Few passages have provoked such controversy as Isaiah 7:14, generally held by Christians to be one of the greatest Messianic prophecies ever. The verse in question reads...
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin (Heb. almah) will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NASB)
In his record of the events leading up to Jesus' birth, Matthew clearly indicated that Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus. In his account of the events leading up to the birth of the Messiah, Matthew said that when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant he, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. However, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid to marry Mary, as the Child conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit. The angel went on to say
(21) "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (22) Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: (23) "behold, the virgin (Gk. parthenos) shall be with Child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:21-23 NASB)
We tend to assume that Matthew saw the Isaiah passage solely as a prediction of the virgin birth of Jesus. This, however, is impossible since it would mean Isaiah's words had no purpose, nor did they make any sense, until Jesus was actually born some seven centuries later. But then, it is always extremely unwise, and usually very misleading, to decide on the meaning of any verse, isolated from its textual and historical context.
In actuality, Isaiah's words were not directed at Christ, but at Ahaz, king of the southern kingdom of Judah. In fact, and I will go out on a limb here, Isaiah was probably unaware of the exact circumstances of the Messiah's birth ie. He was to be born of a virgin etc. In fact, all Isaiah probably knew of the matter was that the Lord was giving one of the worst kings of Israel a sign. (See Footnote I)
The prophecy consisted of two parts, the first of which is quoted below (the second dealt with the king's own downfall, which I will come to later).
(10) Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, (11) "Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven." (12) But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!" (13) Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? (14) Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin (Heb. almah) will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (15) "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. (16) "For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken. (Isaiah 7:10-16 NASB)
In order to show that Isaiah's words were not spoken in a vacuum, but were originally directed at a Judean king, we need to examine the circumstances that led up to the prophecy, and take a brief look at the people involved, starting with the prophet himself.
Tradition holds that the prophet Isaiah was possibly of noble blood and connected with the royal family (Isaiah's father, Amoz, was said to be a friend of king Uzziah's father, Amaziah). This may very well be true based on the fact that the prophet seemed to have open access to king Hezekiah (See 37:21, 38:1 39:3 etc.) and approached king Ahaz rather boldly (7:3).
Regardless, what we do know is that Isaiah's ministry began in the year that King Uzziah died (740 B.C.) and lasted some 50-60 years during the reign of four Judean kings.... Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1), which would have made him a contemporary of Hosea and Micah. Isaiah prophesied during an extremely critical period in the history of the nation ... the last few years of the northern kingdom of Israel which fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. However, his mission was to the southern kingdom of Judah which was exceedingly fearful that it too would be targeted by other nations.
The context of Isaiah 7:14 is seen in the very first verse of that chapter.
Now it came about in the days of Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Aram and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not conquer it. (Isaiah 7:1 NASB)
The nation prospered under king Uzziah, apparently a strong and able ruler, whose fame spread as far as Egypt. He defeated various other nations, fortified Jerusalem itself, and built towers in the desert to defend the shepherds and their flocks. Unfortunately, his success seemed to go to his head and, at the end, he "went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense", which was an act of worship reserved solely for the "sons of Aaron"... the Levite priests. When the priests withstood Uzziah, he lost his temper went right on ahead, at which the Lord, who did not tolerate anyone profaning His Temple, struck him with leprosy. As a result Uzziah was cut off from the house of the Lord, and forced to live separately. His 25 year old son, Jotham, became king in his place. (2 Chronicles 26: 16-21)
too built cities in the mountains of Judah, and castles and towers in the forests. He also went to war against the Ammonites, and prevailed against them (2 Chronicles 27). When Jotham died, he was succeeded by his son Ahaz.
Ahaz (about 735-715 BC)
was not of the same mind as his father and grandfather. Ahaz sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. He also burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, where he sacrificed his own children. (2 Kings 16:1-4)
It was bad enough that Ahaz was involved in idol worship, but he also has the distinction of being the first Jewish king to offer his own sons as a living sacrifice to the god Moloch. This sacrifice, in which the children were burned alive, took place in the Valley of Ben-hinnom (known as Gehenna in the NT writings). Such practice was not uncommon among the pagans: King Mesha of Moab, for example, offered his oldest son in this manner [2 Kings 3:27]. The grandson of Ahaz (King Manasseh -- the 14th king of Judah, who reigned for 55 years) also practiced the sacrifice of his children in fire [2 Chron. 33:6]. The Lord soundly condemned this practice in Psalm 106:34-39, declaring it came about as a result of mingling with the pagan nations and not destroying these peoples as He had commanded them. 
