnes says, "The immediate point of the inquiry was not about the ultimate and final safety of the kingdom -- which would be demonstrated indeed by the announcement that the Messiah would appear -- but it was about a present matter; about impending danger." What was this "present matter" and "impending danger?" Isaiah tells us of the immediate circumstances in chapter 7 verses 1-2. These words explain the need for the Immanuel prophecy.

    During the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, there was an alliance formed against him. Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the king of Israel, had "marched up against Jerusalem but they could not overpower it" (Isaiah 7:1). Their plans are clearly stated in Isaiah 7:6, "Let us invade Judah, let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." We are told that "the hearts of Ahaz, and of the people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind" (Isa. 7:2). It is obvious from this context that Judah was facing real and imminent danger. Unless God was "with them," they would face certain defeat!

    At God's will, Isaiah and his son, Shear-Jashub went to meet Ahaz in order to assure him that there was no cause for fear. He was told to "keep calm, and be not afraid," because an invasion "will not happen" (Isa. 7:4,7). In fact, Ephraim would even cease to be a people within 65 years (Isa. 7:8). But how could the people be assured that God would preserve and protect them? We are told in the Immanuel prophecy that God would use Assyria to defeat Syria and Israel (Isaiah 7:17; 8:7). We read of this fulfillment in 2 Kings 16:9 and 17:6 where we are told that Assyria took both Syria and Israel into captivity. But how would Judah know that God would not use Assyria to also destroy them? This is where the Immanuel prophecy comes in. Something was going to happen right before their eyes that would serve as a sign of God's protective providence.

    In Milligan's commentary on Hebrews 2:13, he devotes a considerable amount of study to the Isaiah quotes which describe both the deity and humanity of Christ. He speaks of the significance of the names that God gave to "this illustrious Prophet (Isaiah) and his two sons...The name Isaiah means salvation of Jehovah, and is nearly equivalent to the name Joshua or Jesus, which means 'Jehovah's salvation,' or 'Jehovah is salvation'." Milligan later points out the following:

    "The eldest son of Isaiah named in the Scriptures is called Shear-Jashub, which means, A remnant shall return (Isa. 7:3)... The next son mentioned was to be called Immanuel, which means, 'God with us.' This name would indicate that God was still among His people for their protection and deliverance (Isa. 7:13-16)."

    It should be noted that both Milligan and Barnes agree that Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 8:3 are referring to the birth of the same child. This means the child called "Immanuel" was also given the name "Maharshalal-Hashbaz," which means, "Haste to the spoil" - "Speed to the prey." Judah would escape Assyrian captivity because of "Immanuel", which simply means, "God was with them" (See Isaiah 8:8). This symbolic name would tell the people of Judah that "the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria would be taken away by the king of Assyria" (Isa. 8:4). We shall consider this more carefully a little later in the study.

"The Lord Himself Will Give You a Sign"
Isaiah 7:14

    While dealing with Isaiah's purpose for going to Ahaz, Barnes says:

    "It was not to assure him that the nation would be ultimately and finally safe -- which might be proved by the fact that the Messiah would come, and that, therefore, God would preserve the nation; but the pledge was that he had no need to fear this invasion, and that within a short space of time 'the land would be forsaken of both its kings'. How could the fact that the Messiah would come more than seven hundred years afterwards, prove this?"

    Barnes is right about the passage, and when men apply more of this prophecy to Jesus than the Holy Spirit intended, they rob the prophecy of its real and immediate application. The inspired writer Matthew only applied Isaiah 7:14 to Jesus. It is presumptuous and wrong to apply verses 15 and 16 to Jesus. It is especially wrong for one to do so in an attempt to prove an agenda that the incarnation stripped Jesus of the use of His divine powers. It is shameful and wrong for men who call themselves "gospel preachers" to be constantly looking for passages that they can easily misuse to prop up their concept that Jesus had ordinary knowledge and abilities.

    By respecting the contextual and chronological setting of this prophecy, we learn that the "sign" of Isaiah 7:14 was a sign for Ahaz and the people of Judah at that particular time. The "virgin birth" aspect of the prophesy was ultimately fulfilled in Christ, but we see evidence that the prophecy also refers to an event which was soon to occur. The sign was the birth of a child to some one who was then a virgin, or unmarried. The Isaiah 7:14-16 prophecy is explained in the verses which follow it, and especially in chapter 8:3-4.

    It is important for us to understand that a proper understanding and explanation of the original significance and application of this prophecy does not take away from its messianic significance. Isaiah's son "Immanuel" was a type of God's Son "Immanuel." As Milligan says:

     "Care must be taken, however, in both cases, not to press the analogies too far. The name Immanuel, as applied to the son of Isaiah, was to the chosen people of that age a sign that God was still among them as their guardian and protector; but as applied to Christ, it is indicative of His divinity, implying that He is Himself God manifest in the flesh."

    As we pointed out before, it is very obvious that Isaiah considered himself and his sons as "signs" to the people of his time. The son that was mentioned in verse 3 was called "Shear-Jashub." Notice this explanation given in Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

     "(shee ur JAY shuhb) - a remnant shall return-- a symbolic name given to a son of the prophet Isaiah in the days of King Ahaz of Judah (Is. 7:3). The name emphasized Isaiah's prophecy that a remnant of the nation would return to the land after their years of captivity in a foreign country."

