“Behold, the Virgin…”

Richard ‘Aharon’ Chaimberlin, Litt.D.




NE of the most remarkable events in the history of mankind is the coming of Messiah to Planet Earth. The Messiah was Co-Creator of the world.[1] He left the glory that he had with the Father (Yochanan—John 17:5) to come into this world, take on human flesh[2] as part of a persecuted ethnic group (the Jews, of course), where he was rejected by his own people according to prophecy (Isaiah 53:1, 13), and eventually suffer a terrible, painful, and humiliating death for the sins of the world.[3]

     It might not have been so bad if he had come to Planet Earth as a full-grown adult, and then begun to reign over the adoring masses as King Messiah. Instead, he came into the world via a simple Jewish virgin named Miriam, who was betrothed to a Jewish carpenter named Joseph. Betrothal in Jewish tradition meant that a divorce would be needed to break the arrangement, much as would be the case for the actual marriage. However, betrothal was a pre-marriage tradition, and did not carry with it any of the sexual privileges of marriage. Therefore when Miriam[4] became pregnant “by the Holy Spirit,”  [5]     Joseph knew that he didn’t do it, and suspected his “betrothed” of unfaithfulness. He could have subjected her to public humiliation, even death by stoning. However, being a good guy, he merely desired to divorce her quietly.[6]

     An angel, whom we presume to be Gabriel (see Luke 1:26) appeared to Joseph in a dream, letting Joseph know that, yes, Miriam had conceived a child by the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind that nothing like this had ever happened before or since! This must have been quite a vision, because Joseph was now convinced, and did not put Miriam away. The angel told him, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for He will save his people from their sins.” [7] This may be further proof that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew. Yeshua means salvation. In all likelihood, Yeshua’s proper birth name may have been Yehoshua. The shortened version would have been Yeshua, much as my name is Richard, but I also answer to “Rick.”

     Isaiah 7:14 is correctly used as a Messianic passage referring to Yeshua. However, let me give you an Orthodox rabbinic interpretation of this same passage based on the word for “sign” as quoted by Artscroll:




ArtScroll Tanach

(Stone Edition; AST)*

Therefore, my Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, the maiden will become pregnant and bear a son, and she will name him Immanuel.


*   AST Commentary: Either Isaiah’s (RASHI) or Ahaz’ (RADAQ) young wife will bear a son and, through prophetic inspiration, will give him the name Immanuel, which means “God is With Us.” thus in effect prophesying that Judah will be saved from the threat of Rezin and Pekah. 


An Orthodox Jewish Perspective on Isaiah 7:14:

The seventh chapter in the Book of Isaiah begins by describing the military crisis that was confronting King Ahaz of the Kingdom of Judah.  Around the year 732 B.C.E., the House of David was facing imminent destruction at the hands of two warring kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom of Israel, led by King Peqah, and the Kingdom of Syria (Aram), led by King Retsin. These two armies had besieged Jerusalem.  Isaiah records that the House of David and King Ahaz were gripped with fear.  G-d sent the prophet Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz that divine protection was at hand – G-d would protect him and his kingdom and that their deliverance was assured, and these two hostile armies would fail in their attempt to subjugate Jerusalem.

It is clear from the narrative in this chapter, that Isaiah’s declaration (Is 7:14-16) was a prophecy about the unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem by the two armies from the north.  The verses Isaiah 7:15-16 state that, by the time this child (whose imminent birth was foretold in Isaiah 7:14) reaches the age of maturity (“… he knows to reject bad and choose good …”), the kings of the two enemy nations will be gone, in fact, they will be killed.  Two Biblical passages, 2 Kings 15:29-30 and 2 Kings 16:9, confirm that this prophecy was contemporaneously fulfilled when these two kings were assassinated.  With an understanding of the context of Isaiah 7:14 alone, it is evident that the name of the child in Isaiah 7:14, Immanu’el, is a sign which points to the divine protection that King Ahaz and his people would enjoy from their otherwise certain demise at the hands of these two enemies.  Clearly, Isaiah 7:14 is a near-term prophecy that is part of an historic narrative, and which was fulfilled in the immediate time frame, not some seven-and-a-half centuries in the future.


Applications of  (“sign”) in The Hebrew Bible:










(As in Boat)

a visible sign, a signal


Isaiah 38:22


an exemplary model, a marvelous deed


Isaiah 44:25

an example


Isaiah 19:20

a sign to determine times of festivals


Genesis 1:14

a military insignia


Numbers 2:2






Well, that is the “Orthodox” Jewish perspective. Sometimes the word  (ot or “sign”) is a supernatural sign. In the example of Isaiah 44:25, it is an occult counterfeit sign of false prophets, who nonetheless are able to produce supernatural manifestations. But it can simply a signal for certain events, such as the moon which is used as a sign or signal, such as to determine the timings for the various festivals of the Bible, as in Genesis 1:14. The word for “sign” has various uses in the Hebrew text.

     In context, Isaiah was prophesying about 200 years after the breakup of the Kingdom of Israel into two separate kingdoms. The kingdom in the south was henceforth renamed as Judah and the kingdom in the north was known as Israel.

     Judah in the south was panicking because the northern kingdom of Israel had entered into an alliance with the Arameans (Syrians). No doubt, King Ahaz wasn’t sleeping too well, as the fate of Judah was very much threatened by this alliance. He went to the prophet Isaiah in hopes of finding out what would be happening in the future, and perhaps counteract this threat from the north.

