Double meanings at Christmas time

Scripture means so much on so many different levels. As one example of a scripture with multiple meanings, Isaiah’s rebuke to a weak and fearful king turned out to foreshadow the coming of a new King who would have the power to defeat the devil  himself.

Ahaz, King of Judah, was frighted when the kings of Syria and Israel invaded his territory. God sent Isaiah to  him with a message of hope. Isaiah told Ahaz to remain calm and have faith in God. Instead, he asked the King of Assyria to help him out.

And so in a second confrontation, Isaiah told Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz piously refused, so Isaiah gave him a sign anyway: a young woman would bear a son and call his name Immanuel. Before the child was old enough to know right from wrong, the two kings Ahaz feared would be gone.

Here, the name “Immanuel” was more important than the manner of his conception. Within nine months, it appears, the threat from Israel and Syria ended so dramatically that “Immanuel” might have even become a common name for baby boys in Jerusalem.

When Ahaz heard that name, he would have to understand that before Immanuel was  old enough to know right from wrong, Assyria would be a greater threat than those two petty kings could have ever been. Because he had been faithless, the sign pointed to the greatest national disaster since the kingdom split in two after Solomon died.

When Matthew quoted from this passage, the sign took on a dramatically different significance. Our Savior had to be born of a virgin; it is his conception, not the name “Immanuel” that matters in the gospels. The sign of a virgin birth pointed not to disaster, but salvation. The child of the virgin came into the world for one reason: to die in order to redeem the whole world from sin.

This one verse of Scripture has had two meanings and two applications. We can read in the Bible about the results of Ahaz’ faithlessness and apostasy, but scholars with the right language skills can also read about it in the boasts of the kings of Assyria and Babylon. Judah ceased to exist as an independent kingdom and instead became a tributary to greater powers for the rest of its existence.

We can also read in the Bible about how the baby Jesus grew up to be a man unlike any other, a man who was also God, the Lord of the universe. We can read of his death, resurrection, and ascension. We can read of his promise to return and put an end to sin and death.

People of faith can also look at how God’s grace has brought them through trials in their own lives, so once again, ample evidence of the fulfillment of the second meaning and application of this verse exists outside the pages of Scripture. Anyone else, if they only will, can read of Jesus’ redemptive power in the lives of his saints.

Let us, in this season of Advent, make the time to take our attention off the  hustle and bustle of shopping, parties and family get-togethers in order to ponder the significance of this holy birth–and more than that, his holy life and death. The baby grew up and demonstrated his Lordship. Let us worship and obey.


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