“Oh Come Oh Come Immanuel, and rescue captive Israel.”
We sing those words every Christmas. But what exactly are we singing?
Immanuel was in the name of the church I grew up in and that my parents grew up in. It was called Immanuel Trinity Lutheran Church. Still is.
Immanuel, also spelled Emmanuel, is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “a child prophesied by Isaiah (7:14) as a deliverer of Judah. The name was applied to Jesus in Matthew 1:23,” and the dictionary even includes the definition as “God with us,” for that is the Hebrew meaning.
The passage in Isaiah was a word of the Lord to Judah’s King Ahaz, one of several evil kings and he ruled for 16 years. A footnote in the New American Standard Bible (NAS) provides some interesting background and points out that Isaiah’s word was one of encouragement to Ahaz, or perhaps a warning of punishment if he did not act on faith. Ahaz, at that time, was worried over threats from Rezin of Damascus and King Pekah of Israel and Ahaz wanted to ally Judah with Tiglath-pileser, the King of Assyria.
Isaiah exhorted Ahaz to ally with and trust in the Lord instead and offered him this verse as a “fleece,” a sign of confirmation that help would come. A woman would conceive and have a son, whom she would name Immanuel and, while the son was still young, the crisis threat would end.
Whether the woman was a virgin or not really had nothing to do with Ahaz but the sign was in the meaning of the boy’s name, God is with us, and how soon the threat would be over if Ahaz would just trust the Lord. Of course, Ahaz did not take Isaiah’s advice and sought the Assyrian king’s favor instead, but the cost was huge and the temple and treasury paid for the “help.”
The NAS reports that Tiglath-pileser did defeat Damascas and killed Rezin and in 732 BC, he captured and exiled northern Israel and Pekah was assassinated.
The NAS adds that “God had already determined to solve Ahaz’ problem, but Ahaz foolishly took matters into his own hands and paid dearly for it.”
Matthew’s use of this passage in Isaiah was based on the Greek Old testament, referred to as the Septuagint, not the Hebrew, according to the NAS, and Matthew “derived a deeper meaning than what Ahaz saw it for.” His application of a ‘virgin being with child’ to Mary and Jesus, made this a hallmark verse for Christians to use, so much so that the Jews actually modified the translation and even produced another Greek Old Testament, according to the NAS.
In the suggested list of the names of Jesus for our consideration in this Christmas Season, one more name that could have been added but goes with the one I chose is “I AM. “
Though it’s not recorded in the Scripture anywhere that Jesus called Himself Immanuel, He did call Himself I Am in John 8:24 and 8:58 for example.
And that was one of the things that so infuriated the Pharisees against Him because He DARED to call Himself a name the Pharisees clearly recognized as God Himself, the one He offered to Moses as a confirmation of his mission to lead Israel out of Egypt.
Because Jesus is I AM……..He is also Immanuel.
Next time you see the “Jehovah Witnesses” standing outside in front of the Post Office in Lynden, please join me in reminding them that “Jesus is the name that is above every name and that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord,” and then add that Jesus is also Immanuel, because He called Himself I AM. He is indeed GOD with us.