Rezin King of Syria, and Pekah King of Israel
Chapter 16 of the second book of kings tells us that Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to war. However, they did not simply wake up one morning and decide to invade Judea. As said by Dennis Bratcher, a retired professor of the Old Testament, the coalition was in fact....
an attempt to forge alliances among the nations of the area to withstand an impending invasion from Assyria to the north. Pekah, king of the northern Kingdom of Israel, had tried to get Jotham, Ahaz's father, to join the alliance against Assyria. Pekah stood in the immediate path of the Assyrian invasion if they marched south. However Jotham had refused to join and so Pekah, with the help of Rezin king of Aram (Syria), had decided to send an army to Jerusalem to replace King Jotham with a puppet king who would agree to their demands to join the coalition (Isa 7:6).
However, before the plan could succeed, Jotham died and left his son Ahaz to face the crisis. 
When king Ahaz also refused to join this alliance, "Rezin and Pekah attacked Judah in 734 B.C., besieging the city of Jerusalem with the intent of deposing King Ahaz and replacing him with a king who would join their alliance". 
There is no question that these two marauding kings inflicted some serious damage, carrying away thousands of prisoners and much spoil. They even "slew Maaseiah the king's son, and Azrikam the governor of the house, and Elkanah that was next to the king." (2 Chronicles 28:7). Verse 19 makes it clear that the Lord allowed these two kings to come down as hard as they did on the southern kingdom because of king Ahaz's heinous sins ...
For the Lord humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had brought about a lack of restraint in Judah and was very unfaithful to the Lord. (NASB)
However, they could not overcome Ahaz himself (2 Kings 16:5-6), who was to be given the opportunity to redeem himself, which is where Isaiah came in.
The Prophet Confronts The King
In Isaiah 7, verses 3-7, we are told that the Lord sent Isaiah to King Ahaz to tell him not to fear nor be fainthearted at "the two tails of these smoking firebrands" for their plans to defeat Judah would not come to pass.
Then the Lord said to Isaiah, "Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller's field, and say to him, 'Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering fire brands, on account of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. 'Because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you, saying, "Let us go up against Judah and terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it," thus says the Lord GOD: "It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass. (Isaiah 7:3-7 NASB)
Isaiah's message was one that reverberates throughout the Bible. For example... "If God be for us, who can be against us?" [Romans 8:31] and "greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" [1 John 4:4]. However, the prophet also delivered a solemn warning to Ahaz.. the Lord would protect Jerusalem only if Ahaz placed his faith in Him... "If you will not believe, you surely shall not last" (Vs. 9).
However, it is painfully evident that the prophet's words made no impression whatsoever on Ahaz. He had, apparently, already chosen to place his hope in an alliance with a pagan monarch, rather than in the God of Israel.
Although we cannot be sure whether the next part of God's next message was delivered at the same time, or later, we know that God then proposed that the king, without limitation, ask for any sign he liked that would confirm, beyond all possible doubt, the validity and truth of the prophet's words. The king, however, declined the offer. (Ahaz's reluctance to make such a request would certainly be understandable if he had already asked Tilgath-pilneser for help).
"Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven." But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!" (Isaiah 7:11-12 NASB)
Ahaz's response certainly sounded very pious, especially since it was the Lord Himself who commanded the Israelites to never again put Him to the test... words that were quoted by Jesus when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness..
You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah. (Deuteronomy 6:16 NASB)
Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matthew 4:7 NASB)
However, it is not testing God when He Himself instructs someone to ask for a sign, which, of course, made his reply a monumental piece of hypocrisy. The probable reality is that Ahaz, apparently feared the armies of Aram and Israel more than he trusted the Lord, had already sent (or, perhaps planned to send) messages to Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, beseeching him to help save him from Rezin and Pekah. In an apparent effort to bribe the Assyrian king, Ahaz, adding insult to injury, "took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria" (2 Kings 16:8 NASB)
Note: This was not all Ahaz, king of Judah was guilty of. 2 Chronicles 28:22 says "... in the time of his distress this same King Ahaz became yet more unfaithful to the Lord. See Footnote II
As The Expositor's Bible Commentary says
Isaiah knew his man, and prepared a pretty dilemma for him. By offering him whatever sign he chose to ask, Isaiah knew that the king would be committed before his own honour and the public conscience to refrain from calling in the Assyrians, and so Judah would be saved; or if the king refused the sign, the refusal would unmask him. Ahaz refused, and at once Isaiah denounced him and all his house. 
