Isaiah 7:16
For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that you abhor shall be forsaken of both her kings.
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(16) For before the child shall know . . .—The words imply the age of approaching manhood, and predict the downfall of Pekah and Rezin, as the longer period of Isaiah 7:8 predicted the entire downfall and annihilation of one of the two kingdoms which they represented. The words “good and evil” are better taken of moral choice (Genesis 3:5; Deuteronomy 1:39) rather than (with some critics, who appeal to 2Samuel 19:35) of the child’s discernment of food as pleasant or the reverse. (See Genesis 2:9; 1Kings 3:9.)

The land that thou abhorrest.—The words imply the “horror” of fear as well as of dislike. The prediction was fulfilled in the siege of Samaria by Salmaneser, and its capture by Sargon (1Kings 16:9; 1Kings 17:6), a fulfilment all the more remarkable in that it was preceded by what seemed an almost decisive victory over Judah (2Chronicles 28:5-15), of which the prophet makes no mention.

Isaiah 7:16. For before the child, &c. — “The learned Vitringa,” says Dr. Dodd, “seems to have proved beyond any doubt, that the child spoken of in this verse can be no other than he who is spoken of in the preceding verses. The connecting particle for, and the repetition of the words, refusing the evil and choosing the good, evidently demonstrate,” he thinks, “that the IMMANUEL is here meant, and that, in order to enter into the immediate design of the prophet, we are to consider that, rapt, as it were, into future times, he proposes the Immanuel, as a sign of salvation to the people of God, as if present, Behold a virgin conceives; as if he understood him to be at this time conceived in the womb of the virgin, and shortly to be born: and he says, that more time shall not elapse from his birth to his capability of discerning between good and evil, than from hence to the desertion of the land of the two kings,” or the time specified, Isaiah 8:4. Archbishop Usher, however, Poole, Henry, Dr. Kennicott, and some other celebrated writers, conceive that we have a two-fold prophecy in this passage, the former part, contained in Isaiah 7:14-15, referring to the Messiah, and the latter, contained in this verse, to Shear-jashub, the son of Isaiah. “That the 16th verse,” says Dr. Kennicott, “contains a distinct prophecy, appears from hence: 1st, The words preceding have been proved to be confined to the Messiah, whose birth was then distant above seven hundred years; whereas the words here are confined to some child who was not to arrive at years of discretion before the kings, then advancing against Jerusalem, should be themselves cut off. 2d, Some end was undoubtedly to be answered by the presence of Isaiah’s son, whom God commanded him to take with him when he went to visit Ahaz; and yet no use at all appears to have been made of this son, unless he be referred to in this sentence; and, 3d, These prophecies are manifestly distinguished by being addressed to different persons. The first was addressed to the house of David, for the consolation of the pious in general; as it assured them, not only of the preservation of that house, but of God’s fidelity to his great promise: whereas the second promise is addressed to the king in particular, as it foretold the speedy destruction of the two kings, his enemies.” Dr. Doddridge, who also thinks that this verse refers to Shear-jashub, judging with Dr. Kennicott, that Isaiah “was ordered to take him in his hand for no other imaginable reason, but that something remarkable was to be said of him,” defines the general sense of these verses from the 13th to be this: “You have affronted God by refusing a sign now; yet his transcendent mercy will make your present forfeited deliverance, (by the death of these confederate kings, which shall happen before, הנער, this child in my hand is grown up to the exercise of reason,) a sign of a much nobler deliverance by the Messiah; who shall be born of an immaculate virgin, and shall condescend to pass through the tender scenes of infancy, as other children do.” In the latter part of the verse, the land that thou abhorrest, means the countries of Syria and Israel, which Ahaz abhorred for their cruel designs and practices against him. Shall be forsaken of both her kings — So far shall Rezin and Pekah be from conquering thy land, that they shall lose their own lands, and their lives too: which they did within two years after this time, being both slain by the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 15:29-30; and 2 Kings 16:9.7:10-16 Secret disaffection to God is often disguised with the colour of respect to him; and those who are resolved that they will not trust God, yet pretend they will not tempt him. The prophet reproved Ahaz and his court, for the little value they had for Divine revelation. Nothing is more grievous to God than distrust, but the unbelief of man shall not make the promise of God of no effect; the Lord himself shall give a sign. How great soever your distress and danger, of you the Messiah is to be born, and you cannot be destroyed while that blessing is in you. It shall be brought to pass in a glorious manner; and the strongest consolations in time of trouble are derived from Christ, our relation to him, our interest in him, our expectations of him and from him. He would grow up like other children, by the use of the diet of those countries; but he would, unlike other children, uniformly refuse the evil and choose the good. And although his birth would be by the power of the Holy Ghost, yet he should not be fed with angels' food. Then follows a sign of the speedy destruction of the princes, now a terror to Judah. Before this child, so it may be read; this child which I have now in my arms, (Shear-jashub, the prophet's own son, ver. 3,) shall be three or four years older, these enemies' forces shall be forsaken of both their kings. The prophecy is so solemn, the sign is so marked, as given by God himself after Ahaz rejected the offer, that it must have raised hopes far beyond what the present occasion suggested. And, if the prospect of the coming of the Divine Saviour was a never-failing support to the hopes of ancient believers, what cause have we to be thankful that the Word was made flesh! May we trust in and love Him, and copy his example.The land that thou abhorrest - The land concerning which thou art so much "alarmed or distressed;" that is, the united land of Syria and Ephraim. It is mentioned here as 'the land,' or as one land, because they were united then in a firm alliance, so as to constitute, in fact, or for the purposes of invasion and conquest, one people or nation. The phrase, 'which thou abhorrest,' means properly, which thou loathest, the primary idea of the word - קוץ qûts - being to feel a nausea, or to vomit. It then means to fear, or to feel alarm; and this, probably, is the meaning here. Abaz, however, evidently looked upon the nations of Syria and Samaria with disgust, as well as with alarm. This is the construction which is given of this passage by the Vulgate, Calvin, Grotius, Junins, Gataker, and Piscator, as well as by our common version. Another construction, however, has been given of the passage by Vitringa, JohnD. Michaelis, Lowth, Gesenius, Rosenmuller, Hengstenberg, and Hendewerk. According to this, the meaning is not that the "land" should be the object of abhorrence, but that the kings themselves were the objects of dislike or dread; and not merely that the two kings should be removed, but that the land itself was threatened with desolation. This construction is free from the objections of an exegetical kind to which the other is open, and agrees better with the idiom of the Hebrew. According to this, the correct translation would be:

For before the child shall learn to refuse the

Evil and to choose the good,

Desolate shall be the land, before whose two

Kings thou art in terror.'

Of both her kings - Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the temple, and sent it as a present to the king of Assyria. Induced by this, the king of Assyria marched against Damascus and killed Rezin, 2 Kings 16:9. This occurred but a short time after the threatened invasion of the land by Rezin and Remaliah, in the "third" year of the reign of Ahaz, and, consequently, about one year after this prophecy was delivered. Pekah, the son of Remaliah, was slain by Hoshea, the son of Elah, who conspired against him, killed him, and reigned in his stead. This occurred in the fourth year of the reign of Ahaz, for Pekah reigned twenty years. Ahaz began to reign in the seventeenth year of the reign of Pekah, and as Pekah was slain after he had reigned twenty years, it follows that he was slain in the fourth year of the reign of Ahaz - perhaps not more than two yearn after this prophecy was delivered; see 2 Kings 15:27, 2 Kings 15:30; 2 Kings 16:1. We have thus arrived at a knowledge of the time intended by Isaiah in Isaiah 7:16. The whole space of time was not, probably, more than two years.

Opinions on the Intrepretation of Isaiah 7:14-16

A great variety of opinions have been entertained by interpreters in regard to this passage Isaiah 7:14-16. It may be useful, therefore, to state briefly what those opinions have been, and then what seems to be the true meaning.

