Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ should be the heart of the Christmas season. And foundational to it is the virgin birth. That a woman conceived a baby from God, and that God became flesh, are two nonnegotiable truths for Bible-believing Christians.
Rabbinic Judaism, however, rejects both doctrines. Carolyn Glick of The Jerusalem Post has stated the Jewish position clearly: “God is ineffable and thus without form.” Judaism sees the Incarnation as tantamount to paganism. And the very thought of a virgin having a God-baby is, for most people, simply absurd.
Growing up in a Jewish home, my understanding of Christianity was admittedly limited. My view of Christmas was simple: great time for families to get together. And my view of the virgin birth was equally simple: Mary got in trouble with Joseph and they needed an alibi. I believed it was a cover-up and found it amazing that anyone could believe the Incarnation was true. I had never heard of any virgin giving birth, nor had I talked to anyone who actually believed such a thing. It seemed illogical to me and impossible.
Yet contained within the pages of my Jewish Scriptures were many things that were illogical and seemingly impossible. Here are just a few:
- Moses talked to a burning bush that was not consumed.
- Moses struck a rock and water flowed out of it.
- Samson possessed superhuman strength because his hair was long and uncut from birth.
- Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt because she looked back to see the destruction of Sodom.
Although many Jewish people reject the possibility of miracles, it is contrary to the text not to believe in them. Of all the miracles in the Torah, one in particular profoundly affects Jews everywhere: the birth of Isaac.
In Genesis 18:10–14 God promised that, within a year, Abraham (age 99) would father a son with his wife, Sarah (age 89). Sarah’s reaction to the pronouncement indicated what she thought of it: “Sarah laughed” (v. 12). Couples their age did not have babies. However, the next year, as predicted, baby “Laughter” (the meaning of the name Isaac) was born. The joke was on Sarah.
Judaism teaches that an extraordinary birth resulted in an extraordinary people: the Jewish people. How could such a thing come about? The answer lies in verses 13–14: “And the Lᴏʀᴅ said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, “Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?” Is anything too hard for the Lᴏʀᴅ?’”
Is anything too hard for the Lord? That was precisely the right question to ask in the face of such a laughable prediction. It is also precisely the right question to ask today.
The Jewish Text
If Judaism accepts Isaac’s miraculous conception, should it not allow for another extraordinary event, particularly one prophesied in the pages of its own sacred text? Are there Jewish Scriptures that indicate a virgin would conceive and give birth? The prophet Isaiah penned just such a passage 700 years before Jesus was born:
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isa. 7:14).
This passage is foundational to the New Testament. The Gospel writers believed God fulfilled the words of the prophet when Mary (Hebrew, Miriam) gave birth to Jesus. Most Jewish apologists reject such teaching and insist Jesus’ birth means no such thing. There are three main points of contention:
- The translation of the Hebrew word almah.
- The identity of the person or group given the sign.
- The significance of the name Immanuel. Isaiah chose the word almah, “young maiden,” to describe the woman. The word does not really emphasize her sexual status, but rather, her age. In each of the six other instances where it is used, the almah was not married, thus implying she was a virgin.
Two hundred years before the New Testament was written, the Jewish translators of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) chose the Greek word parthenos (“virgin”) when translating almah.
Rashi, probably the most famous of medieval rabbis, said the almah was a virgin. Modern Jewish apologists, however, insist that if Isaiah had intended to write virgin, he would have used the more precise word betulah. Yet Michael L. Brown wrote, “Of the fifty times the word betulah occurs in the Tanakh, the NJPS [New Jewish Publication Society] translates it as ‘maiden’—rather than virgin—thirty-one times!”1
Alan A. Macrae wrote, “There is no instance where it can be proved that alma [almah] designates a young woman who is not a virgin.”2 The use of the definite article ha-almah indicates a specific young maiden. It is possible this word refers to the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15, where the Lord told Satan,
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.
Certainly that Seed would be a special child, which begs the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
A Sign for Whom?
King Ahaz refused the offer of a sign when the prophet Isaiah met with him. Yet the Lord Himself gave one to him and to the whole house of Israel. Bible scholar Victor Buksbazen explained it well:
The disbelieving and idolatrous Ahaz was bound to understand the sign offered to him through Isaiah, in its most commonplace and literal sense, namely that he was being offered an assurance that he need not fear his two mortal enemies who were threatening his reign and the future of his dynasty.3
Ahaz was not interested, no matter what Isaiah said. So the prophet expanded the description of this Child, including His divinity and Kingdom (Isa. 9:6; 11:1–5), to assure God’s people they would be preserved, no matter the enemy.
The name Immanuel describes the Child as “God with us.” Not only would this Child be God with us, but He also would be the “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). These names preclude the Child being identified as King Hezekiah’s son or Isaiah’s son. This man’s identity was unknown to the prophet. Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah without knowing He ultimately would be a miraculous Presence.
Anyone who views the virgin birth as ridiculous, as I did many years ago, is unconsciously admitting to ignorance of the miraculous existence of the Jewish people. Whether it is a geriatric couple or a virgin conceiving a miracle baby, the question remains, Is anything too hard for the Lord? The answer, of course, is no.
- Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 3:21.
- Allan A. Macrae, “alma,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 2:672.
- Victor Buksbazen, The Prophet Isaiah (1971; reprint, Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel, 2008), 152.