The Branch: Named hundreds of years before his birth

We saw how Isaiah began the prophetic theme of The Branch.  A ‘he’ from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was coming.  Jeremiah followed up by stating that this Branch would be known as Adonai (the Lord) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

Zechariah returned after the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple
Zechariah returned after the Babylonian exile to rebuild the Temple

Zechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first exile.  At that time, they were rebuilding their destroyed temple.  The High Priest then was a man named Joshua, and he was re-starting the work of the priests. Zechariah, the prophet, was partnering with his colleague Joshua, the High Priest, (and Zerubbabel the political leader) in leading the Jewish people. Here is what G-d – through Zechariah- said about this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch.” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’

(Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch!  Started by Isaiah 200 years beforehand, continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah develops ‘The Branch’ further.  The Branch is now also called ‘my servant’ (the Servant of Adonai).  In some way Zechariah’s colleague, the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BCE, was symbolic of this coming Branch.  But how? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD. How would that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest & King

To understand we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the First Temple Period. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests, and the priests could not be kings. The priest’s role was to mediate between G-d and man by offering animal sacrifices to G-d for atonement of sins, and the King’s job was to rule with justice. Both were crucial; both were distinct. This separation of role was cemented in that priests could only be Levites descended from Aaron, while the kings were from David’s line within the tribe of Judah. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’

(Zechariah 6:9-13)

Here, against all previous rules, the high priest Joshua in 520 BCE was to put on the kingly crown symbolically as the Branch. (Remember that Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’). Joshua the High Priest, in putting on the kingly crown, foresaw a future uniting of King and Priest into one person – a priest on the King’s throne.  Furthermore, Zechariah prophesied that ‘Joshua’ was the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ is the name ‘Jesus’

To understand we need to review the history of the Tanakh’s translation. The original Hebrew Tanakh was translated into Greek in 250 BCE by Jewish rabbis and is today known as the Septuagint or LXX.  Still widely used, we saw how ‘Christ’ was first used in the LXX and we now follow that same analysis through the Masoretic Hebrew and the Greek Septuagint for ‘Joshua’

Hebrew & Greek roots of 'Joshua' and 'Jesus' in the Bible
Hebrew & Greek roots of ‘Joshua’ and ‘Jesus’ in the Bible. Both come from the Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ

You can see that Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ).  Quadrant #1 shows the Hebrew ‘Joshua’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) as it was first written.  It is transliterated to ‘Joshua’ in English (#1=> #3). ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew is the same as Joshua in English.  

יְהוֹשֻׁ֥עַ = Joshua (= Branch) in Hebrew-English Interlinear Masoretic Text

When the LXX was translated Hebrew to Greek in 250 BCE (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) was transliterated to Iesous (#1 => #2). ‘Yhowshuwa’ (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew is the same as Iesous (Ἰησοῦ) in Greek.

LXX Greek-English Interlinear of Zechariah 6:11-12: Ιησού=Joshua

When the Greek is translated to English, Iesous is transliterated to ‘Jesus’ (#2 => #3).  Iesous (Ἰησοῦ) in Greek is the same as Jesus in English.

Brit Chadasha Greek-English Interlinear: Ιησού = Jesus

Jesus was called Yhowshuwa (יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ) in Hebrew, but in the Greek Brit Chadasha his name was written as ‘Iesous’ – identical to how the Greek Tanakh LXX wrote that name. When the Brit Chadasha is translated from Greek to English (#2 => #3) ‘Iesous’ is transliterated to the familiar ‘Jesus’.  So the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’, with ‘Jesus’ going through an intermediate Greek step, and ‘Joshua’ coming directly from the Hebrew.  Both Jesus of Nazareth, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BCE had the same name, יְהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both were called ‘Iesous’

Is Jesus of Nazareth the Branch?

Is this a prediction, made in 520 BCE, that the name of the coming Branch would be, in English terms, ‘Jesus’, pointing directly to Jesus of Nazareth?

Jesus of Nazareth is well-known outside the gospels.  The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other historical writers about Jesus, both friendly and hostile, always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ (Iesous) or ‘Christ’, so his name was not invented in the Gospels.  But Zechariah predicted this name 500 years before he lived.

