Immanuel: The Dramatic Backstory of This Name of Jesus

Immanuel: The Dramatic Backstory of This Name of Jesus

Written by M. R. Conrad |
Monday, December 25, 2023

Ahaz rejected God’s message. He had passed the point of no return.[4] Despite Ahaz’s refusal, God chose to give him a sign anyway. The sign concerned the Davidic line that was under attack but always under God’s protection because of the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:12–16). Isaiah confronted the wicked king: “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13–14). The name Immanuel means “God with us.” Ahaz felt he did not need God with him. But he did. The king thought he and his alliance could secure the Davidic line, but they could not.

Every Bible-savvy Christian knows the prophecy of Immanuel. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “’Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). We all understand that the virgin was Mary, and the Son was Jesus. But few know the dramatic backstory to this descriptive name of our Savior—Immanuel.

The Predicament

King Ahaz of Judah surveyed the aqueduct just outside of Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:3). The war that had pummeled Judah during his father’s reign dragged into his own, exacting heavy losses (2 Kings 15:37; 2 Chronicles 28:5–8). Now, Ahaz checked the water supply as he prepared the city for yet another attack.

King Rezin of Syria[1] and King Pekah of Israel had tried to draw Ahaz into an alliance against the mighty Assyrian empire. In the 730s B.C., the Assyrians had swallowed up kings and nations. Their armies were poised to devour everything along the trade routes south to Egypt. Ahaz felt that even if he combined Judah’s armies with the forces of Syria, and Israel, they would lose to Assyria. So, Ahaz spurned the overtures of his northern neighbors.

In response, Syria and Israel amassed their armies to depose Ahaz, install their own man on the Davidic throne, and force Judah to ally with them against Assyria (Isaiah 7:6). As the two armies approached, Ahaz’s heart trembled (Isaiah 7:2). He could not go on like this! Driven to desperation, Ahaz considered an alliance—not with the neighboring kingdoms trying to force his hand but with King Tiglath-Pileser III and the Assyrian empire itself.

The Offer

As Ahaz stood beside the reservoir, the prophet Isaiah and his son, Shear-Jashub, approached him.[2] Isaiah boldly delivered God’s message: “Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah [Pekah of Israel]” (Isaiah 7:4).[3] God urged Ahaz to trust Him, not Assyria. The two attacking nations would flame out and would soon cease to be a threat. God warned that if Ahaz did not trust Him, his throne would never be secure (Isaiah 7:9).

The Second Chance

Ignoring Isaiah’s message, Ahaz furthered his plans to ally with Assyria instead of trusting God (2 Kings 16:7). So, God sent the prophet with another message for the king: “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above” (Isaiah 7:11).

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