You will recall the historical incident
of Goliath recorded in the seventeenth chapter of First Samuel. The Philistines had gathered together their armies
to battle upon territory which belonged to Judah: "Now the Philistines
gathered their armies together to battle, and were gathered together at Sochoh, which belongs to Judah ... "
Note that! The territory belonged
to Judah, not the Philistines. The Philistines were intruders. And across the valley were the armies of Israel.
Then there stepped out into the space that separated the opposing forces nine feet six inches of Philistine bombast
bearing the name Goliath.
Clad in heavy armour made of
overlapping plates of bronze which allowed him free movement, and armed with weapons the magnitude of which well
matched his gargantuan stature, he uttered taunting challenges to Israel to produce a man to fight with him. Israel
was dismayed and greatly afraid, for apparently their armies lacked a man capable of matching the giant.
We know the rest of the history.
Unexpectedly there appeared a champion for Israel, David by name, a shepherd. Flecks of grey were already showing
in his beard and hair, but, although a little on the good side of the prime of life, he seemed no match for the
giant. Gathering his wife and children round him he disclosed his intention of facing Goliath in combat. They were
frantic with fear, and his eldest son, a stalwart youth, even sought to restrain him by force. However, David insisted
There! There! I feel I dare
not further encroach upon your patience even in a good cause. Already you are repudiating the false picture of
David I have given. "Why!" you say (and you say correctly), "David was only a youth when he overthrew
Goliath." True, and so obviously a youth that the Philistine was insulted: "
....he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and good-looking. So the Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a
dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods" (1Samuel 17:42,43).
The very thought of David being
surrounded by wife and children is quite wrong; that a full-grown young man was his son is equally fantastic. David
himself would barely qualify as being a full-grown young man. Indeed the words used to translate the Hebrew text
are ‘stripling’, ‘youth’, and he was the youngest of Jesse’s sons.
From a perusal of the text of
the Hebrew Scriptures it is very doubtful if he could have been regarded even as of marriageable age. So the picture
I first painted of David is false to the Scriptures, and our long-held impression of David as a mere lad is the
correct one, justified by those same Scriptures.
Everybody, without a solitary
exception, is in full agreement: David was a lad, and the Hebrew word which gives us the right to regard him as
such is alem, which means a full-grown youth or young man.
So we can all relax - no one,
unless with an ulterior motive or an axe to grind, would drain out of that Hebrew word alem its natural and justifiable
connotation of lad-ness, with its equally justifiable corollary of youthful masculine virginity, if I may use such
The Giant Prejudice
The Hebrew word for youth generally,
in a collective sense is alumim, so that if you were called to give a lecture to a group of young people, they
would be described as alamim. And of course, if they were all girls you would have to use the feminine plural alamot.
If the word ‘lad’ had a feminine form it would be ‘lad-ess’, whereas the feminine form of the Hebrew word alem
lad is almah.
There is no axe to grind, no
contraversy, in respect to David’s alem-ness, his lad-ness, his boy-ness with its clear indication of a male youth
who is what I have termed a male virgin. The only giant facing David is Goliath himself. However, when we turn
to that same word in its feminine form there is an axe to grind, there is controversy, there is pre-judgement,
blind, deaf, but painfully vocal.
We face a giant greater than Goliath - the Giant Prejudice.
Prejudice is a busy beaver.
Its sharp teeth gnaw through many a living tree sap-filled and greenly beautiful, and from Nature’s fallen forests
it builds its barricades and swims around in liquid pools of its own construction.
Prejudice is defined as an unfavourable
opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought or reason. Prejudice is deaf; it is also blind.
But none can call it dumb. It shouts so loudly that it threatens to drown the melodious voice of Truth itself.
One needs a medley of metaphors
to depict this Giant Goliath who roars his challenge not only to Israel but to all whom God has ceded the right
of residence in the Promised Land of revealed truth. And because I do not feel myself David enough to make a frontal
attack upon this Giant Prejudice I will encompass his overthrow by other methods.
I will take the five smooth
stones of objectivity, honesty, sincerity, sympathy and willingness, and, armed with the sling of love for truth,
prevail over prejudices, and smite the uncircumcised Philistine.
Here then is the theological
‘David’ against which the Giant Prejudice roars: "Then he said,
‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore
the LORD himself will give you a sign: Behold, the almah shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name
Immanuel (God-with-us)’" (Isaiah 7:13,14).
Does the masculine noun alem
mean a male virgin? Does the feminine noun almah mean a female virgin?
The Biblical Root
Before we attempt an answer, let
me call your attention to an important feature of the Hebrew language: the shoresh or root or stem which consists
mostly of three consonants on which the meaning depends. These three basic consonants are like the prime root of
meaning buried beneath the surface, but always there. Sprouting from this root are the verbs and nouns that pertain
to that root and that retain the flavour and colouring of that root.
