To Type or Not to Type
A brief look at Isaiah 7:10-17
The debate on the interpretation of Isaiah 7 ranges on, and probably will until the end of time. This is often used as the test case of rectilinear methods versus typical methods. To the extent that it used as a test case it is a poor one. I am not a strict rectilinearist. Christ Himself used typology. Nor do I believe we are limited to just those types and antetypes used in Scripture. But the case has to be clearly made in each instance. The fact that Isaiah 7 remains in play shows that neither side has made a compelling case.
What must be said first is that Matthew 1:22-23 is final fulfillment of this prophecy. For that ultimate purpose was it given. The only question is whether it also has early, pre-fulfillments.
The prophecy of the Virgin Birth is given in about 740 B.C. - just 18 years before the fall of Samaria to Assyria. This is also believed to be the year of King Hezekiah’s birth. Israel and Syria had formed an alliance against Judah. King Ahaz was in the process of preparing the defense of his kingdom. God offers Ahaz a sign which he rejects. Isaiah then gives this curious prophecy.
The strict rectilinearists will say that the giving of the prophecy itself is the sign. Yet, this seems a weak sign to king fearing for his kingdom.
If the rectilinearists are wrong, then there has to be a another baby that fulfills the prophecy. The first thing we must do is study the word Almah, usually translated virgin. But it is not the technical Hebrew word for virgin. Some have suggested that it means a young women from the onset of fertility until the birth of their first child. Yet, in all the Biblical examples where the meaning can be determined it refers to a girl who is in fact a virgin in the technical sense. But then why didn’t Isaiah use the technical word for virgin? If this only refers of Mary who is clearly a virgin in the technical sense, (the NT offers no wiggle room on this) then why does Isaiah use Almah?
There are two possible children that often mentioned. Hezekiah, was likely born around the time of this prophecy. But we don’t know anything about the circumstances of his birth. If this was the fulfillment of prophecy wouldn’t the birth be mentioned? Perhaps not, if Ahaz was already aware of the pregnancy. Thus Isaiah would be saying: “You know that princess that’s about to give birth?....” Yet, this argument is unconvincing. Even if Ahaz clearly saw the fulfillment, it is certainly God’s intent also to be clear to us. So the argumentation then begins to look like this: There is a pre-fulfillment, which Ahaz would have clearly seen, but it doesn’t matter to us, so God didn’t mention it. A further problem is that Hezekiah is a little old. However, Damascus fell in 732 B.C. One presumes that the war was raging a little before that and its outcome already clear. So the war against Syria and Israel would begin when Hezekiah was 6 or 7, still young enough to fit the prophecy, perhaps. So the destruction begins with say 735 B.C. and the final deportation of the Israelites in the 680's B.C. which would be within the 65 year time window that Isaiah gave.
The second child is the son of Isaiah and the prophetess (presumably his wife) born in Isaiah 8:3-4. But this was Isaiah’s second child so his wife would hardly be an Almah by any definition. However v. 4 “for before the boy knows how to cry 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria” could be seen as a parallel to 7:15-16 “He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” Another plus to this child being the intended fulfillment, is that he’s a bit younger than Hezekiah. So that would make him more clearly a young child as all this geo-political stuff is developing. Again, however, we must conclude that this not convincing, since it would be nothing approaching a virgin birth.
The obvious one is distraction. The prophecy was given to point us to Christ. While seeing O.T. types is often helpful, in this case it could actually get in the way. Further it has led some to deny the virgin birth of Christ, which we cannot do with out violence to the text of Scripture.
A second danger is present as well. The typological fulfillment is primarily geo-political. It plays into the hands of the dispensationalists and their mis-use of Biblical prophecy. That being said, there is a great deal of geo-political prophecy in salvation history.
We cannot settle this debate. The evidence simply does not exist to conclusively demonstrate the truth or falsehood or one or the other camps. We will have to live with this tension.