These verses have been interpreted and understood of a person different from Immanuel of v. 14, of one naturally born in the days of Isaiah. Some of the rabbis supposed the child to be Hezekiah, others that he was a son of Ahaz, and still others imagined that a pregnant woman was present at the time Isaiah was speaking and that he pointed to her in illustration of his prediction. Others, yet, said this was a son of Isaiah’s. These are assumptions without supporting evidence and all unnecessary to the understanding of the passage. There is no necessity, especially no exegetical necessity, for making the person of vv. 15-16 any other than the same person as in verse 14. It is both ungrammatical and arbitrary to refer v. 16 to a child different from the one of v. 14. C. H. Spurgeon calls this “a strange frittering away of a wonderful passage . . . I, therefore, reject that view of the matter; it is, to my mind, far below the height of this great argument. It does not speak, or allow us to speak one half of the wondrous depth which coucheth beneath this mighty passage.”
Others suggest that the problem of the identity of the persons in these verses is to be solved by the idea of a double fulfillment of prophecy. Of this, J. A. Alexander says, “A double sense is not impossible, and must, in certain cases, be assumed, (although) it is unreasonable to assume it when any other explanation is admissible . . . especially if any simpler mode of exposition be at all admissible.”
The view here is like that of a photo made with a telescopic lens, showing buildings, cars, telegraph poles, traffic, and people all in one close-up scene, all in one plane. Distance and depth are squeezed out of the picture. The perspective combines objects near and lying far apart in a complex sequence and arrangement. So the prophet, with telescopic eye sees ranges of mountains as though within reach, not seeing the far apart valleys in between. So when “Isaiah speaks of Immanuel as eating thickened milk and honey, like all who survived the Assyrian troubles . . . he evidently looks upon and thinks of the childhood of Immanuel as connected with the time of the Assyrian calamities” (Delitzsch). Everything is viewed in telescopic panorama—close up. The prophet sees to the time when Jesus was born. At that time, Israel was under a Gentile power, in a situation directly traceable to the unbelief of Ahaz.
“Curds and honey he shall eat to (the time of) his knowing, in (the presence of) the evil, to reject, and in (the presence of) the good, to choose” (v. 15, Heb.). The first Adam was a full grown, mature man immediately upon his creation; but the Last Adam was conceived, born, and advanced gradually through the stages of infancy, childhood, and youth to manhood, with increasing ability to discern good and evil. As for the King James Version of this verse, Spurgeon says, “Our translators were certainly very good scholars, and God gave them much wisdom, so that they craned up our language to the majesty of the original, but here they were guilty of very great inconsistency. I do not see how butter and honey can make a child choose good and refuse evil. If it is so, I am sure butter and honey ought to go up greatly in price. For good men are very much required. But it does not say in the original, ‘Butter and honey shall He eat that .He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.'” The text is literally as noted at the beginning of this paragraph.
What is taught here is Christ’s real humanity. To prove this to His church, even in His resurrection from the dead in the flesh, He, just as any human being would, ate some broiled fish and a piece of a honeycomb. The heretics known as the Doketites taught that Christ’s body was a mere seeming appearance. Then He was not a real man. But He ate butter and honey as other men did. He was nourished with food as other men. He was true man just as really as He was true and eternal God. He also was a holy Child, for He did not choose evil, as did our first parents, and as the natural man can only do. His nature being sinless, He rejects the evil and chooses the good.
Here is also taught that Christ would be born in a time of peace. “The bees may make their hive in the lion’s carcass, and there may be honey there; but when the land is disturbed, who shall go to gather the sweetness? How shall the babe eat butter (thickened milk—RCH), when its mother flees away even in the winter time, with the child clinging to her breast? . . . Ere the King of Peace came to the temple of Jerusalem, the horrid mouth of war was stopped . . . Augustus Caesar was emperor of the world; none other ruled it, and therefore wars had ceased, and the earth was still! . . . then came the Prince of Peace, who in after days shall break the bow and cut the spear in sunder, and bum the chariot in the fire” (CHS).