Isaiah's subsequent reproach was directed not only at the king, but at the entire 'house of David'.
Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? (Isaiah 7:13 NASB)
And it certainly isn't a good idea to test God's patience, as Ahaz would soon discover. In a two part prophecy, Isaiah told the king that since he would not ask for a sign as he was told to, the Lord Himself would give him one anyway.
(14) Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin (Heb. almah) will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (15) "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. (16) "For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.
(17) "The Lord will bring on you, on your people, and on your father's house such days as have never come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah, the king of Assyria." (18) In that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is in the remotest part of the rivers of Egypt and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. (19) They will all come and settle on the steep ravines, on the ledges of the cliffs, on all the thorn bushes and on all the watering places. (Isaiah 7:14-19 NASB)
The first part of Isaiah's prophecy came to pass in less than three years when Tiglath Pileser of Assyrian slew Rezin, king of Syria. Pekah, king of Israel, was slain by Hoshea, who succeeded him to the throne, but who was also the last king of the Northern Kingdom which also fell to the Assyrians.
So the king of Assyria listened to him; and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and captured it, and carried the people of it away into exile to Kir, and put Rezin to death. (2 Kings 16:9 NASB)
Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him, and Hoshea became his servant and paid him tribute... In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. (2 Kings 17:3, 6 NASB)
However, this was not the end of the story. Tilgath-pilneser was not someone who could be trusted, and soon fulfilled the second half of the prophecy (Vs. 17-19). In fact, the very country Ahaz trusted to save him would eventually decimate Judah (Isaiah 7:18-25).
So Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria came against him and afflicted him instead of strengthening him. Although Ahaz took a portion out of the house of the Lord and out of the palace of the king and of the princes, and gave it to the king of Assyria, it did not help him. (2 Chronicles 28:20-21 NASB)
Later on, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem, Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, built a tunnel to channel water from the Gihon Springs (the city's only source of fresh water) into the Jerusalem itself. However, had it not been for Divine intervention, the whole nation would eventually have been utterly destroyed. (See 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 37).
As a By The Way... The Azekah Inscription now in the British Museum, was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century in the Library of Ashurbanipal. The inscription on a tablet describes a campaign by the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705 to 681 B.C.) against Hezekiah, King of Judah. (See The Bible's Archaeological and Scientific Accuracy)
Which brings us to the Isaiah 7:14-16.. the first part of the prophecy.
The Sign of the Pregnant 'Virgin'
Just How Many Miraculous Conceptions Are We Talking About?
When God told Ahaz not to fear the fierce anger of Rezin and Pekah for their plans to conquer Judah would not stand nor come to pass, He told Ahaz to ask for a sign that would confirm His words. When Ahaz hypocritically declined to do so, the Lord gave him one anyway.
(14) "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin (Heb. almah) will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. (15) "He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. (16) "For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken. (Isaiah 7:14-16 NASB)
Quite obviously Isaiah's words concerned the fate of the two enemy kings. Therefore, although Matthew made it very clear that this prophecy ultimately pointed to the birth of Christ, it also had to have some immediate meaning. Inasmuch as before a child born in Isaiah and Ahaz's time could make moral choices, the land of the two kings that Ahaz so greatly feared would be forsaken.
If we insist that almah be translated 'virgin' in Isaiah 7:14, we have to face the fact that the Bible records two virgin births, which means the virgin birth of Christ was a not a unique, one time happening.
People can debate this to their heart's content, but it doesn't change the fact that since two miraculous conceptions never happened, Isaiah could not have been speaking of a virgin.
Almah... 'Virgin' or 'Young Woman'?
