Immanuel: More Than We Realize

Immanuel: God With Us - it means more than we realizeWe’ll likely sing it in the coming weeks.

O come, O come, Immanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Immanuel, God with us.

Almighty God, draped in flesh, lived among His people who have proven themselves incapable of committed love. Immanuel, without sin, suffered the death we deserve so that we might become like Him, forever in God’s presence.

Immanuel, God with us.

We appreciate the title, but the first Christians understood Immanuel more deeply.

Matthew’s gospel uses the title in telling Joseph’s side of Mary’s predicament. To protect her from disgrace, Joseph wants to send Mary away (Mt 1:19). But an angel reassures him:

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
Matthew 1:20-21 NASB95

Joseph’s unexpected situation likely distracts him from connecting scripture to his reality. Otherwise his fiancé’s divine pregnancy, the child’s prescribed name, and Jesus’ purpose in saving the people might have triggered a memory of the sign of Immanuel.

Not to worry, Matthew’s commentary clearly connects the dots for us by quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:22-23 NASB95

Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14As good students of the Bible, we check the cross reference:

If satisfied, “There it is, prophesy fulfilled,” we miss the full picture.

First century Jews would not only note Matthew’s scriptural knowledge, but would recall the full context and outcome of the story being quoted from Isaiah. Unless we’re fully fluent in the Hebrew Scriptures as they were, we miss the significance of Matthew’s reference.

So, it’s story time!

More than 700 years before Jesus’ birth, King Ahaz of Judah and his nation shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind (Isaiah 7:2). Two nations encamped at their border ready for war.

The test:

Will the king trust another nation to defend Jerusalem and God’s temple?
Or will he trust God, the only One who truly cares for them?

When King Ahaz aligns with Assyria for protection, God sends Isaiah to warn, “Foolish choice. You might rethink that.”

Say to him, ‘Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands… Thus says the Lord GOD: “It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass… If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.”
Isaiah 7:4,7,9b

You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. Deuteronomy 6:16Then God offers to affirm His promised protection with a sign. Ahaz can ask for anything, no request too large. Ahaz refuses to ask and feigns piety by quoting, but misusing Deuteronomy 6:16.

Ahaz doesn’t want evidence. He’s already made the alliance. A sign would embarrass him and undermine his authority among the people.

At this, God (through Isaiah) looses patience. Judah will suffer the consequences of this decision. Oh yes! But God will still give a sign that He is the only trustworthy One who cares enough not to abandon them:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14 NASB95

  • Ahaz trusted his own wisdom over God’s.
  • Ahaz turned away from God, but God didn’t abandon them.
  • Ahaz’s distrust caused the nation’s suffering, but God promised rescue.

Immanuel: an entire story recounted with one word.

It’s as much a modern story as it is ancient.

  • We, too, prefer our own wisdom over God’s.
  • We, too, set our mind on a path that feels secure instead of trusting God.
  • We, too, suffer when we reject God’s guidance.

Immanuel, Jesus, paid the ransom and completed the rescue. But just as He asked Ahaz, God asks us to trust and follow. Yet in His amazing mercy, even when we turn away, He provides evidence of His faithfulness.

O come, O come, Immanuel
Help me trust You over my own will
I choose the most secure path for myself
Now I surrender all to You, Jesus
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
Has come to save us from ourselves (my version)

As you sing this Advent hymn, remember Ahaz. Remember the test. Will you trust your own wisdom? Or will you trust God? Either way, God will provide evidence of His love for you.

Each subsequent verse of O Come, O Come Immanuel introduces a title for Jesus that tells a whole story: Bright Morning Star, Wisdom from on high, Key of David, Great Lord of Might, and Desire of Nations. Are you curious?

We’ll continue to look at Christmas carols including Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and O Holy Night.

#seedsofscripture #readthebiblebetter #christmasstory #christmas2023 #advent2023 #immanuel #godwithus #ocomeocomeemmanuel #emmanuel #emmanuelgodwithus


  1. Hope on November 30, 2023 at 6:39 AM

    I can relate to help me trust You over my own will. How often do we think we know what is best for’s not until we hand over our will to Him that we are secure and find peace.

    • CathyChung on December 6, 2023 at 6:54 PM

      Oh yeah, we think we know what’s best.

  2. J.D. Wininger on November 30, 2023 at 7:23 AM

    Have long advocated for the “trust but verify” approach. If I can’t validate something I’m told by man with God’s Word, then I discount it immediately. Among the many wonderful treasures found in its study is how it validates itself, often centuries apart. God is who He says He is, and He does what He says He’ll do. God’s blessings this Advent season my friend.

    • CathyChung on December 3, 2023 at 8:34 PM

      I absolutely love how it validates itself. That’s what led me to Truth – the realization it’s one story, one thread throughout

  3. tom Dixon on November 30, 2023 at 4:37 PM

    thank you Cathy!!

  4. Julie Kieras on December 3, 2023 at 8:15 PM

    Cathy I love how you so richly tell the story behind this classic Christmas hymn. It’s one of my favorites, and now it has even deeper meaning for me! Thank you!

    • CathyChung on December 3, 2023 at 8:33 PM

      I’m glad it will have new meaning as you sing this year.

  5. Maureen Miller on December 5, 2023 at 1:21 PM

    I love to hear stories behind songs, and this Christmas hymn is a favorite. Thank you!

    • CathyChung on December 6, 2023 at 6:55 PM

      I’m glad I chose one of your favorites. It is deeply grounded in scripture.

  6. Barb Fox on December 6, 2023 at 9:39 AM

    Such a truth reminder that God gives us wisdom and even if we unwisely choose not to do things His way, He will continue to provide us evidence of His presence and His love.

    He is so good.

    • CathyChung on December 6, 2023 at 6:56 PM

      Isn’t that just incredible grace? Even when we turn away he continues to show up for us.

  7. Yvonne Morgan on December 7, 2023 at 11:03 AM

    Beautiful message and song. Thanks for sharing the backstory Cathy.

    • CathyChung on December 11, 2023 at 9:33 AM

      You’re welcome Yvonne. I love backstories.

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