    Isaiah also had another son and gave it a symbolic name. Isaiah records, "And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived and bare a son. Then said the Lord to me, Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My Father and my mother, the riches of Damascas and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away by the king of Assyria" (Isa. 8:3-4). This passage answers and explains chapter 7:14-17. Isaiah was to have a son. The birth of that son would be a sign to the people that "God is with us." That same word "Immanuel" is used again in Isaiah 8:8 to show that God was with the house of Judah. It is used again in chapter 8, verse 10 when Isaiah says the enemy's council "will not stand, for God is with us" (same word as 7:14--"Immanuel"). It is clear from this context that "Immanuel" represents God's protection of His people. They would be protected against the immediate and imminent threat of Israel and Syria, and they would also be protected from the Assyrians (Isaiah 8:7-10; 37:33-38).

    But what about the name "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz?" This has been defined as, "(hasten the booty)-- the symbolic name of the second son of the prophet Isaiah (Is. 8:1,3), signifying the doom of Damascus and Samaria and the destruction of Syria and Israel, who had formed a military alliance against Jerusalem (Is. 7:1)." The two names, "Immanuel" and "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz" worked together, in that Syria and Israel were destroyed because God was "with" Judah.

    On the Messianic side, it is interesting that Jesus also had two names. He was called "Jesus" (Saviour) and "Immanuel" (God with us) (Matthew 1:21,23). Notice the parallels in the chart below:

ISAIAH 7:14-17

ISAIAH 8:3-4

"Virgin to conceive and bear son"

"Prophetess conceived and bare son"

Called, "Immanuel" (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8,10; Matt.1:23)

Called, "Maher Shalal Hash Baz" (Hasten the booty)

Represented God's presence and protection of His people, Judah.

Represented God's punishment of Israel and Syria

"before the child shall know" (7:15)

"before the child shall know" (8:4)

"land forsaken of both kings" (vs.16)
"Rezin" of Syria and "Pekah" of Israel (vs.1)

"riches of Damascus" (Syria) "taken away"
"spoil of Samaria" (Israel) "taken away"

"BY ASSYRIA" Isaiah 7:17

"BY ASSYRIA" Isaiah 8:4

    It is very obvious that the Isaiah 7:14-17 passage had a very full meaning and application in the lives of Isaiah and Ahaz.

"Butter and Honey"

    It seems a little stange to me that what made me investigate this passage more closely was Isaiah's statement about the child eating "butter and honey that he may know to choose the good" (Isa. 7:15). Some brethren are saying that verses 15 and 16 of this passage applied to Christ in the same way that verse 14 did. They use these verses in an attemp to prove that Jesus underwent some type of moral and spiritual development. If Isaiah 7:15-16 applied to Christ, what did "butter and honey" have to do with His moral and spiritual development?

    The context of Isaiah 7 will show that verses 15 and 16 of Isaiah 7 had nothing at all to do with Jesus. The expression "butter and honey" described the good economic conditions that would exist in the days of Ahaz. In fact, just a few verses later, in Isaiah 7:22, Isaiah used this same expression again. In the context he is discussing the physical prosperity of the faithful Jews. There would be "an abundance" of food for those who are "left in the land." The child of the Isaiah prophecy who would "know to refuse the evil and choose the good," was a child who would grow up during that time of prosperity. The use of the "butter and honey" expression in both 7:15 and 7:22 is another proof that this passage had a very real and immediate application in the days of Isaiah.

    Only verse 14 of the Isaiah 7 prophecy has a dual application. In its immediate application, "Immanuel" represented God's protective presence with Judah. To Ahaz, "Immanuel" meant "God is with us" in His protective power and providence. The ultimate and absolute fulfillment was in Christ. The inspired writer Matthew only cited verse 14 of Isaiah 7 as applying to Christ (Matthew 1:23). Verses 15 and 16 of the chapter do not refer to Christ. The name "Immanuel" certainly had a special and ultimate fulfillment in Christ. In the case of Christ, "Immanuel" meant "God is with us" in actual person! God was with us "in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:1,14).


    Isaiah 7:14 is a dual prophecy. It had a real and meaningful fulfillment in the days of Ahaz, and it had its ultimate, final and absolute fulfillment in Jesus. Verses 15 and 16 of Isaiah 7 applied to the child that was to be born to Isaiah and the prophetess (8:3-4). They do not refer to Christ. God did not have to come to the earth to learn the difference between right and wrong. He did not come to the earth on the fact-finding mission that some men would have Him coming for. Jesus came to the earth as the light of the world (John 3:19; 8:12). He did not come to the earth to see if He could distinguish between light and darkness. To apply the description of the child given in Isaiah 7:15 to Jesus is to go beyond what is written. The inspired writer Matthew did not apply those words to Jesus. He only applied the words of Isaiah 7:14 (Matthew 1:23). I am quite comfortable with Matthew's commentary. Are you?

Back to the Top | Back Home