Immediately after describing how the Lord called him to be a prophet, Isaiah tells the story of an assignment he received from the Lord. He was to deliver a message to Ahaz, the king of Judah. The Lord told him where to meet Ahaz (at the upper pool, just outside of Jerusalem) and who to bring with him (his son, Shear-jashub) (Isaiah 7:3, 2 Nephi 17:3).
Two nearby countries—Israel and Syria—had entered into an alliance and were preparing to invade Judah. Ahaz’s people were beginning to panic. Isaiah’s message for the king was simple: Don’t be afraid of the imminent attack. “It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass” (Isaiah 7:7, 2 Nephi 17:7).
Isaiah then offered Ahaz a sign to prove that his words were true, and he invited Ahaz to choose the sign. But Ahaz declined the offer, saying that he was unwilling to “tempt the Lord” (Isaiah 7:10-12, 2 Nephi 17:10-12). So Isaiah offered a sign of his own choosing:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and to 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 (Isaiah 7:14-16, 2 Nephi 17:14-16).
This prophecy was fulfilled in at least two different ways:
- Within a few short years, less than the amount of time it would take for a child to reach the age of accountability, the Assyrian empire conquered both the kingdoms of Israel and Syria, and both of the kings which had threatened Judah were dethroned. God was with Ahaz and his people.
- About 700 years later, a young woman named Mary miraculously gave birth to a child who was literally the Son of God. He came to remove obstacles which we could not overcome without divine assistance. His mortal life, death, and resurrection made it possible for us to overcome every challenge we face, including spiritual and physical death.
The name “Immanuel” (עִמָּנוּאֵל) means “God is with us.” In telling the story of Christ’s birth, Matthew pointed to this prophecy of Isaiah, saying that it was fulfilled when the angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear a son even though she was a virgin (Matthew 1:23).
So the message of Jesus Christ’s birth is the same as the message Isaiah gave to Ahaz: Don’t be afraid. God is with you. He has paved the way for you to overcome every obstacle. Things that seem overwhelming and terrifying now may simply disappear, like the threat of invasion from two countries. Or you may be strengthened to endure them with grace, as were the people of Alma (Mosiah 24:15). Either way, with God’s help, you can overcome every obstacle you face.
Today, I will be grateful for the reassurance embedded in this name of the Savior. I will remember that I can be successful with God’s help. I will avoid becoming overwhelmed or immobilized by fear when difficulties arise, because I will remember that one of the Savior’s names is “Immanuel:” “God is with us.”