Throughout the Old Testament, God is called by many names, titles and epithets. He is called “El” (God), a name which is frequently found in the Psalms and Job. This name is commonly compounded with other descriptive titles: God Most High (Gen. 14:18-21); God who sees (16:13); God Almighty (17:1); the everlasting God (21:33); God of Bethel (31:13); the God of glory (Ps. 29:3); God my salvation (Isa. 12:2). Each is expressive of some aspect of God’s person and character, though none can encompass the fullness of his being.
As revealed in Ex. 3:13-15 and 6:2-8, there is only one personal name for God in the Old Testament. That name is “Yahweh.” In the Hebrew language, it is composed of four consonants called the ‘Tetragrammaton’ (YHWH). This name is also the covenant name for God to the people of Israel. But to me, one of the most cherished names of God in the Old Testament is the name Immanuel or Emmanuel. It is composed of two words in its three occurrences in Isaiah (7:14, 8:8, 10). The name is composed of the preposition ‘im, (with) and a first person pronominal suffix (us) and the divine name “El” at the end of the word: Immanu + El, which means “God (is) with us.”
To understand its profound theological significance, we need to look at the historical context. Isaiah’s words reflect a time when the people of Judah desperately needed to understand God was with them. When Israel and Syria marched southward and threatened Judah’s existence, what would King Ahaz of Judah do? He put his hope for salvation in human power rather than in the Lord. But Isaiah calls Ahaz and all Jerusalem to put their firm faith in a far more reliable ally: “The Lord himself.” Thus the Lord invites Ahaz to ask for a sign to strengthen his faith (Isa. 7:11). But Ahaz hypocritically refuses to do so. Isaiah then addresses the house of David, accusing them of wearying God, but he also offers them a sign from the Lord himself (Isa. 7:14). This sign is the famous announcement of a son born to a virgin, whose name will be Immanuel. The name is cherished because it speaks of the depth of God’s grace and mercy that He gives His presence and even himself (Matt. 1:23), to His human creation.
Beyond its specific context in Isaiah 7:14, the name has come to symbolize the story of biblical revelation. It is a love story through time that documents the promise of divine presence and the relentless movement of redemption, by divine initiative, from heaven to earth. This Immanuel theme begins in Eden with the intimate and unhindered fellowship between God and His human creation, and it concludes with the restoration of that fellowship in the events of Rev. 21:1-4. "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). What a blessing it is for us as God’s children that our God would condescend to live among us (John 1:14)! Let this blessing of Immanuel strengthen and help us to live with confidence in our God and His promises over our earthly circumstances in the year ahead. Have a blessed ‘Immanuel-filled’ New Year!
Rev. Mark Tay