Jesus of Nazareth is ‘from the stump of Jesse’ since Jesse and David were his ancestors. Jesus possessed wisdom and understanding to a degree that sets him apart from others.  His shrewdness, poise and insight portrayed in the Brit Chadasha continue to impress both critics and followers.  His power through miracles in the gospels is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them.  Jesus fits the quality of possessing exceptional wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Now think of the life of Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels. He claimed to be a king – The King in fact. This is what ‘Christ‘ means.  But what he did while on earth was actually priestly. The priest’s job was to offer acceptable sacrifices to G-d on behalf of the Jewish people.  The death of Jesus in the Brit Chadasha was significant in that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. The sins of the land were thus literally removed ‘in a single day’ as Zechariah had predicted – the day Jesus died and paid for all sins. In his death he fulfilled the requirements as Priest, even while he is mostly known as ‘The Christ’ or The King.  Thus, as Zechariah prophesied, he did bring the two roles together.

But this is the view of Jesus’ death taken in the Brit Chadasha. Does the Tanakh support the same point-of-view?  We explore this by following up on the related theme that Zechariah above equated with the Branch – that of the Servant.

The Sign of the Branch: The Dead Stump reborn – in Messiah

We learned that both the terms ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ originate in the Tanakh and that they are equivalent titles.  The use of this title ’Messiah’ to signify a coming ruler, a ‘Son of God’, in Psalm 2 opened the door for related themes that later books in the Tanakh developed.  Isaiah (750 BCE) initiated this with the Branch of the Lord.

Isaiah and the Branch

Historical TImeline with Isaiah and other writers of Tanakh
Historical TImeline with Isaiah and other writers of Tanakh

Isaiah wrote in the First Temple Period during the Davidic dynasty. In his day (ca 750 BCE) the dynasty and the kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah pleaded that the Kings return back to G-d with the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law.  But Isaiah knew that Israel would not repent, and so he also prophesied that she would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would end.  Isaiah chapter 3 details this coming judgment.  But then the book changes its tone and foresees:

In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. (Isaiah 4:2)

He does not give much detail about this coming Branch, but a little further on, he explains what he foresaw with a specific metaphor, or image, of the royal dynasty – picturing it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. On Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

David’s Royal Dynasty pictured as a Tree from Jesse (father of David)

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

Isaiah wrote that this ‘tree’ would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. Here is how he pictured this ‘tree’, which then he turned into the riddle of a stump and Branch:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse
David’s Dynasty pictured as a Stump of Jesse

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king to Babylon (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and so was the root of David’s Dynasty. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore a metaphor to the coming shattering of David’s dynasty.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

A 'him' pictured as a shoot from the stump
A ‘him’ pictured as a shoot from the dead stump of Jesse

But this prophecy also looked further into the future than just the cutting down of the kings. Isaiah predicted that though the ‘stump’ would look dead (as stumps do), one day in the further future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that stump, just like shoots can sprout from tree stumps. This Branch is referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a specific man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty would be cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of G-d would be resting on him.  This was a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, using the theme of ‘Branch’.

Jeremiah and The Branch

Jeremiah in Historical Timeline with other writers of Tanakh
Jeremiah in Historical Timeline with other writers of Tanakh

Like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history, it was only the first in a series of signposts that developed this theme of the coming ‘Branch’.  Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when David’s dynasty was being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“The days are coming,” says Adonai
when I will raise a righteous Branch for David.
He will reign as king and succeed,
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Y’hudah will be saved,
Isra’el will live in safety,
and the name given to him will be
Adonai Tzidkenu [Adonai our righteousness] (Jeremiah23:5-6)

The Branch: ADONAI our Righteousness

What will this Branch be called? He would be called the ADONAI who will also be ‘our’ (that is – us humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and so we need ‘righteousness’.  In naming the Branch Adonai our Righteousness, Jeremiah hints that people in his future would get needed ‘righteousness’ from the LORD – ADONAI himself.  But how would this be done?  Zechariah provides the answer as he develops this theme of the Coming Branch further, prophesying even the name of the Messiah – which we look at here.

Where does ‘Messiah’ come from?

The anticipation of a coming ruler ‘Messiah’ is central to conventional Jewish thought.  But where does the idea and the term ‘Messiah’ come from?  What is the relationship between ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’?  Is ‘Christ’ simply some sort of Christian term or idea?  It turns out that all these words have their origins in the Tanakh and in how it was translated thousands of years ago.  Here we look at where these words come from and what the Tanakh says about Messiah.  But first we survey the Torah on this Coming One.

