Around 750 BC, the nation of Israel was in shambles. It had been conquered by a foreign nation. Many Jews—particularly young and strong ones—were exiled into the cities of their conqueror. Things seemed hopeless for Israel, even though God promised centuries before to make a great kingdom out of this nation and for them to be a blessing to the entire world.
During this season of despair, all those promises seemed forgotten. But the prophet Isaiah arose and reminded the Israelites of a coming future—one where their enemies would no longer be victors. He told them to look for a sign to remind them of that promise:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Isaiah was acknowledging a sense of desperation in the present, while at the same time giving a glimpse of hope for the future. Ultimately, this is what the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is all about. It’s in reference to Israel crying out: Rescue us from our enemies, Lord! Whoever this Immanuel is, please send him soon! We are mourning, and we need you.
As the song says:
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.
It’s worth noting “Immanuel” wasn’t necessarily referring to someone’s name but a description. The word “Immanuel” means “God with us,” so Isaiah is praying on behalf of the people, “God, be with us. Send someone to ransom us… to set us free from our captors.”
Fast-forward centuries later… one of Jesus’s friends, Matthew, connected the dots. Once Matthew embraced who Jesus was, he was reminded of the words written by Isaiah as he told the story of an angel speaking to Joseph prior to Jesus’s birth:
Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:20–23)
At the time of Isaiah, Israel needed someone to ransom them from their enemies… someone to save them. But Matthew recognized Jesus as the one who would be the permanent ransom. Jesus was “God with us” and would ultimately set ALL people free, not just the people of Israel. It would be Jesus who would establish himself as the one who would destroy the greatest enemy of all—sin. People no longer have to be captives to their sin. Immanuel, God with us, has come.
Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Jesus as my ransom.