     It was at this time that God spoke to Ahaz via the prophet Isaiah saying, “Ask a sign of YHWH your God. Make it deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” Ahaz refused, saying, I will not ask, nor will I put YHWH to the test.” At that time, God seemed to lose patience, not only with Ahaz, but with the entire House of David that Ahaz was descended from. Isaiah (7:13) said, “Listen now, O House of David. Is it too little that you weary the patience of men, that you try the patience of my God as well?”

     Then at this time we receive the prophecy, given as a sign, not just to Ahaz, but to the entire house of David, past, present, and future: “Behold, the virgin (“almah”) shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

     The Orthodox Jewish perspective is that the “sign” in Isaiah 7:14 is the name of the child that would be born. The Messianic interpretation is that this is a supernatural event, in which a virgin gives birth, and is a prophecy of the birth of Yeshua. Matthew 1:23 quotes this verse as being fulfilled with the birth of Yeshua. Most Jewish translations of Isaiah 7:14 say something like, “Behold, the young woman (“almah”) shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

In Messianic interpretation, the  (“sign”) isn’t regarding the name of the child, but the fact that this child is born of a virgin. Both Messianic Jews and Christians translate Isaiah 7:14 as something like: “Behold, the virgin (almah) shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

     I happen to believe that this is one of those verses of prophecy that has dual fulfillment. It no doubt had a fulfillment that occurred in the days of Ahaz, but it also had a supernatural fulfillment with the birth of Yeshua the Messiah. This is disputed among Orthodox Jews, because they say that the word “almah” actually means “young woman,” and that any translation of it as “virgin” is incorrectly done by those who don’t know Hebrew very well, or (even worse) is a deliberate mistranslation.

Megillah (Scroll) of Esther

The word used in Isaiah 7:14 is hmlu (“almah”). Most Jewish interpreters say that the Hebrew word for “virgin” is betulah, and that if Isaiah meant to refer to a virgin, he would have used the word betulah instead of almah. Of course, if almah was only a young woman, it wouldn’t have been much of a sign, since it is fairly common practice that young women give birth to children! However, when a virgin gives birth… Well, that is something out of the ordinary.

About 200 years before the Common Era,[8] the Greek-speaking rulers of Egypt under Ptolemy commissioned six elders from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to translate the Tanakh (O.T.) from Hebrew into Greek. Since there were approximately seventy elders doing the translating, the final translation was called the Septuagint, from the Greek word for “70.” When these learned men came to Isaiah 7:14, they must have felt that almah meant more than simply a young woman, because in their translation, they used the Greek word parthenos, which means “virgin.”


“Almah” and “Betulah”

It helps to see how the words almah and betulah are used in other places in Scripture. In every case where the term almah is used, it is apparent that the woman referred to is a virgin. The young woman sought as a wife for Isaac was to be an almah, which is the word used in Genesis 24:43. Another Scripture reference using the word almah is Song of Solomon 6:8.

     Contrary to popular Rabbinic opinion, the term betulah is used in the Tanakh to simply mean “young woman.” Occasionally, this young woman may be a virgin, and occasionally this term is used for a woman who most definitely is not a virgin, much as the term “young woman” in English tells us nothing about whether a woman is (or is not) a virgin. Curiously, the King James translators liked to translate both almah and betulah with the English translation “virgin” in most instances. In some cases, this simply doesn’t fit when the word being translated is betulah. An example of this is Joel 1:8: “Lament like a virgin (betulah) girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth.” I haven’t taken any surveys, but I suspect that there are very few married women who are virgins. Also, in Judaism, the marriage would be considered null and void if it wasn’t consummated.

     Another instance in which the term betulah is used is in Esther 2:17: “And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins (betulot – plural form), so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.” These are young women who had slept with King Ahasuerus. I am willing to concede that they might have been virgins prior to sleeping with the king, but I doubt that many remained virgins afterwards.

     Job prays, “I have made a covenant with my eyes. How then could I gaze at upon a maid (betulah)?” During an era in which men often had more than one wife, it would not have been considered a sin to gaze at a virgin, although it would have been considered sinful to gaze upon another man’s wife.

     The term betulah is also used in Ezekiel 23:3: “And they played the harlot in Egypt. They played the harlot in their youth; there their breasts were pressed, and their virgin bosom was handled (NAS).” Grant me this one, will you? How many harlots are virgins? When the Rabbis insist that betulah means “virgin” and that almah means “young woman,” they have it exactly backwards.

     Because of Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14, our interpretation of almah takes on added significance. Was Matthew correct or wrong in quoting this verse as a Messianic prophecy? Since most Jewish scholars, in their zeal to “debunk” prophecies relating to Yeshua, claim that betulah is the correct word for “virgin,” it becomes important for us to study the contexts, further demonstrating (from the Hebrew!) that Yeshua is, indeed, the Messiah. Miriam supernaturally conceived a child without the benefit of a man or the sperm of a man. Yeshua is what He claimed to be – the Son of God.                                                 


[1] Colossians 1:16; Yochanan 1:3; Genesis 1:1.

[2] Hebrews 10:5; Yochanan 1:14.

[3] Isaiah 53:4-12.

[4] “Mary”

[5] Matthew 1:18.

[6] Mat. 1:19.

[7] Mat. 1:21.

[8] That is, before Yeshua.

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