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The Christmas Victory
As the Chritmas season approaches, I figured it's a good time to submit the following article:
THE CHRISTMAS VICTORY
A logical and practical interpretation of Is.7:14 in the light of context and language.
As you celebrate Christmas, sending out cards, putting up the tree with bright lights and decorations and getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of gift-buying, do you stop to ask yourself what is the real meaning of Christmas? If you do, what is your answer? Simply that a babe was born in a manger 2000 years ago?
But then, do ask how does it apply to me? I'm sure some of you would say that of course the babe was our Savior, who would later die for our sins. True, but even this doesn't go quite far enough. In fact, it makes Christmas seem somewhat subordinate to Good Friday, which, according to some, should be the major holiday we celebrate and not Christmas. I believe however that if we would realize the full intent of His coming as given by God in the Holy Scriptures, we would see that we have good reason for making Christmas the major holiday it is and for celebrating to the hilt.
What, you ask, is the full intent of His coming? It is not simply that without his birth there would not have been His death, but rather that His birth was, in itself, a sign and guarantee both of this death and of the salvation it would bring in all it's fullness. This fullness includes not only a future eternity, but also a present victory and freedom from fear in our everyday lives. In Matthew 1:20-21, Joseph is told by the angel not to be afraid to take Mary for his wife because "that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost, and she shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins." The very name "Jesus" means "Savior," or more literally, "Deliverer." It is the transliteration of the Old Testament name, "Joshua." Just as Joshua led his people into victory in the land of Canaan, so Jesus leads us to victory in the land of our Spiritual heritage.
Then in verse 21, Matthew explains "Now All this took place that what is spoken by the LORD through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL, WHICH TRANSLATED MEANS 'GOD WITH US.' Before we look at the quote, we must notice the word "fulfilled." In the original Greek, its literal meaning is "filled up" or "completed" or "completely filled." Also let me mention at this point, to avoid misunderstanding later, that the word for "virgin" in Matthew allows for NO other translation. Verse 23 is a direct quote from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) of Is.7:14, which uses the Greek word specifically indicating one who is a virgin.
Please keep the meaning of these three Greek words in mind as we continue. "Jesus" = Deliverer," "fulfilled" = "completely filled up," and "virgin" = "virgin." Yes, there is no question that in Matthew the word "virgin" can only mean "virgin." When we come to original Hebrew Is.7:14, however, the case is different. The Hebrew language, being much broader in its word usage than Greek, allows for several related meanings to be attached to one word within a general context or circle of meaning. For example, the word "shalom" not only means "peace," but also "welfare," "blessing," "hello," and "goodbye," among other things. The same sort of thing is true of the Hebrew word "alma," which was translated as "virgin" by the King James translators in Is.7:14 The word has a broad meaning of "a young woman of marriageable age, one of whose characteristics may or may not be that she is a virgin." (See I Chr.15:20, Ps.68:25, Prov.30:19, Song 1:3 & 6::8) Thus, the translators of the RSV translated it as "young woman." They were roundly criticized, although this is a perfectly allowable translation, and one that fits more readily into the context as we shall see.
One of the main principles of interpretation is to check the context. In this case the immediate context would be the 7th and 8th chapters. Forget for a moment the prophetic nature of verse 14 and try to picture yourself back in the time of Ahaz and Isaiah. In the beginning of Chapter 7, we see that we are involved with a situation of actual physical warfare. Ahaz, king of Judah is facing two enemies, Rezin, king of Syria and Pekah, king of Israel, and he's scared to death. Thus, the LORD sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to fear, because these two kings would be defeated. Sensing Ahaz's doubt, the LORD asked Ahaz to as Him for a sign, but Ahaz, in a false piety, refused. So the LORD said that He would give Ahaz a sign. Thus, we come to verse 14. The fact that the message is addressed to the "house of David" does not negate its being intended for Ahaz, as he was the ruler, and thus the representative of the nation. If we translate "alma" as "young woman" and continue reading through verse 16, we see clearly what the sign to Ahaz was. The LORD is saying that a child will be born, and before the child is of age, the land whose two kings Ahaz dreads will be forsaken. If we continue on into Chapter 8, we see that a child is indeed born. Isaiah had a son, whose name means "hast-ye-haste-ye-to-the-spoil," and a similar statement is made in verse 4 to that of 7:16, tying Isaiah's son in with the prophecy of physical victory made to Ahaz. The child is even called "Emmanuel" in verse 8. Now you have a clear picture of what verse 14 meant to Ahaz.