Messiah in Torah

This Coming One is first introduced in the Torah (though without using the term ‘Messiah’).  In fact, the Messianic promise of a Coming One was first given back in the Garden of Eden.  At this early date, the promise of His victory in conflict is simply outlined.  But later, when the patriarch Jacob blessed his twelve sons before his death he foresaw a coming ruler.  In blessing Judah, Jacob said:

“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet.
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.  (Genesis 49:8-10)

Since the other sons of Jacob (i.e. the other Israelite tribes) would ‘bow down’ to Judah, and Judah would have ‘the scepter’ (symbolic of rule), this oracle promised a monarchy coming from the tribe of Judah – which was fulfilled when David came to the throne.  But the prophecy also looked further into the future.  Paradoxically, it predicted that rule would not depart from Judah until a ‘he’ comes – someone who has a right to the “ruler’s staff” (This ‘he’ is called שִׁילֹה literally ‘he whose it is’ or Shiloh). When the ‘he’ who has the right to rule finally comes, then rule will be removed from Judah!  This ‘he’ will also get ‘the obedience of the nations’  (so it is not about David).  Once again, as with G-d’s covenant with Abram, the nations are in sight, foreseeing that the nations will be ‘his’.

The later prophetic books in the Tanakh describe this coming one using the title ‘Messiah’ but that word does not appear in all translations.  To understand why, we need to touch on the history of Bible translation.

Translation vs. Transliteration

Known as transliteration, translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning. For example, ‘shalom’ is a transliteration from the Hebrew שלום which means ‘peace’. Translators can bring שלום into English as either ‘shalom’ (by transliteration of sound) or ‘peace’ (by translation of meaning).   For the Tanakh, translators had to decide whether words (especially names and titles) should be translated by meaning or through transliteration (by similar sound).  There is no hard rule; sometimes it is better to translate and other times one transliterates.

The Septuagint

The Tanakh was first translated into Greek between 250 – 132 BCE and this translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX).  The Babylonian Talmud says that 70 rabbis translated this work in Alexandria, Egypt at the request of Ptolemy II.  Thus the Septuagint was an early translation work by Jewish scholars for Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora and Gentiles who had an interest in the prophetic writings.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows this translation process and how it impacts modern-day Bibles

The translation flow from original to modern-day Bible
The translation flow from original to modern-day Bible

The original Hebrew Tanakh is shown in quadrant #1 and is available today as the Masoretic Text. The Greek Septuagint is in quadrant #2. The bottom half (#3) shows a modern language Bible (e.g. English). Because the Septuagint was a Hebrew-to-Greek translation the figure displays a blue arrow going from quadrant #1 to #2. For all steps (#1->#2, #1->#3, #2->#3) translators decided on transliteration or translation of names and titles as explained above, illustrated by labeling transliterate and translate around the arrows.

After the Septuagint was completed and used across the Jewish Diaspora in the Greco-Roman world, the Greek Brit Chadasha was written.  This was key in the development of the term ‘Messiah’.  Since the Brit Chadasha was written in Greek and had many quotations from the Tanakh it used the Greek Septuagint, rather than the Masoretic Hebrew, for its source of quotes.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Brit Chadasha in the historical flow of language and translation
Brit Chadasha in the historical flow of language and translation

Messiah and Christ from the Bible

Now we focus on the word ‘Messiah’, following the historical process explained above.

‘Messiah’ comes from in the Bible
Where does ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ come from in the Bible?

The original Hebrew title in the Tanakh was ‘mashiyach’ (משיח) which is defined as an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person.  Priests and kings in the First Temple Period were anointed (ceremonially rubbed with oil) before they took office, thus they were mashiyach.  But prophecies in the Tanakh predicted a specific mashiyach, anointed by G-d, who was coming. When the Septuagint was developed in 250 BCE, the rabbis chose a Greek word with a similar meaning, Χριστός (sounds like Christos, which came from chrio, which meant to rub ceremonially with oil).  Therefore the rabbis brought the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into the Greek Septuagint through translating the word Christos by its meaning (not transliterated by sound). The Jewish writers of the Brit Chadasha understood Yeshua of Nazareth to be this person prophesied in the Tanakh, but since they wrote in Greek they used the Greek word Christos from the Septuagint, not ‘mashiyach’.