(i) The first opinion is that which supposes that by the 'virgin' the wife of Ahaz is referred to, and that by the child which should be born, the prophet refers to Hezekiah. This is the opinion of the modern Jewish commentators generally. This interpretation prevailed among the Jews in the time of Justin. But this was easily shown by Jerome to be false. Ahaz reigned in Jerusalem but sixteen years 2 Kings 17:2, and Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign 2 Kings 18:2, and of course was not less than nine years old when this prophecy was delivered. Kimchi and Abarbanel then resorted to the supposition that Ahaz had a second wife, and that this refers to a child that was to be born of her. This supposition cannot be proved to be false, though it is evidently a mere supposition. It has been adopted by the Jews, because they were pressed by the passage by the early Christians, as constituting an argument for the divinity of Christ. The ancient Jews, it is believed, referred it mainly to the Messiah.

(ii) Others have supposed, that the prophet designated some virgin who was then present when the king and Isaiah held their conference, and that the meaning is, 'as surely as this virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, so surely shall the land be forsaken of its kings.' Thus Isenbiehl, Bauer, Cube, and Steudel held, as quoted by Hengstenberg, "Christol." i. p. 341.

(iii) Others suppose that the 'virgin' was not an actual, but only an ideal virgin. Thus Michaelis expresses it: 'By the time when one who is yet a virgin can bring forth (that is, in nine months), all will be happily changed, and the present impending danger so completely passed away, that if you were yourself to name the child, you would call him Immanuel.' Thus Eichhorn, Paulus, Hensler, and Ammon understand it; see "Hengstenberg."

(iv) Others suppose that the 'virgin' was the prophet's wife. Thus Aben Ezra, Jarchi, Faber, and Gesenius. Against this supposition there is only one objection which has been urged that is of real force, and that is, that the prophet already had a son, and of course his wife could not be spoken of as a virgin. But this objection is entirely removed by the supposition, which is by no means improbable, that the former wife of the prophet was dead, and that he was about to be united in marriage to another who was a virgin.

In regard to the prophecy itself, there have been three opinions:

(i) That it refers "exclusively" to some event in the time of the prophet; to the birth of a child then, either of the wife of Ahaz, or of the prophet, or of some other unmarried female. This would, of course, exclude all reference to the Messiah. This was formerly my opinion; and this opinion I expressed and endeavored to maintain, in the first composition of these notes. But a more careful examination of the passage has convinced me of its error, and satisfied me that the passage has reference to the Messtah. The reasons for this opinion I shall soon state.


16. For—The deliverance implied in the name "Immanuel," and the cessation of distress as to food (Isa 7:14, 15), shall last only till the child grows to know good and evil;

for … the land that … abhorrest … forsaken of … kings—rather, desolate shall be the land, before whose two kings thou art alarmed [Hengstenberg and Gesenius].

the land—namely, Syria and Samaria regarded as one (2Ki 16:9; 15:30), just two years after this prophecy, as it foretells. Horsley takes it, "The land (Judah and Samaria) of (the former of) which thou art the plague (literally, 'thorn') shall be forsaken," &c.; a prediction thus, that Judah and Israel (appropriately regarded as one "land") should cease to be kingdoms (Lu 2:1; Ge 49:10) before Immanuel came.

For; or, yea; for so this particle is used by way of amplification or addition, Isaiah 32:13 Jeremiah 14:5,18. So the sense is, Not only this land of thine shall be preserved until the virgin’s Son be born, but thine enemy’s land shall be sorely scourged, and these two kings destroyed, within a very little time.

The child, Heb. this child; not the virgin’s Son, but the prophet’s child, Shear-jashub, whom in all probability the prophet, to prevent mistakes, pointed at, and who was brought hither by God’s special command, Isaiah 7:3, and that for this very use; for otherwise his presence was wholly insignificant.

The land; the lands, to wit, of Syria and Israel, as is evident from the next words. It is an enallage of the singular for the plural.

That thou abhorrest, for its cruel designs and practices against time. Or, which vexeth or molesteth thee, as this word is used, Exodus 1:12 Numbers 22:3, &c.

