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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Mark Eastman :: The Search for the Messiah

Mark Eastman :: Chapter Three: Birth, Lineage and Mission of Messiah

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"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Woven throughout the Hebrew scriptures we find the birth, lineage and mission of the Messiah. For nearly 2000 years the rabbis commented extensively on these scriptures. As we examine these rabbinical references, as well as new evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, we will get a feel for the "big picture" regarding the origin and mission of the Messiah. We will discover that the ancient rabbinical beliefs are in stark contrast to the contemporary beliefs of most rabbis and Jewish scholars.

The Preexistence of the Messiah

Before we look at the birth of the Messiah we will look at the question of his preexistence. As we have seen, modern rabbis believe that the Messiah is only a man. They deny the supernatural origin of the Messiah and claim that he is simply a man of great character, a very charismatic leader and learned in the Torah, but nothing more than a human being. However, this has not always been the position of the rabbis. There is abundant evidence in Jewish scholarship that the Messiah would, in fact, be an eternally existent supernatural being, with a supernatural birth, mission and destiny.

Alfred Edersheim, in his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, book II, page 175, points out that at one time, most rabbis agreed with this proposition.

"Even in strictly rabbinic documents, the premundane if not the eternal existence of the Messiah, appears as a matter of common belief. Such is the view expressed in the Targum on Isaiah 9:6 6 and in that on Micah 5:2. But, the Midrash on Proverbs 8:9, expressly mention the Messiah among the seven things created before the world...The name of the Messiah is said to have been created before the world."

In the Septuagint we see other hints as to the eternal existence of the Messiah. In the Septuagint version of Psalm 72, a Messianic Psalm, we find an interesting rendering of verse 5 and 7:

"And he shall continue as long as the sun, and before the moon forever...In his days shall righteousness spring up; and abundance of peace till the moon be removed."

To ascribe this passage to the life of a mere mortal man is incredible. According to the translators of the Septuagint, the duration of the Messiah's existence is apparently "forever," which implies, by default, that he existed before the creation of the universe.[1]

In the Septuagint rendering of Psalms 110:1-3 we read:

"The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send out a rod of power for thee out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. With thee is dominion in the day of thy power, in the splendours of thy saints: I have begotten thee from the womb before the morning"(Before the creation of the universe).

Finally, the Septuagint rendering of Micah 5:2 we read of the eternal existence of the Messiah.

"And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrathah, art few in number to be reckoned among the thousands of Judah; yet out of thee shall one come forth to me, to be a ruler of Israel; and his goings forth were from the beginning, even from eternity."

It is also notable that in the Babylonian Talmud in Sotah 9b, the Messiah is referred to as:

"being greater than the Patriarchs, higher than Moses, and even loftier than the ministering angels."

The eternal existence of the Messiah, although not universally held by the ancient rabbis, was clearly believed by the ancient Septuagint translators. Furthermore, they, along with some writers of the Talmud believed the Messiah is a supernatural being whose "goings forth were from the beginning, even from eternity," one who was "loftier than the ministering angels," one who was begotten "from the womb before the morning," one who would "continue as long as the sun, and before the moon forever." To propose and to argue that these prophecies could be fulfilled in the life, ministry and destiny of a mere mortal man is to abandon logic and common sense.

The Birth of the Messiah

"And thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrathah, art few in number to be reckoned among the thousands of Judah; yet out of thee shall one come forth to me, to be a ruler of Israel; and his goings forth were from the beginning, even from eternity." (Micah 5:2, Septuagint version)

The city of Bethlehem is perhaps the most famous village in the world. Among its notable residents were King David and Jesus of Nazareth. The belief that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem has its origin from the above passage. The identity of the "ruler in Israel" born in Bethlehem can be easily determined by an examination of the ancient rabbinical sources.

This passage is Messianically applied in the Targumim,[2] in Pirqe' de Rabbi Eliezer chapter 3, and by later rabbis.[3]

In the Targum of Jonathan (Targum of the Prophets) we find this fascinating quote regarding the birth of the Messiah:

"And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, you who were too small to be numbered among the thousands of the house of Judah, from you shall come forth before Me the Messiah, to exercise dominion over Israel, he whose name was mentioned before, from the days of creation."[4]

Here we see that the Messiah would not only be born in Bethlehem but that his name would exist before the creation of the world.

Born of a Virgin?