A significant part of the problem swirls around the Hebrew word almah in Isaiah 7:14. Among others, the King James Version and the New American Standard Version, translate almah as "virgin". Other translations render the verse "maiden", "damsel", or "young woman", which has actually angered some Christians who see this as an undermining of the Deity of Christ. Which, by the way, is absolute nonsense. Considering that there are countless passages that establish Christ's Deity in no uncertain terms (some that even many Christians may be quite unaware of), we certainly do not need to rely on this one verse. See The Deity of Christ
Note: Unfortunately, the translators of the New King James (NKJV) decided to do some interpreting as well as translating. They capitalized the words 'son' and 'his', thereby subtly enforcing the idea that the child spoken of is the Messiah.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NKJV)
Although, in the final fulfillment of this prophecy the verse does refer to Christ, translators are supposed to translate, not impose any beliefs, correct or otherwise, on the text. Sadly, they do it all the time... a classic example is when they decided to refer to the Holy Spirit with masculine rather than neuter pronouns which, by the way, is often used by many evangelicals as the first line of defense against any challenges to the doctrine.
The problem is that the grammar cannot legitimately be used to support the idea that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. For example, in John 4:25 the NASB translates the Greek word ekeinos into "that one", in spite of the fact that the verses are clearly speaking about Christ... Yet, in John 14:26, and 16:13, the NASB translates ekeinos into "He" when referring to the Holy Spirit. [See Is God a Trinity... Part IV. The Grammar]
But, I digress.
Almah And Elem
Almah is the feminine form of the noun elem, which, according to Strong's, means a 'lad' or a 'young man'.
Now when Saul saw David going out against the Philistine, he said to Abner the commander of the army, "Abner, whose son is this young man (Heb. na'ar)?" And Abner said, "By your life, O king, I do not know." The king said, "You inquire whose son the youth (Heb. elem) is." (1 Samuel 17:55-56 NASB)
"And behold, I will send the lad (Heb. na'ar), saying, 'Go, find the arrows.' If I specifically say to the lad (Heb. na'ar), 'Behold, the arrows are on this side of you, get them,' then come; for there is safety for you and no harm, as the Lord lives. "But if I say to the youth (Heb. elem), 'Behold, the arrows are beyond you,' go, for the Lord has sent you away. (1 Samuel 20:21-22 NASB)
Because elem is used only twice in the Old Testament, some consider an accurate assessment of the word cannot be made. However, in both examples (above)the same person referred to as elem, is also called a na'ar, which means a boy, from the age of infancy to adolescence. Na'ar was used of Ishmael when he was very young, in contrast with "old" Joshua 6:21, while 1 Samuel 17:33 clearly implies that David was quite young when he wanted to fight Goliath.
God heard the lad (Heb. na'ar) crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad (Heb. na'ar) where he is. (Genesis 21:17 NASB)
They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young (Heb. na'ar) and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 6:21 NASB)
Then Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth (Heb. na'ar) while he has been a warrior from his youth (Heb. na'ar) ." (1 Samuel 17:33 NASB)
Almah in The Old Testament
Besides Isaiah 7:14, almah has only been used six times in the Old Testament. The first example, is when Abraham sent his servant to Nahor to find a bride for Isaac. In recounting to Rebekah's brother Laban, what had transpired at the well earlier that day, the servant was unlikely to have referred to Rebekah's physical state, ie. that she was a "virgin". Undoubtedly, Abraham's servant was simply speaking of Rebekah as a 'young woman'.
a) behold, I am standing by the spring, and may it be that the maiden (Heb. almah) who comes out to draw, and to whom I say, "Please let me drink a little water from your jar"; (Genesis 24:43 NASB)
Although an almah, or young woman of marriageable age would have been assumed to be a virgin, it is extremely unlikely that the authors particularly had 'virgin' in mind in the next two examples.. The physical condition of Moses' sister had absolutely no bearing on the story, which is why almah was translated "girl" in Exodus 2:8.
a) Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Go ahead." So the girl (Heb. almah) went and called the child's mother. (Exodus 2:8 NASB)
b) The singers went on, the musicians after them, In the midst of the maidens (Heb. almah) beating tambourines. (Psalms 68:25 NASB)
The last three are ambiguous. All three can, but do not necessarily, mean 'virgin'.