For modern-language Bibles (like English), the Tanakh was translated directly from Hebrew (#1 to #3).  Some translators chose to translate by meaning into variations of Anointed/Anointed One, and others transliterated by sound to Messiah.  So we can interchange Anointed with Messiah since they both come from the same Hebrew word ‘mashiyach’ (משיח) – one by transliteration and the other by meaning.  Similarly, Christos came via translation from the same Hebrew word ‘Mashiyach’ (#1 to #2).  This was then transliterated by similar sound from Greek to modern languages like English to make the term ‘Christ’ (#2 to #3).  So ‘Christ’ is a very specific title rooted in the Hebrew Tanakh, derived first by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then by transliteration from Greek to modern languages.  It is the same as Messiah.

To summarize,

‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’=משיח

which was a specific prophetic title in the Tanakh.

Messiah in Psalms

Now we are ready to see where ‘Messiah’ comes in the Tanakh.  Psalm 2, penned by King David about 1000 B.C.E., introduces Messiah in this way:

The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.” (Psalm 2:2-3)

We can interchange this ‘Anointed’ with ‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’.  What can we learn about this Messiah?  The Psalm continues.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2: 4-12)

We see here that Adonai calls the Anointed/Messiah ‘my son’.  G-d identifies His Messiah as ‘His son’.  This is therefore where the term ‘Son of God’ originates and is thus another equivalent term for ‘Messiah’.

Jews have historically been known to be waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). Why?  Because the Tanakh prophesied that He would come.

The Messiah anticipated in 1st Century

Herod the Great and Messiah

Below is the reaction of Herod the Great (4 BCE) when the Magi from the East came looking for the Messiah, part of the Nativity story. Notice, ‘the’ precedes Messiah.

When King Herod heard of this he became very agitated, and so did everyone else in Yerushalayim.

He called together all the head cohanim and Torah-teachers of the people and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”  (Matthew 2:3-4)

The idea of ‘the Messiah’ was accepted between Herod and his religious advisors –and is used here without referring specifically to Yeshua. Why? Because Jews had been reading Psalm 2 for hundreds of years before Herod the Great was born.

Messiah and Son of God.

At his trial, Yeshua is brought before the High Priest who asks him:

The cohen hagadol said to him, “I put you under oath! By the living God, tell us if you are the Mashiach, the Son of God!” (Matthew 26:63)

We see by how the question is phrased that the Jewish High Priest effortlessly inferred ‘Son of God’ from Messiah.  Where did he get the idea that ‘Son of God’ is an extension of Messiah?  From Psalm 2.

Messiah in Tanakh: Specified like a lock-n-key system

The fact that the Tanakh explicitly predicts a coming Messiah makes it stand unique across the vast sea of literature that has been produced through history. It is like a lock.  Locks are designed in a certain shape so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the lock can unlock it. In this way the Tanakh is a ‘lock’ with specifications that become more and more precise through the prophetic passages.  (Already we have seen some in Abraham’s sacrifice, Adam’s beginning, and Moses’ Passover).  This raises a very Jewish question: Is Yeshua the matching ‘key’ that unlocks the Tanakh?  We continue to explore this question later, but for now reflect on the paradox of the prophecy that Jacob gave to Judah.  Judah continued in self-rule (albeit under Roman supervision) in the land of Israel until shortly after the coming of Yeshua.  Forty years later the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and sent the Jews into worldwide exile – destined to live under the rule of other nations as Moses had foreseen.  All this while ‘the nations’ orbited into Yeshua’s teaching as per Jacob’s oracle.  A two-sided, synchronized fit between the ‘lock’ of that short prophecy and the ‘key’ of Yeshua.  Perhaps the question is worth looking into.

The way to do so is to examine how the prophets of Nevi’im and Ketuvim (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel etc.) specified the details forming the ‘lock’ for the Messiah.  These specifications have implications for us living 2500+ years later.  We take that up next.

8. Abraham’s Test: the binding of Isaac

We saw how Abraham had received the prize of Righteousness.  We also noted the connections between Passover (Pesach) and Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth, learning that the re-discovery of Jesus’ Jewish root is proving fascinating for both Jews and Christians, resulting in shared Sedar meals.

Genesis 22 – Abraham Tested with Sacrifice

The Torah account of the testing of Abraham in the sacrifice of his son Isaac (Yitzchak) builds on this Jesus-Torah relationship right from the Genesis 22 text.  The complete Genesis 22 account is here.  The unfolding relationship of this account to Jesus (Yeshua) is explored below.