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel." (Isaiah 7:14, Septuagint version)

The identity of the person in this passage has been a controversy for centuries. The one born of a virgin and named in this passage (Emmanuel, meaning with us is God) is according to Christian scholars, the Messiah. However, as we saw in chapter one, modern Jewish scholars deny the virgin birth of the Messiah and the Messianic application of this verse. Rabbinical references applying this verse to the Messiah are rare. However, the controversy regarding the identity of the person called, "God with us," begs the question, "If this is not the Messiah, then whom else?" To ascribe such a supernatural birth and title to a mere mortal is ridiculous. Since angels aren't conceived in the womb, they can't qualify. Therefore, the only logical candidate is the Messiah.

There is also a controversy as to the correct translation of the word "Almah," translated "virgin" by the translators of the Septuagint. When confronted with the word "almah," they translated it into the Greek word "parthenos" meaning an unmarried virgin. This word is derived from the words "parthenia," meaning virginity and the word "agamos," meaning unmarried.

After the advent of Christianity and the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin, the rabbis eventually began to interpret the word "almah," found in Isaiah 7:14, as a a "young woman."

Secondly, the passage says that "The Lord himself will give you a sign." Usually a sign from God is an impressive disruption in the natural flow of things, a supernatural event. Fire from heaven, resurrection from the dead, parting the Red Sea, miraculous healings are typical signs from God. But a "young woman" conceiving and bearing a son?

Although the production of a child from a fertilized egg the size of the head of a pin is impressive, perhaps even a miracle in its own right, such an event could hardly be described as a sign. This same event occurs millions of times every year. Clearly, the event spoken of here is a supernatural conception, a miraculous sign, and an unprecedented event in human history - "Behold, a virgin shall conceive!"

The name Emmanuel[5] means "God with us." Even the 20th century Jewish Publication Society Bible admits that Emmanuel means "with us is God!" Was this the Messiah?

Messiah Will Reign from David's Throne

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder; and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6, NKJ)
"For unto us a child is born, a Son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele-joez-El gibbor-abi-ad-sar-shalom.[6] His government shall be great, and of his peace there is no end: it shall be upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to support it with judgment and with righteousness from henceforth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this." (Isaiah 9:5-7, JPS, 1917)

In this incredibly beautiful passage we see more revealed about the origin, mission and identity of the Messiah than perhaps any other passage in the Bible.

The Messiah would be born as a child and rule on David's throne, yet he also would be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In many of the writings of the ancient rabbis this passage is specifically applied to the Messiah.[7]

Most modern rabbis reject the Messianic application of this prophecy. In fact, the modern group Jews for Judaism applies this prophecy to Hezekiah, the king of Judah, in 8th century B.C.E. As we shall see, this opinion has not always been held by the rabbis.

In a book of eighteen beautiful Psalms, called the Psalter of Solomon, written by an unknown Jewish source in 50 B.C.E., Isaiah 9:6-7 is referred to when the writer states of the Messiah:

"He is the king who reigns in the house of David[8]...He is the son of David, who comes at the time known to God only, to reign over Israel,[9]...He is Christ the Lord[10]...He is pure from sin.[11]...He will bring his people the blessings of restoration...and judge the nations, who will be subject to his rule, and behold and own his glory."[12]

The word "Christ" is from the Greek "Christos" which is the translation for the Hebrew word "Mashiyach" - Anointed One - the Messiah!

In this beautiful Psalm we see again a supernatural Messianic figure who rules on David's throne, who (in the first century B.C.E.) is called Christ the Lord - an idiom for the Messiah!

Twentieth century Jewish scholar S.A. Horodetsky, writing in "MOZNAIM," a Hebrew periodical, ties the identity of the person who is called Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 14 to the individuals spoken of in Isaiah 9:6 6 and Isaiah 11:1.[13],[14]

"Behold the almah shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (reference to Isaiah 7:14).

Horodetsky continues:

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government rests on his shoulders: and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (a reference to Isaiah 9:6)
"There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isaiah 11:1)[15]

Speaking of the individual identified in these three prophecies, Horodetsky states:

"He is singled out and more marvelous than any of the holy children in the Bible. When the Judean kingdom was in danger of being destroyed Isaiah prophesied in God's name, saying: 'Behold, the almah conceives and gives birth to a son and calls his name Immanuel.' About the quality and character of this child the prophet says laconically: 'butter and honey shall he eat, despising the evil and choosing the good.' Isaiah prophesies again about the same child, but calls him by a different name, namely, 'A child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government rests upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace,' etc., etc. In another place, the prophet relates in more clear and more detailed words the descent, character and mission of this child (Isaiah 11). All these descriptions, namely, Immanuel, Wonderful, Counselor, Root of Jesse's stock, are linked together by one, namely, Immanuel. This last name is the principal name of the child, so much so that in Isaiah 8:8 the whole land of Judah is called the land of Immanuel."