a) The way of an eagle in the sky, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the middle of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid (Heb. almah) . (Proverbs 30:19 NASB)
b) Your oils have a pleasing fragrance, Your name is like purified oil; Therefore the maidens (Heb. almah) love you. (Song of Solomon 1:3 NASB)
c) There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, And maidens (Heb. almah) without number; (Song of Solomon 6:8 NASB)
Bethulah: A very similar problem exists with the Hebrew word bethulah, used some 50 times in the Old Testament. (Emphasis Added)
"Biblical writers did not have at their disposal any single vocabulary word which conveys the idea of a virgin, so they used standard, pointed, and very specific phrases to describe a woman whose sexual status they wished to leave in no doubt whatsoever. For example, the narrator in Genesis 24 wished to describe Rebeccah as a virgin. And so he clearly stated the fact that 'no man had known her' (Genesis 24:16). He could refer to Rebeccah as a bethulah (Genesis 24:16), as an 'almah (Genesis 24:43), or as a na'arah (Genesis 24:14, Genesis 24:28 etc.). But her virginity could not be certified by any one of these terms; that is why he pointedly declared that 'no man had known her.' Such a phrase, unlike bethulah or any other vocabulary word in Hebrew, was totally unambiguous." 
Similarly, it was pointedly said of the women of Jabesh-gilead, that they had not known a man, which would not have been necessary if the Hebrew bethulah specifically means virgin .
And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins (Heb. bethulah) who had not known a man by lying with him; and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. (Judges 21:12 NASB)
'A' Virgin or 'The' Virgin
Which brings us to the heart of the debate... who was the woman, spoken of by Isaiah, who would conceive and bear this child? Also was the child really to be named "Immanuel", which literally means "God with us", or did it simply mean the child would be referred to, or seen as, "Immanuel".
There is little question that the text of Isaiah 7:14 says the maiden, not a maiden. The Hebrew uses the definite article (ha'almah) a fact that has been ignored by many translations (Here, at least, the NKJV renders it correctly). Isaiah clearly had a specific young woman in mind. Although it cannot be stated with absolute certainty, it is entirely possible that the prophet was referring to a woman who was known to him and, quite possibly, to king Ahaz.
Some believe that the woman Isaiah spoke of was Abi, Ahaz's wife, and the child was their son Hezekiah who was one of the most faithful kings of Judah. However, this is very unlikely. Although there is some discrepancy in the chronology (a comparison of 2 Kings 18:2 and 2 Kings 16:2 would make Ahaz just eleven years old when Hezekiah was born) it seems likely that Hezekiah was already born when Isaiah made his prophecy.
Others believe that Isaiah spoke of a young woman unknown to us, but known to both him and Ahaz
However, I am not at all sure why we even bother to speculate as to the identity of the woman, when just a few verses later (8:1), the Lord instructed Isaiah to take for himself a large tablet and write on it in ordinary letters: "Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey", which was the name the Lord directed the prophet to call his second son, conceived a very short time later.
So I approached the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. Then the Lord said to me, "Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry out 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria." (Isaiah 8:3-4 NASB)
Although Isaiah's son was not literally named "Immanuel," his given name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz did mean 'Swift is the booty, speedy is the prey', which probably refers to the fact that Assyria would soon carry away the spoil of Damascus and Samaria. In other words God was on their side.
Note: Children usually learn to call their parents 'father' or 'mother' by the time they are about three years old which is approximately how long it took before the prophecy was fulfilled. 'Samaria' is not a references to the city itself. Tilgath-pilneser, captured Galilee and northern Israel in 740 BC. However, the capital, Samaria, fell to Shalmaneser in 722 B.C ... some eighteen years later).
Added to all of which is Isaiah's own testimony, that the children the Lord gave him were for signs from the Lord.
Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:18 NASB)
Isaiah's older son whom he took with him when he first went to meet king Ahaz, was called Shear-jashub (7: 3) which means "a remnant returns". Since we are not specifically told what this refers to, one can only assume it means the remnant that returned from captivity in Babylon. (See Haggai 1:14 and 2:2 for example).
Also read Hosea 1:4-9, in which the Lord told Hosea (a contemporary of Isaiah) what to name three of his children. All three names were prophetic messages.
