Isaiah's Prophecy Fulfilled in Incarnation
Nativity (Incarnation) Scene Flanked by the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel
Mary is the gate proclaimed by the Prophet Ezekiel through which God
entered into the world "while remaining shut" (Ezekiel 44:2).
Isaiah's Prophecy Fulfilled in Incarnation
by Pope John Paul the Great
1.In discussing the figure of Mary in the Old Testament, the
Council (Lumen gentium, n. 55) refers to the
well-known text of Isaiah, which caught the particular attention of the early Christians: "
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel"
During the annunciation of the angel who
invites Joseph to take to himself
wife, "for that which is conceived in her is of the
Holy Spirit", Matthew gives a Christological and
Marian significance to the prophecy. In fact, he adds: "
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and
bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel'" (which means God does
not explicitly foretell the virginal birth of Emmanuel.
The word used (almah), in fact, simply means "a
young woman", not necessarily a virgin. Moreover, we know that
Jewish tradition did not hold up the idea of perpetual virginity,
nor did it ever express the idea of virginal motherhood.
The Lord Himself will give you a sign
2. In the Greek tradition, however the Hebrew word was translated "
parthenos", "virgin". In this fact, which
could seem merely a peculiarity of translation, we must recognize a mysterious orientation
given by the Holy Spirit to Isaiah's words in order to prepare for the
understanding of the Messiah's extraordinary birth. The translation of the word as
"virgin" is explained by the fact that Isaiah's text very
solemnly prepares for the announcement of the conception and presents it as a
divine sign (Isaiah 7:10-14), arousing the expectation of an
extraordinary conception. Now, it is not something extraordinary for a young woman to conceive a son after being joined
to her husband. However, the prophecy makes no reference to the husband. Such a formulation, then, suggested the
interpretation given later in the Greek version.
3. In the original context, the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 was the divine reply
to a lack of faith on the part of King Ahaz, who, threatened
with an invasion from the armies of the neighboring kings sought his own salvation and that of his
kingdom in Assyria's protection. In advising him to put his trust solely
in God and to reject the dreadful Assyrian
intervention, the prophet Isaiah invites him on the Lord's behalf to make
an act of faith in God's power:
"Ask a sign of the Lord your God." At the king's refusal, for he preferred to seek
salvation in human aid, the prophet made the
famous prediction: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my
God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a
Son, and shall call His name
Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:13-14).
The announcement of the sign of Emmanuel,
"God-with-us", implies the promise of God's presence
in history which will find its full meaning in the mystery of the
Incarnation of the Word.
4. In the announcement of the wondrous birth of Emmanuel, the indication of
the woman who conceives and gives birth, shows a certain intention to associate the
mother with the destiny of the Son a
Prince destined to establish an ideal kingdom,
the "messianic kingdom" and offers a glimpse of a special
divine plan, which highlights the woman's role.
The sign, in fact, is not only the Child, but the extraordinary conception
revealed later in the birth itself, a hope-filled event, which stresses the central role
of the mother.
The prophecy of Emmanuel must also be understood in the
horizon opened by the promise made to David, a promise we read about in the Second Book of Samuel.
Here the prophet Nathan promises the king God's favor towards his descendent:
"He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of
his kingdom forever. I will be His
Father, and He shall be My Son" (2Samuel 7:13-14).
God wants to exercise a paternal role towards David's offspring, a
role that will reveal its full, authentic meaning in the New Testament with the
Incarnation of the Son of God in
the family of David (cf. Romans 1:3).
5. The same prophet Isaiah, in another very familiar text, confirms the unusual nature of
Emmanuel's birth. Here are his words: "For to us a child is
born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulder, and he will be called 'Wonderful
Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace'" (Isaiah 9:5). Thus the prophet expresses, in the series of names
given the Child, the qualities of His royal office:
wisdom, might, fatherly
The mother is no longer mentioned here, but the exaltation
of the Son, Who brings the people all they
can hope for in the messianic kingdom, is
also reflected in the woman who conceived Him
and gave Him birth.
6. A famous prophecy of Micah also alludes to the birth of
Emmanuel. The prophet says: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me One Who is to be ruler in Israel, Whose origin is from
of old, from ancient days. Therefore the Lord shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth . . .
" (Micah 5:2-3). These words re-echo the expectation of a birth full of messianic
hope, in which once again the mother's role is stressed, the
mother explicitly remembered and ennobled by
the wondrous event that brings joy and
Prophecy prepares revelation of virginal motherhood
7. Mary's virginal motherhood was prepared for in a more general way by
God's favor to the humble and
the poor (cf.
Lumen gentium, n. 55).
By their attitude of placing all their trust in the Lord, they anticipated the
profound meaning of Mary's virginity. By renouncing the richness of
human motherhood, she awaited from
God all the fruitfulness of
her own life.
The Old Testament then does not contain a formal announcement of the virginal
motherhood, which was fully revealed only by the New Testament. Nevertheless, Isaiah's
prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) prepares for the revelation of this mystery and
was construed so in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. By quoting the prophecy thus translated,
Matthew's Gospel proclaims its perfect fulfillment through the conception of
Jesus in Mary's virginal womb.