What is Isaiah 7 about?

Biblical lessay for Isaiah 7: 10-14

"See, the virgin has conceived, she gives birth to a son and will give him the name Immanuel ..." This text is around 2,700 years old. It is controversial to this day. And that has to do with translating a single word - more on that later.

First of all, the historical context in which the text was written. Towards the end of the 8th century BC, Syria and Israel press the southern empire of Judah to join the revolt against the powerful New Assyrian empire. The Judean King Ahaz is in a bind: what should he do? Make common cause with Syria and Israel? That would result in the hostility of the Assyrians. Refuse to join the covenant against Assyria? That would turn Syria and Israel against Judah.

Franz Josef Weissenböck
is a Catholic theologian and publicist

Dispute over a single word

One man stands firmly against the covenant: Isaiah, in Hebrew Jeschajahu. The name says it all and means “God saves” in German. Isaiah the prophet utters a word of consolation: The young woman, the queen, will give birth to a son. God's program of salvation continues in his person. Immanuel should be the name of the child, "God with us".

The dispute is about a single word. In the Hebrew original it is exactly like this: The young woman has conceived a child. It says “Alma” and that word means “young woman”. In the standard translation of the Bible, which has been used since 2016, the word "virgin" is used. In the footnote, however, it says: "The Hebrew word alma actually means young woman". Today's readers may be wondering why “alma” is translated as “virgin” when the word means “actually young woman”.

Predictions on Jesus

Well, that has a long history. On the one hand, it is related to the fact that very early on in Christianity the Hebrew Bible was interpreted with a view to Jesus. The words of the prophets were not perceived as commentaries on the events of their time, but as predictions, as prophecies towards Jesus. The Isaiah word was understood as a prediction of the virgin birth of Jesus from Mary; the birth of the virgin was considered evidence of Jesus' divine sonship.

Art of living
Sunday, December 22nd, 2019, 7:05 a.m., Ö1

In 165 a certain Justinos was martyred in Rome. In relation to the Jews, he defended the claim to a purely Christian truth. In his work "Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon" he vehemently defends the word about the virgin in the Isaiah text just heard. He does this with reference to the Greek translation of parts of the Hebrew Bible, which was written from the 3rd century BC. In this translation, the so-called Septuagint, the Hebrew word “alma” is actually rendered with “parthenos”, the Greek word for “virgin”.

God saves through people

Is it an exaggeration to see here a form of spiritual dispossession of the Jews by the Christians? Even if this practice has a long tradition - it doesn't get any better. The Hebrew Bible has its own dignity that should not be taken from it. Not even through reinterpretations and problematic translations.

But despite all the quarrel about words: What matters and what, in my opinion, is the only decisive factor, the name of the prophet already says: Yeschajahu, God saves. And the child's name: Immanuel, God is with us. That was the case in King Ahaz's time. That is also what people of our day can hope for.

Admittedly, this is easy to say and is in danger of becoming an empty phrase. Yes, God saves - but he does it through people. Whether God saves is up to us humans - whether we take action when others need salvation, support or solidarity.