Shall be forsaken of both her kings; so far shall Pekah and Rezin be from conquering thy land, that they shall lose their own lands, and their lives too; which they did within two years after this time, being both slain by the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 15:29,30 16:9. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good,.... This may be understood of Isaiah's child, Shearjashub, he had along with him, he was bid to take with him; and who therefore must be supposed to bear some part, or answer some end or other, in this prophecy; which it is very probable may be this, viz. to assure Ahaz and the house of David that the land which was abhorred by them should be forsaken of both its kings, before the child that was with him was grown to years of discretion; though it may be understood of any child, and so of the Messiah; and the sense be, that before any child, or new born babe, such an one as is promised, Isaiah 7:14, arrives to years of discretion, even in the space of a few years, this remarkable deliverance should be wrought, and the Jews freed from all fears of being destroyed by these princes:

the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings; meaning not the land of Judea, now distressed by them, which they should leave; for that could not be said to be abhorred by Ahaz, or the house of David; but the land of Israel and Syria, called one land, because of the confederacy between the kings of them, Rezin and Remaliah's son, which Ahaz and his nobles abhorred, because of their joining together against them; and so it was, that in a very little time both these kings were cut off; Pekah the son of Remaliah was slain by Hoshea the son of Elah, who reigned in his stead, 2 Kings 15:30 and Rezin was slain by the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 16:9.

For before the {o} child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken by both her kings.

(o) Not meaning Christ, but any child: for before a child can come to the years of discretion, the kings of Samaria and Syria will be destroyed.

16. The “for” seems to go back to Isaiah 7:14 : he shall be called “God with us,” because whilst he is yet in infancy a signal deliverance shall be wrought.

the land that thou abhorrest … kings] Render: the land before whose two kings thou cowerest shall be deserted. The two “tails of smoking firebrands” shall have burned out. Ephraim and Syria are treated as one territory, ruled by the two allied kings.

17 gives the other aspect, the threatening aspect, of the sign Immanuel, interpreting Isaiah 7:15. A calamity involving the king, the dynasty, and the nation, is the retribution appointed for the unbelief of Ahaz.

from the day … Judah] The revolt of the ten tribes under Jeroboam was the heaviest disaster that had ever befallen the house of David. The last words, the king of Assyria, may as many think be a gloss, but they are at least a correct gloss.Verse 16. - The land, etc. Translate, The land shall be desolate, before whose two kings thou art afraid. The "land" must certainly be that of the two confederate kings, Rezin and Pekah, the Syro-Ephraim-itic land, or Syria and Samaria. "Desolate" may be used physically or politically. A land is "desolate" politically when it loses the last vestige of independence. Thus spake Isaiah, and Jehovah through him, to the king of Judah. Whether he replied, or what reply he made, we are not informed. He was probably silent, because he carried a secret in his heart which afforded him more consolation than the words of the prophet. The invisible help of Jehovah, and the remote prospect of the fall of Ephraim, were not enough for him. His trust was in Asshur, with whose help he would have far greater superiority over the kingdom of Israel, than Israel had over the kingdom of Judah through the help of Damascene Syria. The pious, theocratic policy of the prophet did not come in time. He therefore let the enthusiast talk on, and had his own thoughts about the matter. Nevertheless the grace of God did not give up the unhappy son of David for lost. "And Jehovah continued speaking to Ahaz as follows: Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God, going deep down into Hades, or high up to the height above." Jehovah continued: what a deep and firm consciousness of the identity of the word of Jehovah and the word of the prophet is expressed in these words! According to a very marvellous interchange of idioms (Communicatio idiomatum) which runs through the prophetic books of the Old Testament, at one time the prophet speaks as if he were Jehovah, and at another, as in the case before us, Jehovah speaks as if He were the prophet. Ahaz was to ask for a sign from Jehovah his God. Jehovah did not scorn to call Himself the God of this son of David, who had so hardened his heart. Possibly the holy love with which the expression "thy God" burned, might kindle a flame in his dark heart; or possibly he might think of the covenant promises and covenant duties which the words "thy God" recalled to his mind. From this, his God, he was to ask for a sign. A sign ('oth, from 'uth, to make an incision or dent) was something, some occurrence, or some action, which served as a pledge of the divine certainty of something else. This was secured sometimes by visible miracles performed at once (Exodus 4:8-9), or by appointed symbols of future events (Isaiah 8:18; Isaiah 20:3); sometimes by predicted occurrences, which, whether miraculous or natural, could not possibly be foreseen by human capacities, and therefore, if they actually took place, were a proof either retrospectively of the divine causality of other events (Exodus 3:12), or prospectively of their divine certainty (Isaiah 37:30; Jeremiah 44:29-30). The thing to be confirmed on the present occasion was what the prophet had just predicted in so definite a manner, viz., the maintenance of Judah with its monarchy, and the failure of the wicked enterprise of the two allied kingdoms. If this was to be attested to Ahaz in such a way as to demolish his unbelief, it could only be effected by a miraculous sign. And just as Hezekiah asked for a sign when Isaiah foretold his recovery, and promised him the prolongation of his life for fifteen years, and the prophet gave him the sign he asked, by causing the shadow upon the royal sun-dial to go backwards instead of forwards (chapter 38); so here Isaiah meets Ahaz with the offer of such a supernatural sign, and offers him the choice of heaven, earth, and Hades as the scene of the miracle.