It is startling to see a Hebrew periodical admit that the figure spoken of in these three are indeed the same person. The fact that these three passages were believed to be Messianic by the ancient rabbis in the Psalter of Solomon and other writings is conclusive.[16] The Messiah, the one whose name is "God with us," "Wonderful," "Counselor," "Mighty God," "Prince of Peace," and "Christ the Lord" will be born of a virgin, carry the government upon his shoulders and rule upon the throne of David forever.

He Would Be a King

"Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is his name by which he will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

This beautiful promise of the coming redemption of Judah was clearly believed to be Messianic by the ancient rabbis. This passage presents one of the highest views of the Messiah in the entire Hebrew Bible. Not only would he be a king from the lineage of David, he would also be a savior and his name would be "The Lord our Righteousness"! This passage is Messianically applied in the Targum, Talmud and Midrash.

The Targum of Jeremiah has an interpretation:

"I will raise up for David the Messiah the just."

This is one of the passages from which, according to the ancient rabbis, one of the names of Messiah is derived, "Jehovah our Righteousness."[17] That is, they believed that the Messiah was in some way a literal manifestation of Jehovah himself!

A King on a donkey:

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King is coming to thee, just, and a Savior; he is meek and riding on a ass, and a young foal." (Zechariah 9:9, Septuagint version)

Since the day Jesus of Nazareth rode into the east gate of Jerusalem on a donkey, Christians have pointed to this prophecy as Messianic and being fulfilled in Jesus. However, modern rabbis deny that the Messiah will be lowly and come to Israel on a donkey. Yet, Zechariah the prophet, prophesying in the days of the Second Temple, declared that a savior would come into the city of Jerusalem in just this way. When we examine the writings of the ancient rabbis, we find they believed it to be a prophecy regarding the Messiah.

In the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 99a we read:

"Rabbi Hillel said: 'There shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they have already enjoyed him in the days of Hezekiah.' Rabbi Joseph said: 'May God forgive him for saying so. Now, when did Hezekiah flourish? During the First Temple. Yet Zechariah, prophesying in the days of the second, proclaimed, 'rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy King cometh unto thee! He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.'"

In this incredible quote from the Babylonian Talmud, we see Rabbi Joseph proclaiming that the Messiah could not have come during the days of Hezekiah, because Hezekiah lived during the days of the First Temple. He goes on to validate the Messianic application of this prophecy in declaring that the Messiah would be lowly and come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey!

In the Babylonian Talmud, there is a fascinating commentary on the "Son of Man" spoken of in Daniel 7:13.

"I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him." (Daniel 7:13)

This passage is curiously explained in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a:

"If Israel behaved worthily, the Messiah would come in the clouds of heaven, if otherwise, humble riding on a donkey."

The Talmud writer clearly ties the "Son of Man" in Daniel with the lowly king in Zechariah 9:9.

In another Talmudic passage, during a discourse about the Messiah's redemption the Talmud writer states:

"If one sees an ass in a dream, he may hope for salvation, as it says, 'Behold thy King cometh unto thee; he is triumphant and victorious, lowly and riding upon an ass.'"[18]

The Mission of the Messiah

Woven among the passages we have just examined we find a number of facets of the mission of the Messiah. According to these passages, Messiah would be a savior who would execute judgment and righteousness in the earth while reigning upon the throne of David. A close examination of the Hebrew scriptures reveals that this only scratches the surface of the mission of the Messiah.

In the book of Isaiah we find that the Messiah is prophesied to have a tremendous ministry of spiritual and physical healing.

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified." (Isaiah 61:1-3)
"In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 29:18-19)
"Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert." (Isaiah 35:5-6)

These verses represent some of the most beautiful verses regarding the mission of the Messiah in the entire Bible. Clearly, in the healing of the deaf, blind and the lame, these prophecies speak of a mission which is supernatural, a ministry which could hardly be accomplished through an ordinary man. Many ancient rabbinical sources indicate the belief that the performance of these miraculous signs is accomplished by none other than the Messiah.[19]

Jeremiah the prophet was a witness to the destruction of Israel in the 7th century B.C. Prophet after prophet was sent to the nation to warn them of the coming catastrophe, which was sanctioned by God because the people had broken the covenant with him. Many of the people, including their leaders, had fallen into idol worship, sexual immorality, and they had failed to rest the land as required in the law of Moses. Consequently, the nation of Israel was destroyed and the people taken captive for seventy years, exactly the number of years they owed God in the resting of the land. In the midst of this disaster, God speaks through Jeremiah and promises a new covenant to the nation of Israel, a covenant that the ancient rabbis believed would be brought by the Messiah.

"Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them," says the LORD. "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: after those days, says the Lord, I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," says the LORD. "For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."[20] (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

In this heart-warming passage we see a vivid picture of a loving father bending in reconciliation to his disobedient children. Here Jeremiah proclaims a message of hope and restoration during the Messianic Kingdom. This new covenant was to be a covenant of the heart, as opposed to one on stone tablets. This new covenant was to be a covenant whereby man would relate to God in faith and not with the works of the law.

This verse was applied to the Messiah by ancient rabbis in many places.[21] This new covenant relationship was to be a major accomplishment of the Messiah.

Finally, the Bible speaks of a Messianic mission to the Gentiles:

"And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek him, and his resting place shall be glorious." (Isaiah 11:10)

To the ancient Jewish mind the Gentiles were viewed as filthy dogs, sub-human, unclean, made by God only to provide fuel for hell! So when Isaiah penned this prophecy, many must have thought he had lost his mind. However, as time progressed the rabbis eventually viewed the conversion of the Gentiles (called proselytes) as a rabbinical and Messianic mission. The Root of Jesse is recognized even today as an idiom for the Messiah.[22]

In our brief examination of the Hebrew scriptures and their ancient rabbinical interpretations, we have found many specific indicators and requirements that the rabbis were expecting to find fulfilled in the resumé of any man that might claim the title of Messiah. Yet, this is only a partial list of the hundreds of passages recognized as Messianic by the ancient rabbis.[23]

As we progress through this book we will see many more of these hallmarks of the Messianic resumé. However, even with the prophecies we have examined so far we are in a position to ask whether Jesus of Nazareth (or anyone else for that matter) has fulfilled the biblical Messianic composite that the ancient rabbis were expecting.

Notes

[1] Genesis 1:1.

[2] The Targumim, plural for the Targums, are ancient Aramaic translation with commentaries interwoven in the text; second century B.C.E.

[3] The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Edersheim, Appendix IX.

[4] The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum, Samson H. Levy (Cincinnati:Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974), pg.92.

[5] Also rendered as Immanuel by many scholars.

[6] This is translated in the footnotes of the Jewish Publication Society Bible as, "Wonderful in counsel is God the Mighty, the Everlasting Father, the ruler of Peace."However,this translation is not a correct one. The text has been manipulated to come up with this translation.

[7] Isaiah 9:6 is applied to the Messiah in the Targum of Isaiah, in the Midrash, Bemidbar Rabbah 11, the Midrash commentary on numbers and in the Babylonian Talmud Siphre', paragraph 42.

[8] Psalter of Solomon, chapter 17:5

[9] Ibid chapter 5:3

[10] Ibid chapter 5:36

[11] Ibid chapter 5:41

[12] Ibid chapter 5:25-35

[13] S.A. Horodetsky, in MOZNAIM ("Balances" and "Scales") V01 1, No. 10; Nov.-Dec., 1929.

[14] This discussion is adapted from The Messianic Hope, Arthur Kac, Baker Books, pg. 40-41.

[15] The translation of these three passages is taken from Ninteenth century German Semitic scholar, Dr. Franz Delitzsch, in his work entitled The Prophecies of Isaiah and referenced by Horodetsky.

[16] Isaiah 11:1 is applied to the Messiah in the Targum of Isaiah, and in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 93b and in the Yakult (vol. 1, pg.24).

[17] Talmud Babha Bathra 75b, Midrash on Psalm 21:1, Proverbs 19:21, Lamentations 1:16. All of these sources refer to Messiah being called "Jehovah our Righteousness."

[18] Babylonian Talmud, Bereshith 56b.

[19] See Midrash on Lamentations, chapter 3:49, Yakult i.78 and 178a, Misrash on Genesis chapter 95 and Midrash on Psalms 146:8. These verses are specifically applied to the Messiah in these documents.

[20] These verses are all applied to the Messiah in Yakult vol. 1 pg 76 and vol.2 pg. 54b and 66d.

[21] See Yakult vol. 1, pg.196c; 78c; vol. 2pg. 54b and 66d.

[22] Messianically applied to in Isaiah 11:10 is the Messiah.

[23] For a complete list see The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Edersheim, Alfred, Appendix IX.

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