They Will Call His Name Immanuel

I think the writer of the Gospel of Matthew wrote a delightful midrash in his account of Yeshua’s birth. The writer cleverly weaves several verses of Scripture together in one quotation and gives us a rich meditation on the Mission and calling of Yeshua to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

First a little story from B. Niddah 16b. The Angel of HaShem appointed over conception is named Lailah, “Night” in Hebrew, as it is written: when Lailah said, “A male-child is conceived!” (Job 3:3). Night presents the drop for conception before HaShem and says, “Master of the Universe, what will be of this drop?” In other words, who is this person to be?

Yeshua was conceived of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). No conception ever happens without HaShem authorizing it. Having a name and purpose, Lailah was given permission to cause Miryam to conceive her Son. Joseph, thinking to himself what to do, was probably visited by Lailah, not surprisingly at night, and told the sign how Yeshua would yoshia (he will save) His people.

The writer now quotes the passage:

“Therefore Adonai Himself will give you a sign:

Behold, the virgin will conceive.
    When she is giving birth to a son,
    she will call his name Immanuel. (Isa. 7:14, TLV)

Which is interpreted: God is with us.” (my translation)

Most perceive this quote as concerning the virgin birth, a reasonable interpretation to be sure, but I think there is more to it. HaShem says in Isaiah’s context that the House of David will get a sign whether they ask for one or not. Joseph, a descendant of the House of David, just got a sign from Lailah. This makes sense of why the genealogy was placed just before this story.

But why did the writer need to interpret Emmanuel? Could his Jewish audience really not know what Emmanuel means? Rather, it is because he wanted to connect Yeshua’s birth to the prophecy written in 2 Chronicles 36:23, which says, “HaShem His God is with Him”. The words in Isaiah and 2Chronicles are similar. The conception of Yeshua then hints at the restoration and return of Jews back to the Land of Israel in 2Chronicles prophecy. Just as in Ahaz’s time God was with Judah to deliver them from the Syro-Ephraimite siege (c. 735 bce) before the boy Emmanuel in his time could eat honey, so was God Emmanuel with the people of Judah in the Apostolic time period, bringing near the redemption of Israel.

It is all the more striking that “gentile astrologers from the east” is the next story after the birth of Messiah. The words of 2Chronicles are again hinted at for us. The Magi give the King of kings gold, frankincense, and myrrh, all things that would presumably be useful for building and service of the Temple, as it says: “and He [HaShem] appointed me to build for Him a Temple in Jerusalem.” How ironic that the Magi say to King Herod, the infamous re-builder of the second Temple, “where is the One born King of the Jews…” I guess HaShem was “Not with Him”, but looking for someone else!

The writer beautifully binds the Book of Matthew to where the story left off in the Jewish Tanakh Scriptures using the thread Emmanuel, “God with us”. Yeshua came to restore the Jews to their homeland, to establish His Kingdom, and save us from death. But just as Messiah would have to flee to Egypt, so we are in exile. But we have hope in Emmanuel coming again.

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