העמּק and הגבּהּ are either in the infinitive absolute or in the imperative; and שאלה is either the imperative שׁאל with the He of challenge, which is written in this form in half pause instead of שׁאלה (for the two similar forms with pashtah and zakeph, vid., Daniel 9:19), "Only ask, going deep down, or ascending to the height," without there being any reason for reading שׁאלה with the tone upon the last syllable, as Hupfeld proposes, in the sense of profundam fac (or faciendo) precationem (i.e., go deep down with thy petition); or else it is the pausal subordinate form for שׁאלה, which is quite allowable in itself (cf., yechpâtz, the constant form in pause for yachpōtz, and other examples, Genesis 43:14; Genesis 49:3, Genesis 49:27), and is apparently preferred here on account of its consonance with למעלה (Ewald, 93, 3). We follow the Targum, with the Sept., Syr., and Vulgate, in giving the preference to the latter of the two possibilities. It answers to the antithesis; and if we had the words before us without points, this would be the first to suggest itself. Accordingly the words would read, Go deep down (in thy desire) to Hades, or go high up to the height; or more probably, taking העמק and הגבה in the sense of gerundives, "Going deep down to Hades, or (או from אוה, like vel from velle equals si velis, malis) going high up to the height." This offer of the prophet to perform any kind of miracle, either in the world above or in the lower world, has thrown rationalistic commentators into very great perplexity. The prophet, says Hitzig, was playing a very dangerous game here; and if Ahaz had closed with his offer, Jehovah would probably have left him in the lurch. And Meier observes, that "it can never have entered the mind of an Isaiah to perform an actual miracle:" probably because no miracles were ever performed by Gthe, to whose high poetic consecration Meier compares the consecration of the prophet as described in Isaiah 6:1-13. Knobel answers the question, "What kind of sign from heaven would Isaiah have given in case it had been asked for?" by saying, "Probably a very simple matter." But even granting that an extraordinary heavenly phenomenon could be a "simple matter," it was open to king Ahaz not to be so moderate in his demands upon the venturesome prophet, as Knobel with his magnanimity might possibly have been. Dazzled by the glory of the Old Testament prophecy, a rationalistic exegesis falls prostrate upon the ground; and it is with such frivolous, coarse, and common words as these that it tries to escape from its difficulties. It cannot acknowledge the miraculous power of the prophet, because it believes in no miracles at all. But Ahaz had no doubt about his miraculous power, though he would not be constrained by any miracle to renounce his own plans and believe in Jehovah. "But Ahaz replied, I dare not ask, and dare not tempt Jehovah." What a pious sound this has! And yet his self-hardening reached its culminating point in these well-sounding words. He hid himself hypocritically under the mask of Deuteronomy 6:16, to avoid being disturbed in his Assyrian policy, and was infatuated enough to designate the acceptance of what Jehovah Himself had offered as tempting God. He studiously brought down upon himself the fate denounced in Isaiah 6:1-13, and indeed not upon himself only, but upon all Judah as well. For after a few years the forces of Asshur would stand upon the same fuller's field (Isaiah 36:2) and demand the surrender of Jerusalem. In that very hour, in which Isaiah was standing before Ahaz, the fate of Jerusalem was decided for more than two thousand years.

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