The Rosary is a deeply scriptural prayer, and the words “The Lord is with thee” root that profoundly Christian prayer, not merely in Scripture but in Old Testament Scripture. One of the things that marks the writers of the New Testament is their appreciation for the fact that, since Scripture is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit and not merely of human authors, it therefore conveys more meaning than merely human words. So the New Testament writers read Old Testament Scripture looking for meanings beyond the literal sense of the words. They do this not because they are crazy Dark Age nuts who, for no apparent reason, decided to treat Jewish holy books as a Rorschach blot upon which to project their own ex post facto Christian fantasies, but because the Risen Christ met them on the Road to Emmaus and said:
“These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24:44-47).
In short, it is from Jesus that the Church gets the idea that everything revealed in the New Testament was hidden in the Old. This way of reading Scripture is, for instance, what enables Jesus to see that the manna in the wilderness (Ex 16) is a divine foreshadow of Himself, who is the true Bread of Life (Jn 6). It is why Paul says that the passage of Israel through the Red Sea is a divine foreshadow of baptism (1 Cor 10). It is how John sees in the unbroken bones of the Passover Lamb a divine foreshadow of the unbroken bones of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 19:33-35).
The apostles also see the Church and the saints foreshadowed in the Old Testament as well. In Romans 8:36, for instance, Paul looks at Psalm 44, which was written as a lament for the sufferings of Israel in a time of national disaster, and sees in the innocent suffering of the psalmist a foreshadow of the innocent sufferings of persecuted Christians. Likewise, Peter takes the description of Israel as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6) and applies it to the Church (1 Pt 2:9), since he regards the Church as the New Israel.
Matthew is doing the same thing when he cites Isaiah’s famous Emmanuel prophecy in his infancy narrative:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us) (Mt 1:22-23).
This sign, like most of the signs of the Old Testament, has an immediate fulfillment in the Old Testament setting. However, that does not mean the sign is a used Coca-Cola bottle that, having been drained of meaning by its immediate fulfillment, can now be disposed of. Rather, as is the way with God, we discover that Old Testament signs go on becoming even more meaningful with the passage of time.
To illustrate, consider Moses’ promise to Israel:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren — him you shall heed — just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.” And the Lord said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him'” (Dt 18:15-19).
In fact, of course, there are multiple Old Testament fulfillments of this promise. Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, and the noble company of Old Testament prophets are all fulfillments of Moses’ promise to Israel that a prophet like him would arise. But the fascinating thing is that Jews at the time of the New Testament did not look at the prophets and say, “So that’s over with. Prophecy fulfilled. Expect nothing further.” Instead, they saw these Old Testament prophets as a divine foreshadow of some great and ultimate Prophet who was yet to come. That’s why the delegation from Jerusalem asked John the Baptist, “Are you the Prophet?” (Jn 1:21). Jews at the time of Christ were still expecting The One whom all the little prophets of the Old Testament foreshadowed.
Exactly the same thing obtains with the one whom the prophets refer to variously as the Son of David, the Servant of the Lord, the Branch, the Star out of Jacob, the Anointed One, the Messiah. There are, in fact, lots of sons of David, some good, some not so good. The reason they matter so much to the Old Testament writers is because of a promise given to David around 1,000 BC by the prophet Nathan after David made inquiry about building a “house” (i.e., a temple) for the God of Israel. Nathan replies to David:
“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”‘ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men; but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever'” (2 Sm 7:5-13).
In short, God promises David that, so far from David building God a house (i.e., a temple), God will build David a house (i.e., a dynasty) and, what is more, that dynasty will be established forever. That’s why the Jews of the Old and New Testament have such a keen interest in the “son of David.” And it’s why, when one of the “sons of David” named Ahaz is in deep trouble 500 years after David, the prophet Isaiah goes to him, reminds him that God is still with the house of David, and tells him to ask for any sign in proof of that fact. Ahaz refuses, so Isaiah returns to him, chews him out for his faithlessness, and then declares:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel (Is 7:14).
The immediate fulfillment of this promise takes place shortly thereafter with the birth of Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah,
to the almah
or “young woman” Isaiah speaks of (namely, Ahaz’s wife). But that doesn’t exhaust the meaning of the prophecy for Matthew, because Hezekiah himself becomes a sign pointing forward to the Ultimate Son of David, who is born not merely of a young woman, but a virgin.
Some debunkers will tell you that Matthew believes that Jesus was born of a virgin because of a textual error, since the pre-Christian Jewish translators of the Septuagint rendered almah as parthenos, or “virgin,” and it is this translation that Matthew cites in his Gospel. But, of course, Matthew does not get his information about the birth of Jesus from Isaiah, but from the only possible source there could be for information about Jesus’ conception and birth: the Blessed Virgin Mary. In this, the parallel to the apostles’ behavior at the mouth of the empty tomb is striking. Just as they still do not see the Resurrection prophesied in Scripture even when standing at the mouth of the empty tomb — and, indeed, even when the Risen Christ Himself is explaining it to them personally on the Emmaus Road — likewise it is only after the Church has received the story of the Virgin Birth from the Blessed Virgin and been enlightened by the Holy Spirit that they finally smack themselves on the forehead, read the Old Testament, and say, “It’s been staring us in the face the whole time.” As Paul says, the mystery is veiled until the Holy Spirit takes away the veil.
So Matthew does not derive his faith in the Virgin Birth from Isaiah 7:14. Rather, he sees the Virgin Birth prophetically reflected there, both in the birth of Hezekiah, the son of David, and in the curiously providential way that the Septuagint speaks of the Son of David as the son of a virgin. His purpose in quoting the passage is to remind the reader that Jesus is not a hiccup or an aberration in the history of Israel but the whole point of the story. Everything has been leading up to him, the ultimate Son of David who now sits upon the throne of David from everlasting to everlasting, as Nathan promised David.
It is, therefore, no accident that the words of the angel to Mary are “The Lord is with you,” and the name given the Messianic Son of David in Isaiah 7:14 is Emmanuel — “God with us.” Mary is a kind of icon of the whole Church. She images what the Church is and, as God was with her in the most intimate and even physical way by being present in her womb, so He is with us as well, particularly when we receive Him into our body and soul in the Eucharist. Today, thank God for being with you as He is with Mary.