Who Is Immanuel in Isaiah 1-39? (III)

BirthofJesus

III

However, one final thought should be developed here. If all these ideas are correct, if the logical interpretation suggests that Is 7:14 is related to the other excerpts discussed before; then, why does the Christian interpretation of the prophecy assumes that the child is Jesus and the young woman is Mary? Seitz provides a persuasive answer to this problem. Indeed, Hezekiah was a historical king. Everything indicates that he was a very good one, probably the best. For this reason, the tradition of interpretation of Isaiah started to consider Hezekiah as a type for later kings to follow[1]. The Israelite hope in a new era in which a messianic king will rule the nations in peace reinterpreted the prophecies of the Immanuel transforming Hezekiah into something more than a historical person. He became an eschatological king. However, as we know, another king emerged from the House of David. For the Christians, the son of Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth, became the typos of the king, the fulfillment of all the promises of the Old Testament[2]. Then, the figure of Hezekiah as a type inevitably should be connected with the figure of Jesus,

“[…] But the messianic role that Jesus fulfills is not an eternal “type” with no earthly referent. […]. That Jesus explodes all mundane aspects of kingship is itself not unprecedented. Israel’s own vision of kingship […] prepared the church to see in Jesus a king like no other, yet like what Israel longed for and at times experienced a foretaste of in kings like Hezekiah”[3] (CS, 75).

In sum, we can conclude that the prophecy of Immanuel was literarily and theologically constructed in order to present the figure of an ideal king to come. This king must be a faithful and obedient one. He ought to be a ruler who will honorably represent the office of kingship by trusting the Lord in any circumstance. This king was embodied in the figure of Hezekiah who remained obedient during the Assyrian invasion, who became a sign of hope which allowed the people to truly say, “God is with us”[4]. In this sense, Christopher Seitz affirms that the Old Testament’s prophecies have a per se voice, a voice once directed to a specific audience with a particular burden[5].

Nevertheless, Hezekiah was also transformed into a typological king by the tradition and, in this regard, the birth of the Immanuel is part of a prophecy that will take time to establish[6]. That prophecy was construed by later Christian interpreters as a vision of the birth and reign of Jesus. But even in this case, the birth of Jesus was not the last chapter of the story. This story is, in fact, a cosmological and eschatological history of salvation. Consequently, we are always expecting the Immanuel, God who comes to stay with us. Even Christians are still expecting the second coming of the Lord, about which the “day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). The event of the manifestation of the Lord is always an open-ended event, which the season of Advent exemplifies. In Seitz words:

“Advent now is a paradoxical combination of retrospection, in which the birth of Christ is memorialized, and anticipation, as that birth becomes an earnest of promises once articulated by Isaiah and the prophets of the Old Testament, still straining toward their ultimate fulfillment when Christ will come in glory, when wolf lies down with lamb, death is swallowed up, and every tear wiped away for good and forever”[7].

Therefore, that per se voice of the Old Testament is perfectly connected to the new witness of Christian interpretation. Despite the fact that the original addressees of the prophecy of the Immanuel were the Jewish people, despite the fact that the original referent of the oracle was King Hezekiah; Christian reinterpretation remains valid and not a capricious effort. The reason is simple: the very meaning of the prophecy implies a not-yet, this is a prophecy that will take time to establish. In this sense, Jews, Christians and even Gentiles are involved in this eschatological promise of a king to come. This is the deeper meaning of the Immanuel prophecy, shown in this essay by means of a close reading of Isaiah.


[1] Ibid., 74.

[2] On the relationship between Jewish and Christian interpretations about the kind of fulfillment Jesus implies, the Pontifical Biblical Commission affirms: “Christian faith recognises the fulfillment, in Christ, of the Scriptures and the hopes of Israel, but it does not understand this fulfillment as a literal one. Such a conception would be reductionist. In reality, in the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, fulfillment is brought about in a manner unforeseen.  It includes transcendence. Jesus is not confined to playing an already fixed role — that of Messiah — but he confers, on the notions of Messiah and salvation, a fullness which could not have been imagined in advance; he fills them with a new reality; one can even speak in this connection of a “new creation”. It would be wrong to consider the prophecies of the Old Testament as some kind of photographic anticipations of future events. All the texts, including those which later were read as messianic prophecies, already had an immediate import and meaning for their contemporaries before attaining a fuller meaning for future hearers. The messiahship of Jesus has a meaning that is new and original”, see The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (USA: Pauline Books and Media, 2002), II A.5, “The Unity of God’s Plan and the Idea of Fulfillment”, n. 21. These precisions are fundamental. On the one hand, there is a real fulfillment, but one totally unexpected and even now incapable to be fully discerned. On the other hand, it does not imply that the fulfillment that Jesus manifests cancels the historical referent of the prophecy, namely, King Hezekiah. Here we have what Sandra Schneiders calls a hermeneutical dialectic between tradition and Scripture: both are connected in dialectical way, always enriching each other and perfecting the meaning of the fulfillment, see The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 81.

[3] Seitz, Isaiah 1-39, 75.

[4] Ibid., 70-71.

[5] Christopher Seitz, “Isaiah in New Testament, Lectionary, Pulpit,” in Reading and Preaching the Book of Isaiah, ed. C.R. Seitz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1998), 224.

[6] Seitz, Isaiah 1-39, 83, 87, 249.

[7] Seitz, “Isaiah in New Testament, Lectionary, Pulpit”, 227.

*Imagen tomada de http://www.frescoicons.com/BirthofJesus.htm

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