This post is part of a series, the most recent two installments to be found at “Read All About It: Ancient Prophet’s Precise Prognostication!” and “The Non-Story Approach to Matthew Five Fulfillments.“
Of the five fulfillments in Matthew 1-2, the first one is often the hardest to explain to people. This is because people have such a strong idea beforehand that they know what this fulfillment text means. To suggest a different reading almost seems sacrilegious.
If I said to you that Isaiah 7:14 was not about Yeshua, would you tar and feather me? If I said that the woman in Isaiah 7:14 is not necessarily a virgin, would you relegate me to the woodpile doused in oil waiting for me to be tied to it and burned alive?
Well, Mary was a virgin and she did conceive by the Holy Spirit. But the thing is, neither the word that Matthew uses nor the word that Isaiah used in 7:14 means virgin. The word means a maiden or a young woman. It usually signifies an unmarried young woman.
So, if it is true that Isaiah 7:14 is not a prediction of the virgin birth, what is it about and what does it tell us about Yeshua?
Well, most people don’t look carefully at Matthew 1:18-25. They have it in their head that this is a prophecy prediction coming to pass. But look at it again. Does Matthew say that the virgin birth of Yeshua happened in order to fulfill what Isaiah said?
No, not if you are paying attention. Matthew says that an angel appearing to Joseph and announcing the special birth of the special child, Yeshua, FILLS UP the story of Isaiah 7:14.
To understand this, you need to know the story in Isaiah 7. Isaiah, the prophet, is standing in front of the king of Judah, named Ahaz. Ahaz is afraid that Judah is about to be destroyed by neighboring Syria. So God sends the prophet Isaiah with a message: a young woman will have a child whose birth will be a sign. This child will be a sign that Judah will be saved and Syria will come to nothing.
So, did you get that? At a scary time in Israel’s history, a special messenger made an announcement about a special child whose birth would signify salvation for Israel.
And what happens in Yeshua’s birth story? A special messenger, this time an angel, gives a message that a special child, this time the Messiah, will be born and save Israel.
Yeshua’s story is a sort of replay and even an enlargement of one of the stories of Israel’s past. In Yeshua’s story the messenger and the child are even greater than in Isaiah’s. Yeshua’s story fills up the earlier Isaiah story.
And the other four are like it.
Micah, a prophet from the same time and place as Isaiah, wrote a great prophecy about a king whose origins were of old but who was born in the sleepy Judean town of Bethlehem.
Matthew, in his account, cannot help but notice the irony. Magi from Persia come to the little town of Bethlehem looking for the king of the Jews.
It’s the story from Micah happening. And it is happening in the life of Yeshua.
Hosea, a prophet from the generations before Isaiah and in the northern kingdom of Israel, wrote a beautiful poem about God’s love for Israel. Hosea called Israel God’s son. Hosea talked about God teaching his son to walk and the son rebelling against the father.
Well, Matthew couldn’t help but notice. Yeshua was like all of the good things in Hosea’s story with none of the bad things. Yeshua was like the Son Israel was supposed to be. And so that part of the story where God called Israel out of Egypt, it happened in Yeshua’s life too. Yeshua is the good Son.
Jeremiah, the tragic prophet who lived when Judah was destroyed by Babylon, saw a lot of children die. It’s not for nothing that people call Jeremiah the weeping prophet.
And Jeremiah lamented the Babylonians slaughtering the people of Bethlehem, a city close to Jerusalem. Bethlehem is the place where Rachel was buried. So Jeremiah wrote a prophetic poem about Rachel’s children being slaughtered.
And Matthew thought of the similar pain that came in Yeshua’s time. Another king, Herod, also slaughtered the children of Bethlehem. The suffering of Israel’s past, it was there too in Yeshua’s story.
And finally, Matthew found one last story from Israel’s past in the story of Messiah’s birth and childhood. Messiah came to live in the city of Nazareth.
Nazareth is Natzeret in Hebrew, coming from the word BRANCH. And Matthew saw a pattern in that too. Nazareth is Branch-Town and any lover of the scriptures knows that Messiah is called the Branch.
He is the long lost branch of David’s line, the returning Davidic king who will finally restore Israel. And isn’t it fitting, then, that he grew up in Branch-Town, an unimportant little place called Nazareth.
The five fulfillments in Matthew 1-2 are not a list of predictions proven successful. They are not a statistical argument for the Messiahship of Yeshua. They are echoes of Israel’s story in the story of Yeshua. They say something about who Yeshua is, clueing us in to the fact he is living out the calling of Israel, being what Israel is supposed to be. Noting these echoes is not necessarily intended to give us mathematical exactitude, but rather doxological wonder.