So let us now dig beneath and
expose the root of those words alem and almah. The classical or Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic give the root meaning
as ‘to enwrap’, ‘to veil’, ‘to hide’, ‘to conceal’, thus implying something hidden, something concealed, something
unexposed; similarly with modern Hebrew. Indeed we further find the verbs ‘to vanish’, ‘to disappear’ as from the
same root. And incidentally, in Arabic, which is closely related to Hebrew, the same root means ‘ripe and marriageable’.
Now we are better equipped to
answer our question. There may be truth in the contention that alem and almah do not specifically mean virginity,
but when applied to a human being, the root conveys the thought of one whose conjugal nuptial rights or attributes
have remained potential only, and thus unexpressed, hidden, concealed, virgin. Hence the feminine word almah receives
justification from its root for the word ‘virgin’.
Then too in modern Hebrew one
of the dictionary meanings of almah is ‘girl’, which does not specifically mean a virgin, but to what else could
it apply? Obviously a maiden who is, or certainly morally should be, a virgin.
The Voice of the Bible
As we turn to the Bible we find
that the masculine singular noun alem appears only twice in the Hebrew Scriptures. The first occurrence is on the
occasion when Jonathan planned to warn David of his father Saul’s intentions concerning David’s wellbeing or otherwise:
"But if I say to the young man, ‘Look the arrows are beyond you’
... " (1 Samuel 20:22), the very ‘young man’ translated ‘lad’
in the previous verse: "and there I will send a lad, saying ...
" where the Hebrew word is alem.
The second appearance refers
to David as a youth whom Saul wished to identify after he had slain the giant: "And
the king said, ‘Inquire whose son this young man (alem) is"
(1 Samuel 17:56). Some translations use the word ‘stripling’ or ‘youth’ for alem.
Thus the Biblical use of the word alem, of which almah is the feminine
form, clearly indicates a youth who is a virgin.
There are only seven pertinent
uses of the word in its feminine form, almah. The first we find in the account of Rebekah prior to her marriage
with Isaac where she is described as an almah, and also as a bethulah. Abraham’s servant says: "Behold I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass that when the virgin
(almah) comes out to draw water ... " (Genesis 24:43); "and the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin (bethulah); no man had known
Here we may digress to make
reference to this latter word bethulah because many contend that it is the one specific word meaning virgin, and
not just implying virgin. The root of bethulah in Hebrew means ‘to separate’, ‘to divide’, and it will readily
be admitted that the thought coming from this can surely be virginity, for separation can conjure such a conception.
However, it should also be as
readily admitted that the root thought of ‘concealment’ embedded in the word almah likewise yields the same thought,
even more strongly if anything, as there is a stronger flavour of virginity in ‘concealment’, ‘non-exposure’ -
the root thought of almah - than in ‘separation’ - the root thought of bethulah.
And the word bethulah does not
always mean virginity even although that is its meaning in the majority of its sixty odd uses in Scripture. For
instance, in Joel 1:8 we read: "Lament like a virgin girded with
sackcloth for the husband of her youth" here the word is bethulah.
To return to the word almah,
we next find it used of Miriam the sister of Moses at a time when she would be about ten or twelve years old: "And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the maiden (almah) went and called
the child’s mother" (Exodus 2:8).
We encounter the word almah
in most enlightening usage in Proverbs 30:19: " ... and the way
of a man with a virgin (almah)", sometimes translated ‘maid’,
and surely meaning courtship rather than marriage.
In Psalm 68 with its basic thought of the triumphal march of God through human history via Israel to the ultimate
establishment of His universal kingdom on earth, we are given a view of what might well be a prophetic portrayal
of a joyous procession to the Temple of the future. "The singers
went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the maidens playing timbrels" (verse 25). Here the word ‘maidens’ is the feminine plural form alamot.
This same word in the feminine
plural is used apparently of a musical instrument. In Psalm 46:1 and in 1 Chronicles 15:20 we find the word alamoth
: "A song for alamoth"
and "Zechariah, Aziel ... and Benaiah, with strings according
to alamoth." It is not certain that the word actually denotes
a musical instrument; it may refer to maidens. However, no trace can be discovered of the existence of what may
be described as a female choir as actually functioning within the Temple. But if a musical instrument existed bearing
that name, then the thought embedded in the word could again suggest purity (virginity) of sound.
In the Song of Solomon (1:3):
"Because of the fragrance of your good ointments, your name is
ointment poured forth; therefore the virgins (alamoth)love you", which
seems a reasonable translation, and in 6:8: "There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins (alamoth)
without number", we see three degrees of feminine state and status.