G-d initiated the ordeal by giving Abraham a bizarre command:

G-d said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak (Isaac); and go to the land of Moriyah (Moriah). There you are to offer him as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will point out to you.” (Genesis 22:2)

Though many through the ages have wondered why G-d gave such a drastic order, Abraham did not delay but rather…

Avraham (Abraham) got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, together with Yitzchak (Isaac) his son. He cut the wood for the burnt offering, departed and went toward the place God had told him about. On the third day, Avraham raised his eyes and saw the place in the distance. (Genesis 22:3-4)

While traveling for three days Isaac was as good as dead in Abraham’s mind since he knew what was to happen once they reached Moriah.  Upon arriving, Abraham…

They came to the place God had told him about; and Avraham built the altar there, set the wood in order, bound Yitz’chak his son and laid him on the altar, on the wood. Then Avraham put out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. (Genesis 22:9-10)

It is at this point in the account that a dramatic rescue takes place…

But the angel of Adonai called to him out of heaven: “Avraham? Avraham!” He answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy! Don’t do anything to him! For now I know that you are a man who fears God, because you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Avraham raised his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. Avraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. (Genesis 22:11-13)

At the last moment a ram substituted In Isaac’s place.  The ram was offered as a burnt offering instead of Isaac.  The ram died so that Isaac could live.

Now there is another strange twist in this unusual account.  Notice what happens next:

And Avraham called the name of that place Hashem Yireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of Hashem it shall be provided. (Genesis 22:14)

When naming the place, we would expect that Abraham would look back to that moment when G-d provided the ram in place of his son.  But instead it looks forward into the future (‘it shall be provided’) rather than to the recent past when the ram had been provided.

Why is a name given to this place that is future-looking rather than looking back to the saving of Isaac?

Mount Moriah and Jerusalem

Mount Moriah becomes the place where the Temple is built 1000 years later by Solomon.  We see this later in the Tanakh

Then Shlomo (Solomon) began to build the house of Adonai in Yerushalayim (Jeruslaem) on Mount Moriyah (Moriah), where Adonai had appeared to David his father. (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Mount Moriah in the time of Abraham (2000 BCE) was a deserted mountaintop with shrubs and a ram.  But by the time of David and Solomon (1000-950 BCE) it was where the temple was built in David’s newly acquired city of Jerusalem.

The binding of Isaac and Jesus

Let us think about how Jesus (Yeshua) is introduced in the Brit Chadasha.  In the Gospel of John he is introduced in the following way:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Jesus was called ‘The Lamb of God‘. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified?  It is very clearly stated that:

He [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s authority. Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. (Luke 23:7)

The arrest, trial and death of Jesus was in Jerusalem – the same location as ‘Mount Moriah’.  The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.

Major historical events at Mount Moriah
Major historical events at Mount Moriah

Isaac had been saved at the last moment when a lamb was sacrificed in his place.  But strangely the Torah looks to the future rather than back to that lamb.  Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and he is sacrificed at the same location.  There is a connection between the account in the Torah and Jesus through location and by a lamb sacrificed on behalf of someone else.

G-d’s Plan

This has the hallmarks of a Mind connecting these two events separated by 2000 years of history.  What makes the connection unique is that the first event points to the later event in using the future tense.  But only G-d knows the future.  The Torah seems to indicate that He wants us to think about this like below.

Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing forward to Jesus' sacrifice
Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing forward to Jesus’ sacrifice

Passover points to Jesus’ sacrifice, – by pointing to the day of the calendar the calendar started by the first Passover.  With Abraham’s sacrifice the place where the ram died so Isaac could live was Mount Moriah – the same place where Jesus was sacrificed 2000 years later.  In two different ways these two prominent stories in the Torah point directly to the death of Jesus using sacrificed lambs.  But in both stories the significance of the lamb’s sacrifice is the same – the lamb dies so someone else can live.

These two accounts in Torah (Abraham’s sacrifice and the Passover) show that it is reasonable to consider that Jesus’ death also holds similar meaning – his death somehow gives life to others.

The matching details between Torah and Gospels

With this in mind, let’s examine some details of the Genesis account to note the following:

From Torah’s  Genesis 22 account From Brit Chadasha
 

 

‘your son, your only son, whom you love’ (v.2)

 

This is the first occurrence of the word ‘love’ in the Torah. G-d speaks and says that Isaac is the ‘only son’ whom Abraham loves but must give up.

