🔼The name Immanuel in the Bible
The Hebrew name Immanuel occurs twice in the Old Testament, both times in Isaiah, both in prophecies concerning the Messiah. In Isaiah 7:14, the prophet writes, "Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel". In 8:8 he writes, "...and the spread of [the Euphrates', see v 7] wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel".
Seven centuries later, Joseph finds Mary, his wife to be, with child and is understandably disgruntled. But an angel from God visits him in a dream and quotes Isaiah, saying that Joseph's little family is the target of a famous, seven hundred year old prophecy. The Child will be called Immanuel (Εμμανουηλ, Emmanouel) eventually, but for now he should be named Jesus (Matthew 1:19-25).
Where, in this context, exactly the name Jesus (=Joshua) came from is not immediately clear, but Immanuel is not the only name Isaiah pinned on the Messiah. In 9:6 he writes, "And his name will be called Palayaas (Wonderful Counselor), Elgebur (Mighty God), Abiad (Eternal Father), Sarshalom (Prince of Peace). Jesus, of course, became known by all those names.
🔼Etymology of the name Immanuel
The name Immanuel consists of three parts:
1) The Hebrew preposition עם (im), meaning 'with':
2) The nu-part in Immanu comes from the common pronominal suffix that means 'us'.
Right after Isaiah names Immanuel for the second time (Isaiah 8:8), he says, "Devise a plan but it will be thwarted; state a proposal, but it will not stand, for God is with us" (v10). The Hebrew of the last two words of this sentence is עמנו אל; an exact replica of the name Immanuel.
The name Immanuel means God (Is) With Us. The verb 'to be' is usually omitted in Hebrew but actually something more nuanced is going on. Hebrew uses the verb 'to be' only when a behavior is specified that defines whatever is doing the behaving. In Hebrew a sentence like "the dog is outside" does not reflect a dog dozing in the shade, but a dog displaying behavior by which we recognize that it's a dog. Perhaps it's running after a squirrel and barking like there's no tomorrow; whatever, when the Hebrew says that the dog is, the dog is busy being a dog.
And that means that when God calls Himself I AM, He means that He's very busy doing His thing. The name Immanuel, however, lacks the verb to be, and denotes a passive presence of the Most High. In other words, the name Immanuel does not so much emphasize God working in us or even working for us, but rather a coexisting, with undetermined result. It reflects God's casual walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8) and the descriptions of the presence of the Lord in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:21-23).
🔼The miracle of Immanuel
Although many commentators (whether negative or positive) have focused on the virgin birth, the greater rarity lies in God's desire to be with man. The theme of the virgin birth appears frequently in the religious expressions of nations surrounding ancient Israel, but the idea of fellowship of a deity with humans appears to be both unique and central to Yahwism.
See Genesis 26:3, Job 29:5, Isaiah 41:10 and up to a hundred more references in the Old Testament — not to mention the obvious central theme of the New Testament; Mark 3:14, John 1:14. There's absolutely nothing like this to be found in any of the cultures adjacent to Israel in Biblical times.
Until the spread of Christianity, the world outside Judaism believed that the divine was stern and distant, cruel and despotic, demanding and borderline psychotic. Until the gospel of Jesus Christ was brought to the masses, humanity had no idea that God would want to be friends with us (Exodus 33:11, John 15:12-17, James 2:23).
🔼Jesus and Immanuel
There is not a single detail in the Bible that has no meaning, and naming the Messiah Jesus in stead of Immanuel has meaning too. What this meaning comes down to is not explicitly stated so we're pretty much left to guess, either more or less informed, and here at Abarim Publication we're guessing the following.
It's clear that all names have meaning in the Bible, but there also appears to be function attached to their popularity. In other words, it's significant that the names of key figures such as Adam, Seth, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and so on, and even Immanuel, are assigned to only once person. Whatever these men did (Abraham: leaving one's home and follow God), or whatever point in the development and growth of Israel they signified (Moses: vicariously gave the Law of God; David: united the tribes), it only happened once and it required only one person. Immanuel is a special case because since God being with us is really quite binary (He either is or He's not), it can only be signified by one person (namely Immanuel). Yet the practical modus operandi by which God is with us, requires a whole lot of people. That's how He chose to do it. God is among humanity because there are godly people among humanity. And who are these godly people, the reader may wonder? Are they particularly learned or otherwise exceptionally skilled? Are they great generals, kings or perhaps inventors, orators or money-makers? Nope, none of the above.
Isaiah wrote the politically rather incorrect words that Israel's Messiah would be none of the above, but rather quite unexceptional. He would not be particularly endowed with talents or wealth and would not be overly appreciated by anybody (Isaiah 53:2). The name Jesus may have been picked because it was among the most common names in Judea in the first century. And since boys would spend their childhood learning from their father and in special centers of learning, it was very important who one's father and hometown were, especially if one wanted to partake in religious debates. Jesus' father was not a scholar but a manual laborer, and Jesus spent his childhood in Nazareth, a hamlet so insignificant that no other historian mentions it until the third century AD. The name Jesus of Nazareth may evoke great respect today, but in Jesus' own time it was equivalent with John Doe. The proponents of the Jesus story could have plugged Him as Jesus of Bethlehem or even Jesus son of David, but in stead they chose to emphasize how ordinary He was and how little formal education He had enjoyed.
When Jesus at age twelve mesmerized the scholars in the temple, He didn't do so by reciting passages and intellectual responses any twelve year old boy from Jerusalem might have recited, but by displaying a kind of natural wisdom that truly astonished the academic jet set. Jesus was the Ramanujan of his day; the Mozart of revelatory contemplation. And obviously, a system that was based on the idea that authority came from decades of study might not welcome a natural, especially when that system had, at some point, put the quest for divinity on a side track and was now almost wholly concentrated on the quest for cash (read our article on the name Annas).
The character of Jesus of Nazareth is obviously hugely complex, and apart from all else, the nature of Him that every follower of Him wants to emulate embodies two things: (1) God's Law is engraved on every human heart, and can be retrieved from there; every human person knows what is righteous and what's not, and (2) the ordinary human individual determines the actions of a king (president or CEO), and not the other way around.
Or in modern terms: the ordinary consumer determines the goings on in the economy, and not the folks who run the corporations. A subject can simply say no to the unrighteous plans of the king. The worst the king can do is crucify this unruly subject, but no king can kill the word "NO". A nonsensical boss might fire an uppity employee, but no boss can deforest a mountain, or uproot a local economy on his own. Just like consumers brought the cigarette industry on its knees, so will they (or should they) stop other detrimental industries from ruining the planet. Neither governments nor CEOs are responsible; the consumer is. The obvious way to stop all this is to withdraw one's support, one customer at a time.
May God be with us.