The Sphere of Marriage
Man over the years has allowed official
concurrent relationship with three categories of womanhood, seen even in the Scriptures. There was the principal
or first wife, and then accepted auxiliaries who had lesser roles. In the lesser category was the concubine who
was attached to the household more or less as a slave, but who could be granted her freedom if she were successful
in bearing children to her master.
When we therefore consider the Scripture from the Song of Solomon we
are able to assess the implication of the word almah . The term queen would imply cohabitation within the married
relationship; the term concubine would imply relationship within the sphere of what may be termed the auxiliary-marriage
relationship; so the word alamoth must imply something different from these other two.
What remains? Surely nothing
other than ‘virgins’, a state or condition during the maintenance of which they would answer somewhat like a female
There is also a further word for
youth, boy, lad - alem - and girl, maid, maiden - almah - and that is naar, naarah, and it would appear that all
these words, almah, bethulah and naarah are equal in their implication of virginity unless the context indicates
Possessing our Possessions
All this background and research
has been necessary to plough up, soften and sweeten ready for unbiased harvest that ground trodden hard and unproductive
by the heavy stampings of our Giant Prejudice. Moreover we remind ourselves again that the territory which this
Philistine giant stamps on belongs to Judah by Divine grant.
Up, therefore, Israel! Let us
possess our possessions and defy the giant. With the spirit and armoury of David let us now possess Isaiah 7:14!
"Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: Behold, the
virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
If this Scripture refers to
a married woman, then to say the least of it the word almah was a very unhappy word to choose when such a choice
was quite unnecessary. And it is well to remind ourselves that the third century B.C. seventy Jewish translators
of the Greek Septuagint version, who certainly had no axe to grind in the third century before the Common Era,
did not hesitate to translate the Isaiah Scripture: "Behold the
virgin ... " with parthenos meaning virgin.
Moreover, two factors must also
be observed in connection with the ‘sign’. It was to be a sign from the Eternal Himself, and it was not a sign
to Ahaz; it was to be a sign from God to the "house of David" (Isaiah 7:13). "Hear now, O house of David!"
Could the mere conception and
birth of a son by a married woman fill out the requirements for such a sign? That God intended a miracle to be
associated with the sign is clear from the preceding: "Ask a sign
for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above" (7:11). To read the magnitude of God’s invitation, and then to read into it a mere ordinary
birth, conveys rather the picture of a little boy strutting round in vain attempt to fill his pater’s pants with
his puny person!
And the name, that is the character,
of the sign-child should cause very sober reflection: "Immanuel
- God with us." Here surely is the promise and prophecy of Deity
The first promise of the supernatural
birth of the Messiah-Redeemer is clearly embedded in the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15, where God is addressing Satan
in the garden of Eden: "And I will put enmity between you and
the woman, and between your seed and her Seed ... " The form
of the Hebrew text shows ‘her’ to be emphatic; this is the Redeemer whose sinless Being Deity and Humanity perfectly
Sin’s tragic taint in Humanity
has flowed, with but one interruption, from Eden to the present day. That one interruption was the occasion when
the Messiah, by virgin birth, appropriated to Himself a sinless Humanity, and in that perfect state upheld the
Law, and gave His sinless life, by blood atonement, as a ransom for all.
May we of Israel not be like
King Ahaz who refused God’s offer of a sign with the words: "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!"
And God’s reply to him was: "Hear now, O house of David! Is it
a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?" May
we not weary God by refusing such a heaven-granted sign.
Let not the giant’s roar place
us with those who cry in fear, "My mind is made up. Don’t confuse
me with the facts!" May this uncircumcised Philistine, Prejudice,
fall prostrate upon the ground "which belongs to Judah",
and may we speedily remove his carcass from our midst.
May we also take possession
of the promise and its fulfilment: "But while he thought about
these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be
afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring
forth a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins."
"Now all this was
done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, : ‘Behold, the virgin
shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which is translated, GOD WITH US’"
Dr. Lawrence Duff-Forbes was indeed an interesting character we are told.
His widely circulated booklet titled "Out of the Clouds" was written in prose. Rabbi Duff-Forbes was
an Australian who came to this country to attend the "Hebrew Christian Alliance" in the late 50's. Some
say He was a mysterious person, but after reading his books, I think he was a spiritual person filled with wonderful
insights from God the Holy Spirit. He dressed as a cantor or rabbi when he taught, he was tall and very colorful.
Rabbi Duff-Forbes was on the local radio station and his voice was delightful, I have a few of his tapes. I believe
you can still get some of his tapes from David-House Fellowship. He was one of the best of the early Messianic
Movement Jewish Rabbis, and loved the Lord very much. Every one a pure gem.