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immanuel

by Paul Sumner

  When Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the cemetery honoring fallen soldiers at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he used a now famous phrase:
All men are created equal.
Those words — spoken on November 19, 1863 — have since been a rallying banner for human dignity and rights. Mr. Lincoln abolished slavery. Since then, he has been called the greatest American champion of human liberty.

But Mr. Lincoln didn't coin this famous phrase about human equality. He was quoting the Declaration of Independence issued by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Mr. Lincoln was echoing a central doctrine of the American republic that his listeners in 1863 should have known.

He was appealing to the nation's founding document of liberation for his authority to interpret the events for which they were gathered. He was reminding those present at Gettysburg that the civil war was actually being fought over the ideal of equality — a "proposition" laid down "four score and seven years ago" (or 87 years before, in 1776).

Knowing that the phrase originated in the struggle for liberty from England, Mr. Lincoln's allusion to equality takes on deeper meaning.

It broadens our understanding of the scope of his vision and his rhetorical purposes. It provokes following generations who hear his words to remember the original Charter of freedom.

[The full text of the Gettysburg Address follows at the end of this article.]

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Isaiah's Reminder

“the almah will...name him Immanu El”
(Isaiah 7:14)

Similarly, when the prophet Isaiah spoke of a Coming Man named Immanu El — "with us is God" — he wasn't coining an innovative name or idea. He was recalling a phrase from Scripture. He was reminding his generation of the ancient truth that throughout Israel's history God was "with" his people.

From the earliest days, the statement "God is with" was an affirmation of the Lord's loyalty in the present and the basis of hope for the future.

Abraham — "God is with you [Abraham] in all that you do" (Gen 21:22)

Isaac — "Sojourn in this land and I will be with you ... Do not fear, for I am with you, I will bless you" (Gen 26:3, 24)

Jacob — "I am with you and will keep you wherever you go" (Gen 28:15). "Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you" (Gen 31:3)

Joseph — "The LORD was with Joseph.... The LORD was with him" (Gen 39:2, 21, 23)

Moses — "I will be with you" (Exod 3:12). "My Presence shall go with you" (Exod 33:14)

Joshua — "Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you" (Jos 1:5)

Samuel — "Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him" (1 Sam 3:19)

David — "I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite . . . and the LORD is with him" (1 Sam 16:18). "Saul was afraid of David, for the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul" (1 Sam 18:12). "David became greater and greater, for the LORD God of hosts was with him" (2 Sam 5:10).

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For the community of Israel, the declaration "God is with us" had special potency in times of excruciating challenge.

The LORD is with us, do not fear them (Num 14:9, said by Moses)
Later generations looked back to the ancient Promise when they were on the verge of great eras or in peril:
May the LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers;
may he not leave us or forsake us. (1 Kings 8:57, said by Solomon)

The LORD God of hosts is with us,
The God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:7, 11=Heb vv. 8, 12)

There is harmonic resonance in these passages in the New Testament regarding Yeshua:
Rabbi, we know that ... no one can do these signs that you do
unless God is with him. (John 3:2)

He who sent me is with me. (John 8:29)

I am not alone because the Father is with me. (John 16:23)

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Hope Revived
So it was in the days of Isaiah.

The covenant nation was in grave danger of invasion, decimation and deportation. To the shock of many, even the Temple in Jerusalem was not inviolate. The prophet foretold days of severe sorrow. But he said ultimate rescue would follow the imminent disasters.

To illustrate his prophetic messages, Isaiah bore two sons who wore symbolic, promissory names regarding the nation's future:

"A Remnant Shall Return" (She'ar Yashuv; 7:3; 10:21)

"Pillage Hastens, Looting Speeds" (Maher Shalal Hash Baz; 8:3)

Because the name Immanu El is mentioned in the same narrative about these boys, some commentators believe he was also Isaiah's son (7:14). In the context of chapters 7 and 8, that would fit. Immanu El would be his second named son:
She'ar Yashuv — 7:3
Immanu El — 7:14
Maher Shalal Hash Baz — 8:3
But the Text doesn't say Isaiah is Immanu El's father, as it does regarding the other two.

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Setting aside the issue of fatherhood, the boy Immanu El was indeed a prophetic "message" from God. With us is God in our times of uncertainty. We need not fear.

In Isaiah 8:10 the phrase immanu El serves as a defiant protest against enemies planning to destroy the nation.

Devise a plan but it will be thwarted;
State a proposal, but it will not stand,
For God is with us [immanu El].
Prophetic Names
Many names in the Bible have a "God element." That is, they contain the ancient Semitic word for God, El.
Yisra El (Israel) — contender with God
Yehezki El (Ezekiel) — strengthened by God
Yo El (Joel) — the LORD is God
Dani El — God is judge
Micha El — who is like God?
Gabri El — warrior of God
The El element doesn't necessarily imply the persons are divine. They are instruments through which El (God) does his work or reveals aspects of His character. "Immanu El" follows this pattern. Though in the NT, Yeshua is uniquely the prophet, servant, son, whose origins are divine.

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Yeshua as Immanu El
“God was with him”
(Acts 10:38)

In the New Testament, Matthew draws upon the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 to validate Yeshua's birth to the young virgin, Miryam of Nazareth (Matt 1:23). (See Betulat Yisrael: Mother of Messiah.)

Matthew adopts the Greek Septuagint reading parthenos (virgin) instead of the traditional Hebrew text's almah (young unmarried woman). He agrees with the Jewish scholars who interpreted Isaiah's prophecy regarding "Immanu El" as a sign involving a miraculous conception. (See The "Virgin" of Isaiah 7:14.)

The rabbis of the second century BC(E) who rendered the Hebrew Bible into Greek elsewhere reveal their belief in divine conceptions and miraculous births. In Psalm 110, God says to the "Lord" who sits next to him:

Among the splendors of the holy ones,
From the womb of the dawn,
I have begotten you. (Ps 110:3; 109:3 LXX/Grk)

[Some scholars believe this was the original reading of the Hebrew text.]

When applied to Yeshua, however, Matthew sees "Immanu El" as a symbolic not a literal name. (He reports that Miryam is told to call her God-fathered Son "Yeshua" [Hebrew] which means "the LORD saves.")

The Age-Resonating Name
At the conclusion of his gospel account Matthew alludes to the promissory meaning behind the name in his final sentence — words spoken by Yeshua:

Behold, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age.

(Matthew 28:20)

When this allusion to Immanu El is heard by later generations who know the ancient biblical story, there is an immediate thrill of recognition:

"We've heard this before. Our fathers and our mothers knew this phrase. God was with them. So also God will be with us. His Messiah has brought the Presence of God (again) into our age. We need not fear."

The One who is with us is greater than the one with him . . .
[For] with us is the LORD our God [immanu YHVH Eloheinu]
to help us and to fight our battles.

(2 Chron 32:7-8; also 1 John 4:4)

Paul Sumner

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The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all me are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln.
November 28, 1863.

As written from Lincoln's hand. Reproduced from: Garry Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg (The Words That Remade America) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), page 263.