"But," you ask, "How does all of this relate to Matthew's quotation of verse 14, and the use by Matthew of a word which could only mean 'virgin'?" I believe the answer lies in typological interpretation. Do you remember the other word used in Matthew, which is translated "fulfilled"? Remember we said that it literally means "completely filled up." The prophecy was only partially fulfilled in Ahaz's time. The complete fulfillment would come later on. Thus, Isaiah's son, whose very name has the ring of victory in it, was BOTH A SIGN TO AHAZ AND A TYPE OF THE ONE TO COME, WHO WOULD BE TO US A SIGN OF SPIRITUAL VICTORY. In 8:18, Isaiah says that he and his children are for signs and wonders in Israel, and the word used here for "sign" is also translated as "type." (A type is a real person place thing or event in the Old Testament, which also represents, by way of looking forward to, a corresponding Spiritual reality, [called the "antitype"] in the New Testament.)
This typological interpretation allows for the full meaning of "alma" to come into play. Ahaz heard it as "young woman" and saw it fulfilled as such in his time with the birth of Isaiah's son. But, looking back, we can see that this was not all that God intended. God had more in mind than the birth of Isaiah's son. He was also looking down the corridors of time to when He would send His son, through a virgin. Thus the prophecy was completely filled up by the birth of the antitype, Jesus, as recorded in Matthew. Hopefully, we can now see more of the reason that Jesus came and why we can celebrate his birth to the full. Ahaz feared two enemies. We also have two enemies, which we need now no longer fear. I mentioned Is.8:18. This verse is quoted in the New Testament in Hebrews.2:13 in reference to the incarnation of Christ, and in verse 14 & 15, we see that he came to set us free from the fear of death. Paul also speaks of this in Icor.15:55-57. The second enemy that Jesus came to defeat is the enemy of sin, mentioned by Paul in Romans 6, saying in verse 14 that it shall not have dominion over us. He combines these two enemies in Romans 8:2, saying that Christ has set us free, or "delivered" us from them. Thus, as He tried to tell Ahaz, we need no longer fear them.
Of course, Rezin and Pekah may also represent your own personal foe or foes. Whatever your Rezin & Pekah are (the multiple of things the Devil may use to get you down), do not fear, but know that Jesus came to deliver you.
This is the real meaning of Christmas-that Jesus came to be our sign of victory-to show us that we need no longer fear the multiple forces that may be arrayed against us in the Spiritual realm. It is evident as well in Chapter 9 of Isaiah, where the specific promise of the birth of Christ-the son to be given in verse 6-is couched in the language of warfare and victory (vs.4 & 5). It is further confirmed by the prophecy of the angel to Mary in Luke 1:33, and in the Magnificant of Mary and the Benidictus of Zacharias (Luke 1:46-55 & a68-79), especially vs.69, 71, &74-75. These especially present the idea that Jesus delivers us for fear-free service to God. Read these wonderful portions of scripture and rejoice in the fact that victory can be yours through faith in Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at this time of year. May the bright lights beautiful decorations, and fancily wrapped gifts we see this season serve to remind us of the glorious victory which can be ours through the one whose birthday we are celebrating.
Rev. James M. Becher, M.Div., Bible teacher, Publisher of the "Inspirational Succcess Tips" E-zine (to subscribe, send a blank email to: inspirationlsuccesstips@Freeautobot.com), author of the novel, "OF SUCH IS THE KINGDOM, A Novel of Biblical times," (visit http://www.publishedauthors.net/jamesmbecher/index.html
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