‘This is my Son, whom I love’ (Matthew3:17)

‘You are my Son, whom I love’ (Mark1:11)

‘You are my Son, whom I love’ (Luke3:22)

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son’ (John3:16)

In the first 3 Gospels of the Brit Chadasha, G-d speaks and identifies Jesus as his Son whom He loves – the first occurrences of ‘love’. In the 4th Gospel, Jesus is the ‘only son’ whom G-d must give up.

Abraham “took two of his servants with him” (v.3) 

Abraham and Isaac were accompanied by 2 others on the journey to sacrifice.

‘Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed’ (Lk23:32)

Jesus is accompanied by 2 others on the journey to sacrifice.

‘On the third day …’ (v.4)

Abraham journeyed 3 days before he reached Mount Moriah.  In his mind Isaac was dead for three days, being saved on the 3rd.

‘on the third day according to the Scriptures…’ (1 Corinthians15:4)

Jesus was dead for three days and resurrected from death on the 3rd.

“Avraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on Yitzchak his son” (v.6)

The son carries the wood on his back as he walks to his sacrifice

‘Carrying his own cross, he went out…’ (John 19:17)

The son carries the wood cross on his back as he walks to his sacrifice

Other nations in view too

At the end of this account G-d promised Abraham that:

and by your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — because you obeyed my order. (Genesis 22:18)

The promise was that ‘all the nations’ (kol goyei ha’aretz) would be blessed through Abraham’s descendants (literally zerah or ‘seed’).  It is a fact of history that Jesus’ sacrifice has been, to a significant extent, accepted by ‘the nations’.  This account has theme and details which match that of Jesus 2000 years later and concludes with a promise that anticipates the impact of Jesus’ legacy on all the nations of the world.  This should make us ask a few questions.

What is this ‘blessing’? 

How do you get it? 

Though the details are not yet clear, the account suggests that as the ram saved Isaac from death, so Jesus the Lamb of God, by his sacrifice at the same place, can save us from the power of death.

The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah is a puzzling but important event in Jewish history.  Looking at it through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth can help unpack its meaning.  Of course, this raises further questions because of the controversy surrounding Jesus’ claim to be Messiah.  To help us become better informed we examine the original covenant between G-d and David concerning the Messiah.

7. Covenant Righteousness – Abraham’s example

Previously we saw that Abraham obtained righteousness simply by believing the covenant G-d made to him. This was stated in the little sentence:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Righteousness prior to circumcision and the Law

We should not miss when this took place.  The covenant of circumcision is given later in Genesis 17.  Abraham was credited righteousness here in chapter 15 – before circumcision.  So, circumcision was not the cause of his righteousness.  Neither was observance of Moses’ Covenant since that was given hundreds of years later.  The active ingredient for Abraham’s righteousness was his belief.

But belief in what?

Belief is about trusting the Covenant

Think what ‘believe’ means.  Many people think that ‘believe’ means believing that G-d exists.  We think that G-d just wants us to believe that He is there.  It is true that Abraham believed in G-d’s existence, but that is not the point of his righteousness.  G-d had made a covenant with Abraham that He would give him a son.  It was that Covenant or promise that Abraham had to choose to believe or not – even while he knew that he was in his 80’s and Sarah was in her 70’s.  He trusted that G-d would somehow fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this story, is trust. Abraham chose to trust God for a son.

When Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son then G-d also gave him – ‘credited’ him– righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the covenant promise (a son from whom Israel would come) and righteousness.

Righteousness – not from merit or effort

It does not say that Abraham ‘earned’ or ‘merited’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. What is the difference? If something is ‘earned’ you work for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited, but simply given to be received.

We instinctively think that more rigorously keeping Jewish observances, or doing more good things than bad things, practicing more self-denial, or meeting obligations enables us to deserve or merit righteousness.  Abraham proves this thinking false. He did not try to earn righteousness. He simply chose to believe the promise covenanted to him, and righteousness was given to him.

Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it

Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was simple but it was not easy.  When he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ he was 75 years old and he had left his home country and traveled to Canaan.  Almost ten years had passed and Abraham and Sarah still did not have a child – let alone a nation. “Why has G-d not already given us a son if he could have done so”? he would have wondered.  Abraham believed the covenant of a son because he trusted G-d, even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor did he have all his questions answered.