All of which brings us back to Matthew and how and why he read the birth of Christ into Isaiah's prophecy to king Ahaz. Did he, as critics often claim, quote the prophet's words completely out of context?
The problem doesn't lie with Matthew, but with us. Inasmuch as when it comes to prophecy, we tend to to think 'fulfill' strictly means 'come to pass'. However, the Greek word used in Matthew 1:22 is pleroo, which can also mean 'complete', 'fill to the brim' or 'make replete', or even 'satisfy'. Note how the word is used in various verses in the New Testament...
And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled (Gk. pleroo) the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:2 NASB)
But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled (Gk. pleroo) your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? (Acts 5:3 NASB)
After forty years had passed (Gk. pleroo), an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of mount sinai, in the flame of a burning thorn bush. (Acts 7:30 NASB)
being filled (Gk. pleroo)with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips.. (Romans 1:29 NASB)
For the whole Law is fulfilled (Gk. pleroo) in one word, in the statement, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14 NASB)
Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bond slave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect (Gk. pleroo) and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12 NASB)
One can say that, in a sense, the birth of Christ completely fulfilled the original prophecy.
Simply because the western ideas of prophecy involves one prediction and one fulfillment. While the western ideas of typology involves one type and one anti type. In contrast, the Hebrew idea of prophecy and typology is a pattern that is repeated (sometimes more than once) until the ultimate fulfillment. Therefore, Matthew quite aware, as we are not, that Isaiah's prophecy was not necessarily fulfilled by a single occurrence, looked back at that historical event and saw in it a foreshadowing of the birth of Christ. [See Understanding Prophecy and Typology]
Matthew actually made a very apt comparison...
In Isaiah 7 the prophet announced the birth of a child who would be referred to as "Immanuel" which signified that God was with them, and they would soon be delivered from the danger that threatened them. In Matthew 1:20-23, an angel announces the birth of another child who would also be referred to as "Immanuel", which again signified that God is with us and would, if we choose, save us from the consequences of our sins.
In both cases, salvation was the focus of the message.
The Greek word used by Matthew and translated 'virgin' is parthenos. While it is commonly believed that parthenos exclusively means 'virgin', it is not very likely that this is the case. For example, the Septuagint twice calls Dinah a parthenos (Genesis 34:3, Genesis 34:4), although she had just been raped. Which tells us that the translators of the Septuagint did not understand parthenos to mean virgin.
Additionally, in the following verses Paul, used the word anthropos, which can mean 'maní, but is also used in the sense of 'human being', whether male or female.
Now concerning virgins (Gk. parthenos) I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man (Gk. anthropos) to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin (Gk. parthenos) marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:25-28 NASB)
The above verses simply say that Paul did not recommend that anyone, male or female, seek to be married but, if they did, they were without sin. There was little reason for Paul to be explicitly referring to women who were sexually chaste.
Like the Hebrew word bethulah, which signified a particular period in life, rather than a physical state, the Greek word parthenos did not necessarily mean a virgin. If the author intended to point out that the woman was sexually pure, he had to do so by an additional description which, of course, the Gospel authors did. The fact is we need not get in a tizzy and insist parthenos means virgin. Other verses make it abundantly clear that Mary was a virgin, and that the child conceived in her was by the Holy Spirit, not a man.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18-20 NASB)
The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:30-35 NASB)
In fact, as far back as Genesis 3:15 the Bible speaks of the future Redeemer being the "seed" of a woman... a man not mentioned at all. In a highly patriarchal society, this would have been extremely strange.
Which leaves us with one final point.
They Shall Call His Name Immanuel
Skeptics who are usually unfamiliar with the languages used in the Scriptures, particularly how certain Hebrew and Greek words and phrases were used, unfamiliar with the cultural influences of the time, and, perhaps most of all, have an abysmal lack of knowledge about Christianity itself, will drag up the same old Bible verses to 'prove' how the Bible cannot possibly be the word of God. In spite of the fact that many, if not most, of those claims have been refuted, none of them ever seem to go back and remove these particular claims from their various web sites and blogs etc..
Also See Differences and Discrepancies in the Old and The New Testaments
One of the very popular mantras is that Jesus was never called "Immanuel" as Matthew 1:23 said...