“For before the boy shall know in (the presence of) the evil to reject and in (the presence of) the good to choose, the land, before two of her kings, concerning whom thou feelest a sickening dread, shall be forsaken” (v. 16, Heb.). “The land here meant is Syria and Israel, spoken of as one because confederate against Judah. The wasting of these kingdoms and the deportation of their people by Tiglath-pileser (II Kings 15:29, 16:9), is here predicted” (J. A. Alexander). The child, the one referred to in v. 14, Immanuel, as to his human nature, learns to distinguish good and evil, but before he does- so, something happens. The land gets to be God-forsaken. Isaiah does not expressly say when this will take place, but only that it will before the child has reached the riper age of boyhood. After Syria and Israel were forsaken, “Judah vv. 17ff) was then next laid waste by the Assyrians as a punishment for having refused the help of Jehovah, and preferring the help of man . . . The very king to whom Ahaz had appealed in his terror would bring Judah to the brink of destruction.” (Delitzsch). His hopes were dashed to disappointment. For the two kings, who were no more than two tales of smoking firebrands, but whom Ahaz dreaded, were drawn off and made to forsake the land of Israel, thus relieving Judah of this threat, and leaving Ahaz with nothing more to fear from them. Yet Ahaz, too, followed not long afterward in their slippery path.
“The land forsaken!” Why was it so? For the sins of idolatry and image worship! Ahaz was an idolater. His sins brought the land to God-forsakenness. Our land, too, is full of these same sins. The nation falls into these evils only gradually. “After a while, they who professed to worship Christ must needs have crossand crucifix, picture and image. Of course, they did not worship the cross, or crucifix, or the picture, or the image! No, but they professed to worship Christ by the help of these things. That was the first violation of the simplicity of worship . . . in reality, a departure from the living God. In a very short time they took to the worship of saints, and from that they went to the worship of cast clouts and rotten rags . . . bones . . . decayed teeth and all kinds of rubbish, made the subjects of worship when they have been exposed to the gaze of the deluded people . . . Only three or four hundred years ago, from one end of this island to the other, the land was full of holy roods and images and relics . . . the people were utterly given up to idolatry, and the gospel of God was scarcely known” (C. H. Spurgeon). But then the time came when God’s people were moved to “revolt against Romanism, and all over England men smashed the ‘holy water’ basins, and defaced the pictures, and pulled down the images, and treated them with utter contempt, and England was freed from the idolatry under which she had groaned so long. We thought she would always remain free; but, alas! we only dreamed it. By and by there came men in ‘the Established Church,’ who did not bid us worship saints, nor did they at first go very far in idolatry; but they said that they must have vestments, incense, and I know not what, and now they have boldly set up the crucifix—that calf of Baal, for it is nothing better—that image which they adore, and which we loathe, because it has become the thin end of the wedge, the first return to idolatry. Where is true Protestant feeling (thinking, teaching, and preaching—RCH) in England (in America—RCH)? It seems to me to be almost extinct. All that many care for is an ornate service, something beautiful for the eye to rest upon, flowers more abundant than in a conservatory, music sweet to the ear, and thus, by-and-by, unless God prevent, we shall get back to the old Roman idolatry, and that would be the ruin of this land as it has been the ruin of every land where it has had the sway. Time was when God covered England with His wing, when Spain’s Armada was swept away by the tempest, like chaff before the wind, and God was with our country, and gave her power, and made her to be the empress of the sea (ital added); but if she forsakes her God, she will fall from her heights. (God will bring such days as have not come, v. 17.—RCH). If this land becomes full of images and idols again, and there be found none to protest against it, the God that lifted us up will throw us down. He that hath used us for His glory will reckon us to be unfit for His service, and cast us away with the other nations that He hath forsaken because of their defilement through idolatry.” (Spurgeon).
“Jehovah will bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon the house of thy father, days which have not come, to, from the time Ephraim departed from upon Judah, by the king of Assyria” (v. 17). Ahaz could not listen to Jehovah speaking either through a special supernatural world-staggering wonder or His own simple word of truth, because he was so indebted to and involved’ with the King of Assyria. He had committed himself, for certain helps, to be his servant. He had paid him off in gold and silver tribute money. To do this he had impoverished the treasuries of church and state (II Kings 16:7-8). But the king of Assyria would become to him to lean on a broken reed. He would become to him a scourge of thorns, a whip of scorpions. Therefore “Jehovah will bring upon thee,” i.e., the hypocritical Ahaz (who was such a lover of everything Assyrian) would find that far from coming to his aid, they would come to destroy him. “Upon thee, upon thy people and upon the house of thy father.” The house of David would not be exempt from this severe judgment. The spiritual Israel would be spared and preserved through God’s judgments, while the carnal Israel would not escape unpunished but be consumed in His wrath. Saith the Lord, I will bring upon thee days which have not occurred since the schism and revolt of apostate Israel from Judah. That national affliction did more damage to the kingdom than any heathen enemy. Yet by all this destruction, the overthrow of Syria, next the ruin of Samaria, the carrying off of Israel to captivity, and finally the fall of Judah, the Lord would destroy the hypocrite and prove that judgment on the wicked is for the sake of the preservation of His Church.