Believing the covenant required active waiting. His whole life was interrupted while living in tents waiting for the promise. It would have been much easier to make excuses and return home to Harran (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived.  Life was comfortable there.  The fact that he stayed in the Promised Land demonstrated his trust, maintained even at personal cost and comfort.  His trust in the promise made a difference in how he lived his life.

His trust in the promise took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being.  He could have disbelieved the promise while still believing in the existence of G-d and continuing with religious observances and good deeds.  Then he could have maintained his religion but not been ‘credited’ righteousness.

Four hundred years later, the covenant mediated by Moses at Sinai did not nullify this covenant with Abraham.  Moses built on it.  G-d is one who is willing to make multiple covenants, anticipating that the covenant receiver will experience the blessing of each one.

Our Example

The rest of the Bible treats Abraham as an example for us.  Abraham’s belief in the covenant from G-d, and the crediting of righteousness, is a pattern for us to follow.  We can see this in Isaiah

New International Version – Isaiah 51:1-2

Orthodox Jewish Bible – Isaiah 51:1-2

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
    and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many.

Pay heed to Me, ye that pursue tzedek, ye that seek Hashem; look unto the Tzur from where ye are cut, and to the quarry from where ye were hewn.

Look unto Avraham Avichem, and unto Sarah that gave birth to you; for I called him as one alone, and put a brocha on him, and made him many.

If we pursue and desire righteousness then we are called to follow Abraham’s example – to actively trust the covenants of G-d with Israel.  Today we know that promise to Abraham has come true.  We also know that G-d made several more covenants.  The covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai probably receives the most attention.  But there are several other covenants, each pregnant with promises, which occur through the Tanakh.  For example, consider the covenant prophesied by Jeremiah around 600 BC.

Covenant Promise of a new Heart

New International Version – Jeremiah 31:31-34

Orthodox Jewish Bible – Jeremiah 31:31-34

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them” declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

Hinei, the days come, saith Hashem, that I will cut a Brit Chadasha with Bais Yisroel, and with Bais Yehudah;

32 (31) Not according to the Brit that I cut with their Avot in the day that I took hold of their yad to take them out of Eretz Mitzrayim; which My Brit they broke, although I was Ba’al (Husband) to them, saith Hashem;

33 (32) But this shall be the Brit that I will cut with Bais Yisroel [T.N. OJBC is Jewish]; After those days, saith Hashem, I will set My Torah in them inwardly, and I will write ketuvim on their hearts; and I will be their Elohim, and they shall be My People.

34 (33) And they shall teach no more every ish his re’a (neighbor), and every ish his brother, saying, Know Hashem; for they shall all have da’as of Me, from the katon of them unto the gadol of them, saith Hashem; for I will forgive their avon, and I will remember their chattat no more.

This promised covenant is expressly given to the ‘people of Israel’ and was to come in effect sometime after Jeremiah since it was given in the future tense.  It would build on the Sinai covenant by writing the law in hearts and minds as opposed to stone tablets, promising that all ‘will know’ G-d and receive His forgiveness.

Following Abraham’s example

We all have the opportunity to follow Abraham’s example with these covenants, choosing whether to trust or not.  When Abraham first received the promise of land in Canaan it was not immediately clear whether this implied remaining in the land or moving to Egypt to avoid famine (Genesis 12:10-20).  When Abraham was given the promise of a son it was not immediately clear if this was going to happen through Sarah or her servant Hagar (hence the events of Genesis 16, and the divorce in Genesis 21 with the effects felt even today).  Abraham was not perfect in his trust, but he did not give up, working through all the issues that his journey of faith brought before him.

As his physical descendants, Jews should be the first to follow Abraham’s example, learning about and taking hold of all the covenants offered by G-d.  Like Abraham it will require a life-long journey, some agonizing choices, thinking differently than the crowd, with many opportunities to turn back.  But as well as receiving the promised son and being credited righteousness, Abraham also obtained something else equally precious.  As G-d, through the pen of Isaiah said of him.

… Abraham my friend… (Isaiah 41:8)

Friendship with the One who created space and time, birthed the nation of Israel, and who is mysteriously guiding her steps thousands of years later is certainly worthwhile.  Since these ancient promises seem to be stirring to life in our day, why not understand the covenants to better generate wise decisions?  And why not tackle the one that is most puzzling – the covenant that reiterated blessings to ‘all nations’ because of the obedience of Abraham in the testing of the sacrifice of his son Isaac.