"behold, the virgin shall be with Child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23 NASB)
What seems to be ignored is that both Matthew and Luke recorded the exact same instructions the angel gave Mary... she would call her son "Jesus".
The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name (Gk. kaleo) Him Jesus. (Luke 1:30-31 NASB)
She will bear a Son; and you shall call (Gk. kaleo) His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21 NASB)
The quote by Matthew occurs just two verses before he said Jesus would be 'called' Immanuel. Now either Matthew was a complete moron who contradicted himself about Jesus' given name in the space of three verses, or there is something that the critics don't get.
Additionally, in the very next verse (1:32) Luke, using the same Greek word also reported the angel telling Mary that Jesus would be "great" and would be "called (Gk. kaleo) the Son of the Most High". And, he didn't stop there, but added that "the holy Child" would be called (Gk. kaleo) "the Son of God" (1:35) and called (Gk. kaleo) "the prophet of the Most High". (1:76)
"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; (Luke 1:32 NASB)
The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35 NASB)
"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS; (Luke 1:76 NASB)
Unless people have been missing something for the last two centuries, "Son of the Most High", "the Son of God" and "prophet of the Most High" weren't Jesus' names either.
Sadly, many people do not realize how deep a book the Bible is. It simply cannot be read as one would read an article in Reader's Digest, or the latest Parade. These 'names' were not names at all, but served either as titles or descriptions of who Jesus was.. He was "Son of the Most High", and "Immanuel" or God with us, which refers to Him being born as a man.
Note: If Jesus had not been conceived by the Holy Spirit, which made God His Father, He could never have been called "Immanuel" (God with us).
Isaiah also said (9:6) Jesus' name would be called "Wonderful Counselor", "Mighty God", "Eternal Father", "Prince of Peace" etc. None of which were His actual name but descriptions of who He was. Also, although Jesus was never actually known by the name Yahweh, which was reserved for the Father, the prophet Jeremiah said His name would be "The Lord (Yahweh) our righteousness"
"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. "In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The LORD our righteousness.' (Jeremiah 23:5-6 NASB)
In short, Jesus was "Immanuel"... God in human flesh
Peter tells us that the prophets "made careful searches and inquiries seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (1 Peter 1:10-11)
In other words, they carefully studied their own predictions, to ascertain what they meant, in regard to the times and the exact circumstances.
However, verse 12 says that it was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but their prophecies were for the benefit of people of the future. To put it another way...the prophets of old did not fully understand the prophecies they themselves made. [PLACE IN TEXT]
2 Kings 16:10-18 and 2 Chronicles 28:22-25 tell us how far Ahaz's apostasy went.
After Tiglath-pileser captured Damascus and put king Rezin to death, Ahaz went to Damascus to meet him, which is when he saw a pagan altar in that city. He promptly sent the pattern of the altar to Urijah the priest, presumably with the instructions to construct one exactly like it, which Urijah did. On his return from Damascus, Ahaz, "burned his burnt offering and his meal offering, and poured his drink offering and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar" (Vs. 13). He then commanded that all sacrifices would be made on the new altar. (Vs 15)
Ahaz also had the bronze altar removed from its place and "put it on the north side of his altar" (Vs. 14). Also see verses 16 and 17 which tell of other changes Ahaz made to the original temple.
Now in the time of his distress this same King Ahaz became yet more unfaithful to the Lord. For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, and said, "Because the gods of the kings of Aram helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me." But they became the downfall of him and all Israel. Moreover, when Ahaz gathered together the utensils of the house of God, he cut the utensils of the house of God in pieces; and he closed the doors of the house of the Lord and made altars for himself in every corner of Jerusalem. In every city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked the Lord , the God of his fathers, to anger. (2 Chronicles 28:22-25 NASB) [PLACE IN TEXT]
 The Virgin Shall Conceive... A Reflective Analysis of Isaiah 7:14. by Al Maxey
 Dennis Bratcher. Immanuel in Isaiah and Matthew. "Copyright © 2013 CRI/Voice, Institute". http://www.crivoice.org/immanuel.html
 The Virgin Shall Conceive... A Reflective Analysis of Isaiah 7:14. by Al Maxey
 Lewis Reich. [b-hebrew] virgin vs. young woman. http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2007-July/032841.html