John Bytheway—a Christmas Message from Isaiah

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Hi, this is John Bytheway, and I have a little Christmas message for you today from the book of Isaiah. One of the things about the book of Isaiah is that most of us know a verse here or there in Isaiah. I call it ‘drive by’ scripture study. We know a verse and we use it and we get it.

Here is one that we often hear quoted at Christmas. This is from 2 Nephi 17, or Isaiah 7.

14 “Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign—
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Now, the name Immanuel is mentioned in the New Testament as the fulfillment of this, but if you read the whole backstory to Isaiah 7 or 2 Nephi 17, it sounds less and less like a prophecy of the Savior.

When I was writing my book, Isaiah for Airheads, (airheads was about me not the readers) I did research on this chapter, and I’ll explain. Here’s what was happening. Isaiah was an advisor to the kings of the Kingdom of Judah, and he went to see Ahaz because the Lord told him. Because Syria, a kingdom north of Judah and Israel, a kingdom north of Judah, had both been conquered by Assyria, and puppet kings had been installed, these two kings wanted king Ahaz to join an alliance with them.

Ahaz refused. So they, the two kings, thought, we will attack Judah and force them to form the alliance. So Isaiah goes to find Ahaz, who’s at the conduit looking at a pool (probably checking the water supply for the city in preparation for battle). And Isaiah says, hey, don’t worry about this alliance. It’s not going to stand. It’s going to fall. Then Isaiah says, ask for a sign. And Ahaz replies, I’m not going to ask for a sign.

So Isaiah says, all right, then the Lord himself shall give you a sign. A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.1

When you see that backstory, you’re like, how in the world would this help Ahaz? He’s talking about an event that’s not going to come for 700 more years. When this child that’s born reaches the age of accountability or before he does, those two kings in Israel and Syria will be gone. So it makes even less sense when you look at it closely. It doesn’t sound very much at all like a prophecy of Christ. This is where understanding Isaiah’s multiple and dual fulfillments of prophecies is really helpful. Who was he talking about?

When we back up and get the big picture, we see 2 Nephi 17, 18, and 19. We notice all three of those chapters, or Isaiah 7, 8, and 9, all three of them have a prophecy of a son being born. 2 Nephi 17 or Isaiah 7 is the first fulfillment, and is probably referring to Isaiah’s son. This is like what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “there are plural or parallel elements to this prophecy. As with much of Isaiah’s writing, the most immediate meaning was probably focused on Isaiah’s wife, a pure and good woman who brought forth a son about this time; the child becoming a type and shadow of a greater later fulfillment of the prophecy that would be realized in the birth of Jesus Christ.”2 (That is from Elder Holland’s book, Christ in the New Covenant).

One way to look at this is that 2 Nephi 17 is the Immanuel prophecy. 2 Nephi 18 is the first fulfillment—when Isaiah’s son is born, Maher-shalal-hash-baz.3

That is the longest word in the Bible, which is his name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz.
The later fulfillment is 2 Nephi 19 or Isaiah 9. Let me go there and read to you what is probably very familiar to you, much more sounding like the birth of Christ. 2 Nephi 19: 6 or Isaiah 9:6:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

It is much more clear that this is the ultimate fulfillment of the birth of the Son of God.

Whenever I read that verse, it reminds me of course, of Handel’s Messiah. A tradition that we used to have was to go down to the Messiah singing and bring our sheet music, for Handel’s Messiah, down to the Utah Symphony and orchestra at Abravanel Hall. This was so much fun because the soloists would be there: a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The chorus would be there also and they would sing some solos. Then, every once in a while, the conductor would look at the audience and have us all stand up, and we would all sing together. It was really fun. Nobody was performing for anybody. It was just all of us singing, and we sang: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. It is so fun. Nobody’s performing. We’re all singing this together.

At the end of the program, it ends with the Hallelujah chorus, and you have to watch the conductor because there’s a big fermata at the end as we’re all singing: Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. And he stops, and you have to wait for him, and then he comes back in. Well, one time, my father in law came in a little early, so he jokes with people that he soloed with the Utah Symphony. But you have to watch the conductor for this big Hallelujah.

I’ve wondered on several occasions when I was there, wow, why is this music so powerful? Why is it so wonderful? And it dawned on me, it’s obvious, the lyrics were solid scripture from start to finish. Some Isaiah, some New Testament, some all over the place, but they were all scripture.

At the very end, the conductor does something wonderful. He has the chorus stand up and all of us in the audience applaud the chorus. Then the symphony and all of us applaud the symphony. Then, the conductor turns, he acknowledges the audience, and the chorus and the professionals, the real singers, and musicians, clap for the audience (kind of with that bless their hearts look on their face). Then, my favorite part is when the conductor picks up the score for Handel’s Messiah and holds it up. That’s the biggest cheer of the night—for this wonderful, classic, piece of music that we all enjoy and love so much every year.

Nothing brings that Christmas spirit to me as much as singing that verse from Isaiah: unto us, a son is born, unto us, a child is given. That’s the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel Prophecy. His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. That’s the Christmas spirit I feel when we talk about that.

My friends that have helped put this together, SearchIsaiah, they’re going to give away a few copies of my book, Isaiah for Airheads.

In there, you can read how I learned to discover these things from the real scholars who helped me understand that yes, that Immanuel Prophecy really is about Christ.

With 2 Nephi 17, I always thought, what do I do with this? This is talking about Syria and Israel and Assyria, ancient kingdoms. Then, I finally figured out the geography, and who was who and what capitals were who, but I thought, I don’t think that’s what the Lord wants us to remember.

I think he wants us to remember the message of Immanuel. God is with us.

Don’t worry if Israel or Syria or Assyria is with you, because God is with you. That is the message of Immanuel.

I hope you have a wonderful and joyous Christmas. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes
1 Isaiah 7:14–16
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ in the New Covenant.
HEBREW: To speed to the spoil, he hasteneth the prey.

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